Washington Nationals vs. Tampa Bay Rays Series Preview (6/15-6/18)

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Jun 11, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) misses a foul fly ball during the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Despite losing the first two games of their four game series against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Washington Nationals (33-30) were able to end the series on a high note as they won the final two games. Joe Ross recorded his first Major League win on Saturday and Max Scherzer had a historic performance on Sunday. Scherzer gave up only one hit and struck out 16 batters (a Nats record) in a 4-0 win.

Even though the Nationals are a half game behind the New York Mets for the NL East, they head down to Florida feeling confident about themselves, but there was an injury concern coming into this four game series against the Rays. Bryce Harper sat out of Sunday’s win after he was hit in the knee by a 95 mile per hour fastball from Michael Blazek in the ninth inning of Saturday’s win. Harper will be the designated hitter tonight and bat cleanup.

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This week, the NL East teams are facing off against the AL East teams in InterLeague home-and-home series. For the Nats, their opponent will be the Tampa Bay Rays (35-29). They will play games tonight and tomorrow at Tropicana Field and the Nationals will host Wednesday and Thursday’s games.

Even without manager Joe Maddon and general manager Andrew Friedman, the Rays are in a virtual tie with the New York Yankees for the AL East lead. In his first season as manager, Kevin Cash’s squad has won three straight, seven of their last ten, and they are 9-4 in the month of June.

Even without Matt Moore and Alex Cobb in the rotation, the Rays have a team ERA of 3.03 this month, which is second in the American League behind the Kansas City Royals. This season, their starters’ ERA is 3.15, which is second in the AL behind Oakland. Chris Archer, who will start Thursday’s game, has had a fantastic season. He is 7-4 with a 2.00 ERA and has a league high 113 strikeout.

In this series, the Nationals will see their former teammate, Steven Souza Jr. Souza Jr., who was traded to the Rays in the Joe Ross/Trea Turner deal back in December, has a team-high 12 home runs and 29 RBI’s. The 26-year-old has stolen eight bases, but he has also struck out 82 times this season. While the Rays are 26th in all of baseball in runs scored, you still have to mention the leader of this team, third baseman Evan Longoria. Longoria is hitting .266 in 62 games this season with six home runs and 28 RBI’s.

As for the bullpen, Tampa Bay has a 3.55 ERA, but they have given up 26 home runs, which is tied for second worst in the league. Brad Boxberger is Tampa Bay’s closer. While he did blow the save in Saturday’s win, he is 15-for-17 in save opportunities and has given up eight runs in 26 innings.

Let’s take a look at who has the advantage in each of the four pitching matchups this week:

Next: Tonight's Matchup