1. The first of two three-game series between the Nationals and Orioles this season begins on Memorial Day at 1:05 p.m. on The Team 980. On the hand, we have the Nats, whose three-game sweep at Miami over the weekend improved them to a season-best seven games above .500 at 29-22 despite a number of injuries this season. On the other hand, we have the O’s, who lost two of three at Tampa Bay over the weekend to fall to a major-league worst 7-23 on the road. Dan Duquette has said that Memorial Day was the point at which we could pass judgment on his team. Okay, well, here we are. The O’s have the second-worst record in the majors at 17-36 and the third-worst run differential in the majors at -79. The O’s have been horrendous in just about every aspect of the sport – batting, starting pitching, relief pitching and defense. This team better begin doing as I screamed for it to do last season – selling off just about every meaningful asset – and fast.
2. We got good Nats injury news over the last few days. Both Daniel Murphy and Brian Goodwin would be beginning rehab assignments at Double-A Harrisburg on Saturday. Murphy has yet to play this season due to right-knee microfracture surgery last October. Goodwin hasn’t played since April 15 due to a left-wrist contusion. Additionally, Matt Grace was to begin a rehab assignment with Harrisburg on Monday; he has been on the 10-day disabled list with a left-groin strain since April 21. And Ryan Madson was to have thrown a bullpen session on Sunday; he has been on the 10-day DL since May 20 due to a chest strain.
3. The Nats’ offense, off having scored three runs or less in eight of the team’s previous 11 games, busted out in Games 1 and 3 of the three-game sweep at Miami: 10 hits and five walks in Friday night’s 9-5 win and 11 hits, including eight extra-base hits, in Sunday afternoon’s 5-2 win. I know that it doesn’t necessarily feel like this is the case, but the Nats lead the National League with 68 homers and are fourth in the NL with a .738 OPS.
4. Among the notable Nats in the three-game sweep at Miami:
Anthony Rendon – He went 5-for-11 with two walks in the series, providing a double, two singles and a walk in the 9-5 win at the Marlins on Friday night and a one-out solo homer in the top of the fourth, a double and a walk in the 5-2 win at the Marlins on Sunday afternoon.
Bryce Harper – He in the 4-1 win at the Marlins on Saturday went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and a walk, smashing his bat in the dugout in frustration after one of the strikeouts. But sandwiched around that game were two good games. Bryce in the 9-5 win at the Marlins on Friday night had a two-run double in the top of the seventh off having been down in the count 0-2 and a single. And Bryce in the 5-2 win at the Marlins on Sunday afternoon had a homer to begin the top of the sixth off having been down in the count 0-2 and then a first-pitch one-out RBI sac fly in the top of the seventh.
Wilmer Difo – He went 4-for-11 with a walk in the series, providing a one-out game-tying solo homer in the top of the eighth in the 4-1 win at the Marlins on Saturday and a triple and a double in the 5-2 win at the Marlins on Sunday afternoon.
Juan Soto – He had three doubles over the final two games of the series, including a first-pitch double in the Nats’ three-run ninth in the 4-1 win at the Marlins on Saturday.
Matt Adams – He had a one-out two-run homer in the top of the sixth in the 9-5 win at the Marlins on Friday night and a one-out pinch RBI single in the Nats’ three-run ninth in the 4-1 win at the Marlins on Saturday.
Mark Reynolds – He had a leadoff tie-breaking solo homer in the top of the ninth off Brad Ziegler in the 4-1 win at the Marlins on Saturday and had a one-out single in the top of the seventh in the 5-2 win at the Marlins on Sunday.
Michael A. Taylor – He had a one-out two-run homer in the top of the second and a double in the 9-5 win at the Marlins on Friday night and had a triple in the 5-2 win at the Marlins on Sunday.
5. The Nats didn’t get great starting pitching in the three-game sweep at Miami, but the rotation certainly was good enough.
Stephen Strasburg in the 5-2 win at the Marlins on Sunday afternoon lasted for just five innings, but they were five scoreless innings with eight strikeouts versus three singles, two walks and a hit-by-pitch. He threw 103 pitches over the five innings.
