Washington Nationals Week in Review: Aug. 3–9

It wasn’t a great week for Sean Doolittle, and he and Dave Martinez had to face some harsh criticism. (Photo: Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

At this time a week ago, the Nationals were 3-4 in the midst of a four-day break; Juan Soto, Stephen Strasburg and Wander Suero were approaching their returns; and with five games against the Mets and Orioles on deck, things appeared to be looking up.

It didn’t exactly play out that way.

Washington avoided the top starting pitchers – Jacob deGrom, Alex Cobb, and John Means – yet they only went 1-3 (not including Sunday’s suspended game, in which they trail 5-2), getting outscored 27-11. Most of the lineup stopped hitting, the starting pitchers were fine but far from dominant, and the bullpen imploded on multiple occasions. Worst of all, the team was met by 19-31 level panic from reporters and the fanbase.

The biggest topic of criticism will be revisited shortly, but let’s take a look at player performance first.

Starting Pitchers

Overall, it was one of those weeks when the starters gave the team a chance to win every day, but they also never did anything to make a win likely. Ideally, you’d prefer to see the team do more than just enough.

  • Patrick Corbin (Tuesday): 5.2 innings, 8 hits, 3 runs (1 home run), 1 walk, 8 strikeouts, 102 pitches (66 strikes)
  • Max Scherzer (Wednesday): 1 inning, 1 hit, 1 run, 1 walk, 1 strikeout, 27 pitches (14 strikes)
    • Left with a hamstring injury
    • Erick Fedde: 3 innings, 3 hits, 1 run, 3 walks, 1 strikeout, 58 pitches (28 strikes)
  • Anibal Sanchez (Friday): 5.1 innings, 10 hits, 5 runs, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts, 91 pitches (57 strikes)
  • Austin Voth (Saturday): 5 innings, 2 hits, no runs, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts, 73 pitches (45 strikes)
  • Stephen Strasburg (Sunday): 4.1 innings, 7 hits, 5 runs, 1 walks, 2 strikeouts, 69 pitches (45 strikes)

There’s nothing worth bragging about here. Voth arguably should’ve gone deeper into his outing, but his velocity noticeably dipped in the fifth inning.

Voth has backed up a strong 2019 with two solid starts this season, but Sanchez and Fedde haven’t been inspiring. It might not be long until turning to a prospect like Wil Crowe becomes a serious discussion.

Bullpen

The starters were so-so, but some of the relievers had an ugly week.

  • Daniel Hudson (Tuesday and Saturday): 1.2 innings, 2 hits, 3 runs (1 home run), 2 walks, 2 strikeouts
  • Tanner Rainey (Tuesday and Saturday): 2 innings, no base runners, 3 strikeouts
  • Sean Doolittle (Wednesday and Saturday): 0.2 innings, 4 hits, 3 runs (2 home runs), 1 walk, 1 strikeout
  • Javy Guerra (Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday): 3.2 innings, 2 hits, no runs, no walks, 4 strikeouts
  • Ryne Harper (Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday): 2 innings, 4 hits, 3 runs (1 home run), 2 walks, 3 strikeouts
  • Sam Freeman (Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday): 2 innings, no hits, no runs, 5 walks, 3 strikeouts
  • Kyle Finnegan (Wednesday and Friday): 2.2 innings, 1 hit, no runs, no walks, 1 strikeout
  • Wander Suero (Wednesday and Friday): 2 innings, 3 hits, 3 runs, 1 walk, 0 strikeouts

Aside from Doolittle – who I’ll have more thoughts on later – the significant damage each reliever allowed was in a single outing. They were all clean – aside from Doolittle – leading up to the off-day on Thursday, but then Harper and Suero gave up three runs apiece on Friday, and Doolittle and Hudson gave up five runs combined in the eighth inning on Saturday.

