Nationals Retrospective: Week 11

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This past week was, how should I put it, middling for our
beloved Washington Nationals, as they went 3-3 while on the road against two
fairly average teams in the Colorado Rockies (37-33) and the Cleveland Indians
(34-34). The Nats were able to take two of three from Colorado despite not swinging
the bats well in situational moments, and they were essentially gifted those
wins thanks to an incredibly fluky Ross  Ohlendorf
performance on Wednesday
combined with terrible injury luck/bad umpiring to hurt the Rockies on
Thursday. In Cleveland, the Nats were two-hit in game one (scoring their only
run on a wild pitch) and shutout in the final leg. The win they got in
Cleveland came after blowing a five run lead and was secured on an Anthony
Rendon

home run that should have not happened if Nick Swisher
were competent
defensively. The Nats have not swept a series since they took down the White
Sox in the third series of the season, and their series win in Colorado was
their first road series win since they downed the Pirates in the first weekend
of May. Put simply, their offense continues to struggle in increasingly
embarrassing fashion, and anytime this team seems to gain momentum, they lose
it within the next two games. Still, there is optimism on the horizon, despite
my cynicism. Let’s take a quick look at some observations from the past week,
from the good to the bad to the NL East in general.

OBSERVATIONS:

GOOD:
DESMOND AND RENDON ARE EN EL FUEGO

 

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The
Nationals’ middle infielders were nothing short of spectacular this past week –
without them, this week could have been a lot uglier than it actually was. Ian
Desmond


had another monster week, extending his hitting streak to a season high
fifteen games before running into a magnum opus type performance from Justin
Masterson



in Cleveland on Friday. Still, Desmond’s slash line for the week of .421/.542/.579
with a 1.121 OPS (!!!) was pretty outstanding. More important than the line,
though, was Desmond’s increased patience on display this week; he walked and
struck out four times a piece on the week. Desmond is going to be an aggressive
hitter, which is what allows him to jump on pitchers early (He has a .426
average when facing a 0-0 count), but his strike out to walk ratio has been at
a putrid rate of about 4/1 according to Baseball Reference. I’m not expecting
him to keep the 1/1 ratio, but this is a good sign for a Nationals team looking
for as many baserunners as possible. However, Desmond was usurped in
impressiveness by 2B fill-in and recent call up Anthony  Rendon, who was
phenomenal this week. His .500/.524/.800 with a 1.324 OPS (!!!!!!!!) notwithstanding,
Rendon proved he had the clutch factor this week, slugging his first career
home run in Saturday’s wild 7-6 game with Cleveland that ultimately proved to
be the game winner. Three of his ten hits went for doubles, showing that he has
some power, and he also managed to strike out only once this week, which is
unusual for such a young player seeing regular major league pitching for the
first time. He will regress to the mean at some point with his averages, but
the Nationals need to ride his hotness for as long as possible. Needless to
say, his spot in the lineup is safe for the time being.

GOOD:
THE ROTATION IS BACK

 

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The
Nats welcomed back Ross  Detwiler
and prodigal son Stephen  Strasburg
into the
starting rotation, thus bringing stability to a pitching staff that has been
hanging on by a thread in recent weeks. More importantly, it relieves the Nats
of throwing out the likes of Nathan Karns
or Ross Ohlendorf to start from here
on out (knock on wood). Detwiler’s Major League return was unimpressive, but
encouraging: 5 innings, 6 hits, 3 ER, 2 K’s. Strasburg’s start was equally
encouraging: 5 innings, 1 hit, 1 ER, 4 BB’s and 4 K’s. He threw only 82
pitches, and while his command was spotty, it was encouraging that he only gave
up one hit and kept Cleveland guessing throughout the afternoon. With these
guys back, it is only a matter of time until Bryce  Harper
returns to get this
team back to full strength, and in a position to start playing like the team
they should be.

