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Washington Nationals Series Preview: First half finishes against San Francisco Giants

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The Nationals are still hanging in there and close out the first half of the season with a tricky trip to the bay to take on the Giants...

Washington Nationals v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Well, that was a gut-punch for the Washington Nationals.

In the middle of the fourth inning in the series finale against the San Diego Padres, it looked like the Nationals were about to get a much-needed series win against one of the better teams in the major leagues.

Then, it all unraveled in one of the most bizarre innings of Max Scherzer’s career as he allowed seven earned runs, including a grand slam to reliever Daniel Camarena, and the Nationals would go on to lose on a walk-off single by Trent Grisham.

It’s still mind-boggling that it could happen and to a pitcher of Scherzer’s ilk too.

Despite how the series ended, a split against the Padres isn’t bad by any means and the Nationals are currently 5-6 in their tough stretch against teams above .500 before the break.

To round out the first half of the season, the Nationals travel up the west coast to take on the San Francisco Giants, who still remain in first place in the stacked National League West.

These two teams didn’t meet all that long ago. In the middle of June, they played out a series split where pitching was the key with the two offenses combining for just 11 runs over the four games in Washington.

That was the series that really kickstarted Kyle Schwarber’s historic run in the leadoff spot, before he got injured and started the Nationals on their run back to the fringes of contention. For the Giants, they have gone 14-7 since that series and sit pretty with a 54-32 record.

Here’s the lowdown from Oracle Park ahead of the three-game weekend series...

The schedule

  • Game One: Friday, July 9th, 9:45 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Saturday, July 10th, 4:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Sunday, July 11th, 4:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Paolo Espino (2-2, 2.48 ERA) vs Logan Webb (4-3, 3.86 ERA)
  • Game Two: Jon Lester (2-3, 5.34 ERA) vs Anthony DeSclafani (9-3, 2.84 ERA)
  • Game Three: Erick Fedde (4-5, 4.53 ERA) vs Kevin Gausman (8-3, 1.74 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Josh Bell: Surrounded by other storylines lately, you’d be forgiven for glancing over the fact that Bell has been one of the hottest hitters both for the Nationals and in the senior circuit lately.

Since May 13th, Bell is slashing .310/.371/.548 with nine home runs and 32 RBIs, good for a 146 wRC+ in that span. For perspective, Juan Soto had a wRC+ of 146 in 2018 and 142 in 2019, so since May 13th, Bell has been hitting at a similar level to Soto in his first two years.

He’s been even better recently. In his last 18 games, Bell is hitting .339/.406/.597 with four home runs and 18 RBIs. He’s only gone hitless in four of those 18 games and has more walks than strikeouts in that stretch, gaining a free pass seven times and striking out just six.

While Kyle Schwarber still doesn’t have a clear timetable to return, the Nats needed Bell to step up and produce. So far, pun absolutely intended, he’s answered the bell. I couldn’t help myself.

Anthony DeSclafani: It was a few weeks ago now, but Nationals fans won’t be happy to be reminded of how DeSclafani dominated them in a two-hit shutout when the Giants came to the nation’s capital in June.

Including that performance, the right-hander is 4-1 in his last five starts with a 1.56 ERA and 2.97 FIP in 34.2 innings while striking out 35 and walking just eight. He’s done a great job of limiting hard contact against him in that spell with an average exit velocity of just 88.8mph.

After some injury-plagued years with the Cincinnati Reds, DeSclafani finally appears healthy this year and has been a key part of a Giants’ rotation that has thrust them to the top of the NL.

Who’s not?

Gerardo Parra: In a way, it feels like Parra never really left the Nationals. Despite a season in Japan and starting the 2021 season in the minors, when Baby Shark played as he stepped to the plate for his first at-bat back with the team since the World Series, it felt like 2019 again.

Unfortunately, despite a couple of fun moments, Parra hasn’t quite been the clutch hitter off the bench he was two years ago.

Until he delivered a pinch-hit knock on Wednesday night, the upbeat outfielder was hitless in his previous 10 at-bats. Following the series in San Diego, Parra’s slash line has dropped to a disappointing .172/.226/.345 on the season with just three extra-base hits.

Despite the injury to Schwarber opening up a starting outfield spot, it looks as though Parra is losing out on playing time to the red-hot Alcides Escobar, with Josh Harrison shifting to left field more frequently.

Even with his obvious intangibles, as the Nationals get more and more healthy, Parra will need to show something extra on the field in order to be kept around on the bench long-term.

Alex Dickerson: Ever since he was traded to the Giants from the Padres in 2019, Dickerson has been a fascinating story, always finding himself in big at-bats and producing in them.

This year has been a mixed bag for Dickerson. After dealing with a shoulder impingement in mid-May and a back injury in June, he only returned from the IL just over two weeks ago and hasn’t quite been producing at the same level as the rest of his tenure with the Giants.

In 12 games since returning, the outfielder is slashing just .212/.297/.424, though he does have a pair of home runs which bump the slugging percentage up and keeps his wRC+ just above the league-average 100 mark in that time.

However, in that span, he has an abysmal 32.4% strikeout rate compared to an 8.1% walk rate.

With injuries to Jaylin Davis and Mike Tauchman, Dickerson is now required to be a near-everyday player. With his current performance, he could be one of not many weak links in the Giants’ lineup.

From the opposing dugout

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One more thing to watch

Even though the Nationals are beginning to get a bit more healthy lately, not long before Thursday’s series finale with the Padres, they were dealt yet another injury as Joe Ross was placed on the 10-day Injured List with what the team called “right elbow inflammation.”

Ross was originally scheduled to start at some point during the series with the Giants, but with this new injury, he will now miss that start.

The good news is that Nationals manager Dave Martinez doesn’t believe it’s anything serious.

“He felt a little tight in his forearm, he has a little inflammation in his right forearm,” Martinez explained. “So, we put him on the IL to get some of the swelling down, and hopefully, it’s just one start that he misses.

“We’ll see what happens. He saw the doctor yesterday, he wasn’t very concerned about it, so we’ll just see how he progresses here in the next 10 days.”

If Ross can return on his usual turn right after the All-Star Break, the Nationals could be forced into some rotation decisions in the not-too-distant future.

Max Scherzer is will continue to head the rotation. Ross and Erick Fedde have been impressive with more permanent roles in the rotation this year. Beyond that though, there are question marks as to what the Nats should do with its remaining two rotation spots.

The team’s two left-handers, Patrick Corbin and Jon Lester, both have ERAs north of 5.00 and the latter has struggled to go deep into games. Meanwhile, Paolo Espino has been impressive since moving into the rotation and Stephen Strasburg continues to progress in his recovery from nerve irritation in his neck and could begin a rehab assignment soon.

Both Lester and Espino are due to start for the Nationals in this series with the Giants. With rotation spots potentially in short supply soon, they’ll be hoping to impress to keep theirs.