Observations from and analysis of the Nats’ series win at the Mets
Game 1: 8-6 win on Monday night (April 16)
Game 2: 5-2 win on Tuesday night (April 17)
Game 3: 11-5 loss on Wednesday night (April 18)
1. So, uh, about that Nats bullpen.
First of all, the Nats did win two of three at the National League East-leading Mets in what was deemed by just about everyone as a big early-season series given the Nats’ struggles (nine losses in 12 games) and the Mets’ hot start (12-2). So nobody should forget that the Nats did win the series.
But, of course, when you have a shot a three-game sweep, and that shot gets blown to smithereens, well, that hurts.
Ryan Madson, Sammy Solis and A.J. Cole combined to allow nine runs in the bottom of the eighth in the 11-5 loss at the Mets on Wednesday night. I have been saying that I have been trying not to go back to the #CantTrussIt campaign I enacted over the last two seasons regarding the Nats’ bullpen. I fear that we are closer than ever to making it three straight seasons. Nats relievers now have the worst ERA in the National League at 5.82 and are next to last in the NL in opponents’ OPS (.773).
Madson, pitching for a third time in three games in this series and for a fourth time in five days, gave up three consecutive singles to Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes and ex-Nat Asdrubal Cabrera to begin the bottom of the eighth. Two batters later came a one-out two-run single up the middle by Todd Frazier to tie the game at four. After then intentionally walking Adrian Gonzalez, Madson did then strike out Wilmer Flores on three pitches. But then came Madson giving up a pinch two-run double to Juan Lagares, who’s not exactly known for his bat.
Dave Martinez then pulled Madson in favor of Sammy Solis, who promptly issued back-to-back walks of Amed Rosario and Conforto.
Martinez then pulled Solis in favor of A.J. Cole, who gave up the big blow to the first batter he faced: a two-out grand slam to Cespedes on an 0-2 pitch. Just awful.
Martinez made a major mistake not just in going to Madson but in sticking with him. It was in the 5-3 12-inning loss at Atlanta on April 11 that Madson, pitching for a fourth time in five days, allowed two runs in the top of the 12th on back-to-back singles by Ozzie Albies (who had been down in the count 1-2) and notorious Nats killer Freddie Freeman to begin the inning immediately followed by a five-pitch walk to ex-Oriole Nick Markakis and then a one-out first-pitch bases-loaded two-run single by Peter Bourjos. That outing right there was the tell that Madson, who is in his age-37 season, had to have his workload monitored carefully. Additionally, Sean Doolittle had pitched just once in this series, so Martinez could have gone to Doolittle. But then Martinez sticking with Madson through three consecutive singles, then the one-out two-run single up the middle by Todd Frazier and then the pinch two-run double to Juan Lagares was just way too much.
But there is another issue here, and that is the complete unreliability of those in this Nats bullpen not named Madson, Doolittle or Brandon Kintzler (who, collectively, haven’t exactly been great so far this season, but there’s a track record with them). A.J. Cole is just not good, and this continued Nats infatuation with him is becoming troublesome. It wasn’t just the two-out grand slam to Cespedes on an 0-2 pitch on Wednesday night. Cole, who has been replaced in the Nats’ rotation by Jeremy Hellickson, pitched out of the bullpen in the 8-6 win at the Mets on Monday night and allowed two runs in the bottom of the seventh on a first-pitch leadoff triple by Brandon Nimmo followed by a two-run homer by Cabrera on an 0-2 pitch. That bomb put the Nats down 6-1 and reduced their win probability to 1.2 percent per Fangraphs. Yes, the Nats came back to win that game with the six-run eighth, but that’s not the point. Cole now has an ERA of 5.32 and a WHIP of 1.51 over 26 major-league games, including 19 starts. I get that some pitchers take a while to blossom, but at what point are the Nats going to stop going to him?
What’s easy to forget is that the Nats’ bullpen was great in the 5-2 win at the Mets on Tuesday night, as Solis, Madson, Kintzler and Doolitte combined for 3 2/3 scoreless innings with seven strikeouts. Madson allowed back-to-back one-out singles in the bottom of the seventh but then recorded back-to-back strikeouts of Frazier and Bruce.
2. The best news from this series was that the Nats’ offense showed definite signs of life.
The Nats overcame a 6-1 eighth-inning deficit in the 8-6 win at the Mets on Monday night, scoring six runs in the top of the eighth and then another run in the top of the ninth. The Nats nickel-and-dimed the Mets in that six-run eighth, totaling five singles, three walks and a hit-by-pitch.
The Nats had 10 hits and five walks in the 5-2 win at the Mets on Tuesday night, though the Nats did go 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position in that game.
