Though it may not feel like it to Washington Nationals fans, they did manage to come away with a series win against the New York Mets. It could very easily have been a sweep had the you-know-what not spoiled the party on Saturday.
But despite the result in the three-game set, once again, it felt like there was still more to come from the team than they put on display in Citi Field.
We look at some of the main takeaways from the series in Flushing. The bullpen may come up again...
Strasburg steals the show in Mets’ home opener
The Nationals are now over a week into the season and seven of their eight games have been day-games. Thursday was no different for the Mets first game at Citi Field in 2019, but Stephen Strasburg was the star of the game in New York.
The right-hander went 6.2 shutout innings, allowing just three hits and one walk while striking out nine. He was simply in dominant form, rarely looking under pressure in the start.
After a bumpy first outing against these same Mets, this start was a step back in the right direction towards the second ace the team knows he is. His velocity in the start was also noteworthy, as he was able to work his way up to 95mph.
The starters have stepped up in the early going this season with a combined 3.78 ERA and 61 strikeouts in just 47.2 innings. If we see more of this version of Strasburg this year, that ERA is certain to drop with the Nats set to have one of the best rotations in baseball.
Tony Two Bags leading the way on offense
Perhaps the takeaway that could easily get lost in this series, given the sketchy bullpen, is how well the offense is going right now. The Nationals scored 21 runs in the three-game series and their out-of-contract third baseman stayed scorching hot.
Anthony Rendon finished the series 4-for-11 with two home runs, six runs scored and four RBI. On the season, he sports an incredible .433/.528/.967 slash line, meaning his 1.494 OPS led the National League, heading into Sunday Night Baseball, among those with at least 20 ABs.
Perhaps with Bryce Harper now patrolling right field elsewhere, Rendon has been able to move into the spotlight and truly show the world his value. That could lead to lucrative new deal in the near-future.
GM Mike Rizzo has been confident all winter of the two sides getting a deal done. At least Rendon is living up to his end of the bargain, proving that he is well worth the long-term investment.
Howie returns to add depth to the bench
It’s been a long road back for Howie Kendrick. Before this series, he last played in a major league game on May 19th last season. In that game, he tore his Achilles, leaving some doubt over his future in the bigs.
But he completed his rehab work this spring, and looked set to make the Opening Day roster. That was until a minor hamstring injury forced him onto the Injured List to start the season. But now he’s back, and ready to play a vital bench role for the team.
Since the start of 2017, Kendrick has slashed .353/.421/.471 as a pinch-hitter, an area the team has struggled with plenty in recent seasons. Having Kendrick back is more valuable than a lot of people realize, and he will play a huge part moving forward.
Brian Dozier falls deeper into his early season slump
In the absence of Trea Turner, Brian Dozier was the first player to get a crack at hitting second in the lineup. Unfortunately, his struggles continued throughout the series, going hitless in the first two games before being benched for Kendrick on Sunday.
It may be early, but it’s hard not to be concerned by the results that Dozier has endured so far. He has a 34.6% strikeout rate, more than 14% above his career average, while also sporting a 75.0% ground ball rate. The struggles from last year appear to have carried over.
Those rates are both alarming, as it shows that it’s not just bad luck causing his putrid .195 OPS. It will be interesting to see if Dave Martinez holds firm with keeping him that high in the lineup, but even if he does, it can’t be for long before a change needs to be made.
Everyone associated with the team is sick of talking about how bad the Nationals’ bullpen has been so far in 2019. The fans, the players, the coaches, the front office, and the media.
Despite a clean performance on Thursday, the group returned to implosion-form over the weekend. Justin Miller and Tony Sipp coughed up the lead on Saturday, before Matt Grace and Joe Ross were the main culprits in nearly blowing a 12-1 lead on Sunday,
Once again Trevor Rosenthal made an appearance without recording an out. His personal horror show keeps on going, and it’s painful for everyone, including Rosenthal, to watch.
The bullpen’s ERA has now risen to a hideous 10.80 on the season so far, with no signs of improvement. Obviously, it will come down in due course, but with only a handful of solid outings from the relief corps, it’s tough to see an end in sight.
Management is in a pretty tough spot now. Craig Kimbrel appears to be a pipe dream, with the Lerners not wanting to pay the luxury tax, meaning any immediate reinforcements must come from the bargain bin or from within. Neither option really inspires confidence.
The bullpen is the only weakness on the team right now. They only need a few of the relievers to pitch up to their potential again to become one of the best teams in the National League. However, it’s going to take a lot of resurrecting to get there.
Next up: The Nationals continue their early-season schedule against the NL East by visiting Bryce Harper in his new home with the Philadelphia Phillies. Anibal Sanchez, Jeremy Hellickson and Stephen Strasburg will draw the starts in the three-game series.