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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Not getting any easier with Los Angeles Dodgers in town

The Nationals are back at Nats Park this week, and have a tough series ahead against the NL-leading Dodgers...

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

Clearly, the Washington Nationals were saving all of their runs from the first two games of the series against the Milwaukee Brewers in order to use them in the finale.

After Saturday’s game, Vanilla Ice performed for a rambunctious remaining crowd at American Family Field, and his hit song described the Nats’ bats through the first two games of the series where they combined for just one run, which came on a solo homer from Lane Thomas.

In truth, a series loss was probably the best the Nationals could’ve reasonably expected from this series against the National League Central leaders.

In their next series, however, many would take a series loss against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers are back to their usual form of being the best team in the NL, sitting pretty atop the NL West with a 27-13 record, trailing only the New York Yankees for the best records in the majors.

Remember our last series preview when we looked at how the Brewers had the eighth-best OPS and ERA in the major leagues? Well, the Dodgers take that to the extreme, leading the majors in OPS and ERA. So, they’re almost pretty much the complete team to this point in the season.

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

The schedule

  • Game One: Monday, May 23rd, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2 and MLB Network (out-of-market only), Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Tuesday, May 24th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Wednesday, May 25th, 4:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Probable Pitchers

  • Game One: Joan Adon (1-7, 6.38 ERA) vs Tyler Anderson (4-0, 4.04 ERA)
  • Game Two: Josiah Gray (4-3, 4.36 ERA) vs Walker Buehler (5-1, 2.89 ERA)
  • Game Three: Erick Fedde (2-3, 4.08 ERA) vs Julio Urías (3-3, 2.63 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Keibert Ruiz: He appeared in this section not that long ago, however, the young backstop has continued to step up all facets of his game for the Nationals.

In the month of May, Ruiz is slashing .353/.459/.510 with a home run and four doubles. Contributing to that has been his excellent plate discipline, which has been much better in that span as he’s drawn nine walks compared to just five strikeouts.

Manager Dave Martinez has also been singing Ruiz’s praises defensively behind the plate and his game-calling. The young backstop continues to establish himself as a cornerstone for this team’s future, and this month’s performance only solidifies that standing.

Mookie Betts: After a slow start to the season, Mookie Betts is starting to feel like Mookie Betts again for the Dodgers. You know, that form that took him to two American League MVP awards not too long ago.

To this point in May, Betts is slashing a dominant .313/.371/.663 at the plate with a team-leading seven home runs in that span, and 17 RBIs, second on the team behind Justin Turner’s 18. Of all the stars on the team, Betts is the one to be wary of in this series.

Who’s not?

Josh Bell: Don’t panic just yet, but Bell finally appears to be slowing down a bit at the plate.

In his last 13 games, the first baseman is slashing just .176/.232/.176 with no extra-base hits while striking out seven times and walking just two, a massive step backwards from earlier this season when he was walking more than he struck out.

This slump has led to him dropping back in the order, initially to fourth behind Nelson Cruz, but in the series finale against the Brewers he hit fifth as Ruiz was bumped up to second. With a lot of pressure on the heart of the order, the Nats are going to need Bell to turn things around soon.

Chris Taylor: There were reports that the Nationals had an interest in Taylor this offseason, but eventually, he chose to return to LA where he turned his career around. And lately, Taylor has been trending in the wrong direction for the Dodgers.

In the month of May, Taylor is slashing a troublesome .190/.292/.333 with three doubles and two home runs. While the power makes the line more bearable, what’s concerning for Taylor is the whopping 29 strikeouts in 19 games, compared to just 8 walks in that span.

He’s still the team’s primary left fielder for now, but the Dodgers aren’t exactly short of talent if things continue to head this way for Taylor at the plate.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Dodgers storylines from our friends at True Blue LA...

One more thing to watch

Scoring just one run in the first two games in Milwaukee, the Nationals mixed things up in the series finale with their lineup to try and get their offense going again.

The hot-hitting Keibert Ruiz, who we talked about earlier in this preview, was bumped up from the sixth spot in the order on Saturday to the second spot on Sunday. Juan Soto, Nelson Cruz, and Josh Bell slid down to third, fourth, and fifth in the order, respectively.

So, what was behind Nationals manager Dave Martinez’s decision to switch up the lineup?

“Keibert is swinging the bat well,” Martinez explained. “But the biggest thing is he’s accepting his walks a little bit better, his on-base percentage is up there in about the .360s, so get someone else up there to try to get on for Juan [Soto]. I mean, that was the biggest thing, kind of extend our lineup a little bit more, and see what happens.

“If he can get on base, César [Hernàndez] and him can get on base, then you have our big three guys maybe can do something, so… but Keibert is swinging the bat well so I wanted to get him up at the top.”

As was the initial reason behind Soto starting out as the team’s two-hitter, this has often been the spot in the order for the offense’s best hitter — with the goal being to combine getting as many at-bats as possible and balancing enough RBI opportunities for that hitter.

Ruiz leads the Nationals in on-base percentage and OPS in May and should fill that role well. So while Soto slumps a little, at least by his incredibly high standards, the backstop makes sense to hit there and has earned that spot with how he’s performed.

Given Martinez’s reasoning for having Soto second in the first place, the end goal would figure to be getting him back in form and back up to that spot in the order.

However, at least for now and given the success the team had with that batting order on Sunday, Ruiz figures to get at least another smattering of chances to hit second in the order, which may also take some pressure off of Soto at the plate until he rebounds.

Series Preview Trivia

Last series’ trivia question: Just before Max Scherzer tossed his first career no-hitter, the right-hander had a dominant start in Milwaukee against the Brewers. How many Brewers did he strike out that day?

Answer: 16 batters

Here’s the trivia question for this series, again, centered on a notable game at the ballpark the Nationals will be visiting for the upcoming series...

The last time the Dodgers visited Nationals Park, the Nats were in the midst of an injury crisis in the infield, which led to Alex Avila playing second base in the series opener. But in the second game of the series, who started at shortstop for Washington, playing his only game for the Nationals before he was DFA’d to make room for Alcides Escobar the next day?