Nationals Visit Our Neighbors To The North

The Washington Nationals are tearing through the American League East from the bottom up. After completing an exciting sweep of the last-place Boston Red Sox, the Nationals (35-23) will travel north of the border to face the fourth-place Toronto Blue Jays (31-29).

At three games above .500, the Blue Jays are 3.5 games behind the second-place New York Yankees and four games behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays, which are the two teams the Nats will face in their next two series.

The Nationals have only played the Blue Jays 15 times since coming to Washington and leaving them as Canada’s only team. The Nats have a 6-9 overall record against the Blue Jays and are 2-7 on the road.

The Blue Jays are 1-3 in their last four games and 4-5 in their last nine (two of those losses came at the hands of the Red Sox at the beginning of the month). The Jays had scored just eight runs through their recent three game losing streak before pulling themselves together and putting a serious beating on the Atlanta Braves, winning 12-4 on Sunday afternoon. They will take that momentum into the series with the Nationals and try to put a stop to their hot streak; the Nats have won six of eight games so far in the month of June.

Righty on righty

The pitching matchup highlight should be Edwin Jackson versus Brandon Morrow on Monday night, as the Blue Jays other two slated starters have been putting in mediocre performances lately. Henderson Alvarez has a 5.58 ERA through his last five starts, and Kyle Drabek hasn’t been doing much better with a 5.53 ERA in his last five.

Morrow, on the other hand, has been having a career season. Through his seven wins he has posted a 0.53 ERA, and has a total ERA of 2.90. He has only gone less than six innings twice, and has pitched two complete game shutouts. He also leads his team in strikeouts (67).

Only three Nationals have faced Morrow – Rick Ankiel, Adam LaRoche and Xavier Nady. In a combined eight at bats against him, LaRoche has the only two hits, a double and a home run.

Although his performances haven’t been given as much attention as headliners Stephen Strasburg or Gio Gonzalez, Jackson has been consistently putting in quality starts. He has a 2.20 ERA in his last four starts (3.11 total) and a total of 59 strikeouts for third place on the staff.

Jose Bautista has a .364 batting average against Jackson in 11 at bats, while the Blue Jays’ other slugger, Edwin Encarnacion, is only batting .143 in seven at bats against him.

Some stats

Most of the Blue Jays offensive numbers sit around the middle, but the two that stand out are their slugging percentage (.418) and their number of home runs (85). Only the Yankees have hit more homers than the Jays, and their tendency to go yard has boosted their slugging percentage up to seventh in the Major Leagues.

They have also scored 293 runs to put them at fifth in the majors, averaging 4.9 per game. The Nationals lag 20 spaces behind them in runs scored (224) and are averaging 3.9 per game.

However, on most other offensive fronts the Nationals and the Jays are about even, and if this series comes down to who pitches better, the Nats have them beat hands down.

The Blue Jays have a 4.01 team ERA and their staff has given up the fourth most home runs in baseball (72). They have also given up the most walks (235) and have struck out the sixth-fewest batters (415). The Nationals are at the opposite end of the spectrum in all those categories, with a first-place 2.98 ERA, the fewest home runs allowed (40), 176 walks (eighth-lowest) and a third-place 500 strikeouts.

Who’s hot?

Edwin Encarnacion (DH) .290 AVG, .937 OPS, 17 HR, 44 RBI

Jose Bautista (RF) .288, 1.037 OPS, 12 HR, 28 RBI (in his last 30 games)

Darren Oliver (RP) 1.71 ERA, 22 SO in 21.0 IP (hasn’t given up a hit in his last four appearances)

Who’s not?

JP Arencibia (C) .227 AVG, .264 OBP, 55 SO

Francisco Cordero (RP) 5.70 ERA, .330 AVG, 2/5 S/SVO, 4 Losses

Probable starters

Edwin Jackson (2-3, 3.11 ERA) vs. Brandon Morrow (7-3, 2.90 ERA)

Chien-Ming Wang (1-2, 5.11 ERA) vs. Henderson Alvarez (3-5, 3.76 ERA)

Stephen Strasburg (7-1, 2.41 ERA) vs. Kyle Drabek (4-6, 4.43 ERA)

Joe Drugan

About Joe Drugan

Joe is the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog and host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2010 and with The Nats Blog since 2011.