The Nationals‚Äô first series outside of the Eastern time zone takes them to St. Louis, where they will make their only visit of the season against the Cardinals. St. Louis enters the week one game behind of the NL Central leading Cincinnati Reds, sporting a record of 8-8.
Last Season vs. St. Louis
These two teams split their season series 3-3 in 2010. The home team ruled in both series, with the Cardinals sweeping past the Nationals in a two-game series in May. The Nationals countered by winning three of four games against the Cardinal in a critical late-August series. This included a wild 13-inning 11-10 win by the Nationals that ended on a walk-off single by Ian Desmond. The series wrapped up with a 4-2 win against Adam Wainwright on August 29.
A Quick Look at the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals
Many people didn‚Äôt think highly of the Cardinals entering the season and St. Louis hasn‚Äôt shown anything that really warrants them as a playoff team through 16 games. They are in the middle of a cluster of 8-8 teams in the mediocre NL Central entering this week. One player that has disappointed so far has been Albert Pujols, who is hitting just .239 so far this season. Outfielder Matt Holliday has been a terror since returning from missing the first week, as he‚Äôs hitting t a .441 clip. However, the Cardinals lineup has been up and down, and that is the biggest reason why St. Louis is .500 right now.
Scouting the Opposing Pitching
Tuesday: Jake Westbrook ‚Äď Westbrook has been downright brutal in three starts so far for the Cardinals this season. He has a real up and down career, with some injury problems in recent seasons. Westbrook doesn‚Äôt throw hard; he tops 92 MPH at the most. His best pitches are a tight slider that has a late break as well as a hard 80 MPH change-up. He‚Äôs never going to be an All-Star again like he was in 2004, but he certainly can be better than what he has shown so far in 2011.
Wednesday: Jaime Garcia ‚Äď Last year‚Äôs ‚Äúwhere did he come from?‚ÄĚ pitcher has gotten off to another solid start this year. Garcia does a great job of keeping hitters off balance, throwing a hard fastball and mixing it up with a slow curveball with a big break. Garcia keeps his pitches down for the most part and that helps induce ground balls and keeps the ball in the park as well. Garcia can get wild at times but his command has improved as he has logged more experience. He‚Äôs the toughest challenge Washington will face in this series.
Thursday: Kyle Lohse ‚Äď There‚Äôs nothing real special about Lohse. Like Westbrook, he‚Äôs nothing but a league average pitcher. He throws a fastball that peaks at about 92 MPH. He doesn‚Äôt use his breaking stuff nearly as much as he used to. This has helped with his command, but has also made him more hittable. Lohse lacks a real out pitch, his slider isn‚Äôt anything special and his change-up can be flat at times. There‚Äôs nothing really scary about him to hitters.
Three Things to Watch For This Series
- Can Washington solve hitting woes? ‚Äď Washington is above .500 for the first time this season and is coming off a three game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers. However, truth be told, this team is still not hitting. Outside of Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa and injured Ryan Zimmerman, the entire lineup has struggled.
- Can Danny Espinosa continue to hit in leadoff role? ‚Äď Espinosa had a huge RBI triple in the second game of Sunday‚Äôs doubleheader that helped the Nationals‚Äô to their eighth win of the season. He is the most qualified leadoff hitter in terms of stats so far this season; can he continue to succeed in the leadoff role?
- Will Jordan Zimmermann continue to look like an ace? ‚Äď Throw away the defensive woes he faced in last week‚Äôs lost to the Phillies and Zimmermann has been solid through three starts. He isn‚Äôt getting the run support he deserves, but if he can hold St. Louis to two runs, he‚Äôll at least keep his team in the game.
Tags: Adam Wainwright, Albert Pujols, Danny Espinosa, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook, Jordan Zimermann, Kyle Lohse, Matt Holliday, Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos