The Washington Nationals are one of the best teams in baseball. But they certainly have their weaknesses, and they were on full display in Sunday’s loss to the Padres.
Before discussing what exactly went wrong in yesterday’s loss to the Padres, it’s important to note that the Washington Nationals are a very good baseball team. They have one of the best records in the game, and they are undoubtedly World Series contenders.
That being said, they certainly have their fair share of weaknesses. No team is perfect, and even teams that come out on top in October had faults to address during the regular season.
For the Nationals, those faults are few and far between. But given what they are, they tend to be on full display when things go wrong.
The team’s biggest weaknesses, of course, are the leadoff spot (specifically the centerfielders who usually wield it) and the back end of the bullpen. The Nationals have been mediocre (at the very best) from the leadoff spot this season, and center fielders Michael Taylor and Ben Revere simply have not been able to get the job done.
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In the bullpen, closer Jonathan Papelbon has been mostly reliable this season. But the veteran right-hander no longer has the shut down, swing-and-miss stuff that most dominant closers in today’s game boast. This, of course, is why the Nationals are going hard after relievers such as Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller on the trade market.
Since these two weaknesses typically represent the first batter of the game and the last pitcher of the game, they can go unnoticed when the rest of the team is playing well. But when things turn sour, odds are the blame at least partially belongs to those two positions.
When the leadoff hitters aren’t, you know, hitting, it can put an entire lineup to sleep and put the opposing pitcher in a groove. When the closer isn’t, you know, closing, it leads to disheartening losses that can make an otherwise dominant team appear to be in disarray.
Both weaknesses were on full display in yesterday’s loss. Taylor, who was not in the leadoff spot in yesterday’s game, went 0-for-4 out of the seventh spot and brought his batting average down to a dismal .222. His worst at-bat came in a crucial moment in the eighth inning, when he struck out on a pitch at his eyes for the third out of the frame, stranding two runners in scoring position.
Shawn Kelley blew the save in the eighth, before Papelbon allowed four runs to score in the ninth, securing the loss for the Nationals.
The Nationals don’t have many flaws, but they have at least two that they need to address. They can’t continue with Taylor and Revere in centerfield and in the leadoff spot, and they need help in the back of the ‘pen.
After the game, they took a big step towards addressing the first issue, sending Taylor back to Syracuse. What will that mean for the team? Well, for starters, it could give Trea Turner more playing time. Turner, by the way, went 2-for-5 out of the leadoff spot yesterday. It remains to be seen where he’ll play, and if the Nationals are really serious about putting him in centerfield.
As for the bullpen, we should know what the Nationals plan to do (or not do) over the next couple of weeks. But before the August 1 trade deadline, there’s no doubt the team will continue to push hard to improve their roster.
In baseball, even the best teams have weaknesses. But those who address them sooner rather than later, they’re the ones who usually come out on top in the end.