Washington Nationals Week in Review: Aug. 31–Sept. 6

Brock Holt slides home, adding to what was his most successful week in over a year. (Photo: John Amis/AP Photo)

It was a tale of two series for the Nationals this week. They were swept in four games by the Phillies, but took two out of four from the Braves to end the week. They had a losing streak extend all the way to seven games, but they finished the week winning two of their last three.

Rather than going game-by-game, let’s discuss trends this week.

Starting Pitchers

The Nationals had eight games this week, and Friday’s doubleheader forced them to turn to their sixth starter for the night game on Friday.

  • Erick Fedde: 6 innings, 4 hits, 6 runs (2 home runs), 1 walk, 4 strikeouts, 85 pitches (50 strikes)
  • Patrick Corbin: 5 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs (1 home run), 3 walks, 2 strikeouts, 92 pitches (55 strikes)
  • Max Scherzer: 6 innings, 7 hits, 3 runs (1 home run), 3 walks, 6 strikeouts, 108 pitches (68 strikes)
  • Anibal Sanchez: 3.1 innings, 8 hits, 4 runs (1 earned, 1 home run), 1 walk, 1 strikeout, 74 pitches (48 strikes)
  • Austin Voth: 4.2 innings, 7 hits, 5 runs (3 home runs), 2 walks, 5 strikeouts, 88 pitches (59 strikes)
  • Wil Crowe: 2.1 innings, 4 hits, 3 runs, 4 walks, 3 strikeouts, 68 pitches (33 strikes)
  • Erick Fedde: 3.2 innings, 6 hits, 4 runs, 4 walks, 2 strikeouts, 92 pitches (54 strikes)
  • Patrick Corbin: 5.1 innings, 9 hits, 5 runs (2 after he left, 1 home run), 4 walks, 6 strikeouts, 106 pitches (63 strikes)

As has been customary for much of this season, no one had a dominant outing on the mound. In fact, some of the worst performances were in the games the Nationals won.

They had a chance to address starting pitching at the Trade Deadline, but they chose not to. We’ll see whether that was the right decision with how they perform this month.

Relief Pitchers

I’ll address this group on a day-by-day basis to showcase some larger points about when guys were used and their situational effectiveness.

Monday

  • Wander Suero: 1 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts, 23 pitches (17 strikes)
  • Sean Doolittle: 1 inning, no base runners, 2 strikeouts, 15 pitches (11 strikes)

This was Suero’s second appearance in the last three days, and it was a back-to-back for Doolittle.

When Suero entered the game (seventh inning), it was to face the bottom three hitters in the Phillies’ lineup with the Nats trailing by two runs.

Doolittle faced the fifth through seventh-place batters with Washington down by four runs.

Tuesday

  • Kyle Finnegan: 0.1 innings, 3 hits, 4 runs (3 earned, 1 home run), 2 walks, no strikeouts, 28 pitches (12 strikes)
  • Dakota Bacus: 0.2 innings, 1 base runner (walk), no strikeouts, 10 pitches (3 strikes)
  • Javy Guerra: 1.2 innings, 3 base runners (all walks), 2 strikeouts, 30 pitches (14 strikes)
  • Ryne Harper: 0.1 innings, no base runners, 1 strikeout, 7 pitches (5 strikes)

Bacus, Guerra and Harper had each pitched on Sunday, while Finnegan hadn’t thrown since Saturday.

Finnegan entered the game to start the sixth inning (earlier than normal) to face the sixth through eighth hitters and the Nationals behind by two runs.

Bacus finished Finnegan’s inning, retiring J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius.

Guerra was meant to eat the final two innings in a six-run game. He almost succeeded, but suffered a hamstring injury – which has since sent him to the IL. Harper got their last out.

Wednesday

  • Tanner Rainey: 1 inning, 1 base runner (walk), 1 strikeout, 14 pitches (6 strikes)
  • Will Harris: 1 inning, no base runners, 2 strikeouts, 12 pitches (8 strikes)

Both setup men hadn’t taken the mound in awhile and needed some work, even with the Nats trailing by three runs. Harris last pitched on Saturday, and Rainey hadn’t since Wednesday of the prior week.

