Nationals Retrospective: Week 16

 

If you are reading this piece, chances are you’ll be reading a lot of other pieces from the Nats blogosphere at some point over the next couple days or so. You’ll probably read some stuff about how this past series against the Dodgers – a series in which the Nats were outscored a combined 15-5 en route to getting swept – is the ultimate low point in a season that has yet to amount to the expectations of both fans and national writers. You will read pieces that might suggest that this team is no longer the playoff threat many expected we would be in March during Spring Training. There is a chance you will read articles with quotes from players suggesting any day now, they will find their offensive rhythm and go on a run similar to what this Dodgers team has done, going 20-5 in their last 25 games. You’ll probably also read some stuff suggesting wild ideas and kooky theories need to be tested now, since this team won’t make the playoffs and the organization needs to see what it has in its farm system. My dad (a lifelong Nationals/Expos fan) has proposed benching/firing Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth, Denard Span, Davey Johnson, Trent Jewitt, the Medical Staff and a ham sandwich in separate conversations with me within the last 24 hours. I say this to give you some idea of the bedlam that has embroiled Nats fans in recent days, and to let you know that no matter how crazy you might be, you're not as crazy as my dad. 

Seriously though, I know tension is high and I know morale is low here in Natstown, especially coming after an all-star break that many in the blogosphere thought would be a much needed rest for a team pressing too hard to make last year’s magic reappear with this current squad. So with that being said, I’m not going to pour kerosene on the fire that was this past series against the Dodgers, because this series served as a microcosm for much of what the Nationals season has been like thus far. There’s no point in breaking down the good, the bad, and the ugly from this past week because frankly, there was just way too much bad and ugly that would be just too depressing to read and write. With apologies to Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Tyler Clippard, who were outstanding in their appearances in their return from the break, the rest of the team was just bad in almost all facets of the game this past week. That’s, quite honestly, the best retrospective I can give you on how these last three days have transpired. The Nats have 8 more games on this home stand – Four against the Pirates and Mets, respectively – so anything less than 6-2 will be disappointing for their playoff aspirations. Do I think it can be done? Absolutely. Anything is possible in baseball, and the Nats are a hot streak away from making things very interesting in the NL East and Wild Card picture. I don’t know if it will happen, and I don’t know if things will get worse. But I’m still on the train, and I still believe that this team, with all its talent, has the ability to find a way to make the second half of the season very interesting. The train doesn't officially leave the station until we're mathematically out of it; until then, I will hold out hope and keep watching to see how the second half transpires. 

Woof. Alright. With all that off my chest, let’s take a quick look at how the rest of the NL East did in their return from the all-star break.

ATLANTA BRAVES (55-43)

Let’s tip our caps to my hometown Chicago White Sox for successfully taking two out of three against the Braves to ensure that they only extended their NL East lead by one game, making their lead only seven games. Vanderbilt alum Mike Minor threw a complete game 5 hitter on Sunday only to take the loss, since he gave up three runs in the process. It’s the first time a Braves pitcher has thrown a complete game loss since Tim Hudson did it back in 2010. In other news, it appears struggling outfielder Jayson Heyward will return to the lineup on Monday after sitting out over the last couple of weeks with a hamstring strain. With Juston Upton returning on Friday, and Freddie Freeman coming back Saturday, the apocalyptic injury news surrounding this team prior to the break appears to be in much better shape, and with B.J Upton’s return still up in the air, the team might be at its maximum capacity in the coming weeks. The Braves have four against the Mets and three against the Cardinals, so a nice 3-4 or 4-3 at worse for the Braves will help the Nats stick around for at least another week in the division hunt.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES (49-50)

Yes, you read that right. The Phillies managed to leapfrog the Nats in the standings this week, despite losing two of three to the Mets. Luckily for the Nats, the Phillies have a murderer’s row of opponents in the next week, facing the Cardinals and Tigers on the road before returning home to face the Giants and Braves. So I don’t think they’ll be too comfortable with their hold on second place in the standings. Still, they did something on Friday the Nats have been unable to do in recent weeks: Rock an average Mets pitcher like a wagon wheel. The Phillies tagged Jeremy Hefner for 11 runs in his first three innings of work en route to a 13-8 win. Yes, their bullpen was sloppy, but 13 runs is still impressive, so let’s hope that the offense dies down a bit as they enter a brutal stretch of games.

NEW YORK METS (43-51)

Don’t look now, but the Mets only have one more loss than the Nats, and they’ve been playing significantly better ball in the last couple weeks, culminating in taking two of three from the Phillies. Matt Harvey pitched another Matt Harvey-like game on Sunday, going 7 scoreless with 10 K’s to boot to cement the Mets as 5-0 winners. Even more imposing is the next couple weeks on the Mets schedule: Braves, Nats, Marlins and Royals. Not exactly a murderer’s row these days. But the Mets will definitely be in the news over the next week, with the July 31st trade deadline looming and pieces (I’m looking at you, Marlon Byrd) almost destined to be moved as the Mets continue to rebuild in the hopes of being a playoff contended in the next couple of years.

MIAMI MARLINS (35-61)

To everyone complaining about the Nats offense, you might want to stop and take a look at the offensive futility that was on display against the Milwaukee Brewers this past weekend. The Marlins lost games 2-0, 6-0, and then 1-0 in a 13 inning stinkfest.  They are currently in the midst of a 37 inning drought without scoring a run, the highest drought in the majors within the last twenty eight years, according to STATS. The big news, if there is ever any big news to come out of Marlins camp, is that the organization has set the calendar for when they will shut down young phenom Jose Fernandez, who has been very impressive in his rookie campaign thus far. The Marlins have four in Colorado, followed by a long home stand with visits from the Pirates, Mets, and Indians, so there is definitely some hope that the Marlins will score a run sometime in the next two weeks. 

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