Over a month has gone by since the Washington Nationals (49-34) last faced off against the Miami Marlins (41-44), and much has changed in the time since they made their most recent trip to the Sunshine State.
When the teams last met in the midst of the Marlins hot streak, the Marlins swept the Nationals to polish off their 21-8 month of May. They were just 3.5 games behind the first-place Nats then, and had their sights on overtaking them. Now though, the Marlins are nine games behind the still first-place Nats. They won just eight of 26 games in June, and are 4-4 so far in July.
Despite going cold, the Fish are still dedicated to pushing for the top of the division, and team president David Samson is supporting their efforts.
"Our focus has to really be getting back to .500 as quickly as we can after the break," Samson said according to MLB.com. "We have four games against Washington, and that's an important four games."
Important as these games may be to the Marlins, the Nationals won't make winning them an easy task. After holding first place in the NL East for 85 of 95 games of the first half, the Nats aren’t looking to give up any ground to the Atlanta Braves, who are relatively close behind them in second place.
This four-game wraparound series will kick off a string of 14 consecutive games against division opponents for the Nationals; a total of 21 of their next 25 games will be against NL East rivals.
Injuries are still the story of the season, but fortunately for the Marlins, they are hoping to regain some of their injured players this weekend.
Speedster and former Nats infielder Emilio Bonifacio will come off the 15-Day DL on Friday. He has been out since May 20 with a sprained left thumb, so he missed the last series against the Nationals. Despite only playing in 39 games of the season, Bonifacio had already stolen 20 bases, and was only caught once. His speed and energy could provide a jolt to the floundering Marlins.
Another base-stealing threat, Hanley Ramirez is listed as day-to-day after getting two stitches in his finger on his right hand after punching a fan, but he is expected to be in the lineup on Friday. Ramirez has stolen 228 bases in his seven-season career, and he is 12-for-16 this season. He will be the new active leader in home runs (12) and RBIs (44) with Giancarlo Stanton out until possibly August, although recently he has been going through a bit of a slump.
Relief pitcher Edward Mujica is expected back on Sunday after breaking his right pinky toe. Mujica has a 4.46 ERA on the year with two saves in five opportunities.
While those three will be rejoining the team for the second half, the heartbreaking news for Marlins fans is that Stanton will miss at least a month of the remainder of the season after undergoing knee surgery. With 19 home runs, 20 doubles and 50 RBI, he is a crucial piece of the Marlins machine, and he will be sorely missed until his return.
Although Nationals pitchers will have to keep their eyes on Bonifacio and Ramirez, they will most likely be celebrating - while the Marlins are crying - that they don’t have to worry about Stanton in this series. He was batting .400 against Nationals pitchers this season, and slugging .471 with two home runs.
- Officially, Jordan Zimmermann will be starting back-to-back games. He pitched the last game before the All-Star break, and he will be pitching the first game against the Marlins to keep him on a five-day throwing schedule. After they each pitched an inning in the All-Star Game, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg will jump out of their usual order in the rotation to follow Zimmermann.
- Although Heath Bell recorded all three saves against the Nationals in their last series, recently he has been on a downhill track, moving manager Ozzie Guillen to consider another option for closer.
- The Marlins traded two minor league players for outfielder Carlos Lee from the Houston Astros. His .280 batting average, .402 slugging percentage and 29 RBIs are meant to give a boost to the Marlins’ offense.
- First baseman Logan Morrison will come into the second half of the season looking to extend an 11-game hitting streak.
Logan Morrison (1B) .412 AVG, .487 OBP, .853 SLG, 4 HR (last 11 games)
Justin Ruggiano (LF) .387 AVG, 4 HR, 12 RBI (last 21 games)
Mike Dunn (RP) 0.87 ERA, 7 SO, .094 AVG, 10.2 IP (last 11 games)
Jose Reyes (SS) .200 AVG, .243 OBP, .314 SLG (last eight games)
Hanley Ramirez (3B) .115 AVG, .207 OBP, .231 SLG (last eight games)
Heath Bell (CL) 10.13 ERA, .364 AVG, .636 SLG, 2 BSv (last six games)
Jordan Zimmermann (5-6, 2.61 ERA) vs. Josh Johnson (5-5, 4.06 ERA)
Gio Gonzalez (12-3, 2.92 ERA) vs. Mark Buehrle (8-8, 3.25 ERA)
Stephen Strasburg (9-4, 2.82 ERA) vs. Ricky Nolasco (8-6, 4.35 ERA)
Edwin Jackson (5-4, 3.73 ERA) vs. Carlos Zambrano (4-7, 4.20 ERA)