There’s a lot to look forward to this spring for Nationals fans. The overwhelming majority of the team’s core from 2020 is returning, as well as a few players who opted out of play last year. Washington also added a few pieces that will play prominent roles in the upcoming season.
With the dawn of each new iteration comes a bevy of decisions regarding what roles each player will fill. Some years, those answers are more clear than others. This season, on the surface, there’s not much that isn’t apparent. But much like most years, there are numerous questions further down the roster that must be addressed, as well as the conundrum of how to restructure the batting order.
We’ve already introduced these topics earlier this week, but each merits some additional discussion, including an established pecking order in each race.
Throughout this entire season, The Wizards have been a talented basketball team, yet their record didn’t reflect it. It was just a matter of time before the results of the whole caught up with the sum of the parts.
In their last five games, the Wizards have defeated the Celtics, Rockets, Nuggets, Trail Blazers and Lakers. Not all of the margins of victory were close, none of those teams are truly bad (especially considering John Wall was motivated for obvious reasons), and four of those wins came against borderline Conference Finals contenders.
So what’s changed? We can all chalk it up to three things.
Spring Training is underway across Major League Baseball, and that means the newest iteration of the Washington Nationals is beginning to take form. Most of their key pieces from last year’s team will be back in 2021, but that wasn’t a season that returned many fond memories.
This season has been a colossal disappointment for the Hokies. There’s no better way to put it. There are other factors that come into play, but none that other schools aren’t also dealing with.
I spent much of the offseason as a Virginia Tech writer for Sports Illustrated, and I admittedly had high expectations for the Hokies. Shortly before joining the SI team, I had written a relatively all-encompassing article about Justin Fuente. Over the last few months, his stock has cratered.
If it seems like every year or two, the Nationals are looking for a new pitching coach, that’s because they are. They blow through managers too, but the search for a pitching coach seems equally – if not more – tiresome.
The Rise and Fall of the Nats’ Staff
Steve McCatty handled Washington’s pitchers for seven years (2009-15). The staff’s ERA dropped from 5.00 when he took over to 3.33 (second-best in baseball) in 2012, improving every year during that span. The unit checked in at a remarkable 3.03 in 2014, and never registered an ERA above 3.62 or worse than eighth in the majors in McCatty’s final five seasons.
The team as a whole spiraled under Matt Williams during 2015, and the contracts of most of the staff – including McCatty – weren’t renewed during that offseason.
The Nats let him get away, not knowing the misfortune and disfunction that could strike a pitching staff that based on talent alone was dominant.
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.
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.
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.
Normally this is a weekly installment, but Washington has a couple off-days now before having a loaded schedule in the coming weeks.
The Nationals kicked off a three-game series in Atlanta on Monday. They fell just short in the opener (7-6), but rebounded to win the following night (8-5). Erick Fedde was set to start the rubber match on Wednesday, but the game was postponed due to inclement weather. The Nationals, who could’ve benefited tremendously by taking two out of three from the Braves, had to settle for a two-game split.
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.