Welp. That didn’t really go to plan. The Washington Nationals were coming into a four-game series with the New York Mets hopeful of a positive result to begin a revival in 2019.
The hosts were just swept by the basement-dwelling Miami Marlins and had to give Mickey Callaway the dreaded vote of confidence before game one. What followed was one of the worst played series all year for the visitors as they were swept in disheartening fashion.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the gruesome four games in Flushing Meadows...
Soto getting into his groove
Juan Soto hasn’t quite started the 2019 season as many had hoped. Over the first 33 games of the season, which has an Injured List stint included, he slashed just .228/.345/.415 with six home runs and had a 28 percent strikeout rate.
Thankfully, he seems to be catching fire lately and has returned to the player we saw burst onto the scene last year. In the four-game set with the Mets, the young outfielder went 7-for-15, including his towering home run on Tuesday.
That performance brings his slash line all the way up to .268/.374/.490 on the year. A much more Soto-like line compared to a week ago, with more improvement yet to come.
The outfielder finally appears to be adjusting back to major league pitching, just as you assumed he would. Hopefully, everyone around him in the order can step up their game to provide him some protection, but if you were worrying about Soto, worry no more.
Rainey flashes promise
When the Nationals traded away Tanner Roark for Tanner Rainey, it raised a few eyebrows among fans. But it looks like the Nats could at least reap some rewards from that deal based on the performance of the fireball-throwing reliever.
Though his stats during the series hardly inspire confidence - two runs in two innings on two hits, two walks, and four strikeouts - the way he pitched indicated there was better to come.
The right-hander always has the nasty raw stuff we saw in the series. His high-90s fastball that touches triple digits and a slider in the upper-80s with a ton of movement. But previously he struggled to pound the zone. He changed that in this series.
Rainey displayed impressive command during the series, throwing 11 of 13 pitches for strikes in his scoreless inning Monday and 12 of his first 18 for strikes on Tuesday before he seemingly ran out of gas while manager Dave Martinez continued to ride him in the ninth.
Hopefully, with a better plan for his usage, Rainey can become a dependable strike-throwing arm out of the bullpen for the Nationals the rest of the way.
Situational hitting goes awry
There have been many hallmarks of the Nationals teams managed by Dave Martinez. Both good and bad. That they never quit late in games and the poor defensive fundamentals are two that spring to mind. But one of the more infuriating is the poor situational hitting.
That was on display again at Citi Field. During the series, the Nationals went just 6-for-33 with runners in scoring position, which included a dismal 3-for-14 on Thursday. On the season, their .248 batting average in the same situation is eighth worst in the league.
The only semi-regular bat that’s missing now is Ryan Zimmerman, who would only be playing about 60 percent of games anyway with Matt Adams on the team. The lineup is pretty much at full health now, there are no more excuses for poor offense.
With a bullpen that refuses to make things easy, it appears to fall on the offense to pick up the slack to try and get bullpen-proof leads before the starting pitcher exits. That’s not a good place to be, but the lineup sure could be doing better with the opportunities it gets.
Corbin roughed up
Before the bullpen started its mission to ruin great outings from the starters, Patrick Corbin took the mound in the series opener. A notorious problem for the Nats all season, the left-hander couldn’t reverse that trend against the Mets.
In the start, he went five innings allowing four runs on six hits and three walks, striking out seven. However, the Mets were continually squaring up Corbin, notching thee barrels and six balls hit over 90mph, causing the short outing as the hosts wouldn’t go away.
The bullpen actually kept it close late, the lineup seemingly turned Wilmer Font into a dominant force and couldn’t back up their starter when he needed some run support.
It’s definitely not a cause for panic for the prized free agent signing as he still sports a 3.25 ERA this season. However, he does have a 4.06 ERA in his last six starts now, so it might be worth keeping an eye on his next few outings to ensure that it’s not a trend.
Martinez’s time could be coming
The Nats have had several series this season where it felt like a sinkhole was about to swallow them whole. But after being swept by the Mets, this one might just be the worst of the bunch. This has to be an indictment on the manager first and foremost.
The Nationals are currently on a five-game losing streak after the four-game sweep. It could happen to the best of teams. But when the Nationals’ longest winning streak of the season is just two games, it’s almost impossible to recover from the losing streak.
Also, if you believe Lou Brown from Major League, two wins isn’t a streak. But I digress...
When a team fails to string together consistent runs and has the vast majority of players underperform, it’s hard not to look at whether the manager is ultimately responsible.
After all, he needs to be the one to keep his troops in check and put them in the best situation to succeed. Martinez is failing to do this. We saw that with Rainey and Suero this series, with the constant failure the reason his decisions are under constant scrutiny.
Who knows how long Martinez has remaining with the Nats, but right now, it seems highly unlikely that he’s going to make it through this potentially disastrous season.
The bullpen does bullpen things
There isn’t anything else that can even be said about the bullpen that hasn’t been said already. Tragic. Disastrous. Dumbfounding. Hapless. You get the idea by now.
In the four games against the Mets, the Nats bullpen did its thing again, allowing 12 runs in 9.2 innings. The most notable failure was the team’s eighth-inning woes returning as the Nats led in the eighth of the final three games of the series, but won none of them.
Even Sean Doolittle wasn’t immune to bullpen-itis this time around. Summoned to try and convert a four-out save, the stellar closer was whacked for four earned runs on two hits, and a walk, while also hitting Carlos Gómez with a pitch.
The relief corps now boasts a troublesome 7.02 ERA on the season. If the season ended this very second, the Nats would have the fourth highest bullpen ERA since the Second World War, and the highest since 1950 when three teams finished with a bullpen ERA above seven.
The raw talent is there in the bullpen to at least be average, however, as Mike Rizzo would say, none are really “pitching like the back of their baseball card.” There’s plenty of questions around the usage of the relievers, but Martinez lacks reliable options right now.
Next up: Heading home for Memorial Day weekend, the Nationals welcome the Miami Marlins for a four-game set. Kyle McGowin, Patrick Corbin, Erick Fedde, and Max Scherzer are set to go for the hosts in what feels like a must-win, or perhaps must-sweep, series.