Nationals Retrospective: Week 2

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Yikes. It seems like almost a century ago Nats fans were rejoicing over last week’s 3-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox. I guess that’s what happens when the division rival Atlanta Braves come in to your house and knock the wind out of you. In the grand scheme of a 162 game season, this past week will likely fade into the big-picture of a strong and dominant season. But this week did create some cause for concern within Natstown and gives us plenty to talk about. Here is a good look at all that happened in Washington over the past week:

What happened to the pitching?

We all know it’s early. The Citizens of Natstown staff is definitely not rallying our torches and pitchforks. But the pitching performances practically across the board this week were undoubtedly underwhelming. As a whole, the Nats bullpen has a 5.90 ERA, allowing 26 earned runs in just under 40 IP - good for second worst in the Major Leagues.

The implosion came from all different corners of the Nats pitching staff. Tuesday against the White Sox, Tyler Clippard gave up three runs over one inning of work. Drew Storen blew a ninth inning lead in Friday’s series opener against the Braves. Stammen would eventually be saddled with the loss in extra innings after giving up a go-ahead two-run homer in the tenth inning. And the pitching would be a mess again in the series finale against Atlanta last Sunday, where Nats pitchers combined to give up nine runs. Seven of the runs came off a struggling Gio Gonzalez, who gave up two home runs and an uncharacteristic seven hits over five innings.

This is not the type of pitching you like to see early on from a team who many in the baseball world have proclaimed as a practical shoe-in for a playoff spot. Pitchers will have to regain their 2012 dominance as the season gears up. Bats tend to heat up along with the weather, so it’s not going to get any easier from here.

Defense:

The Nats lead the league in errors. Yeah. Let’s say that again. The Nats lead Major League Baseball in errors. One aspect that makes the Nationals so fun to watch is their usual fundamentally sound baseball. With an infield comprised of two Gold Glove corner infielders and an outfield of three players that could all arguably man centerfield, the Nats should have a dynamo defense on paper.

So who has been causing the issues? All-Star shortstop Ian Desmond leads the team with four errors, followed by Ryan Zimmerman - who has racked up three miscues.

But Zim’s errors have proved to be costly this week. In last Friday’s game, an errant throw to second base by Zimmerman allowed the two tying runs to score. One game later, another Zimmerman throwing error allowed a scorching hot Justin Upton to reach base. Atlanta catcher Evan Gattis promptly made the Nats pay for the mistake, launching a two-run homer out of Nats Park. That would be enough for Washington to lose the game.

General Manager Mike Rizzo has prided himself on the defensive integrity of this team. Defense was one of the larger reasons why upper management decided to re-sign the Gold Glover Adam LaRoche and shop the defensively-inferior Michael Morse to Seattle.

The Nats defense needs to find their groove defensively. Good, fundamental, error-less baseball helps pitchers have more confidence in pitching to contact and allows position players to focus exclusively on their offensive game, rather than dwelling on costly mistakes from the inning before.

Injuries:

Wilson Ramos

Backstop Wilson Ramos will be out for a few weeks after straining his right hamstring in Saturday’s game against the Braves. Wilson worked so hard over the past year to rehab a torn ACL sustained going after a wild pitch last season on May 12 in Cincinnati. But he will find himself nursing a leg injury again as he tries to regain strength. Ramos tweaked the hamstring trying to beat out an infield grounder in the eighth inning of an eventual Nationals loss.

The Nats do have a luxury in that they have another starting-caliber catcher in Kurt Suzuki. Manager Davey Johnson was literally alternating the days he played Ramos and Suzuki. With Ramos tending to the hamstring issue, expect Suzuki to get the vast majority of playing time behind the plate with recent call up Jhonatan Solano backing him up.

Before the injury, Ramos was having a solid start to the season, hitting for a .991 OPS with 3 home runs in 6 games.

Danny Espinosa

There were plenty of discouraging storylines to take away from Sunday’s 9-0 loss against the Braves. But the Espinosa injury could be one of the most concerning. In the second inning, Espinosa’s right wrist caught the full force of an 88-MPH fastball. Danny was clearly in pain as he gingerly flexed his hand and sauntered to first base.

X-rays came back negative and Espinosa doesn’t think he will miss any time. Davey Johnson did indicate that, realistically, his second baseman will probably miss a game or two. Backup utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi relieved Espinosa in the game and will most likely get a few starts as Espinosa ensures his wrist is 100% healthy.

A chance to clear his head may be good for Danny. He has gotten off to a slow start this season, hitting .175 with only one homer and three RBI.

Around the league:

Braves:

By now, we don’t have to tell Natstown how the Braves are doing. Atlanta sits atop the division with an 11-1 record. The most ridiculous aspect about the Braves so far this season? Besides newly acquired slugging left fielder Justin Upton, their offense hasn’t even begun to warm up yet. Dan Uggla is hitting .171 (.637 OPS); Jason Heyward is hitting .103 (.491 OPS); B.J. Upton is hitting .163 (.529 OPS); and Andrelton Simmons is hitting .211 (.578 OPS).

The 11 games won by this team have mostly been because of pitching. The Braves are averaging 1.92 runs allowed per game with an MLB leading ERA of 1.82.

Mets:

The Mets have been an early surprise in the NL east - sitting in second place with a 7-4 record on the year.

The Mets were teased by a potential no-hit bid from starting pitcher Matt Harvey in his outing on Saturday. The no-hitter was broken up by a solo homer in the seventh inning, but the start was still a great sign that the Mets new wave of power arms is getting major league results.

The offense has not been too shabby either. Mets hitters scored 16 runs on Friday to defeat the Minnesota Twins. Contributions from Daniel Murphy and David Wright who each drove in four runs during the game, proved to be key. The two infielders are hitting .368 and .297 respectively and have been major players in the Mets steady offensive production.

The Met’s were an average 3-2 this past week. But the record doesn’t necessarily tell the story. The Mets have not simply rolled over like many initially thought. They have been holding their own in a challenging and dynamic division and playing some solid baseball.

Washington will be taking a visit to Citi Field this weekend to take on New York.

Phillies:

The Phillies are sitting at a .500 record on the season. Phillies fans should get used to this for the next few seasons as the hair of their players continues to grey.

The Phils won both their series this past week, taking 2-of-3 from both the Mets and the Marlins. Philadelphia’s schedule will ramp up as April continues. They will have to face dominant Cincinnati and St. Louis lineups this week. The matchups should be a great test to see really how great this Philadelphia team is going to be.

Marlins:

While the Mets have been putting together solid showings, the same cannot be said for the uber-underdog Miami Marlins. Miami is sporting a dismal 2-10 record on the early season. They are nine games back in the division. Oh yeah, and its April 14th. The Marlins went 1-5 last week. Their only win came Saturday when they beat out the Phillies 2 to 1.

The Nats begin a much needed three game-series against the Marlins on Monday night in Miami. The trip should be a good chance for the Nats to erase from their minds their own abysmal series against the Braves.

© 2016 Citizens of Natstown