Spotlight Series: Rays at Nationals (June 19-21)

I don't like featuring a team twice in a row…but that was bound to happen this week, as the two best matchups featured the Nationals and Yankees, who were in the last spotlight series. But considering that the Yankees are playing the Braves, who they just swept last week, I decided to go with a fresh matchup, pitting two very young teams against each other: the Rays, and the Nationals.

This series features some of the best young pitching in baseball, with each team having two young (and dynamic) starters going in this series, and one "other" starter. Game one will pit David Price against Chien-Ming Wang. Price got beaten within an inch of his life in his last start against the Mets, giving up seven runs in five innings, though he did strike out eight while walking just three. Prior to that start, Price had allowed just three earned runs in his previous four starts, striking out 25 and walking 12 in 26 1/3 innings. As for Wang, he's been unimpressive in four starts this year. He's walked 11 and struck out ten in 17 1/3 innings, and has allowed nine runs. Wang hasn't finished the sixth inning in any of his starts either.

Game two is a much taller order for the Rays. They'll send 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson to the hill to take on Stephen Strasburg, one of the best pitchers in baseball. Like Price, Hellickson got rocked his last time out against the Mets. Hellickson had none of the positive takeaways that Price did, allowing eight runs in 3 2/3 innings and giving up three homers and one walk without striking out a single Mets batter all game. Before that outing, Hellickson walked seven in 4 1/3 against the Marlins. Despite a 3.45 ERA for the season, Hellickson is striking out fewer than two batters for every walk, and has allowed 13 homers on the year. And then, there's the dominating Strasburg. Over his last three starts, he's allowed four runs in 19 innings, walking three and striking out 30. He's yet to get truly lit up this year, and has struck out 100 batters in 77 innings, only walking 20 and allowing five homers.

The series finale on Thursday night is the only stud versus stud matchup of the series, as Matt Moore starts for the Rays against Gio Gonzalez of the Nationals. Moore has been very hot and cold this year, but is coming off of a dominant performance against the Marlins. Moore allowed just one hit over seven innings, walking three and striking out eight. Despite winning three straight decisions, Moore's ERA is still over 4.00, and hasn't dipped below that mark since his first start of the season. Gonzalez has been an absolute monster for Washington, striking out 97 in 78 2/3 innings while giving up just one homer on the year. Gonzalez hasn't allowed more than three runs in a start since Opening Day, and hasn't struck out less than five batters in a game all year. He's been pretty damn good this year, and there's no way anyone can argue that.

The Rays have struggled on offense this year, and with Evan Longoria being out (and a return not on the horizon after aggravating his partially torn hamstring last night), it doesn't look like they're going to be getting much better. The team has just a .645 OPS this month, and they've only hit nine homers. Ben Zobrist has been awesome lately, homering three times and walking more than he's struck out for the month. Eliot Johnson (who's gained a ton of playing time with Longoria out) and Matt Joyce have also been very good this month for the Rays, but aside from those three, it's been a horror show. Carlos Pena hasn't homered all month, and has 17 strikeouts (although, the 16 walks are quite sexy) in 15 games. Brand spanking new DH Hideki Matsui has been awful. He homered in two of his first three games with the Rays, and has just one extra base hit since. It really hasn't been a good time offensively for the Rays all year.

Washington's offense has been powered by one man lately: 19 year-old rookie Bryce Harper (of course). Harper has three homers this month, and has also added four doubles. However, he leads the team in neither category for the month, thanks to Adam LaRoche's four homers (and two doubles) and Danny Espinosa's six doubles (and one homer). However, Harper does lead the team with 19 hits and nine runs, and his six walks are tied for the team high. Despite 17 homers for the team this month, they only have a .692 OPS, thanks to only 40 walks in 14 games, an average of less than three per game. The Nationals are lighting the basepaths on fire though, stealing 13 bases this month while only being caught once. Before this month, the Nationals were just 25/41 on stolen base attempts. Imagine that.

Now, a pick. I'm awful at this. I'll say the Rays win tonight, while the Nationals win the final two games of the series with Strasburg and Gonzalez on the hill. Don't expect a ton of offense here.

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About Joe Lucia

I'm the managing editor of Awful Announcing and the news editor of The Comeback. I also made The Outside Corner a thing for six seasons.