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Rox finish last out-of-division road trip in DC

Okay, I'm going to be honest. When I was supposed to be writing this last night, I was distracted like the rest of you, so sorry if this one isn't up to par, and I still haven't diagnosed the red link bug. At least there's a segway. The Two Teams Whose Top Picks Had the Most Pessimistic Reports on the Prospects of Their Signing will meet tonight.

Washington still sits 24.5 games out of first place in the NL East and have a -101 run differential, so they still look fairly bleak. But that doesn't tell the whole story. That run differential has their Pyth W-L as a whole seven games better than in the standings. Since we last opened a series with the Nats at Coors on July 6, they have exactly a zero run differential. Washington finally canned Manny Acta, and since Jim Riggelman took over, they are a respectable 17-14.

This is no guaranteed sweep, even if the Rockies have never lost a game at Nationals Park. And yes, that part is true. The Rockies swept a 3-game set in the park's first year in 2008, part of a 13-game losing streak for Washington. So I guess the Rockies have won the last six from the Nats.

Like the Marlins, the Nationals have had a very good streak going after the All-Star Break sans two 3 or 4-game losing streaks. Well, the Nats had a 5-game streak before the good times started, but since then, the Nationals are a cool 17-9, which includes an 8-game win streak and a current 3-game streak.

It's not as if the schedule was tough. They swept the bipolar Marlins in there, but otherwise, they were 0-2 against contending teams and 11-1 against the Reds, D-Backs, Marlins and Pirates.

Still, there's something to be said for taking care of business, and the Nationals have an air of confidence about them. Their pitching staff is still made up of a bunch of people I haven't even heard of, but they could represent a dangerous trap series as we get excited for the Giants this weekend. It's important not to look past them so we can make up ground on Los Angeles, who is in a dogfight of a series against the Cardinals.

The Nats' blog is called Federal Baseball.


Washington Nationals (43-75, W3, 5th, 24.5 GB)

Tuesday-Thursday: 3-game series at Nationals Park

The Bats: C+

Forget the fact that Ronnie Belliard (.231, 4, 16, .283 wOBA) batted third in Washington's last game. The offense Jim Riggelman fields is competitive and by far the strength of the team.

Four .300+ hitters have helped Washington tie Houston for 2nd in the NL in batting average. They are 7th in the NL in runs, 9th in HR, 6th in SLG, 2nd in OBP, and 5th in wOBA. For a team that has been putrid most of the season, that's impressive, placing them as an above average NL offense. However, the lineup is very top-heavy, with little threatening opposing pitchers pas tthe 5-spot:

Nyjer Morgan - CF .306
3 36 .369 .383 .336
Cristian Guzman - SS .309 5 40 .329 .423 .324
Ryan Zimmerman -3B .305 24 78 .370 .525 .380
Adam Dunn - 1B .285 31 86 .417 .580 .417
Josh Willingham - LF .308 19 50 .417 .589 .426
Elijah Dukes - RF .244 7 45 .306 .409 .298
Josh Bard - C .233 2 22 .308 .332 .285
Alberto Gonzalez - 2B .263 1 26 .299 .364 .291

By wOBA metrics, the lineup features two guys on performing at a big time star level (Dunn and Willingham), one All-Star level player (Zimmerman), one slightly above average stick (Morgan) though he's at .376 wish WAS, one slightly below average (Guzman) and three very poor hitters (Dukes, Bard and Gonzalez).

Second base is a big time revolving door. Willie Harris (.248, 4, 15) could start there as well as the outfield, though Ronnie Belliard (.185, 2, 8) has been splitting time with Gonzalez of late. Wil Nieves has been splitting time with Bard since Jesus Flores went down. Jorge Padilla joins Harris as a reserve OF. IF Mike Morse was just added to the roster yesterday. He had 27 ABs for Seattle the last two seasons combined and has yet to appear in a game for Washington.

Hop after the jump for the scouting report on the arms, the D, the pitching matchups and the hot/cold players.

The Arms: F

Fangraphs lists the Nats as having the 3rd worst staff in the bigs, better than only San Diego and Milwaukee. Their ERA is 28th at 5.00, and their ERA/FIP/tRA splits for starters is 4.96/4.84/5.73, compiled from a laundry list of a staggering ten starting pitchers with at least 5 starts (double the qualifying Rockies). Their bullpen's split comes in at 5.07/4.72/5.04. According to Stat Corner, Jordan Zimmerman is the only above average starter, and he's on the DL.

