Sweeping a four-game series is not easy no matter who the opponent is. It gets even tougher when the elements conspire against you and force you to play a doubleheader.
The Washington Nationals came so close to pulling it out of the bag against the Colorado Rockies, only to fall short in the series finale. But on the whole though, it still a fine series for the Nats who continue to look like serious contenders.
Here are the main takeaways from the four games...
Parra Shark doo doo doo doo doo doo
The first point in the good section was supposed to be Trea Turner’s cycle from the series opener. But after his performance in this series and attention that Gerardo Parra got, he stole the show.
Even though he didn’t start a game in the series, his impact was felt at the plate as he went 2-for-2 with a walk and five RBIs, including a game-tying walk and game-tying double.
Each time he walked up this series, Baby Shark fever gripped Nationals Park, going viral in the process. Watch it again, you know you want to...
Nats' Baby Shark (by multiple requests). pic.twitter.com/z0HHMh9QR4— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 24, 2019
One of the reasons the song has gained so much traction is because of how clutch he’s been for the team, slashing a near-impossible .444/.464/.926 in 28 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. Every time Baby Shark plays, the fans expect a huge hit.
“He brings a lot of things to the table,” Rizzo told the 106.7 the FAN’s The Sports Junkies on Wednesday. “His makeup is certainly a big part of it, but he’s still a good little player that can do a lot of stuff for us.”
“As a bench player and as a leader, he’s taken up both of those roles and excelled at both of them.”
Thought of as nothing much more than a flier with the team’s outfield depth being tested in mid-May, Parra was the injection of life that this team needed both on and off the field.
Good luck getting Baby Shark out of your head the rest of the season. It looks like the earworm is here to stay, not that anyone is complaining about it if the outfielder keeps coming up in huge spots and the dancing in the dugout continues.
Riding the Trea-cycle
Even though the Nationals likely have better overall players on their team — namely Anthony Rendon and Max Scherzer — there’s a case to be made that Trea Turner is the most important in making their offense tick.
When Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post spoke with a Nats official last week about how Scherzer could be the most valuable player to the team, they respond with “how could he be when Trea Turner is the MVP of this team?”
Turner’s all-round ability was on display yet again in this series as he crushed the Rockies, including the second cycle of his career, against the same opponent no less.
“It’s a feat that as you said doesn’t happen often,” manager Dave Martinez said after the game. “To be able to do it twice, that to me is a testament to how good a player Trea really is.”
“What I like about it is he’s really staying on top of the ball and back-spinning balls, and when he does that he hits the ball hard.”
Turner clearly loves playing against the Rockies, as his 8-for-17 showing this series lifted his career slash line against them to .379/.417/.695 with five home runs and 21 RBIs. The latter two of those statistics are the highest for Turner against any non-NL East opponent.
As a whole, the lineup has sputtered a bit lately. Regardless, Turner has been the deadly leadoff hitter he’s always been, but unfortunately, he doesn’t get to face the Rockies again this season.
It was all we heard out of the Nationals this spring. They needed to do “the little things” right to be more successful. Management wanted them to just play fundamentally sound baseball and then let their undeniable talent take care of the rest.
Early on in the season though, the fundamentals were amiss. There were defensive errors as far as the eye could see, the situational hitting was inconsistent, and the baserunning was suspect at best.
But in this series, it was a showcase of what management hoped this team would do with regards to the fundamentals.
“Regardless of whether we were doing them or not, they were spoken to every day about just doing the little things,” Martinez said after Wednesday’s doubleheader.
“Doing the little things, like defense, running the bases right, moving the baseball, staying in the middle of the field, whatever, you know, and they are doing that.”
That included a heads up play by Matt Adams in the field. With two outs, there was a close force play at first base that was called out. But with Charlie Blackmon running home, Adams threw home to get him out, just in case the call at first was overturned.
And in the series finale, the Nats perfectly executed a double steal, with Brian Dozier leading the way as he spotted Ryan McMahon way off of third base. That put two runners in scoring position for, you guessed it, Gerardo Parra to drive in later in the at-bat.
