At the beginning of the season I was asked to provide my input on the NL East and I, in total seriousness, said the Nationals would win a hundred games. I now feel like an idiot. With the Nats third in the NL East and somehow still trying to convince themselves the ship will right its course ... Optimism has given way to panic. I know there is more than half of the season left to play and the Nats are only five-ish games back. However, there is something about the Nationals’ unwillingness to publicly recognize their faults that leads me to the dark depths of despair.
Michael A. Taylor
First thing’s first, in my house we have only one rule when it comes to sports: love and respect Michael A. Taylor. Why? Perhaps because he is one of the most calm, cool, and collected baseball players you’ll find. Maybe it’s his penchant for clutch grand slams. Or it could be that time Anthony Rendon called him “the silent assassin.” One of the first things I have to ask about the Nationals’ pitiful month of June is, why the heck isn’t Dave Martinez putting Michael A. Taylor in the lineup every day? He says:
“It’s definitely hard. I’ve had a conversation with him, and I’ve told him it’s a long season and he’s going to play. It just so happens right now that we’re facing some guys who are pretty good against right-handed hitters. And we’ve got a lot of good left-handed hitters.”
Normally I’d say that’s fair, but Michael A. Taylor is the most productive Nationals’ hitter this month by a wide margin. He is batting .389 in June, seventy points above second-place Juan Soto (.313). The team average for the month of June is .234, which is 12th in the NL and 22nd in baseball. Michael A. is carrying the Nationals’ offense yet spent five of the past fourteen games on the bench. The Nationals lost four of those five games, so, I dunno, maybe play Michael A?
Gio Gonzalez did alright at the beginning of the season and has pretty well tanked in the month of June. Prior to this month, Gio had a .225 batting average against him and a 3.06 FIP. (Fielding Independent Pitching is a metric similar to ERA that focuses more on a pitcher’s true performance because it factors out the defense behind a pitcher.) This put him solidly in the range of “not bad.” Now, however, in 85.2 innings pitched his FIP has jumped to 3.92. The average against him is now .249, so one of every four batters Gio faces gets a hit. His 4.1 walks per nine innings are tied for seventh-most in baseball.
And then there’s Tanner Roark. You know that one player you root for just because they never seem to catch a break? Like, I don’t know, not getting the Game 5 start in the postseason? Being forced into the bullpen after being a really productive starter? I want Tanner to do well and he’s ... just ... not. In 92.2 innings this season, his record is 3-8. Tanner’s FIP is 4.49 and the average against him is .234.
These two need to step up their game if the Nationals want a shot at the postseason. They might be able to coast along if the Nationals are slugging well this season. Unfortunately, that brings us to our third problem.
Outside of the “Silent Assassin” and Juan Soto, there hasn’t been a lot of that hitting-the-ball thing happening for the Nationals. In the month of June they are tied for 26th place in overall runs scored with 78. Their wRC+ for the month is 74, that’s 14th place in the National League. That means the Nationals’ offense performed about twenty-two percent below league average. They are 14th in the NL in wOBA. They are 27th in slugging percentage and, as follows, they are 26th in OPS.
But that’s just one month, right? June was bad. I’m sure the rest of the season wasn’t—
Nationals Offense - Ranked
Oh, they have been fairly bad all season. They are 19th - 21st in these categories, making them a consistently below-average hitting team.
Tanner said, “Once we get it clicking, I think we’ll be OK.” Look, halfway through the season, barring trades, you know what kind of team you are. The Nationals cannot spend the season praying that Bryce Harper returns to form and Daniel Murphy continues to be clutch. They can’t spend it looking at their bottom three starters’ stats and insisting they will get better. Over the weekend, Mark Zuckerman wrote an article about the Nationals’ lack of urgency.
“Martinez was late to emerge from the clubhouse for his postgame press conference Friday night, the kind of delay that often comes because the manager was holding a closed-door team meeting ... Maybe the story will have changed by the time the team leaves town late Sunday night and hits the road for a six-game trip through Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.”
The story didn’t change, the narrative didn’t improve, and I’m still waiting for the Nationals to admit they need to shake something up. I wouldn’t be so angsty about it if the Nats would just admit that there is a problem. Give up the, “We’ll start clicking” crap and tell me that Kevin Long is working with hitters on how to approach plate appearances with runners in scoring position. Tell me that Derek Lilliquist is working on helping Gio cut back on the walks. Tell me something to ease the worries, you know? In this game, complacency is fatal.
I think the Nationals’ month of June is best summed up by this tweet:
Marlins offense has been shut out 7 times this season.— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) June 26, 2018
Nationals offense has been shut out 7 times this month. pic.twitter.com/L8p3SHcdQG
Panic Mode: Activated.
Audrey Stark is a Contributor at Federal Baseball. You can follow her on Twitter @HighStarkSunday.