Washington Nationals Series Review: Aug. 21–24

With extra innings needed from the bullpen, Wander Suero reminded Dave Martinez why he trusted the right-hander in 2019. (Photo: MASNSports.com).

After two days off earlier in the week, the Nationals returned to face the Marlins at home for five games. Washington lost the first game and split Saturday’s doubleheader, then continued to trade wins and losses in the next two games. The result: a 3-2 series loss and a missed opportunity to make up significant ground in the – albeit early – playoff race.

Here’s a recap of the series, as well as a preview of this week’s schedule.

Friday

Aside from a three-run homer he allowed to Miguel Rojas in the second inning, Patrick Corbin had a strong performance. Those were the only three runs he allowed over 6.1 innings, and he struck out nine batters.

The bullpen also dominated in the late innings. Tanner Rainey walked Jesus Aguilar upon entering in relief of Corbin, but retired the next two batters. Then Will Harris and Kyle Finnegan got the final six outs, striking out two Marlins apiece. No runners crossed home plate, and they only allowed one hit.

The offense was virtually nonexistent. Eric Thames had as many hits (two) as the rest of the lineup, and that’s also how many runs they scored in the series opener.

Saturday (Game 1)

Max Scherzer took the mound in the day game on Saturday. For the first four innings, he was sensational, but the fifth inning was a struggle. He retired two of the first three batters, but then allowed the next six to reach base – including a home run by Matt Joyce. He gave up four runs in the inning, and it felt like he was given more leash than he deserved.

Fortunately, he was given plenty of run support early. Before even getting to Scherzer’s disastrous fifth inning, the Nats’ bats had already scored five times. Trea Turner, in particular, stayed hot – reaching base three times, stealing a base, and scoring twice.

Keeping in mind that doubleheaders are only seven innings this year, even though Scherzer didn’t last long, the bullpen still only needed to get seven outs. Finnegan, Rainey, and Daniel Hudson did so without allowing a base runner, knotting the series at 1-1.

Saturday (Game 2)

We had a pair of big league debuts in the nightcap: widely-acclaimed prospect Sixto Sanchez for the Marlins, and Wil Crowe (top five in the organization) for the Nationals. Neither were bad – and Crowe got very little help from his defense – but Sixto had the better outing.

Crowe officially gave up four earned runs, but two of those scored after Seth Romero – who was filthy but wild – replaced him in the fourth inning. Dakota Bacus fought his way through a one-run two-thirds of the fifth inning – clearly battling grip issues on a muggy night – before Wander Suero picked up the last four outs in order.

Aside from Yan Gomes and Victor Robles – Sixto’s only two blemishes – the bats were mostly quiet, and the Nationals missed an opportunity for a day-night sweep.

Sunday

Anibal Sanchez took on the stopper role that ordinarily belongs to Scherzer. Sanchez entered the afternoon with an 8.50 ERA in his first four starts, but tossed a pristine seven innings on Sunday, allowing only one run on five hits.

The team’s offensive production wasn’t incredibly well-distributed, but four hits in 13 chances with runners in scoring position will always put you in position to win the game. And so will scoring nine runs on 11 hits.

Ryne Harper tossed an imperfect two innings in relief – the importance of which shouldn’t be underestimated – to tie the series back up.

By the way, that was the second three-hit game for Luis Garcia in just his seventh big league start.

Monday

Austin Voth looked solid to start the night, but he unraveled rather quickly.

The bullpen didn’t have one of its better performances, either. Suero, Harper and Finnegan looked dominant, but Javy Guerra (six base runners) and Bacus (four runs) didn’t have their best night.

So what did the offense do? They had 11 hits, but most of the damage came from two hitters – the No. 2 and 3 hitters in the lineup. It’s tough to top the eight runs the Nationals scored without some more guys doing damage, although it is worth noting that Gomes extended his hit streak to eight games, and Turner added to his remarkable statistics that stretch across nearly three weeks.

Stars of the Week

I’ll include all games from Tuesday (Aug. 18) through Monday (Aug. 24).

