Nats vs. Rays, series preview

After dropping two out of three to the Cincinnati Reds at home, the Washington  (16-42) Nationals will make the trip south to kick off interleague play and face the Tampa Bay Rays (31-31).

The Rays can offer something to the Nationals that few teams can, a blueprint.

When the Nationals finish this year with the worst record in baseball, which they are overwhelmingly likely to do, they will have done so two years in a row. The only reward for that is the first overall pick in the draft for a second season in a row.

The only other team to do that in MLB history is the Tampa Bay Rays in 2006 and 2007.

In 2008 the Rays were in the World Series.

So what changed for the Rays from 2007 to 2008? The Rays had excellent young pitching talent that had finally arrived, they made some gutsy moves including trading top prospect Delmon Young.

On top of player personnel moves the Rays hired Joe Madden and made the all-important commitment to defense.  

Sound like a good blueprint? Seems to me it could work just fine for our ball club.

While the Rays had dominant success in 2008, they have had a little trouble getting off the ground in 2009. Last year’s ace, Scott Kazmir, struggled early and then hit the DL. Closer Troy Pericval has an ERA over 6, and stars like B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena and Pat Burrell are struggling to keep their batting average above .250.

There is reason to believe for Rays fans however.

 Sluggers Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist are setting a solid pace while Carl Crawford is having the best hitting season of his life. 2007’s number one pick David Price has joined the club and in four starts has a 2.37 ERA and 26 strikeouts in only 19 innings.

The Rays will look to get their line up started against three Nationals rookie starting pitchers.

Pitching Match Ups

Criag Stammen (0-2, 6.45) vs. Matt Garza (4-4, 3.55)

Stammen goes for his first win of the season, and of his career, tonight in Florida. While Stammen’s stuff has looked solid, it hasn’t been consistent, often allowing him to make mistakes which lead to big innings. This would be a great time for him to break out.

Matt Garza came to Tampa Bay in the Delmon Young trade as a fizzled pitching prospect that never really figured it out. Now, at 25, it seems he has finally grasped the game mentally in order to utilize his great physical assets. He has now risen himself to one of the better starting pitchers in the American League, and likely this teams Ace.

Jordan Zimmermanm (2-3, 5.71) vs. Andy Sonnastine (4-6, 7.00)

Zimmermann missed his last start due to Elbow soreness.  A scary sign to say the lease for the Nationals, especially after the Shawn Hill saga. Zimmermann claims to be fine however, as he looks to continue to work on consistency and cutting down on mistakes which produce runs.

Sonnastine has been by far the worst pitcher for the Rays his year. He is a contact style pitchers who can be effective when batters are missing, but not when they’re squaring up on the ball. May inevitably lose his starting spot once all starting pitchers are healthy.

Ross Detwiler (0-3, 5.06) vs. James Shields (5-5, 3.36)

Detwiler continues to show great talent and little consistency, as most of the Nationals rookie pitchers do. He was able to get through five innings against the Reds this week with allowing only three runs and five hits. He needs to focus on not walking batters and not making mistakes up in the zone.

James Shields is another pitcher for the Rays who may be one of the better starting pitchers in the American League but not  necessarily this teams ace. He has been very good the last three years, however, finishing each year with under a 4.00 ERA.