Recording their second sweep in three series, the Washington Nationals are starting to gain a tighter grip on the top National League wild card spot.
The Nats have had some impressive dominance over the Cincinnati Reds recently. That includes the three-game sweep this week, the Nationals have now gone 5-1 against them this season and 17-3 against the since the start of 2017.
Here are the main takeaways from the almost flawless series for the Nats...
The Big Difference
It’s not often that a team can lose a player of Max Scherzer’s caliber and continue to win at the rate they were beforehand. However, that’s exactly what the performance of the back-end of the rotation has allowed the Nationals to do.
Sure, they've made a few appearances in the good section of our series recaps recently. But now, it’s finally time to appreciate how huge they’ve been in keeping the Nationals in the wild card hunt.
Joe Ross and Erick Fedde both delivered at least six innings allowing two runs or less en route to victories for the Nats. Once again, they impressed management a lot this week.
“The biggest thing for them is their tempo,” manager Dave Martinez explained about the sudden success of his young starters. “When things start going bad, you’ve got to figure out a way to slow the game down, and they’re both doing that.”
“We asked these guys to step up, [Ross] and Fedde both, and they’ve done a great job.”
Since the All-Star break, the two right-handers have combined for an impressive 3.12 ERA in their nine starts, with the team going 6-3 in their outings. About as much as you can hope for from those starts.
As Scherzer’s return appears close, one of these pitchers will likely be demoted to the minors to make room, not that they didn’t do enough to stay. The Nats can definitely feel more confident in their rotation depth after this recent stretch from the two righties.
Remember those early-season defensive struggles for Victor Robles? Those now seem like a distant memory and the young Dominican put his glove and arm on display in this series.
In an ever-growing resume of highlight-reel defensive plays, Robles added a pair of impressive assists in this series, firing both throws in at over 97mph, according to Statcast.
He did get a little help from his third baseman, who made a great tag on the play on Tuesday, making it well worth another look.
️DON'T. RUN. ON. THROWBLES.@Victor__Robles // #OnePursuit pic.twitter.com/QoYBkftbFI— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) August 14, 2019
“The tag Anthony made was incredible,” Martinez said of the play. “But Victor’s got an incredible arm. When he started throwing to third, I was like, ‘Oh boy,’ and the play was unbelievable.”
Robles has become a fearless defender in center, allowing him to make these spectacular plays.
“When you’re not afraid to make plays, then good things happen, and I’m definitely not afraid to make things happen,” the rookie outfielder told reporters before the series finale.
Our own Matt Weyrich looked at Robles’s Gold Glove candidacy recently and how he at least deserves consideration.
That being said, if the league wants to continue to run on him, they do so at their own peril.
Max nearing a return
It’s been a long couple of weeks for the Nationals without their ace, Max Scherzer. But a return appears to be on the horizon as the right-hander continues to ramp up his recovery.
On Tuesday, Scherzer threw a two-inning simulated game, facing Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick, and Gerardo Parra. And with his tendency to mimic game conditions as much as possible, he even had Aníbal Sánchez with walk-up music playing. Yes, including Baby Shark.
The manager enforced that it came down to how Scherzer recovered from the sim game as to whether he would pitch this weekend. Based on the righty’s comments, that now sounds likely.
“I’m good to go,” Scherzer told reporters before Wednesday's game. “I’ve thrown a pen, threw in a sim game, the pitches feel there...you’ve just got to get in a game to get a feel for everything.”
“I was able to basically come out here and play catch and not feel anything given that I threw basically two innings yesterday, and don’t feel any of those symptoms tightening up.”
The Nats’ manager did temper expectations a little bit for Scherzer, saying that while he may be ready to pitch in a game, it wouldn’t be a typical Scherzer-type outing right away...
“If we decided to pitch him in a game it wouldn’t be 100 pitches right away,” Martinez said after Scherzer’s sim game. “We’ve really got to be very careful where we’re at with him right now.”
Even if he does take the mound for an abbreviated outing this weekend, it will be a huge development for the Nats. Having Scherzer back is pivotal to their postseason chances.
Doo close for comfort
Much like the sweep of the San Francisco Giants last week, there really wasn’t a lot that went wrong in this series for the Nationals, so we’re back to nitpicking to find something.
But regardless, Sean Doolittle had another less than perfect outing at the start of this series. Though he recorded the save, he surrendered two runs in the process, before stranding the tying run at second base as fans breathed a sigh of relief.
While fans are worried about his recent outings, the left-hander offered his thoughts as to why he might be stumbling lately...
“I’m starting to feel it a little bit,” Doolittle said after his close shave on Monday night. “These are the nights where you’ve got to dig deep and grind it out. Thank goodness we had a three-run lead.”
Regardless of the struggles, his manager has as much faith as possible in him right now...
“If Doo is available, Doo is our closer,” Martinez stated after the close call on Monday. “I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him.”
“People were talking about this in the New York series, guess what? He came in Sunday and did a great job, came in today and held down the fort.”
Doolittle has earned a long leash given his great performances for the Nationals since he arrived in 2018. That doesn’t mean it would be a bad move to sprinkle some Daniel Hudson in save situations if the lefty needs a day off or the matchups aren’t favorable for him.
Create Your Own Ugly
Well, I had a while to think about this to figure out what should be put in the ugly section of this week’s recap. But honestly, I got nothing at all, just showing how great the series went.
Stephen Strasburg didn’t have his finest outing, but with all the run support he got, it was still more than enough. The only position player on the active roster not to get a hit this series was Yan Gomes, who only had three at-bats anyway.
There will be plenty of series that have at least one ugly takeaway, but this wasn’t one of them. Feel free to share your own ugly takeaways, even if they’re not entirely serious...
Next up: The Nationals continue the homestand with three more against an NL Central foe in the Milwaukee Brewers. Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez are set to pitch in the series, but the return of Max Scherzer could be the biggest story of the series if he does indeed start.