This short two-game series is set to be the battle of division leaders as the 56-41 Cleveland Indians square off against the National League East leading Washington Nationals. The Tribe's last series against the Baltimore Orioles was one to forget, so let's never speak of it again. Instead, let's focus on the upcoming homestand, where the Indians can look to improve upon their 26-15 record at Progressive Field this season.
This is the first time these two teams will face each other this season, and as previously stated, it's just a two-game series bookended by days off for the Tribe. Being that it is such a short series, the Indians can rest assured that they will hold onto the American League Central lead over the Detroit Tigers no matter what happens.
Washington is in a very similar situation to the Tribe, in that they hold onto a sizeable lead in their division (4.5 games over the Miami Marlins), but they have struggled in recent games, going 5-5 in their last 10. They are 27-21 away from Nationals Park this season.
For the first time in a while, the Indians will be playing in favorable weather. Some clouds are expected over the course of the series, but temperatures will mercifully stay below 90 degrees and no showers are in store.
Tuesday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Danny Salazar (RHP) vs. Gio Gonzalez (LHP)
Despite a hot start to the season, Gio Gonzalez had a rough month of June that makes his stat line look worse than it probably really is. Last month he allowed 26 earned runs over 33.2 innings with 44 strikeouts to 15 walks. All of that added up to a 6.95 ERA and a 3.48 FIP. Since turning the corner into July, however, the 30-year-old lefty had his fortunes reversed. Despite striking out fewer batters per nine innings (6.62) and walking more (4.58), he has an ERA of 3.06 over 17.2 innings with a 5.40 FIP.
Gonzalez's last outing was one of his best of the season, a six-inning win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in which he allowed one earned run off of three hits and struck out six batters.
The Indians will counter with Danny Salazar, who continues to look like a Cy Young contender. His last game was a 6.2-inning win over the Kansas City Royals in which he allowed two earned runs off of eight hits. He also only walked one batter, and he has not walked more than two since June 24 when he issued five free bases against the Detroit Tigers.
Wednesday, 12:10 p.m. ET: Carlos Carrasco (RHP) vs. Stephen Strasburg (RHP)
If you choose one baseball game this season to skip out on work to go see, make it this one. You will not find a better pitching matchup than Stephen Strasburg versus Carlos Carrasco.
The Washington Nationals ace, who was signed to a seven-year, $175 million contract prior to the season, has been phenomenal in 13 starts this season. He carries a 2.83 ERA (which would be a career-high as a qualified starter) and a 2.98 FIP. He is striking out nearly a third of the batters he faces and walking just 7.2 percent of them. As long as Strasburg can avoid getting injured, he could be a great to very good pitcher over the full duration of his shiny new contract.
Carlos Carrasco is under contract for another five seasons, but to a slightly cheaper deal. The Indians have got more than their money's worth so far in the deal. This season, in particular, the Indians other ace has a 2.31 ERA and a 3.95 FIP over 14 starts. His last start was near perfection, as he lasted six innings and allowed just one hit. He could have easily had a complete game shutout, but he was smartly pulled when the Indians were piling up runs and the heat index climbed over 100.
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Another off day is coming up after this two-game set, then the Indians continue their homestand against the Oakland Athletics and the terrifying Minnesota Twins before heading back out on the road to face the New York Yankees.
Team in a box
The Nationals are coming off of a 2-1 series loss to the San Diego Padres (lol what?), but they have enough strong streaks this season to hold a sizable lead in the NL East. That lead can mostly be attributed to their pitching, which was been one of the NL's best.
Nationals starting pitchers have thrown 616 innings this season, the most in the NL. When their bullpen has been used, they have been extremely effective to the tune of an NL-leading 2.98 ERA and 2.79 walks per nine innings.
The offense, on the other hand, sits at just below average with a 98 wRC+ on the season, even though they have one of the lowest strikeout rates in the NL (19.9%), and one of the best walk rates (9.1%). The problem is when bat hits ball good things are not always happening -- they are 14th in the NL with a .281 BABIP.
Washington Nationals roster
- C: Wilson Ramos
- 1B: Clint Robinson
- 2B: Daniel Murphy
- SS: David Espinosa
- 3B: Anthony Rendon
- LF: Jayson Werth
- CF: Ben Revere
- RF: Bryce Harper
- C: Jose Labaton
- IF: Stephen Drew
- IF: Trea Turner
- OF: Chris Heisey
Bryce Harper started the season as one of baseball's best hitters, slashing .296/.406/.714 with nine home runs in April. Then teams started to walk him a lot more -- 26.7 percent of his at-bats in May, to be exact. It's hard to say there is an exact coorelation between the walks and Harper's coming back down to earth, but he did strike out in 22.4 percent of his at-bats that month, and when his walk rate dropped back down in June and July, so did his strikeout rate so perhaps he was swinging harder and more aggressive when when he had fewer chances. I would hate that to be the case, because the last thing I want is for baseball to catch up Harper, one of the league's most exciting young players.
Overall though, Harper is still having an excellent season with a .244/.385/.466 slash (121 wRC+). Great, but still not Bryce Harper-esque, yet.
Bizarrely enough, the Nationals offense is led by offseason acquisition Daniel Murphy who is slashing .355/.392/.620 (165 wRC+) with 19 home runs. Right behind him is catcher Wilson Ramos with a 146 wRC+ and 14 home runs.
Another young Nationals player, Anthony Rendon, is having a bounceback season from his injury-shortened 2015 campaign. So far this season in 95 games he is slashing .254/.338/.411 (101 wRC+) with a career-high 11.3 percent walk rate. Still nowhere near his breakout 2014 season in which he was worth 6.5 fWAR, but much better than last year.
- RHP: Max Scherzer
- RHP: Stephen Strasburg
- LHP: Gio Gonzalez
- RHP: Tanner Roark
- RHP: Matt Belisle
- RHP: Shawn Kelley
- RHP: Jonathan Papelbon
- LHP: Oliver Perez
- RHP: Yusmerio Petit
- LHP: Felipe Rivero
- LHP: Sammy Solis
- RHP: Blake Trenien
The Nationals's offense may have some holes, but the same cannot really be said about their starting pitching staff. They have been riding a four-man rotation for much of the season, including 29-year-old Tanner Roark, who is on pace for the best season of his career. His ERA would need to come down from its current 3.05 to match his 2.85 ERA in 2014. but his 3.39 FIP is already his best over a full season and he has already accumulated 2.5 fWAR 129.2 innings.
Gio Gonzalez is the only pitching who could be considered struggling, but as previously stated most of his inflated ERA comes from a bad string of starts, which he appears to be over already.
- RHP: Joe Ross, 60-day DL (Shoulder)
- LHP: Sammy Solis, 15-day DL (Knee)
- 1B: Ryan Zimmerman, 15-day DL (Rib)
- RHP: Aaron Barrett, 60-day DL (Tommy John surgery)