Our good, bad, and ugly series recaps return after a week off while I had a jolly old time back in England including a trip to the MLB’s first ever London Series. After the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox put up cricket scores, it’s back to the normality with the Nats.
While I was sipping on tea and getting my fill of Marmite, the Washington Nationals continued to beat up on baseball’s lowly teams. The Kansas City Royals were the latest victim, with the Nats taking two of three, staying scorching hot heading into the break.
Here are the main takeaways from the final three games of the “first half” for the Nationals...
Wild finish to first half
It really has been a wild ride for the Nationals over the past six weeks. With the best record in baseball since May 24th, the Nationals have vaulted themselves into the top Wild Card spot heading into the All-Star break.
Don’t forget, this team was left for dead after being swept away by the Mets in a four-game set at Citi Field. It’s a testament to the team’s mental strength to come back from that.
“They never quit,” manager Dave Martinez said following the series. “Adversity builds character and you’ve got a bunch of guys in there playing with heart.”
Sure, a large portion of the schedule since then has been fairly soft, including the four-straight series against teams on track to lose triple-digit games, but you can only beat what’s in front of you and the Nats took care of business.
Everything seems to be clicking for the Nationals. They're having fun in the dugout with their dinger dance parties. Their rotation is dominating opposition hitters. The offense is healthy and coming up clutch. The bullpen isn't a complete train wreck anymore...
Martinez’s upbeat attitude and “go 1-0 every game” mentality has helped to cultivate the joyous clubhouse atmosphere and guide this team firmly back into the postseason picture. He definitely deserves a fair amount of credit for this stark turnaround.
With a tougher schedule after the break, it will be interesting to see if the Nats can perhaps put some pressure on the division-leading Atlanta Braves, who they face seven times before the month is out. Who would’ve thought that was realistic a few weeks ago?
On the days that Max Scherzer takes the mound, sometimes it’s fun to just think for a minute about how lucky we are to watch him every fifth game. That might be even more important now than ever before.
The future Hall of Famer dominated again as this time he tossed seven lights-out innings against the Royals, surrendering only four hits and a walk, to go with 11 strikeouts.
Even though he joined the Nats as a 30-year-old, now approaching 35, he’s currently in the most dominant stretch of his career and one of the most dominant of any pitcher ever.
This start was just the latest in a remarkable run. In his last nine starts, Scherzer owns a quite stunning 0.84 ERA with 94 strikeouts and nine walks in just 64 innings. Use your own superlative to describe how untouchable he’s been lately.
“What I’ve seen out of Max is incredible,” Martinez said after yet another incredible outing from his ace.
“He just keeps getting better and better as we go along.”
“It will be nice for him to get a little time off and get him back for the second half.”
It’s hard to stress just how historic his current run is, coming at an almost perfect time for the Nationals. Finally getting the run support he deserves, it’s just a joy to watch a master of his craft go to work and help lead the postseason charge for his ballclub.
Those Expos Unis
Ok, ok, I’m not going to tell you that you have to like the concept of representing the Expos. Plenty of people did, plenty of people didn’t. Personally, I enjoyed the idea of recognizing the franchise’s history, 50 years after its creation, but I understand why some weren’t fans.
However, hopefully, we can all appreciate how beautiful the throwback unis and caps actually looked aesthetically. Phwoar...
Voth labors again
After an impressive 2019 debut against the Atlanta Braves, Austin Voth replaced Erick Fedde as the team’s fifth starter. However, he’s stumbled a little bit against lesser opposition since.
After a struggle against the Detroit Tigers, Voth labored against the Royals, allowing four runs on five hits and three walks in just 4.1 innings, striking out six. The right-hander’s stuff all seemed fine, his command just went awry at times, leading to a high pitch count.
“It’s taking him a lot of pitches to get outs,” Martinez said after the game. “He had 4 1⁄3 innings today, 96 pitches, I mean that’s a lot.”
“I like the way he threw the ball, he’s just got to be more efficient,” Martinez elaborated.
Though Voth was optioned to Double-A, it appears to just to keep him on schedule, while also giving the Nats an extra bench player for the final two games of the series.
We may see Voth back in bigs following the All-Star break when he would likely line up to face the Baltimore Orioles. If the Nationals stick with the right-hander, he’s sure to be on thin ice and needs to deliver the same type of performance as he did against the Braves.
Bullpen usage questions
With the Nationals’ bullpen, even though it has improved since the early season catastrophe, it seems as though some of the same mistakes are being made with regards to their usage.
Take Fernando Rodney for example — albeit in a small sample size — he had been a great success for the Nationals since joining the team on June 25th.
Then on Sunday, Rodney, with a little help from Sean Doolittle, was charged with two earned runs, allowing the Royals to tie the game. Thankfully, the offense was able to rally to win the game, but it’s fair to wonder whether overuse played a role.
In his 13 days on the roster, he’s now pitched in six games, including a stretch of three-straight games between the July 3rd and 5th. He was also thrown into a save situation in just his second appearance with the team with limited options available.
He’s the latest example of a reliever having a small amount of success, being thrown straight into a high-leverage role and pitching almost every day. The same has happened with Tanner Rainey, Justin Miller, and to some extent, Wander Suero.
Part of it is down to necessity given the lack of reliable bullpen arms, so when one is there, it’s hard not to use them in big spots. But now with at least a small handful of possible options, it’s time for Martinez to share the set-up workload in order to keep them fresh.
Martinez has drawn criticism for his bullpen usage on numerous occasions, even from his own players. It seems as though he gets set in his ways and sticks to a plan no matter what, and if that doesn’t improve, more relievers could burn out before the season is over.
Next up: After a few days off for the All-Star break, the Nats face the Philadelphia Phillies in a three-game set. No rotation plans have been confirmed yet, but we may see the big three of Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Max Scherzer in some order during the series.