Saturday, June 12, 2021

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Washington Nationals v. Chicago Cubs Series Preview (May 17, 2021 – May 20, 2021)

There is nothing like facing the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field; here is what to expect in this upcoming series against the Chicago Cubs.

After a weekend road trip, the Washington Nationals will head to the windy city to face the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley field after a series win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. 

All eyes will be on former Chicago Cubs Left-handed Pitcher Jon Lester and right fielder Kyle Scharwber as they make their first return to Wrigley since signing with an opposing team. 

Monday; May 17; 2021: Jon Lester (0-1; 2.25 ERA) vs. Adbert Alzolay (1-3; 4.50 ERA)

All eyes will be on former Chicago Fan favorite southpaw Jon Lester as he takes the mound for the first time facing his old team. 

Jon Lester

Jon Lester will make his Wrigley field return as he looks to kick the series off against the Cubs on the right foot for the Washington Nationals. Looking for his first win in 2021, Lester admitted that his return to Chicago would be “emotional.” In speaking with reporters, Lester said, “. “I had to get over some stuff leaving Boston. Chicago was my home for six years. We have a house there. My kids grew up there. You invest in a city, you invest in that place that you’re working. Yeah, there are emotions involved.” Lester and Chicago Cubs fans never got the proper send-off last year due to COVID-19. Therefore, this will be the first time that the Cubs fans will get a chance to honor the left-handed pitcher, who helped bring a World Series Championship to the Cubs back in 2017.

“I look forward to it,” Lester said. “I’m glad fans are in the stands. It’ll be nice to see the faces in the stands and get back to normalcy there.”

As for facing his former teammates, the trash-talking began in spring training as Lester is most excited about staring down first baseman Anthony Rizzo. The two share a bond; the Boston Red Sox drafted both players, and both players beat cancer while with that organization.

“That will probably be the matchup that will stand out the most to me,” Lester said. “I might have to invent something out there. I’m pretty much inventing stuff as I go as it is. Maybe throw a knuckleball or two or mix something in like that.”

 In his last start, against the Philadelphia Phillies, Lester went six innings giving up only one run off six hits. Lester had four strikeouts and only gave up three walks in the 5-2 loss. 

So far this season, Lester has pitched a total of 16 innings over three games, and has struck out 10, and has a WHIP of 1.375

Adbert Alzolay

After short stints in the majors in 2019 and 2020, the right-handed pitcher has secured a spot in the Cubs pitching rotation and will face the Washington Nationals hitting. Alzolay has had strong performances over his first six starts of 2021, going 1-3 with a 4.50 ERA, but if you dig deeper into the changes in his pitches. 

In 2020, Alzolay was mostly a three-pitch pitcher: Curveballs (33.1 percentage rate in 2020); fastballs, a four-seam fastball (31.5), and sometimes threw his sinker. However, this year, instead of using his fastball pitches, the right-hander has started to throw his slider more than ever before with a 46.3 percent use rate. 

According to BaseballSavant’s Pitch Arsenal leaderboard, Alzolay’s slider is the 44th best pitch in the league in terms of run value with a -5 mark (in this case, negative is good). Looking at just the sliders, Alzolay is the sixth-best in the majors. Opposing batters are hitting .138 and slugging a measly .200 against Alzolay’s slider. They’re also swinging and missing a lot. Hitters are whiffing on 41.6 percent of their swings against his slider and striking out against the pitch 36.2 percent of the time.

Tuesday, May 18: Patrick Corbin (2-3; 6.19 ERA) vs. Zach Davies (2-2; 5.60 ERA)

Patrick Corbin looks to build upon his solid performance against the Philadelphia Phillies, as he faces the Chicago Cubs in game 2 of the 4 game series.

Patrick Corbin 

If there was one Washington Nationals pitcher who has had a rough start to the 2021 season, then if you guessed Patrick Corbin you would be right. Over Corbin’s last seven games, the left-hander has pitched 6 and third innings, giving up 36 hits, 25 earned runs, striking out 29, and walking 14.

With a 3.52 ERA and a .229/.286/.494 against in four starts and 23 innings and after facing the New York Yankees, Corbin feels that a turnaround is nearing. I think so,” he said. “Physically I feel great. thought my fastball was good today. I think that’s just going to continue to improve. And I think the slider is going to get better and better as it goes here, starts warming up and things like that.”

(Related Article: Where has the 2019 Patrick Corbin gone? Or was it ever there?)

It showed in Corbin’s last start against the Philadelphia Phillies, where he gave up only one run on five hits in seven innings of work. During his latest outing against the Phillies, Corbin threw 49 sliders out of his 102 pitches and got a total of 13 swinging strikes by using the slider.

