After some blunt words from Adam LaRoche following their series loss to the Atlanta Braves, the Washington Nationals (28-29) have a challenge to meet going forward through the rest of the season, starting with this series against the New York Mets (22-32): don’t play like crap.
Yes, it sounds harsh, and certainly a team that is just under .500 and in second place in its division is not doing everything wrong. However, it is frustrating for fans and players alike to see a team that has potential for greatness underachieving. The Nationals have an opportunity to show their potential in this home stand, beginning with their faceoff against the Mets, after making a number of significant changes to their roster.
The Nationals have gone 1-2 against the Mets this year, but will be playing them immediately following their being swept by none other than the Miami Marlins, who are a distant 19.5 games out of first place in the NL East. It was Miami’s first sweep of the season.
The Nationals have an opportunity in the coming home stand to benefit from playing teams whose fortunes have been faring worse than their own, which perhaps could spark the catalyst toward victory that this team is so desperately in need of.
The Mets have the worst team batting average in Major League Baseball (.227). However, their fourth-lowest on-base percentage (.295) is actually higher than the Nationals’ MLB-worst .287, and the Mets’ fourth-lowest slugging percentage (.371) is tied with the Nationals.
That is a not great place for the Nationals to be. But, having offensive stats that low speaks to the strength of their pitching, considering they are in second place and seven games behind the Braves, and not 11.5 games behind as the Mets are.
The Nationals have the sixth-lowest ERA in baseball (3.58), while the Mets have the fifth-highest (4.45), though the Mets are looking to improve their pitching stats with some potential roster moves.
Jeremy Hefner and Dillon Gee, who will start on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, are each fighting to keep his spot in the rotation as the Mets anticipate calling up one of their top pitching prospects, Zack Wheeler. How each pitcher performs against the Nationals could have a noteworthy impact on his future.
Hefner had a 5.29 ERA and a 0-3 record against the Nationals last season, and allowed three runs in four innings during his only outing against the Nats this season. Nationals hitters had a .391 batting average against Gee last season, and he went 0-1 against them, though he gave up only three hits and zero runs in his start against them this year.
In addition to planning changes to their pitching staff, the Mets have recently made changes in hopes of boosting their offense as well.
The Mets placed shortstop Ruben Tejada on the disabled list last week with a right quad strain, and Omar Quintanilla has provided spark to their struggling offense in the short time he has been with the team after being called up from Triple-A.
There is a chance Quintanilla could replace Tejada, even after his six-week stint on the DL is over, as Tejada has a slash line of .209/.267/.262 this season, while Quintanilla, who has been splitting time between the majors and minors for eight years, was hitting .333/.419/.484 in 47 games at Triple-A Las Vegas.
Strasburg’s Next Start
Though Stephen Strasburg is officially scheduled to make his next start, which would come on Thursday against the Mets, it seems “unrealistic or risky” that he try to hasten his recovery to meet that deadline, according to the Washington Post.
Strasburg has a Grade 1 lat strain, an injury from which it typically takes three to six weeks to recover. If Strasburg tries to rush back, he can risk damaging his arm by overcompensating, which is exactly what manager Davey Johnson was trying to avoid by pulling Strasburg from his last start after just two innings.
As much as Nationals fans would like to see their ace back on the mound as soon as possible, it seems wise for the people involved with his recovery to be cautious with such a valuable piece of their pitching staff.
In a move that is bound to greatly benefit the ailing Nationals roster, outfielder Jayson Werth is scheduled to be back with the big league club on Tuesday after being on the DL with a right hamstring injury since May 3. Werth hit two home runs on Sunday in a rehab game with Class A Potomac, where he hit .556 in six games.
In The Zone
Ryan Zimmerman (3B) .321 AVG, .321 OBP, .643 SLG, 3 HR, 5 RBI (last seven games)
Marlon Byrd (RF) .294 AVG, .400 OBP, .647 SLG, 2 HR (last six games)
Omar Quintanilla (SS) .500 AVG, .533 OBP, .714 SLG, 1 HR (last four games)
John Buck (C) .192 AVG, .192 OBP, .231 SLG, 8 SO (last seven games)
Rick Ankiel (CF) .100 AVG, .182 OBP, .100 SLG, 8 SO (last six games)
6/4, Jordan Zimmermann (8-3, 2.37 ERA, .220 BAA, 49 SO) vs. Jeremy Hefner (1-5, 4.74 ERA, .255 BAA, 42 SO)
6/5, Dan Haren (4-6, 5.09 ERA, .291 BAA, 51 SO) vs. Dillon Gee (3-6, 5.68 ERA, .309 BAA, 49 SO)
6/6, Stephen Strasburg (3-5, 2.54 ERA, .216 BAA, 73 SO) vs. Shaun Marcum (0-6, 5.71 ERA, .293 BAA, 36 SO)
Update: Just before the start of Tuesday's game, the Nationals PR department announced that Gio Gonzalez will now be the starter on Thursday, in place of Strasburg as he rests his lat. Strasburg will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday, and could be back in the rotation as early as Saturday, according to the Washington Post.