It’s Opening Day, baseball’s New Year, and the Nationals are set to kick off their opening series with the Miami Marlins today at 1:05 EST. The Nationals enter this season with the highest of expectations, while the Marlins enter the year with arguably the lowest. But, anything is possible. So let’s take a Q&A-style look at the series with some help from Ehsan Kassim, editor of Marlin Maniac (marlinmaniac.com).
Michael Natelli: The Nationals enter this season as many peoples’ favorites to win the World Series. The Marlins, on the other hand, are many analysts’ favorites to win the first overall draft pick next June. With that in mind, along with the trio of pitchers the Marlins will be facing, do you realistically see them taking a game in this series?
Ehsan Kassim: I want to say yes, but my gut says no. But, I will go with yes. The Marlins might be able to steal the finale. The pitching matchup is in the Nationals favor, but it’s the only pitching matchup this series that is not completely one-sided. I think Wade LeBlanc will be able to limit the Nationals lineup. The question will be if the Marlins can score any runs.
MN: It’s easy to take one player, such as Giancarlo Stanton, out of a game offensively when the lineup around him is weak. So aside from Stanton, who needs to step up if the Marlins are going to at least steal one game?
EK: If the Marlins are to steal a game, the offensive player outside of Stanton that would need to step up would be Chris Coghlan. The Marlins have decided to go with a platoon situation in center, and with two tough right-handed pitchers going, Coghlan will likely get two starts in center. He will be batting in front of Stanton, so what he does will be a major key to what kind of pitches Stanton sees. Since its the first week of the season, Stanton won’t necessarily be as dominant just yet.
MN: What’s one potential advantage the Marlins could have over the Nationals in this series?
EK: The Marlins have nothing to lose. The Nationals are the favorites to win the NL East and many don’t think the Marlins will be even close. This sets up a lot of pressure on the Nationals to go out and beat a clearly inferior team. Can the Nationals handle the pressure? We don’t know, there were no expectations last season on them, and they surprised everyone. Now the role has reversed for the Nats.
MN: With a team like the Astros taking it to the Rangers last night, it shows that any team can win on any night. What will allow the Marlins to do the same thing to the Nationals in this series?EK: The basics. The Marlins will need to play strong defense and put the ball in play or draw walks. Striking out and make fielding errors cannot be allowed. The Marlins need to be on their “A” game and the Nats must be slightly off.
MN: Do you expect Ricky Nolasco’s displeasure with his situation to effect his numbers on Monday and during this year?EK: Possibly, but in a good way. Nolasco is in the final season of his contract and a good year could be the difference in millions of dollars for him in free agency next year. Nolasco will be pitching for selfish reasons. The Marlins moves did not sit well with him, but he probably realizes he only has half a season with the Marlins left. I doubt the Marlins hold onto Nolasco past the trade deadline.
MN: Stanton is notorious for his Nat-killing prowess, and may be the one edge the Marlins have on Washington at the moment. As a Marlins fan, do you feel it’d be smart to aid the rebuilding effort and deal Stanton for top prospects? Or is Stanton the leader of this team long-term?
EK: I want the Marlins to offer Stanton a mega extension. If he declines, then I would try to trade him for the best package after this season. If I were Loria, I would prefer to keep Stanton for the long run. He is once in a generation type of player. At the age of 23, he has already emerged as the best power hitter in baseball. You build around players like him and don’t trade those types. But if he does not want to sign in Miami long term, you put him on the market for what could be one of the biggest prospect hauls ever.
MN (Bonus): What is there more of in the series: Marlins baserunners, or strikeouts by Marlins pitchers?EK: Marlins base runners. I don’t see the trio of Nolasco, Slowey, and LeBlanc overpowering many Nationals hitters with strikeouts. The Nationals will likely walk Stanton a few times, so that is a good start.