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Injury and struggles highlight Nationals' frustrating Saturday night vs. Marlins

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Injury and struggles highlight Nationals' frustrating Saturday night vs. Marlins

The Washington Nationals lost to the Miami Marlins, 9-3, Saturday night to drop below .500 with a 9-10 record. Here are five observations from the game…

1. One of the biggest storylines surrounding the early part of the Nats’ season has been Anthony Rendon’s blistering start. He entered Saturday’s affair riding a 17-game hitting streak, the longest in baseball this season.

For the first time since Opening Day, Rendon did not record a hit. In a number of the previous 17 games, Rendon has had to wait until late in the game to record his streak-extending hit. Saturday, he was not given that chance.

In the third inning, Rendon was hit by a 95-mph pitch on or near his elbow, and while he stayed on to run and eventually came around to score, he did not return to the field in the bottom of the inning.

Rendon has been, by far, the Nationals’ best player in 2019. He has hit the ball as well as anybody in baseball not named Cody Bellinger or Christian Yelich, and his hot start helped cement him as maybe the best third baseman in the sport.

With Bryce Harper in Philadelphia and Trea Turner on the Injured List (also after getting hit by a pitch), Rendon has had to carry the burden of generating offense as the team’s lone remaining star position player. 

The Nationals will certainly be hoping for good news on Rendon’s long term outlook. In a tight National League East race, they can’t afford to lose anyone, let alone their best player.

Rendon was sporting a career-low strikeout rate prior to the Giants series this week, and he still has, by far, a career-high Isolated Power number. His slugging percentage and wOBA support these numbers. There’s no other way to put it: Rendon has been a stud this season.

The fact that the Nats’ third baseman stayed in the game initially bodes well, but if the news is worse than fans are hoping for, could this finally be the moment where the front office decides to call up top prospect Carter Kieboom?

2. Rendon entered Saturday’s game with the Seventh-best Barrels/PA percentage in baseball this season. It’s a Statcast stat that highlights how often a hitter, for lack of a better description, hits the ball really well (AKA barrels up the ball). It’s a good number to reference for how successful a batter is on a regular basis. 

It will surprise no one that Rendon ranks so highly. Seventh in Major League Baseball is pretty good. But it’s only good for third on the Nationals.

Ahead of Rendon? A couple of backups in Matt Adams and Howie Kendrick, who rank second and third in baseball, respectively.

Kendrick replaced Rendon Saturday and stayed stayed hot at the plate with an RBI single in his first at-bat. Adams had a multi-hit outing in place of Ryan Zimmerman and drove in two runs.

With the injuries the Nationals have suffered to their lineup this season, bench bats like Kendrick and Adams are more important than ever, and may end up playing more regular roles than anticipated. If Brian Dozier continues to struggle, Kendrick could find himself starting at some point, even when Trea Turner and Rendon are both healthy.

The Nats will be able to weather their early-season storm more easily if the two can stay hot for a while longer.

3. It would have been completely reasonable to expect a vintage Max Scherzer shutdown outing against the Marlins. Miami’s lineup isn’t going to scare anybody, and Scherzer felt due for a dominant performance.

Instead, it was a frustrating outing for the Nationals’ ace as he failed to complete six innings. Scherzer allowed 11 hits in 5.1 innings, striking out nine and walking none while giving up seven runs (six earned). 

He had swing-and-miss stuff, as he induced 18 swinging strikes on 108 pitches, 16 of which came from his fastball and slider.

Where he really struggled was with his changeup, an offering that resulted in zero strikes, swinging or called, on 13 pitches. The lack of an effective changeup meant hitters were able to stay balanced in the box, and as a result, they teed off on pitches they were able to put in play.

Nine of the 20 balls in play off Scherzer were hit 95+ mph. He has allowed hard-hit balls at a career-high rate this season, and that was already true before Saturday’s outing. In fact, he’s in just the 34th-percentile in all of baseball in hard-hit rate, a surprising mark for someone with Scherzer’s track record.

Even when the Nats would tie up the game, time and time again Scherzer gave the lead right back. Neither time the Nationals scored was Scherzer able to deliver a shutdown inning in the bottom half.

If Washington is going to make a run in the National League East, they need Scherzer to be his usual great self. Saturday was a step in the wrong direction.

Scherzer wasn’t his usual sharp self Saturday, but he wasn’t helped by his defense, either.

