Washington Nationals Week in Review: Aug. 25–30

Trea Turner continued a torrent stretch at the plate, solidifying himself as one of the league’s top shortstops. (Photo: Turner’s Instagram account)

The Nationals once again had a slightly abbreviated week. The prior “week” extended into Monday, since the Marlins series was atypically long, and Thursday’s tilt with the Red Sox was postponed – as were most games across the league out of respect towards racial injustice.

The Nats lost their first two games against the Phillies before the postponed match, then dropped two out of three from the Red Sox at Fenway Park, falling further from shouting distance of the other National League playoff contenders.

Tuesday

After not pitching since August 14, Erick Fedde drew the start in the opener against Philly. To his credit, he lasted five innings – and might’ve gone deeper if there wasn’t a rain delay – and only walked one batter, but he still gave up four runs, all of which came in the third inning. Maybe four strong innings from Fedde is a step in the right direction, but four runs in fewer than six innings typically puts the team in a tough spot.

The bullpen didn’t do Fedde many favors. Javy Guerra pitched a clean sixth inning, but Wander Suero and Tanner Rainey each gave up a run in the seventh and eighth, and Kyle Finnegan gave up two in the ninth without even recording all three outs – Dakota Bacus had to take care of that.

Any time Juan Soto goes hitless, the Nationals won’t end up scoring many runs. Tuesday night was no exception. Trea Turner and Adam Eaton each hit a solo home run, but that was nearly all the meaningful offense the team got.

Wednesday

Patrick Corbin followed Fedde with a chance to get things back on track. For the most part, Corbin did his job. He gave the Nationals six innings and only surrendered two runs. The lone true damage was a solo homer to Rhys Hoskins in the third and a leadoff triple by Didi Gregorius in the seventh.

Soto hit his eighth home run of the year in the second inning, and Howie Kendrick added an RBI single in the fourth.

Will Harris gave up a single to Alec Bohm in the seventh, which allowed Gregorius to score. Then he gave up two more hits, including an RBI single to Bryce Harper. Rainey and Daniel Hudson did their jobs in the eighth and ninth, but it was too little to late, as the bats gave them no support in the late innings.

Thursday

The plan was for Max Scherzer to try to salvage a game out of the series against a bitter rival. Instead, something bigger happened.

The teams hosted a joint press conference, which received rave reviews – not that fanfare was the intent. Dave Martinez and Josh Harrison spoke on behalf of the Nationals, with Hoskins and manager Joe Girardi representing the Phillies..

The game has been rescheduled as part of a doubleheader on Tuesday, September 22.

Friday

Scherzer’s start was simply pushed back one day, from the finale in D.C. to the opener in Boston. Aside from an RBI double via Rafael Devers, he was nearly flawless in six innings, striking out 11 Red Sox and making some history in the process.

Turner kicked off the offensive attack, driving in Michael A. Taylor and Victor Robles in the third inning. Soto and Kendrick immediately followed that with consecutive home runs. A double-steal with Robles and Turner brought home another run in the fourth inning, Taylor hit an RBI single in the sixth, Harrison hit a two-run bomb in the eighth, and Turner tacked on another RBI double – his second of the night – in the ninth. Add it all up, and that’s 10 runs.

On this night, the pitchers didn’t need all that production from the bats. After Scherzer set the tone on the mound, Finnegan pitched a perfect seventh; Ben Braymer tossed a scoreless eighth; and although one run snuck home in the ninth, it was inconsequential.

Saturday

Following that dominant performance – and coming off easily his best outing of the seasonAnibal Sanchez had a chance to start a winning streak. Instead, he reverted back to what he had been for most of the season. In five innings, he gave up five runs on eight hits – including home runs to Xander Bogaerts and Kevin Pillar.

The offense tried to pick up Sanchez’s slack early, specifically the top of the third. Turner hit a leadoff double (as seems to be standard), Soto drove him in on a single, and Kendrick hit an RBI single of his own. Robles struck out with the bases loaded to end the inning, or else the game could’ve been very different.

