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The good, the bad, and the ugly from the Nationals’ beltway battle with the Orioles

Technically, the Nationals weren’t swept by the O’s, but it wasn’t pretty for the reigning champs by any measure...

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

On the bright side, the Washington Nationals weren’t swept by the Baltimore Orioles, I guess?

After a rough two and a half games against Baltimore, the Nats will be hoping to move on from this series in swift fashion. The visiting O’s seemed to dominate the weekend series, and could officially complete the sweep on Friday, when Sunday’s game resumes.

Here are the main takeaways from the two and a bit games that were played this weekend...

The Good

Voth still impressing

Even though it’s the big four in the Nationals’ rotation that gets the plaudits, the rotation member with the lowest ERA through the team’s first 12 games is their fifth starter, Austin Voth.

He continued his productive start to the season on Saturday with five shutout innings against the Orioles, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out five batters on the night. That lowered his ERA on the season to just 1.80 with a 1:7 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

“He goes out there and he’s been doing well,” Dave Martinez said after the start.

Though the manager was full of praise for the right-hander, there’s still one thing to keep an eye on.

“The key for him, is we watch him and all of a sudden his velo drops tremendously,” Martinez explained. “He went from 92 to 88-89, and then his balls got up. We just got to keep an eye on him. But he does well, he does well for five innings, we’ve just got to build him up.”

As his velocity fell a little in his final inning of work, the Orioles were finally able to get to him a little bit with a walk and a single, so it’s definitely something to work on the rest of the way.

Theoretically, that should correct itself as the season goes on and Voth stretches his arm out and can get deeper into games. If it does, then the right-hander should continue to establish himself as a useful low-end rotation piece for the Nationals moving forward.

The Bad

Struggling Sánchez

For every bit that Voth has impressed in 2020, Aníbal Sánchez has disappointed so far.

Sánchez started the 11-0 blowout on Saturday and allowed five runs on 10 hits and three walks, striking out four. His ERA on the season now sits at a bloated 7.84 through two starts.

Much like his first start of the season, it was obvious to the Nats what the issue was...

“We’ve got to get him down in the strike zone,” Martinez explained. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily the time off, that he may have had, but he hasn’t been in that every five-day rotation yet, so that’s why — I wanted to leave him out there.

“His last inning and a half he actually threw the ball better, but I wanted to get him up there about 90 pitches today, just so he gets that feeling.

“Hopefully his next outing he can get the ball down. He’s really good when he gets the ball down. And we know that, so he’s just got to get the ball down in the zone.”

The right-hander started 2019 slowly too with a similar issue in that he was leaving the ball up in the zone, along with some nagging injuries, leading to a 5.10 ERA through his first nine starts. Eventually, he figured it out, posting a 3.42 ERA the rest of the way in the regular season, and elevated himself to a level that truly made it a top four rather than a top three.

Now he’ll be hoping to do the same in this abbreviated season in order to get back on track...

The Ugly

Tarps not immune to 2020

Nothing can escape the metaphorical jaws of despair that has been the year 2020 so far. The Nationals Park grounds crew summed all that up in their failed attempt to unroll the tarp on Sunday.

With the Nationals 5-2 down in the top of the sixth inning, the heavens opened and the rain came down in hefty proportions.

Normally in such an event, the grounds crew are quick to deploy the Skittle-clad tarp. But this time they had a lot of trouble unraveling the tarp, taking north of 15 minutes to do so, by which time, the field was soaked through and left it almost no chance to resume that day.

After a two-hour, eight-minute delay while the Nationals attempted to dry the field, the game was postponed — not ended early as other games have been this year, as if there’s an equipment malfunction, such as the tarp not unraveling, then the game is postponed.

“The field was deemed unplayable,” Martinez explained after the game was postponed. “We couldn’t get the tarp on the field. I feel bad for our grounds crew, because personally, to me these guys are the best if not one of the best, so it’s just unfortunate that that happened.”

Nothing is ever simple in this strange season, even something as routine as getting the field covered in a tarp. If that doesn’t sum up the year America is having, nothing will...

Bullpen blows it

On the whole, the Nats’ bullpen has actually been night and day compared to last season, posting a 1.53 ERA as a group coming into the weekend, good for fourth-best in MLB.

Unfortunately, in this series, it was something of a throwback to last season. Unfortunately, the bullpen couldn’t stop the bleeding in Friday night’s 11-0 blowout win for the Birds, nor could it hold onto a 3-0 lead late in Saturday’s game.

While it’s not a bullpen-wide issue, it’s certainly not helping when two relievers who were supposed to be in the late innings for the team aren’t able to fulfill that duty right now.

The struggles of Sean Doolittle have been well-documented and they reared their ugly head on Saturday, Will Harris continues to recover from a groin issue, and while Daniel Hudson has been very effective this season, he was the one who got the blown save on Saturday.

“Coming into the season Doolittle, Will Harris, Huddy, those were your three guys,” Martinez said after the game. “Right now, you know, like I said, [Doolittle] is struggling, Will is getting healthy, hopefully you get him back soon, and you got Huddy right now.”

The struggles and injuries might mean that the Nationals start to turn to some of the pitchers who have been impressing in lower leverage spots to help close out games.

“These other guys are stepping up,” Martinez explained, “The Guerras, the Raineys, even Finnegan has thrown the ball well his couple outings. We might have to go in a different direction right now and see what we’ve got.”

It’s certainly far from the catastrophic levels of the early-2019 Nationals’ bullpen, but, in a shorter season, it’s already time for Martinez to evaluate what’s going well in his relief corps and start utilizing them accordingly.

Next up: The Nationals finally get on the road for the first time in 2020 as they face the New York Mets for four games in Queens. Patrick Corbin, Max Scherzer, Aníbal Sánchez, and Austin Voth are lined up to start what could already be a crucial series for the flailing Nats.