Nationals

Quick Links

No panic from Nats after 3 straight losses

No panic from Nats after 3 straight losses

PHILADELPHIA -- It may be difficult to remember these things, but the Nationals actually have endured through several losing streaks this season. Indeed, they've experienced five streaks of at least three losses in 2012, and even once lost five straight games.

And how did they respond to each mini-slump? By winning four in a row, three in a row, nine of 11, three of four and six in a row.

Suffice it to say, nobody inside the Nationals' clubhouse following Saturday night's 4-2 loss to the Phillies -- their third straight -- was ready to jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge.

"Three! Ugh, we're ready to quit," Ryan Zimmerman said with tongue firmly planted in cheek. "Everything's going to go into shambles."

Taken out of context, Zimmerman's blase response to a losing streak might be seen as overconfidence on the Nationals part. No one is declaring themselves NL East champs quite yet, though, not with 36 games still to be played, the Braves still lurking 5 12 games back and the Phillies suddenly playing like their old selves again.

"People forget that's a good team over there," Zimmerman said. "I mean, I know they've traded some people away, but any time you have to come in and face their pitching staff it's going to be a tough series. We have our work cut out for us, but as far as a losing streak, I don't think anyone in here is panicking just yet. We'll be OK."

Insignificant losing streak or not, the first two games of this series have exposed a couple of concerns: The importance of Michael Morse and Ian Desmond to the Nationals' lineup, and the continued inability to prevent opposing runners from stealing bases at will.

With Morse (bruised hand) and Desmond (mild hamstring strain) sidelined for the second straight night, the Nationals' lineup was mostly silent against Roy Halladay and two Phillies relievers. Only Steve Lombardozzi's two-out single in the fifth brought any runs home, and the entire lineup struck out a combined 11 times while drawing only one walk.

Some of that, obviously, has to be attributed to Halladay, who after an injury-plagued season is starting to look more like his old self. He exhibited pinpoint control during this start, throwing an astounding 86 of 105 pitches for strikes, hardly any of them thrown on a straight path.

"You know, he's pretty good," Zimmerman said. "He's not throwing as hard as he used to, but that doesn't really make a difference when you can make it move like he does."

Even when the Nationals got Halladay out of the game and got a chance to take their hacks against the Phillies bullpen, they were whitewashed. Left-hander Antonio Bastardo, owner of a 5.26 ERA, struck out Bryce Harper, Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche in succession in the eighth. Closer Jonathan Papelbon then retired the side with two strikeouts in the ninth to earn his 29th save.

Would Morse andor Desmond have made a difference? Who knows, but the Nationals do know they'll be without both guys for Sunday's series finale against Cliff Lee and have to rely on backups to produce as they have through much of this injury-plagued season.

"That's the reason we're in the position we're in," LaRoche said. "We've had guys that filled in all year and kept us in games and won a lot of games. It's nice to have Morse and Desmond in there, but we can get by without them with the bench we've got."

If there's another cause for concern, it's the Nationals' recurring penchant for giving up stolen bases in huge sums. As a team, they've caught only 15 of 107 basestealers after giving up three more during Saturday's game (including two in a row by Chase Utley that led to a key insurance run for the Phillies in the bottom of the eighth).

The Nationals hoped the acquisition of Kurt Suzuki (who led the AL with a 38 percent caught-stealing rate at the time of his trade) would help make a difference. But Suzuki has thrown out only 1 of 15 basestealers as a National, evidence that the problem doesn't lie with this catching corps but with its pitching staff.

On Saturday, reliever Sean Burnett took the blame for allowing Utley to swipe both bases.

"He's beating himself up on it," manager Davey Johnson said. "I mean, the guy was running before he even made a move, and Burnett didn't check him. That can't happen. Those are mental mistakes, not physical mistakes."

In the end, those are relatively minor issues for a ballclub that still owns the game's best record at 77-49, the league's best pitching staff and as much raw talent as any roster in the majors.