Rainey entered the game with the two through four hitters due up – thus making it the higher-leverage situation – for the Phillies, while Harris faced five through seven.

Thursday

  • Wander Suero: 1.2 innings, 1 base runner (walk), 2 strikeouts, 23 pitches (14 strikes)
  • Kyle Finnegan: 1 inning, no base runners, 3 strikeouts, 13 pitches (10 strikes)
  • Tanner Rainey: 1 inning, no base runners, 3 strikeouts, 17 pitches (11 strikes)
  • Will Harris: 0.1 innings, 2 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, no strikeouts, 14 pitches (8 strikes)
  • Daniel Hudson: 1.2 innings, no base runners, 2 strikeouts, 28 pitches (19 strikes)
  • Sean Doolittle: 0.2 innings, no hits, 1 run (unearned), 2 intentional walks, no strikeouts, 5 pitches (4 strikes)

Sanchez had a short outing, which forced the bullpen into a lot of work. Suero and Doolittle lasted pitched on Monday, Finnegan threw on Tuesday, and Rainey and Harris had just been used the day before.

When Suero entered in the fourth inning, Washington trailed by two runs, and the goal was for him to get the Nats through the fifth inning – which he did.

By the sixth inning – when Finnegan took over to face eight, nine, and one – the score was tied. The Nats took the lead the following inning, and Rainey faced the heart of the Phillies’ lineup. They each struck out every batter they faced.

Still up by a run, Harris quickly loaded the bases and was replaced by Hudson, who technically gave up the lead on a sac fly, but retired all five batters he faced, extending the game into the tenth inning.

The funky extra-inning rule came into play, putting a runner on second base to start the inning. Gregorius got him to third on a sacrifice bunt, then Doolittle intentionally walked Jean Segura and Phil Gosselin – who has feasted on left-handed pitching this season. But an Alec Bohm sac fly scored Gregorius and gave the Phillies a walk-off win.

Friday (Game 1)

  • Dakota Bacus: 1.1 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs, no walks, 1 strikeout, 25 pitches (18 strikes)

Bacus had most recently pitched on Tuesday.

The Nationals didn’t need a lot from the bullpen since doubleheaders are only seven innings long, but they trailed by four runs when Bacus took over for Voth during the fifth inning.

Friday (Game 2)

  • Kyle Finnegan: 0.2 innings, 1 hit, 2 runs (1 earned), no walks, no strikeouts, 12 pitches (8 strikes)
  • Tanner Rainey: 1 inning, 1 hit, 2 runs (1 home run), 1 walk, 3 strikeouts, 21 pitches (12 strikes)
  • Wander Suero: 1 inning, no base runners, 2 strikeouts, 12 pitches (11 strikes)
  • Will Harris: 1 inning, 1 hit, no walks, 2 strikeouts, 17 pitches (11 strikes)
  • Daniel Hudson: 1 inning, 1 hit, 2 runs (1 home run), 1 walk, 1 strikeout, 16 pitches (10 strikes)

All five of the relievers used in this game had pitched on Thursday, making this back-to-back days for each of them. Finnegan also pitched on Tuesday, and Rainey and Harris took the mound on Wednesday – thus pitching for the third straight day.

The Nats were looking for more than an inning from Finnegan. He finished the third frame clean, but damage came in the following inning. Rainey replaced him with the top three hitters in the Braves lineup due up, but that didn’t stop the bleeding. Four runs scored that inning, and the game was now tied at 7-7.

Suero got the fifth-inning assignment with the score tied, and Harris took the sixth inning with a on-run lead.

Hudson got the save opportunity with a three-run lead. He allowed two Braves to score, but the end result was a save.

Saturday

  • Kyle McGowin: 2.1 innings, 1 base runner (walk), 4 strikeouts, 36 pitches (23 strikes)
  • Wander Suero: 1 inning, no base runners, 1 strikeout, 12 pitches (9 strikes)
  • Sean Doolittle: 1 inning, no base runners, no strikeouts, 12 pitches (10 strikes)
  • Ryne Harper: 1 inning, no base runners, no strikeouts, 9 pitches (7 strikes)

Suero was asked to pitch for the third straight day, but everyone else had a bit of rest. Doolittle last pitched on Thursday, Harper hadn’t since Tuesday, and McGowin was making his season debut after being recalled from the Alternate Training Site on Wednesday.