  • Trea Turner: 10-26 (6 singles, 3 doubles, 1 home run), 9 runs scored, 5 RBIs, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts, 1 hit by pitch, 2 stolen bases
  • Juan Soto: 9-25 (5 singles, 3 double, 1 home run), 3 runs scored, 3 RBIs, 5 walks, 5 strikeouts, 1 hit by pitch
  • Yan Gomes: 6-17 (3 singles, 1 double, 2 home runs), 4 runs scored, 3 RBIs, 2 strikeouts
  • Anibal Sanchez: 7 innings, 1 run, 5 hits, 5 strikeouts
  • Wander Suero: 4 innings, 1 base runner (single), 6 strikeouts
  • Kyle Finnegan: 3 innings, 1 base runner (single), 4 strikeouts

Injury Updates

The big news relates to Stephen Strasburg. He’ll be undergoing surgery on Wednesday to repair his carpal tunnel neuritis.

Seth Romero also suffered an unfortunate injury. The details remain somewhat unknown, but he has broken his right hand and will be sidelined for an extended period. Fellow left-handed prospect Ben Braymer was recalled to replace him.

Howie Kendrick, who hadn’t played since August 14 due to hamstring tightness, returned to the lineup for Game One on Saturday. Kendrick also played on Sunday and Monday, so there appear to be no significant concerns moving forward – although his workload will still be monitored as it was in 2019.

Starlin Castro has undergone wrist surgery and wants to return in three weeks, but the team will likely take a slower approach than that.

No news on Sean Doolittle or Roenis Elias, although one of the men traded for Elias recently made his big league debut.

Minor Notes

Jesse Dougherty has reported that infield prospect Drew Mendoza has been promoted to the Nationals’ 60-man player pool. Mark Zuckerman says the same about infielder Jackson Cluff, and Talk Nats has stated – as confirmed by the MLB.com transaction wire – catcher Israel Pineda has received an invite to the Alternate Training Site.

Additionally, pitcher Sterling Sharp has been designated for assignment by the Marlins. Since Miami selected him in the Rule 5 draft from the Nationals’ minor league system, they will be required to send him back to Washington if no other team claims him – which they typically don’t in these situations.

Looking Ahead

The schedule gets a bit lighter – if only slightly – for the rest of the week. The Nationals have three home games against the Phillies before beginning a road trip. And again, they don’t have a scheduled off-day until Wednesday, September 9.

Here’s the rest of the week:

  • Tuesday: RHP Erick Fedde (official) vs. Phillies (RHP Jake Arrieta, official), 6:05 p.m. on MASN and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Wednesday: LHP Patrick Corbin (official) vs. Phillies (RHP Aaron Nola, official), 6:05 p.m. on MASN and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Thursday: RHP Max Scherzer (official) vs. Phillies (RHP Spencer Howard, official), 6:37 p.m. on FOX and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Friday: RHP Anibal Sanchez (unofficial) at Red Sox (LHP Martin Perez, official), 7:30 p.m. on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Saturday: RHP Austin Voth (unofficial) at Red Sox (RHP Zack Godley, unofficial), 7:30 p.m. on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Sunday: RHP Erick Fedde (unofficial) at Red Sox (LHP Kyle Hart, unofficial), 1:35 p.m. on MASN and 106.7 WJFK-FM

No weird variables – like extra games due to COVID-19 – for the rest of the week; just six games against teams with rambunctious fanbases, but no fans in attendance.

The Phillies are essentially at full strength, which includes a version of Bryce Harper that very closely resembles his MVP season in 2015. They’ve also promoted their top two minor league prospects: third baseman Alec Bohm – who possesses the same size, uniform number, hair (in his younger days) and slugging ability as Jayson Werth – and pitcher Spencer Howard – their Thursday starter.

Philly won’t be holding back any punches! It’s just a matter of keeping the score close and attacking their much-maligned bullpen.

The Red Sox aren’t what you’d expect, though. Their lineup is respectable – even without Mookie Betts and, to a lesser extent, Andrew Benintendi. Their pitching staff is borderline abysmal. Oddly enough, their only pitcher with an ERA lower than 3.45 – and more than two innings pitched – is Phillips Valdez, a former Nats farmhand.

Whereas the Phillies have the third-worst team ERA in the major, the Red Sox have the second-worst.

Considering Strasburg is unavailable and Fedde is the only starter scheduled to pitch twice, The Nationals will still have to work for what they get – there are no gimme wins upcoming. But the good news is that every game will be very winnable, whether they’re the betting favorites or not.

At 11-15, the Nationals trail the Braves for the NL East lead by four games, and they’re one game shy of the eighth-best record in the NL (eight teams will make the playoffs this year). Winning the winnable games this week would do them wonders.

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