Nationals Retrospective: Week 13

If you
had told me going into this week that the Nationals would take two of three
from a very good Diamondbacks team while facing Patrick Corbin in one of those
games, then take two of three from the Mets while facing Matt Harvey in one
game and starting rookie pitcher Taylor Jordan in another, I would have been
ecstatic. So all in all this was a pretty good 4-2 week for the Nats who now
sit one game above .500 (41-40) and are now 6.5 games back of the Braves at the
half-way point of the season. There were certainly more positives than
negatives to take away from these six games, so I’m not totally discouraged,
but this was a week that saw a couple missed opportunities that might come back
to haunt this team if they’re in the thick of a division title race come
September. Still, all we can ask of this team is to keep winning 2 out of 3 and
keep playing around .600 ball – it will be the only way we have a shot of
making things interesting on the backend of the season. With all that said,
here’s a closer looks at the good, the bad, and the meh from this week in Nats
baseball.

OBSERVATIONS:

GOOD: IMPROVED
HITTING OF DENARD SPAN AND KURT SUZUKI

When the Nats traded 1st
round pick Alex Meyer to the Twins for Denard Span, the general consensus in
Natstown was that this was a positive “win-now” trade that gave the Nats a
sorely needed leadoff man who played above average offense and gold glove
caliber defense. The defense has definitely been there – he has been stellar in CF, a feeling that before Bryce Harper, Nats fans had no idea what that was like. But his offense has been struggling. Last year, he hit .283/.342/.395 and was worth 3.6 WAR
according to Fangraphs. This year? He’s hitting .262/.314/.361 and is
worth 1.2 WAR halfway through the campaign. I know he’s talked at length about
how he’s still learning the National League and trying to adjust to new
pitchers, so I’m willing to give him a pass, but it was nice to see him have a
very good week at the plate. Against the Diamondbacks and Mets, Span had a
slash line of .308/.333/.500 with three doubles and a triple to boot. It would
be nice if he could draw more walks as he did early in the season; a 2:1 K:BB ratio morphed into a 5:1 ratio
this week, but his improved hitting towards his career norms is refreshing.

As for Suzuki, leave it to the
Hawaiian to start improving at the plate once word comes down that regular
number one catcher Wilson Ramos is nearing his return to the team. Suzuki’s
career averages of .253/.310/.376 look magnificent in comparison to his
.226/.286/.332 line put up this year, and his .197/244/.310 he put up in June.
While much of this should be chalked up to his increased workload, and the fact
that he’s significantly better at managing the pitching staff and calling a
game than backup Jhonotan Solano, the fact remains that Suzuki would be best
served if he had more time to rest in between starts. So for him to come out
and put up a .389/.400/.611 this week, including his first home run since
April, was more than surprising. He drove in 5 RBI’s this week, which was more
than he drove in for the entire month of May. The Nats would love to have that
kind of production from the bottom of the order, whether it’s Suzuki or Ramos,
so this is definitely a positive sign for the struggling offense.

VERY GOOD:
BRYCE HARPER IS COMING BACK

The impending return of Bryce Harper
was probably the best news that came out of Natstown this week, after Harper
put up solid numbers in his rehab starts while showing no signs of discomfort
in his left knee. The Nats are definitely excited to welcome their three-hole
hitter back to the team; after all, the team is 25-18 when he plays (good for a
94 win pace) and 17-22 when he doesn’t. It also means Roger Bernadina will be
relegated to the bench role he really should have for the rest of the season
barring another freak injury. Harper was hitting .287/.386/.587 before his knee
bursitis forced him down; in comparison, Bernadina is hitting .187/.253/.291.
This addition by subtraction is definitely a welcome sign, and comes at just
the right time as the Nats look to get a major win streak going in the coming
weeks.

MEH:
CRAIG STAMMEN

Not the best week for the usually reliable
reliever. On Thursday, Stammen took the loss against the Diamondbacks in
extra innings after only completing one 25 pitch inning as he was hit hard by
Miguel Montero and then caught off guard by a suicide squeeze by Didi Gregorius.
In Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the Mets, Stammen surrendered two additional runs to
put the game out of reach, and he was not impressive in the outing, getting
routinely hard hit and needing major defensive contributions from Anthony
Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman to get out of further danger. In his last five appearances (8.0 IP) he has been hit much harder than usual, to the tune of a 1.001 OPS, but even so there isn’t any reason to sound the alarm. He’s had a rough couple of games, and that’s all that can really be said at the moment.

BAD: THE
DEFENSE

 

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Looking at just errors would tell you that the Nationals are
the second worst defensive team in the National League, only on one behind the
Dodgers for last place. That doesn’t tell the entire story, looking to UZR and,
more importantly, UZR/150 the Nats rank 23rd in MLB, 12th
in the NL. That’s still not fantastic, but there are some very good teams behind
the Nats in this statistic including the Cardinals and the Tigers.

