Yes, technically the Washington Nationals just played two two-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays. But because they were all played at Nats Park, we’re combining them into one series review — that’s what we’re going with, not because it’s one article instead of two.....
Anyway, it was certainly two very different series for the Nationals. In the two home games, the Nats struggled on offense, dropping both games. The bats finally woke up in extras of the first “road” game and carried that over to the finale, giving them a “road” sweep.
Here are the main takeaways from the four games against the temporary Buffalo residents...
Max is back
After a less than great end of the regular season in 2019 and a poor outing to begin the shortened 2020 season, it was a relief of sorts to see Max Scherzer back to his best this series.
Even though it was just his second start of the season, Scherzer threw 112 pitches in 7.1 shutout innings, allowing just three hits and three walks while striking out 10 Blue Jays.
“I felt good today,” the right-hander told reporters after the game. “Really gotten after it during this turn in terms of running and lifting and really felt really strong all throughout the night tonight. It wasn’t quite as hot so I feel like I benefited from that.
“Was just able to get in a rhythm and work with [Kurt Suzuki] and we were just in a 0-0 ballgame trying to execute every pitch. Everything is on the line with every single pitch.”
We still don’t quite know when Scherzer will next pitch for the Nationals with a weekend off coming up, but having an outing like this one against a good-hitting Toronto team is a sign of optimism that the future Hall of Famer can still be close to peak form this season.
Are you bored of me talking about how big a factor Carter Kieboom’s production will be in whether the Nats are successful or not in this short season? Well, if the 22-year-old performs as he did upon his return to the lineup this week, you won’t much for much longer.
After being held out for a few days with a minor groin issue, Kieboom started to show a glimpse of the talent that had him high on prospects lists the last few years.
In the two games he played, he went 3-for-5 with three walks and two strikeouts. Sure, the sample is too small to read into anything statistically, but what was impressive was how he looked at the plate and his approach, which is what caught his manager’s eye.
“I love his discipline right now,” Dave Martinez said on Thursday. “The fact that he’s using the whole field is really nice too.
“The key for him as a young hitter is to swing at strikes and not chase, and he’s done a good job of that these last couple days, so it’s really good to see.”
Kieboom did display some of the same big league swagger last Spring Training and to start his big league career in 2019. However, after a few games, the tempo of the game started to overwhelm him and led to more than his fair share of miscues.
After his promising showing in this series, it’s time for him to build on it and take the next step at the major league level. Perhaps with less pressure this year in a season that doesn’t mean as much as normal, the infielder can take really kick on this time.
Strasburg still ailing
Last year, Stephen Strasburg was able to stay fully healthy and avoid the Injured List in a season for just the second time in his career after doing so back in 2014.
While he’s been able to do that so far in 2020, he’s still yet to make an appearance. After an impressive final exhibition start against the Baltimore Orioles, the right-hander has been dealing with some nerve issues in his thumb.
Though for a second time this season, he was replaced by Erick Fedde, the Nationals still appear to be optimistic about the health of their $245 million man.
“He’s got very minimal pain, if not any pain in his thumb now,” Martinez said on Wednesday. “Hopefully we get through this and he can come back and pitch and help us win ballgames.
“Like I said, we want to make sure that this doesn’t become an issue or problem somewhere else. We want to make sure that his mechanics are right, that he’s throwing the ball properly, and he’s able to go out there and do what he’s capable of doing.”
Perhaps the extended break this weekend could help give Strasburg a few extra days of rest if the Nats bump their rotation order back a couple of days and allow him to make a start in the series with the New York Mets or at the weekend against the Baltimore Orioles.
Either way, it’s certainly a concern worth monitoring over the next few days...
Offense, where for art thou
Admittedly, after the first two and a half games, I was getting ready to put this in the ugly section of the series recap. The Nationals did manage to show some life at the dish in the second of the two series, but for the most part this week, it was less than convincing.
Through the first two games of the series, the Nats were only able to score one run in each game. Despite that, the team was still optimistic that things would turn around...
“I feel like we’ve been hitting the ball great,” Trea Turner said following Tuesday’s 4-1 loss. “We’ve been putting hits up on the board, I think we outhit them yesterday, we’ve missed the home run a little bit as a club in general, but you know it’s easy to say that when you’re not winning or you’re not putting up eight or ten runs a night.”
It looked like the third game was going the same way. After a great pitchers’ duel between Scherzer and rookie Nate Pearson, the teams were knotted at 0-0 heading into extra innings.
The Nationals, aided by the runner placed on second base and a pitcher in Shun Yamaguchi who struggled for command in the 10th, were finally able to bust out and scored four runs.
Again, much like Strasburg’s recovery, the extended break for the Nats has a silver lining of hopefully allowing both Juan Soto and Howie Kendrick to return to the lineup when they next play a game as their presence really helps lengthen the lineup out.
Maybe, the late jolt of offense that the team flashed at the end of these four games will be a platform for improvement at the plate for this team. That’s the plan at least...
State of play
As I said in the last series review, as much as I like to have these not always be serious, it’s time to get serious again about the current state of things in Major League Baseball.
Over the weekend, the Miami Marlins saw the number of positive coronavirus cases increase in their organization. By Monday morning, the number of cases reached 13, with 11 players and a pair of coaches testing positive, signaling a clear outbreak on the team.
“My level of concern went from about an 8 to a 12,” Martinez told the media after hearing the news. “I mean, this thing really can — it hits home now that you’re seeing half of a team get infected and go from one city to another.”
In response to the first four positive cases that came back on Sunday morning, MLB shrugged their shoulders and let the Marlins decide whether they wanted to play on.
That attitude over the weekend led this to move from a few cases to a full outbreak and eventually, MLB ruled that the Marlins season must be paused until the following Monday.
It was yet another instance of MLB not really having a firm plan for what to do if there was an outbreak on the team and just playing it by ear. Quite frankly, it’s awful for baseball that this was not only allowed to happen but to also have a limited plan to combat it.
Especially in a trying time that can be worrying for baseball staff around the country, how the league handled the build-up to the outbreak and the outbreak itself is not a great sign.
“I’m going to be honest with you, I’m scared. I really am,” he explained. “I go from here, home, back here, every day. That’s all I do. I wash my hands — I went from 47 times a day to probably 99 times a day. Wear my mask everywhere I go. But there’s always that concern.
“You don’t know — right now you don’t know, because of my heart condition, what happens to me if I do get it. So, I got to be extra careful.”
When people in the game like Martinez talked so emotionally about the subject this week, it reminds you that it’s people’s lives they’re potentially putting at risk by playing this year.
There is a way to play baseball safely during this pandemic, I’m sure of it. But if outbreaks are going to be allowed to happen like the one the Marlins have been through, then playing the 2020 season is simply not viable as it puts people in the game at too much risk.
Time for MLB to step up and find a suitable path forward...
Next up: There’s more weirdness ahead for the Nationals as because of the aforementioned outbreak on the Marlins, the Nats are off this weekend. Their next series will be against the New York Mets, starting next Tuesday, though it’s not clear how the team will handle the delay with regards to their starting rotation in that two-game set.