Another trade deadline has come and gone, and Mike Rizzo did what he does best: bolster the Nationals roster without selling the farm. While teams like the Cubs, Dodgers, and Yankees made major moves, the Nationals made less heralded moves that fix the major issues with this team: bullpen and bench outfielders.
…Hey-na, hey-na, the bullpen’s back!
With the addition of Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, the bullpen has started to take shape and has been very effective. Two of the Nats most reliable starters faltered on this recent road trip — Max Scherzer surrendered five runs in the first two innings, on back-to-back-to-back home runs to lead off the game. Yesterday, Nats fans everywhere collectively held their breath as Stephen Strasburg left after just 51 pitches with some forearm stiffness. What happened next will blow your mind!
The Washington Nationals have followed up each division-winning/disappointing playoff loss season with an even more disappointing campaign. 2013 and 2015 were ravaged by poor performance, injuries, and a lack of overall depth. 2012 saw injuries to Jayson Werth and Michael Morse; Bryce Harper was a rookie. While we were relatively healthy, our bench was outstanding — “The Shark,” Roger Bernadina posted a career best 1.7 WAR, hitting .291/.372/.405. He was one of the best pinch-hitters in the league that year. Along with Bernadina, Tyler Moore had an .840 OPS; Chad Tracy posted a .784 OPS; post-deadline pickup and current Nat-killer Kurt Suzuki had a .725 OPS. All of them provided valuable, quality at-bats off the bench. They would all crater in 2013, as no one off the bench with more than 50 plate appearances had an OPS higher than .625. They did not have the depth to make up for injuries to Werth and Harper and the struggles of starters like Adam LaRoche. 2015 brought a mirror of 2013, with a struggling bullpen and horrible string of injuries that would see the opening day lineup together for just two games. They got a very good year from Clint Robinson annd a late season surge from Matt den Dekker, but they did not have enough to make up for injuries, under-performances, and Matt Williams.
Once again, Anthony Rendon does not get the recognition he deserves. He is arguably the best third baseman in the league. He does everything well — hitting, fielding, throwing, baserunning. Part of the problem is there is no player less likely to self-promote than Two Bags. In the epic 23-5 drubbing of the Mets, he went 6-for-6 with three homers and 10 RBI, but in the post-game interview, he praised the pitching, flat out denying Dan Kolko any self-praise whatsoever. Joe Ross failed to complete 5 innings that day, giving up 5 ER on 7 hits and two home runs. His interviews have become him dodging any questions from MASN Dan that have anything to do with patting himself on the back. Getting snubbed from the All-Star Game probably matters less to Rendon than any other player. He simply is not the baseball rat that Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Daniel Murphy, Stephen Strasburg, or Ryan Zimmerman is. Since Anthony in unwilling to do it, this space at The Nats Blog will do it for him.
With a nine-game lead, a potent offense, one of the best pitchers in baseball, a stout rotation following him (Tanner and Ross’ struggles notwithstanding) it’s a fun summer to be a Nationals fan. As we laugh at every Mets goof, gaffe, and idiotic mistake after idiotic mistake, we are ignoring the looming specter of the real challenger in the NL East: The Atlanta Braves.
Get ready for that annoying chop played 64 times an inning. The Freeze is cool now, pun intended, but get ready to hate him too. The Braves have many of their pieces in place already, and have more coming…a lot more.
As the Nationals play beer league softball against one of the lightest hitting teams in the league, the annoyance with the team’s struggles is palpable on social media. Fans are frustrated with the bullpen, the lack of situational hitting, Wilmer Difo’s unbelievable brain fart, some of Dusty Baker’s choices, the bullpen, the bench, and the bullpen. This slump is coupled with the Mets getting a couple of players back healthy and winning four in a row. This is baseball. Every team goes through this. The Rangers series was brutal, but if Difo runs this is a different conversation. Continue Reading Everybody Struggles
What to make of Michael A. Taylor? My esteemed colleague Joseph Seib echoed many analysts’ feelings in his piece on Taylor three weeks ago. Many have figured he would have come back to Earth by now. Buoyed by an unsustainable .400+ BABIP, a 35% K rate, and 5% walk rate most of the year, he seemed destined to revert back to his 0-fer nights with multiple strikeouts, and a Mendoza line batting average. But here he is, fresh off another solid offensive performance against the A’s, going 4-13, slugging .846 and striking out just twice. Everyone expects him to crash, but will he?
Right now, the Nationals are running away with the NL East. They are in the enviable position of not having a real competitor, currently sitting a comfortable 11 games up. The Mets are the closest thing but cannot stay healthy and cannot get out of their own way. In fairness, they won that game, but wow, that was bad. Since Max Scherzer lost to the Braves on May 20, lasting just 5 IP on 106 pitches, the Nats have won nine of 11. Max has pitched 17.2 IP in his last two starts — one out away from consecutive complete games. In fact, just twice has a starter failed to pitch into the seventh inning — Joe Ross, who lasted less than five against the lowly Padres, and Gio Gonzalez, who posted 5 1/3 IP against the Mariners.
Pain. As we reach the quarter point of the season, the Nationals have hit their first real rough patch, losing four of six to teams that are a combined 12 games under .500. The Pirates, who have the second-worst offense in MLB, scored 20 runs over the three-game series. The Braves were one of the most power deficient offenses in the league—especially so without Nat-killer extraordinaire Freddie Freeman. Atlanta hit six home runs in their two victories before Strasburg dealt them the Ace of Spades and shut them down over 7.2 IP. For all the good the Nationals have, there are some cracks in the foundation. For the starting pitching, the bullpen, lineup, and bench, we will look at the areas of concern, and how significant they are.