Well, the Washington Nationals continue on their hot streak of late with nine wins in their last 11 games. They’ve even won their last four series in a row after they swept the Chicago White Sox in a short two-game set this week.
It’s probably not quite time to get overly excited about this team’s playoff hopes just yet, after all, they’re still 6.5 games back in the division. But given they were 10 games back just two weeks ago, they’re getting closer to the pack and need to keep this recent form up.
Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly takeaways from the series with the White Sox...
The boys battled...again...and again...
While some fans mock manager Dave Martinez for his overused cliches about how his players keep fighting in games, they genuinely do keep going until the end. We saw the Nats display impressive resolve on the field again in both games this series.
On Tuesday, the Nats fell five runs behind in the early going before battling back in a hurry to take a 9-5 lead before the bullpen delivered a scoreless effort to lock down the win.
Then on Wednesday, though they blew yet another eighth inning lead, Trea Turner stepped up to the plate and hit a walk-off home run to send the crowd home happy. The shortstop only has three long balls on the season, but two are walk-offs. Bizarre.
The grit the team has shown has been a theme all year. Thirteen of their 28 wins have come after being behind, with plenty of those including rallies in the seventh, eighth and ninth inning.
Yes, part of the reason they have so many is down to a shaky bullpen to end the game. But it seems like the main reason the players dig in so much is the manager, who is always upbeat and never lets his team give up. Prepare for more roller coaster games in 2019.
Second strong Sánchez start
After returning from the Injured List last week, Aníbal Sánchez finally seems to be getting some luckier bounces and has now had a pair of impressive outings since his activation.
After a near-perfect six innings against the Atlanta Braves, Sánchez was dealing again in the series finale against the White Sox. The right-hander went 5.1 strong innings, allowing just one run on four hits and a walk, striking out seven on the day.
The seven strikeouts are the latest in a trend in increased whiffs for Sánchez, who now boasts more than a strikeout per inning in 2019. If he maintained that rate, it would be just the third time in his career that he’s accomplished that feat and the first time since 2013.
Four of the seven punchouts came on his now signature cutter. The pitch was a huge reason for his success with the Braves last year and clearly continues to be this campaign.
Sánchez has lowered his season ERA to 4.19 after his impressive two-start stretch, a figure that’s certainly serviceable for a fourth starter. In his next outing, he will face these same White Sox, so it will be interesting to see how he fares facing them a second time in a week.
Abolish the eighth inning
Man, the eighth inning really is the stuff of nightmares for the Nationals. Just when it looked as though the bullpen had turned a corner with a scoreless start to June, the eighth inning woes came back. Again.
This time around, it was Kyle Barraclough and Wander Suero who combined to waste a three-run lead in the inning. The former had just pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning before being sent back out for the eighth in an interesting move by the manager.
Given his recent struggles, it was a peculiar choice to try and squeeze another inning out of him instead of going straight to Suero. The argument for keeping him in would be to preserve Suero for an appearance Thursday, but Martinez should’ve focused on winning the game at hand.
Thankfully, the offense came to the rescue and hit a home run of their own late on to spare Barralough’s and Suero’s blushes. But it’s just another instance where some sub-optimal managing, partially out of need, has led to another meltdown in the eighth.
Return of the snowball inning for Strasburg
Throughout his major league career, Stephen Strasburg has often suffered from innings that seem to snowball on him. One thing goes wrong, then another, and another, and then you look up and the scoreboard and the other team suddenly has a crooked number.
It happened again, this time against the White Sox. The visitors jumped right out of the gate with four runs in the first inning, following it up with a further run in the second inning.
Some of it seemed to stem from a close call that went against the right-hander in the first inning. He thought he had strike three on Yoan Moncada but home plate umpire Mike Everitt called it ball four. Moncada would then go on to score the first of the four runs.
“His command was a little off,” manager Dave Martinez said after the game. “But like I said, he gave us the innings that we needed and came back and got big outs for us in the fifth.”
And as Martinez said, he did at least settle down for the final three innings of the outing, allowing just one hit between the third and fifth innings. And as we know, that gave the Nats the chance to get back into the contest and eventually win it with a big fifth inning.
In a season that Strasburg is still fifth in baseball in fWAR among pitchers, it’s fair to chalk it up to a bad day at the office. Everyone has them. Feel free to gloss over the performance a little and focus on the fact it was his 100th career win, a magnificent achievement.
Next up: After their brief trip home, the Nationals now head west to take on the San Diego Padres in a four-game set. Patrick Corbin, Erick Fedde, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg go for the visitors in what is sure to be a tough matchup against an up-and-coming team.