Nationals Retrospective: Week 11

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This past week was, how should I put it, middling for our beloved Washington Nationals, as they went 3-3 while on the road against two fairly average teams in the Colorado Rockies (37-33) and the Cleveland Indians (34-34). The Nats were able to take two of three from Colorado despite not swinging the bats well in situational moments, and they were essentially gifted those wins thanks to an incredibly fluky Ross  Ohlendorf performance on Wednesday combined with terrible injury luck/bad umpiring to hurt the Rockies on Thursday. In Cleveland, the Nats were two-hit in game one (scoring their only run on a wild pitch) and shutout in the final leg. The win they got in Cleveland came after blowing a five run lead and was secured on an Anthony Rendon home run that should have not happened if Nick Swisher were competent defensively. The Nats have not swept a series since they took down the White Sox in the third series of the season, and their series win in Colorado was their first road series win since they downed the Pirates in the first weekend of May. Put simply, their offense continues to struggle in increasingly embarrassing fashion, and anytime this team seems to gain momentum, they lose it within the next two games. Still, there is optimism on the horizon, despite my cynicism. Let’s take a quick look at some observations from the past week, from the good to the bad to the NL East in general.

OBSERVATIONS:

GOOD: DESMOND AND RENDON ARE EN EL FUEGO

 

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The Nationals’ middle infielders were nothing short of spectacular this past week – without them, this week could have been a lot uglier than it actually was. Ian Desmond had another monster week, extending his hitting streak to a season high fifteen games before running into a magnum opus type performance from Justin Masterson in Cleveland on Friday. Still, Desmond’s slash line for the week of .421/.542/.579 with a 1.121 OPS (!!!) was pretty outstanding. More important than the line, though, was Desmond’s increased patience on display this week; he walked and struck out four times a piece on the week. Desmond is going to be an aggressive hitter, which is what allows him to jump on pitchers early (He has a .426 average when facing a 0-0 count), but his strike out to walk ratio has been at a putrid rate of about 4/1 according to Baseball Reference. I’m not expecting him to keep the 1/1 ratio, but this is a good sign for a Nationals team looking for as many baserunners as possible. However, Desmond was usurped in impressiveness by 2B fill-in and recent call up Anthony  Rendon, who was phenomenal this week. His .500/.524/.800 with a 1.324 OPS (!!!!!!!!) notwithstanding, Rendon proved he had the clutch factor this week, slugging his first career home run in Saturday’s wild 7-6 game with Cleveland that ultimately proved to be the game winner. Three of his ten hits went for doubles, showing that he has some power, and he also managed to strike out only once this week, which is unusual for such a young player seeing regular major league pitching for the first time. He will regress to the mean at some point with his averages, but the Nationals need to ride his hotness for as long as possible. Needless to say, his spot in the lineup is safe for the time being.

GOOD: THE ROTATION IS BACK

 

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The Nats welcomed back Ross  Detwiler and prodigal son Stephen  Strasburg into the starting rotation, thus bringing stability to a pitching staff that has been hanging on by a thread in recent weeks. More importantly, it relieves the Nats of throwing out the likes of Nathan Karns or Ross Ohlendorf to start from here on out (knock on wood). Detwiler’s Major League return was unimpressive, but encouraging: 5 innings, 6 hits, 3 ER, 2 K’s. Strasburg’s start was equally encouraging: 5 innings, 1 hit, 1 ER, 4 BB’s and 4 K’s. He threw only 82 pitches, and while his command was spotty, it was encouraging that he only gave up one hit and kept Cleveland guessing throughout the afternoon. With these guys back, it is only a matter of time until Bryce  Harper returns to get this team back to full strength, and in a position to start playing like the team they should be.

