Despite suggestions to rename this column “The ugly, the uglier, and the ugliest” after the Washington Nationals were swept by the Milwaukee Brewers, we kept the usual theme.
Yes, the Nats have been snake-bitten by injuries. But good teams are able to overcome these issues and at the very least stay afloat until they get healthy. Instead, the Nationals are floundering and seem to be stuck in a seemingly unstoppable tailspin.
Here are the main takeaways from the series at Miller Park...
Strasburg dominates before late stumble
Well, it’s somewhat clutching at straws in order to find something good about this series for the Nats, but Stephen Strasburg looked dominant for the vast majority of his start.
Through the first six innings on Tuesday, Strasburg carved up Milwaukee hitters for fun, striking out nine Brewers. His curveball was in lethal form as he threw the pitch 41 times while generating 10 swings and misses during the start.
Unfortunately, his outing unraveled in the seventh when the Brewers finally strung some hits together against the right-hander. He ended up taking a hard-luck loss, charged with four earned runs that inning.
Even though the stat line for Strasburg didn’t look great, the way he pitched should inspire confidence moving forward. His diminished velocity has not proven to be an issue whatsoever and he has the chance to be the second ace the team hoped for this year.
Kieboom demoted after rough stretch
When he was promoted on April 26th, it was hoped that Carter Kieboom could help provide a jolt of offense at the shortstop position after the wave of injuries in the infield. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a pretty spell in the big leagues for the youngster.
In 11 games, he slashed just .128/.209/.282 with 16 strikeouts compared to just four walks. However, even though his bat was poor, his fielding might’ve been even worse.
The shortstop committed four errors in his 11 appearances, but even on non-errors, he looked uncomfortable. He finished with -6 Defensive Runs Saved, 10th lowest in the majors with everyone below him playing in almost twice as many innings.
The poor defense led to his demotion back to Triple-A to work out the kinks, with the Nats handing the reins at shortstop back to Wilmer Difo temporarily.
Kieboom will be an excellent major league player some day as he’s flashed his potential in the upper reaches of the minor leagues. But it appears that this first call-up just came too soon for him. Everyone will be hoping that he can get back on track in Fresno.
Rendon returns rusty
The corresponding move when Kieboom was optioned to Triple-A was the activation of Anthony Rendon. His return is undoubtedly a sign of hope, even if he did start off a bit rusty.
The third baseman went 0-for-7 in the series with five strikeouts following his activation. Three of those strikeouts came on Wednesday, signifying the first time he has struck out three times this season, and only the ninth time he’s done it in his 792 career games.
We even saw Rendon lose his cool when he was rung up by home plate umpire CB Bucknor on a pitch just outside the zone on Tuesday. It should’ve been a ball, but it wasn’t exactly a mile outside, making it too close to take on two strikes, pitches that Rendon is usually better at dealing with, signifying the rust.
And on top of that, Rendon also made a rare error in the field in the series finale on a Mike Moustakas grounder in the first inning.
Given how out of character both this error and his approach at the plate was this series, it’s nothing to be concerned over long-term, but more of a sign that he may take a little while to heat up again.
Nats defense becomes extremely offensive
Perhaps the biggest takeaways from the series in Wisconsin was the fact that the Nationals continue to beat themselves with a lot of haphazard fielding. They made four errors in the series opener on Monday, with another on Wednesday, and numerous poor plays not scored as errors.
As we touched on in the previous section, Kieboom certainly played his part in the substandard fielding, but there were plenty of culprits during the three games.
If there was one inning that summed this up during the series, it was the seventh inning of the first game. The team had just gotten a gutsy effort from its starter, Max Scherzer, as they handed it over to the bullpen, with Dan Jennings designated to start the inning.
The first four hitters of the inning all hit ground balls with only one of them making it out of the infield.
The Nats should’ve made it out of that inning unscathed, or at worst with the game tied had they just played average defense. Instead, they trailed 4-3.
Maybe with Anthony Rendon back and Trea Turner not too far away, the team’s defense may improve a little, but it seems clear the work they tried to put in this offseason won’t bear as much fruit as they were hoping. The little things continue to desert this team.
Banged up offense can’t capitalize
You’ve heard about the team’s offensive woes. You’ve also heard about how much the injuries are largely to blame. But even with the ailing players in mind, the lineup has done a pretty pathetic job at the plate lately.
Over the entire series, the Nats scored just six runs, including being shut out by Adrian Houser, Freddy Peralta, and Burch Smith on Tuesday. Not ideal.
Nobody is expecting them to slug a team to death, but with the talent depleted, it’s all about making the most of scoring chances. Over the series, the team went a combined 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position which is far from good enough.
Now, overall with runners in scoring position the Nats haven’t been awful. They own a .766 OPS in that situation following Wednesday’s game, good enough for 18th in the majors.
However, they’ve struggled when all the chips are on the table. According to FanGraphs, with runners in scoring position in high leverage spots, the Nationals rank last in the NL and second last in the majors in OPS at .517.
Correction could come on that front with an unsustainable .200 BABIP attached to that .517 OPS, but it just goes to show how frustrating this offense has been on the whole this year.
That encapsulates the difference between a good team nursing injuries and a bad team nursing injuries. A good team will find a way to squeeze those runs across, but a bad team passes up the opportunity. It looks more and more like the Nationals are the latter.
Next up: The Nationals finish off their road trip with a four-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. With their big three of Patrick Corbin, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg, going in the series, as well as Anibal Sanchez, it’s going to be vital to get a positive result if they want to get back on track this year.