If anyone had Joe Ross winning the only game of this series, please stand up now...
Thought not. A strange series that just never really seemed to go the Washington Nationals' way led them to a third straight series loss.
Here are the big takeaways from the three games against the Arizona Diamondbacks...
Some Nationals fans were fairly concerned that the team failed to add a fifth starter at the trade at the MLB trade deadline. They did at least try, as according to Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post, they were “engaged” on a starting pitcher the day before the deadline.
Well, after an impressive start against the Diamondbacks, Joe Ross tried his best to help the Nats not regret the decision. He delivered 5.1 innings of one-hit shutout ball, striking out three, but walking an astonishing five.
“He fell behind a lot,” manager Dave Martinez explained after the game. “But when he was able to throw strikes, he was effective.”
“We talked after his last outing about his two-seamer and knowing when to throw his four-seamer, and he did that really well today. And then he started throwing his breaking balls a lot better.”
“Effectively wild” is probably a good term to describe Ross’s start this series. Regardless, it’s certainly better than ineffective like he was last time out against the Dodgers.
In his two starts this year, Ross has been solid enough as a back-end starter, allowing just three runs in his other start. It’s now become clear that moving forward, it’s best for Ross to work exclusively as a starter, rather than mess about in the rotation or with an opener.
Bullpen newbies impress
It took the Nats a while to acquire them, but the presence of the bullpen reinforcements was certainly felt early on in this series. The three news guys pitched in this series, as Roenis Elías, Hunter Strickland, and Daniel Hudson all looked impressive.
Elías and Strickland pitched in the series opener on Friday, both recording holds as they retired every batter they faced, displaying all the stuff that Mike Rizzo coveted in them.
Then on Saturday, Hudson retired David Peralta with the bases loaded, using his nasty fastball-changeup combination. And finally, on Sunday, Hudson escaped another jam while Strickland pitched well again in the eighth.
“It’s nice to have those guys who actually pitched in the back end of the bullpen, closed games, so we can do different things,” Martinez told reporters after Friday’s game.
The manager is still figuring out how to use his new toys, but they are a huge upgrade for the worst bullpen in baseball. Nationals fans should be excited about these new additions and they gave no reason to doubt that excitement in this series.
Ok, well, maybe they did give one reason, as one of those new relievers is already on the shelf. Sent to the plate in the seventh inning of his debut, Elías was told not to swing by his manager, but couldn’t help himself and pulled up on the way to first.
The injury news didn’t stop there as Howie Kendrick had also been dealing with an injury.
Though the team initially only thought it was cramp for both players, they were eventually placed on the 10-day IL with hamstring strains on Sunday afternoon.
The injury to Kendrick can’t be underestimated. With the team already missing Ryan Zimmerman with his plantar fasciitis, missing yet another potent right-handed bat leaves the bench feeling a bit short.
Meanwhile, Elías, who only joined the team on Friday, appeared set for a high-leverage role in the bullpen after his stuff impressed the team on Friday. The most frustrating part about the injury was how preventable it was, given the situation.
The Nationals suffered through much worse injury-wise earlier on this year, when half of their starting lineup was out injured. It’s time for those who are healthy to dig in given how little room for error there is now and pick up the slack.
Three in a row
As mentioned in the introduction, the Nationals have now lost three series in a row, leaving their chances for an NL East title on the brink.
As the games continue to tick by with the Nats playing .500 ball, the gap to the top of the NL East has increased to seven games. Despite this, the team’s manager remains optimistic that they will turn things around soon...
“We’ll get it back together,” Martinez said after the series. “We’re battling back, we’re swinging. We’re hitting the balls pretty good. We scored five runs today, a bunch last night.”
“We’ve got to get more consistent, we’ve got to have those shutdown innings again like we did when we were going really good and we’ll go from there.”
One of the main reasons for the current slump has been the rotation. They’ve been one of the best in baseball for most of the season, but over the last three series, they’ve put up a less than stellar 6.06 ERA, putting the Nats in early holes.
With the likes of Corbin and Strasburg set for better days than they had in Phoenix, it gives the Nationals a good chance to rebound from their poor stretch.
The schedule does ease up somewhat lately, with no teams over .500 for the next three series. However, with the Giants and Mets on tap, more slip-ups could lead the Nationals to fall further down the wild card pecking order.
Stephen Strasburg had been on quite the roll coming into his start against the Diamondbacks. He had rightly earned Pitcher of the Month, going 5-0 with a 1.14 ERA, funnily enough, driving in more runs with his bat (six) than runs allowed (four).
You know the drill by now: Someone wins an award, some stupid writer jinxes it by saying how great he’s been, the player in question then gets rocked, because of course.
The Diamondbacks really piled on Strasburg in this one, as the right-hander allowed nine runs on nine hits and two walks. In total this year, he posted a 13.97 ERA against the D-backs and it might be because he was tipping his pitches slightly.
“They were able to lay off some quality pitches,” Strasburg told MASN’s Mark Zuckerman after the game. “I do know what they’re seeing, so it’s a positive.”
“I think games like this when you get knocked around, you always try and look at the positives and ways to improve. And I think I’ve figured that one out.”
But it’s not just this season that they’ve had success against the righty. Strasburg’s ERA of 4.74 against the D-backs in his career is the second-highest of his ERAs out of all NL teams, behind the 4.88 ERA he has against the Milwaukee Brewers.
This is just a blip on the radar for Strasburg, who gets to face the New York Mets next time out, who he has a 2.75 ERA against this season. However, this outing was definitely ugly.
Next up: The Nationals continue their trip out west with three games against the surging San Francisco Giants. Erick Fedde, Aníbal Sánchez, and Joe Ross are the probable starters as the Nats continue to grind through without their ace, Max Scherzer.