The Washington Nationals (48-47) will start the second half of the season against the Los Angeles Dodgers (47-47) in a series highlighted by premier pitching and marquee hitters.
Both the Nationals and the Dodgers are in second place in their respective divisions, and both have near .500 records. However, these two teams were riding opposite trajectories prior to the Midsummer Classic.
The Dodgers won 17 of their last 22 games before the break, while the Nationals were on a 2-5 slide.
But the clock starts over for all teams across Major League Baseball after the break. The second half is an opportunity for a fresh start, with lessons learned in the first half taken into consideration.
With their similar records, standings and aspirations, both L.A. and D.C. are going to seek to start the second half strong, and Nationals Park will be their stage.
Fireballers and Phenoms
This series will feature a few of the best pitchers in baseball, as the Nationals send Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann to the mound to counter Ricky Nolasco, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers.
Nolasco has a 2.32 ERA in seven starts at Nationals Park, where he was charged with the loss on Opening Day this year when he was with the Miami Marlins, and Greinke has a 1.86 ERA against the Nats.
However, perhaps the toughest day for each team’s hitters will come on Sunday, when 2011 Cy Young winner Kershaw takes on potential 2013 Cy Young candidate Zimmermann.
Kershaw has the lowest ERA (1.98), batting average against (.188) and WHIP (0.91) of all qualified major-league pitchers. However, Zimmermann isn’t far behind him with a 2.58 ERA (seventh), .222 batting average against (16th) and 0.97 WHIP (fifth).
The Nationals have a .238/.275/.366 career slash line in 265 at-bats against Nolasco, a .329/.443/.820 line 79 at-bats against Greinke, and have hit .274/.328/.686 in 106 at-bats against Kershaw.
It won’t be the warmest welcome for the Nationals bats, but hopefully the extended rest and help from each team’s respective headline-grabbing player will keep this series from being entirely a string of pitchers’ duels.
Both labeled “phenoms” by national media, Home Run Derby runner-up Bryce Harper and awe-inspiring Cuban rookie Yasiel Puig will go head-to-head at Nats Park for the first time.
Harper’s .264/.371/.522 slash line with 13 home runs in 201 at-bats will go up against Puig’s .391/.422/.616 with eight home runs in 151 at-bats, as each tries to lead his team to a series victory.
Dodger’s manager Don Mattingly has noted that “it’s going to be a short second half,” and with just 67 games left to play, neither team is going to waste any time beginning their race toward October, starting this weekend in Washington.
In The Zone
Jayson Werth (RF) .472 AVG, .533 OBP, .667 SLG, 7 RBI (last 11 games)
Yasiel Puig (RF) .391 AVG, .422 OBP, .616 SLG, 8 HR (38 games before All-Star break)
Adrian Gonzalez (1B) .297 AVG, .347 OBP, .479 SLG, 14 HR (91 games before All-Star break)
Nick Punto (2B) .251 AVG, .323 OBP, .308 SLG, 42 SO (74 games before All-Star break)
Mark Ellis (2B) .255 AVG, .307 OBP, .333 SLG, 39 SO (66 games before All-Star break)
7/19, Stephen Strasburg (5-7, 2.99 ERA, .216 BAA, 109 SO) vs. Ricky Nolasco (6-9, 3.76 ERA, .261 BAA, 99 SO)
7/20, Gio Gonzalez (7-3, 3.03 ERA, .207 BAA, 114 SO) vs. Zack Greinke (8-2, 3.49 ERA, .256 BAA, 68 SO)
7/21, Jordan Zimmermann (12-4, 2.58 ERA, .222 BAA, 95 SO) vs. Clayton Kershaw (8-6, 1.98 ERA, .188 BAA, 139 SO)