The Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers figure to be buyers at the trade deadline to patch up respective shortcomings, though they’ve overcome those weaknesses to lead their divisions through the season’s first half.
These clubs look to start off the second half on the right foot as they open a three-game series in the nation’s capital.
Washington (48-39) has been carried offensively by Bryce Harper, who has an outside shot at winning a triple crown. Harper ranks in baseball’s top five in batting average (.339), home runs (26) and RBIs (61). His weighted on-base average of .471 is the best in the majors since Barry Bonds was at .486 in 2002 and he leads baseball with a 4.5 batting WAR, while the next-highest National is Yunel Escobar ranking 54th (0.8).
Washington, which leads the New York Mets by two games in the NL East, ranks a respectable 11th in runs per game with 4.3, though injuries to Jayson Werth, Denard Span, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman are especially beginning to take their toll. The club has hit .215 while splitting its last 10 contests.
"We can’t dwell on them not being here," general manager Mike Rizzo told MLB’s official website. "We’re not thinking and talking about the guys that we don’t have. We’re thinking and talking about the guys that are here and playing for us."
The Dodgers (51-39) own a 4 1/2-game lead over San Francisco in the NL West, having managed to remain in first since the end of May despite a rotation hit by injuries and an inconsistent offense.
They’ve used 12 starting pitchers after losing two-fifths of their rotation for the season, the bullpen has been rocked by injury, and yet they own their largest lead at the break since 2009.
It helps that much of the NL has been playing .500 ball so far.
"I want to stay where we’re at," manager Don Mattingly said. "If that’s what it takes to win a division, then hopefully we do that. How you get in (the playoffs) has zero to do with it."
But it’s been a bit of a patchwork rotation with Friday’s starter Mike Bolsinger (4-3, 3.08 ERA) and Carlos Frias at the back end. Brett Anderson has stepped up as the third starter to salvage a rotation weakened by season-ending surgeries to Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy.
"You got to replace and that’s where you have trouble," Mattingly said. "It has a trickle-down effect on your club."
While Los Angeles figures to be in the market to improve the depth of its rotation, Bolsinger comes off his first quality start in six games, holding Milwaukee to two runs over six innings in Los Angeles’ 3-2 home victory last Friday. The right-hander walked one batter, just the third time in 13 starts he’s issued fewer than two bases on balls.
He owns a 4.55 ERA in six starts since his last win June 8.
Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann (8-5, 3.22) had logged four straight quality starts before yielding four runs and nine hits – including two homers – over five innings Saturday at Baltimore. The righty still picked up his third straight victory in the 7-4 win, however.
"For sure, it wasn’t one of my better outings," said Zimmermann, who is 2-1 with a 5.06 ERA in six career matchups with Los Angeles. "I guess I’m happy about four runs – it could have been worse."
Zimmermann has 19 quality starts in his last 20 home outings going back to June 3, 2014, while Bolsinger is winless in his last 10 road starts dating to May 2014.
Harper, who has hit 21 of his home runs against righties, has homered once in 13 career games against the Dodgers.