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Series Preview: Nationals Visit Miami

After a day off on Thursday, the Washington Nationals (12-10) will continue their road trip with three games against the Florida Marlins (11-11). The Nationals are coming off an extremely competitive three-game series with the Chicago Cubs in which they took the last two after dropping the opener.

The first game ended in painful fashion: with the score tied at three in the bottom of the tenth inning, reliever Brian Bruney walked Aramis Ramirez with the bases loaded to force in Ryan Theriot for the winning run. The Nationals took Tuesday’s game 3-1 on another dazzling performance by Livan Hernandez. The 35 year-old righty threw seven innings of one-run ball, allowing just six hits and one walk, while the offense was powered by Ian Desmond’s two-hit, two-RBI day. Wednesday’s win featured yet another phenomenal outing. In just his second start of the season, Luis Atilano held the Cubs to two runs on six hits over six innings.

The Nationals offense largely came courtesy of the Adams – Dunn and Kennedy both hit solo home runs, while Wil Nieves drove in the other run in a 3-2 victory. As April turns to May, the Nats find themselves two games over .500 and just one back of the New York Mets for the NL East lead.

The Marlins on the other hand enter this series after failing to reach the expectations many had for them entering this season. Armed with the best all around player in baseball, Hanley Ramirez, and one of the best young pitchers in the National League, Josh Johnson, the Marlins have a strong core that is similar to the ones that helped lead Florida to their two previous championships. But if the young players want the Marlins front office to open their frugal wallets and spend to get them more support, they’ll have to prove that they are a young product worth investing in by having much more on the field success.

MARLINS FLOUNDER IN LATEST SERIES

Since starting the season 8-5, the Marlins have lost six of their past nine games, including three straight series to the Houston Astros, the Colorado Rockies, and the San Diego Padres. After blowing out the Padres 10-1 in their series opener, the Marlins dropped consecutive games by scores of 4-1 and 6-4. The offensive explosion in the first game was coupled with a 12-strikeout complete game by ace Josh Johnson (who had three hits and three RBIs of his own); however, Jon Garland struck out 10 Marlins in game two and Nate Robertson struggled in game three, causing the Marlins to drop both. This will be the first meeting between the two NL East teams this season.

WHO’S HOT?
Jorge Cantu: 4-10, 1 HR, 3 runs, 2 RBIs
WHO’S NOT?
Cameron Maybin: 2-13, 5 Ks, 0-6 w/RISP

PROBABLE STARTERS

Friday, April 30: Ricky Nolasco (2-0, 3.03) vs. Craig Stammen (1-0, 6.75)
Saturday, May 1: Chris Volstad (1-2, 5.79) vs. Scott Olsen (1-1, 6.14)
Sunday, May 2: Josh Johnson (2-1, 3.19) vs. John Lannan (1-1, 5.53)

THE BATTLE ON THE BASEPATHS

The Nationals are tied for the National League lead in stolen bases with 23, but are also tied for second in the National League in times caught stealing. The Marlins, on the other hand – while not a prolific running team (nine stolen bases) – have allowed 23 stolen bases with just 7 runners caught stealing. Much of the Nationals’ limited offensive production this season (22nd in runs scored) can be attributed to their success on the basepaths thus, when combined with the Marlins’ apparent propensity for letting runners advance, the Nationals appear well-positioned to exploit this weakness.

A COMEDY OF ERRORS

Speaking of defensive limitations, the Marlins are second to last the league with a .974 fielding percentage and lead all of baseball in errors committed with 21 in just 22 games. The team has been particularly weak up the middle, with shortstop Hanley Ramirez and second baseman Dan Uggla committing four and three errors each, respectively. With a relatively average offense and pitching staff based on their early season numbers, the Marlins cannot afford to continue to play such poor defense and remain a viable contender in the increasingly competitive NL East.

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