Life is full of surprises. It’s also full of things that aren’t surprising. One of the things that has recently moved into the latter category is the Nationals crushing the collective soul of the Atlanta Braves. Friday night’s 7-6 win – keyed off by a two-out Clint Robinson RBI single in the ninth inning – is only the latest in what has become a pattern of dominance exerted by the Nats over their division rivals.
This week’s Nationals’ schedule had far fewer off-days than last, but the team was still able to squeeze in a few off-field exploits. Danny Espinosa’s dog was reunited with a best friend, Mike Maddux was introduced to his doppleganger, and Sammy Solis switched things up to play softball.
As every Nationals fan knows, some days the team gets Good Gio and some days it’s Bad Gio on the mound. In Gonzalez’s 23 starts coming into Tuesday’s game, he’s actually allowed three or fewer runs 15 times. That’s not to say he hasn’t had a couple of clunkers, though, as he’s had three starts of allowing over five runs. Those big blow ups have resulted in a disappointing ERA of 4.24 and frayed the nerves of Nats fans.
Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are two of the top pitchers in all of baseball. Thanks to his ability to induce soft contact, Tanner Roark has solidified his hold on the #3 spot in the rotaion. With Joe Ross still on the DL, the question then becomes, can the Nationals rely on Gio Gonzalez down the stretch?
Andrew laid out a solid case for why Trea Turner could live up to the lofty expectations Nationals’ fans have set for him. Everyone is certainly pulling for him to be the star he has looked like so far this season. But baseball is hard, especially for rookies. The history of the league is littered with rookies who made big impacts right off the bat, only to come crashing back to earth after the league made a few adjustments. The honeymoon phase is starting to wind down on Turner, and he’s going to have to prove he can adjust to the league’s approach to him.
Trea Turner notched his third consecutive multi-hit game Sunday, knocking a single and a double in five at-bats. A pair of hits is practically mundane for him, as he has shredded expectations with a .319/.347/.540 line this season. Though he was a highly touted prospect, his 133 wRC+ while learning center field on the fly is jaw-dropping. How has the young shortstop-turned-second-baseman-turned-outfielder become so good, so fast?
Perhaps the most succinct way to describe Jonathan Papelbon’s time with the Washington Nationals is that it was never meant to be. On Saturday, reports surfaced that the Nationals informed Papelbon of their plans to designate him for assignment, leading him to ask for his release instead. In a sense, any outcome that leads to Papelbon’s departure is not a hard a decision, given the circumstances faced by both team and player.
With three off-days in the last eight day span, the Nationals had plenty of time for birthday parties and nights out in DC. Bryce Harper and fiancee Kayla Varner showed off their cooking skills, Wilson Ramos (and his daughter) celebrated birthdays, and prospect Koda Glover showed off his instagram game.
Lost in the midst of the Nats’ disappointing loss to the Indians was another solid outing from Max Scherzer. He took a no hitter into the seventh inning and ended up allowing only three hits and one run over seven innings, leaving with a loss as the lineup failed to provide any semblance of run support. Scherzer was on the cusp of a transcendent outing and though it may not feel like, that has been the norm this season.
Coming into this year, it seemed that Wilson Ramos’ time with the Washington Nationals was winding down. The talented but often injured catcher was coming off the worst offensive season of his career and looked likely to get lost in the shuffle.
This season has presented a different case, however. In the midst of what is by far his most productive year, Ramos enters Tuesday’s action with a .338/.387/.556 triple-slash line, 18 homers (already a career-high), and a 147 OPS+. Both the Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs version of WAR put him just under a total of four, which is another career-high.
One year is just that — one year — but it might be enough for the Nationals to bring Ramos back long term. Ramos, who turns 30 on Thursday, has a few factors working against him on the free agent market, but a four-year deal seems like a reasonable target, perhaps with a salary in the $15-$17 million range. (Brian McCann’s five year deal with the New York Yankees is my model, cutting one year off because of Ramos’ injury history.)
Agreeing to a long-term deal with Ramos is not ideal in some respects, because of his injury history and the fact that — if his offense takes a dive — his defense will not be enough to offset the decline. Yet, it may play out in a scenario in which both player and team find that a reunion is a mutually beneficial option.
The ability to sustain a high value could prove tough for Ramos over the length of the contract, but that might not stop the Nationals. For starters, even if he fails to live up to this year’s production, Ramos is still likely to contribute more offensively than the typical catcher. He is also familiar with the pitching staff, which gives him an advantage in an organization where there is no obvious replacement for the starting role.
The Nationals work hard at developing catchers, but as the farm system stands, the team is faced with several good options defensively, including Triple-A Syracuse’s Pedro Severino and Double-A Harrisburg’s Spencer Kieboom. However, neither has developed offensively to the point where they stand out as major-league ready starting catchers.
For Ramos, the reason for returning may turn out to be equally compelling. The upcoming offseason’s market for catchers is similar to ones of past years—loaded with names, but thin on talent. Of the prospective free agent catchers, the best comp to Ramos might be Matt Wieters, whose offensive production has taken a dive in recent weeks. The Baltimore Orioles seem unlikely to replace Wieters with an expensive option, and there are no obvious potential matches for Ramos. (I’m assuming that Jonathan Lucroy’s $5.25 million club option will be picked up by the Texas Rangers.)
Perhaps an unforeseen team will include Ramos as part of a spending spree, but recent history suggests that that is not always the end-all solutions—just ask this year’s Arizona Diamondbacks, or last year’s San Diego Padres. Furthermore, the free agent market as a whole is not particularly robust, so whatever resources teams have might not go toward a catcher approaching 30 and instead be allocated in a trade.
There are a lot of unknown variables that could play out over the next several months. For now, however, it seems like Ramos is bound to stay in DC a little longer.
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.