BAD: THE CHAD TRACY CONUNDRUM

 

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Don’t let Saturday’s game tying home run on Saturday fool you: Chad  Tracy has been pretty terrible this season. His slash line of .141/.179/.234 pales in comparison to his career averages of .274/.333/.440. Many in Nats fandom have claimed that he needs regular reps, like Tyler  Moore, in order to get out of his hitting slump, but I think Nats fans need to be prepared to accept that Tracy is over the hill. He had 8 AB’s this week; that home run on Saturday was his only hit. He was never expected to get regular reps on this team barring an injury, as his role as captain of the “goon squad” was to be the power lefty bat off the bench. While he just played two games at third (to relieve the Nats of Ryan Zimmerman’s Defensive Adventure, coming to you weekdays on MASN at 7!), Anthony Rendon could serve as the backup third basemen should something happen to Zim. The only thing keeping him around right now is the fact that the closest thing to a true left handed power hitter in the Nats minor league system are Corey  Brown and Mike  Costanzo, with Brown already gunning for Bernadina’s roster spot. I don’t know if Tracy is incredibly important to the locker room makeup of the team, and I’m all for maintaining chemistry in some fashion, but Tracy’s role as the designated pinch hitter needs to end, and his playing time needs to be curtailed going forward.

AROUND THE NL EAST

ATLANTA BRAVES

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A disappointing 2-4 week for the Braves, as they got swept by the up and coming Padres before rallying to take two of three from the Giants at home. It would have been even worse if not for Saturday’s come from behind win; Sergio  Romo imploded for the Giants and the Braves were able to win via walk off courtesy of a Freddie  Freeman single. The Braves are now 6.5 games up on the Nats, but they have a lot of games ahead of them: 5 against the Mets (a doubleheader on Tuesday) at home followed by three in Milwaukee, who will be without Ryan Braun. Hopefully all those games, granted against mediocre competition, in a short time span will give the Nats an opportunity to make up a game or two in the standings this week.  

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

A 2-4 week for the fighting Phils, losing two of three to both the Twins and Rockies while on the road. Unsurprising yet underrated: Cliff  Lee has been absolutely fantastic this season. His 8-2 record notwithstanding, his Thursday performance against the Twins was masterful: 7IP, 3H, 2ER, 1BB, 6SO’s. Surprising and not properly rated: Cole  Hamels has a record of 2-10, and is getting no help from his supporting cast. In his most recent start on Sunday, Hamels went 7IP, giving up six hits, three runs, walking two and striking out seven. When Justin de Fratus relieved him in the 8th, he promptly gave up two more runs to put the game out of reach. Hamels’ record doesn’t reflect his quality as a pitcher, but it is surprising to see that the Phillies can’t buoy him with run support when he’s on the mound.

NEW YORK METS

 

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What do you know, another 2-4 week for an NL East team! The Mets lost two of three to the Cardinals and Cubs at home in a season that continues to be a train wreck for the team from Queens. The big news coming from Mets camp is the call up of stud prospect Zack  Wheeler to start his first Major League start against the Braves on Tuesday. Wheeler was the major piece traded to the Mets when they traded Carlos Beltran to the Giants in 2011. Wheeler is 4-2 in 13 starts in the minors this season, posting a 3.93 ERA (4.04 FIP) in the process along with a 9.57 K/9 and a 3.54 BB/9. While some in the organization feel that he’s just tired of the minors – in similar vein to ace Matt  Harvey – the Mets will be cautious of his initial performances in the coming weeks ahead. The Nats should be cautious of the one two punch the Mets have to offer; they have the potential to be as good as the Strasburg/Gonzalez/Zimmermann trio that will hopefully be around for at least the next decade. 

MIAMI MARLINS

 

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Losing two of three to Milwaukee isn’t that unexpected, but winning two of three at home against the Cardinals (aka the best team in the NL) to finish the week 3-3 defies standard logic. It was a pretty good week for closer Steve  Cishek, who recorded three saves while not surrendering a hit in 2 1/3 IP. It was also a good week for rookie Jose  Fernandez, who went 7 innings on Friday against the Cardinals, only giving up two earned runs while striking out ten. The future looks bright for this young pitcher in a Marlins season that has not had much to be excited about.

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