Which is why the word "panic" was never uttered once inside the clubhouse following the Nationals' latest loss in a rare losing streak.

"Luckily we haven't had a lot of them this year," LaRoche said. "We've been really good at fighting back after we lose a couple and haven't had that huge skid where everything falls apart. Again, I don't see it happening here."

Quick Links

Bryce Harper drives in 3, Nationals snap skid, beat Cardinals 5-4

glover-harper-usat.png
USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper drives in 3, Nationals snap skid, beat Cardinals 5-4

ST. LOUIS -- Koda Glover rewarded his manager's faith.

Bryce Harper had three hits and drove in three runs, Glover earned the save in the first opportunity since Ryan Madson was placed on the disabled list, and the Washington Nationals snapped a four-game losing streak with a 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night.

The Nationals won for just the third time in their last 10 games and snapped the Cardinals' season-high, eight-game winning streak.

"We needed a win today," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "Get on that plane, have a nice happy flight and come back tomorrow and be at home and be ready."

Tanner Roark (8-12) gave up four runs, three earned, in six innings.

A beleaguered bullpen that had blown two leads to start the losing streak took care of the rest. Justin Miller pitched two scoreless innings before Glover closed it out.

"There's been a lot of changes (in the bullpen)," Miller said. "It's unfortunate, a couple of injuries and stuff like that, but I don't really look at it as I've got the seventh or eighth or anything like that. I'm just going out there just trying to do my job."

Glover took the loss in the series opener on Monday, giving up a game-ending homer to Paul DeJong.

"The first game of the series didn't go as I would have liked for it to have went," Glover said. "So to get put back in that situation or even a better situation to get a save, I'm happy with that outcome."

Harper drove in the game's first run with a double in the first and knocked in two more with a bases-loaded single in the fourth to give the Nationals a 4-1 lead.

A pair of errors helped the Nationals extend their lead to 5-1 in the fifth. St. Louis committed three errors in the game after committing just four total errors during the winning streak.

"A couple plays clearly we expect to make and will make and just didn't go our way for a little bit there," Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt said. "To the guys' credit they regrouped, settled down, and started playing back to the baseball they know they can play."

The Nationals had opportunities to pad the lead, leaving the bases loaded in the third and fifth while stranding nine runners in the first five innings.

"When you have an opportunity to put teams away you've got to do that," Martinez said. "Especially with how hot the Cardinals are playing right now. They're going to come back."

The Cardinals got within one in the sixth. After DeJong and Kolten Wong came up with back-to-back, two-out RBI hits, Harrison Bader hit a slow grounder to third. Anthony Rendon's throw to first got away from Ryan Zimmerman for an error, allowing Wong to score from second to cut the Nationals' lead to 5-4.

Just two of the four runs Luke Weaver (6-11) allowed in his 3 2/3 innings were earned. He gave up seven hits, including two to Roark, who scored both times.

Tyson Ross allowed one unearned run in 3 1/3 innings of relief.

Bader homered in the third and Matt Carpenter walked twice to extend his on-base streak to a career-high 34 games.

TRAINING ROOM

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson will have an MRI on his sore right wrist on Friday. RHP Joe Ross (right elbow surgery) threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings at Class A Potomac on Thursday and is hoping for a September return.

Cardinals: RHP Carlos Martinez (right shoulder strain) will begin a rehab Friday at Double-A Springfield. RHP Adam Wainwright (right elbow inflammation) threw two scoreless innings Thursday night at High-A Palm Beach.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (15-5, 2.19 ERA) will take the mound as the Nationals return home for a three-game series Friday night against the Miami Marlins and RHP Dan Straily (4-5, 4.42 ERA). Scherzer is 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA in three starts this season against the Marlins.

Cardinals: RHP Jack Flaherty (6-6, 3.22 ERA) kicks off a three-game series Friday night as the Cardinals host the Milwaukee Brewers and RHP Freddy Peralta (5-3, 4.47 ERA). Flaherty struck out a career-high 13 batters in his last start against the Brewers on June 22.