In fact, that strikeout was a microcosm for the game as a whole. The bullpen (Suero, Harris, and Finnegan) only allowed one base runner, but situational hitting was Washington’s downfall. The Nationals reached base 18 times – twice as many as the Red Sox, via 11 hits and seven walks – but stranded 14 base runners, whereas Boston only left three runners on base.

Worth mentioning, Kurt Suzuki extended his hitting streak to a career-high 11 games.

Sunday

Austin Voth was Austin Voth, which unfortunately isn’t a compliment. Bogaerts launched a two-run home run off him in the first inning, Devers added another in the second, and Kevin Plawecki notched an RBI single in between. All told, Voth gave up five runs on six hits, and his ERA rose to 7.99 – well over double his ERA (3.30) from last season.

Robles led off the third inning with a single, and Turner – after improving his hitting streak to a career-high 15 games – added his eighth consecutive hit. Soto drove in Robles, and Asdrubal Cabrera squared up a ball to left field for a sac fly. Yan Gomes also doubled with two outs, extending his hitting streak to 10 games, but Eaton lined out to end the inning.

Boston got three runs off Guerra in the bottom of the third, highlighted by a two-run blast via their No. 3 prospect, Bobby Dalbec.

Harrison hit a solo shot in the top of the fourth, and Eric Thames did the same the following inning, but Devers added one of his own off Hudson in the bottom of the eighth – capping off a 4-4 day with two blasts for the star third baseman and a series win for Boston.

Stars of the Week

I’ll include all games from Tuesday (Aug. 25) through Sunday (Aug. 30).

  • Trea Turner: 13-23 (7 singles, 4 doubles, 1 home run), 4 runs scored, 4 RBIs, 4 strikeouts, 1 stolen base
  • Howie Kendrick: 5-12 (3 singles, 1 double, 1 home run), 2 runs scored, 3 RBIs, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts
  • Kurt Suzuki: 5-12 (4 singles, 1 double), 1 run scored, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts
  • Josh Harrison: 3-9 (1 single, 2 home runs), 2 strikeouts, 1 hit by pitch
  • Yan Gomes: 4-8 (2 singles, 2 doubles), 1 walk, 1 strikeout
  • Max Scherzer: 6 innings, 1 run, 6 hits, no walks, 11 strikeouts
  • Dakota Bacus: 2.2 innings, 1 hit (single), 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Roster Notes

Sean Doolittle came off the IL on Wednesday. Surprisingly – although not without warrant – Carter Kieboom was optioned to Fredericksburg. He’ll almost certainly be back in Washington by the end of the season, and he made considerable progress defensively, but his .200 batting average without a single extra-base hit isn’t enough to stay in the lineup at this point.

On Saturday, the Nationals agreed to a contract with utility player Brock Holt, who had recently been released by the Brewers. Since the Nats had an extra reliever and were short a position player, they optioned Braymer (a left-hander largely displaced upon Doolittle’s return, anyway) back to Fredericksburg – where he’d previously been for most of the season.

As discussed in my last story, the Marlins designated Rule 5 draftee Sterling Sharp for assignment. As expected, he’s back with the Nationals now, and he and outfielder Jeremy De La Rosa are in the process undergoing medical clearances towards joining the 60-man pool in Fredericksburg.

Infielders Jackson Cluff and Drew Mendoza have also now officially been added to the player pool, confirming rumors from about a week ago.

Injury Updates

Although Doolittle has returned from the IL, the news isn’t as positive for Starlin Castro. Although the timetable for a return hasn’t changed, the second baseman has been transferred to the 60-day IL – clearing a 40-man roster spot for Holt.

Stephen Strasburg – like Castro – has undergone surgery, and Seth Romero will do the same soon. Romero has not been declared out for the season, since the injury is to his non-throwing hand.