The Tanner Roark bounce-back season continued in the 4-1 win at the Marlins on Saturday. Tanner went exactly seven innings for the sixth time in 10 starts this season, allowing one run in seven innings on a double, three singles and two walks versus five strikeouts. The lone run that he gave up came in the bottom of the fourth on a leadoff double by J.T. Realmuto, a one-out full-count walk by Starlin Castro and a one-out full-count RBI single by Brian Anderson. Otherwise, Tanner was great. He now has a 3.17 ERA and 0.99 WHIP this season.
Max Scherzer in the 9-5 win at the Marlins on Friday night was bad for just the second time in 11 starts this season. He allowed four runs in six innings on a homer, two doubles, four singles, two walks and a hit-by-pitch and had just four strikeouts. Max tossed three scoreless innings but then gave up a run in the bottom of the fourth on a two-out two-run single by Miguel Rojas. Max then tossed a scoreless fifth, but he began the bottom of the sixth by issuing a leadoff walk to Brian Anderson (who had been down in the count 0-2) and then gave up a two-run homer to Derek Dietrich (who had been down in the count 1-2). Max did throw 75 of his 114 pitches for strikes, and he still emerged from this outing with a 2.13 ERA and 0.91 WHIP.
6. The Nats’ bullpen had a second straight strong series in the three-game sweep at Miami, combining to allow just two runs (one earned) in nine innings.
Tim Collins, Wander Suero, Sammy Solis, Brandon Kintzler and Sean Doolittle combined to allow one run in three innings in the 9-5 win at the Marlins on Friday night. The one run came off Suero in the bottom of the seventh, during which he allowed a single to Starlin Castro on a 1-2 pitch and an RBI double to Brian Anderson – these were the only two batters who Suero faced. But Doolittle in particular was great, entering the game with runners on first and second with just one out in the bottom of the eighth but then tossing 1 2/3 perfect innings. Here, again, we had Dave Martinez using his closer in a non-conventional circumstance.
Collins, Justin Miller and Doolittle combined for two scoreless innings in the 4-1 win at the Marlins on Saturday. Miller is a journeyman reliever whose contract was selected from Triple-A Syracuse on Friday.
Miller, Suero, Trevor Gott Solis and Kintzler combined to allow two runs (one earned) in four innings in the 5-2 win at the Marlins on Sunday afternoon. Solis gave up a leadoff homer to George Mason product Justin Bour in the bottom of the eighth.
7. Starting Game 1 of round one of 2018’s Battle of the Beltways on Monday at 1:05 p.m. on The Team 980 for the O’s is Alex Cobb. The extent to which he and Andrew Cashner – two free-agent signings who were supposed to upgrade the Orioles’ rotation – have been disappointing can not be overstated. Cashner in the Orioles’ 5-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Saturday allowed five runs in five innings on 11 hits and four walks. He and Cobb have combined for a 5.96 ERA over 19 starts this season.
8. Speaking of the Orioles’ abysmal starting pitching, it still baffles me that they aren’t trying something innovative like starting relievers as Tampa Bay is. The Rays started a reliever in each of the three games with the O’s. Now, I should point out that Sergio Romo did struggle in Games 1 and 3. He allowed one run in two-thirds of an inning in starting the Orioles’ 2-0 win at the Rays on Friday night and then was charged with three runs in getting just one out in the Orioles’ 8-3 loss at the Rays on Sunday afternoon. But the Orioles’ 5-1 loss at the Rays on Saturday featured Ryne Stanek tossing 1 2/3 perfect innings with three strikeouts (and the strikeouts were of Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop) in starting the game before being relieved by Anthony Banda, who allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts. There are kinks to be worked out with what the Rays are trying, and perhaps Romo isn’t the best guy to be doing this with. But at least Tampa Bay, which has bad starting pitching, is trying something innovative and different. The O’s keep doing the same thing over and over while having the worst starting-pitching ERA in the majors this season at 5.60.