Wind: 1.99 m/h
Although it’s early in the season, the Nationals arguably needed a big week to solidify themselves as playoff contenders.
Instead, the Nats split their six games, taking two out of three from the Cardinals before losing a weekend series to the Mets.
All told, it was essentially the type of week you’d expect from the Nationals when Juan Soto isn’t in the lineup. The pitching staff held its own – which hasn’t always been the case this year – but the lineup didn’t perform as you’d prefer it to.
The only true blip on the mound was from Joe Ross Monday, although he rebounded with six strong innings on Saturday – and was the subject of my most recent article. Aside from that, the worst game in that area was a six-run performance Friday – and half of that came against the bullpen, after Erick Fedde had left the game.
Patrick Corbin tossed six shutout innings Tuesday, although his Sunday outing was less stellar. Nonetheless, the improvement is encouraging and much-needed. Max Scherzer threw a six-inning dandy of his own Wednesday, holding the Cardinals without a run and striking out nine batters.
The issue was the offense. The Nats averaged (just over) five hits per game against the Cardinals, even though they managed to win two of those games. They also went the final 37 innings of the week without hitting a home run, during which they only had four extra-base hits (all doubles). Sunday’s defeat was also the fifth time they’ve been shut out and seventh time they’ve been held to one run or fewer, both of which lead the big leagues.
These dry spells will happen throughout the course of a 162-game season, especially with Soto on the IL, but they’re still bad trends to fall into.
Dave Martinez deserves some credit. He changed his lineup ahead of Saturday’s game, moving Josh Harrison to the leadoff spot, inserting Yadiel Hernandez into the No. 2 hole, sliding Andrew Stevenson down to eighth, and sitting Victor Robles for the day. Moving Harrison up paid immediate dividends, as he doubled to lead off the game, took third on a throwing error, and scored on a sac fly by Hernandez. By the end of the game, the Nats had seven runs on the board – its highest output all season.
Aside from Saturday, however, Washington managed no more than five runs or seven hits – and that was on Monday, with Soto in the lineup. There were clearly extenuating circumstances, and hitting with any degree of consistency against someone like Jacob deGrom is extremely difficult, but a batting average of .179 over a five-game stretch won’t keep you in many games.
The bullpen remains a work in progress, but it hasn’t crippled the Nationals thus far. Considering they’re without Will Harris and Wander Suero, and that their lone left-handed specialist is Sam Clay, that has to be viewed as a victory.
To that end, Harris – as well as Jon Lester – reportedly pitched earlier today in Fredericksburg. Stephen Strasburg threw a baseball from 120 feet today, and is expected to do so again tomorrow, and Suero is said to be “doing great” as he is simulating throws without a baseball – please don’t ask me precisely what that means. Additionally, Soto hit off a tee today and will be reevaluated to see how he feels tomorrow.
Although this week was arguably a disappointment, considering the Nats went .500 against teams that are good but beatable, they did well enough to #StayInTheFight, and reinforcements should be back soon.
On the other hand, Trea Turner exited Sunday's game in the eighth inning. Martinez stated that Turner underwent x-rays for a left forearm contusion. They'll reassess his status ahead of Tuesday's game, but Martinez believes he'll be able to play when the Nats return to the field.
Up next, Washington will face the Blue Jays at their Spring Training home in Dunedin, Florida. After Monday’s scheduled off day, Scherzer and Fedde will take the mound for the Nats on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. Toronto’s starter for the opener has yet to be announced – meaning it might turn into a bullpen game – while left-hander Steven Matz will throw on Wednesday.
Of note, the Blue Jays’ lineup is beginning to approach full strength. Outfielders George Springer and Teoscar Hernandez are nearing their returns to the field, although it’s unclear whether either will be ready early this week. Regardless, Toronto features a strong core offensively, headlined by youngsters Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette and a resurgent Randal Grichuk.
Washington heads into its day off with an 8–11 record, sitting two games behind the Mets for the NL East lead. The Nats will aim to regroup on Monday and rediscover its offensive potential against a softer portion of their schedule.