Jun 23, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche (25) hits a 3-run home run in the third inning as Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy (20) watches at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Sweeping the first scheduled doubleheader at Wrigley field since 1983 certainly made the mood a lot lighter, didn’t it? After taking two of three from the Central leading Brewers, losing the first two against the Cubs was a major disappointment (especially considering how badly the team played in the Milwaukee finale), but winning both games Saturday brought smiles to our faces and made all right in the world once more.
Of course, the mood might be a little lighter with the return of Bryce Harper on Monday. All Harper did in his final rehab game was hit three home runs, which shows that Harper destroys Double-A pitching. Harper’s return marks the first time the expected roster for the team will be available since Opening Day. Wilson Ramos left that game in the seventh inning, and it’s been clouds and wishful thinking ever since. Halfway through the season the team is 43-38 and 1/2 game back in the NL East.
Harper’s return raises a few roster decisions by manager Matt Williams (Brandon Connor and I have a few suggestions, here and here, to help Williams along if he needs it), but with the pitching staff the best in baseball in terms of both fWAR and bWAR, if the bats can do anything this team could run away with the East. Anyway, that’s a different discussion. Let’s move on to the week that was.
In some ways, didn’t this week seem like the beginning of the year? Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon murdered baseballs; Ian Desmond sometimes hit, mostly struck out; Denard Span sort of got on base, mostly didn’t; and Jayson Werth provided late game heroics with home runs and . . . oh, no, that last part didn’t happen. My obvious reverse jinx from last week failed miserably, and the Curiously Strange Case of Werth’s Missing Power continues another week. I could give you the stats from this past week, but why bother? Try these: .219/.299/.302 with one home run and 13 RBIs. That’s the month of June for Werth. Not convinced? Why should you be? What about this: .263/.336/.333 with two home runs and 19 RBIs. That’s Werth since the beginning of May. 50 games. That’s nearly a third of the season where our 20 million dollar right fielder has one fewer homer than Danny Espinosa. Is it officially time to panic? You can wait if you want, but I’m beginning to worry.
As a team, the Nats hit .210 this week (including pitchers), so you won’t see too many top performers here, but it should be noted that LaRoche hit .333/.406/.667 with three home runs and seven RBIs, Rendon hit .345/.375/.552 with four RBIs, and Wilson Ramos hit a nice even .400/.500/.700 with a solo homer. Rendon in June has hit .313/.374/.573 with six home runs. For the month, Rendon led the team in home runs, RBIs, average (if you consider Ramos had 1/3 of the at-bats), hits, runs (tied with Span), slugging, wOBA, wRC+, etc. Maybe you don’t care about all the advanced metrics, but by any number Rendon carried the team offensively last week and through the month of June.
Desmond and Espinosa had a nice little battle going this past week to see who could strike out the most. Espinosa narrowly beat Desmond by one, managing to strike out in 11 of his 18 official at-bats. In June, Desmond has a slim lead, 39 to 36, but Desmond does have 19 more at-bats, so there’s that at least. No one ever accused Desmond of being a high contact guy, but this year he’s taking his strike out prowess to new heights. He already has 99 on the season (that’s 31.8% of his at-bats), and he’s on pace to strike out 176 times, which would be far and away his worst ever. Keep up the good work, fellas.
I don’t think there’s any doubt as to who was the Nationals best pitcher this week: Stephen Strasburg. Just kidding. Gio Gonzalez pitched so well that it’s possible the Nats might have their second NL Player of the Week award (Jordan Zimmermann won earlier in the year), though Clayton Kershaw might have a thing or two to say about that. For the week, Gonzalez allowed zero earned runs on five hits and six walks in 13 innings of work, striking out 12. The Brewers and Cubs hit a combined .122/.234/.146 against him. If Gonzalez can return to that 2012 form, watch out. The Nats currently lead the NL in starters’ FIP, and they are second in fWAR. The worst starter in terms of FIP on the Nats’ staff is Doug Fister at 4.00, he of the 1.05 WHIP that leads the starters.
Since the beginning of June, the only starters with an ERA over 3.00 are Strasburg and Blake Treinen. Strasburg’s struggles recently have been well scrutinized, so I won’t go into any great detail other than to say that over his last three starts he’s allowed 14 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings of work. Also, those three starts were against the Cardinals, Braves, and Brewers, three teams considered among the NL elite.
Speaking of awards, doesn’t Jordan Zimmermann have an excellent chance to win NL Pitcher of the Month for June? Teams hit .170 off of him this month (23 hits allowed in 38 innings) with a WHIP of 0.74. I’m 100% convinced that Kershaw wins the award (deservedly so, too), but Zimmermann is in that conversation.
The bullpen this week was pretty spectacular this week as well. You know who is included in that group? Ross Detwiler. Detwiler threw seven innings of two hit ball, which included four fantastic innings in that marathon 16-inning game against the Brewers and another three on Saturday to earn his first career save. I’ll be honest. I missed this Detwiler. Maybe he’s settling into his role in the bullpen. Also, congrats to Rafael Soriano for pitching great again this week. Maybe saves aren’t your thing, but Soriano is now up to 19, and over the last month he’s been nearly unhittable. In 12 innings of work, he’s allowed 5 hits while striking out 13. In that span, teams have hit .125/.167/.275 against him.
Over the past seven games, the Nats collectively have a team ERA of 3.35 with the starters at 3.98 and the relievers at 2.39.
Week 14 brings Troy Tulowitzki and the Colorado Rockies to Nationals Park for three, and then the Cubs visit over the weekend.