May 25, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Washington Nationals center fielder Denard Span (2) scores on a wild pitch by Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (47) as home plate umpire Tim Timmons (left) looks to make a call during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Nationals Week 8 Full of Close Calls, Losses

At the end of the day, all that matters are wins and losses. No team that considers itself a contender looks back on the close games and celebrates the moral victories. “We fought through injuries, hooray! We were so close, fellas. A few more breaks go our way, and we’re right in the thick of it.” So, after a week where the Nationals went 2-5, lost four in a row, fell briefly below .500 for the first time in the regular season since August 22, 2013, and somehow managed to outscore their opponents by three runs (the Nats lost four games by one run and another by two), let’s just call it disappointing and end it at that.

Anyone want to discuss the Josh Beckett no-hitter?

No? Well, let’s look at all the good from this week. Adam LaRoche returned on Sunday and went 1-for-3 with a walk in his return. So, more of the same. Collectively, the cast of players that filled in for LaRoche hit .264 during his absence, scoring three runs while driving in nine, so honestly, could the Nats have asked for more? This week also saw Denard Span light the world on fire, finally. I’ve been tough on Span this year, and earlier in the week I tried to make amends. For the week, Span had one game where he went 5-for-5; had six games where he reached base two or more times; had five games where he had two or more hits; and raised his line from .236/.288/.331 to .264/.311/.379. He also went from dead last in the Majors in OBP for leadoff hitters to 33rd out of 39.

Legitimate improvement.

Ian Desmond, a player I’ve twice written about slumping, and Nate McLouth were also particularly impressive. Desmond recorded at least one hit in six of the seven games, hit two home runs, and drove in four. He increased his line from .235/.285/.404 to .241/.297/.421. Maybe the jump isn’t as impressive as Span’s, but that’s the nearest Desmond has been to a .300 OBP since he was at .298 on April 12th. Yeah, that long ago. And McLouth? For the week, McLouth hit .308 with his first multi-hit game of the year. Oh, and both Span and Desmond drove in four runs and stole two bases apiece and McLouth swiped one.

So, if I told you this would be the week that Span, Desmond, and McLouth all started hitting you’d think this would be a banner week, right? Unfortunately, Anthony Rendon continued his May freefall. For the month, he’s hitting .169/.250/.247 with only three extra base hits and five RBIs. There were signs of progress, however. Rendon walked five times during the week, almost a full 1/3 of his season total, and he did hit his team leading 4th triple on Sunday while upping his team lead in runs scored to 30.

It’s not all on Rendon of course. For the majority of the season, this Nats offense was powered by three players: Rendon, Jayson Werth, and LaRoche. LaRoche was out of the lineup until Sunday while Rendon and Werth hit .130 and .172 respectively. Look at the starting lineup for the last game in the Cincinnati series by OBP: .313, .298, .365, .217, .278, .299, .266, .264, and .214. That last is Tanner Roark. He gets on base just slightly less than Wilson Ramos who is at .217. So, there you have it.

Doug Fister also continued to impress this week, winning twice to up his record to 2-1 while throwing 12 1/3 innings with an ERA of 2.18. The bullpen also steamrolled competition, again, except for the struggling Ross Detwiler. For the week, the bullpen allowed six earned runs in twenty one innings with an ERA of 2.57. Take away Detwiler’s five runs in 3 1/3 innings and that ERA drops to 0.51. Like last week, the Nats bullpen is keeping this pitching staff together while the starters figure things out.

The starting pitching this week began to perform up to early season expectations. There weren’t any particularly dominating performances, but as a whole the starters threw 44 innings with an ERA of 3.27. Strasburg pitched twice, keeping the Nats in both games, but in those two starts the Nats scored a total of five runs. Strasburg has now pitched seven or more innings in five of his last six starts, four in a row, and in the last three starts he’s given up eight runs with an ERA of 3.42. Good, but not particularly great. Still. The Nats lost all three of those games because they scored only six runs. Roark also pitched well, allowing two earned runs in six innings of work, but he lost 2-1.

Essentially, that was the Nationals week. If the starters allowed 2 runs, the team seemed to only score one. Look at this line: 4, 4, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2. That’s how many runs they allowed in each game this past week, and they went 2-5. Go figure. When your team bats .225 for the week and was lucky to not get shutout in the first three Pittsburgh games, maybe 2-5 is a moral victory. Nonsense. Move along.

So, in the upcoming week, the Nats host Miami and Texas. The Marlins currently sit in second, ½ game ahead of the Nats, while the Rangers are one of the few teams in baseball who have it worse than the Nats injury-wise.

Tags: Washington Nationals

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