Heading to Los Angeles, the Washington Nationals needed a response after they were swept by the Milwaukee Brewers. It seemed like a daunting task at first, but they at least managed a split against one of the best home teams in baseball.
Even though the result itself was a positive one in this series, it still felt like the same old same old for the Nats. The starting pitching was mostly great, the offense found a way to rally late in one game, and the other two games they looked absolutely lost at the plate.
Here are the main takeaways from the four games at Dodger Stadium...
Parra the cult hero
When the Nats agreed to sign Gerardo Parra before this four-game set, it was hardly a move that caused much excitement. However, the outfielder is already making an impression on his new team.
Following a hitless debut, Parra proceeded to make his first hit as a Nat a big one. In the top of the eighth on Saturday, he launched a go-ahead grand slam as pandemonium soon ensued in the visitor’s dugout, including Max Scherzer, whose comments we can’t repeat.
He also recorded the sole hit from the Nats in the finale on Sunday, breaking up Hyun-Jin Ryu’s no-hitter in the eighth inning. Not a huge hit, but it saved some embarrassment.
He’s far from the flashiest name out there, but Parra is certainly an upgrade over Michael A. Taylor with the bat and will provide solid defense at first base and corner outfield when called upon. He should fit in nicely as a part-time role-player for the Nats.
Defense markedly improved
The defense has been a huge talking point for the Nationals so far this season, and not for the right reasons. Entering Sunday’s series finale, they ranked last in the National League in Defensive Runs Saved and were second-last in the majors ahead of only Seattle.
But in this series, they finally seemed to take a step towards the level they worked all Spring Training for. They didn’t make a single error in the series, with the infielders, in particular, able to flash plenty of leather.
A big part of that defensive improvement was Anthony Rendon. Even though he muffed a hard grounder on Thursday, everything after was close to the form we’re used to from him.
We also saw Brian Dozier impress at the keystone, an area of his game that was one of the main reasons they signed him this offseason. Most notably, he made a nice heads up play on a liner by Kike Hernandez by dropping it, allowing a double play to be turned.
Heck, we even saw Parra make a few nice plays at first base, a position he previously struggled at with the Colorado Rockies. Hopefully, this defensive trend can continue on for the rest of the season.
Rookie lumps returns for Robles
It had been a relatively clean stretch for Victor Robles in terms of baserunning. Following a reckless start to the year where he was constantly caught napping, he’d cleaned up his act a lot more in recent times.
That was until he was once again caught out on the bases during this series.
In the first inning, following an Adam Eaton single, Robles bunted his way aboard and advanced to second on a throwing error. The next batter was Juan Soto, who walked, but Robles had a brain fart and started strolling towards third. An easy out for the Dodgers.
“He thought the umpire called time out,” Martinez said following Saturday’s game. “He was going to walk over to see our third base coach and talk to him, and obviously he didn’t, so it’s going to happen with a 21-year-old.”
It was an embarrassing moment for the Nats, depriving them of a bases-loaded situation with nobody out. He’s still a rookie, so making a baserunning mistake isn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but it’s got to be a huge point of emphasis moving forward.
Sánchez still laboring
Not long after the Nationals had welcomed Patrick Corbin to the team, General Manager Mike Rizzo had his eyes on a second rotation upgrade. His answer was to trade away stalwart Tanner Roark and bring in 2018 rebound sensation Aníbal Sánchez.
Though there were some valid reasons for the gamble, it hasn’t gone to plan so far.
Sánchez could only make it through 4.1 innings during his start on Friday, surrendering three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out three. On the season, he now boasts a 5.27 ERA, 4.87 FIP, and 1.68 WHIP, all of which make pretty ugly reading.
The main issue for the right-hander has been the spike in walks, with a 5.3 BB/9 figure this year compared to 2.8 BB/9 last year where he displayed excellent command to reduce free passes and induce weak contact.
Though Jeremy Hellickson has struggled too, the Nats have a lot more money committed to Sánchez and need him to figure things out this year. If he doesn’t, then it could easily turn into one of Mike Rizzo bigger free agent mistakes in his time in the nation’s capital.
Consistently inconsistency is maddening
There are so many parts of this team that continue to baffle its fans on a daily basis. But perhaps the element that does it the most is the frequency that they go from near-complete wins, to flat losses. The first two games of this series were a perfect example of this.
On Thursday in the series opener, the Nats were in control almost all game, put up runs early, and got dominating pitching from Corbin and the bullpen. But then on Friday, they were shut out on just four hits by Kenta Maeda and Julio Urias.
They were on their way to being shut out again on Saturday before the eighth inning and Gerardo Parra happened. However, the second shutout came in the finale when Ryu twirled a one-hit game, leaving the Nats’ offense flailing.
As good as the Nationals have been at rallying late in games and never giving up, their inability to then carry this over to the next few games is astounding. It was easy to lose count of similar wins that were dubbed “turning points” only for them to lose the next night.
This mostly falls on the manager who, for one reason or another, is not setting his team up to go on long winning runs. They only have one month with a winning record in his tenure with the team and with the current management, there’s no easy solution to this.
Next up: Now the brutal road trip is over, the Nationals return home to face the New York Mets. Jeremy Hellickson, Patrick Corbin, and Aníbal Sánchez will take the ball for the Nats following an off-day on Monday. Time to catch up on some sleep after the west coast series.