Perhaps no team needed the All-Star Break more than the Washington Nationals this year. After a strong June that thrust them back in the right direction, injuries mounted up to key players.
Kyle Schwarber, Joe Ross, Kyle Finnegan, Tanner Rainey, Yan Gomes, Alex Avila, Jordy Mercer, and Kyle McGowin all landed on the Injured List after June 21st. Daniel Hudson also went to the IL on June 12th and Stephen Strasburg has been there since June 2nd.
A couple of those names have now returned, but every day that passes gets the Nats ever closer to getting back to full health.
Still battered and bruised, the second half doesn’t start out easy for Washington as the San Diego Padres come to Nationals Park for a three-game weekend series.
It’s not been that long since these two teams last faced off at Petco Park. In the penultimate series before the All-Star Break, the Nationals looked in control of the series and set to take a 3-1 series win leading 8-0 early in the finale. Then Daniel Camarena happened.
Here’s what to expect from the three-game set, where the Nationals will be hoping not to give up another grand slam to a relief pitcher this time around...
- Game One: Friday, July 16th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game Two: Saturday, July 17th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game Three: Sunday, July 18th, 1:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN and TBS, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game One: Erick Fedde (4-6, 4.59 ERA) vs Chris Paddack (4-6, 5.38 ERA)
- Game Two: Patrick Corbin (6-7, 5.40 ERA) vs Blake Snell (3-3, 4.99 ERA)
- Game Three: Max Scherzer (7-4, 2.66 ERA) vs Joe Musgrove (5-7, 2.93 ERA)
Trea Turner: Fresh off of his first All-Star Game, Turner will be looking to keep his bat scorching hot out of the break.
Since the start of June, the Nationals’ shortstop holds an impressive .338/.389/.552 slash line with seven home runs, giving him a 153 wRC+ in that span. And, as we all remember, that spell also includes a third career cycle which he collected against the Tampa Bay Rays.
A well-documented former Padres prospect, Turner is trying his best to make them rue trading him away by batting .313/.360/.650 against them in his career with six home runs in 21 games.
Expect another stellar series from the All-Star shortstop over the weekend.
Manny Machado: In our previous series preview with the Padres, Fernando Tatís, Jr. got the spotlight. This time, we head a little further around the diamond and look at the team’s third baseman.
There were definitely a few eyebrows raised when the Padres signed Machado ahead of the 2019 season, but he’s been a huge part of revitalizing the organization and thrusting it back into postseason contention in recent seasons.
Since June 17th, Machado is slashing .342/.435/.645 with six home runs and 21 RBIs. The peripherals in this stretch have been excellent too with matching 14.1% walk and strikeout rates as well as a stellar 93.0mph average exit velocity in that stretch.
While Tatís will get the headlines, coming into this series, Machado is their hottest hitter.
Victor Robles: While he continues to bring Gold Glove level defense in center field this season, Robles has been very hot-and-cold at the plate. Unfortunately for Robles, he’s in the middle of another one of those cold streaks.
In his last 16 games, the outfielder is slashing .116/.235/.256 with a measly 39 wRC+, even while Robles collected his first home run of the season in that stretch.
Perhaps more concerning is that up until then, even with underwhelming results, Robles was showing much-improved plate discipline. That’s deserted him lately though, with 16 strikeouts as opposed to just four walks in those 16 games.
With options limited right now, had Robles been performing well at the plate this season, we might’ve seen him occupy the top spot in the order again. Alas, the young center fielder needs to turn things around at the plate in a big way before they consider that again.
Chris Paddack: It wasn’t that long ago that Paddack looked set to be one of the best up-and-coming young pitchers in baseball after a solid rookie season in 2019. Now, it’s less so.
In 17 appearances this season, the right-hander holds an underwhelming 5.38 ERA that is rising fast. In his last seven starts, Paddack has a 7.71 ERA, which includes a two-inning effort where he allowed nine runs to score against the Nationals.
His ineffectiveness in this stretch appears to be in large part due to a steep rise in homers allowed, as Paddack surrendered seven home runs in those seven starts.
He’s still in the rotation for now, starting the second game of this series, but if the Padres are looking for an upgrade in their rotation at the deadline, Paddack could end up making way.
From the opposing dugout
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One more thing to watch
For the most part in 2021, the Nationals have actually had a somewhat reliable bullpen, an unfamiliar feeling for fans who have endured some collapse-prone units in recent seasons.
However, at the start of July, the cupboard was pretty bare. With Will Harris already lost for the season, both Daniel Hudson and Kyle Finnegan were placed on the Injured List in June, leaving the bridge to closer Brad Hand as unstable as it had been all season.
The depleted bullpen showed. In the time that both Finnegan and Hudson were out, the relief corps pitched to a combined 6.29 ERA, including the likes of Sam Clay, Austin Voth, and Wander Suero, who were expected to help fill in, posting ERAs north of 6.00 too.
Thankfully, in the final week before the All-Star break, both Finnegan and Hudson were able to return from the IL and made a handful of appearances between them.
Nationals manager hopes that, by getting a couple of outings under their belts, they’ll be ready and firing at the back-end of games again for Washington in this crucial stretch of games.
“It’s a big sign for us, yes, definitely,” Martinez told reporters as the first half closed out in San Francisco. “Finnegan threw the ball well again [Sunday], so that’s good.
“Like I said, these guys will get a little break, they need it, they deserve it, I know both those guys have been pitching a lot, and we get them back, we get them fresh, and good for us.
“I feel really confident with those guys when we have the lead, putting those guys in the game, so it’s good to see them back on the mound.”
There are still plenty more bodies that the Nationals need back before they can seriously consider a charge towards postseason contention again.
But given how poor the bullpen was without Finnegan and Hudson in the interim and how the rotation has struggled to go deep into games in general lately, the two right-handers were sorely missed. Expect to see them back in the late innings in this series.