The Washington Nationals had a pretty up-and-down start to their 2019 campaign before coming to Citizens Bank Park. Thankfully, they left with the huge boost of a series win in which they looked a whole lot better than we had seen previously.
The team put in a gutsy effort in the series opener that they couldn’t quite pull out, followed by a huge comeback win on Tuesday and a blowout on Wednesday.
On the whole, it was the Nats’ most complete series performance as a team to date.
Just as we do after each series, we analyze the good, the bad, and the ugly takeaways from those games.
Warning: Cabbages may have been harmed in the making of this article...
Dare I say...the bullpen?
Huzzah! The bullpen has finally graduated to “The Good” in our series recaps. The Nationals’ bullpen allowed just two runs in 11.1 innings, walking four batters and striking out eleven.
There were some outstanding efforts from certain relievers who caught the eye during the series in Philly. And boy did this team need it from their ‘pen after a rough start.
Joe Ross, who looked poor in a potentially jet-lagged appearance against the New York Mets on Sunday, put in an excellent two innings on Tuesday. He looked much more comfortable this time and gave a glimpse of the potential force he could be in the bullpen.
Sean Doolittle was also in his usual dominant form on Tuesday, netting his third(!!) win. With the rest of the group faltering at times, Doolittle’s ability to go more than an inning has proved almost invaluable in some of the team’s wins this season, including this one.
And finally, Trevor Rosenthal recorded his first out as a National. Make no mistake, he was still shaky, yanking a more than a few pitches in the outing while walking three batters and allowing a run. But it’s definitely progress and we all hope he can shake off the yips.
Overall, this was a flash of how good the bullpen can be when most things go right for them. Obviously, things won’t always break right for them like this series, but perhaps we can lower the pitchforks temporarily and realize that 7.79 reliever’s ERA will come down.
Rendon continues to cash in early
Usually a slow starter, Anthony Rendon continued his a scorching hot start in Philadelphia. Oh, and he also currently possesses a ten-game hitting streak which includes eight-straight with an extra base hit.
In his career, entering Wednesday night’s game, Rendon held a .813 OPS in March/April in his six-year big league career, the lowest OPS for him in any month.
But this year is a complete contrast as he now owns a stunning .429/.490/.881 slash line, which gives him a 1.371 OPS on the young season. That puts him third in the majors in OPS among qualifiers behind only Mike Trout and Cody Bellinger.
Though Nationals fans have always been appreciative of his sometimes overlooked efforts, he’s exceeded all expectations so far in the team’s first few games. Hopefully, a first All-Star nod is looming with a start like this, an honor he has long deserved but failed to have yet.
Every time he produces efforts like he did in this series, that price tag of a possible extension goes up. The ball is in the Nationals’ court while Rendon does his thing.
Top Flight youngsters help steal a win
Bryce who? The performance of young outfielders Victor Robles and Juan Soto this series is further proof the Nationals won’t miss Bryce Harper all that much.
Robles went 4-for-8 during the three games, including the crucial game-tying home run with the team down to its last strike on Tuesday. Meanwhile, his compatriot Soto was 2-for-7 in the series with the moonshot in the 10th inning to eventually win that same game.
They even have a coordinated handshake they emphatically displayed after Robles’s blast.
Honestly, there were so many candidates to be included in “The Good” section after the games in Philadelphia. Brian Dozier appeared to find something in the series. Howie Kendrick and the two catchers both impressed too.
But the performances of Robles and Soto caught the eye just a little more given the man in right field on the other team. The future is bright for the Nationals’ outfield without their former number 34.
Bullpen fatigue showed itself
With some relievers having to shoulder a large portion of the load for a struggling bullpen, there were small signs of fatigue that came to light during this series.
During the last game, in the midst of a blowout, Tony Sipp entered the game in the seventh inning before leaving with trainer Paul Lessard after just four pitches. After the game, it was revealed Sipp left with shoulder stiffness, meaning his removal was likely precautionary.
We also saw Justin Miller, who served up the game-winning homer to Rhys Hoskins, appear to work with reduced velocity. Last year, his fastball averaged 94.0mph, but in this outing, his fastball averaged just 92.1mph. Only a small dip, but enough to raise an eyebrow.
And the same could be said for Matt Grace, who has appeared in seven of the team’s first 11 games. His velocity dipped a little to an average of just 90.0mph on Tuesday, though he was still able to pitch two scoreless innings of relief.
It’s only a small concern during a great series for the Nationals. It’s also one that may be alleviated if Sipp is unscathed and if Miller and Grace come out firing after at least two or three days rest respectively. Probably something to monitor at the very least.
Strasburg gets whacked around
In fairness, after having plenty to improve in previous series, it was tough to find too much wrong with the Nats this time around. So the main concern from this matchup with the Phillies was the performance of Stephen Strasburg.
The righty, who usually has success at the home of the Phillies, went just four innings, giving up six runs on six hits and an alarming four walks.
Perhaps the biggest mistake of the night came against Harper. He tripled up on the changeup deep in the count, and Harper put it over the wall for a three-run home run.
Strasburg’s command was off all night, as evidenced by the four walks and throwing only 49 of his 83 pitches for strikes. It felt like a grind for him and he’ll be very thankful to Robles for getting him off the hook for the loss.
It was a little disappointing after he dominated the Mets last time out, but it’s probably fair to put this down to a tough lineup and just one of those games. Next up, he’s likely to face the light-hitting San Francisco Giants, a perfect chance to bounce back.
Those poor cabbages
We appear to have a new gimmick. After the huge win on Tuesday, the team proceeded to have another cabbage race. You know, the same as the one they did on National Cabbage Day during Spring Training.
Things look like they got competitive while inflicting pain on innocent cabbages, leaving a weird and ugly mess scene in the clubhouse. At least it’s not camels, I suppose...
Next up: The Pittsburgh Pirates come to the nation’s capital, as the Nationals finally face someone outside the NL East. Patrick Corbin, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez are the probable starters for the hosts.