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The good, the bad, and the ugly after the Nationals are swept by the Phillies

The less said about this series, the better for the Nationals. It was not pretty as the Phillies swept them away with ease...

MLB: AUG 31 Nationals at Phillies Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Beating Philadelphia isn’t as hard as Philadelphians say it is. Well, unless you’re the Washington Nationals in 2020 that is. Since that tweet from the team’s official Twitter account, the Philadelphia Phillies have gone 6-0 against the Nats. Whoops.

It was anything but pretty for the Nationals in this series. In the first and fourth games, Trea Turner and Juan Soto tried to ignite the offense, but the rotation couldn’t contain the hosts, while in the second and third games, the offense was shut down, leading to a clean sweep.

Here are the main takeaways from the four-game series...

The Good

Promising Doolittle

There wasn’t a whole lot of good that came out of this series for the Nationals. Honestly, it says a lot that the most positive thing to come out of it was that Sean Doolittle looked much better than he did before going on the Injured List with right knee fatigue.

Regardless of the series as a whole, Doolittle’s outing in the series opener was a big step forward.

In the appearance, the team’s former closer appeared to have his command, deception, and the late life on his fastball back. While the velocity wasn’t quite there, still at 90-91mph, he recorded three swings and misses en route to a 1-2-3 eighth inning with two strikeouts.

“He still has a lot of carry on his fastball even though the velo’s not there,” manager Dave Martinez said of the left-hander’s appearance. “The spin rate is still pretty good, and if he can dot the outside corner like that to lefties — also he threw a couple of nice sliders too — he can be effective and still could go up with two strikes when he wants to.

“Today was awesome. I’m proud of him, he’s fighting to get back, he’s fighting to help us, and today I was real happy to see him, he had a smile on his face when he came off the field, and he looked good.

“He’s going to be okay, he understands what he needs to do, it’s just a different Doo now. He can’t just go blow everyone away, even though he looked like it today when he spotted his pitches up really nicely.”

Doolittle did make another appearance, taking the loss in the series finale in the 10th inning.

It’s hard to hold that against him though, as the only two Phillies who reached base off him were via intentional walks, and the two outs were used to advance the runner placed at second — yes, this is exactly why it’s a terrible rule, but I digress...

It was definitely a good thing for Doolittle to look a bit closer to his normal self during this series and it will be interesting to see if he can keep it up the rest of the way in 2020.

The Bad

Fedde falters

Coming into Monday night’s game, Erick Fedde had actually been the Nationals’ third-best starter so far this season behind Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin — which in itself kind of sums up the rotation woes that the team has gone through in 2020.

To that point, Fedde was sporting a solid 3.57 ERA in six appearances, three of them starts.

He didn’t have much success against the Phillies in this start though. He pitched six innings and provide some length, something his skipper wants to see more of out of the rotation, but surrendered six runs on four hits and a walk while striking out four.

For the most part in this outing, Fedde was solid, however, it was the fourth inning that was his undoing.

In that frame, he was never ahead in the count to a batter and Philadelphia pounced by scoring four runs, putting the game almost out of reach for the visitors.

“You see him, he gets the ball up and he starts falling behind and he’s got to throw strikes,” Martinez explained after Fedde’s start this series.

“His location, he starts losing a little bit of his location, so when things start happening, as I talked to him, it’s when you really got to start slowing things down and understanding, hey, let’s just limit the damage and just try to get outs.

“He’s a ground ball pitcher when he’s good, just try to get ground balls and try to get two outs with one pitch.”

His manager noted how sometimes that loss of location can lead to big innings like Monday’s.

“I just think he just has that one snowball inning when he goes out there and he just tries to make up for it by doing things — by trying to speed up instead of slow things down and let him understand, like I said, he’s a ground ball pitcher. Let me get the ball down, let me keep the ball down, and try to get that ground ball.”

Despite a rough pair of starts against the Phillies, Fedde figures to maintain his rotation spot the rest of the way. He’s still generally done well limiting hard contact and getting ground balls while Austin Voth has struggled and is the more likely to be removed of the two.

He’ll hope to reverse course on Saturday when he takes on the Atlanta Braves.

The Ugly

Two-man offense

You might want to take a breath before reading this section, it’s going to be a long one...

From an offensive perspective, the only players who had something resembling a significant impact at the plate during this series were Trea Turner and Juan Soto. If you want to be generous, you can include Michael A. Taylor and Luis García, but outside of that, it was ugly.

Here’s how the other Nationals’ hitters fared during the four games in Philadelphia:

  • Asdrúbal Cabrera: 2-for-18
  • Howie Kendrick: 2-for-12, one walk
  • Luis García: 5-for-15, one double
  • Adam Eaton 2-for-13, two doubles
  • Yan Gomes 1-for-6
  • Eric Thames: 0-for-10
  • Michael A. Taylor: 2-for-7, two home runs, one walk
  • Kurt Suzuki: 1-for-8, one walk, one double
  • Brock Holt: 0-for-9, one walk
  • Victor Robles: 2-for-7
  • Josh Harrison: 1-for-2

That’s...yikes. The offense wasn’t expected to be a huge strength of this team coming into the season and it’s been hit-and-miss recently, but it hit a new low during these four games.

“I think they might be pressing a little bit. I mean, we’re not scoring any runs,” Martinez said after Wednesday’s frustrating loss. “They’re just all of a sudden, you hear, when a guy catches a line drive, it’s almost like, ‘Hey, here we go again.’ It’s like no, just keeping hitting the ball hard, they’ll fall, keep having good at-bats, keep hitting the ball hard, we’ll get through it. But we’ve got to believe in it.

“I tell them all the time, I say, ‘Nobody is going to give us anything. We knew that. We’ve got to believe in ourselves and keep working hard,’ and they’re doing that. And this thing will turn around, and when it does all of a sudden we’ll start winning games and start having more fun.”

This isn’t a lineup that’s been snakebitten by injuries. The only regulars they’re missing are Starlin Castro, courtesy of a season-ending broken wrist, and Carter Kieboom, who was optioned off the team due to struggles at the plate. It’s just a lineup that’s underperforming.

Martinez has tried to juggling his lineup, making Turner and Soto his 1-2 combo, then shifting Eaton to the leadoff spot on Thursday to try and get a runner on-base for his two hottest hitters. In reality though, this is just shuffling the proverbial deck chairs on the Titanic, and at some point, the other players in the lineup have to step up and perform.

The likes of Thames and Eaton were supposed to be frequently hitting in the top half of the order but have both produced sub-.650 OPSs, Cabrera has cooled off significantly since a red hot start, and the high hopes for Kieboom haven’t yet come to fruition.

Sure, this is a season during a pandemic and it’s tough to hold too much against them under the current circumstances, but it’s still fair to wonder if there’s some other underlying cause for the widespread underperformance on the offensive side of the ball.

The Nationals’ title defense is all but over now and the struggling lineup is a big reason why. It might be time to get an extended look at some of the younger hitters in the organization soon to begin evaluating for 2021 if things keep heading south in a hurry...

Next up: The Nationals now head to Truist Park for the second time this year to take on the Atlanta Braves. Austin Voth, Erick Fedde, and Patrick Corbin are on schedule to pitch in the series with Wil Crowe also being required to start the second game of Friday’s doubleheader.