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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Battered and bruised Miami Marlins come to D.C.

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The Nationals and Marlins have both been in the wars lately. The two teams face off at Nationals Park this week...

MLB: San Diego Padres at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals continue to firmly grasp their final straws in the National League East.

Despite losing two of their three games against the San Diego Padres, they didn’t lose any ground to the division-leading New York Mets who lost two out of three to the Pittsburgh Pirates in their first series out of the All-Star Break.

Funnily enough, the Nationals offense, which has been the team’s biggest problem in the first half of the season, bounced back in the three-game set. However, the pitching staff imploded, surrendering a whopping 41 runs to a fearsome Padres lineup.

Thankfully, the Miami Marlins, who come to Washington for a three-game set starting on Monday, don’t quite have the same offensive firepower as the Padres.

The Marlins enter this series off the back of a grueling four games in Philadelphia where injuries once again hit them hard.

In the series, both Jesús Sánchez and Pablo López were placed on the 10-day Injured List, while Jazz Chisholm and Garrett Cooper left Sunday’s game with injuries as well. And to add insult to injury, they dropped three of the four games.

Even with their underwhelming 40-53 record, the Marlins have generally played the Nationals and their other NL East opponents pretty hard in recent seasons, so it definitely won’t be a breeze by any means for Dave Martinez’s men who are in a rut of their own.

Here’s the lowdown from the three-game series at Nationals Park...

The schedule

  • Game One: Monday, July 19th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Tuesday, July 20th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Wednesday, July 21st, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Jon Lester (2-4, 5.44 ERA) vs TBD (0-0, -.-- ERA)
  • Game Two: Paolo Espino (2-2, 3.33 ERA) vs Trevor Rogers (7-6, 2.31 ERA)
  • Game Three: Erick Fedde (4-7, 5.32 ERA) vs Sandy Alcantara (5-9, 3.23 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Juan Soto: “I hope it fixes my swing trying to put the ball in the air. That’s what we’ve been trying the whole year, so I hope it fixes mine.” Juan Soto before the Home Run Derby.

Well, if the three games against the Padres are anything to go by, mission accomplished, as Soto went 7-for-13 with three home runs and a double. Most importantly, he’s continued to hit the ball hard just as he did before the break but has now added more elevation.

We’ll see if Soto can continue to crush the ball and get back to his previous form, as he’s had brief stretches like this during the season.

In a small sample size though, it’s a fantastic start to getting him going again, which Max Scherzer says could spark the team.

“If we get him hot, that just changes everything. When he’s hot, he can absolutely carry us. And he changes the game in so many different ways, whether you pitch to him or not, so when he goes, that makes our offense really go.”

Jesús Aguilar: With the trade deadline looming, you have to think that the Marlins will field plenty of calls about Aguilar given how he’s been tearing the cover off the ball in July.

This month, Aguilar is slashing .370/.442/.717 with five home runs and 17 RBIs. His production in July has given him an absurd 213 wRC+ that ranks 6th in the major leagues among qualifiers during the month, with his teammate Garrett Cooper also on that list in 16th.

It took Aguilar a little while to get going this year for the Marlins, but the bat-first first baseman is really hitting his stride and could be a difference-maker for a contender down the stretch.

Who’s not?

Erick Fedde: For a large portion of the season, Fedde had actually been a dependable part of the Nationals’ rotation as he put up a solid 3.33 ERA in his first 10 starts of the season.

Injuries have hampered the right-hander lately and it might be showing in his recent performances.

In his last four starts, which includes a brief trip to the Injured List with an oblique strain, Fedde has an ugly 12.27 ERA with just 11 strikeouts in 14.2 innings while walking 11 batters.

With a pitching staff on the ropes right now, the Nationals badly need their starters to step up and start pitching like the unit the front office envisioned they would be coming into the season. Fedde could be a big part of that turnaround if he pitches as he did earlier in the season. If he can’t rediscover that form, his days in the rotation could be numbered.

Trevor Rogers: After a fantastic first half of the season, the Marlins’ left-hander had a well-deserved trip to Colorado to represent the National League at the All-Star Game.

However, even with that, Rogers did stumble a little bit towards the end of June and into July. In his last four starts, Rogers sports a 4.12 ERA, allowing at least two runs while not making it to the sixth inning in all of them.

The peripherals are still pretty strong in those starts, with a 31.0% strikeout rate and 9.2% walk rate, so some of it may be with the Marlins taking it easy with their young starter as he never exceeded 100 pitches in those starts.

By no means are the wheels off for Rogers, who is still doing a solid job on the mound for the Marlins, he’s just taken a small step back from his elite output in the opening two months of the season for the Marlins.

From the opposing dugout

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One more thing to watch

While the Nationals continue to languish in fourth place in the NL East, there are still silver linings that could give them hope of getting back into contention for the division this season.

Having cleared the three-game series with the Padres to start the second half, the Nationals now play two-straight series against teams below .500, followed by a four-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies and a three-game set against the potentially-selling Chicago Cubs.

There’s been a lot of talk about key stretches over the last month or so, but this four-series stretch might be the most important so far, not necessarily because of who they’re playing, but because of what lies waiting at the end of them: The MLB Trade Deadline.

It’s the team’s final chance to prove to the front office that they truly can jump back into the postseason hunt.

If the Nationals can rattle the wins in the next 10 or so games, maybe Mike Rizzo pulls the trigger on a trade to add to his ballclub. If they continue to tread water below .500, then players could be dealt away if the right offers are there from around the league.

“I think second half we’re going to try and get out of the gate quick. We have to. The trade deadline is at the end of July,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies last week.

“Six games is a lot — I’d rather be up six games than down six games, but it’s not insurmountable.

“I think that we’ve shown in the past years, but just in the recent past, that two weeks can change your outlook and the standings in a dramatic way because in a two-week period we went from last place to two games or two and a half games out of first place very very quickly.”

Sure, the Nationals are still pretty banged up right now, but if they can’t begin to make up that ground this week, then when their injured players return it might be too little too late.