Series Preview: Padres Head Back to U.S. and Welcome Harper, Nationals

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The Padres return to the United States and their home of Petco Park for a three-game series with the Washington Nationals. The Friars are 13-22 and coming off of an inspiring series win over the Dodgers in Mexico. They were no-hit on Friday, but bounced back to win the last two games of the series.

The Nationals have really struggled to get their engines started this season, and a lot of that has to do with injuries. From the starting lineup, Adam Eaton and Ryan Zimmerman are banged up, and Anthony Rendon just came off of the disabled list. Washington is 18-17 and in a rare spot in fourth place in the upstart N.L. East.

Many predict the Nationals to still make the playoffs and even win the division.

The Padres were 2-5 against the team from our nation’s capital last year.

Game 1 (Monday, 7:10 PDT): Tyson Ross (2-2, 3.28 ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (3-3, 3.47 ERA)

Ross has been one of the more solid pitchers on the Padres’ staff. He is just a few weeks removed from a no-hit bid that fell four outs short. Three of his six starts have resulted in one or less runs allowed. He is coming off of allowing just one run while striking out nine in six innings in a win against the Giants.

Strasburg will have a homecoming of sorts as one of the San Diego area’s best prospects ever. The West Hills High School alum and San Diego State Aztec might be having some playoff hangover as he has had an up and down start to 2018. He is coming off of his best start of the season, pitching seven innings against the Pirates while striking out 11 with two earned runs. Strasburg finished third in Cy Young voting last season after posting a 2.52 ERA and 173 ERA+.

Game 2 (Tuesday, 7:10 PDT) Clayton Richard (1-4, 6.21 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (0-0, 3.00 ERA)

Richard has struggled to keep the Padres in ballgames. In four of his seven starts, he has allowed at least four runs, and he allowed a season-high six in his last start against the Giants. His walk rate is 4.8 BB/9 and he has allowed six homers in his last five starts. The Padres’ Opening Day starter has not been good since that first game. He has a respectable 3.67 career ERA against the Nationals, so he may be able to right the ship against a Washington team that has been spinning its tires.

Hellickson makes his fifth start as a National, coming off of pitching 5 2/3 shutout innings against the Pirates. The Nationals have him on a short leash since he had a late start to the season as one of those free agents that took forever to sign with a team. This is his ninth year in the league and he has struggled against the Padres to the tune of a 6.70 ERA in eight starts, four of those at Petco Park, with a 5.84 ERA.

Game 3 (Wednesday, 6:10 PDT)  Joey Lucchesi (3-2, 3.13 ERA) vs. Gio Gonzalez (4-2, 2.33 ERA) 

Lucchesi is still one of the more consistent pitchers in the Padres’ struggling rotation. In seven starts this season, he has a 3.13 ERA and 120 ERA+. He struggled a bit in Friday’s start against the Dodgers in Mexico. One might be willing to give him a pass due to sloppy conditions in a foreign country. He allowed three runs in five innings with five strikeouts. He has only allowed more than three runs once. He has a 2.53 ERA in four starts at home.

Gonzalez is now in his 11th year in the big leagues. This year, he is picking up right where he left off last season when he posted a 2.96 ERA and a 147 ERA+, finishing sixth in the Cy Young voting (and amazingly third on his own team). He has allowed just one run in his past 12 innings, with 13 strikeouts and four walks in that span. He has pitched well in his four career starts at Petco Park, with a 2.55 ERA.

Credit: Getty Images

Hitters to watch

Eric Hosmer is on fire right now. In five games in the month of May, he is hitting .333 with three home runs, a double, a triple, and eight RBI, which is good enough for a whopping 276 wRC+. Hosmer has not disappointed in his first 31 games for the Padres, as he has hovered around .300 and his power is starting to manifest itself, now with five home runs on the year.

Franchy Cordero is evolving as a hitter before our very eyes and it’s wonderful to behold. He does strike out a lot still, with a 33.7% strikeout rate this season. However, in May he is hitting .357 with a 26.3% walk rate and a 171 wRC+. If he continues this trend, he may end up being the best outfielder the Padres have in 2018. His first career plate appearance came against the Nationals; Stephen Strasburg to be exact. I brought that up with him during my interview with him last August, and he smiled and said (referring to Strasburg) “he got me.” He will be looking for revenge on Monday.

Christian Villanueva has tapered off significantly after a white-hot start. He admitted he was pressing too much in his homecoming trip to Mexico this past weekend. Maybe getting back to Petco Park, where he has hit .341 with seven home runs this season, will be the cure. He is hitting .050 in his last five games, with his one hit being a home run. He also committed two errors at third base in Sunday’s win over the Dodgers. Getting back to normal surroundings will hopefully help the ailing rookie.

In the other dugout, Bryce Harper is making an early case for his second MVP award. Despite his .246 average, he leads the National League with 12 home runs and a 174 OPS+. His 1.006 OPS is much thanks to his major league-leading 39 walks, as he has had to adjust to the “Barry Bonds treatment” the last few seasons. He loves hitting at Petco Park, where he hits .417, and he is 3-5 with a home run off of Monday’s starter, Tyson Ross.

Matt Adams has found a new home in D.C. after being the odd man out in St. Louis, and a brief stint with Atlanta last season. He his hitting .296 with eight homers so far in 2018. Five of those home runs have come in the last six games. He is a career .571 hitter against Tyson Ross, but hit just .214 in his 10 career games at Petco Park.

Former Padres’ property Trea Turner is now one of the best shortstops in the National League. He is hitting .281 with two homers, seven doubles, and 12 stolen bases. Turner was drafted by the Padres 13th overall in 2014, but was traded to Washington in the three-team trade that brought Wil Myers to San Diego.

2 thoughts on “Series Preview: Padres Head Back to U.S. and Welcome Harper, Nationals

  1. Great article. Excited for this series, Ross v. Strasburg is looking to be a great matchup. Hopefully the Padres can carry the momentum they built in Mexico.

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