Though the Giants were one of the better teams in baseball over the past month, they had cooled down a little lately and the Nats took full advantage. They seemed in control of the entire series from the get-go, converting early leads into comfortable wins.
Here are the main takeaways from the three games down by the bay...
Rotation still stepping up
While the top of the Nationals’ rotation usually steals all the headlines, the back-end has managed to step up in a huge way lately, as they were the foundation of this sweep.
Erick Fedde, Aníbal Sánchez, and Joe Ross seemed like a less than intimidating set of probable pitchers. However, combined in the series, they delivered 18 stellar innings, allowing just one earned run, striking out seven and walking just three.
The performance of Fedde and Ross, in particular, has been a huge development lately, helping guide the Nats to some big wins in the process.
“They’ve got to step up,” manager Dave Martinez told reporters after the series. “It’s their time now. They’re getting an opportunity to pitch here in the big leagues and they’re both doing a great job.”
“I commend them both every day about how well they’re doing, so I said, ‘Keep working, you can always get better, just keep working and be ready for your next start.’”
With the health of Max Scherzer still seemingly up in the air, the performance of Ross and Fedde is vital to the Nationals’ short-term success. The recent run of success for both of them would seem to bode well for the immediate future.
There might not have been a more underrated signing by the Nationals this offseason than Kurt Suzuki.
His value once again showed up in this series, providing most of the team’s offense on Tuesday night.
Suzuki went 3-for-4 in the game with a home run, driving in three of the team’s four runs.
It continued his hot-hitting of late, as he’s now slashing a lofty .333/.436/.424 in his last 10 games, proving himself as one of the better hitting catchers in baseball.
To put his performance with the bat into perspective, among NL catchers with at least 200 plate appearances this season, Suzuki’s 104 wRC+ ranks fourth, and he’s ranked 11th in all of baseball.
“He’s been awesome,” Martinez said after Tuesday’s game. “Not just his hitting, but the way he’s been calling games, his leadership in the clubhouse, everything about him has been really, really good.”
“I have no complaints about what he’s done for not just us on the field, but also off the field.”
Suzuki’s partner in crime behind the plate, Yan Gomes, has also heated up a bit of late. The Nats finally seem to be getting the joint-production out of their catching duo that they had hoped for before the season.
It’s not often that the Nats fans have been able to watch the late-innings of games and not gnaw their fingernails to the bone. However, for a refreshing change of pace, the team’s bullpen was able to avoid any drama and close out all three wins.
Combined, the relief corps allowed just two runs in nine innings of work, finishing off the hard work of the starters mentioned above. It was certainly a welcome sight for the manager.
“With the additions that we got,” Martinez said after Tuesday’s win, “and the other guys that we had, they’re getting big outs for us.”
“When you’ve got guys like we’ve got now down in that bullpen and our starting pitching knows hey, six innings, we get six innings, and we’ve got the lead, it’s going to be tough.”
As Martinez noted, it’s probably not too much to say that the new additions, even if they didn’t grab headlines, have completely changed the feel of the bullpen.
Both Daniel Hudson and Hunter Strickland recorded holds in the series, while the former also closed out the game on Wednesday, even though it wasn’t a save situation.
Hopefully, there are many more stress-free ends to games in the near future for this team.
Bye bye Barraclough
Not a whole lot went wrong on the field for the Nationals in this series. With that in mind, both of our bad or ugly takeaways are going to focus on off-the-field problems for the team.
After the signing of Asdrúbal Cabrera, the Nats needed to clear a space on the 40-man roster. The decision was made to pull the plug on the Kyle Barraclough experiment, designating him for assignment less than a year after acquiring him from the Miami Marlins.
In 33 games with the Nationals, he posted a brutal 6.66 ERA in 25.2 innings, striking out 30 and walking 12. He also struggled to strand inherited runners, with 11 of the 13 runners he inherited from previous pitchers scoring on his watch.
“I think at this point it’s a confidence issue,” Martinez said after Barraclough’s last outing with the Nats. “He threw the ball by [Justin] Turner at 96 and then all of a sudden he threw one to the backstop and I could see a little bit of hesitation.”
“All of a sudden he couldn’t locate his fastball...so he’s just got to get confidence.”
Though the future is unclear for Barraclough, it’s not hard to imagine him being claimed by a non-contender hoping to rebuild his value given his obvious ceiling. Regardless, this needs to be chalked up as a failed offseason move for Mike Rizzo and the front office.
More Max worries
While the Nationals appear to have bounced back from a brief stutter, their long-term success this season, including any in October, is going to be tied to the health of Max Scherzer.
The right-hander is still on the shelf with the strain in his upper back and the series by the bay didn’t shed too much light on his progress. Reportedly, he threw a little on Monday before taking Tuesday and Wednesday off.
Even though the Nats no doubt want to get Scherzer back as soon as possible, it’s clear that they want to be as cautious as possible with their ace.
“Like we said all along, we’re going to make sure he’s 100 percent when he comes back,” Martinez told MASN’s Mark Zuckerman ahead of Wednesday’s series finale. “We don’t want this to be an ongoing issue for him. We want to make sure he’s right.”
As frustrating as this can be for fans, and Scherzer himself who is champing at the bit to get back on the mound, it’s the right approach for the Nationals to take with his health.
They already tried to rush him back once, perhaps leading to this new injury. They can’t afford to do it again and have him missing not only for September but for a potential wild card game, which continues to seem like the most likely postseason route for the Nats.
Next up: Wait, who let the New York Mets get back into the wild card race? The Nationals travel to the hottest team in baseball for a three-game set this weekend that features great pitching matchups. The Nats send Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Aníbal Sánchez to the mound in Flushing.