Finally displaying the point emphasized to them all season, the Nationals stopped tripping over themselves and have become a force to be reckoned with. Hopefully, they can keep this up all the way through to October.
The bullpen might not be terrible
Make no mistake, the Nationals still need to add to their bullpen at the trade deadline. However, perhaps the group isn’t quite the dumpster fire that some thought it was.
Called upon to work 11 innings in the first three games of the series, the group pounded the strike zone, allowing just two runs while striking out nine and walking only two hitters.
They did cough up the lead multiple times in the series finale, but on the whole, they came out of the series respectably, leaving the manager very impressed.
“They understand they’re going to get put in situations. We need them all,” Martinez told reporters after the doubleheader. “We talk about that all the time. I tell them all the time. If you’re available, just be ready. We need all you guys to step up, and they’ve done that.”
The management of the bullpen is still in question as it remains the main area that Martinez struggles with in his sophomore year. But the guys in the bullpen are seemingly now doing their job more often than not, which was far from the case earlier this season.
However, if Mike Rizzo can potentially add a pair of arms that Martinez can use in late-inning situations, then it changes the bullpen’s outlook completely. Having five or six relievers that the manager could easily use to lock down a win would be invaluable.
As has been the case a few times this year when the series has gone so well, these last two sections can seem like nitpicking. That’s because it is, with so much going right.
In this series though, even though the bullpen did a stand-up job throughout, they were forced to work overtime with the rotation struggling to go deep into games.
In the opener, Stephen Strasburg managed just six innings. In the doubleheader, Erick Fedde went just four frames, before Patrick Corbin delivered six shutout innings. Then, in the finale, Max Scherzer covered five innings in his first start back from the IL.
All of the starters seemed to be getting into trouble early, racking up high pitch counts that prevented them from going too deep into the games. It’s something that’s a little out of character for this group, which has consistently been one of the best in the majors this year.
This didn’t end up mattering too much with the offense and bullpen doing just enough to hold onto the wins. Hopefully, moving forward, the likes of Corbin and Scherzer can get back to their usual inning-eater status to help out the relief corps.
The day they went 0-1
Dave Martinez loves to use the phrase “going 1-0 every game” in his press conference. So much so that it can be a little nauseating, but the message is consistent to the media and to his players that they put all their chips into every game.
However, sometimes this mentality comes back to bite the team, even if it’s not right away.
That was the case in the final game of the four, where the Nats manager called upon 42-year-old Fernando Rodney for a third time in 30 hours to try and close out the game.
“We had no Doolittle,” Martinez said on Thursday. “We talked to Rodney before the game and he said — if he could close the game out, so that’s what we had.”
“All those guys who came in and pitched today, valiantly, I mean these guys have been doing an incredible job in the bullpen. I’m proud of all those guys, just couldn’t finish it today.”
Yes, the decision in isolation to go with the overworked Rodney over the likes of Javy Guerra or Michael Blazek wasn’t too bad. But it was the lack of planning and sharing the load that led that to be the case for the ninth inning of the final game.
Guerra didn’t throw a single pitch in any game this series. Maybe if Martinez had worked him into a lower-leverage spot like the 6th or 7th inning in one of the games, then they would’ve had a more reliable and rested option to close out the finale.
It’s a tricky balancing act, but every manager needs to share the load in the bullpen, or they risk running their better relievers into the ground, which Martinez has done before.
Neither this nor the starters not going deep was enough to warrant being in the ugly section. We’ll just have to see if the potential acquisition of a reliever or two will finally change Martinez’s ways with his late-inning bullpen management.
The rainbow still tastes terrible
Are we done with the rain? It caused yet more havoc for the Nats, forcing them to play a doubleheader on Wednesday, meaning they’re running a six-man rotation on this turn through.
Yes, that’s about the worst that we could come up with for this series. That’s generally a good sign for the Nationals if the rain is the worst thing about it.
Next up: The Nationals now hope for a second straight series win against the NL West as they face the Los Angeles Dodgers. The rotation plans are still a little unclear, but it looks like it will be Aníbal Sánchez, Joe Ross, and Stephen Strasburg will take the mound for the hosts.