If the Washington Nationals could only play teams from the National League East this season, let’s just say it wouldn’t be particularly pretty...
Following the Atlanta Braves' three-game sweep at Nats Park, Washington dropped to 5-20 against their divisional foes so far this season. The .200 winning percentage is the worst by a team against their own division so far this season, with the 5-13 Arizona Diamondbacks the second-worst.
Against the rest of MLB, the Nationals are actually a relatively passable 18-22, but the NL East has beaten up on them so badly it leaves them among the worst teams in the league.
So of course there’s another divisional foe on the schedule this weekend as the Nationals face the Philadelphia Phillies for the first time this season.
Since firing manager Joe Girardi earlier this month, the Phillies have been a team reborn, going 10-2 under interim manager Rob Thompson thanks to an offense, which had been dormant before the firing, posting the second-best OPS in the NL so far in June.
But the story for the Nationals coming into this series has nothing to do with their opposition. This weekend series is all about the Nationals retiring Ryan Zimmerman’s number on Saturday, as part of Ryan Zimmerman weekend, honoring the franchise icon.
The Nationals haven’t given their fans a whole lot to be excited about this season, but this weekend will be one of those moments as the team’s fans will get a chance to honor the career National who has been through everything with the franchise since its move to DC.
Here’s the lowdown ahead of the unusual five-game weekend series at Nats Park...
- Game One: Thursday, June 15th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game Two: Friday, June 16th, 1:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game Three: Friday, June 16th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game Four: Saturday, June 17th, 4:35 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game Five: Sunday, June 18th, 12:05 pm EDT. TV: Peacock, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game One: Patrick Corbin (3-8, 6.65 ERA) vs Zack Wheeler (5-3, 2.84 ERA)
- Game Two*: Paolo Espino (0-1, 2.08 ERA) vs Ranger Suárez (4-4, 4.40 ERA)
- Game Three*: Evan Lee (0-1, 4.70 ERA) vs Bailey Falter (0-2, 4.20 ERA)
- Game Four: Josiah Gray (6-4, 4.33 ERA) vs Aaron Nola (4-4, 3.42 ERA)
- Game Five: Jackson Tetreault (0-1, 15.75 ERA) vs Zach Eflin (2-4, 3.98 ERA)
*Neither team has determined the order of their starters for Friday’s doubleheader
Nelson Cruz: It’s fair to say that Cruz’s slow start to the season is clearly in the rearview mirror as the slugger continues to crush the ball lately.
In June, Cruz sports a strong .340/.411/.580 slash line with three home runs, nine RBIs, and even a stolen base. That’s good enough to give him a 175 wRC+ since the calendar turned, second on the team behind Lane Thomas, and we all know how scorching hot he’s been.
This recent surge gives Cruz a .260/.337/.397 slash line and 106 wRC+ for the season as a whole, which is pretty remarkable given that he held a .155/.253/.226 line and 36 wRC+ at the end of April. Cruz is finally doing what he was paid to do, hit, and doing it with aplomb.
Rhys Hoskins: If this section was about purely who has been the best player for the team recently, then this would be Bryce Harper. However, given Harper’s fully deserved NL MVP award last season, it’s perhaps more noteworthy that his teammate, Hoskins, is hitting just as well.
The first baseman is slashing an exceptional .365/.450/.769 in June, with five home runs and 12 RBIs while walking six times and striking out 14. His 1.219 OPS this month ranks second on the team behind Harper, and third in the majors among qualifiers behind Yordan Alvarez this month.
Hoskins has had hot stretches before in his career, including when he was first called up. This current stretch of games to begin June is up there with some of the best in his career.
Ehire Adrianza: Among the various signings the Nationals made this offseason, Adrianza’s may have gone a bit under the radar, especially as he was signed to just be a useful utility bat for the Nats. That wasn’t helped when he was injured in Spring Training and missed the first two months of the season.
Adrianza finally made his debut for the Nationals earlier this month but has yet to hit the ground running. So far, the utility man is just 5-for-20, all of the hits being singles, to start his tenure with Washington, while striking out in six of those at-bats without a walk.
Expectations were low for Adrianza, but he’ll need to pick up his performance in his spot starts and off the bench, especially with the trade deadline looming in just over a month.
Nick Castellanos: While Hoskins and others on the offensive side of the ball are having a phenomenal stretch for the Phillies, one of their key offseason acquisitions is scuffling so far in June.
In his 13 appearances this month Castellanos is slashing just .217/.275/.239 with next to no power as he’s recorded just one extra-base hit. The strikeouts continue to pile up too at one of the higher rates of his career with 12 punchouts compared to just four walks in June.
Castellanos should rebound to the form he showed back in April given his long track record of hitting in the majors. Thankfully, some of his teammates have picked him up this month.
From the opposing dugout
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One more thing to watch
No, this isn’t going to eulogize Ryan Zimmerman ahead of his number retirement, there will be plenty of that to come across the weekend at Federal Baseball.
Instead, with a rare five-game series that includes a doubleheader on Friday, more pressure is going to be placed on the Nationals’ pitching staff, particularly both starters and relievers who will need to go deep into games and eat plenty of innings over the long weekend.
That pressure has come from their pitching staff continuing to be ineffective this season, sporting a 6.47 ERA in June which is the second-highest in the majors, and forcing them to use more and more pitchers in a given game to get through the night.
The Nationals already felt some of the pressure on Wednesday when they sent Erick Fedde out for the sixth inning at 98 pitches, before finishing at 111 pitches, the most pitches he’s thrown since 2018, as Nats skipper Dave Martinez tried to squeeze every last pitch out of his starter.
Nats starters are averaging just 4.79 innings per start this season, the sixth-fewest in the majors, leaving their relievers to pick up the slack, throwing 256.2 innings, the sixth-most in the majors.
And to make things worse, because of Stephen Strasburg’s injury and Joan Adon’s demotion to Triple-A, two of the team’s long relievers who could eat more of those innings, Paolo Espino and Evan Lee, are likely to be forced into starting duty this weekend, leaving the bullpen even more stretched than usual.
Bare bones would be one of the understatements of the year to describe the pitching corps.
“There’s a necessity right now that we need in our bullpen,” Martinez explained. “I think the right thing to do is to have some of these guys stretch out.
“Especially — I don’t want to continue to use our back end of the bullpen guys unless we really need them. Because it’s still a long year, and if I’m using them just to finish innings, come August, that’s not going to be good. If we can have some guys that can throw 2-3 innings out of the bullpen it would be great.”
At some point during this series, the Nationals may need to perform another line change in the bullpen to keep some fresh arms around to be able to see out 45 innings in four days.
The struggles and injuries on their pitching staff were bound to come back to bite the Nationals at some point. It looks like payment has come due, and a struggle is in order this weekend.
Series Preview Trivia
Last series’ trivia question: Only one Nationals player has had a three home run game against the Braves since the team moved to Washington in 2005. Can you name the player that achieved this feat?
Answer: Alfonso Soriano
Here’s our trivia question for this series with the Phillies, and we’re going to combine the two main themes of the weekend into the question for this matchup.
Ryan Zimmerman hit 11 walk-off home runs in his career, tied for eighth-most all-time in the big leagues. How many of those walk-off home runs came against the Phillies? Bonus points if you can name the year(s).