1. The injury-plagued Nationals now have yet another major injury, and this one is a big one. Howie Kendrick suffered a season-ending ruptured right Achilles tendon while catching Max Muncy’s one-out RBI sac fly on the muddy and wet warning track in left field in the top of the eighth in the 4-1 loss to the Dodgers on Saturday afternoon in Game 1 of a doubleheader. This is a painful loss, as Kendrick had been one of the Nats’ best hitters this season (116 OPS+ over 160 plate appearances).
And all of a sudden, the Nats’ deepest position group, the outfield, isn’t so deep. Adam Eaton is on the 60-day disabled list and is recovering from left-ankle surgery on May 10. Brian Goodwin has been on the 10-day DL since April 17 due to a left-wrist contusion. Michael A. Taylor has been a major disappointment offensively this season. And Rafael Bautista suffered a badly and season-ending torn left knee while playing for Triple-A Syracuse on May 17.
2. And so what happened on Sunday? The Nats selected the contract of their no. 2 prospect, outfielder Juan Soto, from Double-A Harrisburg. That he struck out on four pitches in a pinch-hit appearance to begin the bottom of the eighth in Sunday afternoon’s 7-2 loss to the Dodgers doesn’t take away from the magnitude of this. Soto and Victor Robles are the Nats’ top two prospects and two of the best outfield prospects in baseball. Robles is recovering from a left-elbow injury suffered in trying to make a diving catch for Triple-A Syracuse in April. His recovery was expected to take several months but not require surgery. In the meantime, Soto, who had not been as well-regarded as Robles, is on fire. Soto began the season at Low-A Hagerstown, had a 1.300 OPS over 16 games and 74 plate appearances for the Suns, then was promoted to High-A Potomac, had a 1.256 OPS over 15 games and 73 plate appearances for the P-Nats, then was promoted to Double-A Harrisburg and had a .981 OPS over eight games and 35 plate appearances for the Senators.
Soto is especially known for his plate discipline. Baseball America noted that he had the “best strike zone discipline” among Nats minor-league players entering the 2018 season. He has 58 walks versus just 66 strikeouts over 512 career minor-league plate appearances.
I sung Soto’s praises big time on the blog last week and on Chin Music with Al Galdi this past Saturday. And one of the key points was that well-regarded prospects almost always end up being promoted to the majors sooner than people think; Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon are classic examples of that. And so now here we are with Soto, who as I also pointed out may be a reason for the Nats to not have to re-sign Bryce. Few things in sports are as exciting as the coming of age of a phenom. The excitement has begun.
3. And Howie Kendrick wasn’t the only Nat to go on the 10-day disabled list during the three-game sweep to the Dodgers. The Nats late on Sunday placed Ryan Madson on the 10-day DL with a chest strain. So the Nats’ 10-day DL now includes Madson, Kendrick, Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Wieters, Brian Goodwin and Matt Grace. The Nats’ 60-day DL includes Adam Eaton, Joe Ross, Jhonatan Solano, Koda Glover and Joaquin Benoit.
4. Speaking of the Nats’ bullpen, it was horrendous in this three-game sweep to the Dodgers: eight runs in 6 1/3 innings.
Wander Suero and Shawn Kelley combined to allow four runs over the eighth and ninth innings in the 7-2 loss to the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon. Suero in the top of the eighth gave up a two-out five-pitch walk of Matt Kemp and then a two-run homer to Yasiel Puig on an 0-2 pitch. Kelley in the top of the ninth gave up two runs thanks in part to a four-pitch leadoff walk of Kike Hernandez and then an RBI double by Joc Pederson.
So much for the Law Firm getting some much-needed rest off the Nats playing just part of one game over five days last week due to all of the rain. Sean Doolittle in the 5-4 loss to the Dodgers on Saturday night in Game 2 of the doubleheader suffered his first blown save of the season despite pitching on five days’ rest, as he gave up two runs in the top of the ninth thanks to allowing the first three batters he faced to reach base. He gave a up a leadoff single to Austin Barnes on a 1-2 pitch, then a single to Logan Forsythe (who was down 1-2 in the count at one point) and then a pinch two-run double to Matt Kemp. Also in this game was Sammy Solis giving up a one-out full-count solo homer to Cody Bellinger in the top of the eighth, as the Nats’ bullpen blew a 4-2 eighth-inning lead.
Trevor Gott in the 4-1 loss to the Dodgers on Saturday afternoon in Game 1 of the doubleheader allowed a run in the top of the eighth thanks in part to giving up a first-pitch leadoff single to Justin Turner and then a four-pitch walk to Yasmani Grandal.
