Nationals Retrospective: Week 10

This past week was another
emotionally rollicking roller coaster, as the Nats eked out a 3-2 record
despite facing sub-par competition from the likes of the New York Mets and the
struggling Minnesota Twins. It was a weird week scheduling wise as rainouts on
both Wednesday and Thursday forced the Nats to schedule a Sunday doubleheader,
which ended up benefitting an injury ravaged Nationals roster. With about 1/3rd
of the season completed, the Nats were able to secure the extra win to give
them a .500 record (31-31) as they gear up for a big road trip against the
Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Indians, and Philadelphia Phillies. While the record
might not be the most positive indicator, this was a critical week for a
Nationals team that is looking for any and all momentum possible to make a run
at the Atlanta Braves for the division crown. Let’s take a closer look at why
the Nats might look back on this week as the most critical for the future
success of the ballclub this season.

OBSERVATIONS:

LATE
INNING MAGIC

Tuesday’s 3-2 win against the Mets
was the first major comeback win for the Nationals this season, as they
faced poor situational hitting and sloppy defense to overcome a 2-1 deficit
in the ninth thanks to a walk-off sacrifice fly by starting 2B Steve
Lombardozzi. Coming into that game, the Nats had scored two runs total in the
ninth inning, and were 0-21 when trailing after six innings. They were also the
last major league team to win via walk-off this season, which speaks to their
late game woes. Given Zimmermann’s strong start (more on that in a minute), it
would have been beyond demoralizing for a team with such high expectations to
drop that kind of game. That late game comeback magic carried over into the
second game of Sunday’s double header, where the Nats – down 4-1 as a result of
Nathan Karns’ sub-par effort – clawed their way back with individual runs in
the 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th to squeak
out a 5-4 win and sweep the doubleheader. A clutch triple by Denard Span in the
6th and doubles by Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond in the 7th
paved the way. Not every baseball game is going to be won by staking a lead
early in the ballgame, so for the Nats to get two comeback wins in the same
week is a positive sign that this team has the fight to make this division race
competitive.

JORDAN
ZIMMERMANN’S DOMINANCE

While Stephen Strasburg and Gio
Gonzalez were regarded as the feared Nationals 1-2 punch heading into this
season, the Nationals would be in serious trouble if Jordan Zimmermann was not
anchoring this staff. The number 3 pitcher continued his dominant, dare I say
Cy Young-caliber season, with a pair of starts that cemented his status as one
of baseball’s top pitchers. On Tuesday, Zimmermann went 8 innings, giving up 4
hits, 2 runs (0 ER), 1 walk and 4 K’s. Those 2 runs came on a pair of uncharacteristically
sloppy defensive plays by Adam LaRoche – there was hardly anything Zimmermann
could have done differently to alter the outcome. On Sunday, in the first leg
of a double header, it was imperative Zimmermann go deep into the game to rest
a bullpen that was heavily taxed the night before, and would in all likelihood need to be used given the recent performances of nighttime starter Nathan Karns. And boy did Zim deliver.
Zimmermann stymied the Twins to the tune of 7 innings, 2 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks,
and 8 k’s in an absolutely dominant performance. With 94 2/3 IP for the season,
Zimmermann now has an ERA at 2.00 exactly, and an absolutely absurd WHIP of
.887. He has now gone seven innings or more in ten of his thirteen starts this
year, and in those ten starts, he has not given up more than 3 ER’s. He has,
without question, been the MVP for this depleted Nationals team in the first
third of the season.

