Observations from and analysis of the Nats losing all three games to the Mets at Nationals Park
Game 1: 8-2 loss on Thursday afternoon (April 5)
Game 2: 3-2 loss on Saturday afternoon (April 7)
Game 3: 6-5 12-inning loss on Sunday night (April 8)
1. The drinking game that you can play each April is to take a shot every time someone talking baseball says, “It’s early.” So – get your shot glasses ready – it’s early. These three games were the first of 19 that the Nats will play with the Mets this regular season. The Nats are still, by far, the class of the National League East in terms of talent. The Nats are still, by far, the favorites to win the division. That said, I would be lying if I told you that this series didn’t have some of the feeling of 2015, when we kept waiting for the Nats to take off and the Mets to fade and neither ever happened. The Nats, as you may recall, suffered a hideous three-game sweep to the Mets at Nationals Park in September 2015 and never recovered. Just something to keep in mind. But, yes, it’s early.
2. A big problem for the Nats right now, believe it or not, is starting pitching. The Nats have lost five straight since their 4-0 start, and their starting pitching has been really bad in four of the five losses.
Tanner Roark allowed five runs in five innings in the 6-5 12-inning loss to the Mets on Sunday night. He gave up five hits, including two two-out homers and two doubles, and four walks. The weird thing is that Tanner also had nine strikeouts in the five innings.
Tanner allowed four runs in the top of the third, issuing three consecutive two-out full-count walks and then a first-pitch grand slam to Adrian Gonzalez. The second and third walks were to Todd Frazier and ex-Nat Asdrubal Cabrera, each of whom Tanner had down in the count 1-2. Tanner also allowed a two-out solo homer to Cabrera in the top of the fifth.
Stephen Strasburg was not at his best in the 8-2 loss on Thursday afternoon in the Nats’ home opener. He allowed four runs in six innings, giving up five hits (including two homers and a double), two walks, a run-scoring balk and a hit-by-pitch.
Strasburg got off to a great start, striking out the returning Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes in a perfect first inning. But Strasburg gave up a first-pitch leadoff double to Jay Bruce, a four-pitch two-out walk to Kevin Plawecki (the Mets’ no. 7 batter) and then a run-scoring balk with Jose Reyes batting in the top of the second. Strasburg then issued a leadoff walk of the Mets’ starting pitcher, Jacob deGrom, in the top of the third despite him having been down in the count 1-2, though no damage was done. But Strasburg then allowed a leadoff homer to Cespedes in the top of the fourth and gave up two runs in the top of the fifth on a leadoff walk to Plawecki and then a two-out two-run homer by Conforto on a 1-2 pitch.
The lone decent start for the Nats during this five-game losing streak came from Gio Gonzalez in the 3-2 loss on Saturday afternoon, though it’s not like was very good. Gio allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings with six strikeouts, but he gave up six hits and three walks and threw 92 pitches. He did look quite good in the top of the fifth, during which he struck out Amed Rosario, ex-Nat Asdrubal Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes in succession.
3. What a terrible series for Brandon Kintzler. He gave up seven runs in three innings on six hits and four walks. Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle each tossed a scoreless inning in the 8-2 loss on Thursday afternoon, but the major bullpen item in that game was Kintzler giving up a two-out grand slam to Jay Bruce in the top of the seventh despite him having been down in the count 0-2. Kintzler looked way off in this appearance, as he also gave up a one-out first-pitch double to Brandon Nimmo followed by a four-pitch walk to Michael Conforto and then a two-out walk of Yoenis Cespedes, who had been down in the count 1-2.
Kintzler then struggled again in the 3-2 loss to the Mets on Saturday afternoon. He gave up two runs in the top of the seventh on a leadoff single by Amed Rosario, an RBI double by Cespedes, a one-out pinch intentional walk by Conforto and an RBI groundout by Todd Frazier. The rest of the Nats’ bullpen was good in this game, as Matt Grace, Madson and Doolittle combined for 2 2/3 scoreless innings.
And then came the 6-5 12-inning loss on Sunday night. The Nats’ bullpen was mostly great in this game, as Shawn Kelley, Matt Grace, Madson, Doolittle and Sammy Solis combined for six scoreless innings with nine strikeouts. Solis was electric, recording five strikeouts over the 10th and 11th innings. But Kintzler allowed a run in the top of the 12th on two singles, an intentional walk and a sacrifice bunt. It’s not like he got battered big time, as the Cespedes RBI single off Kintzler in that top of the 12th was a broken-bat single. But this still was another run.
