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After big week out west, big weekend in St. Louis

Jun 13, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

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The Nationals’ just-completed week out west wound up as successful as anyone could have realistically imagined beforehand. In taking 2 of 3 from the Padres, then taking 3 of 4 from the Giants, the Nats catapulted themselves into first place in the NL East and for the first time in 2014 looked very much like the team everyone thought they could be all along.

The longest road trip of the season’s first half, though, doesn’t end yet. The Nationals now head to St. Louis for a weekend series that may prove even more-significant than their stop in San Francisco over the last four days.

Do you know the last time the Nats won at Busch Stadium? It was Game 1 of the 2012 NLDS. Think about how much has transpired since that afternoon, and think about how the Cardinals have held the upper hand in this matchup since the painful conclusion of that playoff series.

Beginning with Game 5 and extending all the way to this April, St. Louis won eight consecutive games against the Nationals, who finally broke through to split a four-game series on South Capitol Street earlier this season. Those wins, of course, came at home, so the Nats still seek a win in the shadow of the Gateway Arch, where last September they officially were eliminated from playoff contention and then came within one out of being no-hit by Michael Wacha.

If the Braves remain the Nationals’ tallest mental hurdle, the Cardinals remain a close second. So that adds some intrigue and significance to this weekend’s series.

The Nats, though, have a few things on their side right now. They’re playing great baseball, having won 10 of their last 13 games, the only losses during that stretch coming via dominating pitching performances by Yu Darvish and Tim Hudson and Rafael Soriano’s blown save with two outs in the ninth in San Diego last weekend. And they’ve got favorable pitching matchups this weekend in St. Louis.

It’s Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Doug Fister taking the mound for Matt Williams’ squad, which won’t have to face the two Cardinals right-handers who have tortured them in the past: Wacha and Adam Wainwright.

Wacha just pitched on Wednesday and thus won’t see his turn in the rotation come up again until next week. Wainwright, meanwhile, is having an MRI taken of his elbow Monday, as all of St. Louis holds its collective breath hoping the ace’s injury is nothing serious.

Favorable matchups on paper, of course, don’t necessarily translate into favorable encounters on the field. But the Nationals have to like where things stand as they prepare to open this series. They’re getting dominant starting pitching, production from up and down their lineup and quality defensive across the board for the first time in awhile.

Whether all that produces another winning series to wrap up this road trip remains to be seen. But for the first time in a long time, the Nats enter a big series on the road against a formidable foe feeling really good about themselves.

  1. Doc - Jun 13, 2014 at 6:29 AM

    Comments from Lobaton indicate that he has suggested to Ramos that he work on his hamstring daily, to prevent re-occurrence of the hamstring problem.

    Maybe Lobaton needs to be made the head trainer!

    We need every effective bat in the lineup—including Ramos’.

  2. unterp - Jun 13, 2014 at 6:53 AM

    I don’t care how competitive Ramos is, he needs to gear it down running to first and second every time, or he will be back on the DL a week or two after he returns. Otherwise, Rizzo needs to find a starting catcher because he’s no good on the DL…

    • Hiram Hover - Jun 13, 2014 at 8:07 AM

      A “no doubles” offense?

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 13, 2014 at 9:29 AM

        +1

      • Section 222 - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:41 AM

        hah!

  3. Faraz Shaikh - Jun 13, 2014 at 7:16 AM

    JZ has struggled against Cardinals, hasn’t he? We may need our bullpen again tonight.

  4. veejh - Jun 13, 2014 at 7:59 AM

    We take 2 of 3, that’s the cherry on top of this road trip.

  5. Joe Seamhead - Jun 13, 2014 at 8:00 AM

    Say what you want about how key you think that a healthy Zimmerman, Harper, Fister, Gonzalez, etc. is for this club to be successful, the fact is if the Nats want to win the division, and go far in the playoffs, nothing is more important than a healthy Wilson Ramos, imho.

    • chaz11963 - Jun 13, 2014 at 8:49 AM

      Very true. We are fortunate though to have Lobaton as a very adequate temporary replacement. Imagine the situation now if we were playing Leon and Solano like 2013.

