Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals face the Miami Marlins on Friday. by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
MIAMI -- The Washington Nationals woke up Thursday with a losing record, nine games off the lead in a division they were supposed to dominate.
Washington (61-61), which sits third in the National League East, visits the last-place Miami Marlins (48-75) on Friday. The Nationals lost four games in a row before a win Thursday, while Miami has dropped five straight.
After a 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, Nationals players sat in their clubhouse, searching for answers.
"We're trying to figure out how not to miss pitches," Nationals shortstop Trea Turner told The Washington Post. "If you get pitches to hit, you have to take advantage."
On Friday, the Nationals will try to take advantage of Marlins right-hander Dan Straily (4-5, 4.42 ERA). His road ERA of 3.93 is about one run better than his home mark of 4.94.
Straily faced the Nationals earlier this year -- on July 26 inside Marlins Park -- and picked up a no-decision. He allowed five hits, including a pair of homers, as well as three walks and three runs in 5 2/3 innings.
Max Scherzer, who pitched seven scoreless innings against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday gets the start Friday. Scherzer is starting on his normal four days of rest.
Scherzer is 15-5 with a 2.19 ERA, and he is one of the favorites to win the Cy Young award this season. Scherzer, a 34-year-old right-hander, has already won three Cy Young awards and is a six-time All-Star.
He is 10-3 with a 3.25 ERA in 17 starts versus the Marlins, including 3-0, 3.43 this season.
Miami, meanwhile, enters the weekend with a tired bullpen. Wednesday's starter, Jose Urena, was ejected after his first pitch hit Ronald Acuna in the elbow. Urena was suspended six games for the incident. Acuna had homered in five straight games, including four long balls in the first three games of the Braves' sweep.
After Urena was ejected, the Marlins bullpen had to cover eight innings.
"It worked out terrible for our team," Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto said. "We've been taxed the past week. Guys have been used a lot, and having to throw eight innings (of relief) when Jose would usually pitch six or seven innings, really taxed our bullpen."
Perhaps the day off Thursday will help Miami's bullpen get the rest they need, but they can ill afford a short outing from Straily.
Washington's bullpen isn't in great shape either. Six of its relievers are on the disabled list, including All-Star Sean Doolittle and set-up man Kelvin Herrera.
Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper is the focal point of Washington's offense. The 25-year-old impending free agent leads Washington in homers (30) and RBIs (74) and ranks second in OPS (.889).
Rookie left fielder Juan Soto leads Washington in OPS (.962) and is batting .298 with 17 doubles and 15 home runs in 76 games. Soto, by the way, is just 19 years old.
The Nationals also have speed as Turner leads the way with 32 steals and outfielder Michael A. Taylor has 24 swipes.
Washington players who have OPS numbers north of .800 and should be available Friday include Harper, Soto, first baseman Matt Adams, second baseman Daniel Murphy, third baseman Anthony Rendon and infielders Ryan Zimmerman and Mark Reynolds.
Miami, meanwhile, has three starters on the disabled list: third baseman Martin Prado, center fielder Lewis Brunson and pitcher Caleb Smith.
Realmuto leads the Marlins with an .855 OPS. No one else on the team is above .800, with first baseman Derek Dietrich second at .764.