When the St. Louis Cardinals last played the Washington Nationals, the Cardinals lost a close game 5-4 followed two 6-1 losses. Since the opening series with the Pirates, it was the only time the Cardinals have been swept this season. The Cardinals just finished an emotionally draining series with the Cubs and will be without Matt Carpenter this series as he has the wonderful opportunity to be with his family at the birth of a daughter. The Cardinals should destroy the Nationals.
The Nationals offense still has Bryce Harper, and although his numbers are down slightly of late, he is still incredibly dangerous and leads the league in walks. Harper has faced nine teams this year. The Cardinals are the only team that has yet to allow him to get a hit, with two walks his only offensive production and one of those walks eventually led to a caught stealing.
Some have chosen to challenge Harper. Others have chosen to pitch around him. To the extent that either strategy "worked" is a function of luck and small sample size. Given enough at bats, Harper and the Nationals will make you pay for any strategy involving Bryce Harper because he is Bryce Harper and he is really good at baseball.
As for the rest of the offense, Daniel Murphy is still going crazy with a 179 wRC+ despite just a 5% walk rate. He doesn't strike out and he hits for power, so even when his .400+ BABIP comes down, he will still be a dangerous hitter. After a slow start, Anthony Rendon appears to be coming around although the power just hasn't been there yet.
Wilson Ramos has been doing some serious damage. Jayson Werth has been inching towards average, while Ryan Zimmerman has remained there. Ben Revere has yet to get things going while Danny Espinosa has been weak at the plate all season long. Stephen Drew is actually starting the first game of the series at second base, but Drew is not very good.
This is a four-game series so the Cardinals will see all Nationals starting pitchers except for Tanner Roark. Up first is Joe Ross, who gave up one run in six innings with four strikeouts and two walks the last time these two teams faced off. Ross has kept things going fairly well, but he has given up a home run in each of his last three starts which has caused his ERA and FIP to creep up to 2.70 and 3.43, respectively. Mike Leake will go for the Cardinals, looking to put together his fourth straight quality start.
In Friday's game, Max Scherzer starts for the Nationals. In the month of May, Scherzer has 54 strikeouts and six walks in 35.1 innings including a record-tying 20 strikeout game. He gave up seven runs to the Cubs including four home runs so maybe we shouldn't feel so bad about Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez. He's really good. Also, good is his opponent, Jaime Garcia, who will look to recover from his worst start of the year when he gave up five runs in 2.1 innings and didn't strike anybody out.
On Saturday, Gio Gonzalez will lead the Nationals. The lefty's stats mirror those of Joe Ross with a 21% k-rate, a slightly better walk rate at 6% and 2.87 ERA and 3.63 FIP on the season. Gonzalez will try to recover from his oddest start of the season when the Mets hit three homers leading to seven runs despite seven strikeouts and no walks. Adam Wainwright, who might have turned things around, can continue to prove the skeptics wrong or the believers right by having a solid start. In 30 innings this month, Wainwright has 21 strikeouts against six walks with one home run leading to a 2.82 FIP despite a 4.50 ERA.
For the finale, Stephen Strasburg will take on the Cardinals. Strasburg has been awesome all season with 86 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 67.2 innings. He will be tough. Michael Wacha pitches for the Cardinals as he tries to rebound from an ugly start against the Cubs.
In the bullpen, Shawn Kelley has been great and Jonathan Papelbon remains the closer. Matt Belisle is on a rehab assignment.
The games Thursday and Friday begin at 6:05pm central time on FOX Sports Midwest.
Saturday's game begins at 6:15pm on FOX.
Sunday's game begins at 12:35 pm on FOX Sports Midwest
For those out of market, the three non-FOX games will also appear on MLB Network.