Boy, for a two-game series, it was jam-packed with about as much action as any baseball fan could hope for. Despite being far from their best, the Washington Nationals managed to ride their luck into a split, including handing the Philadelphia Phillies their first loss of the season.
The atmosphere during the series was among the loudest for a regular season game in Nationals history. It could lead to a feisty season series between the two teams, sparked by the villain in Phillies’ pinstripes, with chapter two coming next week.
We look back at some of the positive, negative, and downright scary takeaways from the series that got most of the baseball world talking.
Max v Bryce lived up to the billing
Practically all of the talk in the lead up to the game was about Bryce Harper and his return to Nationals Park. But when he dug into the box against his former teammate Max Scherzer, it was a thrilling encounter.
The 2015 NL MVP was greeted with boos from all sections of the crowd, emphatically putting to rest any questions about the reception he would receive. That only served to fire up the Nats right-hander, who responded by striking out the outfielder in his first two plate appearances.
Harper did end up getting his revenge with a double against Scherzer in the fifth inning, but if every matchup between these two has the same intensity their three face-offs on Tuesday night, everyone watching will be in for a treat.
Noll has memorable first big league RBI
Yes, we saw many noteworthy offensive performances from the Nats in this series. Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto and Ryan Zimmerman were among those. But perhaps one of the cooler storylines during the two-game set with the bat was that of Jake Noll.
With Howie Kendrick set to be activated from the Injured List on Thursday, this was Noll’s last chance to step up to the plate in the big leagues. He did so with the bases loaded and nobody out in the ninth inning of a tied game. No pressure kid.
The young infielder put in an outstanding plate appearance, taking close pitches like a seasoned veteran to work the walk-off walk, allowing the Nationals to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. It was his first big league walk and RBI and set off the celebrations.
Shortly following the game, Noll was optioned to Triple-A Fresno, but his first big league stint ended up being a memorable one. A cool moment for Nationals fans to witness.
Injury to Turner a huge blow
After an injury-plagued year in 2018, the last thing the Nationals needed was the injury bug to strike again early this year. But unfortunately, it hit the team pretty hard in this series, with the injury sustained by Trea Turner by far the most concerning.
In the first inning of the game, the shortstop squared to bunt on an 0-1 count. The pitch ended up hitting Turner’s right index finger and was later confirmed as a non-displaced fracture that could rule him out for weeks, though an exact timetable is not clear.
In his absence, Adrian Sanchez was recalled from Triple-A, making Wilmer Difo the starting shortstop. That’s a huge downgrade offensively, as Turner’s offensive skillset may be one of the more underrated on the team, leaving the top of the team’s lineup on thin ice.
Turner was growing into a role as a leader with this team, leading from the front to start the year with two home runs and four stolen bases. Now he has to sit and watch, hoping his team can pull through without him, which is no mean feat.
Fundamentals still missing on the basepaths
“Little things.” It was all anyone associated with the Nats was talking about this Spring Training. But despite the heavy emphasis on the team’s fundamentals in West Palm Beach, there are still plenty of hiccups occurring on that front.
Two mistakes were particularly noteworthy in Wednesday’s game, causing concern about whether the team actually took in the philosophy this spring.
First, Victor Robles was deked by third baseman Maikel Franco who faked a throw to first base, catching the rookie in no man’s land off of second base. Then Wilmer Difo took too much of a secondary and was picked off by catcher J.T. Realmuto.
At some point, it’s tough to put the constant failings on the manager, and there has to be more accountability on the coaching staff who run the drills and the players themselves.
Dave Martinez was noticeably fired up after the game, saying they need to “limit the mistakes and start playing baseball.” The opposing bullpen won’t implode on them every game, so the Nats need to play sound baseball if they have any hope to contend in 2019.
Bullpen continues to struggles badly
We’re only five games into the season, but the Nationals bullpen continues to show no signs of respite in their struggles. After another rough series, their ERA as a group sits at an unsightly 11.02, by far the worst in the majors.
After the previous series, we focused on Trevor Rosenthal, who was at the heart of things again. The right-hander once again failed to record an out, meaning he has not done so in four straight appearances, including his final appearance of the 2017 season. Yikes.
But it wasn’t just Rosenthal that fell flat on his face. The Nationals used eight relievers in the series, pitching a total of nine innings, allowing 10 runs on 13 hits and six walks. The only reliever not to allow a baserunner in the series was Sean Doolittle.
The law of averages says that they won’t be this bad the rest of the way. But the bullpen looks far from reliable, which may lead to overuse of the reliable arms, just like last year. They need to figure it out quickly with the Lerners unlikely to shell out for Craig Kimbrel.
Bryce Harper in a Phillies uniform
Not performance wise, but aesthetically ugly. This will take some time to get used to...
Next up: Next for the Nats is their first road trip of the year as they head to Citi Field to face the New York Mets. Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin are scheduled for the first two games, with Max Scherzer on course for his third start of the year already in the finale of the three-game set.