The Washington Nationals (19-15) are hot coming away from a two-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers, and will look to finish their home stand strong against the Chicago Cubs (13-21).
The Nationals are 6-1 to start the month, while the Cubs, who are last place in the NL Central have won only three of eight games in May.
Their shaky bullpen has been the cause of most of Chicago’s problems. They have had the third-most save opportunities in the MLB (18), and have converted only nine of them into wins. In comparison, the Nationals have recorded saves 12 times in 16 opportunities.
The spread between the Cubs’ starting ERA and bullpen ERA is significant. Their bullpen ranks 25th among MLB teams with a 4.57 ERA, while their starters rank sixth with a 3.41 ERA, just one point behind the Nationals’ fifth-place 3.42 starting ERA.
Pitching for the Win
Because of the struggles the bullpen has been facing, the Cubs' starters have had a tough time recording wins, namely Edwin Jackson and Jeff Samardzija.
Former National Jackson will return to Nationals Park for the first time after signing a four-year $52 million contract with Chicago in the offseason. Jackson has had a rocky start to his first season with his new team. He has a 6.39 ERA, and is the Cubs’ only starting pitcher who has not yet gotten a win. Of the seven games he has started, the Cubs have won only one.
He hasn’t pitched into the seventh inning yet this season, and has had trouble with opposing teams putting together one big inning against him that has taken away his chance at earning a win.
Samardzija, who will start the first game of the series, has not had much more luck with wins than Jackson. He has a 1-4 record and will be facing off with Ross Detwiler for each pitcher’s second win of the season.
In 74 at-bats against Samardzija, current Nationals are batting .230/.247/.392 with 19 strikeouts and three home runs. No National who has faced him in more than five at-bats has had less success than Ryan Zimmerman, who has not gotten a hit in 11 career at-bats. Zimmerman has not faced any other pitcher that many times without getting at least one hit, according to MLB.com.
The End of The Slump
Adam LaRoche hit two of those three Nationals home runs off Samardzija, and the Nats can finally count on him to be a home run threat again. After a month-long slump, during which he had a slash line of .129/.204/.247 with 30 strikeouts and three home runs, he is again hitting like the Silver Slugger winner who led the Nationals with 33 home runs last season.
LaRoche is now riding a six-game hitting streak – the longest of his season – which he credits to talking to former teammate Chipper Jones and Nationals’ hitting coach Rick Eckstein about making adjustments in his swing.
He has a .180 average against current Cubs pitchers, but his improved swing and .460 slugging percentage against them should prove useful throughout the series.
In The Zone
Adam LaRoche (1B) .529 AVG, .625 OBP, .647 SLG, 6 BB (last six games)
Luis Valbuena (3B) .500 AVG, .650 OBP, .571 SLG, 6 BB (last six games)
Anthony Rizzo (1B) .458 AVG, .519 OBP, .750 SLG, 5 RBI (last six games)
Darwin Barney (2B) .000 AVG, .105 OBP, .000 SLG, 2 SO (last five games)
Starlin Castro (SS) .200 AVG, .259 OBP, .240 SLG, 5 SO (last six games)
5/10, Ross Detwiler (1-3, 2.50 ERA, .296 BAA, 21 SO) vs. Jeff Samardzija (1-4, 3.09 ERA, .210 BAA, 52 SO)
5/11, Stephen Strasburg (1-4, 3.45 ERA, .228 BAA, 44 SO) vs. Edwin Jackson (0-5, 6.39 ERA, .284 BAA, 39 SO)
5/12, Gio Gonzalez (3-2, 4.97 ERA, .218 BAA, 41 SO) vs. Scott Feldman (3-3, 2.70 ERA, .200 BAA, 27 SO)