WELCOME
TO THE SHOW, ANTHONY RENDON

The Anthony Rendon experiment at
second base finally began in earnest on Wednesday, as the recently-turned 23
year old showed how much potential he has, and how far he has to go, in order
to cement his status as the number one second basemen. Rendon’s potential is
most evident at the plate; he went 6-16, including a really impressive game in
the first leg of the Sunday doubleheader, where he knocked in 3 runs while
going 2-3 in the process. While his .293/.383/.390 splits (BA/OPS/SLG) need to
be taken with a grain of salt given the small sample size, these kinds of
numbers are just what the doctor ordered for a Nats team that is looking for offensive
production from just about anyone right now. However, it’s pretty clear that
Rendon won’t be winning a gold glove at second anytime soon. On Sunday, he
committed an error in each game; the first leg featured a dropped pop up while
the second game featured a booted throw to first after a slick dive to pick up
a grounder. Neither were calamitous, and I’m willing to let Rendon make those
kinds of errors as he’s basically learning the position on the job. But the
Nationals have been a horrific defensive team this year, and given Ryan
Zimmerman’s throwing struggles at third, the sooner Rendon picks up the fundamentals at second, the better the Nats will be going forward. Regardless, his four games at second have been thoroughly impressive, and the job at second will be his as long as Danny Espinosa doesn’t morph into a .400 hitter while he’s on the DL; I’ll take my chances that Rendon will be here a while. 

AROUND
THE NL EAST

ATLANTA
BRAVES

The Braves went 5-2 this week,
sweeping the Pirates at home before running into the Yasiel Puig chainsaw and
ultimately settling for a split with the Dodgers in LA. They now have a seven
game lead on the Nats, but continue to stay out west for a three game set
against the San Diego Padres before returning home for three games against the dangerous San Francisco Giants. Kris Medlen had a very impressive week, pitching a
combined 13.2 IP over two games while giving up no runs and striking out 12.
Although his record is currently 3-6, if he’s heating up like he did at the end
of last year, he could be a real threat to the National’s division aspirations.

PHILADELPHIA
PHILLIES

A 4-3 week looks good on paper, but
when you consider that the Phillies swept a triple AAA team in Miami, at home,
it doesn’t look as sound. Losing 3 of 4 at Milwaukee ultimately hurt what could
have been a really solid week for a team looking to stay involved in the
division race. Domonic Brown continues to do his Carl Yastrzemski impression at the plate; he went 12-26, hitting four homers and scoring eleven runs in the last seven
games. I refuse to believe he can continue to produce at this level, but his
emergence has definitely been one of the few positives in an otherwise
disappointing campaign for the Phillies thus far. The Phillies now sit at
31-33, only one game back of the Nats for 2nd place in the division.

NEW YORK METS

Wednesday’s 10-1 thrashing of the
Nats notwithstanding, this was a horrific week for the Mets. Not only did
reliever Bobby Pelfrey blow a 2-1 lead to the Nats the night before, but they
went ahead and lost Saturday’s 20 inning war of attrition with the Marlins that
may have set baseball back about fifty years. Even worse, the Mets did not give
Nats fans, and the national media, the opportunity to see Rick Ankiel fill in
for a reliever during that game. They instead decided to DFA him after Saturday’s
game in order to recall Kirk Nieuwenhuis. I think it’s karmic justice that the
Mets were pushed to late innings again on Sunday, only to lose 8-4 in the
tenth. The Mets bullpen was the worst in the league last year, and they’ve
continued to be terrible this year. I have to believe Ankiel could find a spot
in that bullpen if he wanted one. Major kudos to Shawn Marcum for showing that he could thwart triple AAA hitting by pitching 8 innings of one run ball in relief, but no kudos should be given to any of the Mets for the atrocity they put on the field this past weekend.

MIAMI
MARLINS

Major props to the Marlins for
sweeping the Mets (albeit with a Friday rainout) with two really gutsy
performances. They finished 2-3 on the week, but that 2-1 20 inning game will
probably go down as the highlight of their season. It will certainly be Kevin
Slowey’s; the starter completely shut down the Mets with seven innings of
shutout baseball in relief to gain
the win. A huge thank you from all baseball fans should be sent to Adeiny
Hechavarria for singling in Placido Polanco in the top half of the 20th – if not
for him, that game would probably still be going on right now. At least he put
the Mets bloggers out of their misery. 

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