It was a wild week for the Nationals, in more ways than one. They played seven full games, plus the continuation of Sunday’s suspended game against the Orioles. They were in a hole at the resumption of that matchup and fell 6-2, but went 4-3 otherwise, splitting four contests against the Mets and taking two out of three – other than the suspended game – from Baltimore.
The biggest news from the week may have nothing to do with the standings, though. Sam Freeman, Sean Doolittle, Starlin Castro and Stephen Strasburg were each placed on the IL, paving the way for Seth Romero, Dakota Bacus and Luis Garcia to make their big league debuts.
Game One against the Mets was easy work for the Nationals. Patrick Corbin threw a strong six innings, surrendering one run on five hits and only throwing 87 pitches. He could’ve easily gone deeper if he hadn’t given up his only two runs in his final inning, but it was a strong performance nonetheless.
Much like they did last week, the Nationals got to Steven Matz early and often.
The star hitter of the night was Asdrubal Cabrera – two doubles, two home runs, a walk, three runs scored, and five RBIs in five plate appearances – but there was plenty of offensive action. The team scored 16 runs, Castro was the only starter to not get a hit, and the top nine all either scored or drove in at least one run.
The bullpen wasn’t spectacular, but there was plenty of wiggle room. Wander Suero gave up a pair of hits in the seventh inning, which resulted in a run scoring, but was otherwise dominant. He struck out two batters, didn’t walk any, and threw 17 of his 23 pitches for strikes across two innings.
Doolittle gave up a home run and some hard contact, but ultimately only allowed one man to score. All in all, he and Suero got the job done, and the Nationals won 16-4.
Game Two was much tighter, but the starting pitching performance was almost identical. In his return from a start that was shortened by a tweaked hamstring, Max Scherzer gave up one run on six hits and struck out seven Mets. He didn’t have his typically dominant arsenal of pitches, but he battled his way through six strong innings.
Most of the bats were cold for Washington – much like they were when they faced Rick Porcello a week prior – but Trea Turner (two), Howie Kendrick (three) and Victor Robles (two) combined for seven of the team’s nine base knocks. Turner smashed a home run to lead off the game, and Robles laced an RBI single to left field in the second inning, driving in Kendrick.
The bullpen was mostly hellacious. Javy Guerra allowed two of the three batters he faced to reach base, but Tanner Rainey and Daniel Hudson retired the final eight hitters, striking out four of them and closing out a hard-fought 2-1 victory.
Suddenly, the wheels came off. The Nationals scored three quick runs off spot-starter Robert Gsellman in the top of the first, but Anibal Sanchez gave the Mets four runs right back in the bottom of the inning. All told, he gave up five runs on six hits in two and two-thirds innings.
Needless to say, the bullpen was asked to give some quality innings. They didn’t deliver. Freeman retired two of the next three batters, and rookie Kyle Finnegan sat down five of the next six, but then they ran into trouble. Ryne Harper gave up two long balls in the sixth inning and five runs overall in the frame, and Erick Fedde – while largely effective – allowed an additional run across a three-hit, two-inning appearance.
That means the bats needed to pick up some slack. After that three-run first inning, they quieted down substantially. They didn’t score again until the sixth and only brought three men home in the back half of the game. Juan Soto (two), Castro and Kurt Suzuki each homered, and the 3-4-5 trio of Castro, Soto and Kendrick combined for seven hits, five RBIs and three runs scored. The trouble was that the rest of the lineup did very little. The result: an 11-6 loss to end their chances of a much-needed sweep of a division rival.
To make matters worse, Freeman and Doolittle were each sent to the IL following the game.
Following the chaos leading up to the game, the Nationals needed a strong showing from Austin Voth. Like Sanchez, he struggled. He might’ve gotten away with it otherwise, but he allowed two home runs in four innings and looked interestingly fatigued earlier than he should have. That left the bullpen to once again record extra outs – although fewer than Sanchez forced them to get.
Once again, they failed, but it was more understandable this time. Left-hander Seth Romero, the organization’s No. 11 prospect, entered the game in the fifth inning for his big league debut. He looked solid overall – as evidenced by his four strikeouts in only one and two-thirds innings – but his command and consistency within the strike zone were rather spotty. He allowed three hits (including a home run that proved to be the dagger) and walked three more, allowing four Mets to score before he left the mound.
Suero picked up the slack, retiring four of the next five hitters, and Guerra fought his way through a one-run eighth inning. That still resulted in another big number on the scoreboard for the Mets, though.
