1. The Nationals have four games left – a four-game series at Miami – until the non-waiver trade deadline on Tuesday July 31 at 4 p.m. Eastern. The Nats are 50-51 off losing two of three at Milwaukee and now being just 17-29 since their 33-22 start. If the Nats have a bad series at Miami, they need to seriously consider being sellers as opposed to buyers come that non-waiver trade deadline. I can’t believe that we’re even talking about this, but we now need to. Mike Rizzo indicated to MLB.com on Tuesday that he is not considering selling: “[We are] still optimistic about the division, and we will do what’s necessary to win this year and beyond in any deals we make.” Whether that is posturing or the truth is impossible to say, just like whether that is truly how Rizzo feels or is more representative of ownership is hard to say. What is easy to say is that, per research by Mike Berger of FOX Sports, since Major League Baseball added a second wild card in 2012, no team has been six or more games back of the second wild card after Aug. 1 and recovered to reach the postseason. The Nats as of Thursday morning were seven games out of first in the National League East and 5 1/2 out of the NL’s second wild-card spot. A season with a win total in the low-to-mid 80s doesn’t do anyone any good. As I like to say, if you’re not winning 100 games, then you need to be losing 100 games; the worst place that you can be in the majors is in the middle. And especially given that Daniel Murphy and, oh yeah, Bryce Harper are set to be free agents after this season, trading them away would make a ton of sense if in fact the Nats continue to struggle. Do I see the Nats doing this? No. Selling would be a devastating psychological blow for the franchise and fan base off the regular-season success of the previous six seasons. But that doesn’t mean that selling wouldn’t be the right thing to do. This upcoming four-game series at the Marlins is huge. And going back to Bryce, Rizzo told multiple media outlets on Wednesday that trading Bryce, while not likely, also isn’t completely off the table. This was Rizzo to MLB insider Joel Sherman of The New York Post: “My first response is [Harper] is part of the furniture, a superstar who we drafted, signed, developed and had blossom into a star with our uniform on. Something extreme would have to happen for us to consider moving him.”
2. Speaking of the upcoming non-waiver trade deadline, we had a report on Monday from MLB insider Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com that the Nats have had preliminary negotiations regarding a trade for Texas’ Cole Hamels, who is perhaps the top starting pitcher available in this trade market. A dose of cold water was poured on the report by Nats insider Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post, but it’s worth talking about what Morosi reported. Hamels, a lefty, is in his age-34 season and is due considerable money: about $7 million for the rest of this season and then a $20 million club option or $6 million buyout for 2019. And while Morosi notes that “the Rangers likely would be asked to assume a portion of Hamels’ future salary obligations,” Texas certainly wouldn’t assume all of the money, meaning that Mike Rizzo would have to get permission from the Lerners to add decent money to the payroll, and that’s far from a given. But beyond that, Hamels just hasn’t been that good this season: 4.72 ERA and 1.37 WHIP over 20 starts. There’s only so much of that you can write-off to him pitching in a hitter’s ballpark. And Hamels is giving up much harder contact this season as compared to previous years. That the Nats might have even been talking about trading for this guy says a lot about how desperate they’ve become regarding their rotation.
3. The Nats’ offense was not good in losing two of three at Milwaukee. The Nats over the three games had just 17 hits and eight walks. The Nats scored seven runs in the 7-3 win at the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon despite totaling just four hits.
4. Bryce Harper was the starting center fielder batting in the no. 3 spot in Games 1 and 3 of the series loss at Milwaukee, not starting but being used as a pinch hitter in the 5-4 10-inning loss at the Brewers on Tuesday night. He had a walk in the 6-1 loss at the Brewers on Monday night and a big two-out first-pitch three-run homer to right field off Freddy Peralta in the top of the fifth in the 7-3 win at the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon. Bryce is tied for first in the National League with 25 homers, but the batting average is at just .216 with a .363 on-base percentage and .475 slugging percentage (no. 25 among qualified players in the National League).
5. What a terrible series Trea Turner had at Milwaukee. He in the 6-1 loss at the Brewers on Monday night went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts as the Nats’ no. 7 batter. And each of his first two plate appearances brought controversy. He struck out for the first out in the top of the second on a called strike three that was low in the strike zone and led to hitting coach Kevin Long being ejected by the home-plate umpire, Nic Lentz. Trea then had a bunt groundout for the final out in the top of the fourth, not even running to first base and just walking out from the batter’s box for righties actually toward third base. Trea’s reaction to the bunt was so odd that it seemed like he might have been hit by the pitch, and in fact he said after the game that he thought that he was going to be hit by the pitch, but he also said that he realized that he had bunted the pitch and that “I felt like the pitcher was already standing right there. Probably should’ve run to first …” Yeah, ya think? This was a terrible look by a player for a supposedly-contending team that with this loss fell to 49-50 on the season. Dave Martinez said after the game that Trea probably would be benched for Game 2 at the Brewers. He did not start that game, but he was used as a pinch runner in it. And what happened? Trea got picked off and caught stealing to end the top of the 10th. Turner went 0-for-4 with a strikeout in the 7-3 win at the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon.
6. So how about Ryan Zimmerman in the 6-1 loss at the Brewers on Monday night? He was the Nats’ starting first baseman off not having started either of the games in the two-game split with Atlanta last weekend despite him having been reinstated from the 60-day disabled list on Friday off him having not played in a major-league game since May 9 due to a right-oblique strain, though we had persistent rumors and reports that he also was dealing with a calf injury. But Zim on Monday night went 0-for-3 with a hit-by-pitch as the Nats’. no.4 batter, including grounding into a killer double play with runners on first and second and no outs in the top of the eighth. And also from Zim on Monday night was a horrendous defensive moment, as he let a chopper bounce by him down the right-field line for a killer two-out full-count three-run triple by Christian Yelich in the bottom of the sixth. Zimmerman did bounce back in the 5-4 10-inning loss at the Brewers on Tuesday night, providing a two-out full-count RBI double in the top of the first off having been down in the count 0-2, another double and a single. He did not play in the 7-3 win at the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon.
7. Daniel Murphy still isn’t where he has been the last two seasons, but he continues to have his moments. Murphy was the starting second basemen in all three games in the series loss at Milwaukee. He in the 6-1 loss at the Brewers on Monday night had a leadoff homer to right field in the top of the second off Jhoulys Chacin. And Murphy in the 7-3 win at the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon had a two-out two-run single in the Nats’ three-run first. He still, though, has just a .645 OPS over 117 plate appearances this season.
8. We saw the good and the bad from 19-year-old Juan Soto in the series loss at Milwaukee. He was the starting left fielder in all three games but had just two hits, though one was a leadoff homer to center field off Freddy Peralta in the top of the sixth on a 1-2 pitch in the 7-3 win at the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon, during which he also had a walk. But Soto in that game also had a misplayed a two-out Tyler Saladino single in the bottom of the second for an error. And he went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts in the 5-4 10-inning loss at the Brewers on Tuesday night.
9. Adam Eaton continues to be an on-base machine for the Nats. He was the starting right fielder batting in the no. 1 spot in all three games at Milwaukee. Eaton in the 5-4 10-inning loss on Tuesday night had a two-out three-run homer off Junior Guerra to center field in the top of the second, a single and a walk. Eaton 7-3 win at the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon had two walks. He now has a .401 on-base percentage this season.
10. Michael A. Taylor started for just the fourth time in 14 games in the 5-4 10-inning loss at Milwaukee on Tuesday night, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts but also providing an outfield assist in gunning down Brad Miller in his attempt to stretch a single into a double for the final out in the bottom of the eighth. Also regarding Taylor in this game was him moving from center field to first base (replacing Mark Reynolds) in the bottom of the 10th, as Dave Martinez went with five infielders in loading the bases with an intentional walk of Jesus Aguilar with the game tied at four and no outs. Taylor was actually drafted as a shortstop by the Nats.
11. Tanner Roark tossed a much-needed gem for him and his team in the 7-3 win at Milwaukee on Wednesday afternoon. Coming off having struggled in eight of his previous 10 appearances, Tanner had his best game of the season: eight scoreless innings on 11 strikeouts versus just three singles and a walk on 106 pitches. He struck out the side in the bottom of the third. He struck out Tyler Saladino on four pitches to end the bottom of the fourth with runners on first and third. Tanner was dominant. He was pitch-efficient. He was outstanding. All props to him. This is the kind of Tanner the Nats had in 2014 and 2016 and the kind of Tanner the Nats desperately need down the stretch.
