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Dodgers open series against first-place Nationals

Wilson Ramos homered against the Dodgers in June in Los Angeles.
Wilson Ramos homered against the Dodgers in June in Los Angeles.
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The road trip continues for the Dodgers with a three-game series against the first-place Nationals starting Tuesday night at Nationals Park in Washington D.C.

The Dodgers are 12-8 against National League East teams in 2016 (4-2 on the road), including a three-game sweep of the Nationals at Dodger Stadium from June 20-22. Since that series the Dodgers are 11-9, but the Nationals are 13-7 and have been running roughshod over their opponents.

In their last 20 games, Washington has outscored its opponents 103-61, the best run differential in baseball, and on the season are +114, second only to the Cubs in the majors, outscoring opponents by more than a run per game, on average. That surge gives the Nationals a 5½-game lead over the Marlins in the NL East.

A big reason for the Nationals' turnaround from a disappointing 83-win squad to this year's division leader has been the turnaround of catcher Wilson Ramos, who hit just .229/.258/.358 in 504 plate appearances in 2015. This year, with new and improved eyesight, Ramos is hitting .327/.380/.523 with as many doubles (16) and only two fewer home runs (13) than he had in 196 more PA last year.

Ramos homered during the series in Los Angeles, though on June 21 he was 0-for-3 against Scott Kazmir, who starts for the Dodgers in Tuesday's series opener.

Kazmir is pitching on a robust 10 days rest thanks in part to the All-Star break, after making his shortest start of the season, needing 85 pitches to traverse through three innings on July 8 against San Diego. He has a 5.40 ERA in eight road starts this season, compared to 3.92 at home.

During his last four road starts, Kazmir has at least as many walks as strikeouts in three of those outings, with 17 walks and 19 strikeouts in 21⅔ innings during that span.

The Nationals called up 22-year-old Dominican right-hander Reynaldo Lopez to make his major league debut, starting the series opener for Washington. Lopez had a 3.19 ERA in 16 minor league starts, and after four double-digit strikeout games in a six-start span for Double-A Harrisburg got the call to Triple-A.

Lopez made just two starts for Syracuse before Washington came calling. He was rated the No. 48 prospect in Baseball America's midseason rankings, with BA noting his "great fastball-curve combo."

Keith Law of ESPN scouted Lopez at the Futures Game in San Diego, noting he hit 98-99 mph on his fastball. "His delivery is all arm, and I can't see that holding up long term in a starter's role, but I think he'd be devastating right now in the Nationals' bullpen," Law wrote.

Lopez is the ninth pitcher to make his major league debut against the Dodgers this season, and the third starter. The other two starting pitchers to debut against LA in 2016 — Daniel Wright of the Reds on May 24 and Chad Kuhl of the Pirates on June 26 — have combined to allow seven runs (six earned) on 11 hits in 10⅓ innings (a 5.23 ERA), with nine strikeouts and five walks.

The Dodgers are 12-12 at Nationals Park, which opened in 2008. That includes 6-3 in the previous three seasons, including a series win in 2015 and a series sweep in 2013.

Game info

Time: 4:05 p.m. PT

TV: SportsNet LA