Series Preview: Nats Look to Continue Winning Ways Against Lowly Astros

After completing an exciting series win against the Miami Marlins, the Washington Nationals (65-43) will carry their winning momentum into Texas to play a four game series against the Houston Astros (36-73) at Minute Maid Park.

The last-place Astros have had a tough go of it since the All-Star break, spending most of their second half on the road, and only securing three wins to bring home to their fans in 23 games. At one point, the Astros had a 12 game losing streak going, which they briefly snapped against the Pittsburgh Pirates before being swept by the Milwaukee Brewers.

In contrast, the Nationals have been putting all the pieces of their game together to go a successful 16-9 since the break. Not to be outdone by their rivals – the Atlanta Braves – who just took two of three from the Astros, the Nats will look to roll out of Houston with a series win.

The Nationals are now three games above the Braves after some movement in the standings over the weekend. Although the Braves have been pushing for the top spot, the Nationals haven’t been letting them gain much ground; even when the Braves win, the Nats manage to win too to stay one step ahead of their southern foes. The Nationals again have an opportunity to maintain that lead this week against the struggling Astros.

Sorry Stats

At times this year when the Nationals offense was less than great, it always had its superb pitching to back it up. But when you don’t have good offense OR good pitching, you end up with an unfortunate record like the Astros’ 36-73, which sits them a whopping 30.5 games behind the first-place Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central.

The Astros hitting and pitching stats both occupy the bottom of major league team statistics lists. Their collective slash line is .241/.309/.381, which rank 26th, 25th and 26th, respectively. They have struck out the most times of any National League team (892), and have scored the fourth fewest runs (415).

On the bump their players aren’t doing any better, with the second worst team ERA (4.81) and WHIP (1.45) in baseball. Astros pitchers have given up the fourth most home runs (130) of all major league pitching staffs, and they have the second highest opponent batting average (.274).

The Nationals pitching numbers couldn’t be any more opposite of the Astros. With their team ERA (3.28), WHIP (1.21) and batting average against (.234) all ranking first, the Nationals pitchers can’t do any more to separate themselves from the Astros’ dismal production.

Hopefully the Nats offense can capitalize on the ‘Stros lackluster pitching, and continue to keep their hot offense rolling (they have the highest team batting average in the National League since the All-Star break). The way the numbers stack up, the Nationals have a great opportunity this week to add some curly W’s to their win column.

Worth Noting

- The Nationals took three of four from the Astros earlier this year at Nationals Park. Since 2005, the Nats are 26-26 against the Astros overall, and 9-16 against them at Minute Maid Park.

- Lefty Dallas Keuchel has fallen apart since putting together a strong start to the year. His 1.35 ERA through his first three starts collapsed into a 10.42 ERA in his last four. During his last outing against the Milwaukee Brewers, he lasted just four innings, and gave up seven earned runs on seven hits and six walks. Of his 85 pitches, he only threw 44 for strikes; his lowest strike total this season.

- The Nationals will narrowly miss playing against former teammate Brian Bixler. After a hot spring training and a solid season start, Bixler hit just .094 in 32 at-bats in July for the Astros, and was sent down to the minors on July 30.

- Relief pitcher Francisco Cordero was put on the disabled list on Friday due to inflammation in his right big toe. Cordero appeared in six games and blew three saves for the Astros since he was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in a trade on July 20.

Who’s hot?

Chris Johnson (3B) .411 AVG, .459 OBP, .821 SLG, 5 HR (last 15 games)

Justin Maxwell (CF) .333 AVG, .373 OBP, .688 SLG, 4 HR (last 15 games)

Wesley Wright (RP) 1.50 ERA, .175 BAA, 7 H, 13 SO (last 12 innings pitched)

Who’s not?

Scott Moore (3B) .220 AVG, .291 OBP, .400 SLG, 2 HR, 10 SO (last 15 games)

Dallas Keuchel (SP) 10.42 ERA, .351 BAA, .457 OBP, 6 SO, 6 HR (last four starts)

Probable Starters

Edwin Jackson (6-7, 3.57 ERA) vs. Dallas Keuchel (1-4, 5.77 ERA)

Ross Detwiler (6-4, 3.02 ERA) vs. Jordan Lyles (2-8, 5.95 ERA)

Gio Gonzalez (13-6, 3.34 ERA) vs. Armando Galarraga (0-1, 5.23 ERA)

Jordan Zimmermann (8-6, 2.45 ERA) vs. Lucas Harrell (9-7, 3.98 ERA)