This week has to be considered a success. First, the Nationals swept Houston, winning each game 6-5 and sweeping the season series 4-0. In the second of those wins, the Nats came back from deficits of 4-2 and 5-3. Then, after dropping the first two games to Atlanta, a team that haven’t been able to figure out all season (1-7 after Friday’s game), the Nats took the last two to split the series and retain a 1 ½ game lead in the East. Even Friday’s loss showed a little moxie as Anthony Rendon tied it in the ninth off of Craig Kimbrel with a two-out two-run home run before falling in extras.
While it’s important to win these games against a divisional rival, taking games from the Braves is especially important since Atlanta lost starting pitcher Gavin Floyd to a broken elbow. The Braves were already down starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, so you have to wonder just when the team will run out of starting pitching. The Nats did well to not give up ground at their own expense.
For the second straight week Jordan Zimmermann pitched great but ended up on the losing end. In those two starts, Zimmermann has allowed three earned runs in 15 innings, but the Nats have scored zero. In fact, the Nats have recorded only five hits total in those two games. Tough to win like that. That doesn’t even begin to explain just how good Zimmermann has been lately, though. Since the beginning of June, he’s allowed three runs on 17 hits in 32 innings, which equates to a 0.84 ERA. Batters are hitting .153/.175/.207 during that time. There was a time when some idiot said Zimmermann was pitching like he was ordinary. Remember that time? Me neither.
Doug Fister pitched another great game, completely shutting down the Braves in a game the Nats had to win. After dropping the first two in the four game series, Fister came in and threw eight innings of shutout ball, allowing five hits and striking out three. Then on Sunday Tanner Roark allowed one earned run in 5 1/3. On the week, Roark struggled with command in his two starts. He only allowed two earned runs in 10 1/3, but he uncharacteristically walked five. He made pitches when he had to, though, and going 2-0 against Dallas Keuchel and Ervin Santana is a great week.
Gio Gonzalez returned, making his first start since May 17, and allowed four earned runs in five innings against Houston. Gonzalez looked like someone who hasn’t pitched in a month. As the arm strength improves so too should his location and the results. Strasburg had a disappointing start against the Braves, allowing four earned in six innings. The team bailed him out of a loss when they tied it against Kimbrel, but like most fans, I was hoping to see Strasburg tear through the Braves and put a little distance between the two teams. For the week, the starters went 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA.
Craig Stammen and Rafael Soriano pitched great this week. Stammen got some big outs, Soriano earned four saves (two that were actually close games where his contribution truly mattered), and combined the two tossed 10 2/3 innings, allowing three hits while striking out 11. Tyler Clippard surrendered four earned runs this week in one outing, which are the first earned runs he’s allowed since April 11. That was a run of 25 games and 22 2/3 innings where he hadn’t allowed an earned run (he did allow four unearned runs April 21st against the Angels), and in that span batters hit .177 against him with 25 strike outs. Completely opposite Clippard’s run, Ross Detwiler allowed a run this week, making it eight of his last 11 appearances where he’s given up a run. At least he’s a lefty.
For the week, the relievers went 21 2/3 innings with an ERA of 3.32. And, just to break this into a dichotomy and build some artificial competition, lefties had an ERA of 8.31 while the righties represented to a tune of 2.08.
So, after I spend time lamenting the demise of Denard Span last week, Span absolutely destroyed the baseball this week. Huh? I’m so confused. I suppose everyone watches one player and is completely befuddled by them, and for me, it’s Span. For the week, Span had four games with multiple hits and batted .400/.444/.640. Part of me feels fully justified in my reasoning for overreacting last week, but the other part feels silly, and I think Span did this on purpose just to toy with me. Crafty veterans.
So, apparently Danny Espinosa decided to morph into the second coming of Brett Butler. This week he had three bunt singles and batted .333/.391/.429 on the week. Espinosa is great with the glove, and anything additional with the bat is gravy. I don’t know if the bunting thing will last. Will teams adjust? What do you call someone who either strikes out, grounds out, or bunts his way on? Are those the three true Espinosa outcomes? I don’t know. They were pretty bunts though.
Rendon hit two home runs this week, and he now has five since the beginning of June. Rendon hit as many home runs this week as Jayson Werth has hit since May 2nd, which just so happens to be the date when Werth turned into a 20-million a year singles hitter. In 44 games since 05/02, Werth has eight doubles and two home runs. He also seems to be guessing and missing badly on breaking balls lately. I’ve seen some really ugly swings of late. Werth struck out 12 times this week, in about 43% of his at-bats, so it’s not like I’m making this stuff up. Of course, with my track record, Werth will hit four home runs next week and look like the NL’s version of Edwin Encarnacion. You can thank me later.
And, since I’m all doom and gloom for the reverse jinx benefits, when do you think Ryan Zimmerman will become Ryan Zimmerman again? Since his return from the disabled list, Zimmerman has batted .191/.253/.273 with six extra base hits. We’re only talking three weeks, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. Also, Ian Desmond’s boom or bust cycle continued as he struck out 12 times, or in ½ his at-bats.
Anyway, for the week the team hit .250/.321/.378 while over their last two weeks the Nats have hit .228/.303/.329.
The Nats spend the next week on the road, first traveling to Milwaukee to take on the Central leading Brewers before then moving on to Wrigley where they play four against the last place Cubs. The Nats are 16-18 on the road this season, which is okay, but they are 4-10 against Central teams. I have my concerns.