The last time the Washington Nationals faced the Miami Marlins, hope sprang as determinedly for one team as it did the other, and both were legitimate contenders in the National League East. The last time the Nationals and Marlins faced each other was the first series of the season.
Since then, the Nationals have played their other divisional opponents — the Mets, Phillies and Braves — so often it feels like once a week. Since then, the Nationals have won 42 games. The Marlins have won 30, and sit fourth out of five teams in what has statistically been the worst division in baseball. Since then, the Nationals have opened up a double-digit lead in that division, and the Marlins have gone spinning into the kind of injury-riddled abyss few teams escape without selling off key pieces at the trade deadline.
A few things to think about as the Nationals take their first trip of the season to Miami.
REELING IN EXPECTATIONS
The Marlins began this season with the same promising core that has made them a popular sleeper pick for years — and performed like a team unwilling to shoulder such expectations. Several members of their starting lineup, including third baseman Martin Prado, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and Justin Bour, have missed time with injuries. A few key pieces of their rotation, most notably Wei-Yin Chen, have also missed time.
But Prado and Hechavarria could be activated this week. Bour was activated last weekend, restoring a key piece in the middle of the Marlins order — and a proven Nats-slayer. Bour, who was born in D.C., hit .294 with three homers against the Nationals this season.
Even without key players, the Marlins’ offense ranks in the middle of the National League pack in on-base plus slugging, and behind only the Nationals and Rockies in team batting average. Pitching has proven problematic, however; the rotation has a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 4.66. Nationals starters, for reference, are third in baseball with a 3.78 FIP.
MARCELL HITTING WELL
Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna continues to provide consistent offensive production, leading the team with a .324 average, 10th-best in baseball. He and Bour rank in the top 12 in OPS (.974 and .978, respectively), making the Marlins the only team other than the Nationals to have two hitters among the top dozen.
Meanwhile, big Giancarlo Stanton is hitting .277 with a .900 OPS, one point higher than Anthony Rendon. He and Bour are tied for second on the Marlins with 17 home runs each. Ozuna leads with 18.
HOW DO YOU SPELL RELIEF?
The Nationals continue to hunt answers in their bullpen, despite winning three of four games in New York this weekend. Koda Glover is on the disabled list with back trouble, meaning they have no true closer. As of Sunday, Shawn Kelley is on the disabled list, too — neck trouble — though he was struggling so mightily with home runs before landing there that a break might help him settle down.
Joe Blanton, recently reinstated, has been fine, but does not looked entirely cured. The shuttle to Syracuse is active again, as A.J. Cole and Matt Grace joined the Nationals this weekend, filling out a battered bullpen that might have help on the way soon. Sammy Solis has made two appearances on rehab assignment for the Chiefs, and could be ready to rejoin the Nationals soon — barring a setback.
Mon.: RHP Tanner Roark vs. LHP Justin Nicolino
Tues.: LHP Gio Gonzalez vs. RHP Edinson Volquez
Weds.: RHP Max Scherzer vs. RHP Dan Straily