The Washington Nationals visited some old friends this week, splitting a series with the San Francisco Giants and former National Denard Span, and decidedly sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks, for whom former manager Matt Williams coaches third base. It was a busy week with the non-waiver trade deadline smack in the middle and an off day sprinkled in for good measure and extra off-field escapades. Anthony Rendon got kids to the eye exams, the Nats met Willie Mays, and we all said goodbye to Felipe Rivero and his infinite potential to welcome sturdy veteran closer Mark Melancon.
Since Frank kicked off “feel good about the Nationals week,” I figured I would keep the good times rolling. While he talked about how the Nationals are in prime position to lock up the NL East and a playoff spot, I’m just here to make to tell you the Nationals are a good team. Period.
After weeks of speculation, the Nationals finally made a deal for a closer, a deal that fans had been demanding for quite a while. Except the deal wasn’t for either of the Yankees’ hard throwing lefties, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. It wasn’t for Royals closer extraordinaire Wade Davis either. Instead, it was for Mark Melancon in a deal that at worst looks like a fair trade but at best could be considered a borderline steal. Melancon’s name wasn’t making the rounds on the rumor mill for long before the deal got announced. So who exactly is the Nationals’ new closer?
If you managed to stay awake for the ending of the Nationals game against the San Francisco Giants on Friday night, then you got to see a little piece of Major League Baseball history, and a fairly large piece of Washington Nationals history.
Given where the market was expected to go, few could have foreseen the price the Washington Nationals paid to acquire Mark Melancon. In exchange for the three-time All-Star, the Nationals sent the Pittsburgh Pirates a major-league reliever in Felipe Rivero and a solid, but unheralded prospect in Taylor Hearn, a package much smaller in terms of quantity and quality than many expected.
I came prepared. I was prepared to hear Twitter and the blog brigade blasting out 140-character epitaphs on how the Washington Nationals cannot win against good teams and are especially bad against good pitching. Typical Washington sports team that can only win when it doesn’t matter. But when the competition gets fierce they fold like a cheap tent. And don’t even get me started on the Nats against good pitching. When is the last time the Nats did anything against good teams?
This week, the Nats off-field endeavors attempted to quell the stress that is once again beginning to associate itself with the late innings. Tanner Roark, Bob Carpenter and Shawn Kelley read to kids at a local library, Ben Revere was on a mission to catch a circulating virus, and all the Harpers in America came together to create the cutest, Nats-jersey based video of all time.
The Nationals lost Tuesday night. Hold your vitriol for a moment, though, there is at least one positive to take out of the game. Before getting to the positive, let’s start with a few caveats. “Optimal” batting orders can mean something like 10-20 extra runs per season, one to two wins at best. The Nationals are on the road against the Indians, meaning the pitcher doesn’t hit and the Nationals get some extra lineup flexibility with a DH in the lineup. Finally, Dusty won’t commit to Tuesday night’s lineup long term.
But man, I loved the Tuesday night lineup. Here is why, on a position-by-position review:
Despite Daniel Murphy and Jayson Werth both hitting home runs and Tanner Roark going on the mound, the Nationals fell to the San Diego Padres on Friday night. Roark had not given up a home run in 32 consecutive innings but chose Friday to make up some ground on his total for the season. Matt Kemp hammered two home runs off of the Nats’ starter, who lasted only five innings. In contrast, his counterpart Luis Perdomo lasted a career-high seven innings.