    • Section 222 - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:44 AM

      I understand why you’d say that. He’s very valuable both offensively and handling our pitching staff. But we’ve won (and lost) without him for major portions of the last 2 1/3 seasons. His shaky health was the reason we traded away a good arm to get Lobo, and that has really paid off. Lobo’s not the Buffalo, but he’s a very capable backup with a great attitude and the ability to play every day for a winning team (see, the Rays in 2013).

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:15 PM

        Deuces,See the Nats record when he came back in 2013. Suzuki was a capable backup, too. But Ramos, in addition to his “D” creates a much different lineup than the Lobotan does. Jose, along with Espinosa, and the pitcher is mostly a very big hole in the bottom of the order.

  6. chaz11963 - Jun 13, 2014 at 8:51 AM

    Braves play Angels this weekend. So, we should get some help there.

    • sjm308 - Jun 13, 2014 at 8:55 AM

      Chaz, I am hoping so as well. I looked at the schedule and both teams are flying East for this series but like our lads, the Braves had to play yesterday while the Angels had the day off. Have to hope that the California team wants to tighten up that race out there.

      Go Nats!

      • knoxvillenat - Jun 13, 2014 at 9:43 AM

        Barves are also 0-6 in interleague play this year losing 4 to Boston and 2 to the Mariners.

  7. sjm308 - Jun 13, 2014 at 8:52 AM

    I understand that injuries play a huge role in how a season plays out, and I wish no one any harm, but if Wainwright is out for any period of time, that just adds another outstanding arm to a list that is really crazy. I think we have had our share of breaks and pulls and strains etc. and we have not really had our 5 best pitchers for any kind of time but at least none have gone under the knife (see – Braves, Mets, Marlins, Rays etc etc.). I asked before the road trip started if 5-5 would be ok with everyone and there were of course varied responses. I want us to win each series and would love to see two more wins before returning home so I am obviously not going to be happy with 5-5 now but have to remember that this was looked on as a pretty difficult trip when it started.

    Looked at the schedule and saw that the Cards had yesterday off as we played and then flew halfway across the country. Not sure I understand the fairness of a schedule but I am sure it happens more often than I think. I do understand that Jordan was already in St. Louis and I guess he is the key.

    Oh, not sure anyone will go back to the Gio post but my response to veejh is simple – Win – Win – Win is what will happen with starting Righty-Righty-Righty and if thats a meeh, so be it.

    • chaz11963 - Jun 13, 2014 at 9:44 AM

      Very good point, last week I was hoping for 5-5 at this end of this trip. Now, here they are with a realistic shot at coming out of a very tough trip with a wining record; 6-4 or 7-3 seem very reasonable right now. The Diamondbacks swept the Cards in a 3 game series in the 3rd week of May, and the Giants took 3/4 from them at home at the end of May. We can do this!

      • chaz11963 - Jun 13, 2014 at 9:47 AM

        WHOOPS- sorry looking at the schedule wrong- Diamondbacks got swept by the Cards.

        Whatever… we can still do this.

  8. bowdenball - Jun 13, 2014 at 9:40 AM

    Even one of three and this 10 game road trip would exceed all expectations. Two of three and I say this passes the 2012 six game sweep of the Red Sox and Blue Jays, since it turned out that neither of those teams was any good.

  9. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 13, 2014 at 9:40 AM

    ” Wainwright, meanwhile, is having an MRI taken of his elbow Monday, as all of St. Louis holds its collective breath hoping the ace’s injury is nothing serious.”

    Mark – I read they already did an MRI and gave him a cortisone shot. Are they doing another MRI?

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:17 AM

      I couldn’t find anything about another MRI. ESPN says he might be able to make his next scheduled start and he was diagnosed with only “tennis elbow”. He wasn’t put on the DL.

      http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/11067924/adam-wainwright-st-louis-cardinals-no-structural-damage-elbow-mri-reveals

      • natsjackinfl - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:25 AM

        All reports I’ve seen on Wainwright is what Ghost said and that he was probably pitching Monday. But maybe Mark has more current info.

      • nats128 - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:31 AM

        Yes, Cardnials have Wainright listed as there Monday starter

        http://langosch.mlblogs.com/2014/06/11/wainwright-mri-shows-no-ligament-damage/

      • jd - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:33 AM

        He is not facing us regardless.

