Baseball's top two offensive teams from the first month of the season get together for the first game of a three-game series at Nationals Park.
The Nationals (17-8) are coming off a 23-5 shellacking of the Mets on Sunday, featuring a record-setting day by third baseman Anthony Rendon (6 for 6, 3 home runs, 10 RBI). But they've been hitting like that for much of the season, having scored 16, 11 and 15 runs in successive games in Colorado earlier in the week.
The D-backs wrapped up a 6-4 homestand on Sunday with a 2-0, 13-inning victory over the Rockies. Though the bats were silent for much of the Rockies series, they still rank second to Washington with 5.6 runs per game. But they've yet to show that the hitting prowess travels well -- they are batting .211 with 3.1 runs per game through their first 10 road games, compared with .301 and 6.5 at Chase Field.
Walker had his betting outing as a Diamondback in his most recent start on Thursday. He pitched eight innings and struck out a career-high 11 Padres in a 6-2 victory, giving up four hits, no walks and two runs.
He has never pitched against the Nationals.
Walker has gotten a lot of swinging strikes with a high fastball and is averaging 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings, well above his career-high of 8.3. He's also cut his home run rate drastically (1.8 per nine innings last year, 0.9 this year), and if he can maintain that formula, the D-backs might have an emerging ace on their hands.
Heading into tonight's game, D-backs pitchers have struck out 11 or more batters in seven consecutive games, setting a National League record. The major-league record is eight, set by the Indians in 2014.
Roark was the winning pitcher in Colorado in his most recent start on Wednesday, giving up five hits and two runs in five innings.
Roark is 1-1 with a 2.51 ERA in seven career appearances (four starts) vs. the D-backs and was the losing pitcher in a 14-4 decision last September in Washington. Yasmany Tomas has two home runs in six at-bats against him.
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No place to hide
The Nationals' lineup is stacked from top to bottom. They lead the majors in batting average (.295, 24 points better than any team in baseball), slugging (.510), on-base percentage (.369), doubles (58), runs scored (170, 19 more than the D-backs) and are second in home runs (43).
Bryce Harper leads the way with a .391 average, nine home runs, 509 on-base percentage and .772 slugging percentage. He set a major-league record by scoring 32 runs in April. First baseman Ryan Zimmerman is hitting .420 with 11 homers, an .886 slugging percentage and a franchise-record 29 RBI in April. Second baseman Daniel Murphy is hitting .343 with 26 RBI, shortstop Trea Turner is at .317 and catcher Matt Wieters is at .301.
But the Nationals did endure a major blow on Friday when center fielder Adam Eaton suffered a torn ACL that will sideline him for the rest of the season. Michael Taylor, a .226 career hitter, gets first crack at replacing him, but even that might not be much of a respite for the Arizona pitching staff. Taylor is 9 for 22 (.409) with two home runs and 11 RBI in his career against the D-backs.
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Mainstays A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt were at the forefront of the D-backs' successful homestand, which should come as a surprise to no one. Pollock was 15 for 38 (.395) with 10 runs scored and 7 for 7 on stolen base attempts; Goldschmidt was 15 for 33 (.455) with eight walks, 13 RBI and three stolen bases.
The D-backs lead the majors with 32 stolen bases. Pollock, Goldschmidt and Chris Owings have been successful on 24 of 27 attempts, and Goldschmidt has been successful on his last 25 attempts dating back to last August -- the longest streak in the majors.
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Battle of the bullpens?
Both teams will be looking for more consistent results from the bullpen if they hope to sustain their early season success.
The D-backs have a cumulative bullpen ERA of 4.72, which ranks 21st in the majors. They've gotten stellar setup work from Archie Bradley, Jorge De La Rosa and J.J. Hoover, but they've suffered through a couple of catastrophic ninth-inning meltdowns by closer Fernando Rodney, who has a 12.60 ERA, in the past week.
The Nationals have had it even worse, with a 5.70 bullpen ERA. They've already replaced their opening-day closer, Blake Treinen (9.00 ERA), with Shawn Kelley. Kelley has a 5.40 ERA with three saves in 11 appearances. Their set-up corps has been equally shaky.