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Series Preview: Talking Nationals with Federal Baseball

The Brewers play four games in Washington this week over the Fourth of July, so of course I ignored the symmetry and asked Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball five questions about the Nationals.

32-48 (5th place, NL Central)
41-40 (2nd place, NL East)

GAME 1: July 1, 2013 @ 6:05 p.m. CDT
(TV: FS-Wisconsin; Radio: 620 WTMJ)

: July 2, 2013 @ 6:05 p.m. CDT
(TV: FS-Wisconsin and MLB Network; Radio: 620 WTMJ)

GAME 3: July 3, 2013 @ 5:05 p.m. CDT
(TV: FS-Wisconsin; Radio: 620 WTMJ)

GAME 4: July 4, 2013 @ 10:05 a.m. CDT
(TV: FS-Wisconsin and MLB Network; Radio: 620 WTMJ)

Nationals Park | Washington, D.C.

A View from the Other Dugout: Federal Baseball

Game 1 Yovani Gallardo (6-7, 4.20) vs. Jordan Zimmermann (11-3, 2.28)
vs. Nationals (0-0, ---) vs. Brewers (0-0, ---)
Game 2 Wily Peralta (5-9, 5.58) vs. Stephen Strasburg (4-6, 2.41)
vs. Nationals (0-0, ---) vs. Brewers (0-0, ---)
Game 3 Kyle Lohse (3-6, 3.63)
vs. Ross Detwiler (2-6, 4.13)
vs. Nationals (0-0, ---)
vs. Brewers (0-0, ---)
Game 4 Donovan Hand (0-1, 2.63)
vs. Taylor Jordan (0-1, 2.08)
vs. Nationals (0-0, ---)
vs. Brewers (0-0, ---)

To help you get ready for this week's adventure, I asked Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball five questions about the Nationals. His answers are below.

BCB: For a team with pretty high expectations, the Nationals have bobbed right around .500 for more or less the entire season. What's gone wrong to cause them to disappoint?

FB: Aside from injuries, which every team has to deal with, the problem for the Nationals so far this season has been the offense. The Nationals' .236/.294/.384 line as a team has them 13th in AVG, 14th in OBP and 12th in SLG in the NL. They've continued to get strong pitching from their starters, though Dan Haren's struggled, but the offense has failed to support the pitching far too often. The team has been unable to string together wins with the inconsistent offensive output and so they've been stuck right around .500 for over a month now. Getting Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos back in the next week or two should make them a much more formidable offensive threat.

BCB: Everything I've seen suggests the Brewers will see Bryce Harper this week in his first games back after missing over a month with knee bursitis. How important is his health to this club's playoff aspirations?

FB: All signs point to Harper being back in the lineup tonight, yes, unless there's an unexpected setback with his knee today. With Harper in the lineup the Nationals have gone 25-18. They're 16-22 without him playing. It's hard to believe how much the Nats have relied on the offensive output from both Harper and 23-year-old rookie Anthony Rendon this season, but the two of them have made a huge impact with Rendon, in particular, filling in nicely once the Nationals finally sent Danny Espinosa to the DL. In addition to the offense, Harper settles things in the outfield too. Without him in the lineup, the Nationals have tried a number out outfielders in left, but it just doesn't work as well as when Harper's in there, obviously. If they have any chance of making a run this season the Nationals will need Harper on the field, in my opinion, and it won't hurt to have Wilson Ramos back sharing the catching duties in the next week or so.

BCB: The series opens on Monday with Wisconsin native Jordan Zimmermann on the mound against Yovani Gallardo. I know Stephen Strasburg gets more hype, but has Zimmermann been this team's best pitcher?

FB: Without a doubt, Zimmermann's been the most consistent starter in the Nats' rotation so far this season. Especially at home, where he's unbeaten this summer and over his last 20 starts going back to the middle of last May with the Nationals 17-3 with him on the hill over that stretch. It's no slight on Strasburg, who's been up and down and dealing with injuries and some inconsistency, but Zimmermann's got a few years on Strasburg and is just more of a complete pitcher right now. Zimmermann's also fearless on the mound, pounds the strike zone and challenge hitters, who have a .209/.243/.315 line against the right-hander so far this season and he doesn't walk many batters at all either, with his 1.33 BB/9 currently the second-lowest BB/9 amongst starters in the NL. It's been really interesting watching Zimmermann develop into the pitcher he is now over the last couple seasons, but there were signs of his talent from the start. The people of Auburndale, WI should be proud.

BCB: Rookie Taylor Jordan made his major league debut on Saturday and is scheduled to start against the Brewers again in the series finale on Thursday. What can you tell us about him?

FB: Mid-90's heater, diving mid-80's change. Scouting reports say his slider is still a work in progress. I've only seen him pitch three times (once in ST, once in Double-A and in his debut), but what I've read in scouting reports was pretty clearly evident. He's another tall, hard-throwing, sinker ball pitcher who is successful when he's able to keep the ball down in the zone and get groundouts. A full 77% of the outs he's recorded this season have been groundouts. The reports also focus on the deception in his delivery. All of his pitches come out of the same arm slot and he hides the ball well throughout his delivery so hitters don't seem to get a good read on the ball and then he has late movement (sink) that makes it even more difficult to barrel him up. He might not be up for long, with the Nationals continuing to say they expect Dan Haren to come back, but Jordan's going to get another start or two with the major league team including this week's against the Brewers. Looking forward to seeing him settle in now that he's gotten his debut out of the way.

BCB: What's the trade deadline look like for this team? Will they be buyers, and if so, what might they be looking for?

FB: From what the Nationals say, they're looking for the returning players like Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos to bolster the offense, but one of the biggest problems offensively has been the offensive output, or lack of it they've received from their bench bats this season. Last year, Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore, Roger Bernadina and Chad Tracy all exceeded expectations, but they've come back down to earth this season. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Nationals go out and get a bench bat that could fill in around the field at first and in the outfield. I think a lot of what the Nats do at the deadline will also depend on how Dan Haren pitches when he returns. Taylor Jordan, who's filling in for Haren now, is in the second year back from Tommy John, so he's not seen as a long-term solution this season. If Haren falters upon returning, the Nationals might go for a starter, but I think they believe the roster they started the season with is capable of making a run, so I think they're going to look at the production over the next month when they have the ideal lineup back on the field and see how things go. Not expecting anything big, but the Nationals have generated a good deal of excitement in the last two seasons, so they might surprise me and do something big if things don't go well over the next few weeks.

Thanks again to Patrick for taking the time, and check out Federal Baseball for more on the Nationals!