And while the Nats had just five hits and one walk in the 11-5 loss at the Mets on Wednesday night, Ryan Zimmerman blew up. He smashed a one-out full-count three-run homer off Steven Matz in the top of the first, had a leadoff triple in the top of the seventh and then blasted a two-out solo homer in the top of the ninth. This came off what Zimmerman did in the 5-2 win at the Mets on Tuesday night: RBI single in the top of the seventh and a walk in the top of the fourth. Zimmerman went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in the 8-6 win at the Mets on Monday night but was quite good the rest of the series. Hopefully this gets him going (finally).
Bryce Harper was tremendous in the 8-6 win at the Mets on Monday night. He had a two-out first-pitch broken-bat solo homer off Jacob deGrom in the top of the first, a one-out two-run single off ex-Nat Jerry Blevins in the Nats’ six-run eighth and an intentional walk. Harper had an RBI sac fly and two walks in the 5-2 win at the Mets on Tuesday night and another walk in the 11-5 loss at the Mets on Wednesday night.
Wilmer Difo started at third base in all three games in the series and had a game-tying two-out two-run single in the six-run eighth and another single in the 8-6 win at the Mets on Monday night and an RBI single on a 1-2 pitch in the top of the fourth in the 5-2 win at the Mets on Tuesday night.
Trea Turner had two singles and a stolen base in the 8-6 win at the Mets on Monday night and two doubles, a single, a walk and a stolen base in the 5-2 win at the Mets on Tuesday night.
And is it me or has Pedro Severino been really good in two-strike counts so far this season? He had an RBI single on an 0-2 pitch in the top of the fourth and an RBI groundout on an 0-2 pitch in the top of the eighth in the 5-2 win at the Mets on Tuesday night. Severino is batting .304 in two-strike counts now this season.
3. The Nats’ injury problem continued in this series. The team on Tuesday placed Brian Goodwin on the 10-day disabled list with a left-wrist contusion and recalled outfielder Andrew Stevenson from Triple-A Syracuse. Goodwin joined Adam Eaton, Daniel Murphy and Joaquin Benoit on the Nats’ 10-day DL. The Nats also have Joe Ross, Koda Glover and now Jhonatan Solano on the 60-day disabled list. Anthony Rendon did not play in any game in this series and now has missed five consecutive games off fouling a ball off his left big toe in the bottom of the fifth of the 2-1 loss to Colorado last Friday night.
4. A shame of Wednesday night’s 11-5 loss at the Mets was a wasted strong outing from Tanner Roark, who was good for a third time in four starts this season. He allowed two runs in seven innings on just two hits, three walks and a hit-by-pitch versus six strikeouts.
5. Gio Gonzalez now has failed to last longer than six innings in each of his four starts this season. He lasted for just 5 1/3 innings in the 5-2 win at the Mets on Tuesday night, allowing two runs on eight hits and two walks versus five strikeouts. It’s not like he was terrible, as seven of the eight hits were singles. But Gio threw 97 pitches over the 5 1/3 innings off throwing 106 pitches in five innings in the 5-1 loss to Colorado on April 12 and 92 pitches in 5 1/3 innings in the 3-2 loss to the Mets on April 7. Not exactly pitch efficient.
6. Jeremy Hellickson has replaced A.J. Cole in the Nats’ rotation, and Hellickson was alright in the 8-6 win at the Mets on Monday night. He lasted for just 4 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on seven hits (including two doubles) and a walk. As I’ve said, Hellickson was really bad over the previous five seasons, so I have major doubts about this guy. Over 134 games (including 133 starts) over the last five seasons, he has a 4.69 ERA and 87 ERA+. He’s not a strikeout pitcher. He gives up home runs. The Orioles acquired Hellickson from Philadelphia last July, and he was horrendous for them over 10 starts (6.97 ERA). Hellickson’s 2016 season with the Phillies is his lone good season since 2013. But the Nats did get surprising mileage out of Edwin Jackson last season, so perhaps they can work some magic with Hellickson.
7. The Nats demonstrated some more defensive sloppiness in this series.
Let’s start with consecutive plate appearances in the bottom of the fifth in the 5-2 win at the Mets on Tuesday night. Pedro Severino couldn’t handle the throw from Michael A. Taylor on ex-Nat Asdrubal Cabrera’s RBI sac fly. Ryan Zimmerman then made a terrible throw to Severino at home on Yoenis Cespedes’ RBI groundout.
Then came the bottom of the fourth in the 11-5 loss at the Mets on Wednesday night. Zimmerman made another terrible throw to Trea Turner at second base for a throwing error on a run-scoring force attempt by ex-Nat Jose Lobaton. As Gary Cohen, the voice of the Mets on SNY said, “Zimmerman just has trouble throwing the ball.” Yes he does. That’s why he was moved from third base to first base.