McGowin got the game through the sixth inning and looked more dominant than ever. Suero and Doolittle took over for the seventh and eighth innings with a one-run lead, continuing the bullpen’s strong performance.

The initial plan was for Hudson to pitch in the ninth inning – as it was scheduled to be a save situation – but the Nationals scored five runs in the top half of the inning, allowing them to rest the closer and use Harper instead.

Sunday

  • Kyle Finnegan: 0.1 innings, 1 hit, 2 runs (1 home run), two walks, no strikeouts, 22 pitches (10 strikes)
  • Dakota Bacus: 1 inning, 2 hits, 3 runs, 3 walks, no strikeouts, 31 pitches (17 strikes)
  • Ryne Harper: 1.1 innings, 1 base runner (double), 1 strikeout, 16 pitches (11 strikes)

Bacus and Finnegan hadn’t pitched since Friday – although the latter also threw on Tuesday and Thursday – but Harper had just thrown on Saturday.

Finnegan relieved Corbin with one out in the sixth inning. It didn’t go well, though – he gave up a grand slam. Bacus finished the frame and started the next one, but couldn’t finish it. Harper finished the game, but it was out of reach at that point.

All in all, was a tough week to assess for the bullpen, because the entire unit was asked to stretch to – or even beyond – its limits, since the Nats played eight games in seven days and the starting pitchers didn’t do the relievers any favors.

What has become clear is that Will Harris has ascended to the No. 2 setup role, behind Rainey and ahead of Finnegan.

The Lineup

Here’s the most common lineup – based on who most frequently batted in each slot in the lineup during the week – followed by the rest of the position players in the order in which they most frequently hit.

  1. Victor Robles: 8-24 (all singles), 4 runs, 1 RBI, no walks, 5 strikeouts, 2 hit-by-pitches, 1 stolen base
  2. Trea Turner: 13-34 (9 singles, 1 triple, 3 home runs), 8 runs, 6 RBIs, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts
  3. Juan Soto: 4-13 (1 singles, 1 double, 2 home runs), 2 runs, 5 RBIs, 5 walks, 4 strikeouts
  4. Asdrubal Cabrera: 5-32 (4 singles, 1 triple), 2 run, 2 RBI, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts, sac fly
  5. Eric Thames: 3-17 (2 singles, 1 double), 2 runs, 3 RBIs, no walks, 4 strikeouts
  6. Adam Eaton: 3-18 (3 doubles), 1 run, no RBIs, no walks, 5 strikeouts, 1 sac bunt, 1 hit-by-pitch
  7. Brock Holt: 8-21 (5 singles, 2 doubles), 3 runs, 2 RBIs, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts
  8. Luis Garcia: 9-28 (7 singles, 2 doubles), 3 runs, 3 RBIs, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts
  9. Michael A. Taylor: 4-19 (1 single, 1 double, 2 home runs), 2 runs, 5 RBIs, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts
  • Howie Kendrick: 3-20 (2 singles, 1 double), no runs, 2 RBIs, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts
  • Kurt Suzuki: 3-15 (all doubles), 3 runs, 2 RBIs, 1 hit by pitch
  • Yan Gomes: 2-12, (2 singles), 1 RBI (sac fly), 1 walk, 3 strikeouts
  • Josh Harrison: 2-5 (1 single, 1 double), 1 walk, 1 strikeout, 1 hit-by-pitch
  • Carter Kieboom: 2-8 (2 singles), 2 runs, 1 RBI, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts
  • Wilmer Difo: 0-3, 1 run, 1 RBI, 2 walks, 1 strikeout

That’s clearly imperfect, because it leaves no catcher in the go-to lineup. It was also complicated by Eaton and Harrison missing some games, and Soto missing the entire Braves series.

Robles has mostly hit at the bottom of the order this season, but while Eaton and Soto were sidelined, the Nats bumped him up to leadoff, and the results were encouraging – so much so that he stayed there when Eaton returned.

