The Nationals and Yankees, perhaps the two hottest teams in baseball, will convene for a two-game, star-studded set at Nationals Park beginning Tuesday.
Washington, coming off a 6-1 West Coast road trip, has won 12 of 14 games behind one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. The Yankees, meanwhile, are 19-3 since starting the season 9-9. All 19 wins have come against clubs over .500. They have been nearly unstoppable because …
ANOTHER YANKEES JUGGERNAUT
… there isn’t much they don’t do well. Entering Monday, their pitching staff ranked second in strikeouts per nine innings, third in FIP, and 10th in ERA. Their offense, which features Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez supplying middle-of-the-order muscle, is first in on-base-percentage, second in slugging and tied for fifth in home runs. Blend those ingredients and you have a club tied for the best record in baseball.
The start has New York on a 113-win pace, which has some already comparing this iteration to the historic 114-win club of 1998. Our Dave Sheinin broached the comparison in an interview with Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman in his breakdown of the Yankees’ return to dominance on Monday. Make sure to read that before the series opener.
The Nationals’ decision to move Max Scherzer up in the rotation to pitch on regular rest Wednesday makes sense. The three-time Cy Young Award winner has been arguably the best pitcher in baseball this season, featuring a 1.69 ERA and a league-best 91 strikeouts through nine starts. The team should want him out there as often as possible, especially given its recent offensive woes. The adjustment also creates a couple tantalizing matchups; not only will Scherzer face the Yankees’ vaunted lineup, he will pitch opposite CC Sabathia.
It isn’t quite as sexy as the Scherzer-Kershaw Hollywood duel from last month, but Scherzer-Sabathia in the District is nonetheless a battle between two likely future Hall of Famers. While Scherzer is somehow still firmly in his prime a few months shy of his 34th birthday, the 37-year-old Sabathia has reinvented himself as he approaches the end of his career. The towering left-hander has posted a 2.23 ERA in seven starts by mixing and matching effectively.
Long gone are the days of a fastball in the mid-to-high 90s. Sabathia, who has tallied 239 career wins in 18 seasons, now relies on command and producing weak contact; he’s striking out 6.9 batters per nine innings — which would be his lowest output since 2003 — but walking just 1.2 per nine, which would be a career best. Scherzer, of course, doesn’t believe in pitching to contact. He wants to strike everyone out. That strategy works for him just fine. It’ll be a fascinating matchup between two hurlers approaching their craft in different ways.
MICHAEL A.’S STRUGGLES
Ideally, the Nationals wouldn’t have to rely on Michael A. Taylor’s bat. They would have a complete lineup with Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, and Adam Eaton assuming the offensive load. They would look to Taylor for his Gold Glove-caliber defense and welcome whatever he could contribute at the plate.
But the Nationals are not living in an ideal world, not with Murphy, Eaton, Zimmerman, and Matt Wieters all on the disabled list, so they could use all the offensive contributions they can get. Taylor, however, isn’t providing many. Since April 27, the center fielder is 8 for 60 (.133) with one home run, four doubles, 21 strikeouts, and three walks. His batting average for the season has plunged to .186 in 42 games. His OPS is .564, the seventh-lowest mark in baseball among qualified batters, while his 32.1 percent strikeout rate is the sixth-highest.
Taylor has played through a minor groin injury but is still contributing defensively and, when he gets on base, on the base paths. But the Nationals could use more from him at the plate.
Tuesday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez
Wednesday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Max Scherzer
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