The beaten, bloody and bruised Milwaukee Brewers (44-53) may have just lost the spark in what was supposed to be a turnaround month. The Brewers dealt with getting swept by the Cincinnati Reds and the Philadelphia Phillies and now have a home stand against the NL’s best team in the Washington Nationals (58-39). As Tuesday (the trade deadline) draws closer, so do the rumors and calls about the departure of Zack Greinke and others. The Brewers’ have confirmed themselves to be sellers after losing six straight, so the changes to come will not be pretty. As for the Nationals, their season has been nothing but positives. They sit alone in the NL East with the Atlanta Braves in second and that is a position the Nats would like to retain for the rest of 2012. Led by pitching, the Nationals have shown the MLB they are no joke as each win puts them that much closer to the postseason.
For this preview, I asked Aaron Somers of District on Deck a few questions about his Nationals and their season. District on Deck is FanSided’s blog for the Washington Nationals, so be sure to check them out. Here is what Aaron had to say:
RtB: 2012 has been a surprising year in the MLB, but specifically with the Nationals. What is it that’s clicking so well with them?
Aaron: It’s tough to say, to be honest. I think it ultimately boils down to two things, however. First, while this team is young and relatively inexperienced they’ve started to gain a certain confidence in their collective abilities. The players have come together quite well this year and support each other, which has permitted them to be successful. Second, Davey Johnson has done wonders for this club. He’s created a positive winning atmosphere in the club house and helped to facilitate that confidence that has grown among the players. Things have been good in Washington and appear as though they’ll continue.
RtB: Is it a fair assessment to say that the Nationals have the best starting rotation in the MLB?
Aaron: Washington may certainly have the best front three in baseball right now in Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann. The trio has been phenomenal this year and have shown no signs of slowing down. Edwin Jackson has been a quality addition in that 4th spot, especially given the innings he’s been able to offer the team. Not many other teams can say that they have more than two starters who have posted seasons as good as the above four have this year, so yes, maybe the Nationals do have the best rotation in baseball … right now. The tricky thing with starting rotations is the need for consistency. Washington’s been lucky with these guys this year, as they’ve all been consistent and healthy. But the season’s not over and those trends will need to continue for this team to be series contenders down the stretch. There are a lot of teams out there with quality rotations “on paper” who just haven’t been seeing the results so far this year.
RtB: I compare the 2012 Nationals to the 2010 Giants. Do you at all believe Washington has World Series potential?
Aaron: In short, yes. But do I think they have a legitimate chance at winning? I don’t know that I’m comfortable saying that just yet. I think they are too inexperienced, to be blunt about it. If I’m not mistaken there are only two players on the roster with World Series rings. Jackson earned his last year with St. Louis. Mark DeRosa is the other, and he was injured through most of that 2010 season for the Giants so you really can’t count him in this discussion. The lack of post season experience, which is admittedly sometimes overrated, might be the downfall of this team in 2012. Remember, once the playoffs hit the series are shorter and just about anything is possible in such a short series. I do believe Washington will make the playoffs but I don’t know if I’m comfortable calling them a serious contender right now, even if they are just a half game out of having the best record in all of baseball.
RtB: Do Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson still plan to keep Stephen Strasburg on his innings limit, even if there is a serious playoff push?
Aaron: This is a topic that we just can’t seem to get away from and we likely won’t move on from until the season concludes. But, in the interest of remaining consistent, yes I do believe that Strasburg will be shut down at some point. Rizzo has made it clear that the decision will ultimately be his and that he’s going to “use an eyeball test rather than a pre-determined innings limit” in making this decision. But he and the rest of the organization seem to understand that the long term success of the franchise is far more important than playing all of your cards for one single run at a title. It is that long term interest that will dictate when Strasburg’s 2012 season is done.
RtB: The Nationals overall are a younger team. Does inexperience hamper them at all, or do you believe they can play through that?
Aaron: The lack of experience is bound to catch up to them, isn’t it? I think it does help them and hurt them at the same time. They have endured nothing but frustration since arriving in Washington so one has to believe there is a substantial amount of positive hope within the organization. However, most of these players weren’t around then and haven’t had to endure the trying times. I guess that doesn’t really answer the question but ultimately without that experience under their belts it’s tough to say how this team will be able to handle the pressure of playing in the post season.
RtB: What is something the Nationals will want to be cautious of in this series with the Brewers?
Aaron: Two things come to mind. One, Ryan Braun is still having a heck of a season despite not having the production around him that he’s enjoyed in years past. With Prince Fielder gone and players like Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart having down years he’s had to do it all on his own this season. Two, these Brewers have little to lose at this point. They are stuck in 4th place and there are reports that the team is going into a near full firesale mode. To some of these players, it will motivate them to play better so they can be traded to a contender. For others, everyone being down on them may motivate them to simply play harder. The Brewers could still surprise some people, but are simultaneously in a very tough position. The next few days will be big for the team. Wins against Washington could convince some that there is something in place to build around in Milwaukee. Should Washington come in and dominate the Brewers, it could intensify the team’s actions before Tuesday’s trade deadline – starting with an increasing possibility that Greinke is dealt before his start on Sunday.
Here are the projected pitching match-ups and start times for this series:
Thursday: Jackson (5-6, 3.73 ERA) vs Yovani Gallardo (8-7, 3.72 ERA) – 8:10 EST/7:10 CST PM
Saturday: Zimmermann (7-6, 2.31 ERA) vs Randy Wolf (3-6, 5.46 ERA) 7:10 EST / 6:10 CST PM
Sunday: Gonzalez (13-5, 3.13 ERA) vs Greinke (9-3, 3.44 ERA) 2:10 EST / 1:10 CST PM
Thank you again to Aaron Somers for taking time to help out with the preview. Be sure to check out District on Deck for everything and anything Washington Nationals related. As always, good luck to the Nats, but go Brew Crew!