WASHINGTON, DC: Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals delivers against the Atlanta Braves during the second inning of their game at Nationals Park in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images)
Interleague can be boring, or it can be odd, but even if a Washington/Boston match-up doesn't make sense in terms of rivalries, we do get the opportunity to see Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper at Fenway Park, and for that, at least, we can be thankful for this mid-season interlude with the Senior Circuit.
The Nationals are in the first place in the NL East, despite multiple injuries to their lineup that's left them somewhat punch-less on occasion. Mike Morse is back in the mix now, at least, although Jayson Werth remains out. That's all to the good for the Red Sox, who aren't exactly running at 100 percent capacity themselves.
Game 1: Stephen Strasburg (65 IP, 4.7 K/BB, 167 ERA+) vs. Felix Doubront (62-1/3 IP, 2.6 K/BB, 112 ERA+)
*Dice-K's numbers came in the International League -- Saturday marks his first MLB start of the year.
There's not much to say about Strasburg that hasn't already been effusively said of him. He's a fantastic young pitcher, and even with his inexperience in the pros, he's been anathema to opposing hitters nearly every time out. He'll take on Felix Doubront, whose an impressive young hurler in his own right, but age is where the comparison ends for these two. Doubront might know how to miss bats, but Strasburg does everything, and does it all splendidly.
Gonzalez is loving his stay in the National League, finding the weak competition even more inspiring for his numbers than the expansive Coliseum in Oakland ever was. That's not to say the Red Sox shouldn't worry about him: he knows how to induce swings-and-misses, and while the Red Sox can hit lefties, Gio doesn't make it easy. He'll take on Dice-K Matsuzaka, in his first major-league start of the year, as he fills in for the demoted Daniel Bard. Dice-K was good, not great, working his way back from Tommy John surgery. Facing a Nationals lineup missing Werth is as good of a place as any to start, although it would be better if Dice-K wasn't pitching in the stadium that has haunted his numbers for his entire MLB career.
Jordan Zimmermann, unhinged from the leash that held him in 2011, has come out strong. He's not striking out tons of hitters, but he's walking next to no one, and that's made him effective. Boston's patient lineup will test him and his control. He'll take on Jon Lester, who, while not consistently the Lester we've come to expect, has at least started to turn it around as of late. He's struck out 25 in his last 31-plus innings, and against just five walks -- it's not the batter-per-inning Lester of old, but thankfully, it's not the four-plus walks per nine Lester we had come to recognize over most of the last year, either. This middle ground will do for now, even if it isn't the optimal iteration of Boston's one-time ace.
The Red Sox have the superior lineup, even with their injuries, but Washington is one of the tougher staffs they have and will face all year long. It's hard to say who will come out on top, the hitters or the pitchers, but it wouldn't be surprising to see a bit of back-and-forth in terms of outcome over the next three days.