Equally troubling, the Nationals only had five hits in the getaway game. Soto went deep in the sixth inning, but that was their only extra-base hit. Turner, Castro, Kendrick, Cabrera and Carter Kieboom each went hitless, and Washington fell by a score of 8-2, finishing the series with merely a four-game split.
Friday (Game One)
For a look back at how this game started, check out my review of last week’s action. Here’s where things picked up on Friday.
Truth be told, the bullpen couldn’t have done much more than it did once the game resumed. Finnegan gave up a single to catcher Bryan Holaday, which allowed one of the two men Freeman had walked on Sunday to score. Aside from that, he and Bacus were flawless for three and two-thirds innings to finish the game. Finnegan struck out three Orioles, and Bacus retired one on strikes in his major league debut.
The offense, on the other hand, was stagnant. The bats managed only one hit – a double from Michael A. Taylor with two outs in the ninth – in four innings, and although they drew four walks, they failed to score a run, falling to Baltimore, 6-2.
Making matters worse, Castro suffered a wrist injury late in the game. In an unexpected turn of events, it was discovered to be broken. He was sent to the IL and replaced by Luis Garcia, the team’s top prospect remaining in the minor leagues.
Friday (Game Two)
The tide shifted with a vengeance in the night game, but not initially. Stephen Strasburg gave up a solo home run to Anthony Santander – the second batter of the game – and was removed from the mound shortly thereafter.
Erick Fedde did a spectacular job in picking up Strasburg’s slack, though. Following a two-inning outing just two days prior, Fedde ate up five and one-third scoreless, two-hit frames.
Will Harris made his return from the IL, as did Harper from a brief – less than one day – demotion to minor league camp. Each of them gave up one run – Harris in one inning, and Harper across two frames. Thankfully for Washington, those innings were virtually meaningless.
The Nationals smacked the ball all over the field in this game. Every starter had a hit – seven of them had at least two, Turner had three, and the team as a whole had 19 – at least one RBI, and at least one run scored. Garcia had a sensational two-hit, two-RBI debut, and Kieboom rewrote the record books defensively.
Put it all together, and you get a 15-3 laugher to kick off the weekend series.
The string of tough performances for starting pitchers continued. Corbin didn’t appear to have his “A stuff” until the fifth inning, but by then he had already allowed five runs on eight hits – four for extra bases – and his pitch count was rising.
The bullpen mostly held its own, aside from a man that Guerra (who threw two-thirds of an inning) walked scoring off a triple allowed by Finnegan. Bacus threw a clean seventh inning, and Suero held the Orioles to one run in the eighth – which only came due to three softly-hit singles with two outs.
So what did the hitters do? Not a lot. Turner had three hits – half of the team’s total – and Soto blasted his sixth home run in his last eight games, but no one else generated any meaningful offense. That led to a 7-3 loss, their fourth to Baltimore – and their uninspiringly-constructed roster – in an eight-day span.
To make matters worse, or at least more interesting…
Looking for their first series win of the season, the Nationals once again turned to ace Max Scherzer. Aside from two home runs allowed to Santander – déjà vu – and ex-Nat Pedro Severino, Scherzer had a masterful performance (10 strikeouts in seven innings). The trouble is those three long balls accounted for five runs, which put the team in a hole.
The bats attacked early. With Adam Eaton out of the lineup, Dave Martinez pushed Soto and Cabrera up in the lineup, and it paid off to the tune of three runs in the first inning.
Turner continued to get on base at a high clip, and Kieboom drove in a pair of runs, batting in the highest spot in the order – fifth – that he has all season. Still, it took a walk from Soto, a groundout by Cabrera, and a two-base error by third baseman Rio Ruiz in the eighth inning to give the Nationals one more run than Scherzer gave up.
Per usual in a save situation, Rainey and Hudson pitched in the bottom of the eighth and ninth. Rainey’s command was inconsistent, but his arsenal had its typical filth, resulting in a scoreless inning. Then Hudson got the last three outs to seal the deal, racking up his fourth save in the process.
Stars of the Week
I’ll include stats from Friday’s first game, but only based on what players did when the game resumed on Friday.
- Trea Turner: 13-30 (9 singles, 1 double, 3 home runs), 10 runs scored, 9 RBIs, 5 walks, 5 strikeouts
- Juan Soto: 12-26 (6 singles, 1 double, 5 home runs), 12 runs scored, 12 RBIs, 4 walks, 2 strikeouts, 1 hit by pitch
- Tanner Rainey: 2.2 innings, 1 base runner (hit by pitch), 5 strikeouts
- Daniel Hudson: 2 innings, no base runners, 4 strikeouts, 2 saves
A Youth Movement
On Friday and Saturday, the Nationals lineup featured four sensational prospects who were each 23 years old or younger – the type of group that very few teams have ever been fortunate enough to put on the field.
