The two-game series was going so well for the Washington Nationals through the first 15 innings. Unfortunately, with one of those all-too-familiar bullpen implosions, the series was split.
In the grand scheme of things, the split isn’t a huge deal. Baseball is a funny old game and they’d much rather drop a clunker against the Baltimore Orioles than the Atlanta Braves, who they face this weekend.
Here are the main takeaways from the series at Camden Yards...
Sweet swinging Soto
Did you know Juan Soto is good at baseball? Like, really good? If not, I’m not sure what to tell you at this point, but he put on another impressive showing in this series as he continues to be one of the best hitters in all of baseball lately.
This time, he decided to add to his budding legacy by depositing a 443ft bomb into the seats just a few pitches after fouling a ball off of his shin. Because of course he did.
“For me, I just get mad,” Soto told Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post. “When I hit it I was like, ‘You hit me.’ It wasn’t me. It was the pitcher. I just get mad and I tried to hit the ball as hard as I can. And after that, I came through.”
“I was like, ‘I am going to get this guy. I’m mad,’” Soto told Mark Zuckerman of MASN Sports...
Don’t make Juan Soto angry, folks. No, he won’t turn into The Hulk, but he will destroy baseballs.
Since May 17th, Soto has slashed an incredible .350/.445/.628 with 11 homers and 37 RBIs, leading to a 171 wRC+. That wRC+ is the best figure in the NL in that time among qualifiers, while the only players better in the majors are Mike Trout and Xander Bogaerts.
Soto’s return to 2018 form, or even better than he was last season, has been a huge factor in the team’s overall turnaround, providing more consistency at the plate. He’s leaving us all to wonder what trick he has up his sleeve next and we can’t wait.
5th starter audition neck-and-neck
Though it’s still far from a certainty, it looks as though Max Scherzer has a good chance to be activated ahead of the series against the Atlanta Braves.
If that’s the case, then one of Austin Voth or Erick Fedde will take over the fifth starter’s role and the other will likely be optioned to the minors. Based on both of their performances this series, it’s going to be a tough call.
Voth had a rocky start, loading the bases with one out in the first, before settling down, pounding the zone, finishing with only one run against him in six strong innings of work.
Not to be outdone, Fedde also only allowed one run in his six innings, finishing with a much lower pitch count before the bullpen failed to hold the one-run lead into the late innings.
Despite insisting before the series that it wasn’t an audition, it was impossible not to look at these two games as exactly that. But with both performing admirably, it will be a tough call.
“It’s tough. They made it tough,” Martinez said of the decision after the series. “We’ll see. Right now we’ve got [Stephen] Strasburg pitching tomorrow and that’s what I’m worried about.”
Voth might just have the upper-hand in the battle. He was ticketed to pitch in this series regardless of Scherzer’s status, whereas Fedde was the late addition when the ace went on the IL. There’s no wrong answer here though, so they could easily go with Fedde too...
Gomes still skidding
With those two youngsters on the mound for this series, it was Yan Gomes who drew the start behind the plate in both games. While the DH helped to cover up the offensive liability he’s been lately, heading back to NL regulations could leave him less playing time.
The struggles that Gomes is going through have come up before in a series recap in mid-June. However, since then, he’s seemingly gone into even more of a tailspin.
Since June 16th, the Brazilian has slashed a measly .086/.289/.171, including going 0-for-6 in this series. That brings his overall slash line down to .202/.298/.290 as his .588 OPS ranks third-last in the majors among backstops with at least 180 plate appearances.
His plus-defense still keeps his presence close to a net positive, even while in atrocious form at the plate. He made a pair of heads up plays in the second game of this series to nab a pair of Orioles baserunners napping to help Fedde out.
It’s a delicate balancing act for Martinez deciding how to divide the playing time between his two catchers. It’s one that becomes even more difficult given how Kurt Suzuki has been swinging the bat all season.
There are clearly pitchers that prefer throwing to Gomes, such as Fedde and Patrick Corbin, given his blocking skills and overall defense behind the plate. Hopefully, he can figure it out at the dish soon before his slump gets even further out of hand.
And here comes the bullpen...
This section was initially a weather rant until the seventh inning of the series finale. The Nats had other plans. Through six innings, the Nats led 2-1 after a great effort by Fedde, but Dave Martinez decided to pull his right-hander in favor of the rebounding bullpen.
“That’s the first time he’s pitched in 14 days, and that was good enough,” Martinez explained.
“I didn’t want to stretch him out that far knowing that he’s had two weeks off.”
The decision to pull Fedde so early, even while bearing in mind the long lay-off, has drawn the most criticism from fans given how well he was pitching so far in the game.
That criticism only got louder once the bullpen hit the self-destruct button, gifting the Orioles eight runs...
Wander Suero continued his weird Jekyll and Hyde season by allowing three earned runs. Tony Sipp, Javy Guerra, and Matt Grace couldn’t stop the bleeding either as each of them came in, with none of them looking particularly sharp in this one.
Overall, the bullpen had been on the right track recently, holding an NL-best 2.20 ERA in July before Wednesday’s game. Games where recording outs seem like a chore can sometimes just be an occupational hazard of being a reliever.
Once again, this type of performance emphasizes how much the Nats need to make a move in the bullpen. Say they acquired a high-end arm, it shortens the game with either that acquisition pitching there or the revitalized Fernando Rodney.
It’s tough to imagine Mike Rizzo sitting on his hands this time around at the trade deadline with his team leading the way in the wild card hunt. Now we just wait and see how long it’s going to take until he pulls the trigger and who the lucky reliever will be...
Next up: It’s time for the Nationals to head to Georgia and take on the division-leading Atlanta Braves in one of the biggest series of the season for both teams. Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, and Aníbal Sánchez will pitch the first three, and then, fingers crossed, Max Scherzer can take the mound for the series finale.