The Washington Nationals remain one of the most disappointing teams in the National League this year, largely wasting what could be the last year in DC for Bryce Harper and then failing to truly try to start a rebuild/retool at the trade deadline this year. They did start selling off some pieces in August — including gifting Daniel Murphy to the Chicago Cubs — but after all of those half-measures, it’s probably fitting they come into this series at an even 67-67.
Harper is still around, and you could explain the Nationals’ reluctance to sell by saying they still have a very good core group of players that should, in theory, be a contending team, and they didn’t want to ruin whatever chance they may still have of re-signing Harper by launching into a full rebuild. Harper himself had been a disappointment for much of this year, too -- despite being among the National League leaders in home runs with 30, it appears he may be selling out to try to generate as much power as possible in his walk year, hitting just .247/.379/.501 and seeing his strikeout rate jump from 20.1% last year to 25% this year. Sort of like Ryan Braun, though, the overall season slash line doesn’t tell the whole story right now. As his BABIP luck has started to come back to normal levels, Harper has seen his line in the second half jump to .331/.417/.585.
This is still a team that can really hit, even if their record is underwhelming. Anthony Rendon is still hitting like one of the best third basemen in the National League with a .298/.358/.508 line, and Juan Soto is putting up numbers that even Bryce Harper didn’t when he was a 19-year-old rookie. Soto comes into this series hitting .292/.409/.513 with 16 home runs in 312 at-bats, with a .922 OPS and 141 OPS+. If it wasn’t for Ronald Acuna doing something similar for a contender, Soto would be the runaway candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.
The weather may also end up playing a factor in this series. After a weeklong heatwave that saw multiple days hit temperatures in the 90s with high humidity, there’s a chance of storms and rain every day this weekend.
Friday - 6:05 p.m. CDT
Jhoulys Chacin vs. Tanner Roark
Saturday - 6:05 p.m. CDT
Chase Anderson vs. Stephen Strasburg
Sunday - 12:35 p.m. CDT
Junior Guerra vs. Max Scherzer
The last time the Brewers saw Roark, he was a struggling back-end starter who shut the Brewers out for 8 innings and struck out 11. What seemed like a failure on the part of the Brewers’ offense ended up being just the start of Roark running through the entire league with similar results in the second half. Since that day, Roark has put up an ERA of 1.61 in 7 starts, holding opponents to a .204/.231/.284 line. The Nationals have gone 6-1 in those starts, with the only loss coming in his most recent start, when he allowed 1 run over 6 innings against the Mets in a game the Nationals eventually lost 3-0. He’s done it by simply keeping guys off base, including walking just 5 batters total in his past 44.2 innings.
It’s been a rough year for Strasburg, who has been hampered by a pinched nerve in his neck and shoulder issues since the start of June, limiting to him to just 3 starts in the second half. After going on the disabled list following a 2-inning start on June 8th, Strasburg tried to come back on July 20th and got crushed, giving up 6 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks in 4.2 innings. That outing landed him back on the disabled list for another month before he finally made his return on August 22nd, which ended up being another bad start that saw him give up 5 runs on 7 hits and a walk in 4 innings against the Phillies. There’s a chance he may be starting to turn it around and shake the rust off, though -- facing the Phillies for a second straight time, he limited them to 2 runs over 6 innings in his most recent start. The worry for the Nationals is that he still may not be right, considering he was only averaging 92-93 on his fastball. While arm injuries have robbed him of the triple-digit heat he had in his younger days, the now-30-year-old was still averaging 95.2 mph on his fastball before his injuries this season.
At first, it looked like the Brewers would catch a break by missing Scherzer in this series, but the Nationals’ off-day means they’re skipping Jefry Rodriguez’s next start and pushing Scherzer up to the series finale on Sunday, instead of starting him on Monday against St. Louis. Scherzer could very well be your NL Cy Young winner again, leading the league in innings (186.2), strikeouts (249), WHIP (0.884), K/9 (12.0) and K/BB ratio (5.53) while putting up a 2.22 ERA. His next strikeout gives him 250 on the year already, which would make this year the 5th straight season he’s hit that milestone and put him on his way to a possible 300-strikeout season.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs