After a bit of time away, while I was doing a two-week tour of some of the Midwest and Canada, our series recaps return. While I was away, the Washington Nationals’ lead in the wild card has shrunk, and it did once again as they dropped the series to the Atlanta Braves.
The offense continues to seem very boom-or-bust of late, causing a lot of the inconsistency that the team has endured, something they’ll need to shake off come October.
Here are the main takeaways from the series defeat to the Braves...
Rotation depth shines again
With the “Big Three” for the Nationals are set to go for them in their next series, it was the other two members of the rotation who shined for them this series. Both Austin Voth and Aníbal Sánchez delivered huge outings in this series.
On Saturday, Voth delivered 5.2 innings of one-run ball, allowing just four hits and two walks to go with six strikeouts. Unfortunately, it ended up being in a losing effort given the sole run he got in support from his offense, but he still impressed the coaching staff.
“He was good,” manager Dave Martinez told reporters after the game. “He threw strikes, got ahead of hitters and made his pitches. Simple. But he was really good. Really effective. His ball had a little life.”
Though his time in the majors has been fleeting this year, he currently has an impressive 3.58 ERA on the year in seven games and could become a valuable long-man for the team in the postseason.
But just when you thought Voth’s performance was good, Sánchez topped it with seven dominant shutout innings, allowing three hits and one walk while striking out three.
“This is a veteran guy, he knows when a team needs a lift, he’s a leader in that clubhouse,” bench coach Chip Hale said of Sánchez after the series finale.
“When he’s not pitching he’s always in there encouraging guys, and trying to help with game plans, so we know when he goes out there every time we’re getting the best.”
After a rebound season in Atlanta last year, some doubted whether Sánchez would perform at the same level again. However, since returning from the Injured List, he’s posted a 3.39 ERA in 19 starts and has been a huge reason for the team’s resurgence into the Wild Card hunt.
General manager Mike Rizzo often talks about how he prioritizes starting pitching and has assembled one of the best groups in the majors and the performances of Voth, Sánchez, Erick Fedde, and Joe Ross highlight the strength in depth they have once again.
There are two weeks left of the regular season and the Nationals are looking more and more likely to be playing in the Wild Card game. With that in mind, it’s not ideal that their ace, Max Scherzer, still seems to be finding his way a little since returning from the Injured List.
The right-hander could only go five innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and two walks, punching out six, which is certainly a step back from where he looked last week.
In his outing against the same team last weekend, Scherzer appeared to finally be back to his old self when he allowed one run in six innings but this latest start left some questions.
“This is a good lineup and they just did a good job of grinding out ABs,” Scherzer explained. “I was working behind in the count at times, just not able to locate quite as well.”
“That’s something that’s just got to change and improve upon, is just being able to locate the fastball a little bit better and force their hand a little bit better in the locations I wanted to.”
Since returning from his second IL stint this season, Scherzer owns a pretty underwhelming, by his standards at least, 3.91 ERA in five starts.
“I don’t think he commanded his off-speed stuff,” Martinez said. “Threw his fastball okay, but his changeup was a little off, threw a couple of decent sliders, but he was just a tick off today for me. But like I said, he battled through it.”
Overall, this can mostly be put down to a good lineup seeing Scherzer for the second time in five days. He’s still the clear choice to start a potential Wild Card game for now, but there is at the very least a little concern if he has more outings like this down the stretch.
There was only one answer when it came to looking at the ugly from the series. With the score tied at 1-1 in the seventh, the Nationals turned to Fernando Rodney after Wander Suero walked the first two batters of the inning.
Unfortunately, his first-pitch fastball ran up and in on Charlie Culberson, who was attempting to bunt, hitting him square in the face. The utility-man for the Braves suffered multiple facial fractures from the incident and is done for the rest of the 2019 season.
Thankfully, Culberson appears to have avoided any long-term damage and it also looks as though he will avoid surgery, which is about as good as could be hoped for given how ugly the incident looked.
“It was awful,” Martinez said after the game. “You never wish that upon anybody. You don’t. I just hope he’s alright and my plan is to talk to [Brian Snitker] here either tonight or tomorrow and make sure he’s alright.”
“It stinks. It’s part of it, and I know Rodney feels awful. I just hope that Culberson is alright.”
After hitting Culberson, things seemed to unravel for Rodney who allowed four runs to score in the inning, once again struggling with command as he has seemed to do far too often.
“I mean, bunt ball gets away, hits a guy in the face, I mean that’s tough,” Martinez said of Rodney’s performance. “I thought he threw the ball well. [Ozzie] Albies stuck the bat out and got a hit, but he knows he’s got to pitch in those big moments like that and it just wasn’t his day.”
The experienced right-hander has been very up-and-down with the Nationals, fluctuating between comfortable outings and near-implosions during his time in Washington, as evidenced by his 3.62 ERA and the fact he’s surrendered runs in seven of 31 appearances.
While he’s certainly better than the crop of relievers the team had earlier in the season, it’s slowly becoming tougher to trust Rodney in some of the higher-leverage spots. It will be interesting to see how he is used moving forward.
Next up: With just 14 games left, the Nats are hoping to regain some momentum to secure the top wild card spot. Next, they travel to Missouri to take on the St. Louis Cardinals with the “Big Three” of Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Max Scherzer set to go in the series.