After being swept in a three-game weekend series by the second-place Atlanta Braves, the Washington Nationals, now 89-57, have had plenty of time to regroup following a scheduled day off on Monday and the postponement of last night’s series opener with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who bring a record of 76-71 to Nationals Park. For those who have yet to hear, last night’s game will be made up this afternoon as part of a single-admission doubleheader that is scheduled to begin at 4:05 p.m.
The good news for the Nationals is that their magic number for clinching the National League East, which had remained stagnant since September 12, finally ticked down a notch with the Braves’ extra-innings loss to the Miami Marlins last night. As for their magic number to clinch an NL Wild Card, that number still sits at three. It could, however, vanish altogether with a sweep of the Dodgers in this afternoon’s doubleheader and would mark the first playoff berth for a D.C. baseball team since the 1933 Washington Senators.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson, however, will not be celebrating a Wild Card.
“The additional Wild Card, to me, just really put more of a burden on the manager, because nobody wants that one,” Johnson said. “A one-game playoff to get in? The other format, if you were the Wild Card, you’re in the playoffs. So clinching a one-game playoff doesn’t have any appeal to me.”
As such, one can assume that the Nationals will still be looking to take both games of the doubleheader, but only to put as much distance between themselves and the Braves as possible in an effort to ensure a division crown. To do so, they will have to best Dodgers right-hander Aaron Harang, who will be opposed by Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann in game one of the doubleheader.
Neither Harang (9-9, 3.79 ERA) nor Zimmermann (10-8, 3.01 ERA) have pitched against each other’s respective club this season, which comes as no surprise considering the teams’ only previous meeting came in a three-game series during the season’s first month. Those who have chosen not to erase that series from their memory banks will remember the Nationals were swept by the Dodgers.
But Harang, an 11-year veteran, has not pitched well lately. His last win came on August 18 and he has since posted a 0-2 record with a 4.71 ERA – a stretch during which he has failed to pitch through six innings in each of his four starts.
In seven career starts against the Nationals, Harang is 1-2 with a 3.89 ERA through 39 1/3 innings pitched.
Zimmermann, who was considered by many to be the Nationals’ most consistent starter for much of the season, has also struggled as of late. Since posting six straight wins from late July through early August, Zimmermann has managed a record of just 1-2 with a 6.03 ERA.
Zimmermann’s only career start against the Dodgers came in his rookie season. He earned a no-decision after giving up six runs on six hits and three walks through six innings pitched.
Beckett (6-13, 4.94 ERA split between the American and National Leagues) was acquired by the Dodgers in the August 25 blockbuster trade that sent James Loney and four prospects to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto. Since joining the Dodgers, Beckett is 1-2 with a 3.38 ERA through four starts.
In 16 career appearances against the Nationals, Becket is 7-2 with a 2.37 ERA through 95 innings pitched.
Lannan (3-0, 2.41 ERA), who spent the overwhelming majority of the season with the Syracuse Chiefs, began his duties as Stephen Strasburg‘s replacement with a win in New York a week ago. In the outing, Lannan pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings, allowing five hits and a walk while striking out two.
In five career starts against the Dodgers, Lannan is 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA through 30 2/3 innings pitched.
Morse, who has missed four straight games due to a bone bruise and a torn sheath in his left wrist, was scheduled to start in left field yesterday prior to the game’s postponement.
Espinosa, who left Sunday’s finale with the Braves early due to a lingering shoulder issue, underwent an MRI on Monday that revealed nothing more than a bone bruise – quite the opposite of what he was expecting.
“This is the best news we could have gotten,” Espinosa said. “If this was a rotator cuff tear or a labrum tear, it would have lingered the rest of the season. I would have had to have surgery in the offseason. This is the best. I didn’t think there was going to be a bruise in there, but this was definitely the best news we could have gotten.”
He has since received a cortisone shot in in his shoulder capsule and is listed as day to day.