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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Switcheroo week begins against Chicago Cubs

After a week where they played the Cubs on the road and the Padres at home, the Nationals begin a week where they play the Cubs at home and Padres on the road...

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

There’s some déjà vu in the air at the Washington Nationals start a new week.

Last week, they played a series against the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field before traveling home for a series with the San Diego Padres.

This week, the Nationals have a series against the Cubs, then they travel for a series with the Padres. The schedule makers got a bit lazy here, huh?

Anyway, instead of a road series followed by a home series, this time it’s a home series followed by a road series, so it’s a switcheroo week, if you will. It won’t stick, but that’s what I’m going with.

Obviously, the big storyline was the welcome that Juan Soto and Josh Bell received pre-game and in the first plate appearances, both getting standing ovations as they tipped their cap to their fans. Both were well-earned for what they gave to the franchise in their tenure.

After that, it was pretty much domination for the Padres on the field, aside from a brief spurt from the Nats that allowed them to squeak out a win in Saturday’s game, and avoid the sweep.

As mentioned above though, the Nats now host the Cubs at Nationals Park in a three-game series to round out the homestand before they head out west for the final time this season.

Here’s the lowdown from Half St. ahead of the midweek series...

The schedule

  • Game One: Monday, August 15th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Saturday, August 16th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Sunday, August 17th, 12:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market only), Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Probable Pitchers

  • Game One: Josiah Gray (7-8, 4.81 ERA) vs Marcus Stroman (3-5, 4.20 ERA)
  • Game Two: Patrick Corbin (4-16, 7.02 ERA) vs Justin Steele (4-7, 3.63 ERA)
  • Game Three: Cory Abbott (0-2, 5.94 ERA) vs Drew Smyly (5-6, 3.69 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Joey Meneses: There’s only one name that can be in this section right now and that’s Meneses, who has been a revelation since getting his first major league call-up earlier this month.

Since his debut on August 2nd, Meneses is slashing a quite frankly unbelievable .400/.447/.829 with five home runs, seven RBIs, and three walks compared to just five strikeouts, all good for a 249 wRC+, a top-10 figure in the majors in that span.

Meneses, a career minor leaguer to this point in his career, probably won’t sustain this sort of pace, but he’s at least showing that he deserves an extended look at this level. It’s been a long time coming for him, and it’s certainly a feel-good story for the Nats to finish the year.

Nelson Velázquez: If Nationals fans weren’t familiar with Velázquez before the team’s series at Wrigley Field, then they will definitely remember his name after his home run to open the scoring in the matchup last week.

After a slow start to his big league career though, the outfielder has turned it on since the All-Star break. In 17 games since the break, Velázquez is slashing a strong .308/.413/.615 with a joint-team-leading four home runs, 11 RBIs, and seven walks compared to nine strikeouts.

Velázquez has certainly made a case to be a part of the future core for the Cubs to build around in recent weeks and will hope to keep up his recent hot run in this series.

Who’s not?

Patrick Corbin: Even by Corbin’s standard this season, his form recently has been nothing short of abysmal. So much so that the Nationals felt it was best to skip his start with the off-day on Thursday between the team’s last two series.

Just when the Nats may have had a glimmer of hope after the lefty posted back-to-back one-run outings across seven and eight innings respectively, he’s fallen right back into old ways.

In his last five starts, Corbin has posted an ugly 12.46 ERA in 21.2 innings, striking out 23 and walking nine, while allowing seven home runs in that span. The 6.72 FIP suggests there’s some bad luck involved, but even so, that’s still well below anything expected for a major league starter.

Time may be running out for Corbin in the rotation, and the Nationals’ frustration is evident given the skipped start, and if he doesn’t show improvement, a move to the bullpen looks more likely.

Rafael Ortega: The last time that the Cubs visited Nationals Park, Ortega absolutely tormented the Nationals with four home runs, three of them in one game. It’s not quite been as straightforward for the veteran outfielder this season though.

Since the All-Star Game, Ortega sports an underwhelming .189/.254/.264 slash line with just one home run, three RBIs, and eight strikeouts, while only walking four times.

Ortega will hope to wind back the clock in this week’s series and revert to the form he showed at Nationals Park in similar circumstances where both teams were still trying to pick up the pieces from their respective trade deadline sell-offs.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Cubs storylines from our friends at Bleed Cubbie Blue...

One more thing to watch

Nationals fans may get their first look at the return for Juan Soto and Josh Bell a little earlier than anticipated in this series against the Cubs.

On Sunday evening, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that the team was set to call up C.J. Abrams to the majors, with Luis García heading to the Injured List with a groin strain.

Abrams figures to slide right in at the team’s primary shortstop, and perhaps lead off for the team too with nobody currently on the roster really grabbing ahold of that role and running away with it to this point since the deadline.

In eight games with the Rochester Red Wings, the Nats’ Triple-A affiliate, Abrams was slashing a solid, if not very powerful, .290/.343/.355 with a pair of extra-base hits, two walks, and four stolen bases. The dip in power probably isn’t a huge concern though given the young shortstop has a .507 slugging percentage in Triple-A with the Padres.

While the performance in the minors has been strong, Abrams did struggle in his first taste of MLB action. slashing just .232/.285/.320 in 46 appearances with the Padres earlier this year.

That doesn’t worry the Nationals, who clearly still think extremely highly of the 21-year-old.

“He’s a tooled-up, twitchy type of live-body guy that can really run, really play shortstop, very acrobatic and light on his feet, and he’s got twitchy hands, and really a quick bat,” GM Mike Rizzo told reporters once the trade with the Padres was confirmed on deadline day.

“We see him as a five-tool type of talent. He can steal you a base, he stays at shortstop, he’s got a good arm and a guy that can hit at the top of any order.

The Nationals figured to promote Abrams at some point in September anyway while shifting García to second base, so García’s injury has likely just accelerated that process a little.

Unless Abrams is a complete disaster in this stint, he should be the team’s starting shortstop the rest of the season, and the Nationals hope it will be that way for the next several years, so it figures to be the start of a new era for the franchise. The last former Padres’ prospect that started at shortstop for the Nats had a pretty good career after all...

Series Preview Trivia

Last series’ trivia question: In 2014, the Nationals and Padres agreed to a trade that brought Joe Ross and a player to be named later to Washington, who would turn out to be Trea Turner. Which two players, one major leaguer and one minor leaguer, did the Nats send to Tampa Bay, via San Diego, in that trade?

Answer: Steven Souza Jr. and Travis Ott

Ok, no more trade-related questions for a while now. I promise. Let’s look back on happier times instead and focus on a pair of World Series-winning players on the opposite side.

Former National and World Series champion Yan Gomes makes his return to Nats Park this weekend. The Nationals have Carl Edwards Jr. who won the World Series with the Cubs in 2016. They have faced each other just once in the major leagues, how did that plate appearance end? A double, a lineout to CF, a groundout to the pitcher, or a walk?