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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Series against fellow rebuilders in the Chicago Cubs

Two rebuilding sides face each other this week as the Nationals head to Chicago to face the Cubs...

SPORTS-BBN-NATIONALS-CUBS-1-TB Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Washington Nationals have played some pretty draining and lifeless series so far this season, but the past weekend’s series with the Philadelphia Phillies might be the worst this year.

Other than a brief lead in the first game, which was quickly snuffed out by the hosts, the Nationals were always behind early and by several runs. The rain-shortened series opener was their best chance at a win, but knowing how the rest of the series went, perhaps that was merciful for Washington and their bullpen to have it called after four and a half innings.

It was just home run after home run from the Phillies. A relentless barrage of barreled up baseball for a comfortable series sweep. Hardly an inspiring first series without Juan Soto and Josh Bell to give fans anything to look forward to the rest of the season, huh?

Next for the Nationals is a trip to Wrigley Field to face the Chicago Cubs this week.

In a way, the two franchises are on a similar path right now. Both have traded away star players to fill out their depleted farm systems, and are now languishing towards the bottom of their divisions while they wait for those prospects to develop into MLB-ready players.

The last time the Nationals travelled to the north side of Chicago, manager Dave Martinez threw a base, so there was that. Maybe we’ll be in for more ejection hijinks again this time.

Here’s what to expect from Wrigley Field ahead of the three-game set...

The schedule

  • Game One: Monday, August 8th, 8:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Tuesday, August 9th, 8:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Wednesday, August 10th, 2:20 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Probable Pitchers

  • Game One: Aníbal Sánchez (0-4, 7.65 ERA) vs Keegan Thompson (8-5, 3.48 ERA)
  • Game Two: Paolo Espino (0-4, 4.20 ERA) vs Marcus Stroman (3-5, 4.00 ERA)
  • Game Three: Josiah Gray (7-8, 4.92 ERA) vs Justin Steele (4-7, 3.67 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Kyle Finnegan: There was some chatter around whether the Nationals would end up trading Finnegan at the deadline to try and capitalize on his strong season out of the bullpen. In the end, the Nats held onto him, and he’s continued his successful run in recent weeks.

In five appearances post-All-Star Game, the right-hander has not allowed a run and only allowed one hit, a single by Gavin Lux that went off of Ehire Adrianza’s glove. The strikeout numbers are down in this stretch though with only two punchouts in seven innings of work.

Regardless, the Nationals will be more than happy to take reduced strikeout numbers if it comes with next-to-no baserunners. So far, Finnegan appears to be handling the Nationals’ closer role better than he did last year.

Yan Gomes: Sure, Gomes probably isn’t the hottest hitter for the Cubs right now, but he deserves some acknowledgement for his recent stretch, as well as the fact this will be the first time he will face the Nationals since he was dealt away at last year’s trade deadline.

In his last seven appearances, the World Series champion backstop sports a decent .333/.417/.619 with a pair of home runs and RBIs while splitting time behind the dish with Willson Contreras.

Gomes may have been hoping to slide into the primary catcher role for the Cubs with Contreras on the trade block, but the front office elected to hold onto him, so Gomes will stay in part-time duty the rest of way, even with his recent hot stretch at the dish.

Who’s not?

Keibert Ruiz: Ruiz has had an incredibly up-and-down first full season with the Nationals. Whenever he’s not the subject of attention, he hits well, but whenever he is focused on, the bat seems to die down a little.

With Juan Soto and Josh Bell in San Diego, Ruiz has had more eyes on him, and hasn’t quite found his stroke.

Since the All-Star Game, the young backstop is slashing just .217/.265/.304 with just two extra-base hits while striking out six times and only walking twice.

Overall, the Nationals will likely be impressed with Ruiz’s development this season, particularly behind the plate. However, they would like to see more offense in the last two months of the season.

Seiya Suzuki: The Japanese sensation who was making a statement to the majors early in the season has certainly cooled off since then, and might be going through his worst stretch of the year.

In 15 appearances since the All-Star break, Suzuki has an underwhelming .155/.183/.293 slash line, though he does have two home runs and five RBIs. The concern for the outfielder has been the strikeouts, with 18 whiffs in those 15 games, as opposed to just two walks.

Suzuki still figures to be a key part of the Cubs’ rebuild, but it looks as though he’s still got some more adjusting to do to the major leagues having come over from Japan in the winter.

From the opposing dugout

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One more thing to watch

Luis García has certainly made a strong impression on the Nationals with his bat since his recall earlier this season, slashing .296/.301/.432 with four home runs and a 99 wRC+.

In the field, however, García has been abysmal, to put it lightly.

According to FanGraphs, García’s -13 Defensive Runs Saved is tied for second-worst in the majors, ahead of only Bobby Witt Jr. (-17), and level with Alec Bohm.

With that and a recent acquisition by the Nationals, García’s days at shortstop may be numbered.

C.J. Abrams, acquired from the San Diego Padres in the Juan Soto deal, is a highly-rated shortstop with his bat, and pretty solid with the glove thanks to his plus-plus speed. He now appears to be the future at shortstop for the Nationals, just not quite yet.

Manager Dave Martinez said that Abrams needed some time to get his feet wet within the organization first, and that was best off coming at Triple-A, having seen some of his struggles with the Padres at the start of the season, partially because he was rushed.

“C.J. [Abrams] is coming up here one of these days.” Martinez explained. “He’s gonna play some short and we want Luis to play some second.

“César [Hernández] has played everywhere in the past, so I told him just get used to playing all three infield positions. So I want to keep these guys going and keep them flexible.”

So, with Abrams looming as the team’s future shortstop, could we see García shifted to second base sooner rather than later in preparation for Abrams’ eventual call-up?

“We’ll see as we get closer,” Martinez responded. “Right now, he’s playing a lot better at shortstop. He made some nice plays yesterday, turned a real nice double play [Friday], so we want to keep him over there right now.”

It was always an interesting decision to shift García back to shortstop in Spring Training, given he was better suited to second base long-term anyway. It was worth a go on a low stakes team though, but the experiment is soon to be over after a torrid spell there this season.

Series Preview Trivia

Last series’ trivia question: With Juan Soto and Josh Bell traded away from the Nationals, only one player remains on the Nationals’ active roster that has hit a home run at Citizens Bank Park for the Nationals. Who is that player? Bonus point if you can name the other player in the Nationals organization, but not on the active roster, to hit a home run at CBP for the Nationals.

Answer: Victor Robles. Bonus: Stephen Strasburg

Ok, this question doesn’t include any trade talk. However, it might include a former Nationals superstar, and a very unique series at Wrigley Field between these two teams.

Fresh off an MVP award the year prior, the Cubs were not going to let Bryce Harper beat them during a four-game set at Wrigley Field in 2016. How many times did Harper walk in that series?