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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Another four-game set against the Philadelphia Phillies

For the second time in two weeks, the Nationals have a four-game series with the Phillies, but this time, it’s at Nats Park...

Chicago Cubs v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Did you miss the series previews? Well, after what was supposed to be a brief vacation that ended up not being a vacation from writing because the Washington Nationals went crazy at the MLB Trade Deadline, the previews return this week.

Boy, what a week it’s been though. It started off with the Nationals getting swept in disheartening fashion by the Baltimore Orioles and ended with a four-game split against the Philadelphia Phillies while the team completed a wholesale sell-off at the deadline.

In their first series since trading fan favorites and expiring contracts alike, the Nats actually came out on top against their fellow sellers in the Chicago Cubs, winning the finale in walk-off fashion thanks to Yadiel Hernández.

At this point though, it’s not so much about the wins and losses on the field. It’s more about evaluating how the younger players on the team handle themselves at the big league level.

That includes the next series for the Nationals, another four-game series against the Phillies.

Joe Girardi’s men head to the nation’s capital having bought at the trade deadline, acquiring Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy from the Texas Rangers, then bringing back Freddy Galvis at the last minute on Friday for another go around from the Baltimore Orioles.

Even though these teams played four games against each other last week, these are already two different teams with two different mindsets from the previous series.

Here’s the lowdown ahead of this National League East matchup at Nationals Park...

The schedule

  • Game One: Monday, August 2nd, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2 and ESPN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Tuesday, August 3rd, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Wednesday, August 4th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Four: Thursday, August 5th, 4:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market only), Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Josiah Gray (0-0, 6.75 ERA) vs Ranger Suárez (5-3, 1.12 ERA)
  • Game Two: Patrick Corbin (6-9, 5.78 ERA) vs Zack Wheeler (8-6, 2.45 ERA)
  • Game Three: Paolo Espino (3-2, 3.08 ERA) vs Chase Anderson (2-4, 6.75 ERA)
  • Game Four: Joe Ross (5-9, 4.00 ERA) vs Aaron Nola (7-6, 4.30 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Yadiel Hernández: Speaking of Hernández, he’s already starting to make the most of the opportunities the team’s sell-off has provided for its fringe players to impress.

In the series with the Cubs, Hernández went 6-for-9 with two long balls and two doubles, driving in five runs, capping off the weekend by launching the walk-off home run on Sunday.

That performance has given him a monstrous .550/.591/1.000 slash line since the All-Star Break with a pair of home runs and five RBIs, good for an absurd 314 wRC+ in that time.

With Kyle Schwarber and Josh Harrison traded away, Hernández should get plenty of looks in the outfield to prove how he can perform in a larger role for the team. While he won’t keep up this pace, if continues to hit, he could work his way into the Nats’ future plans.

Ranger Suárez: If there’s any breakdown of how the Phillies have performed over the last three or so seasons, it all centers around their underachievement due to a poor bullpen.

This year, Suárez was actually one of the best relievers the Phillies have had recently, sporting a stellar 1.12 ERA in 27 appearances out of the bullpen this season, striking out 42 and walking just 14 in 40.1 innings.

In the month of July, Suárez continued his strong season by allowing at least one run to score in just one of his 10 appearances with 16 strikeouts in 11.1 innings.

So, what do the Phillies do with one of their best relievers? Move him to the rotation of course!

Suárez is set to start the series opener for the Phillies in this four-game series with plenty of eyes on how he does in his new role and how the bullpen will be impacted without him.

Who’s not?

Carter Kieboom: Much like Hernández, Kieboom figures to get an extended look in the lineup in the final two months of the season to prove that he can be a factor for team moving forward.

Unlike Hernández though, the young infielder hasn’t taken advantage of his opportunity just yet.

In 25 plate appearances since being recalled from Triple-A, Kieboom is slashing an underwhelming .200/.320/.200 with six strikeouts and three walks. It’s a line that looks very similar to his 2020 line, where he did well getting on-base, but couldn’t hit for any power, with none of his four base hits in the second half going for extra bases.

Unlike 2020 though, the team will have much more patience with him the rest of this season and are planning to let him play without pressure of losing his job. He’s always had potential coming up through the minor leagues, now it’s time for him to show it.

Didi Gregorius: While plenty of Phillies hitters have come into the second half of the season scorching the ball at the plate, the same can’t be said for Gregorius to this point.

In 52 at-bats since the All-Star Break, the Phillies’ shortstop is slashing just .173/.241/.308 with only one home run. His second-half OPS of .549 is the second-lowest on the team, just ahead of Brad Miller, but we didn’t want to put him here after his crushing walk-off grand slam in extra innings against the Nationals on Thursday.

In the recent four-game series against the Nationals, Gregorius went 2-for-11 without an extra-base hit or walk while striking out twice. Both hits came in the first game of the series.

With the acquisition of Galvis, Gregorius could be set to lose out on a bit more playing time against left-handed pitching if he continues to struggle at the plate, so the former New York Yankee will be looking to bounce back in this midweek series.

From the opposing dugout

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One more thing to watch

As mentioned in the introduction to this piece, the Nationals are seemingly focused on the development of their younger players for the rest of this season more than wins and losses.

One of the more important players in what General Manager Mike Rizzo is hoping will be a turbo rebuild is right-hander Josiah Gray, who was one of the main pieces acquired in the Max Scherzer-Trea Turner trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline.

Ranked as the 59th best prospect in the sport by Baseball America, Gray has already had a taste of the big leagues with the Dodgers. In one start and one relief appearance, the right-hander allowed six runs in eight innings, striking out 13 and walking five.

Now, he makes his debut for his new organization on Monday when he starts the series opener against the Phillies, with plenty of eyes watching him given who he was traded for.

“Gray is a terrific young prospect,” Rizzo explained on Friday. “He’s got great stuff and a terrific pitcher and he’s a guy that we should see very soon if not right away in the big leagues.

“He’s big-league ready, he was a starting pitcher on a championship-caliber club with the Dodgers, and I think he’ll come over here and just continue to improve and make himself into one of the elite starting pitchers in the game.”

Gray making his Nationals debut is just step one of the process and he will hopefully be joined by some of the other names who were acquired by the team over the weekend too.

For those who weren’t a fan of trading away players, watching Gray start in this series may help ease some of the concerns that this isn’t intended to be a long downslide for the Nationals and that fans should see the trades bear fruit in the foreseeable future.