Series Preview: Washington Nationals at Arizona Diamondbacks
Friday (6:40pm MST): Stephen Strasburg (12-5) vs. Trevor Cahill (9-9)
Saturday (5:10pm MST): Edwin Jackson (6-7) vs. Wade Miley (12-7)
Sunday (1:10pm MST): Ross Detwiler (6-4) vs. Patrick Corbin (3-4)
This series features two teams who are in different boats. One, the Nationals, is currently the owner of the best record in baseball this late in the season for the first time since the strike-shortened 1994 season. They are buoyed by young talent like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, and have a very good chance of making the playoffs for the first time in team history.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks are sitting four games back in the NL West, and haven’t been able to get anything resembling a run going. When they did win four games in a row (including a series sweep against the Los Angeles Dodgers to start their 10-game road trip), they proceeded to lose their next three games in a row to tumble back down the standings.
With this being a brief three game homestand for the Diamondbacks, it is going to be imperative to get off to a good start, and that will be difficult to do against Strasburg on Friday night. Most of the coverage surrounding the Nationals’ improbable playoff run has focused on the impending 180 inning limit that team brass established for him as he is a year removed from Tommy John surgery. Conversations with doctors have replaced conversations with experts on what waiver wire moves the team could make to improve themselves, and despite all of the negative attention the decision is ginning up among those convinced it will derail the team’s season, the Nationals are sticking to that plan.
None of that will help the Diamondbacks unfortunately, as Strasburg will be on that mound on Friday. The key for them will be not only to try to knock Strasburg out of the game by working counts and forcing him to reveal more of his repertoire early, but also to get a solid performance out of Mr. Cahill. He has shown a propensity to get overly excited when the moment calls for a calm demeanor, so it will be an interesting litmus test for him to see whether he can get the team off to a good start in this series, or if he will let himself be bested by the phenoms on the other side of the field.
Saturday’s game will be a good chance for the Diamondbacks to strike back if they should fall in the first game, as they are sending their rotation’s ace to the hill in Miley. Jackson has always been an inconsistent pitcher, even when he was donning the home colors, and Arizona’s hitters are going to have to try to get him off his game early by aggressively attacking his fastball.
In the Sunday matinee, Mr. Corbin is going to try to maintain his hold on the fifth spot in the rotation. He has looked pretty solid in his last few outings, including a shutout victory over the Dodgers to wrap up a series sweep over their divisional rival.
Player to Watch: Jason Kubel
Kubel has been struggling quite a bit since the All-Star Break, but may finally be starting to get his rhythm back at the plate. The Diamondbacks will need him to, especially considering the amount of success that Justin Upton has been having in the fifth spot in the order. Moving him back up may diminish that progress in his hitting approach, so Kirk Gibson has to hope that Kubel can start driving in runs again, especially with games coming up against some weaker opponents before a crucial stretch in late August and early September that will see them play 12 out of 15 games against the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, the two teams they are chasing in the NL West standings.