Washington Nationals Series Preview: Nats vs. Yankees (5/19-5/20)

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May 16, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez (13) is congratulated in the dugout after hitting a home run in the ninth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. The Yankees won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

After a very successful 5-2 road trip on the West Coast in Arizona and San Diego, the Washington Nationals (22-17) come back home to begin a five game homestand. That stretch will begin tonight when they begin a mini two-game series against the New York Yankees (22-17). This will be the first time the Yankees have played a game in Washington D.C. since 2012. Plus, it should be a great atmosphere when you consider both teams are at or near the top of their respective divisions.

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Of course, the buzz around the Nationals this week will be about Bryce Harper, who won NL Player Of The Week for the second straight week. In his last 11 games, Harper has seven home runs, 22 hits and 22 RBI’s. Thru the first 39 games, he has walked 36 times. The 22-year old has come a long way from the last time he faced the Yankees.

On a non-Harper note, Wilson Ramos, the Nats catcher, comes back home with his hit streak still in tact at a career high 18 games.

On June 17, 2012, Andy Pettitte went up against Harper and dominated him. In that game, a Nationals loss in 14 innings, Harper went 0-for-7 with five strikeouts. Now, the Yankees will have a hard time striking him out in these two games.

Most experts did not predict the Yankees to finish at the top of a wide open AL East, but Joe Girardi’s club has been sparked by the hitters at the top of their order. Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury has a .411 on-base percentage (fourth in the AL) and leads the league in stolen bases. As for left fielder Brett Gardner, he has ten stolen bases and is hitting .303 now that he is in the number two spot instead of New York’s legendary shortstop, Derek Jeter.

The main storyline around the Yankees since their season began has been their designated hitter Alex Rodriguez, who served a season long suspension last year for his involvement with Biogenesis. So far, the 38-year-old has not made any headlines off the field and has exceeded expectations on it. He has ten home runs and a slugging percentage of .563. A-Rod and first baseman Mark Teixeira (11 homers) are both in the top three in AL in home runs behind Nelson Cruz of the Mariners (15).

As for the Yankees starting rotation, they have a 4.15 ERA (seventh in the AL), but are without Masahiro Tanaka, who is rehabbing from a forearm injury. New York has been able to keep the rotation in tact thanks to great pitching from Michael Pineda. The former Mariner is 5-1 with a 3.31 ERA and had a 16 strikeout performance against the Orioles on May 10. However, Pineda won’t be the one pitching in this series. That will be Nathan Eovaldi and Adam Warren.

Washington has been one of the best teams in baseball in the first inning. The Nationals will need to get ahead early in these two games because it’s extremely tough to beat the Yankees bullpen in the final two innings. The combination of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller has yet to give up an earned run this season. As for Miller, the Yankees’ prized offseason acquisition is 13-for-13 in saves and has given up three hits in 17.2 innings to go with 29 strikeouts.

Before we breakdown the two pitching matchups, make sure you check out the podcast I host for Yanks Go Yard. On Sunday night, District On Deck co-editor Pablo Roa and myself went in-depth on this upcoming two-game series.

Next: Tonight's Matchup