Series Preview: Washington Nationals (0-0) at Chicago Cubs (0-0)

Welcome back to another year of Obstructed View series previews! And I guess Cubs baseball too.

The Washington Nationals have come a long way since their "Natinals" days. The team has made great strides and could be a playoff contender if it weren't stuck in the NL East. Even then I wouldn't be too surprised if they manage to nab one of the Wild Card berths. They're still a relatively new franchise, but the vibe I've gotten the last few times I've visited the DC area was that a lot of the former Baltimore Orioles fans that packed Camden Yards in the 90s have been gravitating towards the Nationals, no thanks to Peter Angelos*. There's plenty to be excited about with this team, both this year and in the future. This team's pitching staff will have a core of Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimmerman through the 2015 season, not to mention position players like Bryce Harper and the perennially underrated Ryan Zimmerman (locked up through 2019).

*I almost wrote Dan Snyder there instead. Not sure who is the worse owner.

Team Overviews

Usually I'll list the current rankings of each team in these categories, but given the lack of games played this year I won't switch over to current year stats until the end of the month or so (NL rank in parentheses)

Overall

  Nationals Cubs
wOBA .305 (11th) .313 (8th)
Baserunning 8.5 (3rd) -12 (16th)
UZR -14.3 (11th) -9.5 (8th)
DRS +8 (8th) -36 (13th)
SP FIP 3.93 (9th) 4.25 (11th)
RP FIP 3.66 (8th) 3.85 (5th)

Batters

I've listed everyone's ZiPS projections

Nationals Cubs
SS Ian Desmond (.301) RF David DeJesus (.330)
2B Danny Espinosa (.311) 2B Darwin Barney (.295)
3B Ryan Zimmerman (.358) SS Starlin Castro (.336)
1B Adam LaRoche (.315) 1B Bryan LaHair (.339)
RF Jayson Werth (.338) LF Alfonso Soriano (.322)
LF Mark DeRosa (.261) 3B Ian Stewart (.314)
CF Roger Bernardina (.304) CF Marlon Byrd (.323)
C Wilson Ramos (.337) C Geovany Soto (.334)

No matter how many times I see something like this, I'm still surprised by how low offense was in the NL last year. Ian Desmond posted a .290 wOBA and was below average defensively, but was worth 1.4 fWAR.

Injuries of note

The Nats are missing SP Chien-Ming Wang, closer Drew Storen, and LF/1B Mike Morse to injuries. It especially sucks for Wang, who's seemingly been battling back from injuries for years.

Bryan LaHair is out of the Cubs lineup with a back injury. From the sounds of it he's not hitting the DL and is just day-to-day.

Pitching probables

(ZiPS projected ERA and FIP in parens)

Thursday: Stephen Strasburg (2.85, 2.76), RHP vs Ryan Dempster (4.24, 4.10), RHP 1:20 PM CT

Strasburg missed almost all of last season with Tommy John surgery. He came back to make a few dominating starts in September and it looked like his velocity was recovering quite nicely. Strasburg has two good secondary pitches, and his fastball is one of the best in the game.

Dempster was hammered in the first month of the season, giving up roughly 169 home runs in the month of April. After that he pitched just like the solid starter he was in the previous three years. His end of season FIP and xFIP were actually lower than they were in 2010. Dempster's xFIPs in his four years as a starter with the Cubs: 3.69, 3.76, 3.74, 3.70.

Saturday: Gio Gonzalez (3.55, 3.65), LHP vs Matt Garza, RHP (3.52, 3.52), 12:05 PM CT

Gonzalez posted two solid years as a starter with Oakland, and the Nationals sent four quality prospects to Beane in order to acquire him. The cost was high, but not long after acquiring him the Nationals signed him to a 5-year extension to keep him in DC through the 2016 season (and has team options out to 2018). Gonzalez walks a lot of batters (> 4.0 BB/9 the past two years) but makes up for it with plenty of strikeouts and grounders. He piles up the pitch counts, averaging about 106 pitches and 6 1/3 innings per start last year .

Garza was simply a different pitcher last year, going from an extreme flyball pitcher in his years in the AL to a groundball machine in 2011, as well as increasing his strikeout rate by more than two batters per nine innings. Garza had some luck on fly balls he did give up, but generally he seems to be a different pitcher. The projection systems seem to agree – despite not posting a FIP below 4 in his AL career, all of the systems (on fangraphs, at least0 have his FIP in the 3.5-3.7 or so range. The big question with Garza this year is not whether he'll repeat last year's numbers, but whether he'll do it in someone else's uniform.

Sunday: Jordan Zimmermann (3.65, 3.51), RHP vs Jeff Samardzija (4.12, 4.57), RHP, 1:20 PM CT

Zimmerman got his TJ surgery out of the way in 2009, and had a solid bounceback year in 2011. Zimmerman's main asset is his control – he walked 1.73 batters per 9 last year despite the perception that TJ recovery often leads to reduced control. ZImmerman posted higher strikeout numbers in his first year in the bigs, and could see that bounce back this year.

We've spilled enough ink on Jeff Samardzija in the last few weeks, so I won't open that can of worms again. The projection above is as a reliever – the starter converted numbers are 5.15 ERA, 5.71 FIP. So the scouts better be right.

Prediction

I actually feel pretty good for some reason about today's game. Of course, that mean Dempster will probably exit in the fourth inning (laughing). I think the Nats take two out of three.

berselius

About berselius

How appropriate. You fight like a cow.

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