From the second place team in the NL East to the leader, the Jays tough interleague schedule continues. Most of the team's misfortune has occurred in NL parks; nevertheless they have the third worst interleague record of any AL team, behind only the lowly Royals and Orioles. It won't be an easy task to right the ship, as Toronto faces a Nationals team led by the most exciting young pitcher and hitter in baseball, both of whom are en fuego. Will the (not so cold anymore) north be enough to cool that heat? That's what the Advance Scout is here to tell you (plus next week's winning lotto numbers).
The Nationals lead the majors in pitching by a country mile: they are first in FIP, at 3.20 (incidentally the Jays are last, at 4.68) and first in ERA (2.99), at least 2/10 of a run ahead in both categories. They strike out almost one of every four batters (ML rank: 1st), allow a .217 batting average (1st) . They're getting it done with their starters, as they roll out four guys with sub 3.15 ERA's. Gio Gonzalez, who the Jays missed, has been the best of the bunch, while Jordan Zimmerman (also missed) has probably been the worst of the core four; he has a 4.31/1 K/BB. So, yeah.
Monday: Edwin Jackson vs. Brandon Morrow
Jackson, the former for-a-minute Jay, was the Nationals big off-season signing. He signed for 1 year at $11 million. I guess there's no more point in whining about how this was exactly the type of signing the Jays should have made to bolster a pretty mediocre rotation, but, well, they should have. He's been very good for the Nationals so far, going ~6.5 innings a start with a K/BB over 3. He's been a bit hit lucky, with a .244 BABIP, and is somehow 2-3 so far in 11 starts despite a 3.11 ERA, though this is because the Nats are last in the NL East in runs allowed (to be fair, they've allowed 65 fewer runs than the next best team in their division). As you may know by now, Jackson has electric stuff but often struggles with his consistency (a pretty decent comp to his opponent on Monday). He's been a model this year though, going at least 5 every start (though rarely making it into the 8th) and allowing more than 3 runs just twice. He's down a tick on his fastball so far this year, working around 93-94 as opposed to 94-95, although he got up to 95 in his last start. He throws both a 2-seam and 4-seam fastball, both at around the same speed, and it mostly serves as a setup pitch for his hard (86 MPH), wicked slider. He throws it a quarter of the time, and in his last start against the Mets he got 7 swinging strikes in 21 pitches, which is about the same number Henderson Alvarez gets in a month. Jackson will mix in the occasional change and curve, with the curve in the high-70s and the change at the same speed as his slider; he usually throws them against lefties. Still, he is at heart a slider-fastball guy. He was born and spent the first eight years of his life in Germany, as his father was stationed with the U.S. Army there. Lifetime Jose Bautista is 4/11, Rajai Davis 1/10, Colby Rasmus 6/10 with 2 triples and a homer.
Tuesday: Chien-Ming Wang v. Henderson Alvarez
Chien-Ming Wang hasn't pitched a full season since 2007, when he won 19 games. After a strong start to 2008, he tore a ligament in his foot, while running the bases during an interleague game. (I am sympathetic even though I love to see pitchers hitting - though I still prefer the DH. However, it was running, it's not like it's a foreign concept.) Wang came back in 2009 but his mechanics were messed up, and he has basically struggled with rehab since, making only 22 (mostly unsuccessful) big league starts since 2008. Wang has always walked a tightrope as a starter, and like Monday's matchup, is a good comparison to the Jays starter, Henderson Alvarez. Wang has struck out 10.8% of the batters he's faced in his career, while walking 6.9%; in his best year year, in terms of results (not strikeouts) he struck out 3.14/9 IP. He was able to succeed doing this because he didn't allow home runs (12 in 218 innings in his heyday), and got a ton of ground balls (high 50s/low 60s, percentage-wise). Since his return for part of 2011 and his two starts in 2012 (he was out for the first part of this season with a hamstring injury) he has not gotten as many ground balls (low 50s) and allowed a lot more home runs, in conjunction with his previous anemic strike out rate. The result is not an especially effective package, though he is probably hanging around borderline as a starter. Wang doesn't throw a straight fastball, instead relying almost exclusively on a 90 MPH sinker that can run up to 92. He throws it 70% of the time, augmenting it with a slider, splitter/change and curve (a pitch he's added in the last couple of years). The slider's been good in the past but he doesn't quite have the snap back to it. Really, he's all sinker. If a non-Vizquel Jay swings and misses at one of Wang's pitches he should be buying the rounds after the game: he got one swinging strike in 84 pitches his last start. The career numbers won't mean much at this point, but no current Jay has played more than one game against Wang anyway.
