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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Heading home to face the Arizona Diamondbacks

With a disappointing series against the Pirates in the rearview mirror, the Nationals turn their attention to the D-Backs...

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off the high of winning a series in Truist Park against the Atlanta Braves, the Washington Nationals came crashing back down to earth at PNC Park this past weekend.

A combination of poor fielding, lack of offense after the first inning, and substandard starting pitching led to the Nationals’ downfall against the Pittsburgh Pirates, as the visitors dropped the series 3-1 against a team who won’t be pulling up many trees this season.

The Nats will now look to rebound with their third four-game series in four series so far this season, this time, it’s against the Arizona Diamondbacks, who come to D.C. as the hosts start a seven-game homestand in Washington.

Arizona comes into the series with a 3-6 record and on the back of a series loss in Queens to the New York Mets that leaves them as the only team in the National League West below .500.

The issue for the Diamondbacks is clear, they’re second-last in the majors in OPS with a quite frankly putrid .548 figure, ahead of only the Cincinnati Reds. The Nationals, though, have the third-worst ERA in MLB at 5.49, so that matchup will likely be where the series is won or lost.

Here’s the rest of the lowdown from Nationals Park ahead of the four-game midweek set...

The schedule

  • Game One: Monday, April 18th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Tuesday, April 19th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Wednesday, April 20th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Four: Thursday, April 21st, 4:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Probable Pitchers

  • Game One: Josiah Gray (1-1, 4.00 ERA) vs Madison Bumgarner (0-0, 2.25 ERA)
  • Game Two: Joan Adon (0-2, 10.00 ERA) vs Merrill Kelly (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
  • Game Three: Erick Fedde (1-0, 3.60 ERA) vs Zach Davies (0-1, 5.79 ERA)
  • Game Four: Josh Rogers (1-1, 3.72 ERA) vs Zac Gallen (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Víctor Arano: Manager Dave Martinez may have found himself a new go-to middle relief arm. Arano, a non-roster invitee this spring who made the Opening Day roster, has already vaulted himself into his skipper’s plans in the bullpen and is largely repaying the faith.

Arano has made the trot in the from the bullpen six times this season, allowing earned runs in just one of those appearances — and the only appearances he’s allowed multiple baserunners. That gives him a pair of impressive rate stats with a 2.84 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP.

The right-hander still figures to slot in behind the likes of Sean Doolittle and Tanner Rainey in the bullpen pecking order but he’s definitely made a positive impression in the early going.

Merrill Kelly: With Jacob deGrom out injured, someone in the major leagues has to take over for him in the hard-luck starter stakes. Enter, Merill Kelly!

In two starts this year, Kelly has yet to allow a run, pitching 9.1 innings, allowing just seven hits, and walking four with 13 strikeouts. However, the lineup has scored just one run while he's been pitching, meaning he has no wins to his name. Kelly will be hoping his luck changes on Tuesday.

Who’s not?

Lane Thomas: Hailed as something of a cult hero after arriving in return for Jon Lester from the St. Louis Cardinals, Thomas has failed to live up to the lofty standards that he set himself last season when he impressed the Nationals down the stretch.

In 37 plate appearances this season, Thomas is slashing just .182/.243/.273 in a rotational role between left and center with Victor Robles and Yadiel Hernández. With Robles’s struggles at the plate and Hernández’s defensive deficiencies, Thomas should continue to get consistent at-bats but will need to improve to keep hold of his share of playing.

Carson Kelly: Once tabbed to be the successor to Yadiel Molina in St. Louis, Kelly — no, not the Kelly we talked about earlier, a different one — now with the Diamondbacks is underperforming at the plate with the team that acquired him in the Paul Goldschmidt trade.

The 27-year-old backstop was hitless in his first 19 at-bats before doubling in his first at-bat on Sunday, however, he’s still slashing an underwhelming .045/.125/.091. Not that their backup catcher, Jose Herrera, is doing much better, but the D-backs really need Kelly to step up.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Diamondbacks storylines from our friends at AZ Snake Pit...

One more thing to watch

Remember when the Nationals were flashing the leather seemingly every other inning on defense to start the season? That was fun while it lasted.

Coming into 2022, it didn’t seem as though the Nats would project to be particularly good in the field, but then against the Mets, they seemingly continued to make excellent play after excellent play, and some hoped that might be a trend.

It wasn’t. The Nationals made two errors in their series with the Atlanta Braves, and then a whopping five errors against the Pirates — including three by Maikel Franco alone in Sunday’s series finale. That doesn’t include other slack play that doesn’t show up in the box score.

Speaking with the media after the series in Pittsburgh, Dave Martinez cut an exasperated figure when asked about what he thought of his team’s play in the field lately.

“Those little things, we got to clean up. We can’t give teams extra outs. We’re not going to win games like that,” Martinez explained. “I always say we got to get 27 outs, not 30, not 31. So we got to clean those things up.”

The manager has always been a strong believer in “The Little Things” from his teams and it was one of his go-to phrases during Spring Training in 2019 after suffering through an underwhelming first season with the Nationals.

With a team in transition, that message becomes even more important for Martinez, trying to bring his younger players through to play clean baseball, rather than erratically, and the veterans on the team need to set the tone for that, not commit errors of their own.

Their poor play in the field may have cost them a chance for a split in Pittsburgh, so is something that will need to be monitored as the team comes back for a seven-game homestand.

Series Preview Trivia

Last series’ trivia question: The Nationals acquired Josh Bell from the Pirates last offseason, marking the first time the two sides made a major trade together since the Nats acquired Mark Melancon at the trade deadline in 2016.

In that deal, Washington gave up Felipe Vázquez, and which other pitching prospect to acquire Melancon?

Answer: Taylor Hearn

As you will have seen in our first few series previews, we’re trying out a new feature this season. We’re going to have a trivia question each series for you to try your hand at and answer down in the comments, then we’ll reveal the answer in our next series preview.

Here’s the trivia question for this series against the Pirates...

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo spent seven seasons as the Diamondbacks’ scouting director between 2000-06, during which, the team made seven first-round picks. Two of those first-round picks would eventually play for the Nationals, who were they?