Series #34 Preview: Nats at Tigers

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Nationals fans are still waiting on the spark that will lead to the streak that will close the gap between the Braves and them in the NL East. A lot of good things have happened as of late, the back of the rotation is looking good with Haren finding his command and Taylor Jordan mastering the slider and with signs that the offense is starting to show some life.

In a rare two game series, the Nationals (52-54) head to Comerica Park to take on the Detroit Tigers (59-45). The two teams met earlier this year for another abbreviated series at the beginning of May, where Dan Haren and Jordan Zimmermann pitched their way to two Nats wins. This go around Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez will have a chance to beat up on the Tigers.

Since the two teams last met the Nationals bullpen looks drastically different and Scott Hairston is a member of the bench. The Nats have also gotten healthier with the return of Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos back in the lineup after lengthy disabled list stays. Also, the Tiger’s ace, Justin Verlander, does not look as sharp as he has in the past and has lost some velocity on his fastball.

Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos seem to be hitting their stride offensively, with Werth batting north of .300 and Zimmerman having four multi-hit games in his last five starts. Ramos might not be the defense juggernaut that Kurt Suzuki is, but the pop that he has helped the Nats out since returning to the lineup on July 4.

Game 1: Tuesday, July 30, Comerica Park 7:08pm, Anibal Sanchez (8-7, 2.68 ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (5-8, 2.85 ERA)

The Nationals are all too familiar with Sanchez due to his long stint with the Marlins before he was traded to Detroit. Sanchez is kind of like that annoying kid that is in your class in high school that no matter what you do, he never goes away. Hell, he went to the American League in a trade and the Nats still have to face him twice a year. The team has had little luck against Sanchez in the past. In 20 games, Sanchez has an exceptionally low 2.02 ERA against the Nats. He has only given up 8 homers to the Nats in his career, while striking out 108 and averaging 7.8 SO/9 innings.

However, the Nats tagged him with his first loss against the team in his seven year career back in June. During the game Sanchez lasted six innings, where he gave up eight hits, two earned runs, while striking out eight. One of the eight hits he allowed came at the hands of Bryce Harper to right-center field. Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos have had the most success against Sanchez in the past, of players who have had more than 10 plate appearances. Desmond is sporting a .798 OPS and Ramos has a .928 OPS against him. 

Anibal is your prototypical power pitcher and throws a fastball (88-93 mph), slider (83-88 mph), changeup (82-88 mph) and curveball (75-82 mph). He has thrown more sliders and changeups since 2009 and his curveball has a big 12/6 break. His fastball does not have a lot of movement and he tends to get into trouble when his pitches start to creep up in the zone because he starts to lose control of his pitch placement. His slider is his moneymaker and causes the most whiffs of any pitch in his arsenal.

Stephen Strasburg’s last outing against the Pirates was a thing of beauty. If it was a painting it would be hanging in a museum somewhere. Over eight innings he gave up two hits and one run, while striking out 12 batters. Sadly, it was also a microcosm of his entire season. Strasburg may have pitched masterfully, but the offense could not back him up, so he recorded the loss.

Strasburg has never faced the Tigers before, but he has faced both Jhonny Peralta and Anibal Sanchez in the past. The two combine for six total plate appearances and neither of them have recorded a hot or have gotten on base while Strasburg has been on the mound. It will be interesting to see what happens when Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder step in against him. Strasburg does have a little history against Cabrera. In his first Spring Training appearance with the Nationals he faced Cabrera and struck him out. Now, I know Spring Training counts for next to nothing, but it is an interesting fact none the less.

Game 2: Wednesday, July 31, Comerica Park 1:08pm, Justin Verlander (10-8, 3.99 ERA) vs. Gio Gonzalez (7-3, 2.97 ERA)

No one with a fully function brain and a basic knowledge of baseball would ever say that it is a good time to face Justin Verlander. They guy is the epitome of an ace, plain and simple. However, as of late he has struggled and given up far more runs than usual, as well as not striking opposing batters out at his usual prolific pace. In his last outing Verlander lost for the third time in four starts. In each of those three losses he has given up at least five runs. He claims to be tinkering with his mechanics in an effort to get back to his usual dominant self, but the numbers are not encouraging. In his last eight starts Verlander has only struck out 31 batters, which is very low for him and, even more concerning, he is not going deep into games like the Tigers are used to seeing.

Verlander commands four above average pitches: fastball (94-96 mph), slider (83-85 mph), curveball (78-81 mph) and circle changeup (85-88 mph). He only throws his slider to right-handed batters and he only throws his changeup to left-handed batters. He likes to go to his curveball when he has two strikes on a hitter. He is best known for adding and subtracting from his fastball. His average velocity is around 95mph, but when he has two strikes and is up in the count he can raise the speed of his fastball as high as the low 100s.

Justin Verlander has one start against the Nationals in his career and it came in 2010. He recorded the win after going eight innings and only allowing three earned runs, while striking out 11 batters. Denard Span and Kurt Suzuki, both former AL stalwarts have fared well against him in the past. Specifically, Span has a .357 BA against him, with two doubles and a triple in 42 PA’s. 

For the second time this season, Gio Gonzalez struck out 11 batters in his last outing against the Pirates. He left the game with the 4-3 lead, but Rafael Soriano allowed four runs in the ninth, so Gio did not get the decision. Thankfully, the Nats scored enough runs to win the game, but if the bullpen keeps doing this to Gio he will be lucky to win fifteen games. With how well he has been pitching the majority of the season he should be flirting with another 20-plus win season, but it appears that has gone out the window.

Gio has faced off against the Tigers five times in his career. All of his appearances came when he was with the Oakland A’s. Early on in his career he was shelled by the Tigers, but when he faced them in 2011 it was a different story. In 2011, he started two games against the Tigers, where he pitched 13 innings and only gave up one earned run. The current Tiger lineup has a .250 BA against Gonzalez, with Victor Martinez and Matt Tuiasosopo all sporting impressive OPS against him. Miguel Cabrera, on the other hand, has struggled against Gio in the past. In 14 plate appearances Cabrera has only managed one hit and struck out three times.

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