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What I Liked / Didn’t like about the Nationals’ three-day stand in Arizona.

Game 1: 11-1 win on Monday night (May 11)

Game 2: 14-6 loss on Tuesday night (May 12)

Game 3: 9-6 win on Wednesday (May 13)

What I liked:

1. The roll continues – The Nats now are 12-3 since their 7-13 start and have won five straight series off winning just one of their first six series.

2. The offense – The Nats totaled 26 runs, batted .315 (35-for-111), went 11-for-30 with runners in scoring position and totaled 12 walks.

Denard Span went 6-for-12 with two walks, providing a solo homer and RBI single in Game 1 and an RBI double in Game 2.

Bryce Harper went 4-for-10 with three walks, blasting a two-run homer and a double in Game 2 and a double in Game 3.  I did not like Harper and then Matt Williams getting ejected in the top of the seventh of Game 3 after Harper struck out on a check-swing-that-wasn’t (you want your best batter to have the discipline to not get booted from a close game), but it’s hard to be too critical of Harper these days given the National League-leading 1.119 OPS he exited this series with.  Also, the man who replaced Harper in Game 3, Michael Taylor, smacked a go-ahead grand slam in the top of the ninth.

Yunel Escobar had five singles in Game 1, giving him two five-hit games over seven games off totaling zero five-hit games over his first 1,096 career games.

3. Max Scherzer’s Game 1 start – Scherzer allowed one run in seven innings, lowering his ERA to 1.99 and WHIP to 0.93 over seven starts this season.

4. Clint Robinson pitching in Game 2 – The 30-year-old rookie reserve outfielder/first baseman tossed a scoreless eighth inning, marking the first time that a position player pitched for the Nats since the franchise came to D.C. for the 2005 season.

What I didn’t like:

1. Stephen Strasburg’s start in Game 2 – Strasburg, coming off lasting just three innings due to discomfort underneath his right shoulder blade in a 2-1 loss to Miami on May 5, allowed eight runs (seven earned) in 3 1/3 innings on eight hits (including two homers) and a walk.  He also committed an error during the Diamondbacks’ five-run fourth.

The numbers on Strasburg over seven starts this season aren’t pretty.  He has a 6.06 ERA and 1.71 WHIP.  He has a strikeout percentage (strikeouts divided by total batters faced) of 20.6 percent, far below his previous season averages.

So what’s wrong with Strasburg?

It’s possible that his health is the biggest issue, as when asked after the game if his back felt fine he said, “Yeah, it’s good enough.”

It’s also possible his mechanics are to blame, as his location has been off (six of the eight hits he gave up in this game came on pitches in the upper half of the strike zone).

And it’s possible that Strasburg’s oft-discussed mental makeup is still a problem.  He gave up a three-run homer to Mark Trumbo two batters after committing that error.  Wilson Ramos on Strasburg after Game 2: “I think he’s thinking too much.  You can’t go out and think too much.  I think that’s what’s happening with him right now…I don’t know what was happening with him.  It was really different on the mound from the bullpen.”

But it’s also possible that Strasburg has simply been the victim of bad luck.  Batters facing Strasburg have a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) so far this season of .398, far above the accepted industry average of .300.  In other words, balls that were landing near fielders last season may simply be landing in no-man’s land this season.

Strasburg’s velocity has been fine.  He registered an ERA+ of 126 (100 is average) each of the previous two seasons.   He has been a very good pitcher and should be expected this season to ultimately revert to his track record.

Also, look up what the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw has done so far this season.  Strasburg isn’t the only quality starting pitcher who is struggling.

2. Gio Gonzalez’s start in Game 3 – Gio allowed five runs in five innings on nine hits and two walks.  Williams was so agitated at one point with Gio or the infield or both that the manager let everyone have it during a rare mound visit that did not result in a pitching change.

3. The defense in Game 3 – Jayson Werth committed a throwing error during the Diamondbacks’ one-run second.  Ian Desmond committed an error during the Diamondbacks’ three-run third and then had another error during their one-run eighth.   

4. The bullpen – Nats relievers combined to allow seven runs in 10 2/3 innings on 14 hits and six walks.  Sammy Solis and Matt Grace combined to allow six runs in 2 2/3 innings in Game 2.

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