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September 21, 2012

What You Need to Know

Friday, September 21

by Daniel Rathman

The Thursday Takeaway
The last time Washington D.C. played host to post-season baseball, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in his first year in office, and the world was in the midst of the Great Depression. By defeating the Dodgers, 4-1, on Thursday night, the Nationals ensured that the city’s 78-year drought would soon come to end.

Yesterday’s win merely made official what had been obvious for weeks—that Davey Johnson’s team was one of the best in the senior circuit, and that it deserved a berth in the playoffs. The Nationals held a low-key celebration in their clubhouse after the game, recognizing their accomplishment while also acknowledging that there is plenty of work to be done. For one thing, the National League East remains un-clinched; for another, Cincinnati is right on Washington’s tail, putting the number-one seed and home-field advantage throughout October at stake.

But even as an intermediate step, and a formality, Thursday’s victory was significant for the Nationals, who shut down Stephen Strasburg two weeks ago, then watched the Dodgers shell John Lannan for six runs in 3 2/3 innings on Wednesday. That’s because Ross Detwiler, now a key member of Johnson’s post-season rotation, looked as good as ever, holding Los Angeles to just one run on three hits in six frames, while walking one and fanning five. Detwiler breezed through the Dodgers’ order on 32 pitches through the first three innings, before Mark Ellis went deep leading off the fourth, the only blemish on the left-hander’s line.

As Washington Post beat writer Adam Kilgore pointed out, Detwiler has now logged a lower ERA (3.10) than Strasburg in nearly as many innings. Barring any injuries during the final two weeks of the season, he figures to draw the Game Four assignment behind—in some order—Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Edwin Jackson. And, if the past two months are any indication, the Nationals should be confident that the 26-year-old will give them a chance to win.

In the meantime, they can focus on capturing the East and fending off the Reds, while the Dodgers tackle an increasingly steep climb up the wild-card table. After spending two days as adversaries, the teams now have an opportunity to help each other by helping themselves. 

The Brewers are next on Washington’s docket, and the Dodgers would love nothing more than for the Nationals to get Ron Roenicke’s team out of their way. That’s because by beating Pittsburgh, 9-7, on Thursday, Milwaukee moved a half-game ahead of the Dodgers in the standings, putting yet another damper on their already-long odds. The Brewers will send Shaun Marcum to the hill in the series opener, hoping that the 30-year-old—who, incidentally, shares an alma mater (Missouri State) with Detwiler—can halt a disturbing trend that has pushed his ERA up from 3.19 to 3.91 over his last four starts. Marcum fanned a career-high 11 in his lone career start against the Nationals, but that came against a very different roster way back on June 16, 2007, when Marcum was still a Blue Jay and Jackson, who will get the ball for Washington, was busy going 5-15 for the Rays (Friday, 7:05 p.m. ET).

Five minutes after that game gets underway, the Dodgers will take their hacks versus Reds right-hander Bronson Arroyo, desperately hoping to gain ground on the Cardinals, who are currently three games ahead of Los Angeles for second place, but play earlier in the afternoon. Arroyo has not yet faced the Dodgers this season, but he has plenty of experience against the slumping Adrian Gonzalez, and the results have not been pretty for the first baseman. Gonzalez is just 3-for-26 in his past encounters with Arroyo, and he remains homer-less since his very first at-bat for L.A. That needs to change post haste, and Joe Blanton—who has served up 29 big flies in 179 1/3 innings this season—is likely to require help from his offense to deliver a win at Great American Ball Park (Friday, 7:10 p.m. ET).

What Else to Watch for This Weekend

  • Chris Carpenter, who has been on the disabled list while recovering from shoulder surgery since spring training, still hopes to salvage what he can from an essentially lost season. The 37-year-old righty returns to the mound in this afternoon’s series opener at Wrigley Field, with an opportunity to help the Cardinals pad their 2 ½-game lead over the Brewers. Carpenter will take on Chris Volstad, who allowed four runs over six innings in both of his tries versus St. Louis back in April. After losing 12 of Volstad’s first 13 starts this season, the Cubs have emerged victorious in four of his past five (Friday, 2:20 p.m. ET).
  • With their magic number now down to three, the Giants can wrap up the National League West title by Sunday if they sweep the Padres in the penultimate regular-season series at AT&T Park, or possibly even sooner if they get help from the Reds. Now that the division crown is all but sealed, Bruce Bochy can spend the last week and a half of the season getting his starting pitchers, who have scuffled throughout September, back on track. R.J. Anderson chronicled Ryan Vogelsong’s recent woes earlier this week and expressed optimism about the northpaw’s ability to right his ship after failing to complete the fourth inning in two of his three starts this month. Bud Black’s squad knocked Vogelsong around for eight hits in three innings at Petco Park on Aug. 19, but all eight were singles, and no active member of the Padres has ever hit a home run against him. The visitors will counter with rookie Casey Kelly, who has sandwiched a pair of quality starts around two duds in his first four big-league outings, logging a 17-to-4 K:BB through 20 innings of work (Friday, 10:15 p.m. ET).
  • Dropping two of three games in Detroit did little to harm the A’s post-season chances, because the Tigers are still six games back and the Angels lost their home series to the Rangers. Oakland still enjoys a 4 ½-game cushion with only 12 left to play, so—after Brett Anderson went down with an oblique injury—its focus in the Bronx will be as much on staying healthy as on beating the Yankees. Bob Melvin’s rotation now consists of Travis Blackley and four first-year starters, who will be asked to keep the team afloat over the next two weeks. Meanwhile, in the midst of an outstanding rookie campaign, Yoenis Cespedes has gone 7-for-15 with two home runs in three games against the Yankees, including a 3-for-4 effort against Saturday’s opponent, Ivan Nova. He, like Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, will make his Bronx debut this weekend (Saturday, 1:05 p.m. ET).
  • Speaking of debuts, Royals fans will catch their first glimpse of top pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi on Sunday, as the righty is scheduled to make his first major-league appearance in the series finale against the Indians. Odorizzi, who was acquired from the Brewers in the Zack Greinke deal, split the minor-league season between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha, amassing a 3.03 ERA and a 135-to-50 K:BB over 25 starts. The 22-year-old righty ranked fourth on Kevin Goldstein’s Top 11 list this past winter, and he could cement a spot in Kansas City’s rotation as soon as 2013, with a chance to blossom into a number-two or –three starter down the road (Sunday, 2:10 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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