The Washington Nationals just keep on keeping on. They wrapped up four-straight series against the National League Central with an 11-2 record, including two sweeps.
This latest sweep of the Chicago Cubs was particularly impressive. The hosts, who led the NL Central by half a game coming into the series, hadn't been swept at home all season and the Nats hadn't swept the Cubs at Wrigley Field since 2005.
Here are the main takeaways from the three games on the north side...
That was the word the home broadcast team used to describe the Nationals’ offense.
Over the course of the three games this weekend, the Nationals kept churning out timely hits, scoring 23 runs on 37 hits, including going 10-for-33 with runners in scoring position.
Of the 12 Nationals hitters to have at least 10 plate appearances in the month of August, 9 of them have a wRC+ above the league-average of 100. The other three were Brian Dozier, Yan Gomes and Matt Adams, who all still have a wRC+ of 82 or above.
The point is that there really are no breaks in the lineup. Even the bottom of the lineup can hurt you right now and pick up the slack if others are having off-nights.
“The thing that I love the most,” manager Dave Martinez said after the series, is that “they’re bearing down with two strikes, they’re not giving in, we’re fouling some pitches off, we’re putting the ball in play.”
“We’re coming up with big hits, they’re taking their walks, and all of those things matter.”
It was the top of the order that really set the tone this series. Trea Turner went a combined 5-for-13 to nudge his batting average about .300 on the year, Adam Eaton went 3-for-10 with yet another homer, and Anthony Rendon went 6-for-12 out of the three-hole.
With a pair of favorable series for the Nats coming up, expect the offensive outburst to continue for a little while longer at least. They’re scoring runs at a historic pace lately and may just have one of the best all-around offense in baseball right now.
Even though we talked about how good Aníbal Sánchez has been since returning from the Injured List just a week ago in our series recaps, he took it to another level this weekend.
Sánchez was filthy throughout in his start on Friday, delivering 8.1 spectacular innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on just one hit and two walks, while striking out six.
“Early in the game, like as soon as they started to make contact early I knew that I could go deeper into the game,” Sánchez told MASN’s Alex Chappell after the game.
“I knew that facing this team is not easy, I knew the situation that the team had to play last night and got here late, I’m the only one I think got a really good rest.”
In his last 15 starts, the right-hander is a remarkable 8-0 while posting a 3.18 ERA in that time. It's just more proof of how spoiled this team is with rotation depth that he’s their fourth starter.
Next up for Sánchez will be the team he made his major league debut with, the Miami Marlins on Friday. The last time he faced them he produced a quality start, allowing only one run in six innings and we can probably expect more of the same this weekend.
Even though he wound up coughing up a solo home run to Victor Caratini in Sunday’s win, new acquisition Hunter Strickland continues to impress with his new team.
“Southern Thunder,” as his jersey read this weekend, fired two huge scoreless innings on Saturday when the bullpen needed to dig deep when Joe Ross couldn’t make it out of the fifth inning. Strickland continues to answer the bell every single time he’s called.
Since joining the Nationals along with teammate Roenis Elías at the trade deadline, Strickland has slid right into the late-inning mix. He’s recorded six holds and two wins with the Nats, allowing just two runs in 11 innings of work.
“He’s been really good,” Martinez said after Saturday’s win. “He’s a veteran guy that’s been in high-leverage situations that can do multiple things, and he’s a guy that goes out there and you know he throws strikes, which is key.”
Strickland has been so good for the Nationals so far that he’s even pleasantly surprising Martinez.
“I never realized how good a stuff he really has,” Martinez also said. “Now seeing him every day, he’s got a good curveball, really good fastball, and he’s got a changeup that’s really good.”
“So he’s got three really nasty pitches that he can throw effectively and throw for strikes.”
Even when Sean Doolittle does return from the Injured List, Strickland is bound to keep a high-leverage role with the Nationals. Already seemingly a fan favorite in D.C. he could turn out to be one of the steals of the trade deadline in baseball.
More Matt Grace lumps
There might not be a pitcher on the team more frustrating to fans than Matt Grace. The left-hander had another poor outing in this series, even if it was just to wrap up the rout on Friday.
In the series opener, Grace entered in relief of the magnificent Sánchez in the top of the ninth. With a pair of runners on, he gave up a double to Nicholas Castellanos and a single to Anthony Rizzo allowing the Cubs to pull within six before eventually shutting the door.
As the team leaves Chicago, Grace now holds a 6.36 ERA in 51 appearances and a 9.53 ERA in August alone. The lefty usually thrives by inducing soft contact but has seemingly left the ball over the heart of the plate more this season with predictable results.
His performance this season is in stark contrast to how he fared last season, which can be easily forgotten by some.
Grace’s performance last season often went unnoticed as he put up an impressive 2.87 ERA in 56 appearances, becoming a stable presence in a bullpen that went through a lot of turnover.
However, with the bullpen reinforcements this year, Grace’s performances have reduced his role in the bullpen to multi-inning mop-up duty or if they get desperate, a lefty-specialist.
Grace may well survive in the bullpen until rosters expand, when Doolittle and Elías are likely to return, along with some other call-ups. But based on his ineffectiveness this season, he may end up finding himself on the fringes of the roster over the offseason.
We could definitely get used to struggling to find ugly takeaways from the various series recently. So this time, let’s go with an aesthetically ugly for this series...
There was a lot of controversy about how the Players’ Weekend jerseys looked. The black unis that the Nationals wore actually looked pretty sharp, even if it did make them blend with the umpires. The white unis, on the other hand, well, they weren’t good.
The previous two Players’ Weekends had featured multi-colored uniforms, primarily in an effort to mimic those worn by participants at the Little League World Series. But this year, MLB had a big swing-and-miss with the all-white combination.
Feel free to give your own opinions in the comments, but please bring back the colorful unis...
Next up: Following a dominant road trip, the Nationals head home to face their beltway rival Baltimore Orioles for a two-game set starting on Tuesday. The hosts will send Patrick Corbin and Max Scherzer to the mound, hoping to continue their dominance with a sweep.