After avoiding a sweep at the hands of the Orioles, the Boston Red Sox (29-28) welcome the Washington Nationals (32-23) for a three-game series at Fenway Park. Led by the stellar Stephen Strasburg and the phenom Bryce Harper, the Nationals have surprised the baseball world by taking first place in the National League East. Time will tell if this can last, but the Nationals are primed to become an annual power in the National League.
STARTING PITCHERS – Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman
Stephen Strasburg (against Felix Doubront in the opener) is a fantastic pitcher, no matter which way you want to present it. You want conventional? A 6-1 record, 2.35 ERA, 79 Ks in 65.1 innings, only 17 walks, and a .215 opponents batting average. You want advanced? How about 2.32 FIP, 2.52 xFIP, 2.44 SIERA and 2.1 fWar. Strasburg averages 96.1 MPH on his fastball and his curve ball is a thing of beauty. Strasburg reminds me of Pedro Martinez in his prime.
Gio Gonzalez (facing Daisuke Matsuzaka in his return from Tommy John surgery) has become one of the top pitchers in the National League. Once Gonzalez discovered the two-seam fastball in 2010, he found success. Gonzalez’s K rate is an astounding 11.40 per nine, which overcomes his slightly high walk rate of 3.80 per nine. Gonzalez’s BABIP is .253, which could indicate luck, but when your opponents batting average is .167 and you already have a 2.5 fWAR on June 8th, the low BABIP could indicate a darned good pitcher.
Jordan Zimmerman (versus Jon Lester in the finale) is a bit of an enigma. He is not a strikeout artist (6.27 per nine) but also doesn’t walk many batters (1.41 per nine). His ground ball rate is exceptional (52.1%) but his home run rate is a touch high (1.15 per nine). Zimmerman’s ERA is 2.82 but his FIP is a worrying 3.85. However, his WHIP is an excellent 1.07, so he is getting batters out. All in all, Zimmerman makes an excellent #3 pitcher behind Strasburg and Gonzalez.
1. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
2. Bryce Harper, RF
3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
4. Adam LaRoche, 1B
5. Xavier Nady, LF
6. Mike Morse, DH
7. Rick Ankiel, CF
8. Ian Desmond, SS
9. Jesus Flores, C
WHO’S HOT/WHO’S NOT
In the last two weeks, Jesus Flores (.360/.429/.480, .398 wOBA, 152 wRC) and Bryce Harper (.295/.380/.568, .410, 160 wRC) have hit very well, but Adam LaRoche (.171/.250/.341, .256 wOBA, 56 wRC), Rick Ankiel (.182/.280/.364, .261 wOBA, 60 wRC) and Steve Lombardozzi (.231/.302/.359, .282 wOBA, 74 wRC) are on the cold side. In the bullpen, Sean Burnett (1.00 ERA/1.69 FIP/2.88 xFIP), Craig Stammen (1.80 ERA/2.76 FIP/2.98 xFIP) and Tyler Clippard (2.55 ERA/2.01 FIP/3.74 xFIP) are pitching very well this year but Brad Lidge (5.14 ERA/5.88 FIP/5.86 xFIP) isn’t getting the job done.
C Wilson Ramos (torn right knee ligaments) is out for the season. RHP Cole Kimball (right shoulder surgery), C Sandy Leon (high right ankle sprain), 1B Chris Marrero (torn left hamstring), RHP Drew Storen (bone chip in right elbow) and RF Jayson Werth (broken left wrist) are on the 60-day DL. 3B Mark DeRosa (left oblique strain), C Carlos Maldonado (strained lower back), RHP Ryan Mattheus (plantar fascia strain in left foot), RHP Henry Rodriguez (strained right index finger) and 3B Chad Tracy (right groin tear) are on the 15-day DL. RF Bryce Harper has a sore back and may be held out of Friday’s game.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE RED SOX?
In the last two weeks, Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.294/.385/.676, .445 wOBA, 184 wRC), Will Middlebrooks (.357/.400/.464, .380 wOBA, 138 wRC) and Scott Podsednik (.370/.379/.444, .363 wOBA, 127 wRC) are the hot hitters, while Dustin Pedroia (.160/.267/.160, .211 wOBA, 21 wRC) and Mike Aviles (.231/.222/.250, .208 wOBA, 19 wRC) need to step it up. On the mound, the Daniel Bard-as-starter experiment may have ended with his demotion to Pawtucket, and Red Sox fans get to welcome Daisuke Matsuzaka back to Fenway. Let’s hope that Tommy John surgery also cures nibbling. Rich Hill had a disappointing fortnight (5.40 ERA/4.22 FIP/5.51 xFIP) while Scott Atchison (2.35 ERA/2.11 FIP/3.04 xFIP) finally gave up a run.
The days of “first in war, first in peace, last in the American League” are over in Washington. The Nationals are kicking butt and taking names. With great pitching, good hitting and solid defense, the Nationals are a contender. Get used to it.