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Cardinals should destroy the Nationals

A series preview

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into their series with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Arizona Diamondbacks had won 15 of 18 games, leading many to believe the team was hot. The Cardinals traveled to Arizona and took two of three games, with only a bullpen blowup costing the team a sweep. While Arizona is a good team, the Cardinals now begin a 10-game homestand ahead of the All-Star break against a team that is better than the Diamondbacks. The Cardinals should destroy the Nationals.*

*With title, .550 W%. Without title, .448 W%.

You might think the Cardinals have had some bullpen problems this season—you’d be right—but the Washington Nationals bullpen has been a disaster. The team has put up a 4.69 FIP, a 4.98 ERA and a below replacement WAR, worst in the National League. THe pitcher who has pitched the best, Koda Glover, has had bad luck push him to an ERA above five, and he’s currently on the disabled list. Shawn Kelley was really bad before the team put him on the DL. Blake Treinen just blew last night’s game against the Cubs. Matt Albers might be their best reliever. They just signed Francisco Rodriguez. It’s a really bad situation for the Nationals and it doesn’t even matter for the regular season because the rest of the team is so good and the rest of the NL East looks like the NL Central.

On offense, Bryce Harper has recovered from a disappointing 2016 season to be one of the best hitters in baseball. Daniel Murphy is still in the middle of a two-year hot streak. Anthony Rendon has gone from merely good to great this year. Ryan Zimmerman has turned all of his hard ground balls into hard fly balls and is having an incredible resurgence. The team is a bit top-heavy though.

The Nationals received some bad news in the form of a broken wrist for shortstop Trea Turner. He wasn’t doing a whole lot with the bat, just a bit below average, but his MLB-leading 35 steals and speed on the bases made him an above-average offensive player. Wilmer Difo and Stephen Drew will fill in unless the Nationals make a move outside the organization.

In center field, Michael Taylor is essentially the good version of Randal Grichuk people keep hoping for. He strikes out 32% of the time, walks 5% of the time, but has a .365 BABIP and a .239 ISO which comes together for a 109 wRC+ along with solid defense in center field. That probably isn’t sustainable, but he could still contribute for the Nationals the rest of the way.

Jayson Werth is still hanging on in the final year of his contract and is putting up an above average offensive season, but is currently on the DL with a toe issue. Brian Goodwin has gotten playing time in Werth’s absence and hit well thus far, but a dropoff is expected. Matt Wieters had a lot of hype some time ago, and looked like he might fulfill some of that in 2011 and 2012, but he put up an 88 wRC+ last year and he’s at 76 so far this season.

As far as pitching goes this series, just like in the 2012 playoffs, the Cardinals will miss Stephen Strasburg. In tonight’s game, Tanner Roark will pitch for the Nationals. THe 30-year-old righty pitched well last season, with a 3.79 FIP and 2.83 ERA. That luck has not carried over to this season. He’s got a 4.31 FIP, which is about average, but his ERA is 5.15 due to a pretty unlucky 64% left-on-base rate. Roark’s strikeouts, walks, and homers are all average with nothing standing out, either good or bad. He uses a low-90s sinker around 40% of the time, mixing in a fourseamer, change, slider, and curve in kitchen sink fashion. He’s got some pretty bad platoon splits, but it’s not clear the Cardinals have the lefties to take advantage with Wong and Fowler on the DL. Mike Leake will pitch for the Cardinals.

On Saturday, Gio Gonzalez will go for Washington. Whatever luck Roark had last year that he lost in 2017 has been transferred over to Gio Gonzalez. The lefty has a decent strikeout rate (23%), but has walked more than 10% of batters this season along with an average home run rate. His BABIP against is .261, more than 30 points lower than his career average and his 86% left-on-base rate is second in the NL to Clayton Kershaw. Those will change over the rest of the season and Gonzalez’s ERA will move higher than his current 2.87 and closer to his 4.36 FIP. He should let runners get on base, and the Cardinals will need to capitalize. Michael Wacha, who earned himself another start after a solid outing in Arizona, faces a tougher task against Washington.

Sunday night’s matchup will feature two of the best pitchers in all of baseball. For the Nationals, reigning Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer, who is from St. Louis, will take the mound. Scherzer is currently a favorite to repeat as his 2.72 FIP, 2.06 ERA, and 3.8 WAR all lead the NL. He’s got a chance to throw a no-hitter every time out, having already thrown two. Speaking of, Carlos Martinez takes the ball for the Cardinals.

Tonight, June 30, 7:15 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest, MLB Network

Saturday, July 1, 6:15 pm CT, FOX

Sunday, July 2, 7:05 pm CT, ESPN