With the NFL less than two weeks away, the Washington Nationals are doing their best to impersonate a football team by piling on the “points” recently.
That trend continued against the Pittsburgh Pirates as the Nats scored 32 runs in just the four games and that’s including one game where they only managed one run. Just about everything is going right on the offensive side of the ball at the right time.
Here are the main takeaways from the series at PNC Park...
Ton up for Tony
Sure, RBIs aren’t as important a stat as they used to be in baseball, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer a cool milestone for a player to hit. Anthony Rendon reached the mark in the third game of this series with an RBI-single in the third inning.
“It’s a testament to what he’s done all year,” manager Dave Martinez said of the milestone. “He’s been really good, let’s remember that he missed some time too in the beginning, so what he’s done, he’s done fairly quickly, and we’ve still got five weeks left to play.”
It’s the second time in his career that he’s reached triple-digits in RBI and now means he currently has career-highs in several offensive categories this season.
Following the series finale, here are just some stats Rendon currently has a career-high in this year: batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, home runs, RBIs, and OPS+. Not bad.
“He’s having an unbelievable year,” Martinez said before Wednesday’s game. “I say it all the time, he’s the constant in our lineup that keeps our lineup going, and what a tremendous job he’s done in the lineup, and also playing defense.”
“He’s just super-super special and is having a great year.”
You may have heard, but Rendon is a free agent at the end of the season, not that anyone mentions it. He’s picked the perfect time to have by far his best season in the majors and should continue to be one of the very best players in all of baseball the rest of the way.
One of the main reasons the Nationals may feel more confident in a deep postseason run this season than in previous seasons is the overwhelming talent of the top three in their rotation, with Patrick Corbin living up to his hype.
His magnificent season continued with eight shutout innings against the Pirates. Though his four strikeouts weren’t necessarily his usual gaudy figures, he was in complete control.
“He was really good, pounded the strike zone, kept everything down,” Martinez explained after Wednesday’s game. “His two-seamer was really, really good, got a lot of ground balls today, so he was awesome, he even swung the bat well.”
There are only really a couple of teams who could make a case that they have a better third starter than Corbin right now, with the lefty ranking in the top 15 in WAR according to FanGraphs while also falling inside the top 10 in WAR on Baseball Reference.
Through the first 5 months of his tenure with the Nationals, he’s been everything the team could hope for, if not more than they hoped for.
“He’s been tremendous,” Martinez said of the lefty’s impact in just his first year. “Not only pitching-wise, but in the clubhouse, his work ethic has been tremendous.”
It’s still way too early to know whether Corbin’s contract will be a rousing success or not, but all the signs so far look good, seemingly proving that last year was far from a fluke.
Mad Max is back
Max Scherzer is back and with it comes a collective sigh of relief from Nationals management and fans alike. Having missed over three weeks during this second IL stint, it was good to see him back on a big league mound again.
In a shortened outing, Scherzer delivered four innings of one-run ball, allowing just four hits and one walks, while striking out three. The bullpen was able to lock down the win, but the main takeaway from this outing was that he made it through unscathed.
“He felt good,” Martinez said after the game. “We got him through 70+ pitches and he felt good. He was a little gassed, which we figured he would be, but his intensity was like always.”
“Hopefully, tomorrow he wakes up and he’s well-recovered and we move forward.”
Now that the start is done, both Scherzer and his manager stressed how important tomorrow is.
“I feel pretty good post-start,” Scherzer said, “but like I said with this process of trying to learn what’s going on here, it’s the recovery, so it’s more about tomorrow than it is today.”
Even though his outing wasn’t a typical Max Scherzer outing, getting their ace back on the mound was huge for the Nats. With huge divisional games on tap in September, not to mention any October game there might be, this was an important development for the team. Scherzer is back and is ready to roll.
The performances of Wander Suero have been about as unpredictable as anything around this Nats team. Some days, he can overpower a lineup, yet others, he’s the one overwhelmed.
He encapsulated that in this series. On Tuesday, called upon to protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning, he loaded the bases without recording an out, with Daniel Hudson failing to clean up Suero’s mess, charging three earned runs to the righty.
“Bottom of the order, left-handed guys coming up,” Martinez said of the decision to go to Suero. “We had him penciled in for the lefties. The cutter was good, just couldn’t throw it for strikes.”
“He was super-fresh. He just couldn’t find the strike zone...he’s been good for us lately, and like I said, he’s our left-handed guy.”
The sentiment of having Suero as the lefty specialist is an interesting one given how he’s been barely average against them this season. So far in 2019, lefties have slashed .286/.330/.347 against him, compared to righties slashing .224/.309/.402 off him.
If anything, it proves how much the Nats miss new acquisition Roenis Elías, who despite underwhelming splits against lefties this season, is due for correction against lefties as he has fared, well against them in his career.
Suero did at least bounce back from his rough outing with a clean 1-2-3 fifth inning on Thursday, striking out a pair and keeping the team’s one-run lead intact on that occasions, but Suero will need to become more consistent if he wants to stay in a high-leverage role.
Much like the series against the Cincinnati Reds recently, it’s tough to find much else wrong with what the Nationals did this series. So perhaps the worst thing for the visitors this series is the weird schedule that they now have to navigate.
Despite neither team having a day off on Friday, the series finale was scheduled for 7:05pm. The Pirates continue their homestand this weekend, however, the Nationals are set for their next first pitch in Chicago just 18 hours after the first pitch of the series finale.
That leaves the Nats with the short end of the stick and running on very little sleep as they take on the Cubs on the north side. Maybe they’ll need a rookie to make a Starbucks run in the morning.
One of the interesting scenarios that this turnaround has caused is that we may end up seeing Yan Gomes catch Aníbal Sánchez for the first time this season in the series opener.
With Suzuki starting the night game before a day game — perhaps with Scherzer getting dibs on his preference as the staff’s ace — plus the late check-in to the hotel, it might no be ideal for him to be starting. It will be worth paying attention to something like this.
All that being said, the Nationals have fared fairly well on short turnarounds so far this season. They’re 2-1 in games after they played a game in a different city after 7pm the night before.
None of those three games involved day games the day after as only Wrigley Field provides that sort of schedule, making it an interesting challenge for the Nationals on Friday.
Next up: Don’t worry Nationals fans, the Chicago Cubs optioned David Bote to the minors recently as they host the Nats for a three-game set at Wrigley Field. The visitors currently have Aníbal Sánchez, Joe Ross, and Stephen Strasburg lined up for the starts this weekend.