joey votto

Series Preview: Nats hope to knock down division leading Cincinnati

The Washington Nationals (26-29) welcome the Cincinnati Reds (31-23) to the nations capital in what is sure to be an action packed weekend series. Washington hopes they can right the ship after a disappointing west coast swing that now has them in last place, 6.5 games behind the division leading Braves. As for the Reds, they are surprisingly tied for first in the Central with the Cardinals.

Most of Cincinnati’s success this season has come from their ability to get the big hit in crucial at bats, as a majority of their wins came in their final at bat. First baseman Joey Votto has emerged into the star everyone knew he would become by batting .320, with 11 home runs and 34 RBI. Also, the contributions from veteran third baseman Scott Rolen have been a pleasant surprise by sporting a .298 average and leading the team with 13 home runs and 37 RBI. Rolen hasn’t played more than 115 games since he was a member of the World Series winning St. Louis Cardinals back in 2006, and was limited to only 40 games last year. Many people, including myself were beginning to write Rolen off as being a “has been” with his most productive years clearly behind him, but he has silenced all of his critics in 2010 showing that he can still play at a high level.

One of the best stories in baseball this year has been the performance of rookie Mike Leake, who went straight from the Arizona State campus to the major leagues…and he hasn’t disappointed one bit. With a 4-0 record and 2.45 ERA he has consistently been going 6 or 7 innings per outing, unheard of for a pitcher coming straight out of college.

What has people scratching their head is the rapid downfall of Aaron Harang, who will pitch the series opener Friday. Harang had 32 total wins in 2006 and 2007, but since then, has only managed to pick up 16 wins and has seen his ERA skyrocket to 5.48 this season. Beginning in 2008 Harang’s strikeout totals have dropped at an alarming pace and hitters are batting .299 against him in 2010. That is an incredibly high number which makes you wonder how much longer Reds manager can keep him in the rotation if Cincinnati wants to make a serious run at the post-season.

The Nationals will be sending out some of their best in Livan Hernandez and Luis Atilano to put an end to the teams ugly play as of late. Washington has played a lot better at home than on the road and should aim to take two of three from Cincy, if not a sweep. The Nats then can hope to bring that momentum into the Pittsburgh series beginning Tuesday when Stephen Strasburg takes the mound for the first time.