Nationals Retrospective: Week 5

 

The Nats were 4-3 this past week while facing tough competition in the division rival Atlanta Braves and the up-and-coming Pittsburgh Pirates. Even though the Nationals just barely stayed above .500, there were many encouraging signs coming from the team that many deem as ‘underperforming’ thus far on the young season. Let’s take a look at all that’s been going on in Natstown.

Observations:

Adam LaRoche is turning things around

LaRoche came into this past week sporting a dismal .135 avg. Even beyond the numbers, he just looked completely uncomfortable at the plate. But this week, Adam went 6-for-21 at the plate. It’s still nothing fancy, but considering LaRoche didn’t record one hit in the previous week, this is progress. The veteran first baseman also walked seven times this week, including three times in Saturday’s win against the Pirates. If Washington is to perform more consistent offensively, it's no shock that LaRoche has to get things going. You can’t have your cleanup hitter underneath the Mendoza line. Unless your name is Mark Reynolds or Carlos Pena, then it seems to work out for you.

LaRoche raised his average by 30 points this week. Every sign is pointing towards a more comfortable LaRoche.

Davey is not afraid to experiment with the lineup

For about the first 25 games of the season, manager Davey Johnson fielded a ‘cookie cutter’ lineup consisting of all his regulars. And the offense struggled to string hits together. Since then, Davey has gotten creative in trying to give this club a jump start.

On Monday, Ian Desmond batted sixth. On Wednesday, he batted cleanup. On Sunday, he hit second.

On Tuesday, Danny Espinosa hit second. On Friday he batted out of the seven-hole. On Saturday the second baseman led off.

Bench players such as Steve Lombardozzi, Chad Tracy, and Roger Bernadina, were sprinkled in and out of the lineup in all different ways, shapes, and forms.

Even with the tinkering, Washington only scored an average of 2.42 runs per game this week. As individual players start to find their groove as the weather warms up, members of the starting nine should slide back into their usual slots where they were penciled in to start the season.

Haren has his most impressive outing as a Nat

Newly acquired veteran starter Dan Haren certainly had his share of haters entering his sixth start of the season on Thursday. But he silenced the critics with his best start in a Nationals uniform. Haren had been completely ineffective prior to this week’s start against the potent Braves lineup, but he turned things around in dazzling fashion. Haren twirled eight innings while throwing only 90 pitches. The righty gave up just one run via a seventh inning solo shot of the bat of Braves second baseman Dan Uggla. Haren fanned only four in the outing, but absolutely dominated Atlanta hitters, having them completely in his control. Haren handed the ball to closer Rafael Soriano to pitch the ninth and secure his third win of the season. The outing lowered Haren’s season ERA from 6.29 to 5.01. That’s not a bad trend to try to keep going. Haren will look to build on his recent successes when he faces off against the tough Detroit Tigers on Wednesday evening. 

Injuries:

Ryan Zimmerman: Hamstring

Face-of-the-franchise Ryan Zimmerman was activated from the disabled list this past Friday after nursing an ailing hamstring. Zimmerman struck out in all four at bats in his debut, but went 3-for-6 with three walks in two games over the weekend. Zimmerman was never really himself even before the injury shut him down two weeks ago. He is hitting .222 on the season with only one home run in 63 at bats. And the All-Star’s fielding has been lacking thus far. Zim has five errors on the season - good for second-most amongst MLB third basemen.

Zimmerman has missed time the past two seasons early in the year to take care of nagging injuries as well. He has come back and proven to be effective and a true offensive leader once healthy. There’s no reason to think this season will be any different.

Jayson Werth: Hamstring

Just as Washington got Zimmerman back, slugger Jayson Werth was also hampered by hamstring woes. Werth would up missing the entire weekend series against the Bucs, but hopes to be reinserted into the lineup early this week. The team doesn’t believe he’ll need a stint on the DL, but rather hope that some light rest will get him healed and good to go. At 33 years of age, Werth is not necessarily in his prime as far as quick healing is concerned. But the right fielder has proven to be durable over his career and should be back in the starting lineup soon.

Bryce Harper: Ribs

Harper slammed hard into the right field wall in Tuesday’s contest while attempting to rob Tim Hudson of a home run. Not only was Harper unsuccessful at pulling back the ball, but he also bruised his rib cage in the process. The injury was initially not thought to be severe, but Harper tweaked the area during a check swing the following day, and was lifted after six innings. Harper was reinserted into the lineup on Thursday and played the rest of the week, but surely anything that happens to the 20-year-old phenom is worth a good scare. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Davey gave the three-hole-hitter a day off this upcoming week. Or the ump crew could give him another day off. Either way.

Around the league

Atlanta Braves:

The Braves has seen their lead in the standings whittled away to just two games ahead of the second-place Nats. Atlanta has been at the top of the throne the entire season thus far, but it’s not out of the question to think this week the Nats may be able to regain their place on top. The Nats had a four-game series against the rivals this past week and split the series with two wins apiece. This is the perfect indication of how neck-and-neck the Braves and Nats will be as the season continues.

Philadelphia Phillies:

The Phillies are staying in the race, even despite lackluster performances from members of their starting rotation. Ace Roy Halladay continues to be dreadful. In Sunday’s game against the Marlins, Halladay lasted only 2 and ⅓ innings and got slammed for nine earned runs while being saddled with his fourth loss of the season (2-4 record) and is now set to have his shoulder examined in the next day or two. The start rose Halladay’s ERA to 8.65. Two years ago, the Phillies rotation was thought to be a powerhouse that would last for the better half of the next decade. Nowadays, things don’t exactly seem to be playing out that way.

New York Mets:

The Mets have begun the decline that so many in the baseball world saw as inevitable. The Mets are 3-7 in their last 10 games. A combination of lackluster offense that is only plating an average of 3.66 runs per game this past week along with mediocre pitching has led to the Mets current woes. Not terribly surprising as it was fairly evident that the Mets lineup would not be leading the league in run production for a sizable portion of the season. This Mets team will have to quickly figure out whether they’re a team that can contend or if they are still in their rebuilding mode. The team’s performance in the upcoming weeks will be the deciding factor.  

Miami Marlins:

Having a .313 winning percentage and being nine games back in the standings at the end of April, it’s hard to find positive signs from the floundering fish. But in Sunday’s win against the Phillies, Marlins rookie shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria knocked in seven runs with a grand slam and bases clearing triple. The 24-year-old is only hitting .190 on the season, but any excitement is a good thing for Miami right now.

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