For the sake of housekeeping, infielder Adrian Sanchez (Achilles) is out for the season, and left-handed reliever Roenis Elias (left flexor strain) experienced a setback a couple weeks ago is likely also done for the year, but that hasn’t been confirmed.

Lineup Changes

There had been one-off games this season in which Eaton would sit and Soto would move up to the No. 2 spot in the batting order. It was always somewhat intriguing, and I’d mentioned moving Eaton down in the lineup in the past, but it never seemed likely.

Well, it happened.

It wasn’t a one-off, either. After batting him sixth on Friday, Martinez penciled him in fifth on Saturday and back in the six-hole on Sunday.

I don’t expect an immediate change, but it may depend on who the hot bats are going forward.

Trade Deadline

This year’s deadline is on Monday at 4:00 p.m. ET – less than 24 hours from now. Don’t expect the Nationals to make any significant moves. There are a few reasons for that:

  • They don’t have the young assets to “buy”
  • Their top stars – particularly Soto, Turner, Scherzer and Strasburg – are too good to “sell”
  • The second-tier “stars” are too old to get much in return for
  • Mike Rizzo is in the last year of his contract, so there’s no personal benefit for him to trade away his best players
  • Despite their 12-19 record, the Nationals are only three games out from the final Wild Card spot

I could envision them kicking the tires on a trade involving Kieboom in exchange for a pitcher, and Eaton might be worth salary-dumping, but there’s little else they have the capital or necessity to do.

If they don’t add a starter, there’s a slight possibility that Rainey – their most dominant and consistent pitcher this year – moves into the rotation.

Looking Ahead

The schedule is both important and a gauntlet in the upcoming week. The Nationals will head up to Philadelphia for four games, and then play four more times in Atlanta. And again, they don’t have a scheduled off-day until Wednesday, September 9.

Here’s a more detailed look:

  • Monday: RHP Erick Fedde (official) at Phillies (RHP Spencer Howard, official), 7:05 p.m. on MASN and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Tuesday: LHP Patrick Corbin (official) at Phillies (RHP Aaron Nola, official), 7:05 p.m. on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Wednesday: RHP Max Scherzer (official) at Phillies (RHP Zack Wheeler, official), 7:05 p.m. on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Thursday: RHP Anibal Sanchez (official) at Phillies (RHP Zach Eflin, official), 4:05 p.m. on MASN and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Friday (Game 1): RHP Austin Voth (unofficial) at Braves (RHP Randy Tomlin, unofficial), 4:10 p.m. on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Friday (Game 2): RHP Wil Crowe (unofficial) at Braves (LHP Tommy Milone, unofficial), TBD on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Saturday: RHP Erick Fedde (unofficial) at Braves (RHP Max Fried, unofficial), 7:10 p.m. on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Sunday: LHP Patrick Corbin (unofficial) at Braves (RHP Ian Anderson, unofficial), 1:10 p.m. on MASN and 106.7 WJFK-FM

Of course, the doubleheader is due to a previously postponed game.

The Phillies are still about as full-strength as they were a week ago – when they swept a two-game set – and the trade they made with Boston (acquiring Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree) to solidify the bullpen has paid dividends. The best news from the Nationals’ perspective is that they’ll avoid Jake Arrieta this time.

The Braves, on the other hand, have significantly upgraded since Washington last saw them. They split two games approximately two weeks ago, but that was with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies on the IL. Acuña is back, Albies might be by the end of the series, and Atlanta has added Tommy Milone – a quality, albeit unspectacular, veteran – to the starting rotation. They’ve also promoted their No. 3 prospect Ian Anderson and inserted him into the starting staff. They’ll likely make another addition before the deadline, as well.

At this stage, both Atlanta and Philadelphia – who square off on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball tonight – are beginning to pull away from Washington in the standings. Anything the Nationals can do to break up that momentum would be incredibly beneficial. They’re entering the week at 12-19, three games shy of the final Wild Card spot – which should be their target, at this point.

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