Nationals face another test in Dodgers

brushback_harperThe Los Angeles Dodgers come to Washington for a three-game series beginning today, and the Nationals will have another opportunity to test themselves against one of the National League’s most talented teams. The Nationals are 3-7 this season against teams that won division titles last year, the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals. In fact, the Nationals have struggled for more than a year against the league’s best teams.

Despite dropping two of three games against the Philadelphia Phillies over the week, the Nationals have a 17-14 record and sit half a game behind the Braves in the NL East standings. The Dodgers have a similar record, 18-14, good for third place in a crowded NL West.

The Nationals have made a habit this season of producing little offense against an opponent’s starting pitcher and then beating up their bullpen. They lead the majors with a collective .807 OPS from the seventh inning on. That approach may not be easy against the Dodgers.

Dodgers starting pitchers have a combined 2.99 ERA, fifth best in the majors leagues. The Nationals are scheduled to face Zack Greinke on Monday, Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday and former teammate Dan Haren on Wednesday. Greinke (5-0, 2.04 ERA) has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season. Kershaw, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, will be making only his second start of the season, and first since straining a muscle in his upper back after the season opener. Haren, who had an up-and-down season with the Nationals in 2013, has a 4-0 record and a 2.39 ERA in six starts and has done a better job of keeping the ball on the ground and in the stadium.

The Dodgers’ bullpen has a 3.79 ERA, only the 15th best mark in majors, but it is better than the results may indicate. Kenley Jansen, who throws a superb cutter, has a 3.52 ERA and 11 saves. Jamey Wright (2.70 ERA), Chris Perez (1.88 ERA), Chris Withrow (0.66 ERA) and J.P. Howell (2.31 ERA) have all been sharp. 

Offensively, the Dodgers may be without one of their best players. Yasiel Puig, who has a .906 OPS, slammed into the right field wall in Miami on Sunday trying to catch the Marlins’ game-winning double. He walked off the field with a trainer and was listed as day-to-day. His injury could mean the Nationals will have to face an outfield configuration that could be their advantage: Matt Kemp (.227 average), Andre Ethier (.230 average) and struggling Carl Crawford (.195 average). The Dodgers’ offense has been carried by Adrian Gonzalez (.993 OPS and nine home runs), Juan Uribe (.876 OPS) and Dee Gordon (a surprising.851 OPS). Slugger Hanley Ramirez is hitting .256 but has 15 extra-base hits.

Few conclusions can be drawn from an early May series against an infrequent opponent, but the Nationals can dispel at least a portion of the notion that they can’t beat good teams with a strong showing against the Dodgers.

FROM THE POST

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

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NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 1, Toledo 0: Taylor Hill fired a complete game shutout, allowing only three hits, walking one and striking out five on 102 pitches. Hill has a 1.82 ERA over six starts this season and opponents are hitting .186 against him. He is a prospect to watch. Hill has a 2.99 ERA Class A Potomac last season, posted a 2.71 ERA at Class AA Harrisburg after a promotion and then reached Syracuse. Jhonatan Solano hit a solo home run, the game’s only run and his fourth home run of the season. He is also hitting .319.

Reading 15, Harrisburg 2: Felipe Rivero allowed seven runs, only two earned, on two walks and seven hits over 3 2/3 innings. Gabriel Alfaro and Richie Mirowski each allowed two runs, and catcher Brandon Batz allowed four runs on the mound in the eighth. Quincy Latimore homered.

Potomac 11, Winston-Salem 3: Dakota Bacus allowed two runs on five hits over four innings. Gilberto Mendez and Derek Self each tossed two scoreless innings. Oscar Tejeda hit a two-out grand slam in the eighth inning. Shawn Pleffner, Khayyan Norfork and Pedro Severino also homered. Randolph Oduber collected three hits.

Hagerstown 10, Lexington 8: In his first rehab game, Wilson Ramos went 2 for 3 with a three-run home run and walk. He did not catch; he was the designated hitter. John Wooten went 2 for 4 with a solo shot. Lucas Giolito allowed three runs, two earned, on six hits and two walks over five innings while striking out five.

Also on Nationals Journal

Doug Fister to debut Friday, Scott Hairston could return Monday