The Washington Nationals (29-18) narrowly avoided playing back-to-back series against a second place team looking to snatch first place from them as the New York Mets squeaked by the Miami Marlins (26-22) to put the Miami Marlins in third. However, this series against fellow National League East team is shaping up to be nearly as meaningful as the last series against the Atlanta Braves. The Marlins are hot right now, winning all but eight of their 26 games so far this month, which set a new record for the franchise for the month of May.
Historically, the Marlins have been able to beat up on the Nationals, even from last place. The Nats have a 49-78 record against them since 2005 (.386 winning percentage), and have won just 23 of 40 on the road against them. Although, that away statistic doesn't mean a whole lot as this is the first time the Nats will step on the field at the Marlins new $634 million stadium.
This year the Nationals have already shown they are looking to break the trend, by winning two games against the Marlins in April (the third was postponed).
The Nats are looking to finish their road series strong; they already took two of three from the Philadelphia Phillies and swept the Braves. A series win against the Marlins will show that the Nationals mean business, that they are becoming one of those winning teams that comes into an opponents ballpark and makes them look foolish in front of their own fans.
A lot of the Nationals' and the Marlins' offensive numbers are uncannily close. Washington's team slash line is .246/ .316/ .398, and Miami's is .243/ .314/ .375. The Nationals are averaging 3.93 runs per game with a total of 178 RBI's, while the Marlins are just a tiny step ahead with an average of 3.98 runs per game and 179 RBI's. Luckily the actual game of baseball isn't played with decimals. Both teams have scored five or more runs in six of their last eight games, and seven or more runs in their last four of those.
Their pitching stats aren't quite as close. The Nationals still boast a league-leading ERA of 2.93, while the Marlins lag behind at 3.70. The Nats are the only team in baseball with more than 400 strikeouts (411), and their opponent batting average is held at .218 (also the lowest in baseball). The Marlins' pitching staff has executed a sixteenth place 326 strikeouts, and their opponent batting average is significantly higher at .253.
Their two most notable similarities in pitching are in home runs and saves. The Marlins are the only team in the majors who have given up less home runs than the Nationals - 28 and 30, respectively. The Marlins' bullpen has blown nine saves, executing 11 in 20 save opportunities. The Nationals have blown three less at six, completing 17 saves in 23 opportunities.
Closer deja vu
The Marlins seem to have had a similar struggle with their closer situation as the Nationals have had this season. If you interchanged the following paragraph from Tom Green at MLB.com with the words "Nationals," "Davey Johnson," and "Henry Rodriguez," I'm pretty sure you could find nearly the exact same paragraph on the Nationals website a few weeks ago.
"Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen wanted to sleep on the team's closer situation following Saturday's win -- the second game in a row Heath Bell was removed in the ninth -- despite giving Bell another vote of confidence.
On Sunday morning, Guillen awoke with the same stance: Bell will remain Miami's closer."
Bell has executed seven saves in 11 save opportunities while surrendering 24 hits and 16 earned runs in 17 innings, giving him an 8.47 ERA.
Personally, I'm just happy the Nats don't have to hear that speech anymore. Team Interim Closer of Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen and Sean Burnett have been doing very well in late innings since Davey Johnson decided to pull Henry Rodriquez from the ninth inning. Nats fans know too well the disappointment the Marlins fans probably feel when their "closer" fails to execute in the ninth. I don't envy the feeling, but if their disappointment becomes the Nationals' gain, then so be it. Hopefully Bell won't snap out of his cold streak during this series.
A band of thieves
Marlins have the most stolen bases in the majors at 58. The next highest total in the National League is the San Diego Padres, trailing far behind Miami at 39.
Fortunately, the Nationals catchers won't have to worry about Emilio Bonifacio who has the most stolen bases in baseball (20) even after being out of commission for eleven games sitting on the 15-day DL. However, in second place to Bonifacio is the Marlins' Jose Reyes, who is still active and well and ready to keep adding his own numbers.
Unfortunately, that might be a likely possibility for Reyes; the Nationals have allowed the most stolen bases in the majors with 28. The Nats will have to stay on their toes to prevent being robbed and to prevent the speedy Marlins from sneaking their way home.
Chien-Ming Wang will get his first start of the season after the Nationals slid Ross Detwiler from the starting rotation into the bullpen. Wang pitched three innings, allowing three hits and one run on Friday in his first appearance since rejoining the team after his spring training hamstring injury.
Jordan Zimmerman is 0-2 against the Marlins with a 4.55 ERA. He gave up eight runs in 12 2/3 innings to them last year.
Omar Infante (2B) .329 AVG, .546 SLG, 20 RBI, 6 HR
Giancarlo Stanton (RF) .292 AVG, .561 SLG, 34 RBI, 11 HR
Carlos Zambrano (SP) 2.85 ERA, 4 HR, 44 SO
(before his last start, during which he allowed an uncharacteristic seven earned runs in five innings, his ERA was 1.96)
John Buck ( C) .161 AVG, 34 SO
Chris Coughlan (LF) .138 AVG, 1 2B, 1 HR (58 at bats)
Heath Bell (CL) 8.47 ERA, 17.0 IP, 24 H, 16 ER, .333 AVG
Jordan Zimmerman (3-4, 2.47 ERA) vs. Carlos Zambrano (2-3, 2.85 ERA)
Edwin Jackson (1-2, 3.38 ERA) vs. Anibal Sanchez (2-3, 2.87 ERA)
Chien-Ming Wang (1-0, 3.00 ERA) vs. Josh Johnson (2-3, 4.87 ERA)