Quick Links

Is Juan Soto a lock for National League Rookie of the Year?

sotogood.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Is Juan Soto a lock for National League Rookie of the Year?

In April, it would have been unfathomable. In May, it would have been laughable. In June, it would have been improbable. In July, it started to look possible. In August, it might even have been likely. Now, it’s a complete toss-up.

Juan Soto is the worthiest National League Rookie of the Year. So is Ronald Acuña.

It’s one of the most exciting rookie races in recent memory, not simply for the otherworldly numbers each freshman sensation is putting up, but for just how good they are at such young ages. Juan Soto is a jaw-dropping 19. Acuña, by comparison, is the wizened veteran at the old age of... 20. 

The two are preternaturally talented, and their mature-beyond-their-years games have translated perfectly well to the big leagues. The question now is: which one will actually take home the hardware?

(Before we continue, I’ll note that Jack Flaherty, Brian Anderson, and Walker Buehler are all very talented young players who would at least be in the conversation in normal years).

The first step is to look at the numbers.

On the season Acuña is slashing .287/.347/.571, and his wRC+ is 144. He’s got 19 home runs and 8 stolen bases in just 68 games and his fWAR is 2.3. bWAR has him at 2.8

Soto’s slash line is currently .293/.420/.534, to go along with 15 home runs. His wRC+ is 153, and his fWAR is 2.7. His bWAR sits at 2.2.

Obviously, the numbers are terrific for both. Acuña has been up longer, but thanks to injury Soto has actually played 8 more games. Acuña has the edge in power, both in home runs and slugging percentage, plus he’s clearly the speedier player and better defender. If you’re looking for all-around game, he’s probably your man. Plus, for those who care about such things when voting on awards, the Braves are several games ahead of the Nats in the standings.

However, Soto’s performance has a couple things going for it. First of all, as impressive as it is that Acuña is taking the league by storm as a 20-year old, Soto is nearly a full year younger. It cannot be overemphasized how wild it is what Soto is doing as a teenager. He may very well be the greatest teenage batter in baseball history.

Secondly, Soto has been incredibly consistent. He’s basically been an All-Star level hitter since the day he was called up in May, whereas Acuña’s numbers, while very legitimate, are buoyed by his recent hot streak. He’s hit 8 home runs in 8 games, and of every hitter with at least 100 plate appearances since the All-Star Game, he has the highest wRC+ in that span. He’s had plenty of valleys to his peaks, though, and Soto has been a model of consistency. Of all hitters with at 200 at-bats this entire season, Soto ranks 7th over the entire season, That’s astounding.

Another point in Soto’s favor is just how historic his numbers are. Voters love a narrative, and as mentioned above, Soto is having literally the best offensive season a teenager has ever had. The highest wRC+ by a 19-year old in baseball history is Mel Ott with a 140 exactly 90 seasons ago. Soto is beating that by 13 so far.

The true separator, though, is Soto’s on-base percentage. His .420 mark is a comfortable 4th of all players with at least 300 plate appearances, behind elite batting eyes Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Joey Votto. And, once again, we’re talking about something historic.

Soto’s .420 on-base percentage, if it holds, will be the only OBP over .400 for a teenager with 200 plate appearances in Major League history. In fact, outside of Ott’s .397 in 1928, no other teenager has ever reached base at a .360 clip, let alone Soto’s astronomical .420.

Ultimately, I believe more in Acuña’s future, but I think Soto’s been the better player this season. Acuña is more well-rounded, but Soto’s elite batting eye has made him a top 10 hitter in baseball already. If Soto had been up on Opening Day and played at this level, he’d be on pace for a 5.5 WAR, which would top even Bryce Harper’s 2012 season.

As mentioned, though, voters love a narrative. If Acuña comes back from his injury and stays as hot as he’s been all August, it’ll be tough to ignore his performance during the Braves’ stretch run. This award is not over, but for now, Soto should be considered the favorite.

MORE NATS NEWS: