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Nationals Split Four-Game Series With Arizona

In-depth analysis of a wild series with the Diamondbacks and a major change to the Nats’ rotation.

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Joe Ross throws to an Arizona Diamondbacks batter in Washington on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. The Nationals won 8-3. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Joe Ross throws to an Arizona Diamondbacks batter in Washington on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. The Nationals won 8-3. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

 

Game 1: 6-4 loss on Monday night (Aug. 3)

Game 2: 5-4 win on Tuesday night (Aug. 4)

Game 3: 11-4 loss on Wednesday night (Aug. 5)

Game 4: 8-3 win on Thursday afternoon (Aug. 6)

 

What I liked:

1. Joe Ross’ start in Game 4 and now official spot in the rotation – He allowed one run in six innings, recording seven strikeouts versus five hits and no walks. The outing left him with a 2.80 ERA and 47-to-four strikeout-to-walk ratio over seven major-league starts, but with Stephen Strasburg due back from the 15-day disabled list on Saturday, no definite spot in the rotation. And then we learned after the game that Matt Williams was indeed keeping Ross in the rotation and moving the struggling Doug Fister to the bullpen.

I was stunned and impressed that the Nats did this. I very much felt that Ross should have been kept in the rotation but didn’t think that the team would pull the trigger on moving a Fister or Gio Gonzalez to the bullpen. Good for the Nats for being bold and doing what should be done in the thick of a tight race with the Mets for the National League East. Now is not the time to be fixated on hurt feelings or track records.

The one thing to keep in mind with Ross is a likely innings limit. Counting his work in the minors, he has now thrown 121 innings this year. That total essentially matches his totals in 2013 and 2014. The Nats typically increase a young pitcher’s innings by 30 percent in a given year. That would put Ross’ 2015 limit at around 160 innings. So he may only have around 40 innings left this season.

 

2. The offense – I know it may not have seemed like it, but this was a good offensive series for the Nats: .256 batting average (33-for-129), 9-for-31 with runners in scoring position and a total of 17 walks, including seven in Game 4.

Bryce Harper went 5-for-12 with five walks, including three in Game 4. He in fact got on base five times in that game.

Wilson Ramos played in Games 1, 2 and 4 and went 5-for-12 with a walk and five RBI.

Michael Taylor had a two-run homer in Game 3 and went 5-for-14 with a walk and five RBI.

Yunel Escobar had a solo homer in Game 2 and went 5-for-12 with two walks over the first three games of the series before going 0-for-4 in Game 4.

 

What I didn’t like:

1. More shaky starting pitching in Games 1-3 – The “where’s-my-ring?” rotation had another disappointing series overall.

Fister allowed five runs in six innings on eight hits, including three homers, in Game 1.  He now has given up five or more runs five times in 15 starts this season.  He gave up five or more runs just twice in 25 starts last season.  His ERA+ has gone from 152 in 2014 to 82 this year.  Perhaps most disturbing is that his ground-ball percentage is on a steep decline: 54.3 percent with Detroit in 2013; 48.9 percent with the Nats in 2014; 42.0 percent this season.  If you’re not a strikeout pitcher, and you’re also not inducing ground balls at a substantial rate, you’ve got a problem. Fister in fact has been so bad that he’s likely no longer worthy of a qualifying offer this offseason, meaning that the Nats wouldn’t get draft-pick compensation should he sign with another team because he probably would accept the offer.

Max Scherzer then allowed three runs in six innings on 114 pitches in Game 2. Not that he was really bad (he recorded nine strikeouts), but you can’t say that he was really good, either. The three runs came on three straight hits sandwiched between two walks in the top of the fourth. Scherzer now has allowed three walks in each of his last two starts off having allowed a TOTAL of three walks over his previous eight starts.

Gio then lasted for just five innings in Game 3, giving up eight hits and a walk and throwing 95 pitches. He only gave up two runs, but this was another highly inefficient outing for Gio, who now hasn’t gone more than five innings in each of his last three starts.

 

2. Two more bad in-game decisions from Williams – He twice had his starting pitcher bat when circumstances and eventual outcomes screamed not to.

Game 1: with Fister having given up five runs and the offense struggling, Williams opted to have Fister bat in the bottom of the fifth with Michael Taylor on first base and there being one out.  Fister sacrifice-bunted Taylor to second, but then Yunel Escobar struck out to end the inning.  Never mind the fact that analytics tell us that you should only sacrifice bunt in the later innings of close games (and even then it’s debatable); allowing Fister to bat when a) he has had a bad night on the mound b) the offense is having a hard time scoring runs and c) Williams ended up taking Fister out of the game after just one more inning made little sense.

Game 3: Williams had Gio bat in the bottom of the fifth but then took him out after he allowed a leadoff single in the top of the sixth. Why was Gio allowed to hit if his leash was that short? The Nats were only leading 2-1 when Gio came to bat.

 

3. The bullpen – Nats relievers combined to allow 13 runs (12 earned) in 13 innings.

Jonathan Papelbon gave up a solo homer in Game 1 and an unearned run in Game 2.

But nothing came close to what happened in Game 3: Aaron Barrett, Matt Thornton and Felipe Rivero combined to allow nine runs on nine hits in 1 2/3 innings. Barrett also had a terrible throwing error. Position player Tyler Moore was used to get the final two outs in the top of the ninth. The Nats on Thursday optioned Barrett to Triple-A Syracuse and recalled Blake Treinen from Syracuse.

Casey Janssen then allowed two runs and recorded just one out in the top of the seventh of Game 4 on a walk, two singles and a two-run double.

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