Lineup

It was a bit of a doozy, but here’s what the hitters did this week:

  • Trea Turner: 2-19 (2 singles), 1 walk, 2 strikeouts, 0-2 on stolen base attempts
  • Adam Eaton: 2-18 (2 doubles), 2 runs, no walks, 5 strikeouts
  • Starlin Castro: 6-17 (4 singles, 1 double, 1 home run), 3 runs, 3 RBIs, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts
  • Juan Soto: 5-14 (2 singles, 2 doubles, 1 home run), 1 run, 2 RBIs, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts
  • Howie Kendrick: 6-13 (5 singles, 1 home run), 3 runs, 1 RBI, no walks, 2 strikeouts
  • Asdrubal Cabrera: 5-11 (4 singles, 1 double), 1 run, 2 walks, 1 strikeout
  • Victor Robles: 1-13 (single), no walks, 2 strikeouts
  • Eric Thames: 2-9 (1 single, 1 double), 1 RBI, no walks, 2 strikeouts, 1 hit by pitch
  • Kurt Suzuki: 1-7 (single, sac fly), 1 hit by pitch
  • Carter Kieboom: 1-7 (single), 1 run, 1 RBI, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts
  • Josh Harrison: 1-6 (home run, sac fly), no walks, 1 strikeout, 1 stolen base
  • Yan Gomes: 0-5, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts
  • Michael A. Taylor: 0-3
  • Wilmer Difo: 0-2, 1 walk

Castro, Soto, Kendrick and Cabrera had great weeks, but the rest of the lineup slumped. That might be something that the Nationals need to revisit moving forward.

Recapping the Roster Transactions

With Soto and Suero coming off the IL – and Thursday serving as the cutdown date from 30 to 28-man rosters – Andrew Stevenson, James Bourque and Emilio Bonifacio were sent down to minor league camp.

Following the subtractions, the Nationals have five starting pitchers, a long reliever (Erick Fedde), eight additional relievers (six right-handers and two southpaws), two catchers, eight infielders (with Josh Harrison having the ability to play an outfield corner), and four outfielders.

Right-handed reliever Will Harris is the most notable player who remains on the IL, although there’s a chance – or whispers, at least – that Doolittle could be heading there soon.

On the topic of health, Strasburg’s return was cut a bit short (69 pitches). It’s somewhat unclear whether that was simply due to fatigue or still being injured.

Scherzer is also expected to return from an injury-shortened start soon – possibly Tuesday.

Potential Lineup Reconstruction

For some reason, Starlin Castro batting so high in the lineup has been a very contentious topic. He’s certainly not a flashy player, but – aside from Soto – he’s been the team’s best hitter this season. The only alternative I’d even entertain is Howie Kendrick, who has hit into some tough luck, but Castro has been locked in.

Whereas Kendrick is both disciplined at the plate and a strong pure hitter, Castro is a bit of a free swinger, but he’s an excellent see ball, hit ball hitter. That’s precisely the type of player to place in front of Soto. He’ll see extra strikes and fastballs because teams can’t afford to walk him ahead of Soto, and if you throw Castro something hittable, he’ll make you pay.

Taking this one step further, Trea Turner and Adam Eaton are scuffling at the top of the order. Rather than batting the Castro/Soto/Kendrick/Cabrera combo third through sixth, why not slide the hot hitters up a peg and buy them extra plate appearances?

It seems obvious on the surface, but Dave Martinez doesn’t seem open to it. Turner and Eaton haven’t batted anywhere other than first and second – in some order – since Martinez became the manager in Washington.

Of the two, Eaton seems like the more justifiable player to move down the lineup. The trouble is navigating the bottom of the lineup in terms of which side of the plate they hit from. On paper, it would make the most sense to bat Thames and Eaton sixth and seventh in this scenario, but they’re both left-handed.

Here’s what I propose:

Trea Turner (R) → Starlin Castro (R) → Juan Soto (L) → Howie Kendrick (R) → Asdrubal Cabrera (S) → Eric Thames (L) → Kurt Suzuki (R) → Adam Eaton (L) → Victor Robles (R)

There’s certainly wiggle room here. These are their most frequent starters, but it’s far from an everyday lineup. Carter Kieboom starts over Thames against lefties and Kendrick often needs a breather – especially for day games after night games. Yan Gomes also often starts at catcher instead of Suzuki, and it’s tough to justify batting him higher than eighth.