2009 - Mike MacDougal 0-0 2.27 1.36 15 19

Ron Villone and Sean Burnett remain as Jim Riggelman's lefty options after the club dealt Joe Beimel to the Rockies. Jason Bergmann, Tyler Clippard, Saul Rivera and Jorge Sosa are his right-handed options in bridging to closer Mike MacDougal, who struggles way too much for a closer. Burnett, Clippard and Sosa are StatCorner's above averages, while the rest have struggled. In spite of his nicce ERA, MacDougal's tRA is a lofty 5.89, most due to the K/BB.

The D: D+

Washington's defense has improved since the last time we saw them. Replacing Dunn in left and putting Morgan in the OF full-time helps a lot. Their Fangraphs rating has improved from 30th to 24th while their UZR/150 has jumped to 21st, better than the Rockies. They have still made a league-most 105 errors, but they are notably improved. Zimmerman and Morgan are particularly great fielders.

The Ballpark: Mild Hitter's Park

Baseball Reference gives Nationals Park a 101 rating for hitters and 102 for pitchers, both for this season and for the multi-year factor. It is in its second season of use for Washington.

Probable Pitchers:

Tonight, 5:05 pm MDT

2009 - Ubaldo Jimenez 10-9 3.47 1.24 140 63
2009 - Craig Stammen 3-6 5.24 1.30 40 17
Ubaldo has thrown 7 straight quality starts and has allowed one earned run total in his last two outings. Stammen has the best ERA of the three starters in this series for the Nationals (gross huh) as well as the only pitcher the Rockies have seen in a start. The right hander tossed one of his best starts at Coors July 6 in holding the Rox to 1 run in 7 innings, yet the Rockies threw a shutout that day. He relies heavily on an average ~89mph fastball, though he has a curve and changeup as well as a slider he's used only a handful of times. Favors: ROCKIES very strongly

Wednesday, August 19, 5:05 MDT
2009 - Jason Marquis 13-8 3.55 1.26 78 51
2009 - Collin Balester 1-2 6.00 1.33 13 6
Take his start vs the Cubs out (done in by walks and an amoeba strike zone) and you have 7 straight quality starts from Old Reliable. This will be Balester's sixth start, though he started 15 last year for Washington. The 23yo RH allowed 5 ER in each of his last two starts and has a FIP approaching 8. Part of that is the 9 HR he's allowed in just 24 IP, and part of that is his poor K rate. He has a low 90's fastball, mid-70's curve and low-to-mid-80's change, none of which are particularly effective this year. Favors: ROCKIES heavily

Thursday, August 20, 5:05 MDT

2009 - Jason Hammel 7-7 4.73 1.55 84 29
2009 - Garrett Mock 2-4 5.27 1.92 32 23

Hammel has been so hittable lately it's ridiculous. He's allowed 26 hits in his last 3 starts (15.2 IP), yet the Rockies have won two of them. That's because he's limited damage, allowing 3 runs or less in 5 of 6 starts. It will be good for him to face a starter who isn't an ace. Mock will be making his 10th career start, though he has made dozens of relief appearances. One was last year at Coors, where he allowed 3 ER in 2 IP. He has won his last two starts, allowing just 4 ER total his past 3 outings, including six shutout innings in his last one at the Reds. He is a bit of a groundball pitcher with a low 90's fastball (which Fangraphs says is a terrible pitch), a low 80's slider, a high-70's changeup and a mid-70's curve. Favors: ROCKIES moderately.

My take: Expecting a sweep would be a mistake.

33_15_10---fire-flame-texture_web_mediumGarrett Mock threw six scoreless innings in his last start and has allowed just 4 runs in his past 16 IP. Nearly the entire offense has had a strong month. Ryan Zimmerman has a (.451, 4, 11) line in August, while Adam Dunn (.364, 5, 12), Ronnie Belliard (.382, 2, 7), Nyjer Morgan (.300, 0, 2), Josh Willingham (.333, 3, 11) and Cristian Guzman (.340, 0, 7) all have strong lines this month.

IceThe pitching staff has allowed 27 HR in 15 August games. Josh Bard (.152), Willie Harris (2-for-18) and Alberto Gonzalez (.195) have had a poor month thus far.

Bandaid_mediumJesus Flores is the biggest blow to the Nationals. He has been on the DL since May 10 with a shoulder injury and will likely be out the rest of the year. He had a .905 OPS in 90 ABs before the injury. Dmitri Young has been on the 15day since Opening day, while Austin Kearns (thumb - 8/4), Scott Olsen (shoulder - 7/11), and Jordan Zimmerman (elbow - 7/19) are also on the 15day. Roger Bernadina (ankle - 4/19) and Terrell Young (shoulder - 3/27) are on the 60day.