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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Four-game series against the Cincinnati Reds

The final road trip of the season continues for the Nationals as they travel to face the Reds in a four-game set...

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MLB: Washington Nationals at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, the Washington Nationals finally won a series again!

Despite losing the opener against the Miami Marlins after more pitching woes, the Nats rallied behind Josh Rogers and Josiah Gray in the next two games to take the series 2-1 and notch their first series win since mid-August when they swept a two-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays, and just their third series win since the trade deadline.

Gray was also finally able to notch his first big league win in the finale too as a nice way to close out the series, even if the series win doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.

Next up, the Nationals head to Ohio to take on the Cincinnati Reds this weekend.

The last time the Nationals traveled to Great American Ball Park was back in June 2019, not too long after the infamous May 24th. That feels like it was such a long time ago.

Anyway, when the Reds came to D.C. earlier this year, former National Sean Doolittle told a story about how Max Scherzer was pretty feisty about pitching a day game in the team’s navy blue script jerseys given of how hot it was. You know, the game where he yelled at Dave Martinez “No!” when he came out of the dugout to take him out of the game? Yep, that’s the one.

Will the Nationals wear their navy blue unis this Sunday, the only day game of the series? If they do, maybe Scherzer will chuckle to himself in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ dugout in Arizona.

Here’s what to expect from the four-game weekend series in Cincinnati...

The schedule

  • Game One: Thursday, September 23rd, 6:40 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Friday, September 24th, 7:10 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Saturday, September 25th, 7:10 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Four: Sunday, September 26th, 1:10 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Patrick Corbin (8-15, 6.11 ERA) vs Luis Castillo (8-15, 4.08 ERA)
  • Game Two: Paolo Espino (5-5, 3.94 ERA) vs Sonny Gray (7-8, 3.84 ERA)
  • Game Three: Erick Fedde (7-9, 5.10 ERA) vs Vladimir Gutierrez (9-6, 4.53 ERA)
  • Game Four: Josh Rogers (2-0, 2.16 ERA) vs Tyler Mahle (12-6, 3.66 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Josh Rogers: Rockin’ Rogers? Jiggy Josh? Whatever you want to call him, the left-hander has been a shot in the arm for a Nationals pitching staff that has struggled mightily recently.

Initially called up to start part of a doubleheader against the New York Mets and see what happened, Rogers has cemented his place in the rotation the rest of the way, pitching to the tune of a 2.16 ERA in four starts with the big league club to this point.

In his latest outing against the Marlins last series, Rogers went 7.2 innings, allowing just one run on five hits and two walks while striking out four. He even made a nice acrobatic glove flip to first base in the sixth inning to rob Jazz Chisholm of an infield single.

He’s pitching well, his energy on the mound and in the dugout is infectious, and he’s just a joy to watch pitch. He’ll start Sunday’s series finale against the Reds, perhaps his toughest test yet.

Joey Votto: Turns out the trick to hitting home runs is just to try hitting them, at least, that’s what Votto has said, a bit tongue-in-cheek, about his resurgence this season.

Whatever the real reason is, Votto continues to swing a hot bat at the plate this month, sporting a September slash line of .273/.444/.655 with five home runs, a walk rate of 23.6%, and a strikeout rate of just 16.7% in 72 plate appearances.

His 180 wRC+ in September was good enough for 16th best among qualifiers in the majors entering Wednesday’s slate of games, with Juan Soto’s 220 wRC+ coming in at second.

The Reds’ playoff hopes have been flailing for a while now, but if they’re going to get back into it with a late run, they’ll need Votto to keep hitting as he has been

Who’s not?

Patrick Murphy: With the Nationals eliminated from postseason contention, it’s been the perfect chance for them to take fliers on players with high potential, which is exactly what they did when they claimed Murphy after he was DFA’d by the Toronto Blue Jays.

Murphy’s stuff is clearly tantalizing. He has an upper-90s fastball, and a hard, swing-and-miss breaking ball, however, the catch, as it is with a lot of relievers these days is the command lacks consistency. One day, he’s hitting his spots easily, the next, he’s all over the place.

He’s been more of the latter recently though, allowing multiple runs in three of his last five appearances, leaving him with a 5.65 in 12 appearances with the Nationals this season.

Murphy has plenty of time and should get opportunities to impress while the Nats have an eye on the future as they hope he can harness his potential more consistently.

Asdrúbal Cabrera: Old friend alert! But, I’ll be honest, I didn’t even notice Cabrera was on the Reds until I started doing research ahead of this weekend’s series in Cincinnati.

After being designated for assignment by the Arizona Diamondbacks at the end of August, Cabrera was claimed by the Reds to be a utility infielder who could play anywhere on the dirt.

Unfortunately for Cabrera, he hasn’t had the start he wanted with the Reds. In 23 plate appearances with his new team, he has yet to record a hit and been on base just twice via a walk and hit-by-pitch.

Cabrera was an underrated piece of the Nats’ World Series run, but if he even appears in this series, he’s certainly not someone the team should fear at the plate given his ice-cold bat right now.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Reds storylines from our friends at Red Reporter...

One more thing to watch

Even though the Nationals aren’t heading to the postseason this year, could Juan Soto have a final surge in these last three series that could net him a National League MVP award?

Earlier this season, it wasn’t much of a consideration. However, the 22-year-old has been the best hitter in baseball of late and is making a push to be in the reckoning for the coveted award.

After a 3-for-3 game where he reached base five times, including a double and a home run, in the series finale against the Marlins, Soto bumped his slash line up to .321/.466/.544 on the season, giving him an OPS of 1.006 and a wRC+ of 166.

“He should be considered, absolutely,” Martinez said. “He’s a player that’s having an unbelievable year. It’s the most valuable player, it’s one player.

“For me, Juan should have consideration of being that MVP. He’s had a phenomenal year, he’s chasing a batting title, but what he’s done and what he’s meant to this team, as you know, he carries this team day in and day out, so he means a lot to this club.”

Soto has taken notice and acknowledges that he’s in the MVP hunt in the senior circuit, something that’s particularly satisfying after some struggles — well, struggles by his historically lofty standards, at least — that he had earlier in the season.

“It feels really good,” Soto explained. “After that slow start and then just come from the bottom and come all the way up, it feels great.

“We’re going to see at the end of the day how it goes.”

Soto’s main competition for the award may come from a former teammate of his in Bryce Harper, who is the only player in the NL who can boast a better OPS, wRC+, and fWAR than Soto, and has been every bit as good as him in the second half of the season.

Harper figures to be the favorite right now with just over a week to go, but it’s not by much.

As well as Harper and Soto, there’s also Fernando Tatís Jr. and Trea Turner who figure to be in contention, as well as fringe contenders like Max Muncy, Corbin Burnes, and Austin Riley.

Unlike previous seasons, there’s not a real runaway candidate as teams get to their final few games, so it’s all to play for in the NL MVP race, and despite a slower start to the season than he would’ve liked, Soto is definitely in the hunt if he keeps swinging a hot bat.