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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Final week of the season begins against the Colorado Rockies

As the Nationals continue to play out the string of the 2021 season, they travel to Coors Field to take on the Rockies...

MLB: Washington Nationals at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

As the Washington Nationals wind down their 2021 season, there are still quite a few eyes on their remaining games with plenty left to be decided, even if the postseason has been mathematically out of reach for a while now.

For the most part, their games have become the Juan Soto show as the 22-year-old looks to stay in contention for the National League MVP and batting title — or at least he’ll try to when opposing pitchers actually decide to pitch to him, that is.

During the series against the Cincinnati Reds over the weekend, Soto no doubt enhanced his case with a pair of home runs and eight walks, giving him an OPS of 1.541 over the four games.

Next up for the Nationals, they head out to the mountains to wrap up their road schedule against the Colorado Rockies, the second time the two teams face off in the space of two weeks.

Since the Nats last saw them, the Rockies began their final homestand of the season by dropping five of six against the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants while only scoring 15 runs in their five losses despite playing at their hitter-friendly home ballpark.

Here’s the lowdown ahead of the three-game set in Coors Field this week...

The schedule

  • Game One: Monday, September 27th, 8:40 pm EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market only), Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Tuesday, September 28th, 8:40 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Wednesday, September 29th, 3:10 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2 and MLB Network (out-of-market only), Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Josiah Gray (1-2, 5.92 ERA) vs Germán Márquez (12-10, 4.32 ERA)
  • Game Two: Patrick Corbin (9-15, 5.92 ERA) vs Kyle Freeland (6-8, 4.50 ERA)
  • Game Three: Paolo Espino (5-5, 4.01 ERA) vs Peter Lambert (0-0, 4.91 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Keibert Ruiz: As we all know, it was a slow start for Ruiz at the major league level for the Nationals as he slashed a lackluster .121/.194/.152 in his first 10 games with his new team, notching just four hits and one extra-base hit in 33 at-bats.

However, just as the case was at Triple-A Rochester when he joined the organization, the young catcher has managed to rebound from that slow start and show what he’s capable of.

In his last eight games, Ruiz is slashing a strong .471/.500/.706 with a pair of home runs, two doubles, and nine RBIs in 34 at-bats. In that stretch, he’s also only struck out once in those 34 at-bats, a trademark of his high-contact approach at the plate.

Ruiz is finally starting to look like the blue-chip prospect that the Nationals were hoping for when they acquired him. Obviously, there’s a long way to go, but hopefully, this good run at the plate should at least ease a few of the concerns fans had after his initial struggles.

Brendan Rodgers: While Trevor Story was in this section the last time these two faced off, we look at their other middle infielder this time around, and the man who could end up taking over from Story at shortstop next season.

Since September 12th, Rodgers is slashing a strong .327/.339/.582 with four home runs in 56 plate appearances, giving him a 130 wRC+ in that span.

In the three-game series against the Nationals earlier this month, Rodgers went 6-for-13 with two home runs, a double, and five RBIs. He was a key reason the Rockies were able to win the weekend series at Nationals Park.

Maybe the only knock on Rodgers during this stretch is the lack of walks, but even without those, he’ll still be a hitter to fear in this penultimate series of the season for the Nationals.

Who’s not?

Ryne Harper: Have you noticed a theme in this spot for the Nationals since the trade deadline? There have been a lot of pitchers as opposed to hitters occupying it.

Harper appeared in this spot at the end of August and things have only gotten worse.

In nine appearances since then, the right-hander has surrendered nine runs in 8.2 innings of work, good for a 9.35 ERA, while allowing four home runs in that span, including a grand slam in Sunday’s series finale — a grand slam that tied a major league record for grand slams allowed by a team in a season with 14 of them.

Harper’s 0.79 ERA on August 15th feels like a long long way away, with his recent struggles ballooning it all the way up to 4.08 on the year. Don’t expect him in many high-leverage spots.

Germán Márquez: Márquez was the Rockies’ lone All-Star at their home All-Star Game this summer, though Trevor Story did compete in the Home Run Derby, at least.

At the break, Márquez had a solid 3.36 ERA in 19 starts, but that doesn’t take into account the Coors Field factor, as he made 12 of those 19 starts at home. At that point, he had a 70 ERA-, a normalized, park-factor-adjusted version of ERA with a league average of 100 that gets lower the better. That’s a better ERA- than Gerrit Cole has on the season.

However, the Rockies ace has been slumping to end the season. In his last eight starts, Márquez is sporting a 7.51 ERA, which is an ERA- of 157, allowing 13 walks and 10 home runs in 38 innings while striking out just 33.

Those struggles encompass a four-inning effort against the Nationals just over a week ago when he allowed six runs while striking out just one batter and walking two. He’ll be hoping for better this time around, but he’ll need to reverse his current form to do so.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Rockies storylines from our friends at Purple Row...

One more thing to watch

For those who are still watching, you’ll have noticed an interesting tweak to Dave Martinez’s lineup the last few days.

After hitting eighth for most of his time in the big leagues this season, on Thursday, Luis García was bumped up to fifth in the order ahead of the series opener against the Reds after putting up a solid .286/.304/.532 slash line to that point in September.

In the first game of the series, García may have been pressing a bit too much, going 0-for-4 with a strikeout while leaving six runners on base.

It looked like the second game of the experiment may go the same way as he started 0-for-4, but then in the ninth inning with the Nationals down to their final out, García was able to poke a ball up the middle, scoring two runs and tying the game.

Then on Saturday and Sunday, the young infielder combined to go 3-for-9 with a pair of doubles and another RBI in those two games as he starts to look more comfortable higher in the order.

“Obviously, he’s swinging the bat a lot better,” Martinez explained. “I wanted to push him up against right-handed pitching and see how he reacts to it, but you know, once again, I’ll have a conversation with him about, ‘Hey, the biggest thing is staying in the strike zone.’

“‘You’re hitting balls hard when they’re in the strike zone, so stay in the strike zone and try to go up there and if you don’t get good pitches to hit, take your walks.’

“So we’ll see how he reacts to it, but I’m looking forward to him and watching him up there, and hopefully we get some guys on base for him and see if he can drive in some runs.”

With only six games remaining this year, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Martinez continue to go with García in the five-hole the rest of the way. If the early results are anything to go by, he could have a strong final week of the season...