The Washington Nationals (17-15) have never won a game against the Detroit Tigers (19-11), but they will try to break that losing streak during the Tigers’ first visit to Nationals Park.
The two-game series will be the first of four games the two teams will play against each other this year, and will mark the Nationals’ first opportunity since 2010 to add a win to their 0-6 record against Detroit.
The Tigers will be coming into D.C. on a hot-streak, after sweeping a four-game series against the Houston Astros and winning 10 of their last 12 games. While the Nationals have not been as consistent as the Tigers, they have been piecing together wins, taking seven of their last 11 to win two series and split one.
Many predictions have these two teams facing each other in the 2013 World Series, and the Tigers have been playing up to their hype. Playing well against them this week is an opportunity for the Nationals to remind the baseball community that they are still in the upper echelon of major league teams.
The Stats of Champions
The stats of the reigning American League and National League East champions provide a interesting comparison.
Both teams employ very successful pitching staffs, though Tigers pitchers have dominated since the start of the season while the Nationals have been slower to establish a rhythm.
Their team ERAs are within a few points of each other (Tigers 3.36, Nationals 3.53) and are ranked fifth and seventh in the MLB. The Tigers have given up the fewest home runs in the majors (16), have the second-most strikeouts (310) and the third-lowest opponent batting average (.232). The Nationals have struck out 236 batters (tied for 18th), have a .241 opponent batting average (11th) and have given up 31 home runs (18th).
On the offensive side, the Tigers outpace the Nationals significantly. The Nats have both the third-lowest team batting average (.231) and on-base percentage (.295) in the majors, while the Tigers are first in both categories (.285 AVG, .352 OBP).
The Quiet Ace
Pitching will have to carry the Nats through this series, because the offensive stats are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and Jordan Zimmermann, the Nationals’ acting ace, is just the man to do it.
Zimmermann will get the ball in the series opener, and will look to continue his streak of 18 innings without allowing a run. Almost all of his stats rank in the top ten of major league pitchers, including wins (5), ERA (1.64), batting average against (.168) and WHIP (0.75).
Zimmermann has faced only three current Tigers – Omar Infante, Torii Hunter and Anibal Sanchez – and has held them to a .158 batting average in 19 at bats.
Dan Haren followed Zimmermann’s latest gem with an impressive outing of his own, and will look to have back-to-back success again in this series. In his best performance of the year Haren pitched eight innings, giving up only one run with four strikeouts in a 3-1 win over the Atlanta Braves.
Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post has noted that the Nationals offense has recently shown signs of waking up, and this series would be a great time to do so. However, it will be a hard feat to accomplish against Anibal Sanchez, whom the Nationals have historically struggled mightily against.
A former Miami Marlin, Sanchez has stifled current Nationals to a .199 batting average in 191 at bats. Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos have been the most successful against him, hitting .320 and .385 in 27 and 15 at bats, respectively. In 19 games against the Nationals he has never been charged with a loss, going 8-0 with a 1.97 ERA.
Sanchez has yet to allow a home run this season, and has struck out 50 batters, which ranks seventh in the majors. In his best start of the year he struck out a total of 17 Braves in eight innings in the Tigers’ 10-0 victory over Atlanta.
Sanchez will try to out-duel Zimmermann in the first game of the series as the Nationals aim for their first victory against him.
In The Zone
Miguel Cabrera (3B) .458 AVG, 552 OBP, .917 SLG, 3 HR, 10 RBI (last six games)
Prince Fielder (1B) .348 AVG, .483 OBP, .609 SLG, 2 HR, 7 RBI (last six games)
The Tigers’ entire starting lineup, minus the catcher position, is hitting above .270 in the last week.
Don Kelly (LF) .182 AVG, .308 OBP, .273 SLG, 0 HR (last five games, 11 at bats)
Brayan Pena (C) .182 AVG, .182 OBP, .455 SLG, 1 HR (last three games, 11 at bats)
5/7, Jordan Zimmermann (5-1, 1.64 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 27 SO) vs. Anibal Sanchez (3-2, 1.82 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 50 SO)
5/8, Dan Haren (3-3, 5.01 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 24 SO) vs. Doug Fister (4-0, 2.48 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 29 SO)
Note: Due to rain, Tuesday’s game is postponed and has been rescheduled for Thursday. Zimmermann will start 5/8, and Haren will start 5/9.