Observations from and analysis of the Nats losing two of three at the Dodgers
Game 1: 5-2 win on Friday night (April 20)
Game 2: 4-0 loss on Saturday night (April 21)
Game 3: 4-3 loss on Sunday night (April 22)
1. The Nats’ offense was really good in Game 1 but struggled the rest of the series. It’s tricky to truly evaluate this offense given the absences of Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon, Adam Eaton and Brian Goodwin. I have a hard time killing the Nats given all of those injuries, but we did see on Friday night what can be even without those guys.
The Nats had 10 hits and three walks and went 5-for-13 with runners in scoring position in the 5-2 win at the Dodgers on Friday night. Most impressive was how the Nats ambushed Clayton Kershaw, scoring two runs in the top of the first thanks in part to each of the Nats’ first three batters swinging at the first pitch. Trea Turner had a first-pitch leadoff double and Bryce Harper had a one-out first-pitch RBI single through the right side with the infield drawn in. The next batter, Ryan Zimmerman, then smashed an RBI double to left-center field. Turner struck again in the top of the fifth with a one-out first-pitch RBI bunt single to score Michael A. Taylor off his first-pitch leadoff double. And the Nats got to Kershaw one more time in the top of the sixth, as Taylor had a two-out RBI single to score Zimmerman off his one-out single.
The Nats had just two hits to go with four walks in the 4-0 loss at the Dodgers on Saturday night, getting completely shutdown by Hyun-Jin Ryu (seven scoreless innings, eight strikeouts).
The Nats had nine hits and three walks in the 4-3 loss at the Dodgers on Sunday night but also scored just three runs and went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. A bright spot for a second time in three games was Michael A. Taylor, who had a leadoff homer in the top of the fourth, a one-out double on an 0-2 pitch and a run in the top of the sixth, a single in the top of the second, a walk and two stolen bases.
2. Here we go again with another injury mess for the Nats. The team on Sunday placed Anthony Rendon on the 10-day disabled list with a toe contusion that was suffered two Friday nights ago (April 13). But because you can only back-date DL placements as many as three days, Rendon was placed on the 10-day DL retroactively only to April 19. So the Nats ultimately will be without him until at least April 29. They ended up playing a man short on their 25-man roster for eight days before finally placing him on the DL on Day 9 since the injury.
Injuries are tricky. Players are stubborn. None of this is simple. It’s easy to arm-chair quarterback injury management from afar. I get all of that. But it’s difficult to be too sympathetic to the Nats in this case because of their lengthy history of injury confusion, concealments, mysteries and mishandlings. Consider just the following from this incomplete list:
May 2013 – We learned that Danny Espinosa, who had been hit by a pitch in the middle of April, had in fact suffered a fractured right wrist. The extent of the injury wasn’t discovered until he visited a Baltimore-based hand specialist.
2015 – Anthony Rendon, who suffered an injured left knee in March and then an oblique injury in early May, didn’t make his season debut until June 4. The left knee injury was said by Matt Williams in March to not at all be serious.
May 2015 – A CT scan revealed two small fractures in Jayson Werth’s left wrist. X-rays and an MRI exam initially had revealed no fractures or tendon damage. He ended up being out until late July with a left wrist that has been broken three times: 2005 with the Dodgers and 2012 and 2015 with the Nats.
June 2015 – The Nats placed Ryan Zimmerman on the 15-day disabled list with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, which he had been dealing with for nearly two months. He was in the midst of a terrible season offensively, posting an on-base percentage of just .265 and mired in a 4-for-46 slump at the time.
2016 and 2017 – We had not one, not two, but three injury mishaps involving Koda Glover. He was not forthcoming about hip pain in 2016, which ultimately resulted in him having a torn labrum in his left hip. He was not forthcoming about hurting his back in the shower on June 10, resulting in a bad outing that day in an 11-inning loss to Texas and a stint on the 10-day disabled list. He then was out the rest of the season, though not because of lower back stiffness; we found out on June 28 that Glover’s bigger problem was severe inflammation in his right rotator cuff. The team let perhaps as many as two and-a-half weeks go by without revealing this.