12. I said and wrote in January that the Nats should trade Gio Gonzalez. And while starting pitching isn’t exactly a strength for the team right now, dealing him so would have been the right move. Gio in the 6-1 loss at Milwaukee on Monday night struggled in some form for a seventh time in eight starts, giving up five runs in 5 2/3 innings on a double, five singles and an astounding five walks versus five strikeouts. Gio’s walks have gotten out of control. He now has issued 25 walks in 36 innings over his last eight starts and now has a 4.44 BB/9 this season. Gio on Monday night walked the first two batters he faced – Travis Shaw (who had been down in the count 0-2) and Tyler Saladino (who had been down in the count 1-2) – in the Brewers’ two-run fourth and issued a two-out five-pitch walk of Erik Kratz in the Brewers’ three-run sixth. Now, in fairness to Gio, two of the runs charged him came on a two-out full-count three-run triple by Christian Yelich off Sammy Solis thanks to Ryan Zimmerman letting a bouncer get by him down the right-field line in that three-run sixth. But the bottom line is that Gio just has not been good over the last month and-a-half. His ERA for the season has gone from 2.27 to 3.94 over these last eight starts.
13. Jeremy Hellickson in the 5-4 10-inning loss at Milwaukee on Tuesday night struggled for a third time in five starts since returning from a right-hamstring strain, allowing three runs in five innings on a homer, two doubles, four singles, a walk and a hit-by-pitch. Hellickson actually began by tossing four scoreless innings, though only the last of those innings was a 1-2-3 inning. He then gave up three runs in the bottom of the fifth, which he began by allowing a leadoff double to the opposing starting pitcher, Junior Guerra (his second double of the night), on a 1-2 pitch followed by a passed ball by Spencer Kieboom and then an RBI groundout by Eric Thames on an 0-2 pitch. Hellickson then gave up a one-out first-pitch single to Lorenzo Cain immediately followed by a one-out first-pitch two-run homer by Christian Yelich to right-center field. Interestingly, when did Hellickson’s problems begin in this game? The third time he faced the Brewers’ lineup, as the single by Cain (the Brewers’ no. 2 batter) and homer by Yelich (the Brewers’ no. 3 batter) both came in each player’s third plate appearance against Hellickson in the game. Remember this the next time you hear someone question why the Nats have pulled Hellickson so often this season right around the time he begins facing a lineup for a third time. The analytics bashers will conveniently ignore something like what happened with Hellickson on Tuesday night.
14. The Nats’ bullpen did not have a good series in the series loss at Milwaukee, allowing six runs in eight innings. The Nats are sorely missing Sean Doolittle right now.
Sammy Solis gave up a three-run homer to Hernan Perez in the bottom of the ninth in the 7-3 win at the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon. The homer came off a first-pitch leadoff pinch double by Erik Kratz and then a single by Christian Yelich, who torched the Nats in this series.
Monday night’s 6-1 loss at the Brewers included a three-run sixth highlighted (or lowlighted) by Solis giving up a two-out full-count three-run triple to the first batter he faced, Yelich, though this was largely thanks to Ryan Zimmerman letting a bouncer get by him down the right-field line. That triple came off Justin Miller having issued a full-count walk to the only batter he faced, Brett Phillips. Shawn Kelley and Brandon Kintzler did each toss a scoreless inning.
The Nats blew a 4-0 fifth-inning lead in Tuesday night’s 5-4 10-inning loss at the Brewers, and the bullpen had something to do with this. Brandon Kintzler gave up a run in the bottom of the seventh on a first-pitch leadoff pinch double by Ryan Braun and a one-out RBI single by Lorenzo Cain. Matt Grace allowed a run on back-to-back singles to begin the bottom of the 10th by Cain and Yelich followed by an intentional walk of Jesus Aguilar to load the bases and then a one-out walk-off RBI sac fly by Tyler Saladino.