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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Worst in the AL, Oakland Athletics, come to the nation’s capital

The Nationals, who have the worst record in the National League, face the Athletics, who have the worst record in the American League...

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Washington Nationals Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Huzzah! The Washington Nationals finally got a win from a starting pitcher to snap their 43-game streak without one, a streak that goes down in the record books as the longest in modern Major League Baseball history.

Of course, it was Patrick Corbin who broke the streak. The pitcher who leads the majors in losses, and has by far and away the highest ERA among qualifiers. Because, baseball.

Aside from that bright spot, the Nationals ended up losing the series, despite a debut from Cade Cavalli coming in the series opener. TJ Friedl may have to enter the Nationals killer bracket if he keeps up the type of performance against the Nats that he had in this series.

Next up for the Nationals is a rare series with the Oakland Athletics, who are bringing up the rear in the American League in the same way the Nationals are in the National League and the majors.

Both have ended up stripping their teams down to the bare bones the last year or so, but both at least are starting to see their raw young players on the major league roster and provide a little hope for the future. That won’t stop this series from being pretty ugly though.

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

The schedule

  • Game One: Tuesday, August 30th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Wednesday, August 31st, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Thursday, September 1st, 1:35 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2 and MLB Network (out-of-market only), Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Probable Pitchers

  • Game One: Erick Fedde (5-8, 4.88 ERA) vs Cole Irvin (6-11, 3.16 ERA)
  • Game Two: Aníbal Sánchez (0-5, 5.72 ERA) vs James Kaprielian (3-8, 4.88 ERA)
  • Game Three: Cade Cavalli (0-1, 14.54 ERA) vs JP Sears (5-1, 2.28 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Lane Thomas: August has seen a fair amount of change in the Nationals lineup, with several regulars earlier in the season seeing their playing time several reduced in favor of others so that the team’s management can get an extended look at other options.

One of those has been Thomas, who is seemingly playing a lot more for the Nationals, with the injury to Yadiel Hernández and the struggles of Victor Robles opening up a seemingly more regular role for the former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder, who has taken advantage.

Since August 16th, Thomas is sporting a .296/.311/.546 slash line with three home runs in 11 games.

Sean Murphy: One of the last A’s left standing after their almost complete teardown of the major league roster, Murphy continues to be one of the few shining lights for Oakland.

In his last 13 games, the backstop is slashing a robust .333/.429/.604 with three home runs and five RBIs. As well as the low RBI count, Murphy has also walked seven times in those 13 games while striking out just seven times. So he’s getting the Juan Soto-lite treatment of being pitched around because there’s precious little else worth fearing in the lineup.

Even with top prospect Shea Langeliers in the majors now, Murphy is still the primary backstop and should remain that way in this series, even if he ends up at DH in one game.

Who’s not?

Victor Robles: On the flip side to Thomas’s upturn in form, is the downturn that Robles has been experiencing lately at the plate, as has been the case for a little while now.

A slash line on the season that has been slowly working its way downwards has hit a new low of .218/.276/.295 thanks to an 11-game stretch recently where the talented outfielder has slashed just .080/.148/.080, giving him a .571 OPS on the year, which would be the lowest of his career.

Though the upside is still evident, the Nationals might be running out of patience with Robles as he slips down the pecking order, even with Yadiel Hernández out injured.

James Kaprielian: Once a top prospect with the New York Yankees, Kaprielian has struggled this season, with noticeable dips in strikeout rate while walks and home runs are up.

In his last four starts, the right-hander’s struggles have ramped up with a 7.50 ERA and 5.29 FIP across 18 innings while striking out just 16 and walking an astonishing 15, giving opposing hitters a .297/.402/.500 slash line against him in that span.

Kaprielian is set to go in the second game of the series against Aníbal Sánchez in a matchup that could see plenty of runs scored on both sides given the woes of both pitchers.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Athletics storylines from our friends at Athletics Nation...

One more thing to watch

If you’ve been paying attention to the starting pitching matchups the last few series — not that anyone would blame you if you weren’t given the 43-game streak without a winning decision for a starter — then you might notice that a certain name has been missing.

Josiah Gray, who the Nationals acquired at last year’s trade deadline and has been the face of the rebuilding rotation, hasn’t pitched during this latest turn through the starters.

“I want Josiah to keep pitching for the rest of the year, but also I want to give him a little bit of a break again, so he’ll miss a start,” manager Dave Martinez said last week.

“He’s getting up there in innings to where we feel like we don’t want to push him past a certain amount of innings, but we also want him to continue to pitch for the rest of the year and not just sit around.

“I sat with [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey, we thought about just giving him a little break, he’ll get a little break, he’s going to work on some stuff in bullpens, and then we’ll get him back out there.”

It’s not expected to be anything other than a skipped start just to manage innings though, and the Nationals expect their right-hander to be back on the mound in this weekend’s series in New York.

“We’re not set in stone with anything. We just kind of want to see how handles everything right now. So, for me right now it’s just getting him out there in the next five days and see how things go, and then we’ll go from there.”

We should get a bit more clarity on how they handle Gray’s return to the rotation this week, and whether the team plans to go to a six-man rotation, with Cade Cavalli up for good now, or whether they may demote Paolo Espino or Patrick Corbin to the bullpen, or let Aníbal Sánchez go, and use the additional roster spot for a younger player in September.

Series Preview Trivia

Last series’ trivia question: 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?

Answer: Andy LaRoche

With the A’s in town, we had to do a trivia question on everyone’s favorite former Athletic, and current National, Sean Doolittle, right? Well, we’re doing it regardless. You can’t stop us.

Former Athletic and current National, Sean Doolittle has been a staple of both Oakland and Washington bullpen throughout his career. How many career saves does the left-hander have? A) 98 B) 112 C) 125 D) 134 E) 140