The dog days of August are well and truly underway and it appears as though the Washington Nationals are up to the task. So far this month, the team has won 10 of its 15 games as it continues to build up a nice cushion in the wild card standings.
After the Milwaukee Brewers swept aside the Nats earlier in the season, this series proved just how far the hosts have come, taking two out of three, looking the better team throughout.
Here are the main takeaways from the three-game series...
If anyone had any realistic criticisms about the state of the Nationals’ offense since they got healthy, it was perhaps that they weren’t utilizing the long ball as much as they should be. That definitely wasn’t the case this weekend...
Combined over the course of the three games, the Nats belted twelve home runs, including a remarkable eight in the finale on Sunday. That latter figure tied the franchise record for home runs in a game, which came against the Brewers on July 27th, 2017.
“We’ve been swinging the bats well for a while now,” manager Dave Martinez explained. “We’re getting good pitches to hit, we’re taking our walks, and we’re just hitting the ball really well.”
It was even more important for the Nationals to come out swinging against the Brewers, a team that now sits fifth in the majors and second in the National League in home runs.
“The thing is that that other club over there, they’ve got some pretty good hitters,” Martinez said. “To come out and keep scoring and putting it on them like that, I’m proud of the guys.”
After this outburst, the Nats are tied for seventh in the majors in homers, hoping to have a power surge to close out the season. Juiced balls or not, they put on a firework show this series, long may it continue.
Boys keep battling
“Stay in the fight” has been the mantra of this Nationals team for quite a while now, coming with matching t-shirts. In this series, they once again put that mentality on display.
In the series opener, the team dug deep to grind out a hard-fought win as Anthony Rendon doubled in the winning run in the eighth inning. Then in the finale, they rebounded in impressive fashion from the cruel loss the night before, pounding the Brewers for 16 runs
And even though the Nationals came out on the losing end of the wild game on Saturday night, they came from behind to at least level the game four different times.
“This team is incredibly competitive,” Martinez said after the mammoth game on Saturday. “We’re down five runs in the fourth inning, we come back, and we keep coming back, and we fell short, but man, I’m proud of these guys. They don’t quit.”
The favorite stat of MASN’s Mark Zuckerman for the last couple of months has been how the Nationals are constantly in each game. Sunday’s series finale was the 49th time in 53 games that the Nats have either been ahead or tied in the 7th inning or later.
This resiliency is sure to stand the team in good stead, not just in the stretch run, but potentially into October too. The boys battled, get used to it, folks.
Putting the mighty in Mighty Mouse
If I asked who you thought was leading the Nationals in WAR in August, according to FanGraphs, most would undoubtedly get it wrong. Anthony Rendon? No. Juan Soto? Nope. Maybe Victor Robles and his golden arm? Still no. Joe Ross perhaps? Wrong again.
Fine, the answer is in the header of this takeaway, but the point is without that, nobody would’ve guessed the actual answer, Adam Eaton. The outfielder has put in quite an impressive month of August, helping the offense maintain its consistency.
In August, Eaton is now slashing .358/.452/.679 with three home runs. That continued in this series as he went 6-for-13 with a pair of doubles, a triple, and two home runs.
“He’s actually in a really good place right now in the batter’s box,” Martinez told reporters after the series. “Another one that’s getting the ball in the strike zone, not chasing fastballs up, staying down where he’s really good, and he’s playing well.”
“He’s playing well all around the game, running the bases good, he’s doing everything well.”
The performances of Lucas Giolito early in the season put some of Eaton’s initial struggles under more of a microscope than usual. Thankfully, the outfielder seems to be getting back to the player we’ve seen flashes of in the past two seasons again.
Sánchez less than sharp
For all the attention that the big three in the rotation get for the Nationals, Aníbal Sánchez can sometimes go under the radar. However, this time around, he struggled to contain a potent Brewers lineup.
Sánchez only managed four innings in Saturday’s game, allowing five runs on eight hits and four walks, striking out five, putting up his second-lowest Game Score of the season.
The visitors were able to square him up with regularity, hitting six of the 13 balls in play with an exit velocity of over 100mph, and nine over 90mph in this start. So even though he only gave up one extra-base hit, it was concerning to see a lot of hard-hit balls.
Though the Brewers got to him in this game, Sánchez still extended his streak of seven straight winning decisions dating back to his return from the Injured List. He wound up with a no-decision thanks to the team’s ability to rally and get him off the hook.
The right-hander is next scheduled to take the mound for the series opener against the Chicago Cubs on Friday. Hopefully, Sánchez can bounce back facing a team he delivered six shutout innings against last year for the Atlanta Braves.
Time to rest
Trust me, nobody hates including Sean Doolittle in this article for the wrong reasons more than yours truly. But now with a stint on the Injured List confirmed, there’s no doubt that in one way or another, it’s a worrisome development for the Nats.
Feel free to debate the legitimacy of whether there is real right knee tendinitis or whether it’s being used just to get Doolittle some rest, but it was something that was needed after his recent performances in big situations.
In his last five outings, Doolittle had blown two saves, while nearly blowing a third, to the tune of a 22.50 ERA. The peripherals seemed fine until he blew a three-run lead on Saturday when his average fastball velocity was the lowest of the season at 91.8mph.
“We had a conversation with him this morning,” Martinez said before the series finale.
“Came in, talked to him, talked to the medical staff. It came to a head when I talked to him that his right knee is bothering him, so we want to get it right.”
“We put him on the IL. Hopefully, it won’t take as long, he’s back in 10 days, and when he does come back, he’s our closer. And I reiterated that to him. He’s our closer.”
While that last declaration may give some fans pause, Martinez reminded everyone why he feels so confident in the left-hander when he comes back.
“We’re talking about a guy that’s been a really good closer for many, many years,” Martinez explained. “It’s easy to say because you’ve got other guys available, but for me, you’ve got to remember — I think about his whole team.”
“But you’ve also got to think about why we’re here, and the reason why we’re here competing is because Doo has been so good.”
People quickly forget that until his last five outings, Doolittle had a 2.81 ERA and, while perhaps not in the elite tier of closers, was still up there with the best, so he more than earned the leash.
But now, it is a bit of a wait-and-see situation for the Nationals to see if the time off will indeed help Doolittle find his old form as the bullpen is going to need him if they plan to continue competing in September and into October.
Next up: After the brief trip home, the Nationals are on the road again, with two more NL Central opponents on tap. First up is a trip to PNC Park to face the Pittsburgh Pirates, as the visitors send Joe Ross, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Max Scherzer to the hill.