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

Trea Turner hits for cycle against Rockies for the second time in his career

usatsi_9530232.jpg
USA Today

Trea Turner hits for cycle against Rockies for the second time in his career

For the second time in his career, Trea Turner has hit for the cycle against the Rockies. This time, he did it in Nats Park. 

Turner started his day in the first inning with a solo shot to left-center to open the scoring for the Nationals. A fortunate bounce yielded an infield single in the second inning, and he smashed a liner into the right-field corner in the fifth. A double for most players, Turner's trademark speed enabled him to stretch it into a triple.

With a comfortable 8-0 lead in the seventh, Turner sent a 98 mph fastball into the gap in right-center field, completing the cycle and capping off an incredible night for the Nats. 

Turner is the fourth player to hit for the cycle this season, and the 27th since 1908 to do it multiple times in his career

 

Quick Links

Max Scherzer's named Thursday's starter and penciled in for the postseason

Max Scherzer's named Thursday's starter and penciled in for the postseason

WASHINGTON -- So, it’s settled: Max Scherzer will pitch Thursday.

The Nationals’ best pitcher played catch in right field Tuesday. He felt well a day after a full bullpen session. He, finally, is aligned to make his first start since July 6.

Why Thursday? Well, this is where things are more interesting. Davey Martinez and his staff mapped out Scherzer’s possible starts from Thursday to the end of the season to see how he lines up if he would pitch every fifth game (not every fifth day because of scheduled off-days). If he pitches Thursday, this is how the rest of his season would look:

July 25 vs. Colorado

July 30 vs. Atlanta

Aug. 5 at San Francisco

Aug. 11 at New York

Aug. 17 vs. Milwaukee

Aug. 22 at Pittsburgh

Aug. 28 vs. Baltimore

Sept. 5 vs. New York

Sept. 8 at Atlanta

Sept. 14 vs. Atlanta

Sept. 20 at Miami

Sept. 25 vs. Philadelphia

Oct. 1 Wild-Card Game

Note three appearances against the first-place Braves. Consider a late-September start against Philadelphia. Then, of course, being on an extra day of rest should the wild-card game be necessary.

“You know Max,” Martinez said. “He wants to pitch today. He wants to pitch tomorrow. He wants to pitch Friday, Saturday, Sunday.”

Can things go wrong between now and then? Yes. A rainout could move Scherzer around. A recurrence of the mid-back strain which put him on the 10-day injured list July 13, retroactive to July 10, could happen. But, the Nationals took the time to map this out when considering whether Scherzer will pitch Thursday opposite Colorado or Friday against the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers. 

One wrinkle in this projection: The final series of the season is at Nationals Park versus Cleveland. The Indians start play Tuesday just three games out of the division lead in the American League Central and two ahead for a wild-card spot. Which means Cleveland could be playing for everything (from the division title, to hosting the wild-card game, to just getting into the postseason) or nothing because it has clinched a spot. Scherzer would not be on schedule for that series.

More immediately, Monday’s rainout forced the Nationals to massage their rotation. Erick Fedde was moved from Monday’s start to the first game of Wednesday’s split day-night doubleheader. Anibal Sanchez will pitch Friday. Joe Ross is expected to fill the open spot Saturday. Patrick Corbin, Scherzer and Sanchez will line up to face Atlanta when it visits next week.

There was one other starting pitcher issue exposed Tuesday. Austin Voth (right biceps tendinitis) has stopped throwing. He will have an MRI this week and his future is to be determined. Not so for Scherzer. He's expected back Thursday, then Oct. 1, if necessary.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: