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Red Sox vs. Nationals Series Preview

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Hopefully a season-saving series in our nation’s capital.

Washington Nationals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

SB Nation Blog

Federal Baseball

The Opponent in one sentence

After selling off seemingly half the team at the trade deadline, the Nationals, two years separated from a World Series title, are virtually unrecognizable.

Record

65-94

Head-to-Head Record

0-0

Trend

Down! The Nationals are just 10-18 in the 28 games played in the month of September, and they’ve lost five of their last six.

Pitching Matchups

10/1: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Josh Rogers, 7:05 PM ET

On Friday, Eduardo Rodriguez will make what could be his final start in a Red Sox uniform. In his last start against the Yankees, he pitched five innings, giving up two earned runs, walking one and striking out eight. One of Rodriguez’s biggest failures on the 2021 season has been the inability to go deep into games. In other areas, Rodriguez has a career-best FIP, xFIP, K/9, and B/9. The ERA isn’t pretty, but he’s also given up a lot of soft contact and has been extremely unlucky with a subpar Red Sox defense behind him for the season. Rodriguez is a solid number three in any rotation, and one of the worst things manager Alex Cora ever said was calling him “Eddie Aces.” The “Eddie Aces” moniker put unfounded fan perception on the lefty.

Josh Rogers, the soft-tossing lefty who will be making just his sixth start will be handed the ball in the final game of the season for the Nationals. Rogers has a 2.73 ERA, 5.65 xERA, 5.39 FIP, and a 5.57 xFIP in five starts. Rogers features a four-seam fastball, slider, changeup, and curveball. He relies mostly on his fastball.

10/2: TBD vs. Josiah Gray, 4:05 PM ET

According to FanGraphs, projected to start the game for the Red Sox will be Tanner Houck. Houck, in 17 games, and 12 starts has a 3.80 ERA, 3.48 xERA, 2.77 FIP, 3.42 xFIP, and an 11.11 K/9. The question has never been whether Tanner Houck has good stuff. Tanner Houck has filthy stuff, a truly disgusting fastball-slider combo. The question has always been if he is truly a starter. Houck struggles with control at times and has difficulty facing a lineup the third time through the order. Even if he does start, expect this to be more of a bullpen game.

The Nationals send RHP Josiah Gray to the mound in the middle game of the series. Gray and Keibert Ruiz were in the package sent to Washington in the mega Max Scherzer/Trea Turner deadline trade. In 12 starts on the season, Gray has a 5.85 ERA, 4.56 xERA, 6.18 FIP, and a 5.15 xFIP. Gray possesses a four-seam fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. The fastball-slider combo is Gray’s bread and butter, using the combo more than 80% of the time.

10/3: Chris Sale vs. TBD, 3:05 PM ET

This is listed as Chris Sale, which was a late change from a TBD. There’s probably still a chance that they scratch Sale in the unlikely event they clinch a playoff spot before that, but more likely is that they’ll need this game on Sunday, and they’ll have their ace ready on full rest. He’s been a little uneven since his return, but other than a bad ending he looked good his last time out.

This is listed as TBD, but FanGraphs projects that Erick Fedde will get the nod to start for the Nationals. Fedde on the season, in 27 starts and 132 23 innings pitched has a 5.29 ERA, 4.85 xERA, 4.68 FIP, and a 4.06 xFIP. Fedde relies on a 94 mph sinker, 90 mph cutter, and a mix of an 88 mph changeup. He also has a splitter and a curve, but rarely utilizes those pitches. The righty generates a lot of hard contact and does not possess swing and miss stuff, look for the Red Sox bats to hit Fedde around the diamond.

Old Friends

None.

Notable Position Players

After the trade deadline fire sale, the Nationals truly only have one position player of note, and that is the wunderkind himself, Juan Soto. Mike Trout, hurt or not, is the best player in baseball. Juan Soto, at just 22-years-old, might just be the best pure hitter in the game. The season Soto is putting together is absolutely bonkers! Soto is slashing .318/.467/.543 with a 1.010 OPS, a wRC+ of 165, a bWAR of 7.3, and an fWAR of 6.6. Juan Soto might just be the National League MVP.

Besides Soto, Josh Bell is the other big bat in this lineup. The switch hitter isn’t elite by any means, but he’s solidly above average with good power and patience as well as a below-average strikeout rate.

Other than that, this Nationals lineup features a lot of youth. The aforementioned Ruiz is having a solid stint in the majors, striking out less than 11 percent of the time. Luis García and Carter Kieboom are two more young infielders still trying to get acclimated to big-league pitching. Each have wRC+’s below 80.

Bullpen Snapshot

Washington has the second-worst bullpen ERA in the National League, and third-worst overall. The Nationals’ 5.04 bullpen ERA is only better than Arizona and Baltimore. Tanner Rainey will likely handle any save situation. He’s got major command issues, but his stuff does miss bats.

Injuries

The de facto ace, Stephen Strasburg had season-ending neck surgery in July, and subsequently missed the rest of the 2021 season. Baby Shark, Gerardo Parra, is also on the IL, with right knee inflammation.

Weather Forecast

The weather looks great for weekend baseball. Temperatures for Friday evening will feature a low of 52 degrees, so if you’re heading to D.C., bring a jacket with you. Saturday and Sunday, both day games, will be sunny skies and highs in the low 80’s.