4. The Nats had a comedy of errors with their gloves in the first series of the season, but had settled down a bit in the field since then. They entered today’s game with 11 errors on the season, middle of the pack across the league, though Baseball Reference has them in the bottom ten in most advanced defensive metrics (here’s where I mention that fielding metrics take much longer than three weeks to stabilize).

Against the Marlins, the defense was only charged with two official errors, but there were plenty of miscues.

Multiple botched relay throws from the outfield helped lead to two runs scoring in the bottom of the first. Yan Gomes had a throwing error while trying to throw out a base stealer. Victor Robles dropped a ball that hit the heel of his glove, albeit on a difficult play near the wall. Later, he made a terrific catch on a similar ball to center, but lost his balance and crashed into the wall, allowing the runner to score from second base on a sacrifice fly.

Even Scherzer himself was unable to make a big play in the field, coming in to pick up a slow dribbler in front of the plate. He tried to make a sliding throw to Gomes covering home plate, but his toss was off target and scooted to the wall, allowing another run to score.

The Nationals are hitting well, averaging more than five runs per game. The reason they’ve hovered around .500 all season long is they’re also allowing more than five runs per game, which is untenable if they want to be legitimate contenders. Some of that is the pitching, specifically the bullpen. But the defense could, and should, be better as well.

5. Is Victor Robles the team’s leadoff hitter of the future? If his 2019 stats when leading off an inning are any indication, he’ll do just fine in that role.

The MASN broadcast of today’s game highlighted the success of Robles, Adam Eaton, and Anthony Rendon leading off innings this season. With Eaton currently entrenched atop the order, Robles doesn’t need to worry about a permanent move just yet, but hitting behind the pitcher’s spot, he’ll have to lead off more often than not.

Robles entered Saturday’s game 10-for-18 in these scenarios, with two doubles and two home runs to boot. Against the Marlins he improved that number, going 2-for-3 with another double to pair with a perfectly executed bunt down the third base line for a hit.

It’s the second night in a row Robles has bunted for a base hit, showing off his elite speed. Statcast has his average sprint speed 39th in Major League Baseball, but he has the 9th-most Bolts (any run reaching 30ft/second) in the league. He has an extra gear that very few players in baseball can match, and he uses it as necessary to get on base before the team’s big bats come to the plate.

That top end speed, along with his contact abilities, will go a long way in helping him succeed at the top of a lineup some day. For now, the Nationals will be happy to keep having him lead off innings in front of the heart of the order.

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Washington Nationals Roundup: Austen Williams lands on 10-day IL

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Washington Nationals Roundup: Austen Williams lands on 10-day IL

The Washington Nationals fell to the Miami Marlins 3-2 Friday night. Here's the latest Nationals and Marlins news:

Player Notes: 

NATIONALS:

Anibal Sanchez took the loss against the Marlins Friday, allowing three over 5 1/3 innings. Sanchez is now 0-2 on the season and holds a 4.91 ERA. 

Second baseman Brian Dozier went 1-for-4 Friday night with a solo home run, his second long ball of the seaon. Meanwhile, Anthony Rendon extended his hit streak to 17 games with a sixth inning double. Rendon's streak is now the longest in the majors this season. 

Washington placed reliever Austen Williams on the 10-day injured list with a sprained AC joint. The Nationals called up RHP Austin Adams from Triple-A Fresno to take Williams' place in the bullpen. 

MARLINS: 

Starting pitcher Caleb Smith kept the Nats' bats mostly quiet to earn his second win of the season, pithching six innings of one-run ball for the Marlins. Smith struck out eight and walked none, the only run he allowed coming on a Juan Soto RBI single in the first inning.

Closer Sergio Romo needed just 10 pitches to sit the Nats down in order in the ninth and record his second save of 2019. 

Left fielder Curtis Granderson went 0-4 with three strikeouts Friday night, but it was Granderson who was hit by a Matt Grace pitch in the sixth inning to force home a run and give Miami a 3-1 lead. That run proved to be the difference, as Washington only scored once more on Dozier's solo blast in the seventh.

Injures: 

RP Austen Williams: Shoulder, 10-Day IL

SS Trea Turner: Finger, 10-Day IL 

RP Koda Glover: Elbow, 10-Day IL

RP Justin Miller: Back, 10-Day IL

Coming Up: 

Saturday, 4/20: Nationals @ Marlins, 6:10 p.m., Marlins Park

Sunday, 4/21: Nationals @ Marlins, 1:10 p.m., Marlins Park

Monday, 4/22: Nationals @ Rockies, 8:40 p.m., Coors Field 

Source: Rotoworld

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Middling Anibal Sanchez and quiet bats do Nationals in against Marlins

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Middling Anibal Sanchez and quiet bats do Nationals in against Marlins

The Washington Nationals lost to the Miami Marlins, 3-2, Friday night to drop back to 9-9. Here are five observations from the game...

