Series Preview: Cleveland Indians vs. Washington Nationals

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The Indians bounced back in a big way against the Texas Rangers. After losing eight games in a row and falling to 5-plus games back of the Detroit Tigers for first place in the AL Central, they needed to do something to get back on track. Who would have thought traveling to Texas would have been the cure for what was ailing them.

Taking two out of three games from one of the best teams in baseball is something the Tribe can hang their hats on. However, the baseball season continues to chug along and with it comes another challenge. This weekend, that challenge comes to Progressive Field in the form of the Washington Nationals for a three game interleague match-up that will have no shortage of star power.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Nationals come into play tonight as one of the most disappointing teams in all of baseball in 2013. After the success of 2012, 98 wins and the NL East crown, many felt that the Nats would be a World Series contender this season once the dust settled. Unfortunately, that just hasn’t been the case. At least not yet. Despite all of their talent the Nationals just can’t seem to get their act together and get on a roll, as their 33-32 record would indicate.

Perhaps the biggest issue for all of this has been the Nationals’ offense, or rather their lack there of. Coming into play tonight, they possess one of the worst offenses in all of baseball statistically speaking. They are 29th in all of baseball in runs scored with 224, 28th in team batting average at .235, 27th in OBP at .293, and 26th in slugging at .374. That’s rather odd considering some of the fire power the Nationals possess.

Of course, some of those numbers may have to do with the fact the their best player, Bryce Harper, is currently on the disabled list with an inflamed knee after attempting to plow through the right field wall in Los Angeles back in late May. It’s a shame too. Harper was having a fantastic season before his knee started acting up. He leads the Nationals in home runs with 12  and had driven in 27 runs while hitting .287. His ISO is currently a mind-blowing 300 and according to Fangraphs his fWAR prior to getting hurt was 1.7. Like I said, the injury to the former SI cover boy has been an enormous blow.

That’s not to say all hope is lost. Ian Desmond has done a fantastic job picking up some of Harper’s slack. Desmond is currently leading the team in RBI with 31 while also blasting 31 home runs and hitting .282/.315/.475. On top of that, Adam LaRoche has turned in a fine season in addition to being every redneck’s favorite baseball player and the Nationals just got Jayson Werth back from the DL. So things might start to turn around for them once they get Harper back into action.

What would help the Nationals the most would be a second half resurgence from third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman has long been the cornerstone of the Nationals’ franchise. However, this season has not gone well. Going into play today, Zimmerman sported a .269 batting average and .348 OBP. His ISO is a slightly better than average 150, not surprising considering Zimmerman has six home runs on the year and three of them came in one game. This isn’t what the Nationals signed up for when they gave Zimmerman a contract extension prior to the 2012 season that runs through 2019. Hey, at least I was smart enough not to draft him for the third year in a row.

If the Nationals can get their act together offensively, there is no reason to believe they won’t sky-rocket to the top of the NL East standings. They currently have one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball, sporting the 7th best ERA and 8th best WHIP to go along with 12th best batting average against. They have three stud starting pitchers, any of which could be the ace of any other team in baseball. It’s a built-in advantage that could propel the Nats to the World Series if they can find a way to make it into the tournament come October.

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Tags: Bryce Harper Cleveland Indians Ian Desmond Jordan Zimmerman Justin Masterson Ryan Zimmernan Washington Nationals