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Battle Of The Also-Rans? Nationals Preview.

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Washington Nationals: 48-61, 5th place, 14 1/2 games behind in the NL East (Schedule and Results).
Manager: Jim Riggleman
Scored 448 runs, Allowed 496 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 49-60

Season series: Nationals lead 2-1

Previous Nationals preview.

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Unlike the Dodgers, the Washington Nationals knew full well that they were sellers as the July 31 trade deadline approached and they reshaped their roster accordingly, trading closer Matt Capps to the Minnesota Twins for top catching prospect Wilson Ramos and minor-league lefty Joe Testa, and moving infielder Cristian Guzmán to Texas in exchange for RHPs Tanner Roark and Ryan Tatusko.

The Nats are a decent team at home (29-23) but have lost twice as many road games as they have won (19-38).  This is the second series of their current road trip and they arrive in Los Angeles having just split four games in Arizona.  Over their last three games, their starting pitchers have lasted 5 2/3, 5 1/3, and 4 innings, with relievers making nine appearances; however, the Dodgers will face none of those starters.  The Dodgers will also not face phenom Stephen Strasburg who is on the disabled list.

At this moment the Nats roster is one man short.  Center fielder Nyjer Morgan was placed on the 15-day disabled list and a corresponding move has yet to be announced.

Position Breakdown:

Catcher - Future hall-of-famer Ivan Rodriguez is the starter.  Pudge's bat cooled off after a hot start and he is hitting just .264 / .289 / .352  / .641 / .278 (BA / OBP / Slg / OPS / wOBA) and has grounded into a league leading 20 double plays, tied with Pablo Sandoval.  He is still throwing out 35% of the base stealers who try to run on his strong arm.  Perhaps Pudge is done.

First Base - The grass in left field has a longer life span now that big Adam Dunn is manning first base for the Nats.  Dunn recently did not clear waivers, so he will not likely be traded before this series, nor before the end of the season.  The NL home run leader with 28, Dunn is having a Dunnesque year, although his walk rate is down.  .277 / .364 / .574 / .938 / .397, career UZR/150 of -16.4.

Second Base - Veteran Adam Kennedy with his goofy uppercut swing was splitting time here with Guzmán and will likely get at least the starts against RHPs.  .262 / .336 / .349 / .685 / .318, 7.5.  Roughly Ryan Theriot's mirror image, except his fielding seems to be in serious decline.

Third Base - Ryan Zimmerman is a stud, both with the bat and with the leather.  He would be even busier this weekend at the hot corner, but Russell Martin is on the DL.  .301 / .389 / .543 / .932 / .399, 12.9.

Shortstop -  Despite a moniker that evokes images of a 1970s British heavy metal front man, rookie Ian Desmond has been the Nats starter at SS this season.  While he is still learning to be a major league hitter, he does bring some pop to the plate.  Scouting reports peg him as a capable fielder, though he has accumulated a rock-y 26 errors thus far in 2010.  .260 / .294 / .399 / .301, sample size too small.

Left Field - Josh Willingham, one of Phil's favorites, mans left field and provides the Nats with a very capable third middle of the order bat.  .270 / .392 / .461 / .853 / .381, -3.5

Center Field - Speedster Nyjer Morgan - 29 stolen bases are second in the NL, but 14 times caught leads the league - will miss the series.  Curacao native Roger Bernadina, who has been platooning in RF, is likely to start in center instead.  .277 / .332 / .433 / .765 / .338, sample size too small, but he was primarily a CF in the minors.

Right Field - Mike Morse, formerly a SS in Seattle, has received increased playing time in RF for the Nats, who look to be riding the hot horse here.  In 111 PAs: .330 / .378 / .583 / .961 / .410, sample size too small.

Bench - Wil Nieves is the backup catcher and perhaps he starts Sunday's day game.  Alberto Gonzalez is the backup infielder.  The recently recalled outfielder Justin Maxwell, the versatile Willie Harris - in three years with the Nats he has played every defensive position except catcher and first base - and a player to be activated sometime today complete the bench.

Starting Pitching For This Series:

Game One - John Lannan (vs. Clayton Kershaw) recently returned from the minor league exile of AA ball and rejoined the rotation.  In his first start back, the southpaw allowed 2 runs and 7 hits to the Phillies in 5 innings.  For the season his ERA / FIP / xFIP is 5.63 / 5.34 / 5.37, with 36 BB and only 27 K in 80 IP.  He's never been a strikeout pitcher, but that is a ridiculously low rate.  Hopefully Lannan is just the tonic needed to revive the slumbering right-handed bats of Casey Blake, Matt Kemp, et al.

Game Two - Livan Hernandez (vs. Hiroki Kuroda).  The 35-year old Cuban continues to confound.  His low 5.0% HR/FB rate and .280 BABIP against suggest a bit of luck as does his ERA of 3.12 vs. his FIP / xFIP of 3.70 / 4.58, but he has averaged over 6 1/2 innings for his 22 starts this year.  Regression to the mean anyone?  Note: Rafael Furcal has batted against Livan 84 times and has hit .387 / .440 /.653 against him - get well soon Raffy!

Game Three - The Nats announced that ex-Rockie Jason Marquis (vs. Ted Lilly) will be activated from the disabled list and start on Sunday.  Marquis made three starts at the outset of the season, then had surgery in May to remove bone chips from his right (throwing) elbow.  Until recently, Marquis was the last man to yield someone's 600th career home run.  His season stats are meaningless.

Bullpen - Collin Balester (#99!), Miguel Batista, Sean Burnett. Tyler Clippard, Joel Peralta, Doug Slaten, Drew Storen man the bullpen for the Nats.  Burnett is the only pitcher to record a Nats save since Capps was traded, but the team claimed they would go with the "hot hand" and that Burnett, Clippard and Storen - the 10th overall pick in 2009 - would  be "in the mix".  Clippard did finish a recent 5-run victory and is still contending for the team lead in strikeouts; his 72 Ks trails only Strasburg (75) and Hernandez (78).  Ross Detwiler, Scott Olsen, Craig Stammen all made starts the last time through the rotation.  Your guess is a good as mine as to which pitcher moves out to make room for Marquis.

Old Friends - Bill Singer: Director of Pro Scouting (except to Kim Ng), and Devon White: Coordinator, Baserunning

Series Prediction -  The Nats offer a top-notch set of middle of the order bats, good defense on the left side of the infield, a few intriguing relievers, and with Strasburg out, not much else.  Not too surprising for a team with a .440 winning percentage.  I would imagine that both Las Vegas and Xeifrank's simulator will have the Dodgers as overwhelming favorites for each game, but when two teams are playing out the string, anything can happen.  Dodgers win 2 out of 3, managing to blow one game in some excruciating fashion, perhaps a go-ahead run scoring because Brad Ausmus commits catcher's interference with the bases juiced.