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Diamondbacks set to begin post-Zack Greinke era against Nationals

Arizona Diamondbacks' Adam Jones (10) greets teammate Nick Ahmed (13) after scoring on a base hit by Jake Lamb during the third inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Monday, July 22, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The 2019 MLB trade deadline has come and gone. And so has Zack Greinke.

The D-backs ace was dealt on Wednesday to the Houston Astros in exchange for four prospects, three of which are top-five in the Astros organization, per MLB Pipeline, proving that general manager Mike Hazen is building toward the future.

But there are still two months of baseball to be played and Arizona isn’t quite out of playoff contention just yet. The D-backs sit 3.5 games out of the Wild Card coming into Friday with their next two series being against the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies, both of which are tied with the Chicago Cubs for the last two playoff spots.

Arizona will begin a six-game homestand that starts with a weekend series with the Nationals. The two teams split a four-game series in Washington the last time they played each other back in June.

The D-backs are coming off a less than stellar nine-game stretch in which they went 4-5 and 3-4 against the Baltimore Orioles and Miami Marlins, two of the worst teams in all of baseball.

However, the Nationals aren’t playing their best baseball at the moment either. Washington is 5-5 in their last 10, but the last six have come against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, two of the best teams in all of baseball.

Friday night’s matchup will see right-handed pitcher Joe Ross go up against up-and-comer Alex Young.

Ross is 0-3 on the year with a 9.85 ERA, 25 strikeouts, 13 walks, and a 2.11 WHIP in 24.2 innings pitched over 19 outings, most of which have been out of the bullpen. The series opener will be only the second start for Ross on the 2019 campaign.

Arizona hitters haven’t seen Ross much in their careers, as Wilmer Flores leads the team in at-bats with 14 to go along with a .214 batting average and three RBIs. Jake Lamb and David Peralta are next up with five and three at-bats, respectively. Lamb is batting .400 against Ross with 1 RBI, while Peralta is batting .333.

Young continues his strong 2019 campaign, as the lefty is 4-0 with a 2.51 ERA, 20 punchouts, seven walks and a 0.84 WHIP in 28.2 innings pitched (five starts). In those five starts, he has gone five-plus innings while allowing two or fewer runs four times. Obviously with this being his rookie season, the Nationals have yet to face the rookie.

Saturday night will be all about the starting pitchers, as Stephen Strasburg goes up against lefty, and now presumably new D-backs ace, Robbie Ray.

Strasburg is arguably in the best form of his career of late. The Nationals starter is 14-4 (tied for MLB wins lead) with a 3.26 ERA, 168 punchouts (fourth in NL), 34 walks and a 1.04 WHIP (fifth in NL) in 22 starts (140.2 innings pitched). Of late, the right-hander has won seven consecutive starts, including a 5-0 July with a 1.14 ERA, 44 strikeouts and only seven walks.

But just because Strasburg is on fire at the moment doesn’t mean the D-backs don’t have a chance. The former No. 1 overall pick has struggled to put away the likes of Peralta (.313 in 16 at-bats), Nick Ahmed (.455 in 11 at-bats) and Ketel Marte (.300 in 10 at-bats). Peralta and Marte have also taken Strasburg deep with two and one, respectively.

On the other side of the coin is Ray, who is 9-7 this season with a 3.91 ERA, 173 punchouts (third in NL), and a 1.30 WHIP in 129 innings of work over 23 starts. The lefty had four quality starts in his five July-outings, notching double-digit strikeouts in each of his last two games. In six career starts against the Nationals, Ray is 0-5 with a 6.52 ERA, one of which came in the previous four-game set between the two sides.

However, in his last 15 games at Chase Field, the lefty has allowed three or fewer runs, the third-longest streak by a starter in team history behind Randy Johnson (19 from 1999-2000) and Patrick Corbin (16 from 2012-13), who coincidentally is scheduled to start in Sunday’s series finale for the Nationals.

But Ray’s Achilles’ heel has been walks and home runs allowed, as he has given up 58 walks and 23 home runs which rank as the third and second-most in the NL, respectively.

A few Washington veterans have had success against Ray in the past, most notably Gerardo Parra. The former D-back is batting a whopping .364 with one home run and two RBIs in 11 at-bats. Howie Kendrick and Anthony Rendon have also hit off the lefty well, as Kendrick has a .240 average, two home runs and four RBIs in 25 at-bats, while Rendon is batting .400 with one home run and two RBIs in 10 at-bats.

Sunday’s series finale will feature the return of Corbin against another rookie in Merrill Kelly.

This will mark the first time Corbin will face his former team after six years in the desert. The lefty is 9-5 on the 2019 campaign with a 3.23 ERA, 159 strikeouts (fifth in NL), 41 walks and a 1.14 WHIP in 22 starts (136.1 innings).

With Corbin being in Arizona his entire career until now, only Flores has seen the lefty a decent amount, hitting .333 in 15 at-bats.

Kelly will be looking to rebound from his less than stellar July, especially after June being the best month of his career. The 30-year old is 7-11 in his rookie season with a 4.52 ERA, 100 punchouts, 33 walks and a 1.28 WHIP in 125.1 innings of work (22 starts).

Once again, being a rookie doesn’t allow for opposing teams to have very many at-bats against Kelly, especially when he didn’t start in any of the four games in the previous series this year.

Another former Diamondback, Max Scherzer, won’t be making an appearance against his former club. The right-hander is 9-5 on the year with a 2.41 ERA (third in MLB), 189 strikeouts (first in NL), 25 walks and a 0.99 WHIP (third in NL) in 20 starts (134.1 innings).

Offensively, Marte is leading the D-backs charge. No surprise there.

In his last 17 games, the all-star is hitting .339 with a 1.027 OPS to go along with five doubles, two triples, two home runs and 10 RBIs.

Marte is also the only player this year, and first in franchise history, with 10-plus home runs from both sides of the plate (11 as RHB, 12 as LHB).

Eduardo Escobar will join that list with his fellow teammate as soon as he hits his 10th from the right side. He currently has nine as a right-handed batter and 13 from the left side. With one more triple, Escobar will also become the 10th switch hitter to join the 20-plus home runs, 20-plus doubles and 10-plus triples in a single-season club, the first since Jimmy Rollins in 2007.

Adam Jones has had arguably the most success against the Nationals, as the former Oriole has a career .322 average with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs in 57 games. Ahmed has also had his fair share at the dish, hitting .333 in 20 games against Washington.

As a team, the D-backs continue to be the league standard in terms of stolen base percentage. Arizona’s 89.6% (60 of 67) success rate tops MLB, while the Nationals are tied for fifth at 78% (71 of 91). The D-backs have also only been caught stealing just seven times in 2019 (fewest in MLB).

First pitch times are Friday at 6:40 p.m., Saturday at 5:10 p.m. and Sunday at 1:10 p.m., all of which can be listened to live on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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