As the Washington Nationals (9-6) exit a portion of the schedule that exclusively featured NL-East rivals, their first opponent will be their biggest non-division rival, the St. Louis Cardinals (9-6).
The two teams will meet in Washington for a four-game series with identical records and second-place rankings in their respective divisions, but despite the apparently even matchup, the odds will be in favor of a Cardinals victory.
Since their playoff-eliminating loss in the 2012 National League Division Series, the Nationals have not won a game against the Cardinals. They lost all six games against St. Louis in 2013, and as James Wagner of the Washington Post pointed out, the Nats won just eight of 37 games against NL division winners last year (St. Louis, Los Angeles, Atlanta).
After starting the season on a disappointing note (1-5) against their other most significant rival, the Atlanta Braves, the Nationals have an opportunity this weekend to show that the best teams in the league can’t just steamroll over them.
Inverse Pitching Stats
The Nationals’ starting pitchers have been off to a rocky start, putting their collective ERA at 5.00, good for 27th in MLB. They have given only seven quality starts after 16 games, and their opponents have a .281 batting average against them (26th).
The Cardinals starters, on the other hand, have a fifth-best 2.78 ERA and a .235 opponent batting average (10th), with 87 strikeouts to Washington starters’ 88.
But what the Nationals have been lacking in starting pitching, the bullpen has made up for. The bullpen boasts a 2.39 ERA (fourth best) with 67 strikeouts and a 1.03 WHIP (both second best).
The Nationals’ bullpen has also thrown the fourth-most innings of any major league bullpen (52.2) due to abbreviated outings from their starters, but the relievers have done their jobs when called upon.
The Cardinals bullpen falls at the opposite end of the spectrum, with a 5.06 ERA (23rd), 39 strikeouts (22nd) and a 1.24 WHIP (9th) in 42.2 innings (23rd).
Basically what to make of all those numbers is: the Nationals are less likely to score in early innings, but don’t rule out a comeback if the starters hand the Cardinals an initial lead, as they have been prone to doing.
The Nationals will be facing the Cardinals’ young star Michael Wacha for just the second time. The last time he pitched against Washington, Wacha allowed zero runs over eight and two-thirds innings with nine strikeouts. Ryan Zimmerman, who is on the disabled list, was the only National to get a hit off him.
Wacha and his teammates will be looking to shut down the Nationals again this weekend, as they have done so well in the past, and if the Nats aren’t careful, they run the risk of continue to develop their reputation as the talent-laden team with no follow through. Winning this series will help them quiet the critics, at least for a little while.
In The Zone
Zach Walters (SS) .500 AVG, .500 OBP, 2.000 SLG, 2 H, 2 HR, 4 AB
Yadier Molina (C) .474 AVG, .524 OBP, .526 SLG, 1 2B, 2 SO (last five games)
Jhonny Peralta (SS) .368 AVG, .368 OBP, .789 SLG, 2 HR, 3 SO (last five games)
Kolten Wong (2B) .190 AVG, .190 OBP, .190 SLG, 0 BB, 2 SO (last five games)
Allen Craig (RF) .238 AVG, .333 OBP, .429 SLG, 2 BB, 4 SO (last six games)
4/17, Taylor Jordan (0-1, 4.76 ERA, .327 BAA, 8 SO, 11.1 IP) vs. Adam Wainwright (2-1, ERA)
4/18, Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 3.50 ERA, .227 BAA, 17 SO, 18.0 IP) vs. Michael Wacha (2-0, ERA)
4/19, Jordan Zimmermann (1-0, 5.27 ERA, .309 BAA, 17 SO, 13.2 IP) vs. Lance Lynn (3-0, ERA)
4/20, Stephen Strasburg (1-2, 6.00 ERA, .279 BAA, 33 SO, 21.0 IP) vs. Shelby Miller (1-2, ERA)