It is time for Anibal Sanchez to click into place for the Washington Nationals. He has been the weak link in the starting rotation so far with an 0-2 record and a 7.84 ERA. Small sample sizes tend to distort, but the eye test is clear that his stuff just is not being located like we have seen in the past, and the movement on his pitches at times have been too flat. Since Sanchez is no longer a power pitcher, a finesse repertoire like his demands dotting his spots and putting the twists and turns on the pitches to create enough spin rate that he stays off of the barrels of bats.
The velo decreases we have seen in baseball is understandable as pitchers continue to build-up arm strength. Sanchez is one of those pitchers who no longer relies on a 94 mph fastball. He makes his money from weak contact, and the last two years was one of the top pitchers in that category. Yes, he is a pitch to contact pitcher. His small velo drop isn’t as impactful because he operates as a finesse pitcher. His four-seamer is at 89.495 on average this season compared to 89.63 in March of last year. But results have been awful on his slider, curve and sinker as opponents are batting 1.000 against those pitches and Sanchez abandoned his slider in his last start. His changeup has been great (.133 BA) and his splitter has been even better (.000 BA), but you need a fastball to setup those other pitches and the four-seamer has resulted in a .333 batting average.
Hopefully, pitching coach Paul Menhart and the analytics group have figured out what is not working for Sanchez as this is a mechanics issue. At 36 ½ years old, a pitcher like Sanchez is also auditioning for his $12 million option to be picked-up for next year. That makes the here and now all the more crucial.
Another struggling player who is auditioning for an option is Adam Eaton who has a $10.5 million team option for next year. The previously dependable Eaton seemed impervious to slumps until now. Since July 28, he is batting just .147 with a .194 OBP. Overall, he is batting at .204 and has made some swings that looked like he swung with his eyes closed. Last night, he tried to bunt twice to start at-bats and one time he committed to a pitch almost over his head and way outside. He has made two swings where his bat did not even cross the plate before the ball was already in the catcher’s mitt. You have to wonder if he is playing hurt or suffering from vision issues. The Nats have to figure this out, and the closest they have to a fourth outfielder is Michael A. Taylor who is batting .000 against righties this year in 13 at-bats. Andrew Stevenson is the other lefty outfielder, but he is off the active roster and part of the taxi squad.
Complicating the bullpen situation today is part of the chess game of also planning for Friday’s long day to finish the final four innings of Sunday’s suspended game while also playing a full nine inning game afterwards. Manager Dave Martinez needs a great start from Anibal Sanchez as well as length from him. If not, does he go to Erick Fedde for middle relief or save him for Friday? With Javy Guerra pitching as a key set-up man now, and Tanner Rainey taking on the fireman role, the team could have Will Harris back today or tomorrow from the 10-day IL.
Looking around the rest of the NL East, the other team’s starting rotations are in shambles. The Mets lost Noah Syndergaard to injury, Marcus Stroman to a conveniently timed opt-out after he accrued enough service time on the IL to become a free agent after the season. Of course the Mets still have Jacob deGrom, but he is only one man. The Braves have no regular starters remaining from their 2018 vaunted rotation as both Mike Foltynewicz (DFA) and Sean Newcomb (option) are back at their Alternate Training Site, and they let Julio Teheran walk to free agency over the winter. They signed Cole Hamels to a one-year deal and he is on the 45-day IL and might not pitch this year. They basically have Max Fried and four starting pitchers auditioning for spots. The Phillies rotation is dependent on Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler and three others and one of the worst bullpens in baseball. The Marlins who are in first place in the NL East are missing several starters due to COVID, and they have a good starting rotation with Sandy Alcantara as we saw in a small sample size.
Basically the NL East is there for the taking. Many think the healthiest team will finish on top. But it will probably be the team with the healthiest key players. The Nats have moved into third place, and 2.0 games from 1st place as the Marlins have lost three straight and the Braves have dropped two in a row and will face the Yankees tonight who are looking for the sweep.
There is a new discussion in baseball as the media focuses on bubble cities for the postseason. Richard Wachtel of The Nats Report wrote his thoughts on the subject with some interesting perspectives.
There will be a roster move needed shortly to activate Will Harris. With nine relievers currently on the roster, will general manager Mike Rizzo’s move send Kyle Finnegan or Ryne Harper to the Alternate Training Site or will Sean Doolittle land on the 10-day IL? Otherwise, do they make a move to go with a four-man bench and who would be gone? Of course, Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez might have another move to make. This will be a tough decision for them.
UPDATED In the postgame
A look at the loss, and if we accentuate the positives — Juan Soto had quite the game. He started with a 3-run homer to give Anibal Sanchez room to roam. Soto who had that career-best 463-foot home run over the apple sculpture in centerfield two days before and came close to hitting one out of the stadium with a 466-foot blastoff that NASA tweeted about.
Juan Soto surpassed his personal mark on home run distance when he crushed an 89.7 mph slider against Mets starter Robert Gsellman into the Coca-Cola Corner concourse in their upper deck at Citi Field in the first inning of this 11-6 loss. The TV cameras had a hard time tracking the orbit of that ball. It seemed to go longer than 500 feet, but given the way they measure home runs — who knows.
“Again, I just want to see how far it lands,” Soto said. “It feels good.”
According to Statcast, the baseball came off of Soto’s bat with an 112.9 mph exit velo and was the fourth-hardest hit ever by a Nats batter.
“A home run’s a home run,” Gsellman said. “It doesn’t matter if it barely goes over the fence or goes 500 feet over the fence. It’s still going to be three runs.”
Later in the game, Soto victimized the lefty reliever Justin Wilson’s 91.4 mph cutter and that traveled 403 feet oppo into left-center field and was the 60th of his young career.
Juan Soto just hit the ball to New Jersey. 466 feet are you kidding me?! pic.twitter.com/Cmc5bWD9YU
— Rudy Gersten (@DCBarno) August 12, 2020
Washington Nationals vs. New York Mets
Stadium: CitiField, Queens, New York
1st Pitch: 7:10 pm EDT
TV: MASN; SNY; MLB App out-of-market
Nats Radio: 106.7 The Fan and via the MLB app
Line-ups subject to change without notice:
✌️ Curly Ws in the books
✌️ Curly Ws to go
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) August 12, 2020