By Jeremy Batka
This weekend marks the start of a very important 11 game home stand for the Washington Nationals. If the Nats have even the slightest hopes of post season baseball in 2019, they need to start beating the teams in front of them—but before we get there, how did the Nats get back to playing meaningful baseball?
Let’s think back to Memorial Day weekend- not the hamburgers or hot dogs, but the National’s record and sad state of affairs. Hovering around 10-12 games under 500, far from the first place Phillies, it almost seemed like Davey Martinez’ club was already out of playoff contention before the Memorial Day weekend charcoal had even cooled.
But since losing 4 straight in New York against the Mets, something unexpected has happened, the Nationals started to play better baseball. It started with taking 3-4 from the Marlins in an extended weekend series which led to the Nationals reeling off wins in 12 of their next 17 games. So, what changed so quickly?
Part of the reason for the Nationals underwhelming and downright ugly start to the 2019 season was a rash of injuries including Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman may not be the most shocking name to hit the injured list but you certainly don’t expect his backup, Matt Adams to join him there. Add injuries to Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and Howie Kendrick and you’ll start to understand why the Nats fell so far below 500.
It wasn’t just injuries though- the nights when the offense provided a few runs they were most often givien back fairly quickly. The bullpen has by far been the greatest weakness of the 2019 Washington Nationals. Boasting the highest ERA in the NL for a long time in the early half of the season; outside of closer Sean Doolittle, they struggled to find an out. You had good starts from Corbin, Strasburg and especially Scherzer wasted due to the inability of the bullpen to get outs.
So as the Nationals enter their most important home stand of the season (so far) which includes matchups against the Phillies and Braves both of whom they are chasing, why should Nats fans have any faith that their winning ways will continue?
The truth is the Nats turnaround (or slight version of…) is a product of simply playing better baseball. The defense is not committing as many errors and the offense is providing timely hits. This, plus Strasburg, Sanchez and Scherzer having some great starting efforts without the bullpen giving the runs right back.
Turner took some time reaching 100% getting back from injury but he enters the long home stand on fire. Rendon is also hitting well lately and getting on base at an All-Star rate. Even the bullpen has produced some help for Doolittle as Tanner Rainey seems to be a strong 7th or 8th inning option hitting mid to upper 90’s routinely.
Don’t pencil the Nats in the 2019 post season yet but they certainly have started to play better baseball since Memorial Day. Will they be good enough to make a run at the teams in front of them?
After this 11-game home stand, we may have our answer.