Which was more disappointing, the series finale of Game of Thrones, or the Washington Nationals failing to capitalize on any momentum yet again? Feel free to debate in the comments, but perhaps the Nationals need a dragon to finally ignite their season.
The Nats finally won a series during the week against the New York Mets and were hoping to make a statement against one of the better teams in the National League over the weekend. Unfortunately, it seemed like business as usual, dropping two of three to the Chicago Cubs.
Here are the main takeaways from the weekend series...
Turner solid atop the lineup
Despite its recent struggles, the Nationals’ lineup is finally starting to resemble what it was supposed to be most of the year. The latest player to return to the fold is Trea Turner who seemed to start well in his return from the Injured List.
Turner went 2-for-5 with a stolen base in his first game back on Friday, going 3-for-13 combined during the series. He was also deployed at the top of the lineup during the series, which is an interesting development after he batted second before getting hurt.
The lineup configuration seemed to have much more success this series with Turner leading the way, scoring 16 runs overall, as the top of the order produced all series.
Even though getting Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto back from the IL was huge, Turner’s impact on this lineup probably goes underrated. It allows players to slide back into their more natural homes with Rendon and Soto third and fourth.
Now, with Turner back, the lineup needs to carry this kind of consistency forward into a pair of series this week that they need to come out on top in against the Mets and Marlins.
Strasburg stellar again
Man, when Stephen Strasburg gets rolling, you can likely count the number of pitchers better than him on one hand. Lately, he seems to be getting into one of those grooves.
The right-hander was in near-unhittable form on Saturday, going eight strong innings against the Cubs, allowing just one earned run on four hits, striking out seven. And all it took for him was 93 pitches to twirl the gem, before handing the ball to Sean Doolittle.
Strasburg had all of his pitches working in this start, with his fastball-curveball combination particularly devastating. His heater generated eight swings and misses during the game, while he also got three swinging strikeouts on his curve.
Entering Sunday, Strasburg was second among pitchers in fWAR, trailing only teammate Max Scherzer. Health permitting, he seems to be on course for another All-Star season and could perhaps be in Cy Young contention. It’s good to see him back close to his very best.
Gotta get down on Friday
The Nationals came into this series with the Cubs on a season-high two wins in a row. That’s a pretty depressing stat in itself, but they had a chance to make it three with Max Scherzer on the mound in the series opener.
But, for some strange reason, the Nats have had so many woes this season in series openers. That run continued, despite having their ace on the mound, with a 12-6 loss on Friday, leaving their record in series openers at 2-13.
Not only have they been terrible at openers, but they’ve also had a strange run of not winning in their last 11 games on a Friday, dating back to last August. Is it a mental thing? Is it poor preparation? Is it just coincidence? Who knows, quite frankly. It just seems strange.
It all seems to be part of the maddening inconsistency that this team goes through. Similar to how members of their bullpen will miss the strike zone and get behind in the count, if the Nats keep falling behind early in each series, they’re scrambling to make up ground already.
The Nationals next Friday game will be another series opener against the Marlins, facing Pablo Lopez. Maybe it’s just dumb bad luck, but correction needs to come on Fridays and in series openers if they hope the make their way back into the playoff picture.
Hellickson far from in control
Unfortunately, before several viewers could abandon the series finale against the Cubs for Game of Thrones, Jeremy Hellickson set a bleak tone for the primetime game on Sunday.
The night couldn’t have gotten off to a much worse start, as he walked the first three batters of the game to load the bases. Hellickson was at least able to limit the damage, allowing three runs in just three innings of work, walking three and striking out one.
The poor start brought his ERA up to a troublesome 6.23 on the season and it’s fair to wonder whether there needs to be a change. He’s only allowed two runs or less in three of his eight starts, registering just one quality start in that time.
We’ve previously vouched for an opener to be used in Hellickson starts, which could be one way to improve his efforts. But the Nats may also look towards a different option in the rotation if Hellickson’s struggles continue.
Kyle McGowin relieved Hellickson Sunday and pounded the zone over three frames, giving up two earned runs. They could even look to Erick Fedde if he impresses filling in for Aníbal Sánchez. It will be interesting to see how much leash Hellickson now has in the rotation.
Where’s the Easter Bunny when you need him...
A bizarre part of Sunday Night Baseball was the Racing ESPN Analysts, teaming up with the presidents in a relay race. Alex Rodriguez, Jessica Mendoza, Matt Vasgersian, and Buster Olney had their heads supersized for the race, with Olney taking home the crown.
You can see the Rodriguez and Mendoza heads below, but it just seemed like a strange addition to the President’s Race. Who knows what happens to the heads now, but please keep them stowed in the deepest and darkest compartments there are...
It’s going to be Racing Analysts instead of Presidents for tonight’s 4th inning entertainment in #Nationals Park. ESPN Sunday Night Baseball’s Alex Rodriguez, Jessica Mendoza, Matt Vasgersian, & Buster Olney are getting the big head treatment.— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) May 19, 2019
Here are A-Rod & Jessica Mendoza: pic.twitter.com/VqWHuUXNZe
Next up: The Nationals will now travel to New York to face the Mets, who are having their own set of problems after being swept by the Miami Marlins. Patrick Corbin, Erick Fedde, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg will take the mound for the visitors in the four games.