The Washington Nationals (52-54) are fresh off a series victory over the New York Mets, and will look to keep their winning ways alive against the AL Central first-place Detroit Tigers (59-45).
The offensive outbreak the Nationals produced in the series finale with the Mets helped them secure their first series win since July 6. They have played mediocre baseball since that last win, but will attempt to close out July against the Tigers in the same triumphant way they started the month.
The Nationals swept a two-game series against the Tigers in May, but they have never won a game in three visits to Comerica Park.
The Nats offense came together at the right time as they prepare to take on one of the best offensive lineups in baseball.
The Tigers’ .280 average and .346 on-base percentage both rank first among MLB teams, and their .437 slugging percentage ranks third. They have scored the most runs (533), and have the second highest run differential (+118) in the majors.
The Nationals on the other hand, have a .242/.300/.387 slash line, which ranks near the bottom in all three categories. They have scored 399 runs, which is tied for fifth-least.
However, the Nats have scored 29 runs over their last five games, in which they have a 4-1 record. Their average of 5.8 runs per game in that span is a bit skewed because of their 14-run outburst on Sunday, but if there was ever a time for them to break out of their offensive slouch, it was then. They will need to carry the energy from that series finale into the opener with the Tigers if they wish to compete with such a menacing opponent.
Name That Pitcher
The Nationals will avoid facing this year’s Tigers ace, Matt Scherzer (15-1), who has dominated major-league hitters all season. However, four of the best pitchers on these two teams will take the hill in this series, including two of the most recognizable names of MLB pitching: Stephen Strasburg for the Nationals and Justin Verlander for the Tigers.
Strasburg has never faced the Tigers, but his opponent, Anibal Sanchez, is exceptionally familiar with the Nationals.
Sanchez has a 2.02 ERA against the Nationals in 20 appearances, and has held them to a .212/.297/.308 slash line. He boasts an 8-1 record against them, but his one loss came earlier this year when the Nats scored two earned runs off him in a 3-1 victory.
Against Verlander, current Nationals have a .293/.321/.413 slash line in 75 at-bats. Only Denard Span (42 AB, .357 AVG) and Kurt Suzuki (24 AB, .216 AVG), both former American Leaguers, have had significant face time with him.
Verlander beat the Nationals the only time he faced them, allowing three earned runs over eight innings in 2010.
Gio Gonzalez will pitch against Verlander as he tried to dispel the ghosts that haunt him at the Tigers’ home field. Gonzalez had one of the worst starts of his career at Comerica Park, when he lasted only one and two-thirds innings and gave up eight earned runs on five hits, three of which were home runs.
Gonzalez is 1-3 with a 5.33 ERA in five starts against the Tigers, but he will make an effort to add another “W” to the win column for both himself and his team as they again make an attempt to sustain their recent momentum.
In The Zone
Ryan Zimmerman (3B) .393 AVG, .414 OBP, .536 SLG, 1 HR (last seven games)
Torii Hunter (RF) .412 AVG, .421 OBP, .824 SLG, 2 HR, 4 RBI (last four games)
Jhonny Peralta (SS) .375 AVG, .275 OBP, .708 SLG, 2 HR, 7 RBI (last six games)
Don Kelly (LF) .154 AVG, .368 OBP, .154 SLG, 5 BB (last six games)
Prince Fielder (1B) .125 AVG, .160 OBP, .250 SLG, 1 HR (last six games)
7/30, Stephen Strasburg (5-8, 2.85 ERA, .211 BAA, 127 SO) vs. Anibal Sanchez (8-7, 2.68 ERA, .235 BAA, 119 SO)
7/31, Gio Gonzalez (7-3, 2.97 ERA, .213 BAA, 136 SO) vs. Justin Verlander (10-8, 3.99 ERA, .266 BAA, 132 SO)