Jun 21, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher Rafael Soriano (29) is congratulated by catcher Jose Lobaton (59) after earning a save against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park. The Nationals won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

What We Learned From Nationals vs. Braves


This four game series with the Braves loomed large on the Nationals’ calendars since April. It meant a chance for redemption; a chance to put a little distance between themselves and Atlanta in a tight three-team race for the NL East crown; and, more than anything, it meant a chance to gauge where, exactly, the Nationals stood as a team.

Coming into this series, the Nats had lost 5 of 6 against Atlanta. No one on the team may have said it openly, but the Braves had to be in the Nationals’ heads. If Washington really wanted to make a run to the playoffs and claim dominance over the division, they would have to turn that story around. Even taking 3 of 4 from San Francisco on the road would mean little if the Nats came back home to be swept by their division rival.

Now, the series has come and gone. After dropping the first two games in disappointing fashion, the Nats managed to take the back half of the series and earn a split. Each game may have had its own individual nuances, but viewed as a whole, there’s a couple of things to take away from this series. Here’s a look at what we learned.

Nationals’ Rotation Solid, Improving: This series was a mixed bag of results for the Nationals’ starting pitching. Tanner Roark managed to salvage a win in spite of having to labor through 5.1 innings Sunday; Strasburg (6 IP) was given a no decision after some late inning heroics (even though the game was still lost); and Jordan Zimmermann (7 IP) picked up a loss mainly due to the offense being nonexistent. The only dominating performance was Fister, who pitched 8 innings of shutout baseball on Saturday.

The important takeaway here is less in terms of the staff ERA, and more in terms of its ability to go deep into games. For the season, four of the five starters are averaging at least 6 innings per start: Zimmermann (6.08); Strasburg (6.25); Roark (6.31); and Fister (6.41). Gio, at 5.56 innings/start, is the lone exception, but injuries certainly factor into that, as well as a limited sample size.

This means the starters are eating innings, and keeping the bullpen, which leads the majors in ERA at 2.54, out of games. It’s a small facet of the game, but it’s something that will matter come September. If the starters continue to pitch like this, the bullpen will be fresh down the stretch.

Offense Still Wildly Inconsistent: Look no further than this series for proof of how all-over-the-map the Nats’ offense has been this season. In the first game, they couldn’t muster a single run, and in the second, if it hadn’t been for a two-run HR in the bottom of the 9th by Anthony Rendon, they would have scored only two in that game. The second half of the series was a different story. The Nats scored early, and then used momentum and pitching to keep the Braves at a safe distance.

This entire season for the Nats’ bats has been an exercise in mediocrity. They rank in the middle of the National League in most important offensive categories: 8th in runs and OPS; 9th in average; 11th in home runs and steals. In short, the Nats are lousy at getting on base, lousy at driving in runs, and lousy at manufacturing offense.

It’s hard to point to a single culprit; after all, this is a team where Adam LaRoche leads in batting average at just over .300. But it’s hard to ignore Denard Span‘s issues: he’s a streaky hitter that doesn’t get on base enough. That’s not what you want from your lead-off man. The offense has been as hot-and-cold as Denard’s bat, which means when Harper returns, an interesting decision will have to be made about what to do in center field and in the top spot in the order.

Conclusion: There’s obviously still work to be done. The Nationals hold a very slim lead in the NL East at the moment, and there’s still a long way to go in the season. But after the way this year (and this series) started against the Braves, the Nationals have to feel like they’ve conquered at least some of their Atlanta demons. It may not have been a sweep, but in the District, a split has never felt so good.

 

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  • Shawn Casey

    I totally agree with the author but I feel he has omitted a few major issues with this team. Why do we not steal more. With the way this offense is scuffling and the great team speed, we should be leaders in steals. I would rather get outs by being aggressive then to have the same outs with guys sitting stationary. Span needs to drop in the order…period. Dobbs needs to be dropped off the roster period…I am so tired of Matt rolling this loser up to bat! Is Scott Hairston still on the team?
    As for when Harp comes back I feel the outfield needs to stay put but rotate Span with Werth depending on L/R pitching. Werth looks tired and needs some breaks…when Werth is off put Span in center and Harp in right. Leave Zimm in left and 1st only…no more 3rd. Harp being the #1 pick and a supposed stud needs to learn how to hit left-handed pitching. But there is plenty of rotational moves and they can get all involved plus the added rest for key players will bode well for the long haul. If Span pouts trade him, if Harp pouts trade him, if Detwiler keeps pouting trade him too. We have a deep and hungry minor league and these three can be replaced or traded for needs. I’m sorry but until Harper learns to hit lefty’s and loses his sour attitude he is not worth the headache. Also if the Glass Buffalo (Ramos) can’t learn to better take care of his body then he needs to go too. The pitching is strong but again I worry about the steel in Strasburg and Gio. Fister needs to be signed long-term, same with J-Zim, and Roark is a beast at his level of experience. Imagine Roark 4 years from now…I agree with FP, a poor man’s Greg Maddux.
    The trade deadline will be interesting and Rizzo is a front street poker player so who knows…but sometimes it is as simple as addition by subtraction.

  • Laddie_Blah_Blah

    “This entire season for the Nats’ bats has been an exercise in mediocrity.”

    Way too many strike outs with RISP. Desmond has struck out more than Espinosa and seems determined to turn himself into the 21st century’s Dave Kingman. The team’s FoF reminds me of Mr. Peepers.

    Oakland does not have nearly the talent of the Nats, but they have a whole team of scrappers who just dare you to try and beat them. The Nats think it is OK if they get beat, because there will be plenty of time to let you beat them again, so why bother?

    Natitude? More like Lassitude. Maybe Harper and Ramos will add a little spark to the mix. The Nats are playing like a group of zombies on their way back to the graveyard.

    They should be at least 10 games over .500 by now, with a hammerlock on the NL East.