The Washington Nationals (38-26) look to rebound after being swept by the New York Yankees this past weekend against another American League East powerhouse, the Tampa Bay Rays (37-29).
Entering the contest, the Nationals sit atop the National League East, while the Rays are in third place in the AL East even though the Nats have just one more win than the Rays. The AL East’s top three teams all have more wins than the second place NL East team (New York Mets), and slowly but surely, the dominant eastern division in baseball is starting to show itself.
The Nats, though, have done their part in interleague play to help the NL so far, going 7-5 against AL teams this season. The Rays are an even .500 at 6-6.
An epic pitching battle
If you like lots of runs and offense, this isn’t going to be the series for you. Both the Nationals and Rays have among the best pitching staffs in baseball by most metrics. The Nationals have an NL-best 3.01 ERA, 1.157 WHIP, and 8.5 K/9, while the Rays have the second-best ERA in the AL at 3.50, fourth-best 1.257 WHIP, and second-best 8.3 K/9.
Both offenses rank in the bottom-half of their respective leagues in terms of run production per game, but the Rays have a significant advantage in one respect: situational hitting. The Rays are tied for second in the AL in percentage of base runners scored at 15%. Meanwhile, the Nats are tied for dead last at 12% of runner scored. That three percent may not sound like a lot. However, both the Nats and Rays have scored more than 1400 runs this season, so that three percent becomes a lot more significant.
Built from the farm
These teams are similar in several ways. They’re both in the bottom half of the league in payroll, the Nats at $81.3 million and the Rays at $64.1 million, and they both focus a whole lot on the draft and their farm systems to build their MLB roster. For example, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, and James Shields, the core of the Rays starting rotation, were acquired in the draft. Of course, Evan Longoria, BJ Upton, and others are on that list as well. In contrast, the Nats have had Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and many more come up from the farm system.
Evan Longoria has a partially torn left hamstring and is on the 15-day Disabled List. He had a setback in his second rehab start with Triple-A Durham. He’s a huge loss for the Rays.
Matt Joyce (LF) .283 AVG, .912 OPS, 11 HR, 34 RBI
Elliot Johnson (SS) .319 AVG, .385 OBP since June 1st
Desmond Jennings (LF) .242 AVG, .664 OPS after receiving Rookie of the Year consideration in 2011
Jose Molina (C) .196 AVG, .598 OPS, 28 K in 107 at-bats
David Price (8-4, 3.01 ERA) vs. Chien-Ming Wang (2-2, 4.67 ERA)
Jeremy Hellickson (4-3, 3.45 ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (8-1, 2.45 ERA)
Matt Moore (4-5, 4.16 ERA) vs. Gio Gonzalez (8-2, 2.52 ERA)
What to watch for
Starting pitching will be the key to these games. While game one’s matchup doesn’t look to line up well for the Nats, crazier things have happened. Meanwhile, games two and three look to be incredible contests. Moore’s 4.16 ERA isn’t representative of his recent performances, and he’s one of the best young lefties in the game.