SB Nation Blog
The Opponent in one sentence
The Nationals were consensus, heavy favorites in the National League East but have had a disappointing year largely due to a relative lack of offense to support their pitching.
Red Sox 0, Nationals 0
Down. After a solid month of May to get back into the NL East race, things have taken a turn over the last few weeks. After losing in extra innings on Sunday, they have lost all but two series this month. Overall, they have lost 14 of their last 20 games.
7/2: Rick Porcello vs. Max Scherzer, 7:00 PM ET
It’s seemingly been one step forward, one step back for Porcello all year. It’s not that he’s really been bad very often, but he’s been much closer to average more often than he’s been very good. Of course, at the same time he has also shown the ability to be elite as he was two starts ago when he tossed seven shutout innings of one-hit ball. In his last start, though, he went back to being frustrating when he allowed four runs and failed to make it through six full innings for just the fourth time all year. Let’s hope for a night more like his start in Minnesota and not like last time out against the Angels.
With Clayton Kershaw struggling with health these days, Scherzer has stepped into the role as Best Pitcher in Baseball. The righty and two-time defending Cy Young winner is having perhaps his best season in 2018. The 33-year-old has pitched to a 2.04 ERA (200 ERA+) over his first 17 starts with 13 strikeouts per nine innings and two walks per nine. He currently leads the league in: wins, innings, complete games, shutouts, strikeouts, WHIP and hits per nine innings. So, yeah, the Re Sox will have some trouble. Scherzer will feature a mid-90s fastball to go with a slider, a changeup and a cutter.
7/3: Brian Johnson vs. Tanner Roark, 6:05 PM ET
Technically, the Red Sox have not announced who will be making Tuesday’s start in Washington. I would be surprised if it went to anyone but Johnson, though. There may be a chance of Steven Wright returning by this point, but all signs are pointing towards Johnson. The lefty, of course, made a spot start the last time this slot in the rotation came up. It was his first start since April, and he did well against the Angels. He only made it through four innings, but that was because he’s not really stretched out. My guess for now is that the plan will be for another Johnson outing with a multi-inning Hector Velazquez appearance mixed in.
A few years ago Roark looked like he could turn into another high-end Nationals starter. His secondary numbers didn’t really match his low ERA, but he did show a talent for inducing weak contact. The secondary numbers won out, however, and he’s proven to be more league-average than good. This season, through 16 starts (plus one relief appearance), the righty pitched to a 4.10 ERA (99 ERA+) with a 4.41 FIP and a 4.97 DRA. Roark doesn’t strike out a ton of batters, can get into trouble with control and can get into trouble with the long ball. That makes him sound worse than he is — all three of those things don’t hurt him in every start — but he’s also nothing too special. Roark features both a four-seam and two-seam fastball, both in the low-90s, along with a curveball, a changeup and a slider.
7/4: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Erick Fedde, 11:05 AM ET
It seems as if we’ve said anything that could ever be said about Rodriguez, and the story is one of two for him every time out. Either he trusts his secondaries — and specifically his changeups — or he doesn’t. In both scenarios he will probably throw more pitches than it seems he should, but if he uses all of his pitches he is almost always successful while he is in the game. The lefty’s last two outings have been rough as he’s combined to allow ten runs (nine earned) in ten innings while allowing a .992 OPS. Let’s hope he does better this time out.
Fedde is a former first-round pick and back-end top-100 prospect who got his first taste of the majors last season. The talent is there, but the results have not found their way to the majors just yet. The righty has eight career outings in the majors and has pitched to a rough 7.23 ERA. He’s struggled with, well, just about everything, though it’s obviously not a huge sample. The Red Sox have to look to get the ball in the air against Fedde, as he induces plenty of ground balls but also allows a lot of home runs when he isn’t getting those grounders. He will feature a pair of mid-90s fastballs along with a cutter and a slew of other secondaries that he throws sparingly.
Notable Position Players
Bryce Harper is about to become one of the most highly anticipated free agents of all time, and he’s also having a bit of a disappointing year. Most of that comes down to batting average on balls in play, however, as he’s still hitting for good power (.263 Isolated Power) while walking over 18 percent of the time.
Juan Soto is perhaps the most exciting player in baseball right now as the 19-year-old started the year in Low-A but is now tearing up the majors. He’s been red-hot to start his career, hitting for huge power, making a lot of contact and drawing a ton of walks. He’s going to be tough to stop this week.
Trea Turner hasn’t been able to match the power he showed in his rookie year, but he’s still a good player thanks to game-changing speed and strong contact skills.
Anthony Rendon had a breakout 2018 and is having another strong year as one of the more underrated players in the game. He makes contact, hits for power and draws walks, much like some other hitters in this lineup.
Adam Eaton has battled injuries throughout his Nationals career, but when he’s healthy he’s been solid with his contact-oriented approach that doesn’t produce much power but still gives value anyway.
Daniel Murphy is one of the better hitters in the game when healthy, but he’s played in only 15 games this year and has been really bad when he has played.
Wilmer Difo is playing a big role on the Nationals this year, but he’s been bad at the plate with contact being his only solid skill and it hasn’t translated to hits.
Pedro Severino is Washington’s primary catcher and has been one of the worst hitters in the game with a 32 wRC+.
Sean Doolittle is in the conversation for best reliever in baseball through the first half of this season. The lefty and Nationals closer has 44 strikeouts and only three walks in 33 2⁄3 innings this season and is going to be tough to beat if the Nationals have any late, close leads.
Kelvin Herrera was a potential Red Sox trade target before being acquired by the Nationals, and after an elite start to the year he’s struggled a bit with command in his first five outings with his new team.
Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler provide a solid tandem in the late innings from the right side with the former having prototypical closer experience and the latter being a ground ball and weak contact specialist.
Tim Collins is the Nationals top lefty in Washington’s bullpen other than Doolittle, and while he’s not overpowering he has his moments in that role.
Stephen Strasburg has been out since early June with shoulder inflammation and there is not yet a clear timetable for his return.
Ryan Zimmerman isn’t eligible to return for this series, but the former All-Star could be back soon after the Red Sox leave the nation’s capital.
Howie Kendrick tore his Achilles in mid-May and is going to miss the rest of the year.
Koda Glover was a solid member of their bullpen last year but he’s been out all season with a shoulder injury.
Matt Adams is the second Nationals first baseman to hit the disabed list this year, and he’s on a similar timeline as Zimmerman.
Matt Wieters is a familiar face to Red Sox fans, but he’s had a rough go since getting to Washington. He’s currently out with a hamstring injury and his timetable is unclear.
Joe Ross underwent Tommy John surgery last summer, and while he’s rehabbing now he could end up missing all of the 2018 season.
Joaquin Benoit has been out all year with a forearm injury and doesn’t appear close to a return.
Jhonatan Solano went down with an elbow injury since the second week of the year, and likely won’t return soon.
There is no danger of rain delays or postponements this week, but it is going to be brutally hot in humid. That’s typically the case in D.C. this time of year, of course.