Nationals Retrospective: Week 12

Ugh.

I thinkthat’s the collective feeling from Nats fans everywhere given the performance of the team as a whole, but this week in particular was yet another in a long list where the team appears to take one step forward, followed by two steps backward. The Nationals (37-38) had a 3-4 week, losing two of three at Philadelphia before splitting a four game set with Colorado despite winning the first two games of the series. Given the collective struggles of the NL East, which has now been relegated to the worst of the NL divisions, this was a week where the Nats had a serious opportunity to make up ground on the Atlanta Braves (44-33) and close the gap on our fiercest division rivals, who somehow only managed to gain a half game on the Nats this past week. There were some good moments and good things that happened this week, but as many Nats fans and beat reporters have written about this team’s “stuck in neutral” gear, there is a floating sentiment that this team just won’t be able to put together a substantial run that could get them in playoff contention. Nonetheless, through the good, the bad, and the meh, let’s take a closer look at this past week in Nats baseball.       

OBSERVATIONS:

GOOD: THE BULLPEN IS COMING AROUND

One of the presumed strengths heading into this year would be a revitalized bullpen that had everything sans left handed LOOGY on paper to handle the demands of a full length season. Between stalwarts Drew Storen, Rafael Soriano, Craig Stammen and Tyler Clippard – the presumed “guy to get left handers out” thanks to his nasty changeup – the Nats could ride those four in the clutch to maintain one of last season’s biggest assets. Yet the start to the year was troublesome. I don’t need to belabor the atrocity that was the Henry Rodriguez/Zach Duke combination, but the addition of lefties Ian Krol and Fernando Abad has been a pleasant addition by subtraction of Nationals dead weight that has helped this team. Krol in particular has been great – in his 8 2/3IP this year, he still hasn’t allowed a major league run, has a ridiculous 12.46 K/9 ratio, a .23 WHIP and has already amassed .5WAR. He’s also been economical – in yesterday’s game against Colorado, he threw two innings on only 19 pitches. Tyler Clippard, who has been productive and yet struggling all season with his proclivity to put people on base and work large pitch counts in single innings, has been better as of late – in his 7 2/3IP pitched in June, he hasn’t given up a run and has a 1.04 WHIP, while displaying an ability to be economical like in Wednesday’s win at Philadelphia, where he went 1 2/3IP on only 18 pitches. Even Drew Storen, who has been relegated to ROOGY status as of late and is the subject of many trade rumors as the deadline approaches, has been better in the last couple of weeks, working full innings of scoreless relief instead of just a batter or two. If the Nats have any hope of breaking out of their mediocre doldrums, they’ll need to rely on the continually improved play from the back end of the pen to ensure that they’ll always be in close games.

MEH: DAVEY JOHNSON’S MANAGERIAL DECISIONS

Look: I am fully aware this this has been the Dumbo-sized elephant in the room for the Nats all season, with Davey possessing some kind of carte blanche power with setting the lineups given that this will be his last season in his illustrious big league managerial career. And I think by and large he’s a pretty good guy and seems to have a refreshing sense of humor that makes him ten times more endearing than stone faced Jim Riggleman. But he made some really questionable decisions this past week, both on the field and in the press, and he deserves to be criticized for them, rightly or not. On the field, he completely botched last week’s 5-4 loss in Philadelphia when he had Fernando Abad – a Houston Astros castoff – come in to pitch in a scoreless 9th inning when he had blown a similar situation in Cleveland just three days earlier. Why he didn’t use Rafael Soriano when the Phillies had the heart of their order coming to the plate remains a mystery. He’s also gotten himself in a minor quibble with Bryce Harper within the press about when he’s going to return to the lineup, with the all-star basically saying he’s going to come back when he’s 100% ready, not when Davey thinks he’s ready. Considering Davey was instrumental in the PR debacle regarding his knee bursitis (and let’s be honest – no one sits out for over a month with knee bursitis, so nice going medical staff), I don’t understand his desire to get involved in something so stupid as this when the Nats have far bigger issues to worry about. Also, the lineup he trotted out yesterday that included Jeff Kobernus and Chris Marrero in the stead of Denard Span and Adam Laroche due to lefty Jorge De La Rosa pitching was kind of bizarre given that the Nats have today off. It’s one thing to give players rest, but Davey has had this “old-school” notion of trying to gain as many righty on lefty matchups as possible in the hopes of jump-starting the offense all season, and it hasn’t really been a successful managerial strategy all season. Given that the offense is still mediocre at best, Davey needs to get this out of his head and start putting his best options on the field at all opportunities possible if the Nats want to be involved in October.

