The Washington Nationals (14-5) will head to Los Angeles today to face the Dodgers (13-6) in a battle for supremacy atop the National League.
Top Flight Hitting vs. Smothering Pitching
The Nationals and the Dodgers have both been two teams of note since this season began, although for different reasons.
The Dodgers have been led by Matt Kemp, who has been tearing it up at the plate, and leads all of Major League Baseball in batting average, slugging percentage, RBI's and home runs. Kemp's insane .449 average is by far the best in baseball, and his 1.455 OPS sets him on a historic pace. Small sample sizes aside, it's safe to say the Dodgers can hit the ball.
The Nationals have been excelling from the opposite vantage point - because of their superb performance on the mound they have assumed the nickname "K Street" in honor of their abundant strikeouts (most in the Major Leagues with 169). With Ross Detwiler and his minuscule 0.56 ERA getting the first start, it should be worth staying up past 10 p.m. EST to see if his .193 opposing batting average goes up, or if the Dodgers' success at the plate dims.
Either way a trend is going to be broken: Kemp has hit eight home runs in his last 12 games, while the Nationals have given up the lowest number of home runs in baseball, four.
The focus on the Dodgers' hitting ability is not meant to underscore their pitching. They have a team ERA of 3.21 with 159 strikeouts, and boast arguably the best pitcher in baseball in Clayton Kershaw. The Nationals' bats will need to stay hot in order to defend their comfortable seat at the top of the National League wins column.
Recent success and a new outlook
After falling to the Braves Wednesday, the Dodgers surrendered their second series loss of the season. The Nationals, though, have won every series they have played this season. They took their sixth series win from the Padres with a victory Wednesday, despite losing game three last night.
The Nationals have won 17 of the 41 games they have played against the Dodgers since coming to Washington in 2005. However, I think most people would agree that this is a new Nationals from what the Dodgers have encountered in the past.
Matt Kemp (CF) .449 AVG, .942 SLG, 23 RBI, 10 HR (leads MLB in all of those categories)
Andre Ethier (RF) .288 AVG, .562 SLG, 22 RBI, 4 HR
Clayton Kershaw (LHP) 1.61 ERA, 22.1 IP, 22 SO
Dee Gordon (SS) .239 AVG, 16 SO, 0 HR
Chad Billingsley (RHP) last start allowed 9 runs (5 earned) in 3.1 IP, 2 SO, Dodgers fell to the Astros 12-0
Friday, April 27: Detwiler (2-0, 0.56) vs. Kershaw (1-0, 1.61)
Saturday, April 28: Strasburg (2-0, 1.08) vs. Billingsley (2-1, 3.04)
Sunday. April 29: Gonzalez (2-0, 1.52) vs. Capuano (2-0, 3.52)
Rain, rain, go away
Many baseball fans were eagerly anticipating what should have been a Strasburg, Kershaw face-off this weekend. However, a postponement due to rain last Sunday put the Nationals rotation behind by a day. Manager Davey Johnson did not want to alter the slated starting rotation in any way, so the baseball world will be deprived of what surely would have been a pitchers duel at its finest.
Will the Dodgers' mighty Ks, Kemp and Kershaw, be a match for the powerhouse that is Washington's "K Street"? It starts tonight.