When you have a pitching staff loaded with aces, you can win a World Series, and that is exactly what the 19-31 Washington Nationals pulled off in 2019. Their encore act though is missing a key ace in Stephen Strasburg who needed surgery to relieve the pain from carpal tunnel neuritis. Add to that the untimely regression of 36 ½ year old Anibal Sanchez, and it is like 40 percent of the starting rotation is gone.
There is more bad news, the fifth starter named on Opening Day, Austin Voth, is carrying a 7.99 ERA and at times looks like a right-handed Ali Modami throwing BP. Strasburg’s replacement, Erick Fedde, is not fooling batters anymore also. All of this has added to the demise of the 2020 Nats team where there has been a long and storied history of great starting pitching over eight straight years of winnings seasons from 2012-2019.
It also does not help when the team defense is teetering near the bottom of all of baseball, and this team has not made a comeback once this season after the seventh inning when they have trailed in a game.
If someone told you the Nats had the top two hitters in all of baseball with Trea Turner and Juan Soto, you would think the Nats would be doing just fine, but that is not the case when this team seems to be battling from deep deficits and you have several player that are not batting their weight. Eric Thames who was supposed to be the lefty thump is batting .205 and his thump has not showed up when needed. Michael Taylor is still batting in the upper hundreds (.182), and the once reliable Adam Eaton is batting .230 with a .668 OPS. Asdrubal Cabrera has been slumping against right-handed pitching and all of that has added up to few players contributing to the offense.
Even on a night when you get a good pitching performance from a pitcher like Corbin can occur on a night when you face an opposing ace like Aaron Nola who shut the Nats down.
“Some days you run into a buzz saw,” manager Dave Martinez said. “And Nola was good. He mixed his pitches up really well. Man, that was the best I’ve seen him throw.”
Did Davey use the “buzz saw” words? That was Strasburg’s line from last year that became a book title for the Nats’ improbable 2019 season and the Nats carved up teams in the postseason like a buzz saw.
Running into a hot pitcher on the other side happens, and that is why the losing streak grew to four games, and the team is at 12-21 in the NL East cellar. That is a .364 winning percentage. Fortunately this is only a COVID truncated 60-game season. If you play .364 baseball for a full-season you finish a 162-game season with a 59-103 record.
Sure, a long winning streak could push this team into the revamped playoffs that will feature sixteen teams, but is that possible with the team not clicking at all? It is possible, but highly improbable.
Fans are growing restless. I am growing restless. How many times do we have to watch Eaton take a circuitous route in rightfield to botch a play, or watch poor communication in the outfield to allow a ball to find outfield grass when it should have been caught or a devastating error like the 20 year old Luis Garcia booting a tailor-made doubleplay ball in last night’s game. There were days that Kurt Suzuki behind the plate forgot that part of the game requires framing balls that are on the edge. He is the worst according to MLB’s system. Add to that the nightly umpire calls that blow your mind. The Nats don’t need payback calls when they are six runs behind — they need them called with honor, integrity, and consistency for both teams.
In empty stadiums you can hear screaming from the dugouts. There was a low strike called on a Phillies player, and the Phillies dugout erupted and were yelling at the ump. When the Nats get a bad call, they are so used to it they say nothing. It is happening in key spots over and over, and it is happening to some of the Nats best hitters or against some of the Nats best pitchers.
With this poor play and losing record, will this seal the fate that Davey Martinez won’t have his team option picked up for next year, and Mike Rizzo’s contract as G.M. will expire and he will be gone too? Nothing seems normal in this abnormal year.
There are just 27 games left in this season.