What to Watch for: Washington Nationals at Boston Red Sox

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by Mike Feigen

What to Watch for: Washington Nationals (2-4) at Boston Red Sox (4-2)

April 13–15, Fenway Park, Boston

The Scene

The Nationals will look to build on the momentum of their extra-innings victory on Sunday in Philadelphia, as they travel to Boston for the Red Sox’ home-opening series. Washington scored twice in the top of the 10th inning in Sunday’s 4-3 win, capitalizing on doubles from newcomers Yunel Escobar and Clint Robinson, a run-scoring wild pitch and an RBI single by Wilson Ramos.

The Red Sox dropped a 14-4 decision on Sunday Night Baseball in New York against the Yankees, as starter Clay Buchholz was battered for seven runs in the first inning. Despite winning two of three in the Bronx, the Red Sox put a lot of pressure on their bullpen, gutting out a 19-inning win on Friday night and needing 4.2 innings of relief on Sunday as well. Boston does get closer Koji Uehara back, a key ingredient in their World Series run in 2013.

The Stakes

With just 13 runs scored in their first six games of the year, the Nationals hope the return of Jayson Werth to the lineup will spark the club. The veteran outfielder has slashed .304/.396/.491 with 41 home runs, 61 doubles and 164 RBI over the past two seasons, highlighting his importance to the lineup. More importantly, an uptick in production will take some of the pressure off the Nationals’ pitching staff, a group that has a stellar 2.32 ERA through the first 54.1 innings of the season.

The two teams don’t have much history, but the Nationals swept the Sox behind strong starting performances by Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez in June of 2012 — who happen to be the Nats’ starters the next three days.

The Starters

MONDAY, 3:05: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-0, 1.50) at RHP Rick Porcello (0-1, 4.50)

TUESDAY, 6:10: RHP Stephen Strasburg (0-1, 5.06) at RHP Justin Masterson (1-0, 3.00)

WEDNESDAY, 1:35: LHP Gio Gonzalez (0-1, 4.26) at LHP Wade Miley (0-0, 3.38)

The Nationals hope to get off to a strong start in the series behind the right arm of Jordan Zimmermann, a pitcher who hasn’t suffered a loss over his last 12 starts dating back to July 28, 2014. They will then give the ball to Stephen Strasburg, who took the loss against the Mets this past Wednesday, and Gio Gonzalez, who took a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning on Friday in Philadelphia.

Boston will counter with a pair of sinkerball specialists in the first two contests, as they hope to keep the Nationals’ powerful bats from clearing the Green Monster. The Nationals have five home runs in their first six games, though all have been solo shots. Wade Miley will pitch game three of the series, a pitcher the Nats have faced five times in the past four seasons when he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ryan Zimmerman is 4-for-7 with three doubles and a pair of walks against the quick-working southpaw.

The Offenses

Boston’s attack features two new stars in the heart of the order, both of whom have worn out Washington pitching over the years. Hanley Ramirez, who moved from shortstop to left field this season after joining the team as a free agent from the Los Angeles Dodgers, has hit an incredible .336/.418/.623 with 30 home runs against the Nationals in just 121 career games, while third baseman and former San Francisco Giant Pablo Sandoval has hit .330/.370/.500 against Nats pitchers. Veteran sluggers David Ortiz and Mike Napoli are off to slow starts for the Red Sox, hitting just .130 (3-for-23) and .053 (1-for-19) on the young season.

The Nationals are still without Denard Span and Anthony Rendon at the top of the order, but Werth’s return could be a huge boost to the rest of the lineup. Escobar has been a pleasant surprise in the No. 2 spot thus far, hitting .304/.385/.391 with three walks and no strikeouts through the first six games of the season, while Robinson has four hits in 10 at-bats and could see time in the outfield or at designated hitter during the series.

Right fielder Bryce Harper has two home runs and a .346 on-base percentage on the young season, but hopes to see more RBI opportunities with the lineup becoming healthier.

The Best of the Rest

With Werth returning to the team today, Tyler Moore slides out of the regular lineup with Matt den Dekker joining Triple-A Syracuse. Moore is 0-for-12 on the year so far, but could regain his form in a familiar bench role. Left-hander Matt Thornton, who won a ring with the Red Sox in 2013, has yet to allow a run in 20 appearances in a Washington uniform. Former MVP Dustin Pedroia remains one of the toughest outs in the game, but has been quiet since homering twice against Cole Hamels on Opening Day.

2 Comments

The present difficulties are the same one that have been suffered by the Nationals under Mike Rizzo’s stewardship. His continuous and constant over emphasis on pitching at the expense of hitting has resulted on yearly team batting averages which were constantly among the lowest in the entire league. Depending on pitching alone (along with hoped for defense) consistently puts unnecessary pressure on pitchers to hold miniscule leads of one or two runs. When the other team scores more than two runs you can visibly see the Nationals team will sag. As long as Rizzo’s team philosophy treats hitting as some kind of uncontrollable voodoo that comes and goes mystically that Nationals will play below their capability.

Harold G. Pavel

I am totally agree. Also, I really want this team win a World Series, but in my opinion, you can’t win a World Series with no defense, specially when your SS can’t make the play when the team most need it.

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