What is it with the Washington Nationals, their mythical milestone, and Memorial Day?
Here we are at the first major checkpoint of the 2022 season, the one where we had to fish or cut bait on a last-place team at the infamous 19-31 mark in 2019.
Three years later and seven starting position players lighter, the last-place Nationals have won their first series at home in 2022, taking three of four from the Colorado Rockies.
In doing so, they put themselves within one game of that enchanted 19-31 record.
The two starting position players remaining from the 2019 World Series champions, right fielder Juan Soto and center fielder Victor Robles, were among the keys to a 3-1 series win and a 4-3 season series victory over the Rockies.
The Nats and their fans have been anticipating Soto’s breakout, 3-for-10 with a double and a home run.
Soto also drew a walk in each game against Colorado, extending to seven his streak of games with a base on balls.
More of a pleasant surprise, though, was the outbreak from Robles, who has been infrequently streaky at the plate since his .257/.320/.336 World Series season.
In Saturday’s doubleheader opener against Colorado, Robles had the most productive game of his career, driving in six runs on a 3-for-4 afternoon.
“He did really well today,” manager Davey Martinez said afterward.
“It’s just him putting in the time, putting in the work with (Hitting Coach Darnell Coles) every day, and he’s swinging a lot better.”
Robles had an RBI single off starter Austin Gomber in the Nats’ five-run first and another run-scoring single in the second off right hander Ashton Goudeau.
Robles must have been waiting for Goudeau again in the fourth, when he hit his first homer of the season, a three-run shot that gave the Nats an 11-7 lead.
“He hit a home run off his front foot, basically almost one-handed on a breaking ball which was in the zone, and he stayed on that ball well, “ Martinez told reporters. “That only goes to show you how strong he is.”
Robles had another big game Sunday against Rockies’ left-hander Kyle Freeland, with a pair of singles and two stolen bases, although he was stranded both times.
He finished the four-game series against the Rockies 7-for-16, with 7 RBIs and 4 steals. He scored three times and was stranded the other five times he reached, with no outs on the basepaths.
Although Robles didn’t draw any walks in the series and has only 7 for the season, Martinez says he’s going deeper into counts and making contact. Robles struck out only twice in this series against the Rockies, and hasn’t had a two-strikeout game since May 13.
“We’re trying to get him to not chase and stay in the zone,” Martinez said Saturday. “He took some really tough pitches, and he laid off them, which is great.”
In seven games against Colorado this season, Robles is hitting .333/.370/.500 (8-for-24 with a double, a home run and 8 RBIs).
Those games were part of a month of May when Robles lifted his season average from .241 to .257 and his OBP from .293 to .320.
Martinez said Robles’s performance against the Rockies could be a breakout.
“Look, the kid’s struggling, and he’s got 19 RBIs for us hitting at the bottom, and that’s good,” said Martinez. “So we’re going to continue to work with him every day and hopefully he gets better.”
Now that Robles is apparently playing his best baseball of the season, he and the Nats will need to keep up the pace against National League East opponents.
Robles’s hot streak will be immediately tested Monday against the New York Mets. He does not have a hit in 11 at-bats against the Mets this season, with one walk and six strikeouts.
Also on the upcoming road trip is a visit to Miami, where the Nats lost 2-of-3 a couple weeks ago. Robles is hitting just .231/.286/.308 (3-for-13) against the Marlins this season.
Even if Robles doesn’t keep up the torrid pace he set in May, Martinez says he’ll remain patient with the 25-year-old.
“I truly believe in him and so does this organization. He’s got unbelievable skills, and we just got to try to get it out of him,” said Martinez. “We’re going to stick with him. I’ve said before there’s going to be days where I’ll give him a little breather, but we want him to be our everyday center fielder.”