Eaton hit leadoff, second, fifth, and sixth this week alone, while Turner batted in each of the top three spots.

Everything after Soto is pretty undecided. Kendrick is the most frequent Soto protection, but it’s also often Cabrera – especially since Kendrick often sits out of games.

That duo never hits lower than fifth, but everything else is a constant rotation. Suzuki and Gomes typically bat in the middle third of the lineup, Thames doesn’t go lower than eighth, and Taylor doesn’t hit higher than seventh. Beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess on any given day.

At some point, the Nats will need to ride their hot hands. In fact, they showed a sign of that by moving Holt up to fifth – and being rewarded with a three-hit performance.

Keep an eye on what happens when Soto returns to the lineup. Do they keep Sunday’s top three intact with Soto hitting cleanup, or does Robles or Eaton move back down?

Roster Notes

Right-handed reliever Kevin Quackenbush, who had been at the team’s Alternate Training Site, was released.

On Friday, Carter Kieboom was recalled from the Alternate Training Site. To clear a roster spot, fellow infielder Wilmer Difo was designated for assignment. If he clears waivers – which seems likely – the Nationals will have the option to re-sign Difo to a minor league contract and invite him to Fredericksburg.

The additions of right-handed pitcher Sterling Sharp and outfielder Jeremy De La Rosa to the player pool in Fredericksburg are now official. Sharp was recently reacquired from the Marlins, while De La Rosa is the organization’s top-rated minor league outfield prospect, although he hasn’t played higher than Rookie ball yet.

Injury Updates

Javy Guerra was placed on the 10-day IL earlier in the week. Fellow right-hander Kyle McGowin was promoted as his replacement.

Luis Garcia was removed from Sunday’s game with what is now known to be a heel bruise. He’s labeled as day-to-day.

Otherwise, not much has changed since last week’s updates, except for one minor note: Stephen Strasburg is now rehabbing at his home in Virginia after undergoing surgery. He still won’t be back until next season, though.

Looking Ahead

The schedule finally lightens up in some respect this week. On Wednesday, the Nats get their first scheduled off-day since August 20. The team’s they’ll play won’t be any easier, though. They’ll start with two games in D.C. against the AL East-leading Tampa Bays Rays, then they’ll play four more games against the leaders of their own division (the Atlanta Braves).

Here’s a more detailed look:

  • Monday: RHP Max Scherzer (official) vs. Rays (RHP Charlie Morton, official), 6:05 p.m. on MASN and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Tuesday: RHP Anibal Sanchez (official) vs. Rays (RHP Trevor Richards, unofficial), 6:05 p.m. on MASN and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Wednesday: off
  • Thursday: RHP Austin Voth (unofficial) at Phillies (RHP Max Fried, unofficial), 6:05 p.m. on MASN and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Friday: LHP Patrick Corbin (unofficial) at Braves (RHP Josh Tomlin, unofficial), 6:05 p.m. on MASN and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Saturday: RHP Max Scherzer (unofficial) at Braves (RHP Ian Anderson, unofficial), 6:05 p.m. on MASN2 and 106.7 WJFK-FM
  • Sunday: RHP Anibal Sanchez (unofficial) at Braves (LHP Robbie Erlin, unofficial), 12:35 p.m. on MASN and 106.7 WJFK-FM

As is always the case, the Rays feature some of the best players you’ve never heard of. Yandy Diaz (third base) and Willy Adames (shortstop) are among the peskiest hitters at their positions, Brandon Lowe is developing into their top slugger, and their entire outfield has outstanding range. And of course, pitching is always their strength. They rank within the top seven in baseball in both runs scored per game and staff ERA.

Surely, you know all about the Braves now. They’re aren’t as complete of a team as the Rays, but their lineup is nearly impossible to navigate, and it will only get more difficult when Ozzie Albies returns. Cole Hamels could also make his debut sometime soon. The Nationals also avoided their No. 3 prospect Ian Anderson in this past series. They won’t this time around.

At this stage, the Nationals need a near-miracle. They’re entering the week at 14-25, five games shy of the final Wild Card spot – which should be their target, at this point – pending the result of Dodgers-Rockies tonight.

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