BAD: THE
CHAD TRACY CONUNDRUM

 

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Don’t
let Saturday’s game tying home run on Saturday fool you: Chad  Tracy
has been
pretty terrible this season. His slash line of .141/.179/.234 pales in
comparison to his career averages of .274/.333/.440. Many in Nats fandom have
claimed that he needs regular reps, like Tyler  Moore, in order to get out of
his hitting slump, but I think Nats fans need to be prepared to accept that
Tracy is over the hill. He had 8 AB’s this week; that home run on Saturday was
his only hit. He was never expected to get regular reps on this team barring an
injury, as his role as captain of the “goon squad” was to be the power lefty
bat off the bench. While he just played two games at third (to relieve the Nats
of Ryan Zimmerman’s Defensive Adventure, coming to you weekdays on MASN at 7!),
Anthony Rendon could serve as the backup third basemen should something happen
to Zim. The only thing keeping him around right now is the fact that the
closest thing to a true left handed power hitter in the Nats minor league
system are Corey  Brown
and Mike  Costanzo, with Brown already gunning for
Bernadina’s roster spot. I don’t know if Tracy is incredibly important to the
locker room makeup of the team, and I’m all for maintaining chemistry in some
fashion, but Tracy’s role as the designated pinch hitter needs to end, and his
playing time needs to be curtailed going forward.

AROUND
THE NL EAST

ATLANTA
BRAVES

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A
disappointing 2-4 week for the Braves, as they got swept by the up and coming
Padres before rallying to take two of three from the Giants at home. It would
have been even worse if not for Saturday’s come from behind win; Sergio  Romo

imploded for the Giants and the Braves were able to win via walk off courtesy
of a Freddie  Freeman
single. The Braves are now 6.5 games up on the Nats, but
they have a lot of games ahead of them: 5 against the Mets (a doubleheader on
Tuesday) at home followed by three in Milwaukee, who will be without Ryan
Braun
. Hopefully all those games, granted against mediocre competition, in a short time span will give the Nats an
opportunity to make up a game or two in the standings this week.
  

PHILADELPHIA
PHILLIES

A 2-4 week for the fighting Phils,
losing two of three to both the Twins and Rockies while on the road.
Unsurprising yet underrated: Cliff  Lee
has been absolutely fantastic this
season. His 8-2 record notwithstanding, his Thursday performance against the
Twins was masterful: 7IP, 3H, 2ER, 1BB, 6SO’s. Surprising and not properly
rated: Cole  Hamels
has a record of 2-10, and is getting no help from his supporting
cast. In his most recent start on Sunday, Hamels went 7IP, giving up six hits,
three runs, walking two and striking out seven. When Justin de Fratus
relieved
him in the 8th, he promptly gave up two more runs to put the game
out of reach. Hamels’ record doesn’t reflect his quality as a pitcher, but it
is surprising to see that the Phillies can’t buoy him with run support when he’s
on the mound.

NEW YORK
METS

 

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What
do you know, another 2-4 week for an NL East team! The Mets lost two of three
to the Cardinals and Cubs at home in a season that continues to be a train
wreck for the team from Queens. The big news coming from Mets camp is the call
up of stud prospect Zack  Wheeler

to start his first Major League start against
the Braves on Tuesday. Wheeler was the major piece traded to the Mets when they
traded Carlos Beltran to the Giants in 2011. Wheeler is 4-2 in 13 starts in the
minors this season, posting a 3.93 ERA (4.04 FIP) in the process along with a
9.57 K/9 and a 3.54 BB/9. While some in the organization feel that he’s just tired
of the minors – in similar vein to ace Matt  Harvey
– the Mets will be cautious
of his initial performances in the coming weeks ahead. The Nats should be
cautious of the one two punch the Mets have to offer; they have the potential
to be as good as the Strasburg/Gonzalez/Zimmermann trio that will hopefully be
around for at least the next decade.
 

MIAMI
MARLINS

 

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Losing
two of three to Milwaukee isn’t that unexpected, but winning two of three at
home against the Cardinals (aka the best team in the NL) to finish the week 3-3
defies standard logic. It was a pretty good week for closer Steve  Cishek, who
recorded three saves while not surrendering a hit in 2 1/3 IP. It was also a
good week for rookie Jose  Fernandez, who went 7 innings on Friday against the
Cardinals, only giving up two earned runs while striking out ten. The future
looks bright for this young pitcher in a Marlins season that has not had much
to be excited about.

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