When Kendrick sits, Eaton may still be able to hit second. Without Thames, either Eaton or Suzuki – if he’s in the lineup – could move up to sixth. Eaton could even lead off occasionally if Turner gets an off-day. What seems clear, however, is that something needs to change at the top of the order to generate some more offense, and Eaton is likely on the losing end.

The Doolittle Dilemma

I’m not going to address Sean Doolittle’s usage or worth as a player much. Those two things have been stated in no uncertain terms by Davey.

What needs to be addressed is the deactivation of his Twitter account, which sounds cheesy, but it highlights a general gripe I have with social media.

I don’t care if it’s negatively tweeting at a player or creating a viral meme at their detriment. Unless you mean ill will to the player – which I really hope isn’t the case – don’t hit send. You might think it’s funny or cool, but those messages have a way of circulating back to the victim.

The Nationals would not have won the World Series last year without Doolittle. Up until late last year, he was a top five closer in the league when healthy over the the past two or three seasons. That’s inarguable. His dangerously high usage last year is precisely the reason why I created a bullpen tracker. Imagine how much worse 19-31 and the subsequent months could’ve been without him.

He’s also just a genuinely good guy – whether you agree with his political views or not. He’s an adorable little Star Wars geek – which I mean in the nicest way possible, but he’s admitted it anyway – with smart ideas who also has a money-making left arm.

So cut the crap, Nats Twitter. There’s a formula behind why some guys deserve patience when they struggle:

Stand-up, fun personality – baggage + elite track record of production = a long career

In some way, shape or form, that formula holds true in any profession. Don’t hold against him what you don’t think you’d deserve to have held against yourself.

Go ahead and have an open dialogue about what his role on the team should be, but he’s not getting cut; especially not by a team whose only other lefty out of the bullpen is a journeyman like Sam Freeman.

If you disagree, go check out Craig Kimbrel’s stats

Looking Ahead

First of all, Sunday’s suspended game will resume on Friday.

The game will resume in the top of the sixth inning with one out and Oriole base runners on first and second base.

With that, the Nationals will now be playing seven full games, plus the resumption of the suspended game, in the next seven days – four more at the Mets, then three-plus at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

Here’s a sneak peak at start times and likely pitching matchups:

  • Monday: LHP Patrick Corbin (official) at Mets (LHP Steven Matz, official), 7:10 p.m. on MASN/MLB Network and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Tuesday: RHP Max Scherzer (unofficial) at Mets (RHP Rick Porcello, official), 7:10 p.m. on MASN and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Wednesday: RHP Anibal Sanchez (official) at Mets (TBD), 7:10 p.m. on MASN and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Thursday: RHP Austin Voth (official) at Mets (LHP David Peterson, official), 1:10 p.m. on MASN and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Friday: suspended game, time TBD on MASN2 (O’s on MASN) and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Friday: RHP Stephen Strasburg (unofficial) at Orioles (LHP Tommy Milone, unofficial), tentatively 7:35 p.m. on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Saturday: LHP Patrick Corbin (unofficial) at Orioles (RHP Thomas Eshelman, unofficial), 7:35 p.m. on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Sunday: Max Scherzer (unofficial) at Orioles (RHP Asher Wojciechowski, unofficial), 1:05 p.m. on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM

Corbin (three runs in 5.2 innings) and Scherzer (one run in one inning) each made their most recent starts against the Mets in D.C., and Strasburg (five runs in 4.1 innings) will also return to face the Orioles for the second consecutive time.

The same holds true for the Mets’ first two starters. Matz allowed five runs over three innings against the Nationals last Tuesday, while Porcello tossed a one-run, seven-inning gem the next day.

With Michael Wacha being moved to the IL today, the Mets will likely treat Wednesday as a bullpen game.

Each of the projected Orioles’ starters pitched in the recent three-game series against the Nationals, but the status of their rotation is difficult to gauge. Left-hander John Means is currently on the bereavement list and it’s unknown when he will return. He’s arguably Baltimore’s most talented starter, though.

For now, the Nationals are 4-7, and the suspended game against the Orioles can almost be chalked up to another loss. It feels like they’ve hit “Go 1-0 today” territory, so that’s the approach I’ll take. Attacking Matz similarly to how they did last Tuesday would go a long way towards rebuilding some momentum.

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