SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
The Nationals are the defending world champs, but they do not look like they are en route to a repeat, sitting in last in the NL East heading into this game.
Down. It has been a tough season for the Nationals so far, and thing have been getting worse of late as injuries have piled up. They are coming off a two-game sweep against the Phillies and overall they’ve lost five of their last seven.
8/28: Martín Pérez vs. Max Scherzer, 7:30 PM ET
Pérez has been one of the very few surprising bright spots on this team, coming and and actually performing like the number two starter he was thrust into being. The lefty has gotten great results over his first six starts, pitching to a 3.45 ERA. The peripherals still aren’t great — 18 percent strikeout rate, 12 percent walk rate — but he’s coming off his best outing of the year with seven innings, one run, six strikeouts and one walk. If Pérez gets back to the way he was pitching before with walks coming as frequently as strikeouts, the ERA is eventually going to jump. If his last outing was a legitimate step though, the Red Sox could continue to get big results from the southpaw. This start means even more for Boston, as another strong outing could make Pérez an attractive trade candidate for a starter-needy club.
Scherzer has obviously been one of the very best pitchers in the game for the better part of a decade now and is well on his way to Cooperstown. This season, though, he hasn’t quite been himself. That’s not to say he’s been as average as his 4.31 ERA may suggest, but he hasn’t been the dominant force we’ve gotten used to. The strikeouts are certainly still there, with the righty setting down over 30 percent of his opponents for the sixth straight year. However, his walk rate is up to 9.5 percent, which would be the highest mark of his career. Look for the Red Sox to be patient against Scherzer, trying to draw walks or at least up his pitch count. He’ll include a mid-90s fastball along with a slider, a changeup and the occasional curveball.
8/29: Chris Mazza vs. Aníbal Sánchez, 7:30 PM ET
Mazza was one of many fringy pitchers added to the Red Sox over the winter. He’s spent most of this season at the Alternate Site in Pawtucket, but he’s come up for a couple appearances. In the first, he looked quite good in mop up duty in the Bronx against the Yankees. In the second, he got hit around a bit for eight hits and a walk over three innings, against in the Bronx against the Yankees. Look for him to avoid the meat of the strike zone if he’s going to have success in this one. I’d also expect a shorter outing, with four probably being the maximum.
Sánchez is, of course, a former Red Sox prospect who was part of the trade that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston. Since then, the righty has had a very up-and-down career. It looked like that career was all but over a few years ago, but he brought himself back in 2018 and 2019 with very solid seasons. This year, however, things have gone back downhill. His strikeout rate is down a bit, but the real issue is simply that he’s getting crushed. That said, he has been better his last couple outings, allowing four runs over 12 innings including seven innings of one-run ball his last time out. Sánchez will feature a splitter, a high-80s fastball, and a cutter.
8/30: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Austin Voth, 1:35 PM ET
Eovaldi was originally supposed to start Wednesday against the Blue Jays, but a minor calf injury set him back. He was then set to get the start on Saturday, but the players deciding not to play on Thursday led to Eovaldi being pushed back to this series finale. The good news is it doesn’t seem like this is something that will hold him out for another scheduled outing. As for his performance on the field, the righty hasn’t been quite as good as some had hoped after his big spring and camp, but his 4.98 ERA is also inflated by one terrible start. Beyond the outing in which he allowed eight runs, he has a 3.41 ERA over his other five starts. Obviously you can’t just remove a pitcher’s worst start and present that as his true-talent, but it’s worth pointing out his ERA probably isn’t totally reflective of who he’s been this year.
Voth, a former fifth round pick, hadn’t gotten a chance at a full-time role before this year, serving as up-and-down starting pitching depth the last two seasons. This year, he has made five starts for the Nationals and has pitched to a rough 6.65 ERA. The righty’s strikeout rate is much lower at 15 percent than his two partial seasons, which is leading to more balls in play, where he has also been hurt. Voth’s last two starts in particualr have been rough, allowing 11 runs over just 7 2⁄3 innings. He will feature a low-90s fastball along with a slider and a curveball.
Aníbal Sánchez, as discussed above, is a former Red Sox prospect.
Roenis Elías spent a couple of years with the Red Sox in 2016 and 2017, with most of that time being spent in Pawtucket, after coming over along with Carson Smith in the Wade Miley deal. The southpaw is currently injured.
Notable Position Players
Juan Soto is well on his way to being one of, if not the, best hitter in the game for a very long time. Still only 21 years old, he boasts an incredible 231 wRC+ — tops in baseball among those with at least 80 plate appearances and 34 points higher than second place — with big power and more walks than strikeouts. He’s a machine at the plate, and is basically impossible to stop.
Trea Turner hits atop the Nationals lineup and along with his elite speed he’s showing off a great bat as well. He has a 149 wRC+ thanks to a career-low strikeout rate along with a career-high Isolated Power.
Asdrúbal Cabrera is just a steady veteran bat who is good at just about everything and almost always provides very good contributions.
Adam Eaton started to show signs of decline last season and has taken a bigger step back this year with an 83 wRC+.
Howie Kendrick hasn’t provided the power the Nationals have needed from the DH spot.
Victor Robles is not a great hitter and strikes out a bunch at a young age, but he makes up for it and then some with his speed and defense.
Kurt Suzuki puts pretty much everything in play, but the quality of contact hasn’t been there this year.
Luis Garcia is another player who puts a lot of balls in play, but early in his career he’s shown an ability to convert them into hits.
Eric Thames has gotten of to a rough, rough start this year as he hasn’t been able to hit for power like he used to.
Daniel Hudson is the closer for this team after emerging in that role en route to a championship last year, but he’s been hurt by the long ball early on this season.
Tanner Rainey and Will Harris serve as the main two set up arms for the Nationals with the former performing as the team’s best reliever and the latter struggling with his control.
Sean Doolittle just got reinstated from the injured list after a tough start to the year.
Elías, as mentioned above, is on the IL. He is currently dealing with a forearm injury that is likely to keep him out for the entire season.
Stephen Strasburg is going to miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery for carpal tunnel.
Starlin Castro had surgery on his wrist, and it would appear the best-case scenario is to be back for a potential postseason run.
Seth Romero is having surgery on his non-throwing hand, but it will probably keep him out for the rest of the year.
Sam Freeman is going to miss the entire season with an arm injury.
The first and last games of this series should get off without a hitch, but thunderstorms in the area Saturday night could put that second game in jeopardy.