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Nats Face Cardinals In Their Return To DC For A Long Homestand

 

In a key test of their tenacity, the Washington Nationals (78-51) are coming home to go head-to-head in a four-game series with the defending World Series Champions, the St. Louis Cardinals (71-59). Although the second-place Cardinals have sat in the middle of the National League Central for most of the season, Nationals' match-ups against big name teams like the Cardinals continue to provide glimpses of how they might fare in postseason play. 

The Cardinals are right behind the Atlanta Braves for the first NL Wild Card spot, which is essentially the same position they were in at this time last year, before they went on to overtake the Braves and eventually win their 11th World Series. The Nats have yet to play the Cards this season, but last season they won four of six games against them. Since 2005, the Nationals have a 19-25 overall record against the St. Louis, with a 14-9 home record. 

Recent Performance

Although not quite as dramatically as the Nationals, the Cardinals have also struggled recently. They failed to score any runs in their last two games, dropping their most recent series to another Wild Card contender, the Pittsburgh Pirates. St. Louis has gone 16-11 in August, winning four, losing three and splitting one of eight series. The Nats have a similar record for the month (17-10), although they have won six of their eight series, with one loss and one split. 

Since the beginning of their five-game losing streak, which they broke up last night with a win over the Miami Marlins, the Nats have averaged 2.33 runs per game. In the same timeframe, the Cardinals have scored an average of 3.66 runs per game, winning three of six contests. Despite the disparity, both teams rank in the top four MLB teams for run differential (Nationals +96, Cardinals +113) and are the top two teams in the National League by a significant margin. 

Pitching vs. Hitting Comparison 

Called “offensive juggernauts” by James Wagner of the Washington Post, the Cardinals’ .276 team average is second only to the Texas Rangers, and only by two points. Their slugging percentage (.430) ranks sixth in the majors, while their on-base percentage (.340) is tied for first. In comparison, the Nationals slash line of .257/.317/.413 ranks 12th, 19th and 13th, respectively. 

Although the Nationals have hit more home runs than the Cardinals – 138 to their 133 – the Nats have struck out a whopping 117 more times than St. Louis has. Three of their qualified batters are hitting .300 or higher (Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, David Freese), while the Nationals’ player with the highest qualified batting average is Ian Desmond, hitting .282. 

On the pitchers’ mound, however, the Nats trump the Cards. Their ERA (3.29), opponent batting average (.234) and WHIP (1.21) all rank second in the majors and first in the National League. The Cardinals’ ERA (3.71), opponent batting average (.255) and WHIP (1.27) rank 9th, 17th and 11th, respectively. 

While the Nationals’ offense has been largely absent in the last few games, it woke up in a big way last night against Miami when they recorded 14 hits in their 8-4 win. The Nats haven’t much enjoyed their recent skid, so they will all be hoping their bats will stay hot through the weekend. The Nationals will want to not only put on a good show for their fans after being away on a five-game road trip, but also to show Major League Baseball that a few losses aren’t going to shake their focus from the pennant.   

Player Profiles

- Since his acquisition by the Cardinals from the Marlins, relief pitcher Edward Mujica has been absolutely lights out. In 12 games and 12.1 innings, he has allowed seven hits and no runs, earning nine holds. 

Yadier Molina suffered minor injuries to his shoulder, back and neck in a collision with Pirates’ Josh Harrison at home plate on Tuesday night. Much of Molina’s pain has subsided, and the Cardinals hot hitter (.325 AVG, 17 HR) will be back in the lineup for Thursday’s game.

Jordan Zimmermann and Kyle Lohse, who will face off on Saturday, have nearly identical stat lines. Zimmermann claims a .263 ERA and is averaging 6.65 strikeouts, 1.79 walks and 0.78 home runs per nine innings. Lohse’s ERA is 2.64, and he is averaging 5.53 strikeouts, 1.66 walks and 0.72 home runs per nine. Zimmermann’s Wins Above Replacement is 3.1, while Lohse’s is 2.9.

Edwin Jackson will take the hill in the series opener against his former team. In 105 at-bats throughout Jackson’s multi-team career, current Cardinals are hitting .276 off him.

Who's hot?

Yadier Molina (C) .485 AVG, .481 OBP, .625 SLG, 1 HR (last seven games)

Matt Holliday (LF) .367 AVG, .367 OBP, .633 SLG, 1 HR (last seven games)

Edward Mujica (RP) 0.00 ERA, 7 H, 9 SO, 1 BB, 12.1 IP (last 12 games) 

Who's not?

Carlos Beltran (RF) .111 AVG, .200 OBP, .111 SLG, 7 SO (last seven games)

Jake Westbrook (SP) 10.80 ERA, .439 BAA, .659 SLG, 10.0 IP (last two starts)

Probable Starters

Edwin Jackson (7-9, 3.72 ERA) vs. Jaime Garcia (3-5, 4.15 ERA)

Gio Gonzalez (16-7, 3.28 ERA) vs. Adam Wainwright (13-10, 3.63 ERA)

Jordan Zimmermann (9-8, 2.63 ERA) vs. Kyle Lohse (14-2, 2.64 ERA)

Stephen Strasburg (15-6, 3.05 ERA) vs. Jake Westbrook (13-10, 3.94 ERA)

About Joe Drugan

Managing editor of The Nats Blog and co-host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast.

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