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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Scuffling Milwaukee Brewers make the trip to D.C.

The Nationals come home following a ten-game road trip to face the Brewers who have lost six-straight games...

Colorado Rockies v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

If it hadn’t been clear over the last three years, there has definitely been a changing of the guard in the baseball of the National League East from the Miami Marlins to the Washington Nationals.

Following a sweep in Washington earlier this season, the Marlins took yet another three-game sweep against the Nationals in a relatively convincing fashion this week. It was almost a third sweep had the Nats not held on in extra innings in the previous series in Miami.

Even when the Nationals finally got through nine scoreless innings from their pitching staff, they ran into Sandy Alcantara, who might just be the best starter in the NL right now, before losing in extra innings.

After a ten-game road trip, the Nationals head home again to take on the Milwaukee Brewers, who scuffle out of a home stand where they lost six of seven against the San Diego Padres and the Philadelphia Phillies.

In those six-straight losses, the Brewers posted a .185/.252/.270 slash line with the fourth-lowest OPS in that span, while the usually excellent pitching staff held an ERA of just 5.40.

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

The schedule

  • Game One: Friday, June 9th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Saturday, June 10th, 4:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Sunday, June 11th, 1:35 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Probable Pitchers

  • Game One: Erick Fedde (3-4, 4.88 ERA) vs Aaron Ashby (1-4, 3.13 ERA)
  • Game Two: Patrick Corbin (2-9, 6.71 ERA) vs Eric Lauer (5-1, 2.38 ERA)
  • Game Three: TBD (0-0, -.-- ERA) vs Jason Alexander (0-0, 2.25 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Steve Cishek: Once the MLB lockout ended, Cishek was one of several players that the Nationals attacked right out of the gates and signed to a one-year deal, hoping that he could solidify the bullpen and potentially be traded at the deadline if all went to plan.

Despite a bumpy start, Cishek is starting to look like the reliever the Nationals hoped for when they signed him.

Including his two appearances against the Brewers the last time these two teams faced off, Cishek has tossed 8.2 innings of one-run ball, striking out four and walking four, but he’s done a good job limiting hard contact in that span with a hard contact percentage of 29.6%.

Cishek has regained his standing in the Nats’ bullpen and is one of manager Dave Martinez’s go-to arms in high leverage spots.

Aaron Ashby: For the second series in a row, the Nationals are able to avoid Corbin Burnes starting for the Brewers, not that it will make it much easier given the other pitchers that they have, including Ashby, who has recently shifted to the rotation with great success.

In his three starts since closing out a 7-0 win during the Brewers’ series against the Nats, Ashby has made three starts covering 17.2 innings while allowing just five earned runs, striking out 26, and walking five, giving him a 2.55 ERA and 2.52 FIP in that span.

Ashby is set to start the series opener on Friday and is looking like he could be a permanent part of the rotation if he keeps up this level of performance for the foreseeable future.

Who’s not?

Keibert Ruiz: The defense and baseball IQ behind the plate for Ruiz has drawn rave reviews from all who have seen him play. The bat has continued to be a bit hit-and-miss, which isn’t a huge surprise for a young player still adapting to the majors.

Since the last time the Nats met the Brewers, Ruiz is slashing just .163/.250/.209 with a pair of doubles, five walks, and three strikeouts. His recent performance has dropped him from the two-spot in the order, back down to sixth or seventh in the lineup.

There’s still plenty to be excited about with Ruiz, including his defense and his plate discipline in general. The young catcher just needs to start squaring the ball up, as he was earlier in the season, and he should be there to clean up any traffic on the bases again.

Andrew McCutchen: From way back in his days with the Pittsburgh Pirates all the way through to last season with the Philadelphia Phillies, McCutchen has always had a knack for torturing the Nationals at the plate, even when he’s in a cold streak as he is now.

Following a stint on the COVID IL in May, McCutchen has slashed just .198/.253/.259 in 20 games since his return, with six walks and 21 strikeouts in that span. The outfielder has just one home run in that span, but, yes, you guessed it, it was against the Nationals.

So, even with the rut that McCutchen appears to be in, look forward to a 7-for-13 weekend with two home runs and at least five RBIs.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Brewers storylines from our friends at Brew Crew Ball...

One more thing to watch

We may be around a third of the way through the season, but the news cycle is already heating up around the trade deadline less than two months away.

It was pretty clear coming into the season that the Nationals were going to be sellers come the trade deadline, given the lackluster roster that they had put together. The team’s 21-38 start to the season has only confirmed the obvious that they won’t be trying to add.

In his weekly spot with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies, Nats GM Mike Rizzo said that if things continued this way, which there have been no signs of stopping, that would be the case.

“I would assume that if we’re playing at the rate we’re playing, we’ll probably be careful sellers,” Rizzo said. “Make sure that we maximize the players at least with expiring contracts, and I don’t think that would come as a shock to anybody at the radio station right now.”

So, a lot of attention turns to some of the team’s trade candidates and how they perform over the next month as they try and put themselves in the shop window for a contender.

Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz seem all but gone barring a sudden drop in form at the plate or an injury to either. Steve Cishek likely will be too, as well as Sean Doolittle and Víctor Arano if they can return healthy and return to the form they were in on the mound before the injuries.

But it might not just be expiring contracts that depart. Some players with additional team control could be dangled to potential suitors to try and pick up more prospects in return.

No, Juan Soto isn’t getting traded though, everyone associated with the Nationals has made that perfectly clear. But the likes of Yadiel Hernández, Tanner Rainey, Kyle Finnegan, and maybe even Victor Robles could fetch nice returns for the right team, given their value and team control.

The performance of a lot of these potential trade candidates will start to come to the fore for this team, starting with this series against the Brewers, as if the Nats can get one or two impact prospects from trades, it will benefit them in the long run.

Series Preview Trivia

Last series’ trivia question: On this day in 2018, the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup. A few days later, they made an appearance with the cup at a Nationals game, drinking their weight in beer in a suite down the third-base line. But who did the Nationals beat 7-5 in that game?

Answer: The San Francisco Giants

Here’s our trivia question for this series with the Brewers, as we look back at a former National who pitched against them for his new team recently...

When the Nationals faced the Brewers earlier this season, former Nat Trevor Gott made an appearance against them for Milwaukee. Who did the Nationals trade away to acquire Gott, along with Michael Brady, ahead of the 2016 season?