Even though it was a series between two basement dwellers in their respective divisions, the three-game set between the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates seemed to act as an interesting yardstick for both teams who are going through rebuilds.
Unfortunately for the Nationals, they didn’t cover themselves in a ton of glory in the first two games of the series. The bullpen blew a ninth-inning lead with their closer unavailable, then both starter Josiah Gray and the bullpen struggled to contain the Buccos in Saturday’s 10-7 loss.
They rebounded with some nice offense and good pitching in the finale, but it’s still a series loss to a team that would seem to have less overall talent than the Nationals right now.
Now, the Nats head home and take on another rebuilding team next in the Miami Marlins.
The Marlins and Nationals continue to be in a battle to not be the worst in the National League East, and the visitors come into this series in D.C. just a game ahead of Washington.
Here’s the lowdown from Nationals Park ahead of the three-game midweek series...
- Game One: Monday, September 13th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game Two: Tuesday, September 14th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game Three: Wednesday, September 15th, 1:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game One: Paolo Espino (4-4, 4.35 ERA) vs Sandy Alcantara (8-13, 3.24 ERA)
- Game Two: Erick Fedde (6-9, 5.31 ERA) vs Jesús Luzardo (5-7, 6.27 ERA)
- Game Three: Josh Rogers (1-0, 3.65 ERA) vs Trevor Rogers (7-7, 2.73 ERA)
Juan Soto: It’s that time again where we continue to gush about our favorite 22-year-old. Where possible, we try to spread this slot around, but when looking at Soto’s stats so far in September, they are just too absurd to ignore.
In 12 games this month, the young outfielder is slashing an incredible .439/.589/.732 with three home runs, a triple, a double, and 14 walks. You heard that right, 14 walks in 12 games.
The point has been beaten to death ever since the trade deadline, but it’s just so impressive that Soto continues to stay within himself at the plate and not try to do too much with very little protection around him.
Following Sunday’s game, pitchers had thrown just 39.6% of their pitches to Soto in the strike zone, yet he has only swung at 14.1% of pitches outside the zone, the lowest percentage in the league this month among qualifiers.
Even with Soto’s patience, the rest of the offense has picked things up around him and been a pleasant surprise given how many hitters were traded away at the end of July.
Bryan De La Cruz: The only other team aside from the Nationals in the NL East to sell at the deadline, the Marlins are also seeing results from some of their new prospects, including De La Cruz.
The 24-year-old outfielder came over in the Yimi García trade with the Houston Astros, along with Austin Pruitt, and has started strong with a .338/.386/.481 slash line, four home runs, and a 138 wRC+ in his first 39 games with the Marlins.
The Nationals saw how locked in he was in their end-of-August series as De La Cruz went 7-for-12 with a double, a run scored, and a stolen base.
When the Nats last saw De La Cruz and the Marlins, he was hitting in the bottom third of the lineup, but lately, he’s been bumped up to the top third and figures to be there for this series.
Erick Fedde: It feels like a long time ago that Fedde was statistically the Nationals’ second-best member of the rotation behind Max Scherzer. The right-hander was consistently generating whiffs and held a 3.33 ERA through his first 10 starts of 2021.
Since then, Fedde has had a miserable time of things, and it hasn’t gotten better lately.
In his last three starts, the right-hander has given up 13 runs in 14.1 innings, leaving him with an ugly 8.16 ERA, despite him striking out 15 and walking just two batters in that span.
The issue for Fedde though has been the long ball, as he’s allowed five home runs in those three starts, which is what has bloated his FIP to 6.44, even with the strong strikeout-walk ratio.
Fedde is set to start the second game of this series and needs to start impressing again if he wants the inside track to a rotation spot in 2022, or he may risk being replaced in free agency.
Joe Panik: Another trade acquisition from earlier this year for the Marlins, though Panik’s inclusion in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays was more about the other team balancing the books, as opposed to Miami getting a valuable future piece for their team.
Panik hasn’t had the smoothest ride with his new team, including a stint on the COVID IL at the end of August, and has struggled at the plate since being activated on September 2nd.
So far in September, Panik is slashing just .150/.190/.150 with one walk, four strikeouts.
With Panik’s usual home of second base occupied by Isan Díaz, the former San Francisco Giant has split time between first base and third base in a part-time role. When he is in the lineup though, the Nationals should be able to attack him given how cold his bat is.
From the opposing dugout
Check out some of the top Marlins storylines from our friends at Fish Stripes...
- The Marlins need to be prepared to let people go
- Derek Jeter inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame
- Three questions heading into the Marlins’ busy offseason
One more thing to watch
You would think that losing the likes of Trea Turner, Josh Harrison, Yan Gomes, and Kyle Schwarber at the trade deadline would significantly hurt the Nationals on offense. However, that’s not really been the case to this point.
Since the trade deadline, the Nationals have posted a 104 wRC+, just above the league average of 100. That’s good enough for ninth in the major leagues and third in the NL.
Meanwhile, before the deadline when they posted a 99 wRC+ that ranked 13th in the majors and fifth in the senior circuit. By that metric, they’ve actually improved since trading away those four players, and at least stood pat in relation to the rest of the league.
Despite this, the team has still been underwhelming overall since the trade deadline, posting a 12-29 record in 41 games.
Is Nationals’ skipper, Dave Martinez, concerned about his pitching staff’s recent performance?
“Believe me, I worry about the offense as well,” Martinez rebuffed. “But yeah, the pitching right now, we’ve got to get our pitching squared away.
“It’s just about throwing strikes, it really is. Pound that strike zone. You can’t be afraid. Up here, you can’t be afraid to get hit. That’s part of the game. Guys have a bat, they’re going to hit. Let the defense play behind you.
“We’ll make some plays. But the walks, when you put guys on, I’m going to go back tonight and see the percentages of guys we walk, how many times they score, I bet you it’s a lot.”
Normally, this would be a good time to say that maybe the Marlins, who have been one of the worst offenses since the trade deadline, are coming at the right time for an ailing pitching staff for the Nationals. However, Pittsburgh has been even worse than Miami, and we all saw how poorly that went, for the most part, this weekend at PNC Park.
Either way, it’s at least another chance for the team’s hurlers to try and right some of the recent struggles that they’ve been through in the past six weeks.