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Brewers (22-38) vs Nationals (31-28) series preview

Yet another series against a division leading foe. This season is relentless.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Nationals are in first place of the NL East. While their lead looks tenuous for the moment (Mets are 0.5 games back, Braves 2.0 games) the smart money has always been on the Nats locking up the division. They got off to a poor start but are back in control now.

Washington at a glance might not look like a pitching behemoth. They have a 3.90 team ERA. That's the 14th highest in MLB. But going by fWAR they're tied for second in baseball. Their team 3.37 FIP is third to the Pirates and Cardinals. That's more along with pre-season expectations after they built their super rotation consisting of free agent Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Doug Fister, with Tanner Roark in the bullpen to boot.

Their offense has lagged behind, despite an amazing contribution from Bryce Harper. Their team 96 wRC+ ranks just 16th in MLB and 5th in the NL. That's not altogether surprising when you learn they've seen Jayson Werth, Denard Span, and Anthony Rendon spend significant time on the disabled list (by the way Fister and Strasburg are there currently too). Span and Rendon have recently returned, while Werth is still there.

Despite their poor start and the injuries, they've fought their way back to first place. Once, or perhaps if, they can regain full strength I think they'll run away with the division.

Offensive Spotlight

Remember all those people, baseball players included, saying that Bryce Harper was overrated. How stupid was that? If you know anyone that thought that now you know not to take their opinion seriously. Dude is just 22 years old. His growing pains look like career years for a lot of pretty good players. That's not an exaggeration. In his first two seasons he was worth 4.6 and 4.0 fWAR.

So far this season in 58 games he's been worth 4.1 fWAR. Absolutely incredible. He's slashing 328/463/713 with 20 home runs. I'm going to guess no one calls him overrated ever again.

Pitching Match-Ups

Thursday June 11, 7:10 pm CST: Matt Garza vs Tanner Roark

Tanner Roark had a breakout season last year. Most teams would have been happy with him as their third or fourth starter. The Nats rotation was so stupid good he was sent to their bullpen. With Fister and Strasburg on the DL he has made a return, but he hasn't looked as sharp.

In 20.1 innings out of the bullpen he had a 2.66 ERA, but a 4.44 FIP and 4.54 xFIP. In 3 starts and 16.32 innings he has a 3.78 ERA, but a 7.31 FIP and 4.56 xFIP. In both cases he hasn't struck many batters out but as a starter it looks like he got burned by some home run bad luck.

Strike outs have never been a big part of his game but his current 11.3 K% isn't going to cut it. That should go up with more innings. Likewise his 1.95 HR/9 should go down. I think he's still an above average starter.

He throws a fastball (92-94), slider, change-up, and curve ball.

Friday June 12: 7:10 pm CST: Mike Fiers vs Jordan Zimmermann

I really like Jordan Zimmermann. He's continued to be excellent this year (3.18 ERA, 3.11 FIP) despite a drop in his strike out rate (15.6 K%). His 0.37 HR/9 sticks out a bit and I doubt that will stay quite so low. Although his typical HR/9 is around 0.80 so it's not like it should be a problem.

He throws a fastball (91-93), slider, curve, and an occasional change-up.

Saturday June 13: 3:10 pm CST: Jimmy Nelson vs Joe Ross

Joe is Tyson Ross' brother. His last start for the Nationals was his first appearance in the major leagues. He held the Cubs to 3 runs in 5 innings. Before that he was pitching in AA. While he was pitching very well I'm guessing his call-up had more to do with the Nationals putting two starters on the DL than Ross being MLB ready.

FanGraphs gives him an overall rating of 45 on the 20-80 scale. That equates to a fringe starter or a back-end starter/bullpen arm. His fastball is his best pitched rated as a 65/70 (that's present/future grades). His slider is rated as 45/55. His change-up 45/50. And his command as 45/50. If he could reach his ultimate ceiling in all those grades perhaps he could be an above average starter. For now he'll probably have good games and bad games.

Sunday June 14, 1:10 pm CST: Taylor Jungmann vs Max Scherzer

Max Scherzer was a big money acquisition for the Nats in the offseason and he has been as advertised: 2.13 ERA, 2.27 FIP, 3.00 xFIP. He has a 28.8 K% and a 3.9 BB%. Those are absurd numbers!

He too throws a fastball (92-94), slider, curve ball, and change-up.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs