WASHINGTON NATIONALS (39-35)
at MILWAUKEE BREWERS (47-30)
First pitch: Monday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: Milwaukee -115, Washington +105, Total: 8
Two teams leading their respective divisions, the Nationals and Brewers, go head-to-head in the opener of their three-game series starting Monday night.
The Nationals have jumped back into first place in the NL East after winning four of their past six games; including 2-of-4 against division foe Atlanta. After losing the first two contests of the series, Washington was able to get big pitching performances from its starters and outscore the Braves 7-1 over the final two games. The pitching staff allowed only four hits and a run in Sunday afternoon’s 4-1, series-tying win, as their offense had timely hits while going just 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position. 2B Anthony Rendon (.275 BA) has been having a big year, and is 9-for-25 (.360) with four doubles, two home runs, 8 RBI and five runs over his past six games. Milwaukee has been the surprise team of the season as it currently holds a five-game lead over the Cardinals in the NL Central after winning 11 of 15 games, including four in a row. The Brewers most recently swept the Rockies in a three-game set, as they put on an offensive show, averaging 9.3 runs per game and capping off the sweep with an exciting 6-5 victory on Sunday afternoon. They hit six home runs over the series in the thin air of Colorado with 3B Aramis Ramirez (.297 BA) hitting two of them. He has gone 17-for-39 (.436) with five doubles, three home runs, 11 RBI and nine runs over his past 10 games played. The pitching matchup for this contest will put LHP Gio Gonzalez (3-4, 4.85 ERA) of the Nationals up against RHP Matt Garza (4-4, 4.02 ERA) for the host Brewers. This season, Washington is 16-18 in road games while Milwaukee is a solid 20-15 when playing in front of its hometown fans. These two clubs have now faced each other 15 times over the past three years, with the Nationals holding a 9-6 edge overall, including a 5-2 mark in Milwaukee over that time. Some trends to keep an eye on in this contest include the Nationals going 15-3 against NL Central opponents over the past two seasons while going just 9-27 (.250) as a road underdog of +100 to +125 in the same timeframe. On the injury front, both OF Bryce Harper (thumb) and C Wilson Ramos (hamstring) are doing rehab assignments in the minors for Washington while the Brewers have no significant injuries coming into this contest.
Gio Gonzalez has not looked like his usual self this season as he carries his highest ERA (4.85) since the 2009 campaign. Most of his peripheral numbers have looked similar though, as he is striking out a solid 9.5 batters per nine innings while allowing just five home runs in 55.2 IP (0.81 HR/9). His bloated ERA has come from batters hitting .320 BABIP, and the fact that he is holding just 67.6% of runners on base. Gonzalez has not pitched well over his past three starts, averaging only 4.1 innings per outing while giving up 16 runs (11.68 ERA), which has caused his ERA to jump from 2.91 to 4.85 in that time. Gonzalez has gone up against the Brewers just twice in his career, going 1-0 (2-0 team record) with a 2.77 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. When he last faced them on Sept. 22, 2012, he was very impressive, allowing only two unearned runs on three hits and one walk with five strikeouts in seven frames. C Jonathan Lucroy has faced the lefty just three times, but is 2-for-2 against him with a walk. Meanwhile, big names like OF Ryan Braun (1-for-6, 2 K’s) and OF Carlos Gomez (1-for-7) have not done well in the matchup. Washington’s relievers have combined to go 12-10 with an impressive 2.50 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, and have saved 17-of-22 games (77%). Closer Rafael Soriano (1.16 ERA, 17 saves) is 17-for-19 in his save opportunities this year while allowing just 17 hits in 31 innings on the mound.
Matt Garza has been having a solid season despite his lowest strikeout rate (6.7 K/9) since 2008. While his strikeouts have gone down, so have his home runs allowed, as just seven players have gone deep against him in 94 frames this year (0.67 HR/9). His ERA has slowly been dropping, and is now close to going under 4.00 after allowing just six runs over his past four starts (27 IP). Garza is 2-0 in those outings and earned a win his last time out on Wednesday when he faced the Diamondbacks, tossing 7.2 innings while allowing three runs (2 ER) on seven hits and no walks with four strikeouts. Garza has not always had his best performances against the Nationals though, going 0-1 (2-2 team record) with a 6.41 ERA and 1.73 WHIP while actually getting a quality start in each of his past two times facing them. Both 1B Adam LaRoche (2-for-3, 1 HR, 2 RBI) and OF Jayson Werth (3-for-10, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 5 K’s) have done well against Garza in the past, while SS Ian Desmond is hitless with three strikeouts in six at-bats against him. Milwaukee’s bullpen has been solid this season, going 14-11 with a 3.55 ERA and 1.33 WHIP while successfully saving 26-of-35 games (74%) this year. Francisco Rodriguez (2.35 ERA, 25 saves) leads the league in saves while blowing just two, and has a solid 43:9 K-to-BB ratio over 38.1 frames.