To no one’s surprise, August hasn’t been kind to the Nationals, with the team going 4-12 to start the month, thanks to five and seven-game losing streaks. Recently, the Nationals were able to shock a surging Blue Jays team by sweeping a two-game series and now head to Milwaukee for a three-game series against the NL Central leader.
Washington catches a massive break, with Milwaukee’s trio of Cy Young candidates all not scheduled to pitch. Instead, the Brew Crew will march out Chase Anderson, Eric Lauer, and Adrian Houser. For a rebuilding team, not having to face three of the top five guys in the league in ERA helps a young cores confidence.
Despite entering this season as immense underdogs, the Nationals have a plethora of storylines to keep an eye on.
The Catching Situation
Keibert Ruiz, the 19th prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline was the prize prospect Washington acquired in their July firesale. After stumbling in his first few games with the Nationals Triple-A affiliate, he has recently started to turn in on, going 4-4 Thursday with three doubles. While he has been putting on a show in the minors, it has been Riley Adams and Tres Barrera making a name for themselves.
Against the Blue Jays, Adams did his best Daniel Murphy impression going 5-6, with three RBIs. Game one of the series was made the Youtube game of the week, with Adams being named Player of the Game. In 12 games with the Nats, Adams is hitting .346, with two homers, six RBIs, and an OPS of 1.087.
Tres Barrera, who was called up before the trade deadline due to injuries to Alex Avila and Yan Gomes produced immediately. On the season, he’s hitting .244, with a homer, seven RBIs, and an OPS of .691.
Adams and Barrera have been taking turns producing for the Nats and both have shown they deserve playing time.
Carter Kieboom’s Progression
During the Nationals rebuild, all eyes have been on Carter Kieboom, and understandably so. The former top prospect has finally started to show glimpses of why he was viewed as a pivotal part of the future.
In 74 ABs this season he is hitting .270, with three homers, 11 RBIs, and an OPS of .775. In his last game against the Blue Jays, Kieboom took the Nat’s former closer Brad Hand deep.
The 23-year old still needs to work on his defense, committing some questionable errors at the hot corner. He has -6 DRS at third this season, compared to five last year. Still new to the role, Kieboom needs more reps in order to become more comfortable.
Hitting in the middle of the lineup, Kieboom has had plenty of opportunities to drive in runs and will be leaned on to continue that role. If Washington wants to return to contention sooner than later, that need Kieboom to take the next jump that everyone expected.
The Starting Rotation
After almost a decade of dominance, the Nationals rotation has become a shell of its former self. Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross both have their seasons cut short due to injuries. Patrick Corbin has been one of the worst starters in the league, posting a 6.04 ERA and 5.51 FIP. Erick Fedde has yet to take advantage of his opportunity. Paolo Espino has been admirable, but there is a reason he has been a career minor leaguer.
With Max Scherzer no longer on the roster, the rotation has become one of the worst in the league. Josiah Gray has been solid in his place, but is still raw and needs experience.
The Nationals rotation ranks 19th in ERA (4.52), 25th in FIP (4.82), and 24th in fWAR (5.2). Against an inconsistent Brewers offense, the rotation will need to step up if the Nats want to steal a win or two. Due to Corbin’s contract, it is unlikely he will be bumped from the rotation, despite his immense struggles. Fedde and Espino especially need to impress because both need to prove why they deserve a spot in the rotation come next year.
If the rotation continues to stumble, expect a major shakeup come this off-season.