The Washington Nationals (31-33) have had a very up and down June. After losing the final three of a four game series in Houston, the Nationals dropped two of three to the NL Central-leading Reds before sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates leading into their interleague schedule. Their first American league foe was the Cleveland Indians, to whom they lost the first two games, finally winning the last of the three game series. The second American League club on the slate is the Detroit Tigers (33-29), whom the Nationals will face Tuesday in the first of three meetings. The Nationals' hot start to the season has declined into a losing record; however, a strong showing against the Tigers would quickly put them on the right side of .500.
DETROIT STUCK IN NEUTRAL
After shocking the baseball community with a surprising run to the 2006 World Series, the Tigers have slid back to relative mediocrity, a situation in which they remain in 2010. The Tigers have not made the playoffs since 2006 and, though only 2.5 games behind the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins, are certainly behind the eight ball with regard to the powerful division leaders.
The Tigers, like the Nationals, have very little to hang their hats on this season. Both have recently swept the Pirates, though beating the team with the second worst winning percentage is not saying much for any team outside of Baltimore. The Tigers' performance to date has been quite enigmatic, with impressive series wins over Minnesota, the Los Angeles Angels, the New York Yankees, and the Boston Red Sox effectively negated by losing two series apiece to such lowly clubs as the Seattle Mariners and the Kansas City Royals. Detroit desperately needs to improve on its consistency - particularly from its much-hyped offense - in order to challenge the Twins for what is likely to be the sole playoff bid from the AL Central.
Johnny Damon: 7-11, 2 runs, 2 BB
Brennan Boesch: 5-13, 3 runs, 1 RBI, 1 SB
Ryan Rayburn: 0-7, 2 Ks
Don Kelly: 0-7, 1 K
Tuesday, June 15: John Lannan (2-3, 4.67) vs. Max Scherzer (2-6, 6.30)
Wednesday, June 16: Livan Hernandez (5-3, 2.28) vs. Justin Verlander (7-4, 3.56)
Thursday, June 17: Luis Atilano (5-3, 4.34) vs. Jeremy Bonderman (2-4, 4.21)
At first glance the Tigers have had a relatively competitive offensive season. Detroit ranks in the top ten in all of baseball in average, on base percentage, slugging, extra base hits, and stolen base percentage; however, they rank just 20th in runs scored. Whatever the explanation - a lack of timely hitting, scattered hits, or merely bad luck - the Tigers will need and will have the opportunity to string together a number of multi-hit innings against a Nationals pitching staff that is in the bottom half of the league in WHIP and opponents' average.
Moreover, Detroit needs to get better, longer starts from its rotation. Tigers' starters have averaged fewer than six innings pitched per outing and, in those appearances, the staff is in the bottom third of baseball in ERA, strikeouts, WHIP, and opponents' average. This has led to an overworked bullpen that has performed admirably, ranking third in ERA, fourth in opponents' average, sixth in WHIP, seventh in opponents' on base percentage, and first in both opponents' slugging and fewest home runs allowed, all despite ranking in the top third in innings pitched. In order to sustain what success they have had and to have any chance of improving their playoff hopes, the Tigers need better pitching from their starting rotation.
Expect to see some suspect glove work during these three games. The Tigers are tied for the third worst fielding percentage in baseball and have committed the third most errors. As bad as that is, Washington is even worse - the Nationals are last in baseball in fielding percentage and errors with 57 in 64 games. Leading the "charge" is rookie shortstop Ian Desmond who leads all shortstops in errors with 15. Hopefully both teams will address and improve upon their defensive woes this series so that the fans are treated to competitive, fundamentally sound baseball.