The Giants bullpen threw 20 scoreless innings this weekend vs. Colorado.— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) April 16, 2019
The Nationals bullpen has given up 20 runs in the 8th inning this season.
That alone should feel like a point of optimism, but as our Kenny Kelly noted in his series preview (which you should all read):
The story with the 2019 Giants so far is that they can’t hit starting pitching. Before Sunday’s game, opposing starters had held the Giants to a 2.74 ERA over 85 1/3 innings. If that’s higher than you would have thought, consider that all starters have combined for a 4.32 ERA, so opposing rotations have been a run and a half better against the Giants.
So, even if the Giants had a good chance of holding onto the lead against the Nationals’ middle of the pack offense (104 wRC+), they’d still have no chance of having a lead, given their awfulness against a starting pitcher. Of any stripe, it would seem. As bad as the Nationals’ bullpen has been, its rotation has been good, and tonight, the Giants will face off against one of their non-Scherzer bests in Stephen Strasburg.
Somehow, Strasburg is just 3-3 in his career against the Giants, with a 3.77 ERA in 45.1 innings pitched (he also has 54 strikeouts, but still). The only one of those I remember at all was his first start against them in 2010, after Andres Torres hit a leadoff home run but the Giants still lost 8-1. But back to Zuckerman:
Cool pitching matchup for tonight's Nats-Giants series opener: Stephen Strasburg vs. Dereck Rodriguez, whose father Ivan was behind the plate for Strasburg's MLB debut 9 years ago.— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) April 16, 2019
That is cool. Less cool? Rodriguez’s 4.35 FIP. Remember, FIP is a better predictor of future success than ERA. Last year, he was about a run worse with his FIP versus his ERA (3.74 FIP vs. 2.81 ERA), which is why so many projection systems and pundits were down on Dereck’s prospects heading into this season. Through three starts, the concern is still there 4.35 FIP, but a 4.15 ERA to match.
Still, take a look at that 12:1 strikeouts to walk ratio and tell me it’s not at least interesting. The Nationals’ walk rate is about middle of the pack at 9.4%. Their team slugging percentage of .450 is #11 in MLB, though, so any contact he gives up is likely to be medium or hard hit. If he can avoid compounding the issue with walks, he might keep the Giants in the game. Here’s the Nationals’ lineup:
RF — Adam Eaton
2B — Brian Dozier
3B — Anthony Rendon
LF — Juan Soto
3B — Ryan Zimmerman
C — Kurt Suzuki
SS — Wilmer Difo
SP — Stephen Strasburg
CF — Victor Robles
The other day when the Rockies hit German Marquez eighth and backup catcher Tony Wolters ninth, it was all about maximizing the pinch hitter opportunity. Bud Black figured he’d have to pinch hit for Marquez at some point and didn’t want Wolters batting ahead of what would presumably be a better hitter than both he and Marquez.
Today’s pitcher-batter flip-flop looks to be a lot more about maximizing baserunning opportunities with the “two leadoff men” thinking. Robles is just 22 but has a .962 OPS in 52 plate appearances this season (including three home runs). He’s a power-speed threat but still has a wonky 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio, not great for a leadoff batter.
Last June, the Nationals knocked around Rodriguez in his second major league start, forcing him out after 2.2 innings in which he surrendered five earned runs and six hits and a HBP.
Meanwhile, the Giants are countering with:
RF — Duggar
2B — Panik
C — Posey
1B — Belt
SS — Crawford
3B — Longoria
CF — Pillar
LF — Parra
SP — Rodriguez
That’s the Giants’ #1 lineup and the best the team has been able to do is muster a 52 wRC+, which means they’re 48% worse than league average. That’s the second-worst lineup in baseball, behind the Rockies, who are down three of their starting lineup members thanks to injury.
This bunch has 26 hits in 93 plate appearances against Strasburg and 22 strikeouts to 7 walks. Duggar, Longoria, Panik, and Rodriguez have never faced Stephen Strasburg, but that’s just another opportunity for the prolific strikeout thrower to add more to his career line. His 563 are 15th in MLB since 2016.