1. Very disappointing to see the Nationals lose three of four at Atlanta in what was their biggest series so far this season. The Nats went from leading the National League East by a half game on the Braves to trailing them by 1.5 games. I have been among those who expected the Braves to eventually fade. Well, they now have played 59 games and have the second best run differential in the National League at +62. At some point, we’re going to have to acknowledge that the Braves are legit. I still like the Nats to win the NL East, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to dismiss the Braves as just some cute little story.
2. The Nats’ offense failed miserably in losing three of four at Atlanta, producing just nine runs over 41 innings. Bryce Harper went 2-for-14 with one walk and eight strikeouts over four games, three of which he started. What’s not getting enough attention is the extent to which Bryce has cooled off. His OPS for the season has gone from 1.073 off his two-homer performance in the 7-3 win over Philadelphia on May 4 to now .898. That’s a 175-point decline in less than a month. Bryce was far from the only Nat who struggled offensively in this series – Mark Reynolds, for instance, went 0-for-11 with one walk over three games. But Reynolds isn’t the guy being talked about as potentially getting a $400 million contract this offseason.
3. A particularly disturbing item regarding the Nats’ offense popped up on Sunday via The Washington Post, which essentially reported that Daniel Murphy does not appear ready to return to the majors. He underwent right-knee microfracture surgery last October and finally began a minor-league rehab assignment for Double-A Harrisburg on May 26. But things aren’t going so well. The Post quoted a scout who had seen Murphy play as saying that Murphy was looking “gimpy,” “struggling to move laterally” and lacking “straight-ahead speed.” Mick Reinhard, who has covered the Senators since 2010, tweeted video of Murphy struggling to complete the most basic of plays. Maybe he’s just rusty. Maybe he’s still hurting. Whatever the case, rehab assignments normally last for just a few games. The fact that Murphy has been at Harrisburg for more than a week is troubling just on its own. The Daniel Murphy of the last two seasons would be of great help to the Nats’ struggling offense righty now. But I don’t know how you count on that Murphy ever being in effect this season given the surgery and recovery.
4.The offensive highlight of the Nats’ series at Atlanta unquestionably was Max Scherzer’s one-out pinch single in the top of the 14th in the 5-3 14-inning win on Saturday. Max scored the go-ahead run on Wilmer Difo’s two-out RBI triple. Just Max’s ability to come to the plate in that spot and make contact is great. And the value that Max is bringing this season both as a pitcher and a hitter is just tremendous. The guy has a .333 on-base percentage over 30 plate appearances. After the Angels’ Sho Ohtani, has any pitcher hit better than Max this season? And, as I’ve said many times, Max has surpassed Clayton Kershaw as the no. 1 pitcher on the planet (and, by the way, did you catch that the Dodgers placed Kershaw on the 10-day disabled list on Friday with a lower back strain off him having just missed about a month with biceps tendinitis? This guy just can’t stay healthy any more.).
5. A hamstring injury prevented Jeremy Hellickson from lasting for more than two batters in Sunday afternoon’s 4-2 loss at Atlanta, and the domino effect from this was big. The Nats were coming off Saturday’s 5-3 14-inning win, during which six Nats relievers combined for seven scoreless innings. The last thing that the team needed the next day was an abbreviated outing from the starting pitcher, and yet that’s exactly what happened. Four Nats relievers combined to allow one run in 7 2/3 innings before Dave Martinez, wanting to save Sean Doolittle for later, brought in Tanner Roark to pitch the bottom of the ninth with the score tied at two. Tanner gave up a one-out pinch walk-off two-run homer to Charlie Culberson. Personally, I would always prefer that the manager fire his best bullpen weapon rather than save it for an opportunity that may never come, but I can’t kill Davey for going to Tanner given the fatigued state of the bullpen. Ultimately, Nats relievers over the four games allowed just three runs in 17 2/3 innings. Justin Miller tossed three perfect innings with five strikeouts in Saturday’s 5-3 14-inning win at the Braves. Jefry Rodriguez tossed 4 2/3 scoreless innings in Sunday afternoon’s 4-2 loss at the Braves in his major-league debut. The truth is that the Nats’ bullpen has been much better since being abysmal in the three-game sweep to the Dodgers May 19-20.