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Series preview: Cleveland Indians at Washington Nationals

AL Central lead is still technically safe!

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Since the two teams split their last two-game set exactly two weeks ago, the Cleveland Indians and Washington Nationals have gone in completely different directions.

The Indians enjoyed a sweep of the Oakland Athletics, but then the wheels came off against the Minnesota Twins and they struggled to get one win away from the New York Yankees. The Nationals, on the other hand, were 7-3 against the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks.

While the Indians are stuck scoreboard watching and hoping the red-hot Detroit Tigers slow down sometime soon, the Nationals are slowly running away with the National League East, a full 7.5 games over the next-closest team, the Miami Marlins.

Now that I have made myself all sad, let’s look at the good. Since the Tigers lost last night while the Indians were off, the lead sits at 2.5 games, meaning the Indians could technically get swept and still hold a lead in the American League Central. And, uh, well at least it’s not supposed to rain in the D.C. area over the next two days?

Pitching matchups

Tuesday, 7:05 p.m. ET: Trevor Bauer (RHP) vs. Max Scherzer (RHP)

For maybe the first time all season, the Indians may not have the better pitching matchups, on paper. The struggling Trevor Bauer will be up against Max Scherzer, who currently has the lowest earned run average of his career (2.87), as well as the highest strikeout rate (32.5%).

Scherzer’s FIP is a bit high at 3.40, mostly due to the number of home runs he has given up and the 84.9 percent of batters he has stranded on base. Opponents also have a .240 batting average on balls in play against him, which is well below is .294 average.

In his last outing, Scherzer pitched eight innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks, striking out 11 and walking just one. His home run problem did show up, however, as he allowed three runs off of two dingers.

Scherzer has at least 10 strikeouts in nine of his 23 starts this season, including his incredible 20-strikeout game against the Tigers on May 11.

Wednesday, 4:05 p.m. ET: Josh Tomlin (RHP) vs. Gio Gonzalez (LHP)

Things will not get much easier in the final game of this short set, as the Indians will be tasked with taking on Gio Gonzalez, who has surged lately after a disastrous month of May.

In 12 starts between May and June, Gonzalez allowed 45 earned runs in 66.1 innings, but in six starts since the calendar turned to July, he has allowed just 10 earned runs in 37.0 innings. His walks are up a bit lately, and his strikeouts are down, but the results have been much better. Maybe his luck finally flips back to what he saw in May and June?

The Indians will turn to Josh Tomlin, who was hammered in his last start against the Yankees to the tune of seven earned runs in 4.2 innings of work.

Upcoming schedule

After this series, the Indians return home to Progressive Field to face the Los Angeles Angels, the Chicago White Sox, and the Toronto Blue Jays with a makeup game against the Boston Red Sox sprinkled in there.

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Team in a box

Washington Nationals


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Washington Nationals roster

Position players

  • C: Wilson Ramos
  • 1B: Clint Robinson
  • 2B: Daniel Murphy
  • SS: Danny Espinosa
  • 3B: Anthony Rendon
  • LF: Jayson Werth
  • CF: Ben Revere
  • RF: Bryce Harper


  • C: Pedro Severino
  • INF: Wiler Difo
  • INF: Trea Turner
  • OF: Brian Goodwin
  • OF: Chris Heisey

The Curious Case of Bryce Harper continues, as the slugger has struggled to do much of anything after a blazing-hot start to the season. Once the Chicago Cubs walked him in nearly every at-bat, he has not been the same, and he is fourth on the Nationals in terms of wRC+ (112) among batters with at least 100 plate appearances. Harper will recover eventually, of course, just hopefully not against the Indians.

Leading the way for the Nationals, instead, has been Daniel Murphy, who comes into this series slashing .350/.390/.416 with 21 home runs. The Nationals have to be feeling pretty good about that three-year, $37.5 million deal they signed him to in the offseason.

Anthony Rendon has a chance to outperform his breakout 2014 season in which he was worth 6.6 FanGraphs WAR. He has been on a tear in the last two weeks, slashing .357/.451.643 (188 wRC+) in 51 plate appearances. Conversely, Harper has been the team’s worst player in that same span, slashing .152/.222/.152 (3 wRC+) for a -0.3 fWAR.

Starting pitchers

  • RHP: Max Scherzer
  • RHP: Stephen Strasburg
  • LHP: Gio Gonzalez
  • RHP: Tanner Roark


  • RHP: Matt Belisle
  • RHP: Shawn Kelley
  • RHP: Mark Melancon
  • RHP: Jonathan Papelbon
  • LHP: Oliver Perez
  • RHP: Yusmeiro Petit
  • LHP: Sammy Solis
  • RHP: Blake Treinen

The Nationals have mostly been riding with a four-man rotation, and it’s been extremely effective. Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Tanner Roark all have earned run averages under three, while Strasburg is on pace for the best season of his career, if he can stay healthy.

Their bullpen has been a different story, but they went out and addressed the issue at the trade deadline by acquiring Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates. So far he has pitched four scoreless innings for the Nationals in four appearances.


  • INF: Stephen Drew, 15-day DL (Vertigo)
  • C Jose Lobaton, 15-day DL (Elbow)
  • RHP: Joe Ross, 15-day DL (Shoulder)
  • INF: Ryan Zimmerman, 15-day DL (Wrist)
  • RHP: Aaron Barrett, 60-day DL (Tommy John)