Nationals finally get first look at Marlins this weekend

The Nationals are set to do something tonight for the first time this season. No, they won’t be fielding an entirely healthy lineup. That milestone will have to wait for another day down the road.

The Nats will, however, be facing the Marlins for the first time in 2018. Even though the 2018 season is nearly one-third complete.

In one of several odd quirks to the schedule, the Nationals and Marlins have made it to Memorial Day weekend before squaring off for the first of 19 head-to-head games. That’s an awfully late date in the calendar for this to happen. And it means these two division opponents are going to be seeing a whole lot of each other the rest of the way.

There are 114 games remaining on the Nationals’ schedule (including the completion of the game against the Yankees that was suspended in the middle of the sixth inning). Nineteen of those will come against Miami, which equates to 17 percent.

And when you consider that the teams will go more than a month after this weekend before their next tilt (July 5-8 in Washington), that means the Nats will face the Marlins in 16 of their final 77 games, or a whopping 21 percent. Yes, more than 1-in-5 of the Nationals’ games during the second half will come against Miami.

Really, though, the remainder of the season is going to feature a boatload of intra-division games. So far, the Nationals have played only 15 games against the National League East, only 31 percent of the schedule. That means 61 of the final 114 games will come against the Marlins, Mets, Phillies and Braves, a full 54 percent of the remaining slate.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? The good thing is that there are going to be a whole lot of opportunities to catch and then perhaps create some distance from the Braves and Phillies (who currently sit above them in the standings). The bad thing is that any losses to those teams are going to carry extra weight, with ample opportunity for the Nationals to fall farther back in what so far has been a highly competitive race.

First things first, though. The Nats need to take care of business against a Marlins club that is going to finish last in the NL East. Not that these games are going to be gimmes.

The Marlins got off to a wretched, 5-17 start, which was not unexpected. But they’ve quietly played very competitive ball since. They’ve gone 14-13 in the last month, and they’ve won series against the Dodgers, Rockies, Phillies and Mets.

Scherzer-Whips-Gray-Sidebar.jpgOn paper, this weekend’s series certainly looks like a mismatch. Tonight’s opener pits Max Scherzer (7-1, 1.78) vs. José Ureña (0-7, 4.55). Saturday sees Tanner Roark (2-4, 3.39) facing Wei-Yin Chen (1-2, 6.55). And Sunday’s finale has Stephen Strasburg (5-4, 3.36) pitching against 23-year-old Elieser Hernandez (0-1, 2.08) in his third career start.

There’s good reason to believe the Nationals’ rotation will have its way with a Marlins lineup that ranks last in the NL in runs, homers, walks, slugging percentage and OPS. But can their makeshift lineup be counted on to score enough runs to reward their starters for their expected efforts? That’s been the biggest area of concern in recent days.

To date, the Nationals have been able to deal with their injuries and keep themselves within striking distance of the top of the division. One of these days, though, they’re going to need to make their move and vault over the Braves and Phillies. A successful weekend against a Marlins club they’re going to see a lot the rest of the way would be a good place to start.

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