As the Dodgers head across the country to wet, humid Washington, DC for a 4-game series with the red hot Nationals, they’ll be looking to focus on baseball amid disturbing allegations against one of their own.
On the field, the Dodgers will be looking across the diamond at a Nationals team that has seemingly come a long way since their last meeting in April. In their opening home series of the season, the Dodgers swept Washington, including two shutouts behind stellar performances by Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw. The series saw the Nationals fall to 1-5, a team wondering desperately when its two big offseason signings (Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell) would be able to return from injury and provide a spark to the lineup.
In Schwarber’s case, his June looked less like a spark and more like a heavy duty flamethrower setting the entire National League on fire.
Schwarber’s 16 home runs in June alone would leave him only one short of Dodgers’ HR leader Max Muncy’s season total of 17. Many of those home runs have been leading off games, too; having allowed first inning home runs in 5 consecutive games just last week, the Dodgers will surely be wary of the former Cub.
Schwarber’s emergence isn’t the only reason Washington has managed to climb back above .500 at 40-38 entering July. Their pitching has steadied, and they’ve remained healthier than most teams in the league. In some ways, it leaves the Nationals organization in an awkward position. With the second oldest roster and worst farm system in baseball, it’s easy to understand why many envisioned the Nationals as sellers this month. But explaining that to a fanbase 21 months removed from celebrating a World Series title while watching their team skyrocket up the standings midseason is an entirely different task altogether, one I’m not sure their management wants any part of.
For Washington, the next two weeks heading into the All-Star Break will likely guide their path forward. Should they come crashing down to earth with a cold streak, it’s likely they’ll be looking to move some veterans later this month. If they continue to play well, good luck telling their fans they should do anything other than chase another World Series this fall.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the four game set.
Thursday, July 1
4:05 pm PT
Tony Gonsolin vs Patrick Corbin
If the Dodgers and Nationals do manage to play Thursday night amid what is currently a severe thunderstorm warning for the Washington area, the Dodgers will get another chance against a pitcher they thoroughly dominated almost three months ago.
The weather looks rough out in DC tonight. Severe thunderstorm warnings throughout the evening.
— Clint Pasillas (@realFRG) July 1, 2021
Patrick Corbin’s first start of the season came at Dodger Stadium, where he allowed 6 earned runs on 6 hits and 3 walks over 4.1 miserable innings. It foretold a horrible April for the lefty, a month he exited with a 10.47 ERA to his name. He’s since righted the ship, returning to numbers that more closely resemble those of his career – in June, Corbin finished 2-2 with a 3.82 ERA.
When the Dodgers have seen success against him in the past, they’ve done a great job of forcing him into the zone with his offspeed pitches, taking a ton of walks, and hitting his fastball hard.
Tony Gonsolin goes to the mound for LA, hopefully taking another step forward in his progression back from injury. After a sloppy first start of the season in Pittsburgh, Gonsolin has managed to right the ship significantly having allowed one run in each of his previous three starts. He still isn’t pitching deep into games, although at this point it’s more because he’s on a pitch count than a matter of effectiveness. Anecdotally speaking, Gonsolin looked particularly uncomfortable to me in his Pittsburgh start due to the humidity. He seemed to be wiping his hands dry on his pants more often than usual and struggling to establish a rhythm, something he’ll need to have addressed entering what is sure to be a soggy start in our nation’s capital tonight.
Friday, July 2
4:05 pm PT
Julio Urias vs Max Scherzer
Friday night, the Dodgers will be staring down the barrel at an all-too-familiar foe in former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. Like Corbin, the Dodgers defeated Scherzer in their April meeting with him – in contrast, though, they only managed a single run amid 6 strong innings from the veteran pitcher. Having just completed a stellar June that saw him go 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA, the Dodgers will need to put their best foot forward to have a chance against Max Scherzer on Friday night. That likely means pushing his pitch count aggressively early, something the Dodgers did a decent job with against San Diego’s pitching last week. For a different result than they had in their last series on the road, however, the boys in blue are going to need to come up with a big hit or two once they actually have traffic on the bases.
The Dodgers will send Julio Urias to the mound on Friday night. Given the Nationals’ recent offensive exploits, avoiding the home run ball will be Julio’s top priority after having allowed at least one in his last seven consecutive starts. June was not a good month for the lefty, despite going 2-1 – his 4.85 ERA for the month was his worst since May of 2017, three months before his 21st birthday.
The key for Julio will be to avoid first inning disaster – should he manage to do that, he’ll have a chance to battle deeper into the game and go toe to toe with Mad Max.
Saturday, July 3
4:15 pm PT
Clayton Kershaw vs Paolo Espino
Saturday, the Dodgers face off with an entirely unfamiliar opponent in Paolo Espino. A 34-year old right-hander, Espino pitched in 6 games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2017 and 2 games for the Nats in 2020 before finally establishing himself as a big league pitcher in 2021. He’s made 18 appearances this season, pitching to an impressive 2.02 ERA mostly in relief. Saturday marks his fourth start of the season – in the previous three, he’s allowed only two earned runs in 14.1 innings of work. Given his previous workload, he’ll likely be limited to 75 or so pitches on Saturday night. Espino has only walked 4 batters all season, meaning pushing his pitch count early in the game may prove more of a challenge for the Dodgers than it often is.
Clayton Kershaw will look to build off the success he found Sunday against Chicago at Dodger Stadium, a 13-strikeout masterpiece that saw him pitch 8 full innings for the first time since August 25, 2018. In his career against Washington, Kershaw is 13-3 with a 2.11 ERA, the most wins he’s amassed against any team outside the NL West. The key for Clayton recently has been his slider, a pitch he’s throwing now more than at any other point in his career. If he’s locating it well on Saturday, the Nationals may struggle once again to find their footing against the future Hall of Famer.
Sunday, July 4
8:05 am PT
TBD vs Joe Ross
I’m just going to assume that Trevor Bauer will not be making his scheduled start for the Dodgers on Sunday. Knowing the Dodgers, I certainly wouldn’t put a bullpen day out of the question. We’ll find out more as the weekend progresses.
The Nationals will send their mercurial righty Joe Ross to the bump on Sunday morning. Like many Nats, Joe Ross is coming off an excellent June that saw him go 3-2 with a 1.95 ERA. Ross stymied the Dodgers over 5 brilliant innings on April 9, allowing only 2 hits and 2 walks without allowing a run in what would eventually be a 1-0 Dodgers win. Ross is an interesting case in that he can be rather boom or bust – he’s allowed 4 or more runs in 6 different starts this season, but allowed 0 runs on 5 different occasions as well. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle, but Joe rarely lands there – if the Dodgers want to come away with a win before their flight to Miami, they ought to jump on the righty early and ensure this is a start he’ll want to forget.
Despite the understandable negative energy surrounding the team as details around Bauer’s allegations continue to surface, Independence Day weekend represents a huge opportunity for the club to pick up ground in the NL West. They’re not likely to get a ton of help from the Diamondbacks against San Francisco, so it behooves the Dodgers to cool down the Nationals and find a way to win some games this weekend. It certainly won’t come easy, but I’m hopeful they’ll rise to the occasion and build on the momentum of this past homestand before an excellent opportunity against Miami and Arizona next week.