Jul 27, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche (25) celebrates with left fielder Bryce Harper (34) and third baseman Anthony Rendon (6) defeated the Cincinnati Reds 4-2 at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
While you’re reading this, the Nationals just tried to run themselves out of another inning. It’s true. Check the box score. That fielder’s choice or double-play or caught stealing was probably a baserunning blunder.
This week brought the beginning of an extended road trip that started in the Rocky Mountains and will manage to take stops in each NL division. The Nats have acquitted themselves nicely so far, going 4-2 with series wins against both the Rockies and Reds. The Nats were lucky in that they met the Reds as they were mired in a six-game losing streak (ultimately seven before besting the Nats 1-0 on Saturday), but those weren’t three subpar starters the Reds started against the Nats.
Alfredo Simon made the All-Star team as a replacement for Julio Teheran (though his numbers look a little better than his true talent level), Johnny Cueto is a Cy Young candidate, and Mat Latos is a mid-90s throwing, tattooed behemoth that looks as intimidating on the mound as Andrew Cashner and might be related distantly. Getting shutout by Cueto is no disgrace, and scoring three off of Latos is impressive. Scoring three off of Simon? Meh. It’s not exactly Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu, but winning the series by a combined score of 8-4 is nice.
Taking two of three in Colorado also came with a chance to earn the sweep as the team rallied in the ninth to score two before Ian Desmond struck out with the bases loaded to end the game 6-4. Maybe they don’t win that game, but the team certainly fights, and even in the game prior they were down 3-0 and 4-2 before winning 7-4. Without the need for pitchers to be perfect each outing and each batter having to be his best version because of injuries, the team just goes out and scores and wins.
Before Saturday’s shutout, the team had scored 4+ runs in eight of nine games, 5+ in six of those, and not coincidentally the team had gone 7-2. Remember when the Nats lost Game 2 in that Cubs four-game series, making it three in a row? Since then, the team has lost just the one series to Baltimore (technically they have a chance to tie with the makeup game scheduled August 4th), have gone 16-7, and have moved from being tied with Atlanta for first in the East to being up 1 ½ games.
This week begins and ends (literally) with Doug Fister. In 14 starts this season, the lanky right-hander is 10-2 (after winning twice this week) and currently leads the starters in ERA, WHIP, and tied with Tanner Roark in wins. His outing against Colorado was more guts and guile than domination, but on Sunday he went out and threw seven innings with three hits and a walk. All told, he allowed two runs in 12 2/3 innings.
Fister’s wasn’t the only impressive pitching performance. In fact, both Roark and Gio Gonzalez allowed a single run apiece in seven innings against the Reds in their respective starts. For the series, the trio of Roark, Gonzalez, and Fister threw 21 innings with two earned runs on 10 hits and four walks while striking out 19.
Jordan Zimmermann has now allowed four earned runs in back-to-back starts, something he hadn’t done all season. In fact, the eight earned runs allowed in his last two are one more than he allowed in his seven starts between June 3rd and July 6th. Of course, there is the whole biceps strain he suffered.
Stephen Strasburg has no such excuse. He has now allowed four earned runs in back-to-back starts for the second time this season. This has been an odd season for Strasburg. He’s had exactly one start where he’s allowed zero runs, two starts where he’s allowed zero earned runs, and his ERA of 3.67 is highest for the starters. At least there’s FIP, and K/9, and WAR. These numbers really favor Strasburg.
For the bullpen, though they pitched well overall, there are a few things to keep an eye on as the season progresses. Rafael Soriano hasn’t looked as sharp lately, though this week you wouldn’t really know it looking at the numbers. He picked up three saves, bringing his season total to 25, but he’s had some trouble locating his pitches, getting wild and missing up in the zone. Also, even though Aaron Barrett won a spirited standoff in Colorado against Brandon Barnes, this week was sort of rough in terms of actual pitching. He allowed three earned runs in 1 1/3 innings, but the most troubling thing is that he’s now allowed runs in five of his last eight appearances with nine runs, seven earned, given up in five innings.
As for raw numbers, the starters went 3-2 with a 2.92 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 37 innings while the relievers tossed 15 innings with 15 hits and an ERA of 1.80. Those are especially impressive considering they’ve played in two extreme hitters’ parks but get a little relief next in Miami.
Wow, Denard Span. Just. Wow. For the week, Span accumulated 0.5 fWAR, which is kind of ridiculous. He had two games with four hits, one game with four walks (yes!), and brought his OBP up to .344, .005 points away from his career average. His 34 walks on the season are now eight shy of last season’s total, and he’s almost certain to post his best walk rate since 2012. Walks, you say. So what? Well, his 18 stolen bases on the season are eight shy of his career best, and he’s scored 62 runs, nearly eclipsing his totals from each of the last two seasons. See the point? Take pitches, get on base, score runs, and Nats win.
Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond, and Jayson Werth also hit the ball well. Desmond’s weekly total of .360/.407/.520 was largely driven by a 5-for-5 night in Colorado, but that was a 5-for-5 night with a home run, three runs scored, and two RBIs. Desmond has recorded five hits twice in his career.
Ramos hit .389/.389/.389 with three multi-hit games. Ramos has now brought his average up to .305/.344/.407 for the season, and sooner or later he’s going to find his power stroke, but when you nearly hit .400 for the week, who cares? Werth put in another solid week (closing out an amazing month of July) as he batted .250/.423/.350. Werth didn’t hit any more home runs, but he did walk four times, hit a pair of doubles, drove in two.
As a team, the Nats hit .269/.350/.344 with two home runs and five stolen bases. The team recorded successive games of 13, 11, 12, and 12 hits before running into Cueto and Latos, and even with Ryan Zimmerman out another week or so, there’s not too much worry they can sustain this level of performance.
Honestly, the most pressing concern is just what are Harper and Rendon doing on the bases? On Saturday, Harper was thrown out twice making bonehead running mistakes (and no matter how much F.P. Santangelo wants to call it, Harper might have been looking to steal a run but he was jogging his way back to first) and on Sunday Rendon was thrown out at third with a ball hit to the shortstop. Being aggressive on the bases is one thing. These guys were just being sloppy. Things like this don’t become major issues when you’re winning, but the Nats lost Saturday by a run. Maybe the Nats score in those two innings and maybe they still don’t, but not having the opportunity to score is just silly.
Before coming home for four against Philadelphia starting Thursday, the Nats move onto Miami to face a suddenly red hot Marlins team. The Marlins have won seven of eight, taking three of four from Atlanta this past week. So, thanks Miami for the help, but I hope they don’t take those games right back.