Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon has been great all season, putting him among a handful of favorites for National League MVP honors.
And Rendon has been utterly dominant in the second half, batting .361 with a 1.081 OPS, an uptick from his strong first-half numbers (.304 batting average, .997 OPS).
On Friday, Rendon plans to continue his assault on the opposition when the Nationals visit the Miami Marlins to start a three-game series.
The Nationals (83-68), who lead the race for the two NL wild cards by one game over the Milwaukee Brewers (83-70) and two games over the Chicago Cubs (82-71), are surely thinking sweep against the Marlins, who have the worst record in the league, 53-99.
“We know where we are,” said Washington interim manager Chip Hale, filling in for Dave Martinez. “We’re in the fight.”
Friday’s pitching matchup will feature a pair of right-handers: Nationals veteran Anibal Sanchez (9-8, 3.86 ERA) against Marlins rookie Robert Dugger (0-2, 3.95 ERA).
While the Marlins are one defeat away from their first 100-loss season since 2013 and the third in franchise history, Dugger is looking for his first major league win.
Dugger, 24, was pitching at a junior college just four years ago. But he signed with Texas Tech, got drafted in the 18th round by the Seattle Mariners in 2016 and was traded to Miami in 2017.
Since making his debut on Aug. 5, Dugger has three quality starts in five tries, although he has yet to face Washington. He has been much better at home (1.80 ERA in two starts) than on the road (5.19 ERA in three starts).
The Marlins are 2-3 when Dugger starts, including a 4-2 win over the host San Francisco Giants this past Saturday.
Offensively, the Marlins are led by shortstop Miguel Rojas, who had a career-high six RBIs Tuesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks and is reportedly on the verge of signing a two-year contract extension.
Rojas, who has hit a career-high 27 doubles so far this year, also ranks fourth in the National League in defensive runs saved.
“I’m really proud of what (Rojas) has been able to accomplish,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “It shows what a guy can do if he continues to work. If our young guys are not paying attention (to the work Rojas puts in), they are fools.”
Rojas on Friday will face Sanchez, a former Marlins pitcher. In three starts against the Marlins this year, Sanchez is 1-1 with a 3.31 ERA. He has allowed 13 hits, 11 walks and two homers in 16 1/3 innings.
In his career against Miami at Marlins Park, Sanchez is 3-7 with a 4.48 ERA in 13 starts.
The good news for Sanchez this year as it pertains to Friday’s game is that he has been better on the road (6-6, 3.36 ERA) than he has been at home (3-2, 4.40 ERA).
Nationals catcher Yan Gomes, who went 3-for-4 on Wednesday in a 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, is expected to catch Sanchez on Friday. It is a small sample size, but Sanchez has a 1.29 ERA in two starts throwing to Gomes. Sanchez has a 4.11 ERA in 26 games throwing to injured starter Kurt Suzuki.
The Marlins made news Thursday on their off day when multiple media outlets reported that they agreed to give Mattingly a contract extension. In four season as the manager in Miami, Mattingly owns a 272-364 (.428) record. He previously managed the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2011-15, compiling a 446-363 (.551) regular-season mark and an 8-11 (.421) playoff record.
–Field Level Media