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Contenders from the east: the Nats come to town

The Washington Nationals come to Los Angeles Monday and the team that many prognosticators placed first in the NL East find themselves in second place with a 20-17 record, but trailing the Atlanta Braves by only one game in their division.

Bearded Bryce and the Nats hit town on Monday.
Bearded Bryce and the Nats hit town on Monday.
Greg Fiume

As recently as the end of April, the Nats were 4 1/2 games off the pace, and briefly found themselves in third place, five games out, earlier in that month.

Washington was riding a five-game winning streak before dropping two in a row at home to the Chicago Cubs to complete their latest homestand, but this club represents a solid playoff contender and one would think them to be a truer challenge for the Dodgers than the recently departed Miami Marlins.

The Nats are doing it with pitching for the most part, sporting the third-best team ERA in the National League, while the offense, despite Bryce Harper's Herculean heroics, has sputtered along with the second-worst OBP and third-worst OPS (11th in Slugging %) in the loop. Contrast that offense to the Dodgers who lead the senior circuit in OBP but combine that with the second-worst slugging % to put them in 10th in OPS.

Old Friends: Jayson Werth, manager Davey Johnson.

Disabled List: Christian Garcia and Werth both inhabit the 15-day DL.

Catcher: Kurt Suzuki starts about 2/3 of the time and Wilson Ramos is the backup backstop. They combine to be a slightly better than league-average batter this season so far.

First Base: A notorious slow-starter with a career triple-slash line for April of .214/.306/.389, Adam LaRoche continues a familiar pattern with an even worse .209/.296/.318 start to 2013.

Second Base: Danny Espinosa gets the starts here and he beats out LaRoche for the most offensive futility from a Nats starter: .196/.230/.364.

Third Base: The mighty Ryan Zimmerman mans the hot corner, but has been limited to 22 starts so far in 2013 due to a DL trip with a hamstring injury. His TSL looks a lot like some of the struggling Dodgers middle-of-the-order bats, but Zimmerman is quite likely just a dormant slugger about to erupt at any morment.

Shortstop: 27-year old Ian Desmond is doing it all at the plate except walking -.300/.310/.550 - while providing roughly average play at the key defensive position.

Left Field: You may have heard of Bryce Harper. One year after Mike Trout had an age-20 season for the ages, Harper is trying to best him. This is a superstar TSL for sure: .302/.383/.629. I think the kid can hit a little.

Center Field: Washington traded for Denard Span in the offseason to provide solid defense and a league-average bat. He's done about that and stolen five bases in six attempts this season as well, bring his career totals to 95 steals at a 77% success rate, 82% success since 2010.

Right Field: Werth finally hit the DL on Saturday after last having played back on May 2. Since then he's been nursing - you guessed it - a strained hamstring. Tyler Moore or Roger Bernadina are the most likely starters here until Werth returns. This is the third season of the seven-year, $126M free agent contract Werth signed with the Nationals and so far he has hit .256/.345/.406/.751 for a 106 OPS+. Ouch.

Bench: Steve Lombardozzi, Moore and Bernadina play the most, Eury Perez and Chad Tracy (the ex-Diamondback, not the son of old friend Jim Tracy) fill out the roster. There's not of offense coming from this group as Nats subs have combined for a paltry .152/.188/.197 TSL off the bench. The Dodgers bench production of .188/.255/.282/ looks robust in comparison.

Starting Pitching: Eric discusses the pitching matchups here. Spoiler: Stephen Strasburg is not scheduled to appear.

Bullpen: Rafael Soriano is the closer and he's racked up 12 saves while keeping runners off base with an 0.875 WHIP. Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen, and Henry Rodriguez are the live-armed right-handed relievers, while Zach Duke is the sole southpaw. However, Duke is not a LOOGY, having accrued 15 innings in his nine appearances, and at this point seems to be the mop-up man. This should please Andre Ethier in the late innings.

The weather is warming up in LA and one of these offense's sluggers should start warming up too. Dodger fans are hoping it is the home team and not the visitors from the east.