Having ceded to more than a month of actual play on the field, preseason predictions have already lost what scant relevance they had to begin with. Still, when the prognostications came flying in, the most frequent World Series pick was the Nationals against the Tigers. After the Tigers have played up to expectation and the Nationals have shown recent signs of heading that way, they’ll meet tonight at Nationals Park, weather permitting.
The first meeting between the Tigers and Nationals figures to be as compelling as early May can get. Prince Fielder, the first baseman the Nationals pursued before the Tigers offered a nine-year megadeal, will make his first trip to Nationals Park since he signed for more than $200 million. And Jordan Zimmermann, perhaps the best pitcher in the National League so far, will face the best offense in the majors.
Zimmermann has zoomed ahead of Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez and emerged as the Nationals’ ace. He will carry not only a 1.64 ERA and a league-leading 0.75 WHIP to the mound, but also a consecutive scoreless streak of 18 innings. In his first six starts, Zimmerman is 5-1 with two complete games, including a shutout, and one outing in which he tossed eight innings of zeros.
The Tigers have lived up to their big-swinging reputation. Miguel Cabrera, the reigning AL Triple Crown winner, is on pace for an absurd 194 RBI with a .385 average. Fielder has eight homers and a 166 OPS+. They are scoring 5.47 runs per game. When Zimmermann faced the Tigers in spring training, he allowed a leadoff single – and then retired the final 18 batters he faced, against a lineup that included both Cabrera and Fielder.