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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Road trip begins against the Milwaukee Brewers

The Nationals are back on the road again and have a tough assignment with a trip to Wisconsin to face the Brewers...

Washington Nationals v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

A sweep! An actual sweep for the Washington Nationals! Fine, it was only a two-game series sweep, but it’s their first since a two-game sweep over the Tampa Bay Rays back in June, and this one also came against another good team in the Toronto Blue Jays.

For once, it was the other team’s bullpen that probably ended up being the deciding factor as Blue Jays’ relievers combined to give up 10 runs in 8.0 innings of work. They let a one-run game get away from them on Tuesday and blew a one-run lead on Wednesday.

And wouldn’t you know it, Brad Hand gave up the decisive runs at Nationals Park in the second game of the series, just like old times.

Now the Nationals head back out on the road to take on Milwaukee Brewers this weekend.

The Brewers continue to run away with the National League Central. They lead the division by 8.5 games over the Cincinnati Reds and look primed for their first division title since 2018 when they lost in seven games to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS.

Powered by their formidable starting pitching, Milwaukee boasts a solid 12-5 record in August and will be expecting a positive result against the rebuilding Nationals.

Here’s what to expect from [checks notes] American Family Field this weekend...

The schedule

  • Game One: Friday, August 20th, 8:10 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Saturday, August 21st, 4:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Sunday, August 22nd, 2:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Patrick Corbin (6-12, 6.04 ERA) vs Brett Anderson (4-6, 4.09 ERA)
  • Game Two: Paolo Espino (3-4, 4.16 ERA) vs Eric Lauer (4-4, 3.44 ERA)
  • Game Three: Erick Fedde (5-8, 5.14 ERA) vs Adrian Houser (7-5, 3.55 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Riley Adams: During the two-game sweep of the Blue Jays, the Nationals certainly made out like bandits in both stealing the two wins from Toronto and in one of their deadline trades.

The Hand-Adams trade was the first that the Nats made at this year’s trade deadline fire sale and already appears to be paying dividends for the Nats while Hand continues his lackluster season north of the border.

Since joining the Nationals, Adams is slashing a strong .346/.433/.654 with a pair of home runs, six runs, and six RBIs, giving him an excellent 186 wRC+ in that time.

He also unloaded on his former team with a 5-for-8 series including a homer and two doubles.

Adams should remain in a playing time split with fellow catcher Tres Barrera for now, but this could become a key battle long-term for the two backstops. Top prospect, Keibert Ruiz, is looming at Triple-A, and figures to be the future starting catcher, leaving Adams and Barrera to fight it out to be his backup, with both having impressed so far in the majors.

Eric Lauer: Quick trivia question, who did Juan Soto hit his first career major league home run off of? Yep, the fact I’ve asked this with Lauer’s name next to it is a bit of a giveaway.

While the Brewers’ top three starters in Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta, that doesn’t mean the Nationals are going to get cupcake pitching matchups in this series, and Lauer is the perfect case for that.

In his last seven appearances, the left-hander has a 1.53 ERA across 35.1 innings, with 32 strikeouts and 12 walks. The only downside in this stretch is the lack of length Layer has provided, only pitching past six innings once.

Lauer is set to start the second game of this series and will look to keep his strong run going.

Who’s not?

Patrick Corbin: Just when you think things can’t continue to get worse for Corbin, it gets worse.

The left-hander had yet another underwhelming outing last time out against the Atlanta Braves where he surrendered six runs in 4.2 innings, walking two and striking out five, raising his ERA on the season above 6.00, the highest qualified ERA in the major leagues.

Since the All-Star Break, Corbin has been struggling to get through a lineup for the third time, causing even more struggles. In his six post-break starts, he has an even uglier 7.83 ERA, surrendering at least four runs in each start and only making it past six innings once.

The third time through the order in that stretch, hitters are slashing .412/.487/.853 with five walks and one strikeout against the left-hander, way above the .267/.299/.505 line when facing him the first or second time. Hitters will always fare better a third time seeing a pitcher, but the difference is very rarely that pronounced between the two.

There have been countless takes on how to fix Corbin moving forward and for a team that tends to be so pitching-oriented, you can bet they’re working tirelessly to find a solution.

Christian Yelich: Remember when we had Yelich in this section for the Nationals’ first series against the Brewers this year? And it just looked like a slow start? Well, it’s not gotten much better since then for the former NL MVP.

His .239/.371/.360 slash line on the season continues to underwhelm, as proven by his 102 wRC+, meaning over the course of the year, he’s barely been above league-average at the plate.

At least there was some semblance of power and on-base skills factoring into that line. Unfortunately, those appear to be trending the wrong way too. Over his last 14 games, Yelich is slashing just .216/.259/.275 with only three walks and three extra-base hits.

Teams are clearly attacking Yelich a lot more because of his continued struggles this year and he’s not been able to make them pay yet.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Brewers storylines from our friends at Brew Crew Ball...

One more thing to watch

The NL MVP discussion is an intriguing one as we head into the final six weeks of the season.

Fernando Tatís Jr. would still appear to be the frontrunner, assuming he can stay healthy. Players like Max Muncy, Bryan Reynolds, and Bryce Harper all appear to be in the mix too, as does former National, Trea Turner, and current National, Juan Soto.

One player who deserves more love and only appears to be starting to get into the discussion is Brewers shortstop, Willy Adames.

Since being acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in mid-May, all Adames has done is slash .300/.383/.557 with 17 home runs, and a 149 wRC+, a stark contrast from his .197/.254/.371 and 74 wRC+ to start the season in St. Petersburg.

“Willy’s been unbelievable,” Adames’s teammate, Kolten Wong, told Sporting News this week. “As soon as he came here, it was a different feel, you know?”

Consider this, when Adames joined the Brewers, they were only 21-22 and were 4.5 games out of the division lead. Now, they’re 26 games over .500 at 74-48 and 8.5 games ahead of their nearest rival in the NL Central.

With Christian Yelich struggling for form all season, they needed someone to rally around on offense while their dominant pitching guided them back into contention and beyond.

Adames has been that and more for this Brewers team, becoming a force at the plate and a borderline Gold Glove shortstop, a position that has been a merry-go-round in Milwaukee.

“There’s a skill to that, and that’s leadership, really,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell explained to Sporting News. “A lot of times we label it as energy, but I think it’s leadership.

“Leadership helps everybody. That’s what his presence has meant. We’ve added a true leader to the team and that helps everybody.”

When all is said and done, Adames is likely not going to quite have enough volume in the senior circuit to go on and actually win the MVP award, but his contribution to this team as a breath of fresh air has seemingly injected new life into the Brewers.

The Nationals saw firsthand how that can alter the trajectory of a postseason race when the New York Mets acquired Yoenis Céspedes in 2015. His bat flipped the script the rest of the way in the NL East, he garnered NL MVP votes, and he nearly helped them to a World Series title.

Expect Adames to feature heavily on offense and defense in this three-game set.