This weekend’s series against the Mets exemplified some of
the problems the Nats have had all season when it comes to garnering enough momentum
to get a winning streak going. On Friday, with David Wright on second base, Ian
Desmond bobbled a Marlon Byrd grounder, and his throw to Adam LaRoche
definitely was not his finest. But a gold glove caliber defender like LaRoche
needs to pick the throw, or, at the very least, keep the ball in front of him
so that the runner can’t score from second. Later in the 7th, a Ross Ohlendorf
pick-off attempt of Daniel Murphy resulted in an error after LaRoche couldn’t
field the throw. I’m hoping it was just one bad game for LaRoche; even though
he wasn’t charged with either error, both plays were routine enough and were
definitely unexpected from his usually sterling defense. It was a microcosm of
a larger problem for the Nats; mainly, that his defense has been slipping all
year and manifested itself in the worst way in Friday’s game. But it paled in
comparison to the team’s defensive performance the next day. With rookie Taylor
Jordan on the mound needing all the help he could get, the Nats promptly
committed three errors and a couple other bad defensive plays to give Jordan
the loss, despite the fact that he only gave up one earned run. A prime culprit
in that game was Ryan Zimmerman. While his throwing problems have been well
documented, Saturday saw him mishandle two hard hit groundballs that are
normally handled by most players at the position. It was probably just a bad
day, but the bottom line is that Zimmerman has been a defensive sieve this
year, and it was disappointing to see him slip up defensively in a non-throwing
situation.

AROUND
THE NL EAST

ATLANTA
BRAVES

Leave it to the Braves to go 4-1 in
a week where the Nats go 4-2. The Braves split two games with the Royals before
impressively sweeping the Diamondbacks to ensure that they could only gain on
the Nats in the division standings. Saturday’s 11-5 was very impressive; down
one run in the 8th inning, the Braves exploded for 7 runs off 5 hits
to gain the victory. The book on this team was that they were going to be
streaky coming into the season, and they’re definitely proving it, seemingly
matching the Nats week in and week out with a near .500 record. Had it not been
for their incredibly hot start in April, the complexion of this race would be
far different. Nonetheless, a solid week for the Braves, who will look to
capitalize on the week with two series at Philadelphia and Miami respectively.
Also, a sincere congratulations to Chipper Jones on getting his number retired by the
Braves organization on Friday night – he was always a class act and a fantastic
baseball player to boot. Considering how he terrorized the Nats, I’m glad we
don’t have to see him 18 times a year.     

PHILADELPHIA
PHILLIES

The Phillies went 3-4 this week,
taking two of three from the upstart Padres before running into the Yasiel Puig
chainsaw and dropping three of four against the Dodgers. Still, in their one
win against L.A. (and in a John Lannan start no less), the Phillies won 16-1 as
they saw an offensive explosion from defensive albatross Delmon Young, who put
up 6 RBI’s in the game. They also gave us the joy of seeing Skip Schumacker
throw an inning of relief for the Dodgers, and as the Nats saw on Sunday when
the Mets’ backup catcher Anthony Recker pitched the top half of the 9th, there
is no greater joy than seeing a position player take the mound in a blowout
loss. If only the Dodgers had Rick Ankiel. Sigh.  

NEW YORK
METS

A bizarre 3-3 week for the Mets –
they split two games with the Chicago White Sox in Chicago, before winning a
make-up game in Colorado on Thursday, before returning home to lose two out of
three to the Nats. Matt Harvey continues to be insane in the membrane (insane
in the brain) when it comes to his dominance of the national league this
season. Despite recording a no decision on Friday, Harvey’s game was an
absolute gem: 7IP, 3H, 1ER, 0BB, 11K’s while repeatedly touching 97-98 mph on
his fastball. His season as a whole has been equally ridiculous, and his
cumulative 2.00 ERA/.85 WHIP are currently tops in the National League.
Unfortunately for Jordan Zimmermann, there is no doubt Harvey is the favorite
to start the all-star game being played at Citi Field this year. I would be
remiss if I didn’t pour a 40 for the Mets bullpen, which returned to its atrocious
form against the Nats this weekend despite playing some good ball in the ten
games prior. Much of the blame falls on Brandon Lyon, who blew the hold on
Friday’s loss giving up a tough walk to Anthony Rendon before the Ryan
Zimmerman bases clearing double. On Sunday, he decided to one-up his awfulness,
giving up doubles to Jayson Werth, Roger Bernadina, Denard Span and Anthony
Rendon and a home run to Kurt Suzuki. Given that he has not been good all
season, it would not be a surprise to see the veteran righty DFA’d sometime
within the next couple of days.

MIAMI
MARLINS

Don’t look now, but the Marlins went
15-10 in the month of June, and topped that off with a nice 4-1 week that saw
them sweep two games against the lowly Twins before taking two of three from
the Padres at home. The series win against the Padres was very impressive, and
culminated in an unexpected walk-off grand slam by Jeff Mathis, of all people.
Jose Fernandez has quietly had a fantastic season for the struggling fish; not
only was his 1.67 ERA for the month of June the best in the majors, but he only
gave up two doubles and no home runs in the process. Combined with the
impressive start of Nathan Eovaldi (who went six scoreless against the Padres
on Sunday), the Marlins may have found a decent 1-2 punch.  

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