Nationals

Quick Links

Where do Nats turn to solve what ails them?

usatsi_8746338.jpg

Where do Nats turn to solve what ails them?

This space could be devoted to a breakdown of Thursday night's 3-1 loss in San Francisco, with mentions of Stephen Strasburg's rocky first inning but impressive rebound after that, Yunel Escobar's game-opening homer followed by a complete lack of offense by the Nationals after that and yet another case of this bullpen's inability to keep the score of the game intact (whether ahead, tied or behind).

Alas, a comprehensive look at merely the latest in a string of frustrating losses by the Nats doesn't really seem like a productive use of time and space right now. This team's problem isn't what's happening on any given night. It's what has happened in the big picture over the last two weeks.

On July 31, the Nationals arrived at Citi Field holding a 3-game lead over a Mets club that appeared to be in disarray. They had just acquired Jonathan Papelbon in a trade that surprised most — and upset some — but ultimately seemed like a move that would help address the team's biggest area of need. They also had just activated Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth off the disabled list, giving the lineup a sorely needed boost.

So, what has happened since then? Pretty much everything negative you can imagine happening.

The Nationals' lineup hasn't been boosted at all by the return of those key players, Zimmerman's solid production notwithstanding. Papelbon has been a non-factor, appearing in all of four games, only two of them save situations. The bullpen as a whole has been scored upon in 11-of-14 games, posting a collective 5.50 ERA.

The Mets, on the hand, have completely reversed course. Buoyed by the acquisitions of Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, they've taken the sport's 30th-ranked offense (which was averaging 3.6 runs per game) and turned it into one of the game's most-productive groups (averaging 5.3 runs per game since July 31). And their already-fantastic pitching staff has become even better, going from a 3.29 staff ERA through July 30 to a 2.29 staff ERA since.

And so you end up with the following facts about these two division rivals: Since July 31, the Mets are 11-2, while the Nationals are 4-10. And thus what had been a 3-game lead for the Nats only two weeks ago now has morphed into a 4 1/2-game deficit faster than you can say Noah Syndergaard.

Which leads to the real pertinent question of the moment: How on earth do the Nationals flip the script again and put themselves back in position to take the NL East title before it completely slips out of their hands?

Manager Matt Williams alluded after Thursday night's game in San Francisco to some potential changes for Friday night's contest against the Giants. He most likely means some lineup juggling and perhaps the insertion of one or two bench guys. The odds of some truly dramatic shakeup seem unlikely at this point.

Williams only has so many reasonable alternatives at his disposal. Want to bench Werth, now 8-for-56 since coming off the DL and owner of a .185 batting average, .256 on-base percentage and .530 OPS for the season? OK, your backup left fielders are Clint Robinson and Tyler Moore.

Fine, prefer simply to move Werth down in the lineup where he can't kill as many rallies? Well, who are you going to move up to the No. 5 spot? Your choices are Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos and Michael Taylor.

This is where the continued absence of Denard Span really devastates the Nationals. If Span is healthy, Taylor falls into the fourth outfielder role, available to take over for anybody else who is struggling. Instead, Taylor is forced to play every day as the only true center fielder on the roster.

It's been said before, but it needs to be said again: The Nationals are 35-24 this season when Span plays, a .593 winning percentage, or the equivalent of a 96-66 club. When Span doesn't play, they're now 23-32, a .418 winning percentage that equates to a 68-94 team. Kind of a significant difference there, huh?

But it can't be that simple, can it? Is a healthy Denard Span really the difference between a 96-win team and a 68-win team?

No, not really. But there's still no denying Span's importance to this lineup. Think about it this way: If he's playing, somebody is hitting fifth besides Werth. Maybe Zimmerman. Maybe Escobar. Maybe Rendon. Whatever the case, the lineup is lengthened considerably just with the addition of its regular leadoff hitter.

The Nationals, though, can't just sit around and wait for Span to return from his back injury. If he even does return.

No, this team has no choice but to try to win with what it has. There's no magic trade to be made, not in mid-August. There's no magic minor-league call-up that's going to take this team on his shoulders. (Sorry, even if Trea Turner is promoted from Class AAA Syracuse, he doesn't solve the real problem right now.)

This is the team Mike Rizzo built, the team Matt Williams has to manage. They could have chosen to do something more dramatic before July 31, but they chose to bank on their returning regulars carrying the load at the plate.

That hasn't happened. But it's going to have to happen if this team wants to right itself and fulfill its immense potential.

For better or worse, this is who the Nationals are. The question is which team they'll ultimately resemble: The one that led the division by 3 games on July 31, or the the one that has given it all back and more over the last two weeks?

Quick Links

A quick recap of Tuesday's MLB All-Star Game, including how your Nats did

scherzer-asg-usat.png
USA TODAY Sports

A quick recap of Tuesday's MLB All-Star Game, including how your Nats did

Tuesday evening's All-Star game was fairly uneventful until its later innings. The American League triumphed over the National League, 8 - 6, for their sixth straight All-Star game victory.

Despite fears of potential rain and inclement weather delaying the game, there were no unexpected stops in play. 

