If you have heard or read a story about the Nationals in the last month, it has almost certainly pertained to Stephen Strasburg in some way. And with good reason, too--his first four starts have been legitimately spectacular. If you have not been following the Nationals closely, you might remember their good start to the season and think, "Hey, with that Strasburg kid pitching every 5 days, this Nats team has got a real shot to make the playoffs!"
Yeah... Not so much.
As it turns out, the Nationals have returned to their "Natinals" form in June, going 7-17 so far this month. That record is somehow even worse than it appears, because the Nats have had an extremely easy schedule this month. They've played series against each of the four worst teams in baseball (Orioles, Pirates, Astros, and Indians), plus a series against the bad-but-not-woeful Royals. Their combined record in those 5 series? 6-9.
The capstone on the Nationals' horrible month occurred this past weekend, in which they blew leads of 6-0, 5-0, and 3-0 to lose 7-6, 6-5, and 4-3... to the ORIOLES, the team with the worst record in baseball. That is just astonishing. I wonder how Nats fans managed to survive that series? Maybe they just mimicked the national media and pretended that the Nationals don't exist unless Strasburg is pitching.
Which brings us to...
Monday, 7:00 P.M. ET-- Tim Hudson (7-3, 2.54 ERA, 4.48 FIP) vs. Stephen Strasburg (2-1, 1.78 ERA, 1.51 FIP)
This matchup of aces will be one to watch. It's particularly fascinating because of the contrasting styles of the two pitchers. Huddy has had great success this season thanks largely to his phenomenal 67.1% ground ball rate. To put that in perspective, only one other qualified pitcher (Cleveland's Justin Masterson) is even above 60%. Though Hudson's other peripherals are not particularly impressive, he has been amazingly consistent. Hudson's last start (in which he gave up 4 ER in 7 IP) was his first all year in which he allowed more than 3 ER. Don't be surprised if Huddy continues to outperform his FIP by 1.5 to 2 runs for the rest of the year.
As for Strasburg, well, what is there to say that hasn't already been said? He's been amazing: 41 K versus only 5 BB in 25.1 IP. Even more impressive is that all 5 of the walks came during his start in Cleveland, where the mound was in a horrible condition. Aside from that, he's walked nobody in 20 IP. He really hasn't shown any signs of weakness thus far, though of course he will have a bad start or two eventually. Let's hope his first bad start comes tonight.
The Braves will likely be without Jason Heyward in this matchup due to his sore thumb, which is too bad. Don't worry, though. I'm sure they'll face each other dozens of times in the next 5 years.
One positive note: the Nationals have actually lost Strasburg's last 2 starts (though he gave up only 1 run in each). With Huddy on the mound, you have to think that we've got a good chance at beating the Nats even if Strasburg shuts us down for 6 or 7 innings.
Tuesday, 7:00 P.M. ET-- Derek Lowe (9-5, 4.42 ERA, 4.25 FIP) vs. Craig Stammen (1-2, 5.43 ERA, 4.49 FIP)
Lowe is coming off of his best start of the year, in which he threw 7 shutout innings against the White Sox. Unfortunately, the Braves could not reward him. They scored 0 runs and lost 2-0 when Takashi Saito gave up a 2-run homer to Paul Konerko.
As for the Nationals, they only have 4 starting pitchers listed on their 40-man roster, and none of them will be pitching in this game (unless they choose to have someone pitch on 3 days' rest). The Nats have been operating without a 5th starter since they sent John Lannan to the minors with a case of regressionitis. EDIT: As I had guessed, it will indeed be Stammen. The 26-year-old righty is nothing special, but he's a decent fill-in guy. It's funny that he's been in the minors for the last 3 weeks, because in his last start (on June 6th), he gave up just 1 run on 7 hits in 6.2 IP to the fierce Reds' lineup. I guess that seemed less impressive because of all the Strasburg hype?
Wednesday, 7:00 P.M. ET-- Jair Jurrjens (0-3, 6.38 ERA, 5.01 FIP) vs. J.D. Martin (0-3, 3.03 ERA, 4.28 FIP)
EDIT: The Braves finally decided to go with Jurrjens over Medlen. While they have not yet announced who is going to the bullpen, I'm guessing it will be Medlen and not Kawakami. I sure hope JJ can pitch better than he has in the minors (or majors) this year. I'm really nervous that we're pushing him back too quickly for no good reason.
As for Martin, he's actually pitched pretty well despite his record. Perhaps most impressive is that he's walked only 2 men in 29.2 IP. In Martin's last start, he gave up 3 runs (none of them earned) in 4.1 IP against the Orioles. The Nationals are 0-5 in Martin's starts so far this year, so hopefully that trend can continue on Wednesday.
Stat of the Series
Strasburg has earned 1.2 WAR in his 4 starts, which is impressive. No other Nats pitcher has more than 1.0 WAR, which is not so impressive.
No wonder they have fallen from playoff contention. Whenever Livan Hernandez is your 2nd-best starter, you're in trouble. (Though in fairness to the Nats, they have a decent rotation on the DL: Jordan Zimmermann, Scott Olsen, Chien-Ming Wang, Jason Marquis, and Garrett Mock.)
Question Zen Koan of the Series
If the Nationals fall in the NL East, and Stephen Strasburg is not pitching, do they make a sound?
No analysis on this one. The answer can be found only through meditation and complete avoidance of ESPN.