May 31, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson (20) celebrates with teammates in the dugout after hitting a home run in the seventh inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Twins won 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
After being swept by the Cincinnati Reds over the weekend and posting a 2-4 road trip in Chicago and Cincy, the Washington Nationals (28-22) are back at Nats Park to begin a seven game homestand. It starts tonight when the Nats begin a three game series against the Toronto Blue Jays (23-29).
Despite being swept by the Reds, the Nationals erased their 7-13 mark in the first 20 games by going 18-9 in the month of May. Plus, Washington has a 14-7 record at home this season. Their 14 wins are the fifth most of any team in the National League. While there are many concerns about the past weekend, including the bullpen struggles and the latest injury to Stephen Strasburg, the Nats will hope to bounce back against a team going thru their own struggles.
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Even though Toronto is six games under .500, they are still in the race of what has been a mediocre AL East. Coming into the night, they are 3.5 games behind the Yankees and the Rays. John Gibbons’ club went 12-17 in the month of May and they have lost five of their last nine. That being said, one of Toronto’s key offseason acquisitions is on fire right now.
Toronto’s offense has scored the most runs, the second highest slugging percentage, and hit the fourth most home runs in baseball. One of the main reasons why is third baseman Josh Donaldson. Donaldson, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the A’s for a package that included Brett Lawrie, is hitting .312 with 15 home runs and 39 RBI’s on the season. Plus, he has hit six home runs and driven in 11 runs in the last six games.
Edwin Encarnacion has had a very good season as well, hitting 12 home runs. However, Encarnacion is the team’s designated hitter, so you won’t see him that much in this series. While Jose Bautista only has seven home runs, he does lead the team with a .380 on-base percentage. Other players to watch on Toronto’s offense include catcher Russell Martin (.277, 7 HR, 24 RBI’s) and shortstop Jose Reyes (.281, 0 HR, 10 RBI’s, 4 SB). Reyes is a .283 career hitter against the Nats with six homers and 45 RBI’s from his time with the Mets.
The problem for the Blue Jays has been the starting rotation. It began this spring with Marcus Stroman, one of their best young pitchers, tearing his ACL. As a team, Toronto’s ERA is 4.59, which is the third worst in baseball. The starters (4.93) have the second worst ERA in the AL, ahead of only the Boston Red Sox. Their opening day starter, Drew Hutchison, is 4-1, but has a very high ERA (5.26).
Finally, let’s take a look at Toronto’s bullpen. Currently, their closer is the lefty Brett Cecil has two saves, which is two behind Miguel Castro, but the 21-year old is in the minor leagues. Toronto’s ‘pen has six wins, which is tied for the third lowest in the AL and has collectively blown nine saves. The key guy in their bullpen is righty Roberto Osuna. The 20-year-old has a 1.75 ERA in 22 appearances this year. In May, opponents hit just .156 against him.
With all of that being said, let’s look at the three pitching matchups in this series, starting with tonight’s game:
Next: Tonight's Matchup