- - Friday, June 15, 2018

The Nationals (37-28) begin a rare series north of the border when the play the Toronto Blue Jays (30-38) on Friday at 7:07 p.m.

Both teams have gone 5-5 in the last 10 games while the Nationals are 22-12 on the road for the best record in the National League. It is the first trip to Toronto for Washington since 2012 and the Nationals enter play 1.5 games back of the first-place Atlanta Braves in the National League East.

Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez (6-2, 2.65) faces Toronto right-hander Aaron Sanchez (3-5, 4.33) in the first game of the series.

Max Scherzer (10-2, 2.00, league-high 142 strikeouts) will start Saturday at 4:05 p.m. for the Nationals while Marco Estrada (3-6, 5.09) gets the ball for the Blue Jays. Estrada was drafted by the Nationals in the sixth round in 2005.

The series finale on Sunday at 1:07 p.m. will see Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark (3-7, 3.63), who started Tuesday against the Yankees, face Sam Gaviglio (2-2, 3.66) of the Blue Jays. Roark has never pitched against Toronto.

Fans watching on MASN may recognize a new voice this weekend. Former Nationals slugger Michael Morse will fill in as the analyst for F.P. Santangelo, who will attend his son’s college graduation in California.

The Nationals‘ starting pitching has been solid season, so here are three things to watch when the team is at the plate:

What will Soto do next?

This is getting to be ridiculous: It seems like every game rookie Juan Soto is doing something remarkable.

The left fielder, all of 19, hit two homers on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium with his uncle in the stands. It was the first two-homer game of his career – which consists of 20 games — and he is the youngest person to homer twice at one of the Yankee Stadiums since Andruw Jones of the Atlanta Braves in the 1996 World Series.

Gleyber Torres of the Yankees also hit a homer Wednesday and the combined ages of Soto and Torres is 41 years and 48 days. That is the youngest combined homers by two players in a game since 1887, according to Stats.

Soto in 64 at-bats has a slash line of .344/.447/.641 for average, on-base and slugging. He has five home runs. The Nationals as a team are at .236/.315/.398.

The health of Murphy

Daniel Murphy, who had knee surgery in October, played in his first two games for the Nationals in New York this week and was 0-for-7 with three strikeouts.

He struck out just 132 times in 286 games in the previous two years with the Nationals.

“He said his timing is a little off,” manager Dave Martinez said.

Murphy, who played second base most of the last two seasons, was the designated hitter both games against the Yankees and may be used the same way this weekend in Toronto.

The Nationals return home to play the Yankees on Monday in a suspended game at 5:05 p.m. followed by a regular game at 7:05 p.m. Then the Orioles begin a three-game series at Washington on Tuesday.

By next week, the Nationals will have to decide if Murphy is healthy enough to play defense.

Harper trying to beat a slump

The numbers continue to be a paradox for Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.

He leads the National League in homers with 19 and has also driven in 43 runs and has 50 walks, the best mark in the league. Harper has a slugging mark of .500.

But his average is down to .224 and he has fanned 50 times in 226 at-bats – nearly once every five trips to the plate.

Harper is hitless in his last nine at-bats, is hitting .160 in his last seven games, .200 in his last 15 games and .202 in his last 30.

In his 2015 MVP year season, he hit .330 while striking out 131 times in 521 at-bats with 124 walks.

Last season, he hit .319 he struck out 99 times in 420 at-bats, while drawing 68 walks.

Martinez has implored his team to take more walks in recent weeks as the offense has struggled at times. He has not mentioned anyone by name, but it is not too hard to connect the dots.


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