Yes, this weekend's series against the Orioles is significant for the Nationals. But it also represents the start of a very significant stretch of games that could go a long toward determining whether this franchise is going to keep itself at or near the top of the NL East all summer.
Beginning tonight, the Nats will play 33 consecutive games against teams that currently own winning records: the Orioles (twice), Phillies, Braves (twice), Marlins, Mets, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Rays. Wow, good luck with that.
First things first, of course. Tonight, it'll be Edwin Jackson on the mound against Baltimore's Jake Arrieta. Plenty of updates and analysis to come throughout the game, so please check the Nats Insider live game thread often...
BALTIMORE ORIOLES at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WWXT (92.7 FM), WWXX (94.3 FM), WTEM (980 AM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 183
Weather: Mostly clear, 72 degrees, Wind 8 mph in from RF
SS Ian Desmond
LF Roger Bernadina
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
RF Bryce Harper
2B Danny Espinosa
CF Rick Ankiel
C Jesus Flores
RHP Edwin Jackson
LF Xavier Avery
SS J.J. Hardy
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
3B Wilson Betemit
1B Chris Davis
2B Robert Andino
RHP Jake Arrieta
Nationals (58-41) vs. Indians (56-41) at Progressive Field
The Nationals are beginning their road trip in Cleveland on Tuesday night with several notable changes to their lineup, just in time for a big interleague series against the first-place Indians.
In center field for the first time will be Trea Turner, who remains in the lineup despite Ryan Zimmerman coming off the disabled list. Turner has six games of experience playing outfield in the minor leagues, but has never done so in the majors. Turner spoke on Sunday about how he feels ready for the challenge of playing center field.
Bryce Harper is back in the starting lineup, but is now hitting second. And Ben Revere is in at left field with Jayson Werth serving as the designated hitter.
The pitching matchup is a good one with Gio Gonzalez (6-8, 4.53) set to square off against Danny Salazar (11-3, 2.75). Gonzalez is hoping to build off his strong outing of six innings and one run allowed in his last start.
First pitch: 7:10 p.m.
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Gio Gonzaez vs. Indians - Danny Salazar
CF Trea Turner
RF Bryce Harper
2B Daniel Murphy
C Wilson Ramos
DH Jayson Werth
3B Anthony Rendon
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Danny Espinosa
LF Ben Revere
(LHP Gio Gonzalez)
RHP Danny Salazar
Ryan Zimmerman has been reinstated off the 15-day disabled list, the Nationals announced Tuesday.
The veteran infielder sprained his rib cage in the first week of July and was retroactively placed on the 15-day DL on July 7.
Zimmerman, who was batting .221 with 44 runs, 38 RBIs and 12 HRs before his injury will be back in the lineup on Tuesday when the Nationals open a three-game road series against the Cleveland Indians Monday night.
The 31-year-old will bat sevenths and play first base.
With Zimmerman back at first base, Daniel Murphy will move back to second base and rookie Trea Turner will move from second to center field, his first-career start in center field.
The Nationals are 58-41, and lead the N.L. East by five games despite losing five of their last seven games.
RELATED: TAKING STOCK OF PROSPECTS AND SLUMPS
The Nationals have enjoyed some very good luck with their first round picks in recent years, from Bryce Harper to Stephen Strasburg to Anthony Rendon. Lucas Giolito is still in the very early stages of his MLB career, but looks like a future star.
That has not always been the case for Washington, though, as they swung and missed on plenty of draft picks before Mike Rizzo took over as GM. One of their busts was a left-handed pitcher named Josh Smoker, whom they took with the 31st overall pick in 2007.
Smoker never pitched for the Nats, but has finally reached the majors now nine years later. The New York Mets called him up on Tuesday for his long awaited MLB debut.
Smoker is now 27 and joins the Mets after posting a 4.73 ERA in 43 games at Triple-A Las Vegas. Last year he had a 3.12 ERA across three Mets affiliates.
With his numbers this year, it's hard to tell what type of impact he will make for the Mets in the majors. But if he sticks around, it could make for an interesting storyline in the Nats-Mets rivalry.
[RELATED: State of the Nats: Turner's pickoff steal, Indians next]
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