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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Seven-game west coast swing starts against San Diego Padres

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After a frustrating sweep at the hands of the Dodgers, the Nationals head out to California to take on the Padres...

Washington Nationals v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Battered and bruised heading into a series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Washington Nationals had an uphill task to even record a split with the defending World Series champions.

It ended with a deflating sweep to Dave Roberts’ men where Alex Avila made an emergency start at second base; Humberto Arteaga was called up from Triple-A, started at shortstop, and designated for assignment in the space of two days; and a player that was acquired for cash considerations midway through the series in Alcides Escobar hit sixth in the finale.

If the Nationals are to take any consolation from this series, it’s that they were able to hang with the Dodgers early on in games. As noted by MASN Sports’ Mark Zuckerman, in innings 1-4, the Nats outscored the Dodgers 9-6. However, in innings 5-9 when a depleted bullpen was forced into action and the lack of depth on the bench showed, it was 20-2 in favor of LA.

And because life is just unfair sometimes, the Nationals now have to head out west to take on the 50-36 San Diego Padres in the penultimate series before the All-Star Break.

The Padres excel in every phase of the game, offense, defense, starting pitching, and bullpen. If they were in any other division than the stacked National League West, they’d be running away with it and already making plans for a deep October run.

Alas, they’re only in third place thanks to the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.

Here’s the lowdown from Petco Park ahead of a late-night Nats quadrupleheader...

The schedule

  • Game One: Monday, July 5th, 10:10 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Tuesday, July 6th, 10:10 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Wednesday, July 7th, 10:10 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2 and MLB Network (out-of-market only), Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Four: Thursday, July 8th, 9:10 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Jon Lester (2-3, 5.34 ERA) vs Joe Musgrove (5-6, 2.63 ERA)
  • Game Two: Patrick Corbin* (5-7, 5.56 ERA) vs Ryan Weathers (3-2, 2.63 ERA)
  • Game Three: Max Scherzer* (7-4, 2.10 ERA) vs Chris Paddack (4-5, 4.56 ERA)
  • Game Four: Paolo Espino* (2-2, 2.48 ERA) vs Yu Darvish (7-3, 2.65 ERA)

[ed. note - “ * = best guess since no announcement was made before posting this. Update: Now looks like Tuesday’s starter is TBA with Corbin and Scherzer pushed back a day.”]

Who’s hot?

Starlin Castro: Throughout his career, Castro has generally been a consistent player over the course of a season. With the Nationals, however, the infielder has blown very hot-and-cold, and currently looks to be on another tear with the bat heading into this series.

Since June 19th, Castro is slashing a strong .392/.456/.569 with six doubles, a home run, and 11 RBIs. He was also able to cut down on the strikeouts that had been piling up for him earlier in the season with just 10 punchouts in that stretch compared to six walks.

In Sunday’s series finale against the Dodgers, Castro was forced into action as the team’s #3 hitter given all of the injuries. Right now, he might the best suited to that spot with the tear he’s on at the plate.

Fernando Tatís, Jr.: Yes, I’m going to take the easy way out here, but it’s not without good reason. Tatís has been scorching the ball even better than his usual high standard lately.

In his last 20 games, the electric shortstop has a ridiculous .370/.465/.836 slash line with nine home runs and seven doubles. He also has the highest fWAR in the majors in that span, just ahead of the Nats’ Kyle Schwarber, and you all know how great he’s been in that stretch.

While Nationals fans may feel that their own shortstop, Trea Turner, was a little robbed that he was not voted as the starting shortstop for the National League at the All-Star Game, it’s hard to complain with one of the game’s most exciting players in Tatís getting the nod, especially with the season he’s in the midst of right now.

Who’s not?

Jon Lester: While the Nationals’ rotation was one of the backbones of the team’s bounceback June, it’s been a struggle for the veteran left-hander of late.

In his last four starts, Lester has a 7.71 ERA in 18.2 innings, striking out 12 and walking six. In those starts, he never made it past the sixth inning and only pitched in the sixth inning once.

The combination of shorter starts and ineffectiveness for Lester is a worry for a team that hasn’t generated much offense or hasn’t had a bullpen capable of holding leads lately. They really need him to step up in this series and moving forward.

Mark Melancon: Named to the All-Star team on Sunday evening, the former National has had an exceptional season to this point with a near-perfect record closing out games.

Well, until recently at least. In his last eight appearances, Melancon has blown two of eight save chances and walked a tightrope in another where he gave up a run before locking it down. In that span, he has an ERA of 8.59 and a .355/.429/.710 slash line against him.

It should be noted that it’s an exceptionally small sample size in an excellent season for the right-hander, but it’s proof that he can be gotten to at the end of games lately, if the Nats are behind heading into the ninth at some point in this series.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Padres storylines from our friends at Gaslamp Ball...

One more thing to watch

With the injuries being racked up at an alarming rate for the Nationals, their immediate fate is going to be determined on when they can get back some of their key players.

In the past week, the Nationals have lost Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Jordy Mercer, Alex Avila, Tanner Rainey, and Erick Fedde to injury. They’re added to a growing Injured List that includes, Kyle Finnegan, Daniel Hudson, Andrew Stevenson, Stephen Strasburg, and Will Harris.

Turner is the most likely to return in the near future, as evidenced by the fact he hasn’t been placed on the Injured List, and the Nationals are optimistic he’ll return before the All-Star Break.

“I really believe he’ll be back sometime at the beginning or middle of next week,” Martinez explained after the series with the Dodgers. “So if we have a chance to even finish up with four games with him, the last four games or so, that would be awesome.”

Finnegan also looks as though he might be able to return soon after throwing a simulated game on Sunday. Hudson may not be too far behind as he has been throwing bullpen sessions recently too and has a chance to be back before the break.

Frankly though, the time off for the All-Star Game can’t come soon enough to give the Nationals a few more days to get their team a bit healthier as they hope to make a run at things in the second half.

Despite the latest four-game sweep at the hands of the Dodgers, the clubhouse is still upbeat about their chances and hope they can get rolling again when the injuries die down.

“I think it’s going to be fun in the second half,” Juan Soto told reporters. “Whenever we get these guys back in the lineup and healthy and our guys that are hurt, our pitchers and everything, I think it’s going to be great.”

“I think we’re going to be good in the second half. We’re going to have fun... when we all click together, we’re coming in hot.”