(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Manager - Old Friend Davey Johnson (14 - 5)
Best record in the NL, coming off a defeat at the hands of Padres. They have not lost a series yet.
Outlook: No one has changed the rotation for the better over a twelve month period then the Nationals. Last year at this time the rotation consisted of John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Livan Hernandez, Tom Gorzelanny, and Jordan Zimmerman coming off of TJ surgery. With Stephen Strasburg back from TJ surgery, one new top line free agent (Edwin Jackson), one new top line starter acquired via trade (Gio Gonzalez), Jordan Zimmerman one more year removed from TJ, and a former number one pick (Ross Detwiler) , the new rotation might be the best in the NL as we write this. Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Edwin Jackson, Gio Gonzalez, and the surprise of 2012 Ross Detwiler. Talk about night and day. The Nat pitching staff is first in the NL using any ERA metric you want. ERA or FIP or XFIP. They all spell GREAT.
Offensively the Nat's are twelfth in wRC at 85 (Dodgers are 3rd 105, thanks to Kemp/Andre). Jason Werth is hitting but that might be all that is going right. The Nat's are winning with pitching not with hitting. Morse is on the DL, Espinosa is not hitting, Ryan Zimmerman has a bad shoulder and is not hitting, At this moment the Nat's do not know if Zimmerman will hit the DL for our series or not. Either way it is doubtful he'll be effective.
1st Base: For once Adam LaRoche is off to a good start and healthy. Not sure he's ever been both in April before. He leads the team in RBI's with 14, the closest to that number is Werth at 8.
2nd Base: Danny Espinosa is not following up his rookie season with the same power he showed in his debut season. Average will always be a problem but the expected power is MIA. Slug% is down over 150 points. So far the OBP is holding steady.
Shortstop: Ian Desmond started out the season hot, peaked his average at. 406 on April 12, and has not been heard from since with only nine hits in his last 47 at bats.
3rd Base: Ryan Zimmerman was once a great hitting 3rd baseman but that ended in 2010 after only a two year run. Injuries are starting to take their toll, it would be a shame if he did not even get a Scott Rolen or David Wright peak in before he becomes ordinary. Zimmerman has not played since April 20th and even if he does play, with his injuries, not a bat I'd be worried about in this series.
Catcher: Wilson Ramos like many Nat's is struggling with the bat. His .656 OPS is the lowest of his career.
Right Fielder: Jason Werth is bouncing back from his miserable 201l and looking very much like the man who played RF for the Phillies. Power is down a tad from his elite days but everything else is working for him.He and LaRoche are what is keeping the Nationals afloat offensively.
Center Fielder: Things were so bad in CF for the Nationals that Rick Ankiel was an upgrade. Rick showed up on April 14th off the DL and has started just about every game since. He's doing what he does, hitting some home runs while staying off the base paths, and showing off his rocket arm in CF.
Left Fielder: Xavier Nady is starting in LF for the team with the best record in the NL. Amazing what pitching can do for a team. He's had one multi hit game so far in 2012. He won't get a second one in this series. He's terrible, he makes Juan Rivera look like Manny Ramirez.
Bench: Roger Bernadina can play all three outfield positions and hit at none of them. Mark DeRosa back from the wrist problems can still play all over the diamond but his bat is still on the disabled list. Steve Lombardozzi might eventually be a starting infielder given the offensive problems of Desmond / Espinosa. Jesus Flores is a solid backup catcher. Chad Tracy is on this bench.
What to Watch For: Detwiler is going to come after hitters with a heavy dose of challenge fastballs and sinkers. His slider is a good pitch that he will work down and under the hands of a right-handed hitter for a strikeout pitch, while working it away from lefties. He has a tendency to elevate the sinker, but he throws it hard enough that he can get away with it at times. Dodger hitters are going to have to lay off the sinkers down in the zone and wait for a pitch they can drive.
What to Watch For: From top to bottom, Strasburg probably has the most electric repertoire in baseball. He throws a 96mph four-seam fastball (41% of the time), a 95mph sinking fastball with incredible movement (24%), an 80mph curveball 22%) and an 88mph changeup (13%). But, Strasburg relies so much on his movement and velocity that he often does not locate his pitches very well. It is well known that Strasburg is on an innings limit this season, and if the Dodgers are able to get his pitch count up early in the game by fouling off tough pitches and making him work for his strikeouts (which, to be honest, if he has less than 10 strikeouts against us it'll be a good game), they might be able to get to the bullpen and do some damage. If, instead, the Dodgers try to attack his pitches early in the count, I think Strasburg is going to have a nice relaxing stroll through our order.
What to Watch For: Gio Gonzalez carries with him some deception in his mechanics, and releases every single pitch he throws in the same arm slot, at the same release point, and at the same timing
Setup: Tyler Clippard had always been a good setup man but in 2011 he took his game to a different level and was one of the best in the game. In 2012 he's lost a bit of the command that made him elite in 2011 but he can still strike out hitters with the best of them. I think the Nat's overused him and have seen the best of him. Lefties Sean Burnett would be the Loogy while Tom Gorzelanny is the long man. Burnett has faced 23 hitters, struck out ten and walked none. I'm guessing he's good. Craig Stammen and Ryan Mattheus round out the bullpen.
Closer: With Drew Storen on the shelf the Nationals are bouncing between Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez. Rodriguez is the better option and has the most saves (5) but he has some command flaws to go along with his impressive heater which averages 98 MPH. Six walks in only eight innings is not good. One hit allowed in those eight innings is. We probably don't want to be behind in the 9th if they bring in Henry. Luckily once in a while they bring in Lidge and Lidge is now very hittable along with terrible command. He has no business pitching in the 9th but if the Nat's call on him in that spot we will not complain.
I'm very bummed we did not get the Kershaw / Strasburg matchup. It would have been great to see Clayton beat him 1 - 0 on a Gordon infield single, steal of second, moved to 3rd on an Ellis ground ball, walk to Kemp, and SF by Andre.
At closer inspection I'm a bit shocked at the Nationals record. They have an above average rotation and a couple of good players. This is a team who will come down to earth, might as well be the Dodgers who give them their first series defeat. We will be leading two of the three games headed into the ninth inning. I have no idea if we win those games.