The last time that Corbin faced a Chicago Cubs lineup was in 2018 when he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 2018, Corbin faced 48 Cubbies and only gave up four runs on 11 hits. Chicago Cubs hitters back in 2018 had a .229 batting average, .333 slugging percentage and a .578 OPS. 

Corbin is now a different pitcher, he has had some great success against some of the Cubs power hitters such as Kris Bryant (5-1), Wilson Contreras(6-0) and Anthony Rizzo (6-2). 

Zach Davies

This season, Davis has gone 2-2 with an ERA of 5.60 in eight games pitched. Davis has pitched a total of 35 and a third innings striking out 22 and walking 21 which posted a 1.78 WHIP.

You would have to go all the way back to 2017, the last time that any Washington Nationals’ faced Davies when he was with the Milwaukee Brewers. In 2017, Washington Nationals hitters had a total of 50 at bats and only nine hits and scored two runs. 

In his last start against the Cleveland Indians, Zach Davies went 5 and a-third innings and struck out four Cleveland hitters. He only gave up one run on six hits and only walked two. 

Wednesday, May 19: Max Scherzer (3-2; 2.10 ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (4-3; 4.10 ERA)

A solid must watch matchup between Washington Nationals Ace Max Scherzer and former and now Chicago Cub Jake Arrieta. 

Max Scherzer

The Nationals Ace has been lights out over his past seven games. Scherzer has gone 3-2 with a 1.59 ERA with 59 strikeouts, eight walks, and only giving up eight runs over 45 and a third innings pitched. In Scherzer’s last appearance against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Scherzer went five innings, giving up only two hits, no runs, striking out seven, and only walking two, in the Nationals 17-2 win. 

(Related Article: Is it time to think about trading Max Scherzer?)

Scherzer has had some success against Cubs hitters. In 2019, when facing Chicago Cub hitters, Scherzer gave up three runs, six hits and pitched a total of 25 innings. Cubs hitters have a batting average of .240 and a slugging percentage of .400 

Jake Arrieta

During Wednesday’s game, the Nationals will face right-handed pitcher Jake Arrieta. During the off-season, Arrieta signed back with the Chicago Cubs after a two-year stint in Philadelphia. Arrieta agreed to a 1-year, $6 million contract, including a mutual option for the 2022 season.  

In Arrieta’s last appearance against the Cincinnati Reds, Arrieta only pitched three and a third, giving up seven hits and seven earned runs and only striking out two and walking one. 

Arrieta throws five different pitches: 

  • Four-seam fastball;
  • Two-seam fastball;
  • Slider/Cutter; 
  • Curveball and a 
  • Changeup. 

Arrieta’s fastball averages around 93-94 mph and sometimes reaches the upper-90s. Last year, Washington Nationals hitters went 16-3, giving up only one home run, and Nationals hitters have a .188 batting average and a .438 slugging percentage. 

Thursday, May 20: Joe Ross (2-3; 5.80 ERA) vs. Trevor Williams (2-2; 6.27 ERA)

Joe Ross and Trevor Williams will close out the four game set for the Washington Nationals and the Chicago Cubs. 

Joe Ross

Joe Ross has an up and down 2021 so far after sitting out in 2020 due to COVID-19. Ross’s last appearance against the Arizona Diamondbacks didn’t go so well, as Ross got his third loss of the 2021 season. Ross only lasted four innings and was charged with eight earned runs on eight hits and three walks. 

(Related Article: Perspective: The Washington Nationals Pitching Crossroads)

Before his April 19 appearance against the St. Louis Cardinals, Ross held opponents to two or fewer runs. However, on the 19th, the Cardinals tagged Ross with ten earned runs on eight hits in 4⅓ innings. 

Trevor Williams

During the offseason, the Chicago Cubs signed the right-handed 29-year-old free agent Trevor Williams. Williams, over the eight games he has pitched this season so far, Williams has gone 2-2 with an ERA of 6.27 and has pitched a total of 33 innings, giving up 42 hits, 23 runs, six home runs, 18 walks, and 37 strikeouts. 

The last time the Nationals faced Williams was in 2019 when he was a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The only Washington Nationals hitter that has success against Williams is Trea Turner. Turner has a batting average of .500, a slugging percentage of 2.000 with two at-bats, and has one hit, one home run, and three RBI’s off Williams. 

Nationals Keys to the Series 

Consistent Hitting

The Nationals hitting needs to be a lot more consistent as they face a very interesting set of Cubs pitchers. The Nationals need to continue to see production from Turner, Robles, Bell and Schwarber so the team can put together a bit of a winning streak. 

Pitching Excellence especially from Corbin

I can speak for everyone, I hope that Patrick Corbin is able to build upon his last successful outing which was against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Nationals need Corbin to be in his 2019 form as Stephen Strasburg comes ever closer to returning to the lineup.