After winning nine consecutive series to tie a franchise record, the Nationals took a step back over the weekend by getting swept by the Reds. The Nationals arrived in Cincinnati as one of the hottest teams in baseball, while the Reds had lost 10 of their previous 11 games. So, what happened?
Well, it's tough to make too much of three games in a long season, but the weekend may have highlighted some things that could be concerning in the short-term.
For one, the Nationals are dealing with a significant amount of injuries. The disabled list is now a crowded group with Stephen Strasburg joining Doug Fister, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon. Bryce Harper also missed Saturday's game with a sore back. Take all those names out of the mix and the Nats look like a much different team.
Denard Span was also removed from Sunday's game in the eighth inning with a sore right knee, as Matt Williams revealed to reporters afterwards. It sounds minor, but it's something to watch.
With all the injuries they've had this season, it's a wonder how the Nationals have been so good at scoring runs. Even after scoring nine runs in three games this weekend, the Nats remain atop the NL in run production. The Reds, meanwhile, are 26th in baseball with a 4.24 team ERA. And that's after putting on a solid pitching display against the Nats.
Given the Nationals' otherwise very impressive track record, offense shouldn't be too much of a worry. And Rendon seems like he's close to returning, which will be a huge boost.
The weekend sweep also showed some cracks in the Nats' bullpen, however. It was a series to forget for the Nats' pitching staff as a whole, but the bullpen in particular gave up 14 runs in 11 2/3 innings.
Casey Janssen, Aaron Barrett and Matt Grace got the worst of it against the Reds. Janssen gave up four earned runs on four hits and two walks in the eighth inning on Saturday. Barrett gave up two runs in 1/3 of an inning pitched on Sunday. And Grace allowed four runs on three hits and two walks without retiring a batter in the seventh inning on Sunday.
Janssen is just getting started this season, but Barrett now sports a 5.19 ERA through 25 games this year and Grace has a 5.25 ERA through 17 appearances. All three figure to play big roles on the Nats' pitching staff this year and will certainly hope to be better moving forward.
The Nationals should be fine in the long-run and are returning home at a convenient time. They begin a series with the 23-29 Toronto Blue Jays at Nats Park on Monday.
The Blue Jays are also a team with a poor pitching staff, much like the Reds, and sit 28th in baseball with a 4.59 ERA. Seeing them for three straight games could help get the offense back going.
The Blue Jays are, though, the best scoring team in baseball. They average 5.15 runs per game hold a .768 team OPS. Only three Nats players - Harper, Span and Danny Espinosa - have been better this season individually. That could provide a big test for a banged up rotation and a struggling relief staff.
Fortunately for the Nationals, the Mets failed to take advantage this weekend. New York lost two of three to the 20-31 Miami Marlins while the Nats were in Cincy. Up next for the Mets is a West Coast road trip through San Diego and Arizona.
The Nationals remain in first place and still look like the best team in the NL East by a good margin, despite the sweep. The Reds series may have pointed out a few concerns, but it's likely just a minor wakeup call for a team that was cruising for the previous five weeks.