I'll be honest, this is a pretty tough matchup for the Cardinals. The Nationals are throwing out Stephen Straburg, who is awesome to start the series and Max Scherzer, also awesome, to finish the series. In between, Joe Ross has gotten off to a great start. Combine that with a disappointing series split against the Diamondbacks, playing a late game on a getaway day, and throwing the lackluster Mike Leake out there, things do not look great for this series. That said, the Cardinals should destroy the Nationals.
Washington has a very good team this year topped by the almost Aledmys Diaz-like Bryce Harper. They sit atop the NL East with a 14-7 record, but weirdly were just swept by the Phillies. As mentioned above, the Nationals have great starting pitching on tap this weekend, although how good the lineup is after Bryce Harper is a question mark. Free agent signing Daniel Murphy has been good thus far, and catcher Wilson Ramos, expected to return from bereavement leave, has also been solid this year.
After those three, the Nationals have some serious questions on the offensive side. Ben Revere is currently on the disabled list with oblique issues, and MIchael Taylor is playing in his place. Taylor is not expected to contribute much offensively, but he has been even worse than his modest projections so far, striking out in 26 of his 78 plate appearances while walking just four times.
Danny Espinosa is the team's current starting shortstop while the team waits until they have manipulated Trea Turner's service time enough to get an extra year of control. Espinosa, like Taylor, is not expected to contribute much of anything offensively, and, like Taylor again, he has been even worse, with just one extra base hit all season and a .310 OBP that is propped up by often hitting before the pitcher.
Jayson Werth turns 37 next month and after a disappointing 2015 campaign, he has picked up where he left off, and it is fair to wonder if he is finished as a useful baseball player. After a difficult, injury-troubled season a year ago, Anthony Rendon should turn things around, but he is not there yet. Ryan Zimmerman should be providing at least an average bat at first base, but he's seen a decline since his prime in 2009 through 2013. He should be better than what he has shown thus far, but how much better is in question.
The Nationals have a superstar outfielder, two stars in the rotation, a couple other solid players, and a bunch of players who should be better than we have seen. Tonight, Mike Leake faces of against Stephen Strasburg. While Leake has been disappointing so far, Strasburg has been great in his free agent walk year. A shiny 2.17 ERA matched by an excellent 2.14 FIP has Strasburg pitching like one of the best in baseball and he has the talent to keep it going.
Joe Ross might be less familiar to Cardinals fans. Coming over from the Padres in the trade that netted San Diego WIl Myers, Ross made 13 starts last year at an above average clip. So far this season, he has not pitched deep into games or gotten a lot of strikeouts, but he has yet to give up a home run and his left on base percentage is 93%, meaning he has had a bit of luck thus far to achieve that 0.54 ERA. He will face off against Jaime Garcia.
Max Scherzer has had a bit of trouble with the home run ball and has walked a few more batters than usual, but he has been great in the past, and there is no reason to think he is not still an ace at this point. Scherzer will go up against Carlos Martinez, which makes it the most exciting pitching matchup of the series.
The Nats have a decent bullpen anchored by Shawn Kelley and Jonathan Papelbon. It would be better for the Cardinals to take the lead and avoid those pitchers if possible.
Tonight's game is at 7:15 PM CT.
Saturday's game is at 1:15 PM CT and will be broadcast by MLB Network out of market.
Sunday's game is at 1:15 PM CT.
Enjoy the weekend.