Nationals Retrospective: Week 12

Ugh.

I think
that’s the collective feeling from Nats fans everywhere given the performance
of the team as a whole, but this week in particular was yet another in a long
list where the team appears to take one step forward, followed by two steps
backward. The Nationals (37-38) had a 3-4 week, losing two of three at
Philadelphia before splitting a four game set with Colorado despite winning the
first two games of the series. Given the collective struggles of the NL East,
which has now been relegated to the worst of the NL divisions, this was a week
where the Nats had a serious opportunity to make up ground on the Atlanta
Braves (44-33) and close the gap on our fiercest division rivals, who somehow
only managed to gain a half game on the Nats this past week. There were some
good moments and good things that happened this week, but as many Nats fans and
beat reporters have written about this team’s “stuck in neutral” gear, there is
a floating sentiment that this team just won’t be able to put together a
substantial run that could get them in playoff contention. Nonetheless, through
the good, the bad, and the meh, let’s take a closer look at this past week in
Nats baseball.       

OBSERVATIONS:

GOOD: THE
BULLPEN IS COMING AROUND

One
of the presumed strengths heading into this year would be a revitalized bullpen
that had everything sans left handed LOOGY on paper to handle the demands of a
full length season. Between stalwarts Drew Storen, Rafael Soriano, Craig
Stammen and Tyler Clippard – the presumed “guy to get left handers out” thanks
to his nasty changeup – the Nats could ride those four in the clutch to
maintain one of last season’s biggest assets. Yet the start to the year was
troublesome. I don’t need to belabor the atrocity that was the Henry
Rodriguez/Zach Duke combination, but the addition of lefties Ian Krol and
Fernando Abad has been a pleasant addition by subtraction of Nationals dead
weight that has helped this team. Krol in particular has been great – in his 8
2/3IP this year, he still hasn’t allowed a major league run, has a ridiculous
12.46 K/9 ratio, a .23 WHIP and has already amassed .5WAR. He’s also been
economical – in yesterday’s game against Colorado, he threw two innings on only
19 pitches. Tyler Clippard, who has been productive and yet struggling all
season with his proclivity to put people on base and work large pitch counts in
single innings, has been better as of late – in his 7 2/3IP pitched in June, he
hasn’t given up a run and has a 1.04 WHIP, while displaying an ability to be
economical like in Wednesday’s win at Philadelphia, where he went 1 2/3IP on
only 18 pitches. Even Drew Storen, who has been relegated to ROOGY status as of
late and is the subject of many trade rumors as the deadline approaches, has
been better in the last couple of weeks, working full innings of scoreless
relief instead of just a batter or two. If the Nats have any hope of breaking
out of their mediocre doldrums, they’ll need to rely on the continually
improved play from the back end of the pen to ensure that they’ll always be in
close games.

MEH:
DAVEY JOHNSON’S MANAGERIAL DECISIONS

Look: I am fully aware this this has
been the Dumbo-sized elephant in the room for the Nats all season, with Davey
possessing some kind of carte blanche power with setting the lineups given that
this will be his last season in his illustrious big league managerial career.
And I think by and large he’s a pretty good guy and seems to have a refreshing
sense of humor that makes him ten times more endearing than stone faced Jim
Riggleman. But he made some really questionable decisions this past week, both
on the field and in the press, and he deserves to be criticized for them,
rightly or not. On the field, he completely botched last week’s 5-4 loss in
Philadelphia when he had Fernando Abad – a Houston Astros castoff – come in to
pitch in a scoreless 9th inning when he had blown a similar
situation in Cleveland just three days earlier. Why he didn’t use Rafael
Soriano when the Phillies had the heart of their order coming to the plate
remains a mystery. He’s also gotten himself in a minor quibble with Bryce
Harper within the press about when he’s going to return to the lineup, with the
all-star basically saying he’s going to come back when he’s 100% ready, not
when Davey thinks he’s ready. Considering Davey was instrumental in the PR
debacle regarding his knee bursitis (and let’s be honest – no one sits out for
over a month with knee bursitis, so nice going medical staff), I don’t
understand his desire to get involved in something so stupid as this when the
Nats have far bigger issues to worry about. Also, the lineup he trotted out
yesterday that included Jeff Kobernus and Chris Marrero in the stead of Denard
Span and Adam Laroche due to lefty Jorge De La Rosa pitching was kind of
bizarre given that the Nats have today off. It’s one thing to give players
rest, but Davey has had this “old-school” notion of trying to gain as many
righty on lefty matchups as possible in the hopes of jump-starting the offense
all season, and it hasn’t really been a successful managerial strategy all
season. Given that the offense is still mediocre at best, Davey needs to get
this out of his head and start putting his best options on the field at all
opportunities possible if the Nats want to be involved in October.

