I did not do a game recap for Game #26 because, well, see for yourself... Not much went right.
Thankfully, the Nationals responded well on Sunday thanks in large part to their ace, Josiah Gray. While not touted as a frontline starter as he rose through the minor league ranks, Gray has been a frontline starter for the Nationals this season. He has gone at least 5 innings in every start this season and when his team needed him the most, like for a big series against the division rival Mets or a badly needed win after a horrible showing against the Pirates on Saturday, Josiah Gray has been the answer. The team flat out plays better when he's on the mound. They may not always win, or even score runs, but the team always has a chance to win when Josiah Gray takes the hill and that is what aces do in a rotation.
What else do aces do? Find ways to battle and be competitive even when they don't have their best stuff. That is what Josiah Gray did on Sunday. In the third inning Gray had little to no command of any of his pitches. He was walking Pirate after Pirate and the pitches he did throw in the zone got hit hard. With the bases loaded, it looked like Gray was not going to continue his streak of going at least 5 innings, let alone even go 4 that day. Instead? He bunkered down and managed to somehow go 6 innings. He also did not walk a batter after that third inning. If you did not watch the game, you would just see his statline and assume he cruised through another strong outing. It was a strong outing for sure, but he did not cruise. He did however managed to navigate the choppy waters and go 6 innings allowing 1 run on 3 hits with 3 walks and 6 strikeouts. It was arguably the most defining start for Gray as he looks like a completely different pitcher than last season. Even more, since his rough first start against Atlanta, Gray hasn't just been the best pitcher on the Nationals; he has been one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Nationals Game Review
What went wrong?
If you want to say the top of the 3rd inning, I suppose you could. Although Gray got out of it only allowing one run. If you wanted to say Kyle Finnegan, that would also be valid as he entered with a 6 run lead just to save the rest of the arms in the bullpen and he was unable to escape cleanly, allowing a run on 2 hits. But the most pressing matter, and one that has been the Nationals achilles heel all season long is hitting with runners in scoring position. The Nationals were 4 for 14 with RISP, which is actually one of their better outputs (.285 average). But the thing is, you want your team to hit better with RISP than normal. The Nationals have a .252 team average and a .255 team average with RISP, which does not seem horrible. But if you look at a team like the Chicago Cubs, who started their rebuild at the same time as the Nationals, they have a .276 team average (2nd in MLB) and an even higher .294 team average with RISP. Their crosstown rivals the White Sox, who are really struggling this season: .235 team average but .260 with RISP. The Tigers have the worst team average in the league at .189 but still manage to hit .222 with RISP.
Naturally with the Nationals already at a respectable .252 team average, you don't necessarily expect them to hit .300 with RISP as a team, but to only hit 3 points better with RISP as opposed to without shows the Nationals do most of their work without runners on base. They frequently have the opportunities, but fail to capitalize.
What went right?
- Josiah Gray: DAWG. Can't say enough about this guy. Major improvements from last season. Most notably, only ONE(!!!) homerun allowed over his last five starts.
- Entire lineup had a hit, leading to 15 hits on the day
- Ruiz, Meneses, Candelario (3-4-5) each had multiple hits and Meneses had 4 hits.
- Abrams & Robles (8-9) each had a double. Robles had two hits.
- Andres Machado was selected from AAA after the Nationals DFA'd lefty Anthony Banda on Sunday. Machado went 2 scoreless innings in his season debut, providing relief for a very taxed bullpen.
I could write a full paper on how good this game was for the Nationals, but we'll see how they perform in the upcoming series with the Cubs before we go celebrating.
Washington Nationals Record: 10-17
When is the next Nationals game?
As mentioned, the Nationals welcome the Chicago Cubs to town starting tonight. MacKenzie Gore, who has been solid himself this season, takes the mound for the Nationals against Cubs LHP Drew Smyly, who had a perfect game bid in the 8th inning two weeks ago. It will be a matchup of southpaws tonight as two teams with two very different paths to rebuilds face off against each other. First pitch is at 7:05p.