        Based on my approach of not looking ahead I think tonight’s match up is decent for the Nats although Faraz is right in that JZimm has had his share of issues with the Cards.

        Also, a few days ago I considered our team almost fully healthy, now it’s less so with the loss of Ramos for a couple of weeks.

      • nats128 - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:43 AM

        jd, looking foward? What are you talking about. The Cardinal series starts tonight. Some of us want to know who JZ, Stras and Fister are facing.

        Yes, it looks like Wainright is going Monday. So waht. The original “statement” from Mark brought up Wainright and looks inacurate.

        Thats what we are all responding to. There was never a question that Wainright was pitching against the Nats or looking ahead. If you have an issue with that NatsLady and Dear John are discussing the Houston series.

      • jd - Jun 13, 2014 at 11:31 AM

        Nats128,

        I don’t have an issue with anyone discussing anything. It’s just a superstition of mine to avoid looking at matchups beyond the one upcoming today. I’ll consider Shelby Miller vs. Stras tomorrow.

        You and everyone else are free to discuss whatever you want.

        The discussion about the Astros series to me is just a discussion about the Astros and how far they have come. I think that’s a fun discussion.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:06 PM

        jd, I get Nats128 point. Below they are discussing the Astros series next week and the scheduled pitchers of Keuchel and Feldman. Possibly you missed that.

        Me, I don’t care if people want to discuss that as it’s interestingbto see how the rotations could line up.

        To each their own. Just enjoying the new positivity!

  10. NatsLady - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    Arizona is terrible, even Houston can beat them… (albeit in extras, yesterday). I hate to say this (no, I don’t) but I wonder what they will be selling.

    • therealjohnc - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:30 AM

      NatsLady, don’t sleep on Houston; Bo Porter has his team quietly playing well, for a longer period of time than the Nats’ hot streak. Heck, everyone seems to assume that the Nationals will roll over the Astros in between the Cardinals and Braves series. Yes, the Nats have gone 10-3 the last couple of weeks, and that’s great. The Astros (the Astros!) have gone 14-5 over their last 19, and will likely plow through the hapless Rays this weekend. Next week the Nats are going to be matching up Tanner Roark and either Blake Treinen or Gio Gonzalez against the impressive Dallas Keuchel and (probably) Scott Feldman, who is striking out 9.9 per 9 innings.

      Keuchel will be the best pitcher for either team in the series, and might well be regardless of who is throwing that day. His stats are amazing. As in 8-3, 2.38 ERA, 2.81 FIP, 4.17 K/BB, .584 OPS and 0.993 WHIP. Worried yet? His numbers are better on the road, as he is 6-0 with a 1.42 ERA, 6.83 K/BB, .495 OPS and 0.835 WHIP. And remember most of that is in the AL, with no pitcher in the lineup. Yikes.

      Bottom line, it would not surprise me at all if the Nats lost one of those games (particularly the first, against Keuchel), and if they overlook the Astros while focusing on the Cardinals and Braves they could easily lose them both. OTOH if they lose the first game, with Keuchel pitching, it’s not an indication that “OMG they lost to the DISASTROS!!” Anyone who takes that tack will just show that they haven’t been paying attention to what’s going on in Houston.

      • nats128 - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:34 AM

        Keuckel is listed as a top 10 pitcher in the Majors. With Singleton and George Springer getting hot this is not the same Astros that started the season. They will probably still lose 90 games because of there slow start and have a good chance to be good.

        On the other side Altuve took a fastball to the hand in a direct hit. Not sure his status.

      • therealjohnc - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:37 AM

        Add in the fact that it’s a classic “trap” series, with the Nationals coming off of a long tough road trip with a matchup against a top division rival looming immediately afterwards. I’m always concerned about the Cardinals, but I admit that I’m worried about the Astros series. The next eight games will be another test for the Nationals. No, they won’t “determine the season” or whatever – not with the season not even half over, with 89 games remaining after next Sunday. But they will be important, and each Curly W grabbed over these games will be an achievement.

      • chaz11963 - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:40 AM

        Totally agree. The ‘Stros are playing surprisingly well and chipping their way back to .500.

