Nationals

Quick Links

Nats can't survive high-wire every night

746826.png

Nats can't survive high-wire every night

They've been walking a tightrope for three weeks now, occasionally teetering from side-to-side for a moment or two but always finding their center of gravity just in the nick of time.

Even the best acrobats, though, lose their balance every once in a while. So we shouldn't have been too surprised last night to see the Nationals slip and take a tumble, blowing a late lead to the Padres en route to a 2-1 loss.

Try as they might to defy the odds, you just can't win every single one-run ballgame, especially when you seem to find yourself in those nailbiters five or six times a week.

Thus, the Nationals wasted another superb outing by a member of baseball's best rotation. Edwin Jackson tossed 6 23 innings of scoreless ball, refusing to be the weak link of the bunch, and in the process helping his teammates establish a new, mind-boggling record.

For those who have lost track, that's now eight times a Nationals starting pitcher has allowed zero earned runs in 19 games this season. They're the first rotation in modern history to accomplish that.

Jackson, though, had nothing to show for his effort, because setup man Tyler Clippard (asked by manager Davey Johnson to record four outs) served up the two-run double to Mark Kotsay that determined the outcome of this game.

It's easy to point the finger at Clippard, who did not look sharp last night and hasn't looked particularly sharp at all early this season. But it's hard to place blame for a loss on a pitching staff that gives up only two runs.

How about a Nationals lineup that managed all of four hits off San Diego right-handers Edinson Volquez, Andrew Cashner and Huston Street? This was already the seventh time the Nats have been held to five or fewer hits this season, a disturbing trend.

What's missing from Johnson's lineup? Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse. It's tough to score runs when your No. 3 and No. 4 hitters are out with injuries, especially when the replacements for those stalwarts leave so much to be desired.

As nice a job as general manager Mike Rizzo did in adding depth to this roster over the winter and spring, the Nationals' simply don't have adequate replacements for Zimmerman or Morse.

The guy who started at third base (and hit third) last night was Chad Tracy, the veteran infielder who has provided three very clutch hits off the bench already this season but overall is batting .136.

More disturbing is the lack of production from Morse's usual spot. After an 0-for-4 showing last night, Nationals left fielders are now hitting a collective .097 with a .207 on-base percentage and a .125 slugging percentage. That's beyond pathetic.

Look, nobody expects a team to be able to lose a .303-31-95 cleanup hitter for two months and not suffer a bit. But this team simply must get better production out of its left fielders than it's gotten so far.

As bad as that all sounds, the Nationals still woke up this morning alone in first place in the NL East, still boasting the NL's best record heading into a big-time weekend series against the 13-6 Dodgers. That's directly attributable to their pitching staff, specifically a rotation that is doing things right now that have never been done before.

But even the best pitching staff in baseball needs a little run support. The Nationals lineup has managed to cobble together enough far more times this season than it hasn't. But that's not going to get the job done every single night.

Sometimes, you really do need to score more than two runs to win a ballgame. Even though the Nationals have tried on a regular basis this season to disprove that theory.

Quick Links

Nationals the latest team to extend protective netting in stadium

nationals-park-independence-day-2019.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Nationals the latest team to extend protective netting in stadium

The Nationals return to the nation’s capital Monday night for their first homestand of the season’s second half. When they do, players and fans may notice a slight change at Nationals Park: extended netting.

The issue of extending protective netting down the lines of baseball stadiums has grown more and more prominent in recent years, especially with the rash of avoidable injuries fans are incurring on foul balls.

As hitters have grown stronger and exit velocities have skyrocketed, it’s become harder for fans in certain sections to protect themselves or their children from these dangerous shots into the crowd.

More and more teams have announced plans to extend the netting at their stadiums all the way down the lines, though it’s come with a little (misguided) controversy.

Monday night marks the debut of the Nationals’ extended netting.

“Throughout Major League Baseball there have been some tragic incidents this year,” Nationals VP of Public Safety and Security Scott Fear explained in a statement priovided by the team. “So we at the Washington Nationals decided to extend the netting to make sure our fans are safe.”

“And that’s what this is all about,” Fear continued. “We want to protect our fans, the children, the adults, everyone that comes to the game, to make sure they have a great time without worrying about being hurt.”

Perhaps in anticipation of some pushback from fans concerned about a diminished view, the Nats were quick to describe the new netting as being nearly see-through.

