Last night, the best player in the world was in the line-up for the Washington Nationals. Not only was Max Scherzer pitching, he was also batting 9th as a .290 hitter and maybe on this night Scherzer should have been batting 8th ahead of the .197 hitter. Scherzer extended his hitting streak to 6-games and is now batting .300. The reigning Cy Young pitcher is also an amazing teammate and personal coach to the pitchers on the staff. When Scherzer goes on the mound, you expect the Nationals to win. Yesterday was the second game the Nationals lost this season when Scherzer gave up 1-run and went 7.0 innings. Add to that the 4-games the Nationals have lost when Scherzer gave up 2-runs, and you have 6 losses that fall into that category of missed opportunities.
Look no further than the Nats 0-for-5 in RISP spots last night and the inability to move up a runner standing on second base with no outs. That seems to be emblematic of this season. The lack of the clutch hits and the inability for the productive outs were on display last night. We have seen it too many times before.
Sure, other teams have these issues also in this era of launch angle swings where home runs get you paid while productive outs just lower your batting average. Find a writer who brags about an unselfish player who leads his team in productive outs. Is it any surprise that the veteran Howie Kendrick leads the Nats in a productive out success rate of 46.7%. The league average is 27.5%. Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, Matt Wieters, Bryce Harper, and Wilmer Difo are above league average. Everyone else is below the league average. That is quite a list of players.
Last night, the Nationals were ahead 1-0 when Michael Taylor doubled on a bloop to the rightfield line. Matt Wieters is above average in productive outs but batting right-handed he could not hit behind Taylor to move him to 3rd base. Taylor never moved off of second base. There was no attempt to steal 3rd base when the right-handed Scherzer stepped into the batter’s box with one out.
With a one-run lead, the margin for error is zero. Any mistake and the lead is gone, and that happened to begin the next inning. Scherzer once again threw an inside slider to Charlie Culberson and he pulled it just over the wall for a wall-scraper home run which tied the game.
The Nationals scored in the 1st inning in last night’s game and were shutout for the remaining 8-innings. Part of that was some bad luck, but some of it was poor execution and the unwillingness to shorten up swings and play some small ball.
When you watch the Braves, it is sometimes lost in translation that Nick Markakis is enjoying his best season in his career. He leads the entire Majors in hits with 139 but he is only 39th in slugging percentage which backs up that he hunts singles like we saw in the 9th inning last night. Markakis has become a throwback at the age of 34. He is a singles and doubles hitter and never over-swings. His average launch angle is 10.1° and his 90.8 average exit velo is 42nd in the Majors which matches up nicely with his slugging percentage.
When you look to Atlanta’s new-found success, look no further than Markakis. Of course Freddie Freeman is as good as ever and their starting pitching is the best it has been in 7 years, but Markakis and his simple approach to a controlled swing has been the winning combination and the difference maker. You cannot pitch around Freddie Freeman as Markakis will then hurt you.
On the Nats, Anthony Rendon has that type of bat control to do what Markakis is doing, and he batted .301 last year — but in 64 plate appearances against the Braves this season, Rendon has shrunk. He is slashing only .233/.250/.317/.567 against the team from Atlanta. Rendon is only batting .246 against winning teams.
There are plenty of Nats hitting below their season average against winning teams, but the largest disparity belongs to Rendon. Harper is batting .198 against winning teams while Juan Soto is on the other end of the spectrum batting .321 against winning teams.
When will the Nats stars step-up in the big games?