The AL started very strong offensively, with runs from Aaron Judge and Mike Trout in the top of the second and third innings, respectively. Jean Segura's three-run homer in the top of the eighth made victory look inevitable for the AL by the fifth. 

Max Scherzer, unsurprisingly, was well received among fans at Nationals Park. The Nats starter pitched the first two innings, giving up four hits. One was Judge's second-inning homer, but Scherzer remained unfazed and lighthearted. Four strikeouts made his performance commendable.

Bryce Harper did not get on as well, striking out in both of his at-bats. After Harper's Home Run Derby win last night, there was chatter of him going for the MVP title as well. 

It didn't work out, but given Harper's consistent presence at the All-Star game, there's always another chance.

Elsewhere in the dugout for the NL, who rallied back from the three-run deficit, the kids were all right. Willson Contreras of the Cubs had a solo homer at the bottom of the third, the Rockies' Trevor Story had one in the seventh, and Christian Yelich added another in the eighth. A two-run homer by Scooter Gennett in the bottom of the ninth brought the game back to a 5-5 tie.

Jesus Aguilar struck out for the NL, and extra innings began.

In the top of the tenth, Alex Bregman and George Springer, both of the Astros, hit home runs almost immediately off of Dodgers pitcher Ross Stipling. Stop us if you've heard that one before.

With no outs, Michael Brantley took a sacrifice flyout to right field, and Jean Segura got in one more run to put the score at 8-5.

Though Joey Votto (Reds) hit one last home run in the bottom of the tenth, the NL couldn't quite make up the deficit.

After a late night, the American League will be going home happy.

MORE ALL-STAR GAME NEWS:

Quick Links

2018 MLB All-Star Game Live Blog

nats-park-silhouette.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

2018 MLB All-Star Game Live Blog

This is the year's most ambitious crossover event in baseball. Dozens of MLB standouts from dozens of teams ally along either the National or American league. The two teams play against each other in a lighthearted frankensquad matchup. It's a welcome change of pace, considering how stressed we are about the Nationals' win percentage.

At the moment, we're keeping our eyes to the sky to monitor incoming rain. Aside from the threat of rain delay, we're excited to see how things unfold.

TOP 10 - Yikes, uh, so that's two solo home runs, and still no outs?

BOT 9 - A lot of people have either Bad Bunny or Post Malone as their walk up music. Also, uh, Scooter did a two-run homer, so now we're going to extra innings.

TOP 9 - Nothing is happening. Yawn.

BOT 8 - Yelich homers! We love one Brewer! It's 5-3 AL.

TOP 8 - Segura hits a three-run homer. Cruz adds it to his Instagram story. The AL is up 5-2. Yikes.

TOP 8 - Blackmon is very charming when mic'd up. He's talking about how lonely the outfield is. In other adjacent boredom news, Mike Trout follows over 145 weather related accounts on twitter. Yes, we went through his 2,400 user long following list to check.

BOT 7 - Bottoms tend to be the most exciting. Arenado knows this. So he tied it with a solo homer.

TOP 7 - Please, we are all so tired, and this pace is so slow. Votto has a nice tag, Yelich loses a ball in the lights but still makes the out. 

BOT 6 - Everybody Hates The National League. Votto, Yelich, and Blackmon all come up short.

INT 6 - Everyone on the internet and the broadcast loses their minds over Manny Machado.

TOP 6 - Nelson Cruz goes up against pitcher Jeremy Jeffress to start the inning. We take a brief pause for another selfie. Isn't it kind of a bad idea to have your phone in your pocket when you're at bat? Anyway. Bregman hits a double, but is immediately outshined as we go to Manny Machado for an interview about how it feels to wear an Orioles uniform for (maybe) the last time. Limor pinch hits for Machado, and doesn't quite get it out of the park. Oh well.

BOT 5 - Contreras gets a hit off Jose Berrios and promptly gets tagged first. Javier Baez looks amazing at the plate, but flies out. Arenado walks. Trout-man catches Molina's almost-homer. NL, do better please.

TOP 5 - Aaron Nola strikes out Brandon Crawford fairly easily and Mookie Betts not so easily. Mike Trout, who looks like he would post pictures with trout and other fish on Instagram, pops up and across the first base line. Sorry AL.

BOT 4 - Bryce Harper faces Blake Snell and strikes out for the second time tonight. Maybe he thought tonight was a Strikeout Derby?

TOP 4 - Machado pops up to the third baseman in what may be his final at-bat wearing an Orioles uniform.

TOP 4 - Matt Kemp deftly avoids tampering charges when the FOX broadcast crew asks him about his selfie with Machado.

BOT 2 - Manny begins acquainting himself with his LA teammates.

BOT 2 - Chris Sale only stuck around for one inning, apparently. It's Luis Severino time in D.C. He allows a double from Matt Kemp to start but then strikes out Bryce Harper. 

TOP 2 - Aaron Judge takes Scherzer deep. 1-0 AL. Sigh.

BOT 1 - AL Starter Chris Sale responds with a scoreless frame of his own. We're on our way to that 3-2 thriller after all!!! 

TOP 1 - Scherzer strikes out Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve before walking Mike Trout (can't blame him) and allowing a hit to J.D. Martinez. No damage done though, and it's 0-0. 

MORE ALL-STAR NEWS