The Nats were successful against the Reds last season, taking five of the seven games played, including two of three on the road at Great American Ball Park. However, Cincinnati enters this series with confidence after winning its last two games and the series against the Los Angeles Angels earlier this week. Both Cincinnati and Washington won their respective divisions last year and are expected to challenge for the playoffs again this season, making this series a good opportunity for the teams to make an early statement to the rest of the National League.
With much of the sports world focused on that pesky basketball tournament in Atlanta, here are my final four keys to the Nationals winning this exciting, early-season series in Cincinnati this weekend:
4) Quiet Those Lefties
The Marlins did not have the left-handed hitters in their lineup to challenge the Nationals, but Cincinnati has plenty of lefty power hitters in Jay Bruce, Shin-Soo Choo, and Joey Votto. With Zach Duke the only southpaw in the Nationals' bullpen, the predominantly right-handed Nationals relief corps will be challenged to silence the bats of these lefty sluggers in the later innings.
3) Warm Up the Bottom of the Lineup
As hot as the top of the Nationals' lineup has started, especially Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, the bottom half of the lineup struggled against Miami; in particular, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, and Adam LaRoche combined to go 1-for-31 with two walks and eight strikeouts against Marlins pitching. The team must get more production from these hitters if it expects to score enough runs to compete with the formidable Cincinnati lineup.
2) Avoid Aroldis Chapman
Owning a blazing fastball and the reputation as one of the most dangerous relievers in baseball, scoring on Chapman in the ninth inning is almost as difficult as defeating the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. If the Nationals hope to be successful, they must avoid falling behind early and force Chapman to remain a spectator in the bullpen this weekend.
1) Strong Pitching from Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren
Against the underwhelming Marlins lineup, the Nationals' starting pitching was simply outstanding, with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann combining to allow only one run in 19 innings.
Detwiler was stellar last month representing Team USA in the World Baseball Classic after flourishing in Washington last season, posting a 3.40 ERA in 164 1/3 innings. Conversely, Haren followed up a poor season last year with a disappointing 6.39 spring ERA, giving him little momentum as he attempts the difficult task of trying to stifle the Reds' lineup in their home ballpark.
With ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg the expected starting pitcher Sunday, the Nationals need Detwiler and Haren to pitch well if they hope to win this difficult road series.
Ryan Sullivan is Editor-in-Chief of NatsGM.com, a critical analysis website analyzing the Washington Nationals and other topics around baseball. He also does a weekly Podcast and contributes to RedPorchReport.com. You can email Ryan at NationalsGM@gmail.com and Follow him on Twitter @NatsGMdotcom.
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