Observations from and analysis of the Nats’ series loss to the Braves
Game 1: 8-0 loss on Tuesday night (Sept. 12)
Game 2: 8-2 loss on Wednesday night (Sept. 13)
Game 3: 5-2 win on Thursday night (Sept. 14)
1. A recent strange run for Max Scherzer got even stranger on Wednesday night, when he was charged with seven runs in six innings. The crux of this had to do with a six-run Braves seventh, during which Dusty Baker kept Scherzer in the game through three consecutive walks and a two-run single to begin the inning. Scherzer finished with 116 pitches in what was a meaningless game against the Braves on Sept. 13. This, on the surface, seems like reason to crush Dusty, who has a history of keeping starters in games for too long and who has kept Nats starters in games this season for questionable durations. But there’s more to what happened on Wednesday night than just Dusty screwing up. This was part of a larger plan fueled by Scherzer himself, as he wanted to extend himself in this game in preparation for the playoffs. Scherzer, remember, had had two recent abbreviated starts due to minor injuries. And so the plan from Scherzer, Dusty and Mike Maddux going into this game was for Scherzer to throw 110-120 pitches.
This is one of these deals where ya say, “You better be right.” Scherzer is an incredible competitor. And he knows his body better than anyone else. So if he truly felt like he needed to extend himself regardless of circumstance in this game, fine. But he better be right, because high pitch counts are what lead to pitchers injuries. And while Scherzer has been remarkably durable in his career, he also is in his age-32 season. At some point the body starts to break down.
There’s another aspect to this, and that is the Nats, again, giving into Scherzer. We saw this in the 6-5 win over Philadelphia on May 15, when he took a scorching Michael Saunders liner off the inside of the left knee in the top of the fourth, fought to stay standing but then crumbled to the ground. The scene of Scherzer eventually walking near the mound, regaining his footing and staying in the game was an adrenaline inducer. But boy did the Nats take a chance by letting him stay in that game. Then came what happened in the 3-2 win at Milwaukee on Sept. 2: struck by the on the left calf by a Travis Shaw comebacker in the bottom of the first, stayed in the game, wasn’t his usual dominant self (decreased velocity, flat breaking balls) and lasted for just five innings. Scherzer was wincing in pain. He could have gotten hurt compensating for the injury. He could barely get out of the batter’s box on his groundout in the top of the fifth. Why was he still in that game? And the comp I made was with something that also happened on that Saturday night, this in an Orioles’ loss to Toronto: Marcus Stroman was struck by a Mark Trumbo liner with an exit velocity of 107.5 miles-per-hour according to Statcast in the bottom of the second, fought to stay in the game but was disallowed. Stroman ultimately was said to have suffered a right-elbow contusion. You play it safe with your ace. Scherzer is a $210 million asset in his 30s. He, and the team, need to remember that.
The seven runs charged to Scherzer were the most for him since getting bombed at the Cubs on May 6, 2016. The six walks he issued included just one intentional walk and were the most for him since Sept. 2013.
2. Gio Gonzalez on Tuesday night struggled for the second time in three starts, allowing five runs in five innings. He gave up seven hits, including a three-run homer to Nats killer Freddie Freeman on his birthday in the top of the third off a four-pitch leadoff walk to Ender Inciarte and then a first-pitch single to Ozzie Albies (and Michael A. Taylor committed an error on that play, advancing Inciarte to third). Gio gave up two singles and a steal to Albies in the Braves’ one-run first and two doubles in the Braves’ one-run fourth. The bright spots for Gio were having eight strikeouts versus one walk and recording the necessary out to reach 180 innings for the season and vest a $12 million contract option for 2018.
3. Tanner Roark on Thursday night continued his much-better second half of the season, allowing two runs in six innings on seven strikeouts versus four hits and a walk on 108 pitches. The two runs came on an Ozzie Albies full-count two-run homer in the top of the sixth. Roark had a 5.27 ERA through June; he has a 3.33 ERA since then.
Washington Nationals starting pitcher Tanner Roark delivers a pitch during the third inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
4. The Nats continued to be underwhelming offensively since Bryce Harper’s left-knee hyperextension and bone bruise, scoring just seven runs, hitting no home runs and working just four walks over the three games. There were, however, a few bright spots:
- Trea Turner went 5-for-12 with a double and a stolen base. The steal was his 40th of the season, one shy of Alfonso Soriano’s 2006 Nats record of 41. Also, Turner on Wednesday night impressively (though not surprisingly) went from first to third on a throwing error on a pickoff attempt in the Nats’ one-run sixth.
- Jayson Werth on Wednesday night returned from a five-game absence caused by a sore left shoulder and had a double. He then had two singles, including an RBI single, on Thursday night.
- The no. 1 outfield prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, Victor Robles, was electrifying on a fourth-inning RBI triple on Thursday night. He went from home to third in just 11.12 seconds, which is the fastest home-to-third time for a Nats player since Statcast was established in 2015. Robles also had a single in that game.
5. The bullpen had a shaky series.
- Tuesday night – A.J. Cole allowed three runs in two innings. He gave up a run in the top of the sixth on a two-out double to Dansby Swanson on an 0-2 pitch and then a first-pitch RBI single by the Braves’ starting pitcher, Julio Teheran. And Cole gave up two runs in the top of the seventh on a leadoff homer by Ozzie Albies, a double by Nats killer Fredie Freeman on his birthday on an 0-1 pitch and a two-out RBI double by ex-Nat Kurt Suzuki. Austin Adams tossed a scoreless eighth. Enny Romero tossed a scoreless ninth.
- Wednesday night – The Law Firm had its first major booboo, as Brandon Kintzler relieved Max Scherzer with the bases loaded in the top of the seventh and gave up a first-pitch grand slam to Matt Kemp. Kintzler also allowed two singles. Matt Grace tossed a perfect eighth. Shawn Kelley tossed a scoreless ninth, though he did issue a walk and a hit-by-pitch in succession with one out.
- Thursday night – Matt Albers, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle each tossed a scoreless inning.