Victor Robles rose to as high as a top-five prospect in the league before being promoted to Washington’s roster, Soto cracked the top 20 in most people’s eyes, Kieboom falls somewhere between 15 and 30 in the current crop (depending on which evaluators you rely upon), and Garcia has peaked in the 80s – which sounds low, but it isn’t when you divide that by 30 teams and consider that he just turned 20 this summer (experts tend to view prospects a bit more favorably as they age and succeed at the upper levels of the minor leagues).
For folks who enjoy player trivia as much as I do, here are a couple nuggets about their trip up the minor league system.
There’s no news on when Starlin Castro is expected to return to play, but based on how long wrist breaks/fractures tend to take, I wouldn’t count on him coming back this season. Whenever he returns, it might not be as the second baseman anymore. Garcia is a sensational defender up the middle. If he hits enough, Castro will likely have to find another role.
Additional Injury Analysis
The Nationals will probably be patient with Strasburg and Doolittle. Strasburg’s health has huge financial importance to the franchise, and Doolittle’s performance has fallen so far that it’ll take some work to get him back to his top form.
As mentioned previously, Freeman is likely headed for Tommy John surgery – although that isn’t official – and there’s a high probability that Castro is also done for the season. Nothing has been revealed about left-handed reliever Roenis Elias in a while, but he could also be out for the rest of the year.
Changes at Catcher
Whereas Kurt Suzuki started eight of the first 11 games behind the plate, Yan Gomes got the nod in five of the eight contests this week (including the split-day Sunday/Friday game). In fact, he was the backstop four straight times prior to Sunday – a day game after a night game, which is typically when a starting catcher sits, anyway.
What’s more, Gomes’ bat got hot. In the four full games he caught, he recorded six hits (two for extra bases) in 16 at bats. Perhaps that was the plan – to see if Martinez could find a hot hand, considering Suzuki hadn’t been hitting particularly well.
The schedule doesn’t get any lighter for the Nationals going forward, but the games become more impactful. Here’s the upcoming week’s slate:
- Monday: RHP Anibal Sanchez (official) at Braves (RHP Touki Toussaint, official), 7:10 p.m. on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM
- Tuesday: RHP Austin Voth (official) at Braves (RHP Josh Tomlin, official), 7:10 p.m. on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM
- Wednesday: RHP Erick Fedde (official) at Braves (RHP Kyle Wright, official), 7:10 p.m. on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM
- Thursday: off
- Friday: LHP Patrick Corbin (unofficial) vs. Marlins (RHP Elieser Hernandez, unofficial), 6:10 p.m. on MASN2/MLB Network and 106.7 WJFK-FM
- Saturday (Game 1): RHP Max Scherzer/Anibal Sanchez (unofficial) vs. Marlins (RHP Jordan Yamamoto, unofficial), 4:05 p.m. on MASN2/MLB Network and 106.7 WJFK-FM
- Saturday (Game 2): Scherzer/Sanchez (unofficial) vs. Marlins (bullpen/spot starter), 7:10 p.m. on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM
- Sunday: RHP Austin Voth (unofficial) vs. Marlins (bullpen/spot starter), 12:35 p.m. on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM
- Monday: RHP Erick Fedde (unofficial) vs. Marlins (RHP Pablo Lopez, unofficial), 6:05 p.m. on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM
In hashtag 2020 fashion, there as some unique rules about doubleheaders this season. The biggest one is that those games will only go seven innings – the same way the minor leagues handle them.
The reason for the doubleheader – and the game on Monday, which was previously supposed to be an off-day – is that the scheduled three-game series from two weeks ago was postponed. At some point, the third game from that series will likely be made up, but the league didn’t want to schedule more than five games in four days between the teams.
It would be ideal for Washington to jump on the Braves in this series; not just because they need wins, but also because they won’t face their undisputed top two starters (Mike Soroka and Max Fried) and two of their top hitters (Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies) are on the IL.
Like I’ve said, these games will have extra importance, since they’re within the division. The Braves and Marlins are the co-leaders of the NL East, three games ahead of Washington. If the Nationals can win more of them than they lose, they’ll be right back in the thick of the playoff race.