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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Big debut awaits to open series with Cincinnati Reds

In a series against fellow bottom-dwellers in the Reds, the Nationals will have the highly-anticipated debut of Cade Cavalli...

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

In their second series of the road trip, the Washington Nationals were once again a nuisance to their hosts, as they split the quick two-game set with the Seattle Mariners.

And who was the hero of the six games out west? That would be one Ildemaro Vargas.

After an impressive showing against the San Diego Padres, helping his team net a pair of wins to open the series, the veteran utility man launched a go-ahead two-run home run in the top of the ninth against the Mariners to give the Nationals a hard-earned 3-1 win.

So, yeah, Vargas has been fun to watch and has taken over from Maikel Franco as the team’s primary third baseman, which there won’t be many complaints about from Nationals fans.

Next up for the Nats is a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds, a true clash of the titans.

The Reds come into the series on a four-game skid and have lost seven of their last ten, a record which the Nationals can actually better having lost only six of their last ten. Can you feel the excitement building for this series yet?!

In fairness, there is at least something for Nationals fans to look forward to in this series, as top pitching prospect, Cade Cavalli, is scheduled to make his major league debut in the series opener on Friday, as he hopes to give a brief glimpse of the future on the mound

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

The schedule

  • Game One: Friday, August 26th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Saturday, August 27th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Sunday, August 28th, 1:35 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Probable Pitchers

  • Game One: Cade Cavalli (0-0, -.-- ERA) vs Mike Minor (2-10, 6.44 ERA)
  • Game Two: Paolo Espino (0-5, 4.31 ERA) vs Luis Cessa (3-2, 5.67 ERA)
  • Game Three: Patrick Corbin (4-17, 6.81 ERA) vs Nick Lodolo (3-4, 4.35 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Jake McGee: When the Nationals claimed McGee on waivers from the Brewers, it was a move that raised a couple of eyebrows. And so far, he appears to be repaying the faith that the front office showed in him when they claimed him.

His first five appearances with his new ballclub have led to just one run allowed in 4.1 innings on one hit and one walk, while the southpaw has struck out five batters in that span.

McGee’s ERA is still an ugly 6.32 on the season, but he’s already made a dent on the 7.00 ERA that he had when he joined the Nationals. So, at least there’s been decent progress.

Jake Fraley: Much like the Nationals have had with Joey Meneses and Ildemaro Vargas, with the Reds rebuilding, they also have little-known names stepping up and performing with the extended opportunity, and Fraley is one of them.

Arriving in Cincinnati via the Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez trade, Fraley landed on the Injured List with a right knee injury less than a month into the season. He was finally activated from the IL on July 29th, and has done nothing but hit lately for the Reds.

Since then, Fraley has slashed a dominant .318/.403/.636 with team-leading figures in that span in both home runs with six and RBIs with 12. The outfielder has also walked 10 times while striking out just 12 times in those 21 games.

With the strong performance at the plate, Fraley has taken over as the Reds’ leadoff hitter, and should stay there during this weekend series at Nationals Park.

Who’s not?

CJ Abrams: It’s not exactly been a smooth start for the Nationals’ new shortstop of the future since he was called up to the majors earlier this month.

In nine games with the Nationals, Abrams is slashing a dismal .182/.206/.182 with no extra-base hits, no walks, and nine strikeouts compared. The only time he’s gotten on base aside from singles was via a hit by pitch.

The young shortstop is showing some of the pitfalls that kept him from thriving when he was in the majors with the Padres earlier this season, showing poor pitch recognition, and working himself into bad counts. That’s something that should come in time for Abrams, especially given his minor league track record, but it’s been pretty rough to watch so far.

Mike Minor: A lot of the trades that the Reds have made recently have been calculated to help the team save money build for the future, trading away players who likely won’t be there by the time they are good again. Then there was whatever they were trying to do when they traded away Amir Garrett for Minor.

Minor, who started off the season on the IL, is due $10 million this season and is not pitching up to that — while Garrett has at least been serviceable out in Kansas City.

In 14 starts with the Reds, Minor sports a horrendous 6.44 ERA while striking out just 59 batters in 72.2 innings, walking 29, and allowing an alarming 18 home runs.

The left-hander is set to start the series opener against the Nationals, which might help take some pressure off of Cade Cavalli facing a pitcher in Minor who is way out of form.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Reds storylines from our friends at Red Reporter...

One more thing to watch

There will be plenty written about Cade Cavalli’s impending debut today, so there’s probably no need to write about it further in this section.

Instead, another player that the Nationals hope will be an important part of their next competitive team, along with Cavalli, looks set to make his return to the Nationals this weekend in Luis García.

After being placed on the Injured List with a left groin strain on August 15th, Friday’s series opener with the Reds is the first day he could have been activated from the IL, and it looks as though that will be the case based on what the Nationals said over the weekend...

“He’ll play Tuesday, Wednesday. We have a day off Thursday, so if he needs another day to play on Thursday he will,” Martinez said. “Hopefully, he can be back with us on Friday if everything goes well.”

Well, García did indeed play Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, going a combined 2-for-10 with a double, two walks, and two strikeouts, not that the results were too significant.

What’s more important is that in all three games, the young infielder played all nine innings at second base, where the Nationals plan to slot him this weekend with CJ Abrams at shortstop.

Through all of the defensive adventures at shortstop, it felt like a matter of time before García was shifted back to second base, where he looked reasonably comfortable prior to this season. Abrams coming over in the trade from San Diego just sped up that process.

Look out for García at second for most games moving forward, and expect a lot less of César Hernández and his .614 OPS in the lineup, which doesn’t really sound like a bad thing...

Series Preview Trivia

Last series’ trivia question: The last time the Nationals made the trip to Seattle was back in 2014. In that series, one former National recorded a save for the Mariners, and one former National started a game in that series. Can you name both of those players?

Answer: Roenis Elías and Fernando Rodney. Both were World Series champions too.

Our one more thing wasn’t about Cavalli, but we’ll have a related trivia question given his high-profile debut coming later tonight, we look back on the high-profile pitching debut for this franchise, and arguably all of the major league baseball...

Cade Cavalli is set to make his MLB debut in this series, just over 12 years since Stephen Strasburg made an even more highly-anticipated debut for the Nationals. Who was the victim of the final of Strasburg’s 14 strikeouts in that game?