With another bizarre weekend of Washington Nationals baseball in the books, it’s still tough to get a read on where this team is at as we begin to head into the nitty-gritty of the season.
The offense broke out on Friday with 17 runs before the tables turned on Saturday and their pitching got lit up.
Then in the series finale, they squeaked out a 3-0 win with some late offense in a three-run eighth inning to deliver a much-needed series win.
The Nats now wrap up their seven-game road swing with four games against the Chicago Cubs.
The last time the Nationals played at Wrigley Field was in August of 2019 and they were in a heated Wild Card race, three games clear of the pack about to face the NL Central-leading Cubs.
Three games and a sweep later, the Nationals were 5.5 games clear of the chasing pack and four games clear of the Cubs who dropped into the second Wild Card spot.
It was a series that really convinced people that Washington belonged in the playoff picture after their rough start by sweeping a fellow contender convincingly. That was justified in the end as we all know how that season finished that October.
It’s a different situation this time as the Nationals are looking for consistency on offense in order to fire them back into contention, while the Cubs are also below .500 after some key injuries early on, though most of those players have returned or are close to doing so.
Here’s what to expect from the four-game series on the North Side of Chicago...
- Game One: Monday, May 17th, 7:40 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game Two: Tuesday, May 18th, 7:40 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game Three: Wednesday, May 19th, 7:40 pm EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market-only), Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game Four: Thursday, May 20th, 2:20 pm EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market-only, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game One: Jon Lester (0-1, 2.25 ERA) vs Adbert Alzolay (1-3, 4.50 ERA)
- Game Two: Patrick Corbin (2-3, 6.19 ERA) vs Zach Davies (2-2, 5.60 ERA)
- Game Three: Max Scherzer (3-2, 2.10 ERA) vs Jake Arrieta (4-3, 4.10 ERA)
- Game Three: Joe Ross (2-3, 5.80 ERA) vs Trevor Williams (2-2, 6.27 ERA)
Victor Robles: 2021 has been billed as a big year for Robles to try and prove himself at the plate after a pair of underwhelming years since he became the Nats’ full-time center fielder.
Though it was far from an ideal start to the season offensively, Robles has done better of late.
In his last 16 games, Robles is slashing .304/.408/.413 with five doubles, all of which came during the recent series with the Diamondbacks. Coming into the series, he only had two extra-base hits on the season, so it was good to see him rack up more bases this weekend.
Robles has drastically improved his plate discipline so far this year. If he can pair that with more extra-base hits as he did out in the desert, then he could begin to become more of a force in the lineup moving forward for the Nationals — perhaps even as a leadoff hitter.
Kris Bryant: Once again linked with a potential trade to the Nationals this offseason, the former NL MVP stayed put with the Cubs and is now off to one of the best starts of his career.
On the year, Bryant has a formidable .303/.396/.636 slash line and 175 wRC+ with 10 home runs and 25 RBIs. It’s been more of the same lately too, with a .333/.442/.722 line in his previous 11 games entering Sunday’s game with the Detroit Tigers where he went 0-for-5.
Given the current offensive woes for the Nationals, if Bryant has a big series against them, it might continue to give them at least some sense of regret that they didn’t acquire him this winter.
Juan Soto: Maybe it’s a little harsh to have Soto here but despite an ok series in Arizona, something doesn’t seem quite right at the plate for the young star.
Since returning from the Injured List two weeks ago, Soto holds a .216/.370/.297 line with nine walks, six strikeouts, and just one extra-base hit in the form of a homer against the New York Yankees.
Soto’s eye at the plate appears to be there with the walks, but the obvious concern now is the lack of power. The outfielder has hit a ton of balls on the ground with an alarming 71% ground-ball rate since he returned to the team compared to a career rate of 48.3%.
If Soto can begin to elevate the ball again, his power should resurface and he’ll be the same old Juan Soto once again.
Jason Heyward: Speaking of players that the Nationals were rumored to be interested in but didn’t end up acquiring, for the most part, Heyward’s performance for the Cubs may mean that Mike Rizzo and the front office dodged a bullet with the outfielder.
Heyward, now in the fifth of his eight years on his contract, might be having the worst start to a season in that time, slashing just .176/.252/.319 with three long balls. He’s even colder at the dish lately, slashing .107/.219/.179 in his last eight games with just two extra-base hits.
With some impressive performances of the likes of Ian Happ and Matt Duffy of late, Heyward could get squeezed out of regular playing time if he continues to slump at the plate.
From the opposing dugout
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One more thing to watch
Coming into the 2021 season, Nationals manager Dave Martinez made it clear that Yan Gomes was going to become the team’s primary backstop after he split time behind the plate with Kurt Suzuki, who’s now with the Los Angeles Angels, the past two seasons.
In an expanded role, Gomes is putting up numbers that are up there with the best of his career.
Through his first 24 games, Gomes is slashing .286/.318/.488 with four home runs and 13 RBIs, giving him a 112 wRC+ on the season, while also impressing defensively behind the dish.
“He knew from the get-go that he was going to play,” Martinez told reporters on Saturday. “I want him to play, and it seems like, from doing the research, that his at-bats, when he gets consistent at-bats, he can put up good numbers. He’s shown that.
“We want to get him out there as much as possible, but yet, we want to keep him healthy throughout the whole year.”
Gomes has actually been one of the few Nationals who have actually provided some consistency to the lineup with his steady production in the early portion of the season, giving Martinez the confidence to sometimes hit him as high as fifth in the order when required.
With three-straight night games to open this series with the Cubs, it’s entirely possible that we see Gomes start the first three games of the series as the Nats’ skipper aims to keep up the positive early trend with his catcher. So far, he’s been more than up to the challenge.