Miami Marlins Series Preview: Preseason Favorite Nationals in Town

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The Miami Marlins finished their 10-game road trip with a 4-6 record, winning two of the three series. A 4-6 road trip is a good record on any long trip outside of Miami for the team, or for any road team.

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Unfortunately for the Marlins, 4 of their 6 losses came in a four-game sweep at the hands of the New York Mets, who sit at 13-3, 8 games ahead of the Marlins in the standings. A better showing in that series and the narrative around the entire road trip would have been different.

Up next for the Marlins will be the Washington Nationals, a team that was heavily favored to win not only the National League East, but the National League pennant. They come into the Marlins series starting the season slowly as well, sitting at 7-9, just two games ahead of the Marlins.

To get a better idea of what the Nationals look like this season, I interviewed Pablo Roa of District on Deck. Pablo and I spoke about many things, including the Washington Nationals slow start and if 2015 will be the season of Bryce Harper.

Here is a look at the chat we had.

Ehsan Kassim: The Nationals, like the Marlins are off to a slow start to the season, going 7-9 in their first 18 games. What’s wrong with them and how can they fix it? How big of a role have injuries played?

Pablo Roa: There’s no doubt that it’s been a slow start to the season for the Nationals. After an offseason where many declared that the Nationals would be the best team in baseball and defend their NL East title with ease, the first few weeks of the season have disappointed, to say the least.

As for why they’ve been struggling, it’s because they haven’t been able to do the little things. The starting pitching, not surprisingly, has been absolutely phenomenal. Everything else, not so much. The offense was nearly non-existent the first two weeks of the season, though it has recovered in the last week. The bullpen has been a mess, and the team has not been able to overcome the loss of Tyler Clippard.

But the biggest problem the Nationals have had this season is the defense. The team could easily have a winning record if the defense hadn’t been so mediocre through the first few weeks of the season. Ian Desmond has had a disastrous April at shortstop. Yesterday, the team threw the ball all over the place and allowed the Cardinals’ Matt Adams to hit a little league home run. Overall, it’s been pretty bad.

That being said, there’s still plenty of time for the Nationals to right the ship, and I’m confident that they will. Of course, injuries have been a key part of the team’s struggles, with Jayson Werth, Denard Span, Anthony Rendon and Casey Janssen all starting the season on the DL. Their absence has hurt the Nationals badly and was a big reason for the team’s offensive and relief pitching struggles. Fortunately, they’re making their way back, as all but Rendon and Janssen are off the DL, and it’s made a big difference. Despite the two-game losing streak, the team is playing much better now than it was a week ago and it should continue to improve in the coming weeks as players continue to get healthy.

EK: Has the Nationals rotation lived up to the hype thus far? Whose been the best of the bunch?

PR: Yes. The rotation has been fantastic from the start. There have been some uncharacteristically shaky starts from Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, but overall the starters have performed as advertised. At this point, the best starter has undoubtedly been Max Scherzer. He’s a tough luck 1-2 this season, but he’s been phenomenal every time he’s taken the mound, as shown by his 1.26 ERA. Fortunately for the Marlins, he won’t be pitching in this series.

EK: Speaking of pitching, can you give me a brief scouting report on who the Marlins will face this series?

PR: The Marlins will face the middle of the Nationals’ rotation, Jordan Zimmermann, Steven Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. Tonight, Zimmermann will look to overcome a rough couple of outings and bring his 6.14 ERA back down to earth. The right-hander wasn’t too bad his last time out but he still walked four batters. The start before that, he allowed seven earned runs in just 2 1/3 innings. If the Nationals want to snap their two-game losing streak, Zimmermann needs to return to his dominant form tonight.

Strasburg, on the other hand, is coming off one of the best starts of his career, allowing one run while striking out seven over 7 1/3 scoreless innings. Strasburg was dealing all day long his last time out, and his changeup especially proved to be unhittable for the Phillies. If he has the same mojo tomorrow, look for a lot of strikeouts and very few runs.

Gio Gonzalez is coming off a bit of a shaky start. He didn’t allow any earned runs, but he walked four batters. If Gonzalez is going to have a good start against the Marlins, he’ll need to straighten out his command.

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  • EK: Statcast debuted this week on MLB Network during a Nats game against the Cardinals. What were your initial thoughts on the new technology?

    PR: I think it’s really cool. It may not be as revolutionary as MLB advertised it to be, but it’s definitely something we’ve never seen before in regular season baseball, and it’ll certainly make the games more interesting to watch.

    EK: Bryce Harper is off to a good start this season. Will this finally be the season he shuts his critics up?

    PR: When it comes to Bryce Harper, I don’t think he’ll ever shut his critics up. They wouldn’t let that happen. I do, however, think that this’ll be a huge season for Harper and that he’ll be in the MVP discussion come October. After last year’s impressive performance in the NLDS, Harper’s success has carried over into this season. He looks as comfortable as ever at the plate, and his hitting approach has been far more relaxed and under control than in previous years, allowing him to get on base more and hit breaking balls better. If Harper keeps up his hitting and finds a way to stay healthy all season, he can carry this team on his shoulders.

    EK: How do you see the series playing out? Any bold predictions?

    PR: After yesterday’s frustrating loss for the Nationals, I think this’ll be the series they turn things around for good and notch their first sweep of the season.

    There you have it. We want to thank Pablo for giving us such great insight into the Nationals. Remember to check out District on Deck for all their excellent coverage of latest Nationals’ news and notes. Also be sure to follow Pablo, his co-editor Ricky Keeler and District on Deck on Twitter.

    Next: Fernandez to become U.S. Citizen

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