Wind: 12.91 m/h
When they write the book on this past week for the Nationals, it will probably be titled "long fly balls and bullpen calls."
Weaknesses in those areas proved to be the undoing of the Nationals, as a stellar outing by Max Scherzer and improvements from the likes of Victor Robles and Patrick Corbin were wasted. Both teams – particularly the Yankees – are built upon those two topics, and the Nats were unable to match them.
The bullpen wasn’t all bad, except for two pitchers. However, that duo, along with the offense, was largely responsible for Washington’s 1-5 week.
The Bats Have Been Flat
The offense remained quiet for most of the week, which has been consistent all season. The Nationals have only scored more than three runs in one of their last seven games – and even in their 11-run outburst on Friday, they only had three runs through the first seven innings.
This really stems from a larger issue. While Washington is No. 6 in baseball – and first in the NL – in batting average, the Nationals are also No. 19 in slugging percentage, No. 23 in at bats per home run, and subsequently fourth from the bottom in runs scored per game.
As easy as it is to nitpick about situational hitting, that hasn’t truly been the problem – although it’s been somewhat spotty. They simply haven’t gotten impactful offense from anybody. Regardless of how big a situation is, singles will only carry an offense so far.
Outside of Trea Turner and the sporadically-used Ryan Zimmerman, how many of these guys strike much fear in the eyes of the opposition?
Even Juan Soto is struggling currently. In his last 10 games (four before going onto the IL and six since returning from it), he’s 3-for-28 with one home run. Without his production or someone else’s to offset it, this offense has and will continue to struggle, regardless of how many singles everyone else hits.
When it Rains, It Pours
As for the bullpen, while there have been some revelations this season, Tanner Rainey and Brad Hand haven’t done the team any favors recently. Hand allowed a run to score in each of his last two appearances, resulting in a blown save and a loss, respectively, while Rainey has walked five batters and given up five runs in his last inning and two-thirds. The two of them were primarily responsible for, among other things, the two walk-off losses the Nats suffered over the weekend.
Although the unit as a whole has not collapsed, it was a matter of time before the ill effects of Wander Suero’s absence emerged. Someone had to replace him as the go-to arm out of the bullpen on a daily basis. Over time, as relievers have been used more frequently, their effectiveness has begun to dip. That’s what makes Suero – whether he pitches well or not on a given day – so immensely valuable. High-leverage arms become increasingly deployed and fatigued when he’s gone.
The Grass Will Get Greener
Thankfully, Suero made a rehab appearance at AAA Rochester on Sunday. His pitching line doesn’t look great, but he struck out two batters, and the only hit he allowed was a triple by former No. 1 overall pick and occasional big leaguer Mickey Moniak. I wouldn’t read into him allowing two runs.
With Stephen Strasburg also scheduled to pitch a simulated game on Tuesday, and with his return likely pushing Erick Fedde back to the bullpen, the pitching staff at least has reinforcements on the way. Improving might not be as easy for the offense, although players returning to their general tendencies is likely and would help.
Either way, this speaks towards the Nationals’ need to possibly add some depth at the bottom of their roster. They currently have an extra roster spot to experiment with, and Mike Rizzo often likes to capitalize in these situations – think about dirt cheap midseason signees like Gerardo Parra and Asdrubal Cabrera.
A Chance To Bounce Back
Regardless, there are games to be played, and the results need to improve one way or another. After an off day on Monday, the Nationals will host the Phillies for three games and travel to Arizona for a three-game series against the Diamondbacks.
The upcoming set is particularly important, since it’s an NL East bout and Washington is losing ground against its divisional foes. Fedde, Jon Lester and Corbin will pitch for the Nationals, opposed by right-handers Chase Anderson, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin. Anderson is plenty beatable, but Wheeler and Eflin have been pretty reliable over the last two seasons.
Philadelphia is about as healthy as any team could ask to be, aside from setup man Archie Bradley. With that stated, the bullpen isn’t overwhelming – although it’s been fairly effective – but the lineup features some thump that the Nationals don’t have.
The Nationals now find themselves four games below .500, which isn’t insurmountable, but does decrease their margin for error – especially considering the direction they’re trending. Two or three wins against the Phillies, who they trail by 2.5 games, would do wonders for their standing within the NL East.
Moving back towards the top will require baby steps, though. First, the Nats have to get back to playing good baseball. Outslugging the Phillies and preventing late-game rallies on their end would be two encouraging developments.