      • natsjackinfl - Jun 13, 2014 at 11:06 AM

        The Astros are no longer “cow bell”. They are young, aggressive and with a coach that has them believing in themselves.

  11. Eugene in Oregon - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    Not to be looking ahead, but have folks noticed that Houston now has a better record than Boston and Tampa Bay, not to mention five NL clubs?

    • therealjohnc - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:31 AM

      Great minds think alike; see my reply above to NatsLady :-)

      • jd - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:36 AM

        therealjohndc,

        Points well taken and yes it will be the bottom of our rotation against the top of their rotation. No one ever said it would be easy.

      • sjm308 - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:59 PM

        I agree that Houston is better but what I keep forgetting is that they are an American League club now and that has to help us. Their pitcher will not just come back into the dugout and sit around waiting to pitch again. He actually has to think about what he will do at the plate and there is actual running and swinging involved and he has not done a lot of that. Its not a huge deal but it is something that will affect Houston and every American League team when they go the NL rules.

  12. NatsLady - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:34 AM

    Although the Astros (31-37) are ten games behind the Oakland Athletics, they are projected by Fangraphs to win 73 games (more than the Cubs, Phillies and Mets, and about the same as pre-season favorites the Tampa Bay Rays). Perhaps it’s time to regard them as a Major League team.

    • Doc - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:39 AM

      Congrats to Bo!

      He’s suffered long enough.

    • jd - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:39 AM

      They are definitely a rising team and if I’m not mistaken they had the 1st overall pick 3 years in a row so there’s lots of talent in the pipeline.

      Take them lightly at your own peril.

      • chaz11963 - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:44 AM

        Actually me too oddly enough- secretly following the Astros. Bo & Co are quietly building a consistent winner, not much different than the way the Nats approached.

  13. NatsLady - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    I wasn’t slamming the Astros. I’m rooting for them (except against the Nats), and watching their progess closely. I

    • therealjohnc - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:40 AM

      It was the “even Houston can beat them” that prompted my reply; I wasn’t calling you out specifically, I’ve seen a lot of the “at least they get two games against the Astros” sort of thing on a lot of Nats’ fan sites.

      And yeah, I’m rooting for Bo (when they’re not playing the Nats) as well. How can you not like a Manager/Coach who can levitate in the third base coaches box?

  14. Section 222 - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:48 AM

    As far as I’m concerned, the road trip is already a success and this series is gravy. I seriously doubt we will get swept and 6-4 is very respectable for a trip in which we took on two of the best teams in the NL. Next weekend 4-gamer against the Braves at Nats Park is going to be a doozy.

    Yesterday, Brian Kenny had Richard Justice, the guy from Baseball Prospectus, and Eric Byrnes on his show MLB Now. After a too long and painful discussion of Zim’s throwing woes, they all said they think the Nats will win the NL East.

    • Doc - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:15 PM

      I like all three, but I I particularly like Byrnes and the energy and humor that he brings to the MLB Network.

      • Section 222 - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:29 PM

        Totally agree. He’s a former player and brings all that experience and perspective, but also has an understanding and appreciation of the numbers. I’m always glad to see him on any show. Matt Williams, not so much.

        I’m pretty sure Byrnes said he’d actually talked to Rizzo about Zim and his throwing issues. Fascinating stuff.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:16 PM

      Speaking of Brian Kenney, he does a radio show on NBC Sports in the morning. I have the Tune-In app and it’s free. Try NBC Sports 1060 Phoenix.

      He has great guest appearances and had a couple of hitting coaches on talking about the best batters in 2 strike approaches.

      Brian loves the old school approach with the new Sabrematician stats.

      • Section 222 - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:33 PM

        Thanks for that tip. I know some people don’t like his schtick, but I enjoy him a lot. He’s fair and respectul, even of the guys who completely disagree with (and often distort) his sabermetric approach.

        One thing I’ve noticed is that some of anti-saber commentators roll their eyes at Kenny’s the use of stats, and then will gladly cite BA, Wins, Saves, and RBIs to support their views. So they like stats just fine, just not the more meaningful ones. It’s kind of comical really.