Plus, with the changes, the Nationals installed retractable netting, allowing it to come down prior to gametime. This will afford fans even more opportunities to interact with players and ask for pregame autographs and pictures.

“This is something we feel is going to be very positive, and our fans will feel safe being here watching the game,” Fear concluded.

Ultimately, safety should be the number one priority of any major franchise, the Nationals included. They are one of the first teams to embrace this change in the name of safety, and they certainly won’t be the last.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

With trade deadline creeping, Nationals’ needs and situation remains the same

With trade deadline creeping, Nationals’ needs and situation remains the same

The Nationals left Atlanta on Sunday in the same place as they entered: 6 ½ games behind the first-place Braves.

A four-game split without Max Scherzer is palatable. A 5-4 overall road run since showing up in Philadelphia after the All-Star break is acceptable, though an easy argument could be made the results should have been better. Chances to sweep both in Philadelphia and Baltimore slipped.

What changed in the first nine games since the break? Nothing for the Nationals. They need bullpen help -- still. They remain in a solid position to make the playoffs -- still. Their health -- outside of a new heel flareup for Ryan Zimmerman -- remains decent. Scherzer’s lobbying to pitch Sunday night failed. However, he’s expected back on the mound Thursday against Colorado, which would put him on turn to face the Braves on July 30.

That Scherzer start would arrive a day before the trade deadline. This year, July 31 is it. No more post-deadline deals, no more scrapping pieces after a couple more weeks of testing the waters for a truer read on outcomes. It’s get it done by July 31.

Like their standing in the National League East, nothing changed over the weekend for the Nationals when it comes to need. They need another reliever. Probably two. And, they need to get in line.

Sunday night, reports began to percolate about Boston being interested in San Diego closer Kirby Yates and Toronto closer Ken Giles. The Red Sox are 11 games out of first place and three games out of the wild card. They, of course, are traditionally a go-for-it organization in such instances. As are the Nationals. The questions will be who else is joining them to drive prices and who will be willing to pay them.

Take Yates. He’s the National League’s best closer this season. He is ultra-low-cost. The salary-tracking site Spotrac pegs him as the best relief bargain in baseball. San Diego has another year of control and expects to improve next year. Is he someone it really trades? If so, how epic is the cost? Would the Nationals ever meet it with a higher-end prospect out of a sagging farm system?

What is San Francisco thinking now? It’s 2 ½ games out of a wild-card spot. It is suddenly -- somehow -- a .500 baseball team with 50 wins. The Giants are 22-10 in one-run games. That typically represents two things: a good bullpen and unsustainable results. The Giants’ bullpen has the seventh-best ERA in baseball. Three of the teams ahead of them currently hold a playoff spot. None of the other three are more than a game out of a playoff spot. The group is legit and seemed to be the basis of a pending sell-off from San Francisco (along with, possibly, Madison Bumgarner). But, now? They have to decide, and everyone waits.

Among the Giants’ would-be trade pieces is closer Will Smith. He has moved from a decent reliever to an excellent one the last two seasons. He knew at the All-Star break what might be ahead for him. Smith was the Giants’ lone member of the National League All-Star team.

“I don’t really pay attention to [trade rumors],” Smith told NBC Sports Washington. “I think that’s a distraction, kind of.... I don’t try to think too much into it, really. I play for the Giants right now. I’m going to play as hard as I can for as long as they want me to. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, oh well, I still get to play baseball. It’s kind of a win-win for me.”

Smith has been traded four times. The first time was as a 21-year-old minor-leaguer. He was stunned and disappointed. 

“I thought I was in trouble,” Smith said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

By now, he’s moved to a more Zen approach.

“Now -- the whole control what you can control, it really applies to this,” Smith said. “There’s nothing you can do about this, so why even try to drive yourself crazy.”

The potential playoff pile has tempered movement. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo acquired reliever Kelvin Herrera on June 18 last year. Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson arrived on July 16, 2017. If he can, Rizzo has shown a willingness to pull in problem-solvers well before the deadline. If pushed to the edge, like he was for Mark Melancon on July 30, 2016, he’ll move then, too. He’s yet to find a bullpen solution this year -- just like everyone else.

Yates, Smith, Giles and Detroit’s Shane Greene are assumed to be destined for new teams.  Four teams are within 2 1/2 games of the National League’s second wild-card spot. Washington holds the top spot by a mere half-game. Demand is high. Stock is low. Going for may get you in. Holding may send you home. In those ways, nothing has changed for the Nationals.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: