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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Battered versus the bruised in San Francisco Giants series

The Nationals and Giants are getting hit badly by injuries as they face off against each other this weekend...

MLB: Game One-Arizona Diamondbacks at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Same, Juan. Same. The Washington Nationals had a promising start to their series with the Arizona Diamondbacks this week, taking a doubleheader sweep to go 2-0 up in the four-game set.

The pitching was particularly impressive in those two games with Joan Adon and Josiah Gray stepping up and giving their team enough on the mound to secure their two wins.

Then, well, the D-backs knocked Erick Fedde around, teeing off on him regularly, and then the Nationals just couldn’t get the big hit in the series finale on Thursday, stranding the bases loaded in the eighth and ninth innings when they had a chance to get a series win.

Next up, it’s the San Francisco Giants, who, despite being 8-5 to start the season, are in fourth place in the National League West, and are coming off of a disappointing series loss to the New York Mets.

Much like the Nats, the Giants are starting to suffer from injuries this season, already calling on some of their depth to patch holes. 2021 is already turning into a war of attrition for both teams.

Here’s the lowdown from Nationals Park ahead of the three-game weekend series...

The schedule

  • Game One: Friday, April 22nd, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Saturday, April 23rd, 1:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market only), Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Sunday, April 24th, 1:35 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Probable Pitchers

  • Game One: Patrick Corbin (0-2, 7.50 ERA) vs Sam Long (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
  • Game Two: Paolo Espino (0-0, 4.91 ERA) vs Alex Wood (1-0, 1.93 ERA)
  • Game Three: Josiah Gray (2-1, 3.14 ERA) vs Logan Webb (1-1, 2.55 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Josiah Gray: For better or for worse, Gray’s potential development at the major league level is going to be a major talking point for the Nationals this season.

After a bumpy first start against the New York Mets, Gray has bounced back with two strong outings against the Atlanta Braves and Diamondbacks, going a combined 10.1 innings, allowing just one run on four hits and five walks while striking out 13 in those games.

The right-hander is set to start the series finale against the Giants and will be hoping to go deeper into his start this time after failing to exceed 5.1 innings in his first three starts.

Brandon Belt: Agony, thy name is Brandon Belt. As Nationals fans will want to forget, Belt was the player who hit the decisive go-ahead home run in the marathon 18-inning affair in the 2014 NLDS. And now this season, Belt looks back to that sort of form at the plate.

In 39 at-bats, Belt has a solid .256/.373/.558 slash line in the early going with four home runs and eight RBIs. With Buster Posey retired, the Giants needed Belt to keep up his recent resurgence since the start of 2020, and to this point, he’s delivering on that.

Who’s not?

Alcides Escobar: To the surprise of... not many, Escobar is starting to show the signs of being the player that was out of the majors for two seasons before the Nationals picked him up off of the scrap heap mid-season last year.

Across 43 plate appearances this season, Escobar has a poor slash line of just 167/.255/.190 with only a lone extra-base hit to his name, striking out 14 times and walking four times. The shortstop also committed a notable TOOTBLAN in the series opener against Arizona, making the third out at third base with Juan Soto at the plate.

Luis García, who won Internal League Player of the Week last week, is playing shortstop at Triple-A. Although the Nats planned to let García sit at Triple-A to help him develop, if he and Escobar continue to trend in opposite directions, the front office will have a decision to make.

Darin Ruf: Among all of the storylines with last year’s dominant Giants team, Ruf’s got a bit lost in the shuffle.

The former Philadelphia Phillies man came to the bay in 2020 after three years in South Korea where he posted an OPS north of .900 in each of those seasons, and immediately carried that form over, posting a .272/.381/.519 slash line and 143 wRC+ between 2020 and 2021.

To start this season though, Ruf has gotten off to a slower start, slashing just .152/.291/.196 with a wRC+ of only 58 in 55 plate appearances. Entrenched as the team’s primary DH these days, expect to see Ruf a lot in this series, even with his struggles at the plate.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Giants storylines from our friends at McCovey Chronicles...

One more thing to watch

Argh, here comes the injuries that we were infuriatingly promised early in the season.

With this offseason’s lockout extending deep into spring, the usual five-week Spring Training had to be condensed down to just over three weeks in order to start the season in time to fit in the original 162 games — thanks again for the lockout, MLB owners.

As many feared because many pitchers didn’t get in enough work, they’re starting to fall like flies onto the Injured List, and the Nationals are starting to get hit by the injury bug.

First, they lost Aníbal Sánchez to a cervical nerve impingement before he even made a start. Then Mason Thompson left a relief appearance early with a right biceps strain. Now, during this past series with Arizona, Sean Doolittle and Hunter Harvey went on the IL too.

Four pitchers were placed on the IL in the space of 11 days for manager Dave Martinez. Not ideal.

“When I went through this as a player in ‘95, watching a lot of these pitchers, April was pretty strenuous,” Martinez said of his experience coming out of the 1994 work stoppage.

“So I don’t know if it has anything related to the short Spring Training, but you’ve got to look at the short Spring Training, and trying to ramp these guys up, so with that being said, this is the reason why we try to have so many different options, in case something like this would happen.”

The injuries so far already have the Nationals scrambling for a starter in this series, with Paolo Espino set to start the second game, but likely to be on a reduced pitch count as he’s only stretched out as a long reliever at this point, while also now trying to find more arms to get outs in the middle innings, with three relievers who started well down injured too.

There’s a storm to weather on the pitching injury front, and perhaps more so than in the first week of the season, Martinez needs his starters to go deeper in their starts because of it...

Series Preview Trivia

Last series’ trivia question: 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?

Answer: Max Scherzer and Stephen Drew

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 Giants...

Seeing as we talked about the Brandon Belt home run against the Nationals in the 2014 NLDS earlier, who was it that the first baseman hit the home run off of in that game?