        The discussion of Zim on that show was disappointing. They all were talking about the yips, and didn’t even note the possibility of his shoulder injury. I’m not discounting the possible mental component of his problems at all, but it’s pretty clear from watching him throw that there’s something physical going on as well.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:43 PM

        That show is largely scripted I believe where the arguing and debating is shtick. His radio show isn’t. The TV show gets that new age stat stuff going to where UZR is a distortion. I like RC for batters, ERC for pitchers but home and away stats often times tell the story. Look at Tulowitzki on his splits.

        UZR is still the most baffling stat and until they put those into splits I have a hard time relying on them. Hard to play RF and CF in SFG for 80 games a year and will say Pagan on defense got to everything humanly possible but isn’t at the top of CF UZR.

      • sjm308 - Jun 13, 2014 at 1:01 PM

        Thanks Ghost – I have just started using tune-in
        What time does the show air?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 13, 2014 at 1:08 PM

        I’m not at my computer but it ends 9AM local which is noon for you. Can’t remember if it’s a 1 or 2 hour show. It’s great listening to baseball during baseball season.

  15. natsfan24 - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:57 AM

    St. Louis is a completely different team without Beltran and Freese. Peralta is nowhere near the replacement in the lineup they initially expected him to be. Similar to Atlanta without McCann. If Wainwright goes down for an extended period of time, St. Louis is in big trouble and past dominance over the Nats doesn’t really apply anymore. That being said, the Nats need to take care of business and keep producing.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:09 PM

      Frese wasn’t much of a factor last year. The loss of Beltran is big along with Chris Carpenter.

      • Section 222 - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:29 PM

        Freese is not missed. Beltran, definitely.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:32 PM

        +1 they treated Freese like a has-been and maybe he was but like Pujols it was time to go. They were routinely pulling Freese late in games and it was no secret they were trying to trade him and of course did.

  16. Section 222 - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:38 PM

    Lucky for us, Bourjos hasn’t turned out to be much of a return for that trade.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:50 PM

      True, but the Angels made a lousy trade because Bourjos still was considered a potential 4 tool leadoff CF and could have received much more.

      Remember all the people here wishing for Rizzo to get him to the Nats.

  17. natsguy - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:49 PM

    2 out of three would be outstanding. Anything more is just getting greedy.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:51 PM

      I’m greedy but take the first one and go from there.

      • sjm308 - Jun 13, 2014 at 1:02 PM

        Me Too! Winning the first game of a series just puts everything in a better order

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 13, 2014 at 1:14 PM

        The Nats demoralized the Giants. My bud Mike Morse was doing a lot of yapping before the 1st pitch on Monday. Very cocky and up till that point they were the best team in baseball through June 8th.

        What a series! It was the Giants who weren’t executing and making mental errors and the Nats who were taking advantage of it.

        Yesterday’s game was in reach when Treinen left the game and really was hoping for a 3-2 win in come from behind fashion.

        Winning series!

  18. Doc - Jun 13, 2014 at 12:57 PM

    Ghost, didn’t hear the discussion about ‘best 2-strike hitters’, but ARen should be included in the discussion, currently and in the future. He alters his grip and stance when he’s at 2-strikes.

    Section 222, Kenny is a treat for us ball fans. I think that in the future, the best scouts and best team scouting departments, will put raw observation on player performance with available stats correlations.

    I think that the mock arguments that Kenny and Reynolds (whom I also like) get into, are exactly that—mock!

    I think that Bill James would agree with us, that ‘what you see, is what stats helps you understand’.

  19. sjm308 - Jun 13, 2014 at 1:05 PM

    Is it just me or have the negatives just taken a holiday on this site?

    Just great information today and I love the different opinions voiced with respect.

  20. chaz11963 - Jun 13, 2014 at 1:44 PM

    Has anyone seen this ESPN.com report today?-

    http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/11076758/the-moves-san-francisco-giants-gm-brian-sabean

    No love for the Nats

  21. unterp - Jun 13, 2014 at 1:51 PM

    I don’t know, but I kind of expect a big game from JZ. He will perform an exorcism on the ‘Cards…

  22. BurnedOnce - Jun 13, 2014 at 9:04 PM

    Say I think lance Lynn has a no hitter going. No hitter I think is what they call it. No hitter hmmm oh right they say not to say no hitter. Darn hope that didn’t jinx his no hitter.

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