With their 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon, the Nationals have now lost six of their 10 games since the All-Star break ended. Max Scherzer has been beaten twice during that stretch. Their offense has averaged 3.8 runs per contest. The Mets have cut the division lead back down to two games.
Although those seem like warning signs, the stretch the Nationals are playing through makes it hard to analyze any sort of collective slump.
Since the All-Star break, the Nats have faced a gauntlet of elite starting pitchers with many of their own regulars missing due to injury. It started with the Dodgers who had Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. It continued with the Mets who pitched Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. And it didn't stop against Pittsburgh, as the Pirates rolled out Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and Gerrit Cole.
The Nationals are off Monday night before picking back up Tuesday in Miami. They will face Marlins ace Jose Fernandez (3-0, 2.77) in the series opener. He returned from Tommy John surgery on July 2 and has dominated in his four starts since.
Tuesday will be the 11th game for the Nationals in the second half. Through 11 games the collective ERA of the starters they have faced and will face (Fernandez) is 2.22. Nine of them have either been All-Stars or earned Cy Young votes within the last three years. The other two are Mike Bolsinger of the Dodgers and Syndergaard of the Mets, both of whom boast sub-3.00 ERAs at this point in the season.
The Nationals just got Anthony Rendon back, but they remain without Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Denard Span. With all those names missing, it's a wonder how they beat Bolsinger, Harvey, Syndergaard and Burnett in their four second-half wins.
The good news is that after Fernandez, their schedule will ease up considerably. Of their next 32 games, 25 are against teams not currently holding playoff spots. Three of those 25 non-playoff opponents will come at the New York Mets, but they will also see the Marlins twice, the Rockies twice, the Diamondbacks for four games, the Brewers at home and the Padres at home. The Marlins and Rockies hold the second- and third-worst records in the majors.
Somewhere along that run the Nationals should get back Werth and Zimmerman, and perhaps very soon. Span is behind them, but will likely come back some time during that stretch. They could also add pieces before the non-waiver trade deadline and in August through the waiver wire.
The stage is set over the next month for the Nationals to take off and create some room between themselves and the Mets in the NL East. Anything can happen, but the next few weeks certainly appear favorable for the Nats.
Michael Taylor homers again
Rookie Michael Taylor homered for the second straight game on Sunday to push his season total to eight. He now has six hits in his last 10 at-bats with two homers and three RBI. Through 82 games played he has eight homers, 39 RBI and 11 steals.
Those numbers aren't bad at all, especially if you consider his relative inexperience at the age of 24. Sure, you'd like his average to be above .240 and his on-base percentage above .283. But there's no question Taylor's play has been a nice development for the Nationals this season.
On Sunday, Taylor also made a highlight reel catch in the bottom of the fifth inning to rob Gregory Polanco of a would-be double. He seems to be improving game-by-game at the plate, in the field and on the basepaths.
What Taylor's role is long-term is hard to tell, whether he can be a true leadoff hitter and whether he's ready to step in next season if Span walks in free agency. But for now, he could be exactly what they need once Span and Werth return from the disabled list. Taylor can make starts for either player here and there, and come October his speed (3 SB in last 5 games) could be a huge asset for the Nats.