Apparently, there were baseball games played yesterday? Could’ve fooled many people given all the last-minute action going on as the MLB trade deadline approached.
Josh Donaldson’s game-winning home run in the top of the 10th condemned the Nats to a brutal series loss.
Here are the main takeaways from the three games against the Braves...
Gomes starts his turnaround
Just over a week ago, Yan Gomes dropped below the Mendoza Line, putting the exclamation point on what has been a down season for the backstop.
Since then, however, the Brazilian has started to turn his season around at the plate.
It might be a small sample, but in the five games he’s played since dropping below the fateful mark, he’s slashed .400/.550/1.000 with three home runs and six RBIs. The only game he hasn’t had a hit in was the one in which he walked in all four plate appearances.
Sure, it’s a small sample size, but the quality of contact has been much better as well as he has been grinding out better at-bats overall lately.
In July, Gomes has posted a .367 expected wOBA, a way to calculate what a player’s wOBA would be based on their exit velocity and launch angle, which is way above his career figure (.298) and league-average (.318).
After he was an All-Star with a respectable .266/.313/.449 slash line and 103 OPS+ last season, perhaps this is him finally being comfortable with his new team and swinging the bat like he knows he can.
While he’s been far from his best defensively, Gomes still appears to the favored choice for Patrick Corbin and the Nats’ younger starters moving forward, with some Stephen Strasburg mixed in.
That defensive prowess is going to keep him regularly in the lineup regardless, but if his bat comes around, it could be a big boost to the bottom of the order.
Reinforcements finally arrive
Yes, the on-field results weren’t great this series, the off-field result is much more promising.
Mike Rizzo and the Nationals’ front office have been trying to bolster the bullpen for a while now and it finally came to fruition just hours from the trade deadline.
The team was able to acquire Daniel Hudson from the Toronto Blue Jays, as well as Roenis Elías and Hunter Strickland for the Seattle Mariners. Though none of them are setting the world on fire, they are all at least average arms, an upgrade on the current relief corps.
“These aren’t the sexiest names in the trade market,” Rizzo said after the deadline passed.
“But we think we got good quality, reliable bullpen guys, with some moxie and some experience.”
“We’ve got guys who’ve accumulated a lot of saves in the past, we’ve got a couple of controllable relievers for not only this year, but for the foreseeable future.”
Sure, the Nationals didn’t go out and get a seemingly lockdown closer like the Braves with Shane Greene, but given the previous state of the bullpen, perhaps that was the best play.
With a depleted farm system and a bullpen lacking in depth, spending low-end prospects to get three arms who are clear upgrades on the current crop of relief arms made sense.
Now manager Dave Martinez will need to figure out how to best utilize those new arms in the late innings to secure wins.
NL East slipping away
In isolation, losing a three-game series to the division-leading Braves is far from a crushing blow. But with the Nats now six and a half games behind in the division, it’s going to take another big run to catch up.
Even though losing ground to the Braves is a blow, the Nationals’ manager didn’t seem fazed.
“I wanted to win this game,” Martinez said after Wednesday’s game. “The boys left it all out there today, fell short, we’ll come back, plenty of baseball left, we play these guys a few more times, so let’s just keep playing good baseball.”
The Nationals do still get to play the Braves seven more times this season, all of them in September. The season series between the two also sits at an even 6-6 with those seven games remaining, which also isn’t disastrous.
However, by starting as sluggishly as the Nats did, it gets trickier and trickier to put up with “just ok” in other areas of their pursuit for a division crown.
Without some help involving the Braves falling off their impressive pace, the Nationals are more likely to find their way to the postseason via the Wild Card game. Hardly a bad bet if they can get Max Scherzer healthy, but also less than ideal for a clearly talented team.
With Max Scherzer still out of commission indefinitely, the Nationals will be hoping they can lean on Erick Fedde in the back-end of the rotation. Unfortunately, his outing against the Braves won’t do too much to spark confidence.
The right-hander only lasted only 3.2 innings, giving up nine earned runs on nine hits and four walks, striking out just four. Far from his best outing of what has been a solid season.
“You can’t fall behind hitters,” Martinez said of Fedde’s performance. “Like we talked about earlier, even when he gets ahead, he goes back to 2-2, 3-2.”
“It’s tough to pitch that way, especially in the big leagues, it really is, so he just wasn’t very good today.”
The rough outing raised his season ERA to 4.67 and an even uglier 4.98 ERA as a starter. What’s even worse is that his 5.86 FIP and 5.48 xFIP suggest that the worst may be yet to come for Fedde.
He’s displayed some promise at times, including his stellar start against the Baltimore Orioles. However, as his manager says, he falls behind in the count too often and lacks a true put-away pitch, which leads to extended counts as hitters time him up.
The Nats could certainly be much worse off with their fifth starter the rest of the way, but Fedde will have to perform better than he did in this series to keep a firm hold on the role.
Next up: It’s time for the Nationals’ third trip out west for a six-game west coast swing, starting with three games in Arizona against the Diamondbacks. Joe Ross (or his opener), Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin are set to take the hill for Nats in Phoenix.