5. As bad as the Nats’ bullpen was in the three-game sweep to the Dodgers, the offense may have been worse. The Nats totaled just seven runs over the three games. The Nats hit just one homer over the three games – Trea Turner’s first-pitch two-out two-run shot off Alex Wood in the bottom of the third in the 7-2 loss on Sunday afternoon. The Nats also worked just seven walks in the series, which was something that Dave Martinez complained about after Sunday’s loss. And how about Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon in the series? They went a combined 1-for-20 with three walks.
6. The Nats’ three-game sweep to the Dodgers came despite three more pretty good to very good outings from the rotation.
Max Scherzer was great again this season in the 5-4 loss to the Dodgers on Saturday night in Game 2 of the doubleheader. He allowed two runs in seven innings on 13 strikeouts versus five hits, three walks and a hit-by-pitch. Max registered his 100th strikeout of the season in this game. He reached that mark in just 63 innings, the fewest innings for a starter to reach 100 strikeouts in a single season in the Modern Era (since 1900). And Max continued to rake. He had a two-out RBI single in the Nats’ four-run sixth, giving him more RBI (four) than strikeouts (three) this season. Max actually has a .333 on-base percentage this season.
Tanner Roark was good for a sixth time in nine starts this season in the 4-1 loss to the Dodgers on Saturday afternoon in Game 1 of the doubleheader. Pitching on eight days’ rest due to a rain-marred week, he allowed three runs in seven innings on six hits, a walk and a hit-by-pitch versus eight strikeouts. The ample time between starts compelled Dave Martinez to allow Tanner to throw a season-high 117 pitches. He now has a 3.39 ERA and 1.01 WHIP over nine starts this season.
The lone start for the Nats in this series that wasn’t very good was Stephen Strasburg’s in the 7-2 loss to the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon, but even that outing wasn’t that bad. He allowed three runs in 6 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts versus five hits and four walks. What was bothersome was Strasburg allowing two more homers: a leadoff homer to Yasmani Grandal in the top of the second and a first-pitch two-run homer to Kike Hernandez in the top of the fifth. Strasburg now has allowed 10 homers in 67 innings (1.34 HR/9) this season off allowing just 13 homers in 175 1/3 innings (0.67 HR/9) last season.
7. The Orioles’ starting pitching was atrocious in losing three of four at Boston. Kevin Gausman, Alex Cobb, Dylan Bundy and David Hess combined to allow 18 runs in 21 2/3 innings.
Bundy was bad for a fourth time in five starts in the Orioles’ 6-3 loss at the Red Sox on Saturday night: four runs in six innings on three homers, two doubles and two walks versus eight strikeouts. He tossed three scoreless innings before allowing a two-out solo homer to Rafael Devers in the bottom of the fourth and then a one-out two-run homer to Mookie Betts immediately followed by a homer by Andrew Benintendi on an 0-2 pitch in the bottom of the fifth. Bundy has allowed 12 homers over his last five starts. He allowed one homer over his first five starts.
Cobb struggled again in the Orioles’ 7-4 win at the Red Sox on Friday night. Much was made of him notching his first “win” as an Oriole. Whatever. He allowed three runs in 6 1/3 innings on 10 hits, including a homer and four doubles, and a walk. This was off what we got from Cobb in the Orioles’ 10-3 loss to Tampa Bay the previous Saturday evening: four runs (three earned) in 5 2/3 innings. Cobb now has a 6.56 ERA and 1.85 WHIP over seven starts with the O’s. He and Andrew Cashner, the two free-agent additions who were supposed to upgrade the Orioles’ woeful rotation, have combined for a 5.55 ERA over 16 starts this season.
8. As the O’s come off yet another bad series due to no small part due to another batch of terrible starting pitching, did you happen to notice what Tampa Bay did at the Angels on Saturday night and Sunday? The Rays started a reliever in Sergio Romo in both games. He tossed a combined 2 1/3 scoreless innings with six strikeouts. The Rays in a 5-3 win on Saturday night went from Romo to Ryan Yarbrough, who allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings. The Rays lost on Sunday, 5-2.
What the Rays did (and this is something that the team has done before) is a classic example of “bullpening,” which is something that I have advocated for for years, especially for the starting-pitching-starved Orioles. Romo isn’t what he used to be, but he was still good enough to toss a perfect bottom of the first on Saturday night with three strikeouts, and his victims were Zack Cozart, Mike Trout and Justin Upton. This is the beauty of starting a reliever who knows that he only has to pitch one inning; he can go all out against, in theory, three of the best batters in the opposing team’s lineup. More runs have been scored per inning in the first inning than in any other inning during the DH era. I get that there are many things to consider in doing something like the Rays just did, and a big part of this was the Angels’ lineup being so right-handed. But especially for a team like the O’s, who have gotten bludgeoned in first innings this season (outscored 60-19 as of games through Sunday), why wouldn’t you have at least tried something like this at some point?