BAD: THE
HAREN/DETWILER COMBINATION

Rough week for the back end of the
Nats rotation. I’ll start with Haren, who was moved to the DL after Saturday’s
disastrous start against Colorado in the hopes that he can get some minor
league starts to figure out some mechanical issues that have been well
documented on this site and everywhere else in the blogosphere. I was a fan at
the beginning of the year replacing Edwin Jackson – who was mediocre at best –
with a former all-star who regularly pitched 200 innings of quality baseball on
a one year contract. But his 6.15 ERA is now the highest for starters in all of
baseball, joining his dismal 19 HR’s surrendered as the worst in the majors. I
applaud Mike Rizzo and crew for temporarily pulling the plug and letting
journeyman Ross Ohlendorf and his awesome wind up have a shot for the time
being, since it’s obvious Haren’s lost velocity, his inability to have a cutter
actually, you know, cut, and inability to pitch out of the stretch have all
contributed to his struggles this season. Detwiler has been equally
troublesome: Despite the promise of Tuesday’s start at Philadelphia, Detwiler
got shelled in a three run 6th inning that ultimately cost the Nats
the game. On Sunday, he was pretty dreadful in giving up 7 runs while not being
able to get out of the 4th inning. Detwiler has always had problems
getting through lineups the second or third time given that he’s a high
fastball pitcher with mediocre secondary pitches that he doesn’t bust out until
later innings. Detwiler is still getting his timing back
after returning from the DL, but the Nats need Detwiler to be as good as he was
last year, especially with Haren’s struggles, if they have any shot of making a
playoff push.

AROUND
THE NL EAST

ATLANTA
BRAVES

Good news for Nats fans: The Braves
went 3-5 this week while playing against the Mets and the Brewers. Bad news:
The Braves gained a half game in the standings since last week. Their offense
has really struggled as of late (Bryan McCann’s Sunday grand slam notwithstanding)
– in the eight games they played this week, they scored 2, 3, 1, 5, 3, 0, 0,
and 7 runs. That’s Nationals-esque. Part of their problem may be the news that
Evan Gattis has hit the DL with what appears to be a strained oblique, but the
bigger issues is that Justin Upton – who started the year with such a torrid
start – has been struggling as of late, posting a .158/.261/.158 (!) slash line
this week. His average is at a season low .240 right now. Nats fans should be
worried he’ll break out of it sooner rather than later, but his struggles have
definitely been a microcosm for the struggling Braves as a whole in the last
two weeks.           

PHILADELPHIA
PHILLIES

A 3-3 week for the fighting Phils,
taking two of three with the Nats before losing two of three to the Mets.
Surprisingly, they remain only 1.5 further back of the NL East crown than the
Nats. Unsurprising, John Lannan remains a mediocre to bad pitcher – despite the
Nats struggled against the former opening day starter, Lannan got shelled
Sunday against the Mets, giving up four runs over 5 innings while getting hard
hit everywhere. Unfortunately, Ryan Howard is beginning to heat up: He hit a
moonshot off Dan Haren on Monday, and had a ridiculous .476/.538/1.095 line for
the week, including 3HR’s and 7 RBI’s. The Phillies are hopeful they can follow
his coattails while still remaining relevant in the division.  

NEW YORK
METS

They won a 5 game series against the
Braves, then won 2 of 3 against the Mets to finish the week 5-3. Zach Wheeler
had an impressive debut in the backend of Tuesday’s doubleheader, going six
innings, giving up four hits, and striking out seven while giving up no runs.
David Wright had a pretty good week at the plate, going .361/.378/.778 and
staking his claim as the starting 3B come all-star weekend. The Mets are riding
their stars, who played like they were stars this past week, which is something
the Nats have not really had offensively this season.

MIAMI
MARLINS

Yes, they lost two of three at
Arizona, but going into San Francisco and winning three of four is no small
feat to finish the week 4-3. It was a pretty good week for recent call up Nate
Eovaldi, who went six innings giving up two runs on 84 pitches, then went to
San Francisco and did the exact same thing, except on 86 pitches. Opponents in
those two games are hitting a combined .171 against him, and he’s shown the
ability with his pitch counts to go deep into games once the Marlins decide to
stop protecting his young arm. Between him and Jose Fernandez, the Marlins
definitely have had something to smile about in recent weeks as this continues
to be a dismal season for the Florida franchise.

  

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