Bryce Harper’s New York showcase, David Murphy’s return top storylines for Nationals-Yankees series
The two teams predicted by Sports Illustrated to play in the 2018 World Series are slated to meet for a two-game series this week in the Big Apple.
And there will be plenty of storylines for the interleague series between teams at the top of the East division in their respective leagues.
The Nationals (36-27) enter Tuesday tied for first in the National League East with the Atlanta Braves (37-28). Even though Washington lost two of three over the weekend at home to the Giants, the Nationals have won 12 of their last 18 and are 25-11 since late April.
The Yankees (42-19), who have won eight of their last 10, enter the Tuesday’s 7:05 p.m. contest a half-game ahead of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East.
The series finale will be Wednesday at 7:05 p.m., though rain is in the forecast. The teams meet again June 18 at Nationals Park to complete a game that was halted by rain on May 15.
What to watch for this week in New York:
Harper and the Yankees
Right fielder Bryce Harper will be a free agent after this season and the Yankees seem to be a logical landing spot, since Harper grew up a fan of New York Hall-of-Fame outfielder Mickey Mantle.
The more immediate concern for the Nationals may be Harper’s approach at the plate.
Yes, he has 19 homers and 43 RBI and a slugging average of .509. But he has nine walks and 40 strikeouts while hitting .195 in his past 30 games.
His average is down to .228. Harper drew 33 walks with 22 strikeouts in his first 33 games this season.
Daniel Murphy, a World Series star for the Mets in 2015, could play for the Nationals for the first time this season while in New York.
Murphy could be in the lineup in the designated hitter role, though the Yankees start tough lefty pitcher C.C. Sabathia (3-1, 3.59) on Tuesday against Washington’s Tanner Roark (3-6, 3.56).
Perhaps a better starting point may be Wednesday, when the Yankees are slated to pitch right-hander Sonny Gray (4-4, 4.81).
Murphy had knee surgery in October and has played in 10 minor league rehab games with Double-A Harrisburg, hitting .243 with two homers. Murphy worked out and took batting practice at Nationals Park on Sunday.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez did not rule out using Murphy in New York.
“We will see how he feels,” Martinez said. “He played two days in a row (in the minors). He looked fine.”
He hit .347 and .322 in his first two seasons with the Nationals and will be a free agent after this season.
Who will pitch Wednesday?
The Nationals have had two starting pitchers go on the disabled list since June 5: Jeremy Hellickson (right hamstring strain) and Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation), who went on the DL on Sunday.
“In the grand scheme of things I will be OK, but it is frustrating,” Strasburg said. “I think every pitcher ... is not going to feel 100 percent every time.”
Therefore, the Nationals will need a fifth starter for the game on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.
The most logical pick is right-hander Erick Fedde, 25, who was a fill-in starter May 23 against the San Diego Padres.
He made three starts last season for the Nationals and his last start for Triple-A Syracuse was on Friday, which would give him the typical four days of rest before pitching Wednesday.
Fedde, a Las Vegas native like Harper, got the win Friday at Gwinnett, the Braves’ Triple-A team, as he went 51/3 innings and gave up eight hits and two runs with six strikeouts and no walks. Fedde threw 80 pitches and 57 for strikes.