The Nationals begin a two game series against the Miami Marlins on Tuesday, hoping to snap out of a four-game losing streak. During that skid, they were struggled to score runs, play clean defense throughout and pitch consistently. The Nationals have beaten the Marlins seven of 13 times this season.
Here’s a look at some matchups to keep an eye on:
■Nationals power hitters vs. Marlins pitching: Until Friday, the Nationals had won 20 consecutive games in which they homered. They rank in the top half of the National League and majors with 135 home runs. In their past four losses, they have homered only once, scoring six combined runs. (Not having Ian Desmond and Michael Morse in the lineup for much of those games also didn’t help.)
Clearly, home runs aren’t the only way to score runs but it has worked for the Nationals. Although he is hitting .309 since Aug. 10, Ryan Zimmerman hasn’t homered in that span. Since a two home run effort on Aug. 4, Adam LaRoche has been in a mini-slump, hitting .192 with no homers.
The Nationals, including Zimmerman and LaRoche, have had plenty of success against Tuesday’s starter Ricky Nolaso. The right-hander has a 6.35 ERA, two losses in two starts over 11 1/3 innings against Washington this season. Against Nolasco, LaRoche is a career 14 for 43 (.326) and Zimmerman is 11 for 40 (.275) with three home runs.
Wednesday’s pitcher, right-hander Jacob Turner, is making only his second start of the season for the Marlins and has never faced any of these National hitters. Right-handed batters are hitting .319 with eight home runs against him.
As a team, the Nationals have hit the Marlins only decently this season. They have a collective .249 batting average against the Marlins, who have a team ERA in the bottom half of the majors. (Actually, the bullpen was among the worst in the majors earlier this season and has pitched better of late.)
■ Giancarlo Stanton vs. Nationals pitchers: The slugger missed an entire month of the season with a knee injury and is still second in the National League, ninth in the majors, with 29 home runs. If he had enough at-bats to qualify, his .601 slugging percentage would lead the majors and his .959 OPS would be fifth.
Since his return from the disabled list on Aug. 7, Stanton has demolished opposing hitters. He has smacked 10 home runs over the past 71 at-bats with an unreal 1.118 OPS. In the Marlins last series, a three-game set against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he homered in each game. He has smacked a home run in eight of the past 11 games. It’s fun to imagine how much more damage Stanton would do if he had better hitters around him.
Stanton has hit 11 home runs against the Nationals in his career, the most he has against any other team. He hits a majority of them against right-handed hitters: 65 against them vs. 20 home runs against left-handed pitchers.
Though he has far fewer at-bats this season against left-handers, Stanton actually has a higher batting average against them (.306) vs. right-handers (.279). But it’s the power against right-handers that should be a red flag for the Nationals. Stanton is a dead-pull home run hitter. He has immense raw power and strength, but 76 percent of long balls have been to left or left-center field.
(Jordan Zimmermann may be happy he isn’t facing Stanton. The slugger has hit three career home runs off only two pitchers: Zimmermann and Livan Hernandez.)
■The running game: The Marlins lead the majors with 123 stolen bases and the Nationals have the second-worst caught stealing percentage (86.1). The Marlins will be without their leading base stealer, Emilio Bonifacio, who is on the disabled list. But Jose Reyes and his 29 stolen bases will still be a threat. Tuesday’s starter, Stephen Strasburg, has allowed the most stolen bases of any Nationals starters (12 in 14 attempts). Wednesday’s starter, Ross Detwiler, has better success: three stolen bases in five attempts.
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