Series Preview – Washington

Did you know the Red Sox released Chris Duncan? They did, on 20 August. I didn’t know it until yesterday, either.

Maybe that’s why Dave Duncan took a personal day earlier this week.

Anywho, here’s the series preview on the Nationals.

The Cardinals welcome the Nationals to town for their annual visit.

Mostly well-known tidbit: Washington used to be the Montreal Expos, but wherever this franchise plays they give the Cardinals fits. Since 1985, St Louis is 139-136 against them (including this season). The only NL teams causing more heartburn amongst Cardinal fans are Colorado (73-74), Atlanta (115-119), and the Mets (130-151). All three of those teams have been to at least one World Series in the period selected. The Expo/National franchise hasn’t made the playoffs since 1981. In other words, I can’t figure out why the Nationals give St Louis so much trouble.

On a positive note, the Cardinals took 3 of the 4 games in DC this season.

Current snapshot

St Louis: 74-55, 1st in NL Central, 9 games ahead of Chicago (7 on the loss side). Cardinals have won 11 of their last 14, including 2 of 3 from Houston to start this homestand. Assuming they play .500 the rest of the way (17-16), they’ll win 91 games. Chicago would need to go 29-8 just to catch the Cardinals. It’s prudent to not say the divisional race is over, but, if I were the Cubs I wouldn’t be planning to print playoff tickets for 2009.

Washington: 46-82, last in NL East, 28.5 games back of Philadelphia. They are on pace to lose 104 games, but have played better since Manny Acta was fired (20-21 under Jim Riggleman) and they just took 2 of 3 from the Cubs. They are 14-11 in August.

Key Nationals

Adam Dunn. Leads the league in walks. 34 HR puts him 5th in the NL, and a .995 OPS is 4th. He’s a horrible defensive outfielder (-20.7 UZR), but he’s still been worth 2.1 WAR this season. Bats cleanup.

Ryan Zimmerman. Check out this item over at fangraphs. He was the 4th pick in the 2005 draft and hasn’t disappointed. Hits third.

Nyjer Morgan. He has really flourished since coming over from the Pirates in early July, reaching base almost 40% of the time and swiping bases at a 77% success rate. He’s been a 5 WAR player this season, and you’ve probably not heard much else about him.

Mike MacDougal. Closer, and has 14 saves with a 1.98 ERA. He has a high walk rate, his SO/BB ratio is 1.0, and his FIP is 4.51 (his career average is 3.99). Only Joe Beimel and Julian Tavarez have a better mark among Nationals relievers. He is allowing 1.48 runners per inning, which is a bit high for a back of the game reliever.

Pitching match-ups

28 August: Smoltz vs John Lannan (8-9, 4.03). Lannan is listed as the Nationals ace on Baseball Reference. He has a 4.72 FIP in 160 innings this season. Lannan features a high-80s fastball he throws 2/3 of the time, and a smattering of off-speed pitches he throws about evenly (slider, curveball, changeup). Looks like his changeup might be his best pitch, but he only throws it about 10% of the time. He’s 0-2 career against St Louis, but based on his ERA (2.84) he’s pitched well in those games.

Smoltz looked fantastic against the Padres on Sunday. I don’t know what to expect; that Smoltz or the 2009 Red Sox Smoltz. We’ll hope he doesn’t revert to his Red Sox form.

29 August: Boggs vs Craig Stammen (4-6, 5.08). This is Stammen’s first year in the bigs, and Saturday will be the righthander’s first start against St Louis. Stammen is a fastball/curveball guy; his fastball averages 89 mph, his curveball 79. He carries a respectable .283 BABIP, and he strikes out slightly twice as many as he walks. He also averages 3 ground ball outs for every 2 fly ball outs he surrenders. He’s given up 13 HR in 101 innings, so that’s something to watch for. He hasn’t pitched especially well in august (.300 average against, 7.25 ERA), but he did win his last start against Milwaukee.

Mitchell Boggs returns to the rotation thanks to Lohse’s injury. He lost his last start in LA on 18 August. He has one start against the Nationals, going 6, surrendering 4 runs, and getting a no decision on 30 April (Cardinals won 9-4).

30 August: Wainwright vs Garrett Mock (3-5, 5.23). Mock was inserted into the Nationals starting rotation on 19 July, and he is 3-3 with a 4.69 ERA since transitioning from the bullpen. Like Lannan, he features a fastball (averaging just a tick under 92 MPH) 2/3 of the time, and throws a slider, changeup, or curveball at almost equal frequency (between 10-15% of his pitches). The righthander has never faced the Cardinals.

Wainwright just keeps rolling along. He’ll go for the major league lead in wins on Sunday. I know most prognosticators predict/expect Tim Lincecum to win the CY Young, and he has had an outstanding year; but Wainwright should get some serious consideration.

Statistical Oddity. Wainwright has thrown 11 consecutive starts allowing 2 or fewer runs. If he continues that Sunday, it will be the longest streak since Gibson’s in 1968. It is the longest streak by a Cardinal since 2002, when Andy Benes did it (July 16 to September 12).

Prognosis/prediction. Cardinals are at home facing two pitchers for the first time, and they’re in a bit of a funk offensively. They should win Sunday, probably will win Friday, and might win Saturday. This would be a good series for the bats to come back to life, so we’ll predict they take 2 of 3 from the Nationals.

Go Cards!

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