BAD: THE HAREN/DETWILER COMBINATION

Rough week for the back end of the Nats rotation. I’ll start with Haren, who was moved to the DL after Saturday’s disastrous start against Colorado in the hopes that he can get some minor league starts to figure out some mechanical issues that have been well documented on this site and everywhere else in the blogosphere. I was a fan at the beginning of the year replacing Edwin Jackson – who was mediocre at best – with a former all-star who regularly pitched 200 innings of quality baseball on a one year contract. But his 6.15 ERA is now the highest for starters in all of baseball, joining his dismal 19 HR’s surrendered as the worst in the majors. I applaud Mike Rizzo and crew for temporarily pulling the plug and letting journeyman Ross Ohlendorf and his awesome wind up have a shot for the time being, since it’s obvious Haren’s lost velocity, his inability to have a cutter actually, you know, cut, and inability to pitch out of the stretch have all contributed to his struggles this season. Detwiler has been equally troublesome: Despite the promise of Tuesday’s start at Philadelphia, Detwiler got shelled in a three run 6th inning that ultimately cost the Nats the game. On Sunday, he was pretty dreadful in giving up 7 runs while not being able to get out of the 4th inning. Detwiler has always had problems getting through lineups the second or third time given that he’s a high fastball pitcher with mediocre secondary pitches that he doesn’t bust out until later innings. Detwiler is still getting his timing back after returning from the DL, but the Nats need Detwiler to be as good as he was last year, especially with Haren’s struggles, if they have any shot of making a playoff push.

AROUND THE NL EAST

ATLANTA BRAVES

Good news for Nats fans: The Braves went 3-5 this week while playing against the Mets and the Brewers. Bad news: The Braves gained a half game in the standings since last week. Their offense has really struggled as of late (Bryan McCann’s Sunday grand slam notwithstanding) – in the eight games they played this week, they scored 2, 3, 1, 5, 3, 0, 0, and 7 runs. That’s Nationals-esque. Part of their problem may be the news that Evan Gattis has hit the DL with what appears to be a strained oblique, but the bigger issues is that Justin Upton – who started the year with such a torrid start – has been struggling as of late, posting a .158/.261/.158 (!) slash line this week. His average is at a season low .240 right now. Nats fans should be worried he’ll break out of it sooner rather than later, but his struggles have definitely been a microcosm for the struggling Braves as a whole in the last two weeks.           

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

A 3-3 week for the fighting Phils, taking two of three with the Nats before losing two of three to the Mets. Surprisingly, they remain only 1.5 further back of the NL East crown than the Nats. Unsurprising, John Lannan remains a mediocre to bad pitcher – despite the Nats struggled against the former opening day starter, Lannan got shelled Sunday against the Mets, giving up four runs over 5 innings while getting hard hit everywhere. Unfortunately, Ryan Howard is beginning to heat up: He hit a moonshot off Dan Haren on Monday, and had a ridiculous .476/.538/1.095 line for the week, including 3HR’s and 7 RBI’s. The Phillies are hopeful they can follow his coattails while still remaining relevant in the division.  

NEW YORK METS

They won a 5 game series against the Braves, then won 2 of 3 against the Mets to finish the week 5-3. Zach Wheeler had an impressive debut in the backend of Tuesday’s doubleheader, going six innings, giving up four hits, and striking out seven while giving up no runs. David Wright had a pretty good week at the plate, going .361/.378/.778 and staking his claim as the starting 3B come all-star weekend. The Mets are riding their stars, who played like they were stars this past week, which is something the Nats have not really had offensively this season.

MIAMI MARLINS

Yes, they lost two of three at Arizona, but going into San Francisco and winning three of four is no small feat to finish the week 4-3. It was a pretty good week for recent call up Nate Eovaldi, who went six innings giving up two runs on 84 pitches, then went to San Francisco and did the exact same thing, except on 86 pitches. Opponents in those two games are hitting a combined .171 against him, and he’s shown the ability with his pitch counts to go deep into games once the Marlins decide to stop protecting his young arm. Between him and Jose Fernandez, the Marlins definitely have had something to smile about in recent weeks as this continues to be a dismal season for the Florida franchise.

  

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