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Orioles opponent preview: Washington Nationals

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The Orioles and Nationals rev things up tonight for the start of the Battle of the Beltways: 2020 edition, with the Birds trying to get back on a winning track against MLB’s defending champs.

MLB: Exhibition-Washington Nationals at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been a popular talking point since MLB and the Players’ Union settled on a 60 game season this summer due to the coronavirus: if playoff teams had been decided after two months back in 2019, the Nationals wouldn’t have made it into the dance. And they won the whole thing last year!

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Anyway, here we are with everyone trying to make the best of a bad situation. Baseball keeps chugging along despite a few team outbreaks that have threatened to derail the entire season but have failed to do so up to this point.

At least the next opponent for the Orioles doesn’t live far away at all. The Birds will load up the buses and take a drive down to D.C. for a three-game series this weekend against the Nats. It’s the first matchup of the season between these two teams and they’ll play another three-game series about a week from now at Camden Yards.

The COVID-19 outbreak on the Marlins last week affected the Nationals directly, with both teams having to postpone a three-games series that was originally scheduled for this past weekend. With three games lopped off their schedule for now, Washington’s record is currently one game below .500 at 4-5.

En route to a World Championship last year, Washington was all over the National League leaderboards in a variety of categories. As a team, they had the third-fewest errors (84), scored the second-most runs (873), had the second-best OPS (.796), and were part of a three-way tie for best AVG (.265) with the Rockies and Pirates.

That’s not even mentioning their rank on multiple pitching leaderboards, which we’ll get to later. The Nats were quite a well-rounded team. But the defending World Series champs have not been immune to turnover since winning their title.

Anthony Rendon’s departure — he signed a seven-year $245 million contract with the Angels in December of last year — leaves a massive void in the middle of Washington’s lineup. The Nats have filled Rendon’s old spot at third with a combination of Asdrubal Cabrera (six games) and 2016 first-round draft pick Carter Kieboom (three games). The former is 9-for-34 this season and the latter is 5-for-12.

Other notable player departures include Brian Dozier, Matt Adams, Fernando Rodney and Gerardo Parra.

Long-time Nat Ryan Zimmerman chose to opt out of the 2020 season because of safety concerns during the pandemic. He became a free agent last November and then re-signed with Washington in January, but he decided not to play this year basically right before the season began. A few other Nationals that chose to opt out were starting pitcher Joe Ross and catcher Welington Castillo.

Eric Thames came over to the Nationals this year from the Brewers and has helped fill in for Zimmerman while hitting 5-for-19 in seven games, including four at first base. Howie Kendrick has pitched in there too, splitting his time this year between first base (four games) and designated hitter (three games).

Kendrick, who was a standout on the team last year, signed a one-year, $6.25 million deal this past offseason to remain in Washington. In 2019, he hit .344/.395/.572 with 17 home runs and 23 doubles in 370 plate appearances over 121 games. So far in 2020 he is 6-for-23 with two walks.

Outfielder Juan Soto just returned to the club a few days ago because of a positive coronavirus test result (depending on who you talk to) that came at the very outset of the season. The 21-year-old has been a force for the Nats the past couple years and in 10 career games against the O’s, he’s hitting .382/.500/.588.

Other free agents the club decided to bring back for another tour include the aforementioned Asdrubal Cabrera, plus reliever Daniel Hudson and catcher Yan Gomes.

Moving to the other side of the ball, pitching has been the backbone of this team for a while now, especially the starting pitching. The Nats staff was among the National League leaders in several major categories last year, including third-most strikeouts (1,511), fourth-lowest OBA (.244) and most quality starts (87), to name a few.

The Nats have been without ace Stephen Strasburg — who re-upped with Washington this offseason for $245 million over seven years — due to an injury that the club has termed a right hand nerve problem. He has yet to make a start in 2020.

But they’ve still got Max Scherzer, although he’s been held back recently by a hamstring injury. With Washington yet to announce any of its starters for the series, there’s still a chance Scherzer could appear against the O’s. But it’s unlikely considering the injury and the fact that he pitched only a few days ago on Wednesday.

Behind Scherzer the Nats employ the following four starters, listed in order of ascending ERA: Patrick Corbin (3.00), Erick Fedde (3.48), Austin Voth (3.60) and Anibal Sanchez (7.20).

The Birds will have to keep warming the bats up against Washington pitching in order to wipe away the bad memories of that four-game sweep to the Marlins that only just ended. Perhaps Baltimore can regain the form that had people saying they were a dark-horse playoff contender as recently as last week.

Series scheduled games

  • Friday, Aug. 7, 6:05 PM: Tommy Milone vs. TBD
  • Saturday, Aug. 8, 6:05 PM: Starters TBD
  • Sunday, Aug. 9, 12:35 PM: Starters TBD

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win against the Nationals?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    3 (sweep)
    (8 votes)
  • 24%
    2
    (14 votes)
  • 41%
    1
    (24 votes)
  • 20%
    0 (get swept)
    (12 votes)
58 votes total Vote Now