Even with a Major League best, 18-8 record in the month of May, the Miami Marlins trail the division leading Washington Nationals by 3 and a half games. The Marlins currently sit four games behind the Nationals in the loss column. This series will be a chance for the Marlins to regain some ground on their impressive division rivals.
Ehsan: The Washington Nationals are currently sitting on top of the NL East and are looking like a legitimate playoff contender. A big reason for the success has been the Nationals rotation. We have already discussed how strong your rotation has been, so I will ask you today, which Nationals starter has been the biggest surprise in your eyes?
Michael: I’d have to go with Gio Gonzalez, and not just for his on-field performance. The way he’s taken to the city and really become a great clubhouse presence has really impressed me. That shows a very veteran-like mindset, and makes that long-term extension look like a smart move by Mike Rizzo. But his on-field performance has also impressed. I expected Gio to compete and do a solid job, but what I didn’t expect was for him to come in and instantly lead the National League in strikeouts. His performance has taken pressure off the rest of this staff, and I believe that has something to do with the overall performance of the rotation.
Michael: His attitude has been exactly what it needs to be. In the minors he showed a fair amount of arrogance, which at the time was completely unwarranted given his struggles. Now that he’s in the majors, he’s fighting for that extra base, stealing home, beating out infield grounders, and doing all the things to prove that he belongs in the show. He’s taken some of the best at-bats on this team, and as recently as yesterday he hustled over to second when Jason Heyward was very lazy in fielding his right field single. The play jump-started a huge 2-out rally which eventually played a large part in the 8-4 win over the Braves. But I do expect a slight drop-off from Harper over the next few months. Big league pitchers will be less motivated to challenge him now that they’ve seen he’s for real, and will learn his tendencies. Though this will mostly be in the 2013 season, the more footage there is, the more pitchers know about a hitter. I think that as long as Harper is sitting above .270 (give or take 5 points) and isn’t being a clubhouse poison, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to stick with the Big League team.
Michael: Well the thing to keep in mind is that at times this year, the Nats have been without their starting catcher, first baseman, third baseman, left fielder, center fielder, and right fielder. Notables on that list include LaRoche, Zimmerman and Morse, a top-5 MVP candidate last season. So yes, the Nationals have underperformed, but they’ve also been without key players for much of the season. I think Ryan Zimmerman (ignoring this recent hot streak) has been the biggest disappointment thus far, however that is only statistically. He’s hit the ball well and made solid contact in the majority of his at-bats this year, and has been very unlucky when it comes to where the balls land. I think this recent streak is a sign of things to come, and I expect the return of Michael Morse in June to have a huge impact. Will take the pressure off Zimmerman, and will allow Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper to see some much better pitches. However, I also expect the Nationals to at least try to acquire a center fielder. With Denard Span, Michael Bourn and potentially Shane Victorino and BJ Upton available, it would be wise of Mike Rizzo to go after a leadoff man with speed. I love the work Rick Ankiel has done this season, and his throwing arm is beyond compare, but production from leadoff hitters this year has been insufficient.
Michael: I’m dying to see Wang vs. Johnson on Wednesday. I’d like to see how Wang handles his first start, and getting thrown right into Game 3 of a series against an ace should make it that much more exciting. The work he did upon his return last year was excellent (all things considered), and his first appearance last week went well, so I’m expecting good things. The question will be whether he can keep the Nationals in the game with Stanton in the lineup and Johnson on the mound.
Michael: The way these two teams are playing right now, don’t be surprised if multiple games in this series go into extra innings. But, I do feel the Nationals will take the series 2 games to 1, the one Marlins win coming on Wednesday. I don’t think that Wang will collapse, but I also don’t think he can out-duel Josh Johnson. He’ll give up 3 or so runs in about 5 innings of work, while Johnson will last longer and only give up 1 or 2. I think the Nats chances at beating Zambrano are high with the way Jordan Zimmermann is throwing the ball, and I think Edwin Jackson is due for a good outing on Tuesday. I think Anibal Sanchez is a great pitcher, but my gut feeling says go with Jackson.
Ehsan: Bonus Question: How many home runs will Giancarlo Stanton his this series?
Michael: I’m going high with 3. Stanton always manages to channel his inner-Babe Ruth when he’s playing against the Nats. 2 one day, 1 on another day.
A big thank you to Michael Natelli for doing this chat with us. We at Marlin Maniac wish the Nationals and the crew over at District on Deck the best of luck in this series, and they will need it, with the way Stanton has been hitting the ball of late.
Topics: Anibal Sanchez, Bryce Harper, Denard Span, Edwin Jackson, Giancarlo Stanton, Gio Gonzalez, Jason Heyward, Jordan Zimmerman, Josh Johnson, Miami Marlins, Michael Bourn, Michael Morse, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Zimmerman, Shane Victorino, Washington Nationals