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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Six-game trip out west starts against San Diego Padres

The Nationals are facing Juan Soto, Josh Bell, and the San Diego Padres again...

MLB: Washington Nationals at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Completely unintentionally, but Juan Soto continues to flaunt his new team in front of the Washington Nationals with two straight weekend series against each other this month.

After the Nats finished up a series against the Chicago Cubs with yet another defeat, a series loss that is harder to take because the Nats were right there in the late innings of the final two games before allowing their visitors to sneak ahead, Washington now heads out west for the final time this year for six games, the first four of which are against the San Diego Padres.

When the Padres came to the nation’s capital last weekend, the feeling around the team was that things were trending in the right direction, and despite a sizeable gap to the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, they felt confident in kicking on to secure a Wild Card spot.

Then, right as the series began, the bombshell dropped that Fernando Tatís Jr. was being suspended for 80 games by Major League Baseball, ruling him out for the rest of 2022.

Tatís Jr. was supposed to be the final piece to the puzzle for the Padres this season, and to not have him back is a kick in the teeth and means they will need to see other, lesser proven players step up big time if they want to make the playoffs and potentially make a deep run.

Here’s the lowdown from Petco Park ahead of the four-game long weekend series...

The schedule

  • Game One: Thursday, August 18th, 9:40 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Friday, August 19th, 9:40 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Saturday, August 20th, 8:40 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Four: Sunday, August 21st, 4:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Probable Pitchers

  • Game One: Aníbal Sánchez (0-5, 7.20 ERA) vs Yu Darvish (10-6, 3.40 ERA)
  • Game Two: Paolo Espino (0-5, 4.20 ERA) vs Blake Snell (5-6, 3.66 ERA)
  • Game Three: Josiah Gray (7-8, 4.79 ERA) vs Joe Musgrove (8-6, 2.98 ERA)
  • Game Four: Patrick Corbin (4-16, 6.96 ERA) vs Sean Manaea (6-6, 4.83 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Erasmo Ramírez: The Nationals’ bullpen continues to outperform their rotation teammates, and one player who has helped pick up the slack lately is Ramírez.

In 12 post-All-Star Game appearances, the right-handed reliever has been one of manager Dave Martinez’s favored arms to help stabilize things and has often gone multiple innings, sporting a strong 1.04 through 17.1 innings, striking out 12 and walking just one batter.

Ramírez isn’t likely to really see high-leverage work with the Nationals, but if the team’s starters fail to go deep into games, as they have been prone to this season, then he can be a reliable arm to save the bullpen from being overworked.

Trent Grisham: Who leads the Padres’ star-studded lineup in home runs so far in August? You guessed it, the guy we just introduced for this segment, Grisham.

This month, Grisham has launched five long balls while slashing an interesting .245/.383/.592, which some may get distracted by the batting average below .250, but has the slugging and on-base percentage to more than compensate for the lack of base hits.

Two of those home runs this month came against the Nationals in D.C. last weekend, and Grisham will look to have a similarly strong series against them again, this time in San Diego.

Who’s not?

Victor Robles: Well, here we go again. The Victor Robles Experience™ made another appearance this past series against the Cubs when he got doubled off at first base after not really busting it back on a lazy flyball, another maddening baserunning mistake for the outfielder.

At the plate, Robles hasn’t been all that much better this month, carrying a .225/.279/.275 slash line with 11 strikeouts and just one walk in 40 at-bats. The brief spurt of power he showed a month or two ago has evaporated again with two extra-base hits, both doubles, in that span.

With Lane Thomas hitting better of late, and recent call-up Alex Call also able to play center field, Robles may be losing out on regular at-bats unless his play at the plate improves, even while the mistake-proneness in the field and on the bases continues in its sixth season.

Josh Bell: As Nationals fans well know, Bell has the ability to carry a ballclub offensively at times, but he can also fall into deep slumps at the plate. This might not be his deepest slump, but he’s certainly not started life in San Diego hot by any definition.

In his first 14 games for the Padres, the former National is slashing just .135/.274/.173 with only two extra-base hits and two RBIs, striking out 14 times, and walking 10 times.

The decent amount of walks suggests that Bell is still seeing the ball pretty well at the plate, but perhaps needs some of the hits to fall to get things going, just as he did when he was in a slump with the Nationals. Maybe he’ll break out against his former team, players who end up in this section usually find a way to turn things around in the upcoming series.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Padres storylines from our friends at Gaslamp Ball...

One more thing to watch

Just as we had last week, a lot of eyes are on the Nationals’ rotation lately, especially with some of their injured starters on the road to recovery.

Patrick Corbin seems to be under the most pressure to regain his old form given he still has two seasons after this one on a contract that seems to get more bloated by the day, but Aníbal Sánchez may also be coming under pressure as he continues to struggle on the mound.

In his six starts this season, the veteran right-hander continues to disappoint, posting a 7.20 ERA with just 22 strikeouts in 30 innings while walking 14 and allowing a staggering 10 home runs.

It’s not like there is a bad start or two that is inflating those numbers, Sánchez has just been consistently bad so far this year. He’s yet to have a start where he’s completed six full innings, he’s yet to allow less than three runs in any of his starts, he’s allowed at least two walks in every start, and has allowed at least one home run in each appearance.

Despite this, manager Dave Martinez is his usual optimistic self when it comes to Sánchez.

“You know how Aníbal is, he keeps everybody going, he’s got a lot of energy, he’s out there, he’s competing,” Martinez said on Tuesday. “He’s actually done fairly well for us, so it’s good to have him back.

“I mean, he was frustrated early in the season because he couldn’t get his neck right, and now he’s back and, for me, it’s almost like his first outing or two he was struggling with a lot of different things, and I had to remind him that he missed almost 3 1/2, 4 months of the season.

“So he’s almost playing catch-up, and now he’s starting to feel a lot better, he’s starting to pitch better, his location has been a lot better, you’re starting to see the Aníbal that we’ve seen before.”

Yeah, I don’t know about that last part, his last few starts have still been pretty bad, but Martinez always backs his boys.

Even so, Erick Fedde recently made a rehab start down in Triple-A with the Rochester Red Wings, and may only need one or two more before being ready to return to the rotation, plus Cade Cavalli is practically banging the door down for a late-season promotion.

Sánchez probably isn’t long for the Nats’ rotation if he keeps pitching the way he’s pitching, but he will have a chance to try and shift the narrative a bit in his start during this series in San Diego.

Series Preview Trivia

Last series’ trivia question: 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?

Answer: Lineout to CF

The Cubs and Padres are really pushing us here trying to think of back-to-back trivia questions for the Nationals’ series with those teams in short order, so our latest question is based on a milestone that was reached by a Washington player in the last series.

During the Nationals’ previous series with the Padres last week, Nelson Cruz notched his 2,000th major league hit. Which two other former Nationals players (2005-present) have also reached that milestone?