4. The Nats actually designated lefty reliever Enny Romero for assignment on Saturday in a series of roster moves to add depth to their bench. The other moves were infielder Matt Reynolds and catcher Jhonatan Solano being brought up from Triple-A Syracuse and catcher Miguel Montero being placed on the paternity list. But Romero being DFA’d was what stood out the most. This is guy who has been viewed as having a ton of potential, and he did have a 10.5 K/9 over 57 2/3 innings with the Nats. But he also had a 3.90 ERA and 1.457 WHIP. He could still remain in the organization.
5. The Nats scored just nine runs in 30 innings in the series.
The Nats went 7-for-33 with runners in scoring position in the series. We had the Nats failing to score a single run despite having the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the sixth in the 8-2 loss on Thursday afternoon. The 6-5 12-inning loss on Sunday night included the Nats failing to score Matt Adams despite his one-out double in a two-run first and failing to add runs despite having the bases loaded and two outs in what was just a one-run fourth. Also in that loss on Sunday night was Anthony Rendon getting picked off by ex-Nat Jerry Blevins in running from first to second with Bryce Harper batting and two outs in the bottom of the eighth.
Ryan Zimmerman went 0-for-9 in starting the first two games and then pinch-hitting in Game 3, leaving him 3-for-27 with two walks so far this season. I am not gonna go nuts on him for only playing in one major-league game all of spring training, because spring-training stats are often worthless (see what the Angels’ Sho Otani is doing right now). But Zimmerman left himself open to major criticism for how his spring training was handled, and he’s been terrible so far this season.
6. The offensive force remains Bryce Harper. He in the 3-2 loss on Saturday afternoon had a solo homer, a walk and one of the Nats’ five stolen bases. And Harper in the 6-5 12-inning loss on Sunday night had a two-run homer off Matt Harvey in the bottom of the first, two singles and two walks. Harper now leads the majors with six home runs, a 1.000 slugging percentage and a 1.535 OPS. He has a .357/.535/.1.000 slash line so far this season.
7. Adam Eaton left the 8-2 loss on Thursday afternoon after five innings due to a tweaked left ankle apparently suffered in awkward flop into home plate when he scored on Anthony Rendon’s third-inning two-out RBI double. X-rays were negative. But there may be a larger concern with Eaton. As good as he has looked as a batter, he way too often over the first seven games of this season has not looked right running. Eaton last April 28 (in another loss to the Mets, by the way) suffered a not just a torn left ACL and torn left meniscus but also a high left-ankle sprain. There has been a noticeable hitch in his giddy-up at times this season. Take a look at how Eaton looked in retrieving the ball on Michael Conforto’s two-out two-run homer in the top of the fifth off Stephen Strasburg on Thursday afternoon. Eaton did not look right. He did not play in the 3-2 loss on Saturday afternoon but did start the 6-5 12-inning loss on Sunday night, though he went 0-for-6 in that game.
8. One of the more interesting items that emerged this past Nats offseason was MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre saying on Sirius XM radio in late October that Dusty Baker could have argued and gotten overturned the crucial passed ball by Matt Wieters that should have been disallowed due to Wieters being struck by the backswing of Javier Baez in that fateful top of the fifth in the Nats’ 9-8 NLDS Game 5 loss to the Cubs. Dusty in the moment, for whatever reason, didn’t fight as he should have for his ball club. I’ve felt that that was part of why Dusty was not brought back as Nats manager for this season.
Well, how about the fire that Dusty’s successor, Dave Martinez, displayed in the 3-2 loss on Saturday afternoon? The home-plate umpire, Marty Foster, was, as Orioles manager Buck Showalter likes to say, “hunting for strikes.” He called a bad strike three on Anthony Rendon to end the bottom of the third, Rendon flipped his bat but didn’t say a word, and Foster abruptly ejected Rendon from the game. Well, what did Martinez do? He came out and exploded, yelling at Foster, making wild hand gestures and even kicking dirt a la Earl Weaver. Never mind whether Foster was right or wrong for tossing Rendon (it’s debatable, though I thought that was an awfully quick hook, and MLB’s official pitch-tracking system judged the pitch to be a ball that was low and inside). The point here is that Martinez showed fire and stood up for his player. Don’t think for a second that that went unnoticed by Nats players and management.