July 2017 – Dusty Baker, in discussing Joe Ross needing Tommy John surgery, admitted that he didn’t know that Ross had been shut down in high school due to an elbow injury. Huh? Shouldn’t the manager know something like that? And don’t tell me that the manager can’t know everything. I’m not saying he needs to know about an ankle sprain from Ross’ freshman year. But the skipper, especially in this Tommy-John-laden era, sure as heck should know if one of his starting pitchers had an elbow problem in high school.
July 2017 – We learned that Jayson Werth, who hadn’t played since June 3 with what was initially labeled a left foot contusion, instead had been dealing with broken left foot that he knew about from the get-go but that the team has been hiding. Dusty Baker had said as recently as the previous weekend that Werth was dealing with nothing more than a bruise. Werth didn’t return until Aug. 28.
The Nats announced a new medical structure and expansion in Nov. 2015 as a response to these injury difficulties. But the difficulties have continued. Again, I get that this stuff isn’t simple. But does it have to be this difficult?
3. The Nats got strong outings from their top two starting pitchers over the first two games of the series.
Max Scherzer outdueled Clayton Kershaw in a battle of the top two pitchers on the planet in the 5-2 win at the Dodgers on Friday night, though the battle was actually disappointing. Kershaw allowed four runs in seven innings. Max allowed one run in six innings, recording nine strikeouts versus a triple, a double, two singles, three walks and two hit-by-pitches of Corey Seager. Max allowed a first-pitch leadoff triple to Virginia product Chris Taylor and then a second-pitch hit-by-pitch of Seager to begin the bottom of the first, but then settled down, tossing five scoreless innings before giving up a two-out walk to Joc Pederson followed by back-to-back two-out singles by Chase Utley and Yasiel Puig (each of whom Max had down 1-2 at one point) for a Dodgers run in the bottom of the sixth. Max threw 106 pitches over his six innings.
Stephen Strasburg was terrific in the 4-0 loss at the Dodgers on Saturday night: two runs in seven innings on 10 strikeouts versus five hits, two walks, a hit-by-pitch and a wild pitch. Two of the hits were solo homers, but Strasburg threw 73 of his 107 pitches for strikes. And nothing was better than the Houdini act that he pulled in the bottom of the sixth. Strasburg escaped a bases-loaded no-out jam by striking out the Dodgers’ no. 4-6 batters in succession: Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson and Matt Kemp. All three went down swinging. Bellinger whiffed on a changeup.
4. We got start no. 2 as a Nat for Jeremy Hellickson in the 4-3 loss at the Dodgers on Sunday night, as he allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings on three doubles and two walks versus five strikeouts. He tossed five scoreless innings before being charged with three runs in the bottom of the sixth. Hellickson has been competitive over his first two starts as a Nat, though you certainly can’t say that he has been good (five runs in 10 innings).
5. The Nats’ bullpen continued to be a problem in this series, as Nats relievers combined to allow four runs in 6 2/3 innings. And even that doesn’t tell the entire story. Nats relievers are dead last in the National League with a 5.78 ERA.
The Nats blew a 3-0 sixth-inning lead in the 4-3 loss at the Dodgers on Sunday night thanks in part to the pen. Sammy Solis faced two batters in the Dodgers’ three-run sixth and gave up an RBI double to Cody Bellinger and a walk to Kike Hernandez. Trevor Gott then recorded back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning, but he gave up the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh on a hit-by-pitch, a single and an RBI sac fly. Brandon Kintzler then tossed a scoreless eighth.
The 5-2 win at the Dodgers on Friday night say Matt Grace and Sammy Solis combine to allow a run in the bottom of the seventh, but Brandon Kintzler and Sean Doolittle then each tossed a perfect inning. The Nats placed Grace on the 10-day disabled list on Saturday with a left groin strain.
The Nats on Friday designated A.J. Cole for assignment, meaning that he has been exposed to waivers and could soon be gone from the organization. I have been wondering for a long time how long the Nats would keep going to this guy. His horrendous relief pitching in the series at the Mets last week apparently was it. Cole has an ERA of 5.32 and a WHIP of 1.51 over 26 major-league games, including 19 starts. The corresponding roster move to DFAing Cole was selecting the contract of 35-year-old Carlos Torres from Triple-A Syracuse. He gave up a one-out two-run homer to Cody Bellinger on an 0-2 pitch (and on his bobblehead night) in the bottom of the eighth in the 4-0 loss at the Dodgers on Saturday night.