Wednesday: Stephen Strasburg v. Kyle Drabek
Well, another well-suited pair, though mentioning Kyle Drabek in the same sentence as Stephen Strasburg is kind of an insult to Strasburg. At this point I would venture to say that Strasburg is the best pitcher in baseball, at least on a per-pitch basis. Therein lies the rub - Strasburg throws a ton of pitches, limiting him to 5, 6 or 7 innings per start (7 is his season high, and he's never been removed mid-inning), thus limiting his overall value. Still, they're pretty good innings when you can get them - is his 12 starts he's allowed 0 runs 3 times, 1 run 4 times, 2 runs 2 times, 3 runs 1 time, and 4 runs 2 times. I'm going to try to hold back on the superlatives, but here are a few #StrasFacts: he leads the majors in K% (32.7%), with Gio Gonzalez the only other starter above 30%. He's 7th in K/BB, 10th in ERA, and third in FIP (despite having a .313 BABIP). He throws three pitches - both a 2-seam/4-seam fastball, a slurvy curve and a change up he uses against lefties. He can get swinging strikes with all three, something basically no one else does. Against the Red Sox on Friday his fastball hit 99, and averaged around 96-97. It's easily the hardest fastball of any starter in baseball, and on a per-pitch basis is the 14th most valuable in baseball amongst qualified starters. His circle change up runs in at 89 miles per hour, also the hardest in baseball, and better than several pitchers fastballs; it only gets him on the leaderboard. His 80 MPH curveball rates as the third most valuable in baseball on aggregate, and he gets the second most swinging strikes in baseball (Hamels is first). Basically you can't say enough good things about him. He struck out 13 of the 24 Red Sox he faced in his last start; he threw 16 curveballs for strikes, 9 of them swinging. He's even 7/21 on the season. The kid can do it all!
Stephen Lombardozzi LF
Bryce Harper RF
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Adam LaRoche 1B
Michael Morse DH
Ian Desmond SS
Danny Espinosa 2B
Rick Ankiel CF
Jesus Flores C
Against lefties Harper generally plays CF, with Xavier Nady and Tyler Moore in corners, though of course they dodge Romero. Morse and LaRoche could be flipped. Jhonatan (actual spelling) Solano is handling the backup catching duties at the moment, as poor Wilson Ramos is out for the year, along with about 9 other Nats catchers.
Ryan Zimmerman has been pretty lousy of late, "stinking" in his own words. The $100 million man is struggling to keep his OPS around .700, and was bad even before missing two weeks with a shoulder injury in May... Bryce Harper has not had these problems. The phenom is hitting .282/.368/.521 in 163 PA since being called up, without any huge BABIP (.312) or home run luck (14.6% HR/FB). Harper takes pitches, walking 11.7% of the time, and has a good eye, striking out fewer than 1/5 at bats. You can read Richard Griffin's (very nice!) take here or Will Leitch's pre-season GQ piece here. Harper sat to start Sunday's game against the Red Sox with a back issue, but pinch hit in the 9th, walking and scoring. I would guess he starts Monday... Random tidbit: by wOBA, 2 of the Nationals top 4 hitters (min: 20 PA) are starting pitchers)...The Nationals, Harper aside, aren't really hitting, thanks to injuries to Jayson Werth and poor performances from Michael Morse (who's mostly been injured) and Ryan Zimmerman... The Nationals are in the middle of negotiating their TV rights, but the Orioles, who own the cable network Nationals games are shown on, are holding things up. Peter Angelos strikes again!.. Fangraphs has some good quotes from Nats GM Mike Rizzo.
Infirmary: The Nats injury list is a mile long, to use the American parlance. Mark DeRosa (3B), Carlos Maldonado (C), Ryan Mattheus (P), Henry Rodriguez (P), and Chad Tracy (3B) are all on the 15-day DL, while Cole Kimball (P), Sandy Leon (C), Chris Marrero (1B), Drew Storen (RP), Wilson Ramos (C) and Jayson Werth (OF) are all on the 60-day DL.
Song to Advance Scout By: For some reason, I just thought of this song when I thought of the Nationals. If you want a more thematically resonant song, there is always National Hum by the Constantines. It is not as radio friendly, though.
Chart: All hail Fangraphs data.
Oh yeah, the lotto numbers: 7, 13, 14, 19, 24, 40. Cut me in if you win though, please.