Washington (19-15) at Oakland (20-15), 9-11 May 2014.

  • Ralph Thompson Jr
Photo Credit: usatoday.com

Photo Credit: usatoday.com

Proposed starting pitchers:

9 May – Fister (Wash) versus Milone (Oak)
10 May – Roark (Wash) versus Gray (Oak)
11 May – Gonzalez (Wash) versus Kazmir (Oak)

(Starting pitchers subject to change)

As of Thursday night, Washington is tied with Miami for first place in the National League East. After winning a home series against the Dodgers, the Nationals now go on the road for six games. There are three-game sets in Oakland and Phoenix before Washington goes back home. The Nationals getting catcher Wilson Ramos back helps the team on both sides of the ball.

Oakland lost the first three of a four-game home series with Seattle. The Athletics won the nightcap of a Wednesday double-header to salvage something from the four games. The A’s lost center fielder Coco Crisp in that nightcap, straining his neck making a catch. Crisp will be out for a few days, possibly missing this series.

Friday, Oakland starts former National left-hander Tommy Milone. Milone’s off to a rough start (1.554 WHIP, 5.45 FIP, 16/12 strikeout/walk ratio in 27.2 innings). He throws a lot of changeups (around 81 MPH), four-seam/two-seam fastballs at around 86 MPH, and a curve around 75 MPH or so. This is a guy Washington should be able to score against.

Sonny Gray is projected to start for Oakland on Saturday. The young right-hander is highly regarded, and has number one starter stuff. A 1.17 WHIP and a 40/16 strikeout/walk ratio in 47 innings. He has the chance to be good, He throws four-seamers and two-seamers around 93 MPH, a cutter that averages 90 MPH and a curve at 80 MPH. He’s getting better at mixing his pitches, and is good enough to make it difficult for Washington to score runs.

On Sunday, southpaw Scott Kazmir gets the start for Oakland. The much-traveled, much-injured starter is in his first season in the Bay Area, and he’s off to a good start. His 1.038 WHIP jumps off the page. A 38/9 K/BB rate in 44.1 innings is pretty good as well. He’s another Oakland reclamation project that seems to be paying off so far. He can still throw fairly hard (his four-seamer averages 92 MPH), and he uses an 83 MPH slider. His changeup averages 77 MPH, so he has enough stuff to succeed against the Nationals.

Offensively, Oakland is tied for fourth in MLB in runs scored (166), and fourth in MLB with a .339 OBP. They lead the majors with 156 bases on balls. One interesting note – the A’s lead

Photo Credit: zimbio.com

Photo Credit: zimbio.com

the majors with 277 runners left on base so far this year. Third baseman Josh Donaldson is fourth of MLB position player WAR (2.2). Oakland doesn’t have a lot of players who are top 10 in various categories, but they do have guys who are productive. Left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, right fielder Josh Reddick and first baseman Brandon Moss all can hit with power, but can be attacked when at bat. Shortstop Jed Lowrie and second baseman Eric Sogard are fan favorites, but they too can be dealt with. Oakland has an opportunistic offense, but they’re not dominant from day to day, from hitters one thru nine.

Defensively, Oakland has 30 errors (fourth-highest in MLB). Their .710 fielding efficiency trails only Cincinnatti (.728) and Milwaukee (.711). They’re an average fielding team, so Washington must put balls in play. Regardless of shifts, the Nationals will have chances to score. Runners will get on base, and Washington’s middle-of-the-order hitters must come through when given the chance.

I guess Washington breaks through against Milone on Friday. It’s hard to say how long Fister pitches, but if he can give the Nationals five strong innings, I would guess the team would be ecstatic. I also guess Gray outduels Roark on Saturday, while Gonzalez does similar against Kazmir. So, I think Washington wins the first and third games of this weekend set. One key for Washington pitchers is to continue adding to that trend of Oakland hitters leaving runners on base. Can the Nats’ staff pitch out of jams this weekend, or will they give up hits with runners in scoring position?




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