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After a three-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend, the Washington Nationals will welcome the Cincinnati Reds to the nation’s capital for a three-game, midweek set.

For the Nats, they got a lot of production from their lineup against the O’s, coming back from first-inning deficits of five runs and three runs during the series. Those wins demonstrated the Nats’ potential offensive prowess, but the pitching performances were concerning.

The Reds have no shortage of offensive firepower. If the Nats are not careful, this series could become a nightmare for pitchers on both sides. 

Reds’ Season to this Point

The Reds were a popular pick to be a breakout contender. They ultimately could not re-sign Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer, but they did return a lot of their key starters from a team that made the postseason last year.

To this point in the campaign, they have struggled with inconsistency and poor play. After trading away closer Raisel Iglesias, the Reds turned to lefty Amir Garrett to close games, but he has struggled mightily, although he has rebounded recently.

The offense has familiar faces like Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas, but breakout stud Jesse Winker, who hit three home runs in a game last week, has been the most noteworthy player for Cincinnati. 

As a whole, the pitching has not been very good for the Reds. Interestingly enough, the team boasts a lot of talented pitchers. For whatever reason, they are not playing particularly well.

Players like Sonny Gray, and Luis Castillo headline the starting rotation, but the depth and middle relief has been a problem for the Reds. It should be noted that the Reds play their home games at Great American Ballpark — a notorious hitter-friendly venue. 

One of the biggest issues for the Reds has been their health. With Votto, Moustakas, Nick Senzel, and Wade Miley all on the Injured List, the Reds have struggled to replace their production. Cincinnati enters the series with a 20-25 record and in fourth place in the National League Central.

Additionally, the bullpen has been something of a revolving door. Their struggles have been much more than just Garrett failing to close out games. Tejay Antoine has been a bright spot and a surprise lockdown reliever. Once middle relief, he has been used in the closer role of late. 

Doolittle Returns

Perhaps the biggest storyline for the series is the return of Sean Doolittle. The former Nats’ closer was a key part of their 2019 championship run.

Acquired in 2017, Doolittle was, at times, the only reliable reliever in the Nationals’ bullpen. He boasts a ton of gaudy numbers in terms of innings, saves, and overall scoreless outings. Towards the middle of the 2019 season, Doolittle began to falter as the team relied on him too heavily earlier in that season.

He went on the IL and began tinkering with mechanics. By the time he returned, Daniel Hudson had taken over the closer role, and Doolittle was still trying to figure out how to return to his former self. In 2020, he struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness when active. The Nats decided not to renew his contract, and he signed with the Reds over the winter. 

Doolittle’s impact however, went beyond his on-field performance. He was a staple in the community, with he and his wife, Eireann, becoming fixtures in the DC area. They were both advocates for young reading programs, and were avid supporters of local bookstores.

He is infamously a huge Star Wars fan. He even had a lightsaber that made an appearance whenever the Nats clinched a postseason series in 2019. Above all, he was a class act, and a loud ovation will most definitely be in store from the Washington faithful.

Nats’ bats heating up

One of the biggest storylines for the Nationals this season has been the offense, or lack thereof. The team saw the long-awaited breakout that the team hopes will remain permanent. Over the weekend, the team scored a total of 22 runs, albeit against a lackluster Orioles’ pitching staff.

No matter who they scored against, the past weekend has served as a confidence booster for the team. Furthermore, some of the marquee players have shown up and looked like their old selves.

Since returning from the IL, Juan Soto has not quite been able to elevate the ball, hitting a number of ground balls into the shift. This weekend, he was finally able to elevate the ball, hitting the ball to all fields, and cashing in on some RBI opportunities.

Additionally, Kyle Schwarber has continued to heat up, punctuated with a home run on Sunday afternoon. Josh Bell and Ryan Zimmerman continued to hit the ball hard, as they both had multiple RBIs over the weekend. 

Series Outlook

The Nats and Reds meet in what should be a battle between playoff hopefuls. Instead, it is a series between two teams who are both below .500 and struggling to find consistency.

The Nats are now 20-23 and in last place in the National League East, but only two games back of the division-leading New York Mets. They should clearly have the upper hand, due to two of their aces pitching across this three-game set, but the Reds have the bats to nullify this advantage.

Overall, expect a high-scoring, home run-filled series that is no fun for pitchers on either team. 

Probable Pitchers

Tuesday, May 25 at 7:05 p.m. ET: Tyler Mahle (CIN), 2-2, 4.20 ERA vs. Max Scherzer (WSH), 4-2, 2.24 ERA

Wednesday, May 26 at 7:05 p.m. ET: Jeff Hoffman (CIN) 3-3, 4.31 ERA vs. Joe Ross (WSH), 2-4, 5.72 ERA

Thursday, May 27 at 7:05 p.m. ET: Sonny Gray (CIN), 0-3, 3.96 ERA vs. Stephen Strasburg (WSH), 1-1, 4.11 ERA