Observations from and analysis of the Nats’ series loss to the Rockies
Game 1: 5-1 loss on Thursday night (April 12)
Game 2: 2-1 loss on Friday night (April 13)
Game 3: 6-2 win on Saturday afternoon (April 14)
Game 4: 6-5 loss on Sunday afternoon (April 15)
1. Losing three of four to the Rockies concludes a 3-7 homestand and leaves the Nats just 3-9 since their 4-0 start. There is a lot that’s bothersome with this team right now. All of it is fixable. But given that the Mets are 12-2 and that the Nats begin a three-game series in which they are not throwing Max Scherzer of Stephen Strasburg at the Mets on Monday night, yes, there is reason to be concerned.
2. The biggest problem for the Nats right now is their offense, which stunk in three of the four games in this series. And the problem is basically one thing, which is one of the flukier things in baseball: batting average with runners in scoring position. The Nats lead the majors by miles in walks – 80 walks, 17 more than the next-best team’s walk total (Philadelphia’s 63). The Nats are no. 7 in the National League in OPS – not great, but not awful. What’s killing the Nats is that they’re batting just .210 with runners in scoring position – no. 25 out of 30 major-league teams. The Nats went 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position in Games 1, 2 and 4 of this series.
The 6-5 loss to the Rockies on Sunday afternoon perfectly captured the Nats’ offense so far this season. The Nats scored five runs in this game but registered just two RBI, as the team went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. And yet the Nats also registered a jaw-dropping 10 walks.
The Nats had just four hits to go with four walks in the 2-1 loss on Friday night.
The Nats had just four hits and two walks in the 5-1 loss on Thursday night. The Nats’ no. 1 through no. 4 batters in the lineup – Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman – went a combined 0-for-15 with one walk. The lone Nats run came on a Howie Kendrick two-out homer in the bottom of the fifth. But Kendrick in that game also didn’t catch a pop-up by ex-Nat Ian Desmond in shallow right field for a two-out run-scoring error in a two-run first for the Rockies.
Zimmerman has been brutal. He has actually been hitting balls quite hard per Statcast, so there’s some bad luck involved, but the bottom line is that he’s batting .122 this season and has drawn a paltry four walks. He could be getting on base as we wait for the batted-ball results to improve, but that’s not happening. A guy who is batting primarily in the no. 4 spot needs to do better than four walks over 54 plate appearances so far this season.
The lone truly good game for the Nats’ offense in this series was the 6-2 win over the Rockies on Saturday afternoon. The Nats scored six runs, totaled 12 hits and three walks and went 4-for-11 with runners in scoring position. I got a call from Mike on Chin Music with Al Galdi on Saturday morning complaining about the Nats not manufacturing enough runs under Dave Martinez. Well, I hope Mike was watching what went down in the bottom of the sixth: a Michael A. Taylor one-out first-pitch RBI bunt single on a safety squeeze that scored Bryce Harper and gave the Nats their first lead of the series, 3-2 (upon further review, as instant replay correctly reversed the initial call of Harper being out at the plate). The next batter, Moises Sierra (whose contract was selected from Triple-A Syracuse on April 11 and who started in left field in place of Brian Goodwin, who was dealing with a sore wrist), smashed a two-run double to the gap in right-center (though he was tagged out at third). The ultimate result was a four-run sixth that felt like a piano being lifted off the Nats’ back given that they had scored just 21 runs over the previous nine games off scoring 35 runs over the first five games.
3. Not helping matters at all right now is the Nats’ horrendous baserunning. The Nats are making way too many outs on the basepaths. The 6-5 loss to the Rockies on Sunday afternoon was a perfect example.
Bryce Harper got doubled off first base to end the bottom of the seventh with the game tied at four, as he apparently made a terrible read on a Howie Kendrick flyout to center fielder Charlie Blackmon.
Matt Wieters got caught stealing second base off a leadoff hit-by-pitch in the bottom of the eighth with the Nats trailing 5-4. He admitted after the game that this was his call. What a boneheaded move. Wieters is about as slow of a runner as there is in the majors. Yes, the Rockies’ pitcher at the time, reliever Adam Ottavino, is one of the slowest pitchers to the plate in the majors. But you better be darn sure if you’re gonna attempt a steal in that spot that you’re gonna be safe. That was terrible.
