Home Series 13 Preview: Cubs vs. Nationals
Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rondon (left to right) have all been big contributors this season for the Nationals. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
Nearly everyone picked the Nationals to run away with the NL East in 2014, but it has been a tightly bunched division in the early going, with the Nats just a game up on Atlanta as Thursday’s play began. Washington’s offense has been solid, and their pitching is about as good as it gets in the National League. Unfortunately, one of the bigger stories for the team thus far has been new manager Matt Williams calling out Bryce Harper for his apparent lack of hustle on an early-season ground out. Harper, who is known for his all-out, but often reckless effort, took the criticism in stride. Shortly thereafter, he hurt his thumb stretching a double into a triple, and he has missed a large portion of the season. He is due to return soon, though he’ll still miss the Cubs series.
(2nd in NL, 3.5 RA/G)
The Nats have the makings of a dominating rotation, but the arms didn’t quite perform to expectations in the early going. Former No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg is getting plenty of strikeouts and isn’t walking many, but he’s been very unlucky, with a ridiculous .356 BABIP resulting in a 3.70 ERA. University of Illinois product and Friday’s starter Tanner Roark is having a solid season (7-4, 2.79 ERA), while Saturday’s Game 1 starter Gio Gonzalez hasn’t yet lived up to his career numbers. Offseason acquisition and Thursday’s starter Doug Fister has been the addition everyone expected after coming back from injury in early May. Since his return, he has posted a 6-2 record with a 2.65 ERA. The bullpen is led by closer Rafael Soriano, who has converted 18 of 20 saves this season. Blake Treinen will start Game 2 of the doubleheader Saturday night.
(8th IN NL, 4.0 RS/G)
Harper’s loss was costly, especially considering no one has really stepped up in his absence. Veterans Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth have been strong, while Denard Span is bouncing back nicely after a rough 2013 season. His return has allowed the Nats to keep the offense clicking, even after losing Ryan Zimmerman for several weeks to a thumb injury. Danny Espinosa has stepped into a full-time role at second base, and the hot-hitting Anthony Rendon has moved back to his college position at third. The now healthy Zimmerman has looked solid since his move to the outfield, but it will be interesting to see what the Nats do with him once Harper comes off the DL.