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TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.
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MIAMI — The Washington Nationals will bring some star power when they visit the Miami Marlins on Thursday for the start of a four-game series.
Six-time All-Star and 2015 National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper, who tied for the NL lead with his 25th homer in Wednesday’s 7-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, figures to be in center field.
Three-time All-Star and 2014 NL strikeout leader Stephen Strasburg, who is 7-0 with a 1.13 ERA in his past seven starts against the Marlins, is scheduled to be the starting pitcher.
Harper was the first pick in the 2010 major league draft, and Strasburg went No. 1 overall in ’09. They both bring a certain swagger to Marlins Park.
Yet the Nationals, who won the NL East in each of the past two years, will enter Marlins Park on Thursday with a losing record at 50-51.
In fact, Washington hasn’t won consecutive games in almost three weeks and looks nothing like the team that averaged 96 victories over the previous two seasons.
The Marlins also have a losing record at 44-59. But things haven’t been as bad as had been predicted when they traded most of their biggest stars this past winter, including 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton.
Miami also traded former batting champ and NL steals leader Dee Gordon, two-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner Marcell Ozuna and Gold Glove winner and 2018 All-Star Christian Yelich.
The Marlins dumped a lot of salary in that process and also got numerous young players they hope will eventually contribute to a contending team. Yet, for the moment, only one player acquired in those trades — second baseman Starlin Castro — has made a significant impact on Miami’s major league team.
And here’s the odd part: After a slow start, the Marlins have played good baseball of late, winning eight of their past 12 games. That run of solid baseball started on July 8, when the Marlins routed the host Nationals 10-2.
Washington had won the previous three games of that series, which was the last time the Nationals won consecutive games. That was also the last time Miami lost three games in a row.
On Thursday, the Nationals will start Dan Straily (4-4, 4.02 ERA) against Strasburg (6-7, 3.90 ERA) in a battle between veteran right-handers.
As the trade deadline looms on Tuesday, Straily has been the subject of persistent rumors that he will be sent to a contending team.
It’s easy to see why Straily would be in demand as a fourth or fifth starter who can eat innings. He rarely misses a start, taking the ball 33 times last year and 34 times in 2016.
Straily has compiled a 28-21 record since the start of 2016, and his career ERA of 4.22 — while not outstanding — isn’t bad.
In other words, teams can do worse than Straily, who has a 3.86 career ERA in six starts against Washington.
Straily will be backed by a team that in the past couple of weeks has taken series from two first-place teams at the time (Milwaukee and Philadelphia), swept the Tampa Bay Rays and split with the Atlanta Braves.
So, yes, Straily could be a formidable challenge for Washington. Just don’t expect fireworks from Straily. After all, Strasburg’s average fastball is 95.3 mph as compared to 90.4 for Straily.
Interestingly, Strasburg has been much better on the road this year (4-2. 2.33 ERA) as opposed to at home (2-5, 5.21).
Straily has actually been better than Strasburg lately. Straily has a 2.42 ERA in the past four starts. Strasburg has lost his past three decisions.