Observations from and analysis of the Nats’ series win over the Braves
Game 1: 2-0 win on Monday night (April 9)
Game 2: 4-1 win on Tuesday night (April 10)
Game 3: 5-3 12-inning loss on Wednesday afternoon (April 11)
1. There are many defining characteristics of an “ace” in baseball. Consistent greatness is one. Big-game perforance is another. Stopping losing streaks would be a third. Max Scherzer certainly has delivered on the “consistent greatness,” and in Monday night’s 2-0 win, he acted as a stopper. Max tossed a two-hit shutout to end the Nats’ five-game losing streak. Facing a Braves team against which he had struggled on April 4 (five runs (though just two were earned) in five innings on an astounding 110 pitches in a 7-1 loss), Max had 10 strikeouts versus just two singles and no walks on 102 pitches. So, yes, he threw fewer pitches in this game than he did in his five-inning performance against the Braves on April 4.
Max had two strikeouts in each of five innings: the first, fourth, fifth, seventh and ninth innings.
Max also had a single and a stolen base in the bottom of the seventh. That made him just the second player in major-league history to toss a shutout, strike out at least 10 batters and steal a base in the same game. The other was Nolan Ryan on May 16, 1984. The steal by Max was interesting, as it came off a massive lead. Max per Statcast took a secondary lead of 33.6 feet, much higher than the MLB average of 21.6 feet. That lead was needed given that his foot speed was just 25.5 feet per second (the MLB average is 27), and took advantage of a Peter Moylan pitch in the dirt to make it safely to second base without a throw.
2. Stephen Strasburg wasn’t as good in the 4-1 win on Tuesday night as Max was on Monday night, but Strasburg was close: eight scoreless innings on eight strikeouts versus three hits, two walks and a wild pitch on 103 pitches. He actually looked shaky early, allowing a one-out double to Ozzie Albies and a two-out walk to notorious Nats killer Freddie Freeman in the top of the first and allowing a one-out single to Dansby Swanson and then a wild pitch in the top of the second. But Strasburg retired 20 of the final 22 batters he faced. He also had a two-out single, a two-out walk and a sacrifice bunt that led to a run.
Is there a better one-two rotation punch in the majors than Scherzer and Strasburg? Arizona has Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray (a former Nats prospect), Patrick Corbin, Zack Godley and Taijuan Walker. Houston has Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel and Gerrit Cole. The Mets have Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. Boston has Chris Sale and David Price. The point is that there are other imposing groups of pitchers. But I wouldn’t take any twosome over Scherzer and Strasburg.
3. It would have been hard for A.J. Cole to have been worse than he was in his season debut, in which he allowed 10 runs in 3 2/3 innings in a 13-6 loss at the Braves on April 3. And so he was better in the 5-3 12-inning loss on Wednesday afternoon: two runs in 5 1/3 innings on five strikeouts versus three hits and two walks. Now, he did allow two solo homers: a one-out first pitch homer to Ozzie Albies in the top of the first and a two-out homer to ex-Nat Kurt Suzuki in the top of the fourth. But Cole certainly showed improvement, especially when you consider that he was facing the same team that had shredded him less than two weeks earlier.
4. The Nats’ offense was mostly quiet in this series. The unseasonably cool spring has meant bad offense for a number of teams so far this season, but the Nats’ bats have really cooled off since the first five games of the season. The Nats have totaled 19 runs over the last seven games, and two of those games were 12-inning games.
Among the standouts in the series was Howie Kendrick. He started at second base in Games 1 and 3 and had a two-out two-run double off Julio Teheran in the bottom of the first in the 2-0 win on Monday night and a two-out game-tying RBI double in the bottom of the 11th and a single in the 5-3 12-inning loss on Wednesday afternoon.
Ryan Zimmerman had a two-out full-count two-run triple off Mike Foltynewicz in the bottom of the first in the 4-1 win on Tuesday night. He entered the game 3-for-31 with two walks on the season. Matt Adams started at first base in place of Zimmerman in the 12-inning loss on Wednesday afternoon and delivered a one-out game-tying solo homer in the bottom of the ninth to go with a walk. What’s interesting is that Adams got thrown out at home to end the bottom of the seventh off a pinch single by Wilmer Difo, raising the issue of why Dave Martinez didn’t pinch run for Adams after he was hit by a pitch to begin that half of the inning with the Nats trailing 2-1. But, of course, Adams made Martinez look smart by bashing the game-tying homer two innings later.
Anthony Rendon had a double and a single in the 2-0 win on Monday night, another double in the 4-1 win on Tuesday night and a single in the 5-3 12-inning loss on Wednesday afternoon.
5. The Nats had an interesting series at catcher.
First, the rise of Pedro Severino continued. He had a double and a walk in the 2-0 win on Monday night, a single on an 0-2 pitch in the Nats’ one-run sixth in the 4-1 win on Tuesday night and a single and a walk in the 5-3 12-inning loss on Wednesday afternoon. He also, though, had a passed ball in the Braves’ two-run 12th in that game.
Severino was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse on April 2, when Matt Wieters was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a mild left oblique strain. Well, the Nats placed another catcher, Jhonatan Soloano, on the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday with bone spurs in his right elbow. The team then activated Wieters from the 10-day DL on Wednesday, when the Nats also designated catcher Miguel Montero for assignment. He made the club after entering spring training as a non-roster invitee but went 0-for-11 with two walks over four games.
6. We got some bad news on Adam Eaton in this series. It turns out that he has a left-ankle bone bruise, and he was placed on the 10-day disabled list on Wednesday (retroactive to April 9). This, by the way, is another example of us being told that a Nats injury isn’t that bad (as was the case after Eaton left the 8-2 loss to the Mets on April 5 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) but then the injury turning out to be bad. Brian Goodwin started in left field and batted in the no. 1 spot in the 4-1 win on Tuesday night and delivered, providing a full-count leadoff walk in the Nats’ two-run first and a two-out RBI single on a 1-2 pitch in the bottom of the fourth. Goodwin drew a walk in the 5-3 12-inning loss on Wednesday afternoon.
7. The Nats’ bullpen wasn’t needed at all in Game 1 and was barely needed in Game 2, but the pen struggled in that game and then again in Game 3.
Sammy Solis and Ryan Madson in the 4-1 win on Tuesday night combined to allow a run in the top of the ninth. Solis gave up a leadoff double to Ozzie Albies and a one-out four-pitch walk to former Oriole Nick Markakis. Madson gave up a two-out RBI double to Dansby Swanson.
Matt Grace, Solis, Brandon Kintzler and Sean Doolittle combined for 4 2/3 scoreless innings in the 5-3 12-inning loss on Wednesday afternoon. But Shawn Kelley, who had been good so far this season, allowed a go-ahead leadoff homer to ex-Nat Kurt Suzuki in the top of the 11th. And Madson, who was 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.
Nats relievers now are no. 13 out 15 National League teams with a 5.26 ERA.