The Washington Nationals bought into themselves ahead of last week’s non-waiver trade deadline. With the team facing a 5.5 game deficit in the National League East standings, general manager Mike Rizzo and the team’s ownership decided against a fire sale and stood relatively pat with roster heading into the final two months of the season. Rizzo and principal owner Mark Lerner both said they “believe” in this team as currently structured to climb up the standings to catch the Philadelphia Philles and Atlanta Braves into the postseason.
With encouraging words, the Nationals bust out the gates with a franchise-record 25 runs in Tuesday’s 21-run win over the New York Mets. They completed the two-game sweep with a win on Wednesday before embarking on a four-game series against the NL Central’s last-place team the Cincinnati Reds. Washington took care of business winning three of four to improve their record to 57-54.
Washington outscored its opponents 49-21 in the six games, collecting five wins in the process. Unfortunately, the Braves and Phillies kept winning as well. So much so, the Nationals lost 1/2 game in the standings to the first-place Phillies and now trail them by six games. The Nats only gained 1/2 game on the Braves for the second NL wild card spot. The Phillies went a perfect 5-0 after the trade deadline, having to play a four-game set against the Miami Marlins would help their cause. The Braves too had the Marlins for what turned into a two-game series due to a rain out and a four-game set against the hapless Mets. Atlanta went 4-1 in process.
The #Nats are 7-3 in their last 10 G.
We have the most runs in the NL since the #ASG.
Daniel Murphy is hitting .367 since the #ASG.
Bryce Harper has 10 hits in his last 6 G.
Juan Soto has 2 HR in 6 G vs. Atlanta.
4 games. 3 days. Let's gooooo!
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) August 6, 2018
The Nats have dug themselves a hole and have the daunting task of somehow climbing the standings despite both the Phillies and Braves remaining red hot. Wins are good for the Nats, but Philadelphia and Atlanta must lose at some point for the Nats to have any chance of catching one or both in the standings.
Braves On the Horizon
The good thing is Washington has nine games against the Phillies and seven against the Braves, so despite how gloomy the situation may appear they will certainly have their opportunities to make up ground by themselves. That starts with Tuesday’s doubleheader as the Nats host the Braves for a four-game set. A sweep would be marvelous and would close the deficit to 1/2 game. Anything less than three wins would definitely set Washington’s hopes of the postseason back.
Not having Stephen Strasburg back from the disabled list and Tanner Roark out of the rotation could possibly hurt. Instead Washington will send out Jefry Rodriguez, Max Scherzer, Tommy Milone, and the erratic Gio Gonzalez to the mound for the series. Only Scherzer, the majors’ leader for wins with 15, is reliable at this point.
Rodriguez is being called up from Triple-A Syracuse for the 26th spot to start the first game of the two bill. In five previous appearances with the Nats, Rodriguez has a 6.86 ERA and 1.68 WHIP over 19.2 innings. Milone (1-0) has shown signs of stability through his first two starts, posting a 3.00 ERA and a 0.917 WHIP, however, relying on a pitcher who has posted a 5.71 ERA or higher in each of his last three seasons is shaky at best. Meanwhile, Gonzalez has struggled mightily through summer. He last won a game on May 28, and his ERA has nearly doubled from 2.10 to 4.04 in the process. He started the Nats’ lone loss last week, surrendering six runs off 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings.
If the Nats’ success against Atlanta this week is based off their starting pitchers, winning two games would be a victory in itself.
Tanner Roark Hits Reset Button
Roark is starting to pick up steam on the season. After starting the season, a woeful 3-12, Roark has battled back winning each of his last three starts. He has pitched 22 innings, posting a 0.82 ERA with 20 strikeouts and allowing one walk during that span. On Sunday he closed out the Nats’ series with another stellar performance, and showing he is ready for the postseason stretch.
Goodbye Shawn Kelley, Hello Greg Holland
The Shawn Kelley saga is over. Despite, being adamant his ninth-inning tirade against the Mets on Tuesday in the 25-4 win was stirred by the second base umpire, the Nationals felt the need to designate him for assignment. To note, Kelley’s name was mentioned in reports of players the Nats were making available ahead of the trade deadline. Rizzo found a trading partner, sending Kelley to the red-hot Oakland Athletics in exchange for an international player slot.
Kelley had an ERA of 3.34 with a 0.959 WHIP in 32 1/3 innings for the Nationals before being shipped to Oakland. Meanwhile, the Nationals moved on, signing free agent reliever Greg Holland later Sunday night. Holland and the Nationals had been linked before in the past couple of seasons, but Holland ended up in Colorado and St. Louis. However, he had a disastrous time in St. Louis, posting a 7.92 ERA with a 2.240 WHIP in 25 innings.
The Cardinals released him on Aug. 1, but the previous mutual interest and Kelley’s departure opened up for the Nats and Holland to finally pair up. Can a change in scenery, bring out a better performance from Holland? Only time will tell, but the Nationals are running out of time to find out given the playoff race they are locked into.