1. For all the offseason efforts at improvement, winning the National League East could come down to its one member which is trying to lose.

The four spenders each play Miami 19 times. By the end, going 11-8 against the in-the-tank Marlins may become a lamentable part of some team’s 2019 legacy. They either brought in a marquee pitcher, a generational outfielder or a former MVP third baseman. But they didn’t do enough against the Marlins, costing themselves the single, taut playoff spot that emerges from the division. It’s a viable storyline to project.

The Nationals took their first negative step toward that fate Friday in a 3-2 loss to the Marlins.

The situational hitting was poor -- Washington left 10 runners on base. The starting pitching was so-so -- Anibal Sanchez took the loss. The bullpen made one dire mistake -- Matt Grace’s first pitch hit left-hander Curtis Granderson with the bases loaded, forcing in the decisive run. The luck wasn’t great -- Caleb Smith, a quality left-hander marooned in Miami as the staff’s best pitcher, was on turn. Anticipate him representing Miami at the All-Star Game this season.

Brian Dozier homered. Mark that in the positive column. Joe Ross pitched two innings of quality relief. Put him next to Dozier.

Otherwise, the loss was sigh-worthy for a team trying to lurch forward, ending its up-and-down run of the first three weeks.

2. Another day, another hit for Anthony Rendon.

His sixth-inning double extended his hitting streak to 17 games, the longest in Major League Baseball this season. It’s also an extension of a personal best for Rendon.

Rendon’s 15 extra-base hits in 17 games is a Nationals/Expos record.

Who is he chasing for the organization’s hit streak record? Hall-of-Famer Heinie Manush, who hit safely in 33 consecutive games back in 1933.

Manush played for the Senators from 1930-1935. He hit .336 when he set the Washington record for consecutive game with a hit. He led the league in triples (17) and hits (221) that season.

Manush won a batting title in 1925 when he hit .378 for Detroit. Rendon is currently hitting .377 in the opening weeks of the season.

3. Sanchez was ok. Not great, not terrible. Just ok.

He lasted 5 ⅓ innings, allowed five hits, three earned runs, walked four and struck out six. His ERA is 4.91.

Regression for Sanchez this season was expected. His 2.83 ERA in Atlanta last season came strongly against the current of his previous pitching. Sanchez had a 5.67 ERA over the three prior seasons.

However, this has been a leap back, a full two runs in arrears of last season’s ERA. More troubling than the ERA is Sanchez’s path through lineups. His walk rate is up, his strikeout rate down.

As the season moves along, a comparison point for Sanchez will be the results of left-hander Wade Miley in Houston. The Nationals made a multi-year offer to Miley which was better than the offer he eventually settled on with the Astros, according to a source. Miley ended up signing for just one year in Houston because the free agent market went south, and Washington quickly pivoted to Sanchez. Keeping track of the two via ERA-plus (which accounts for park factors) during the season will be a fun exercise. Coming into Friday, Miley was by far the better pitcher in that department, 129 to 95. Another bloated outing from Sanchez only increased that gap.

4. The Nationals hoped to play a different brand of offense this season. They wanted to deploy more athleticism, using speed and contact to produce runs.

They took the idea to the extreme Friday. Adam Eaton and Victor Robles both bunted for hits. Eaton scored Washington’s first run after reaching base via his drag bunt up the first base line.

Robles stole second and ended up on third following his bunt in the same direction in the third inning.

Creative work at the plate for both.

5. Another bullpen twist hit Friday. Austen Williams was placed on the 10-day injured list because of a sprained right AC joint. Austin Adams was called up to replace him.

Williams had a disastrous outing Wednesday in the Nationals’ 9-6 win over the Giants. He allowed four earned runs -- on two home runs -- after the Nationals entered the ninth inning with a 9-2 lead. Williams’ inability to get an out in the ninth eventually forced closer Sean Doolittle into a game he never should have entered.

Doolittle’s entrance also complicated the current series in Miami. He pitched back-to-back games to close the series against San Francisco. His Friday availability was in question because of that, though the Nationals didn’t end up needing him.

The right-handed Adams, 27, joins the team from Triple-A Fresno. He struck out 12, allowed a hit and didn’t give up an earned run in his six innings with the Grizzlies.

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