4. And making things even more difficult for the Nats’ offense right now is injury. Daniel Murphy, arguably the Nats’ bets hitter over the last two seasons, has yet to play a single game this season due to microfracture surgery on his right knee last October. Adam Eaton is on the 10-day disabled list with a left-ankle bone bruise. And now Anthony Rendon is hurt. He left the 2-1 loss tp the Rockies on Friday night after fouling a ball off his left big toe in the bottom of the fifth. X-rays after the game were negative, but he did not play in the final two games of the series.
5. We learned on Thursday night that the Nats reportedly had agreed on a minor-league deal with first baseman Mark Reynolds. I like this signing. Reynolds is entering his age-34 season but is coming off hitting 30 homers for the Rockies last season, during which he had a 104 OPS+ over 593 plate appearances.
Orioles fans remember his work over the 2011 and 2012 seasons, during which he combined for 60 homers and a 112 OPS+ for the O’s. I’ll never forget the tear that Reynolds went on late in that Orioles playoff push in 2012: from Aug. 31 through Sept. 8 of that season, he hit nine homers in nine games, including seven homers against the Yankees.
Reynolds is one of many veteran sluggers who has seen his value plummet over the last two offseasons, but this is a guy who could help what is right now a struggling Nats offense.
6. The Nats’ rotation continues to be hit-and-miss. The starting pitching in this series was good in Games 2 and 3 but not so good in Games 1 and 4.
Stephen Strasburg was looking pretty good but then ultimately was off in the 6-5 loss to the Rockies on Sunday afternoon. He allowed four runs in six innings and threw just 52 of his 88 pitches for strikes. Strasburg did allow just one run over his first five innings and ultimately gave up just four hits and a walk. But he gave up a two-out full-count solo homer to Charlie Blackmon in the top of the fourth and a two-out two-run double to Blackmon in a three-run sixth.
Max Scherzer in the 6-2 win over the Rockies on Saturday afternoon was sensational for a second time in two starts. He allowed two runs in seven innings on 11 strikeouts versus one hit and one walk on 103 pitches, 70 of which were strikes. The one hit was a two-run homer by a returning Charlie Blackmon in the top of the first. But Max then retired the final 20 batters he faced. He now has a major-legue-best 42 double-digit-strikeout starts since joining the Nats prior to the start of the 2015 season (Chris Sale is second at 35).
Tanner Roark was good for a second time in three starts this season in the 2-1 loss on Friday night. He allowed two runs (one earned) in six innings on just three hits and a walk and threw 63 of his 96 pitches for strikes. He gave up a two-out solo homer to Carlos Gonzalez in the top of the fourth and an unearned run in the top of the sixth thanks to a fielding error by Trea Turner, who allowed DJ LeMahieu to reach base to begin the inning despite being down in the count 1-2.
Gio Gonzalez in the 5-1 loss on Thursday night lasted for no more than six innings for a third time in three starts this season. He allowed three runs (two earned) in five innings on five hits, three walks and a wild pitch. Three of the hits were a solo homer and two doubles by DJ LeMahieu, who finished the game with two homers and two doubles. Gio threw 106 pitches over his five innings. The good news is that he had seven strikeouts, giving him 20 strikeouts in just 16 1/3 innings this season.
7. This was a strange series for a Nats bullpen that just hasn’t been that good so far this season. On the one hand, Nats relievers combined to allow just three runs in 12 innings. That’s quite good. But on the other hand, the three runs that were given up were big.
The bullpen allowed two big homers in the 6-5 loss to the Rockies on Sunday afternoon. Shawn Kelley gave up a one-out tie-breaking solo homer to DJ LeMahieu on an 0-2 pitch in the top of the eighth. Sean Doolittle gave up a tie-breaking two-out full-count solo homer to ex-Nat Ian Desmond in the top of the ninth.
Matt Grace gave up a two-out first-pitch two-run homer to LeMahieu in the top of the sixth in the 5-1 loss on Thursday night. Trevor Gott and Kelley did then combine for three scoreless innings.
Brandon Kintzler, Sammy Solis and Gott combined for three scoreless innings with six strikeouts in the 2-1 loss on Friday night.
Ryan Madson and Doolittle each tossed a scoreless inning in the 6-2 win on Saturday afternoon.