What a win. I can’t rank it, but at least I can say I was there. No way did I expect the Nationals to win. Is that Gerardo Parra? Is that the influence of other players who have been through it and have the hunger, like Schwarber and Castro, or newer players like Harrison who haven’t, or team leaders like Trea? I can’t say. This is what by boy Nick and I saw…
What stays with me from watching the game at field level was the comparative defense, patient hitting, and how it made a difference, and the effort to come back from not only a deficit, but such a deflating one. So this is what I saw:
Trea Turner – What will be forgotten is that Velasquez started the game perfect through three, and scoreless through 4. Velasquez was using his off speed junk to keep the Nats off balance. Quiet outs and lots of strikeouts. But we all know Velasquez is that pitcher whose control gets wobbly, and I was hoping the Nats could squeeze him into throwing a lot of pitches, especially because he LOOKED hittable. Finally, with the Nats flailing and down 4-0. Turner came through with a sharp double. He never came around, but it was important, because Fedde (see below) clearly did not have it and was laboring as Bad Fedde does. The energy was so flat that my son fell asleep and was begging me to go to the concession stands. And then Turner showed the boys that Velasquez could be had. Then Turner came up again after the Schwarber home run in the fifth and legged out a single on a grounder to short. What was most impressive there was that it was a grounder, plain and simple. Torreys was back, yes, but released the ball extremely quickly, and Trea hustled and beat it out. Turner sets a tone with that kind of hustle that, to me, is relentless and consistent. And then, of course, with the team down 9-5 and again deflated by the McCutcheon grand slam ( I thought it was over then), he got the big hit with the bases loaded to make it 9-7 and warm up the lineup for GIDP Soto to get the walk. I love Trea, but I REALLY love watching Trea play for us.
Kyle Schwarber – What most impressed about him were his walks. He laid off close pitches. When he swings, he often has what looks like an exaggerated (not quite as exaggerated as Bell) uppercut. So watching him coax walks rather than trying to get greedy was really notable to me. Don’t forget that the sixth inning rally happened with two outs. Schwarber laid off ball three and ball four which were very very close and set the table for Trea. Who then made it 9-7. Schwarbs trusted his teammate in a 9-5 game. Even when he struck out in the eighth, when you could feel that the Nats NEEDED more runs in an 11-10 game, he coaxed a seven pitch AB before succumbing at 3-2. So he has been giving good at bats and has been patient, even as he has been a slugger. And then, of course, his home run, which tied a game that felt like a dead loss with how Fedde was getting rocked – especially after he gave up the fifth run on a single to the opposing pitcher.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Schwarber is that his manner and leadership (you can feel it) give the team its own personality that distinguishes it from 2019. This may be a championship team. But it is a different team. And one for which Schwarber feels like one of the leaders right now.
Victor Robles – Gets after everything in CF. A pleasure to watch, and he plays smart defense. NOT the stupid player he gets billed for, given his baserunning mishaps. He covers a lot of ground and makes it look easier. Teams do not run on his arm, either, you can see it. He’s also working counts at the plate. What’s down is not only his power but his HBP. Is that the issue? Dial the videotape and break it down.
Josh Bell – Made an outstanding defensive play on a grounder that Trea threw over his head. One could say that if we did not have a 1B that tall (say, Howie), Turner’s throw would have been a two base error that would have opened up an even bigger inning for the Phils, who had earlier gone up 9-5. Bell was surprisingly nimble and found the bag. So his lame offense to that point of the game did not carry out into the field.
And then, the grand slam. WOW!! Totally unexpected, even after he had worked the count. The high mark moment of the season, it felt like:
(Yes, that’s me and my son)
And then, with the team reeling, he took a Neris off speed and was aggressive with it. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Will the good streaking Bell arrive in time? Is this as good as it gets at the plate? From an acquisition standpoint, the Nationals have a first base plan, and it’s Bell/Zimm until the end of the year. Ryan Zimmerman, by the way, was as ecstatic as I was with my son after the HR. Team all the way.
Any improvements will have to come from other positions cost and team chemistry perspectives. Today, Bell took his game to its high mark thus far. And now, hopefully he gets going with the team still not yet in first place and still below .500.
Erick Fedde – So I was excited to see him, but as soon as I saw him laboring into 3-ball territory, I knew we were dealing with Bad Fedde today. And then he got tattooed by Jankowski — who played impressive two way baseball this week and is hitting well. But it was an effort to get through the four innings he did. So he isn’t quite there as we had hoped. Every starter has a bad outing, it was a hot day, etc. etc. I wondered whether he was impacted by the pitcher checking rules and what Girardi did to Scherzer last night. In any case, I was eager to see him replaced, and by McGowin.
Kyle McGowin – was rusty, I suppose. He really wet the bed today. A shame, because when you see other pitchers like Rainey who are unreliable if live arms, he is a non-sexy alternative who could state his claim to better innings in a game like this. He got two outs, and then just wilted and was lucky to get out of the inning with four earned runs credited after hitting Herrera. The wheels came off. Martinez mercifully lifted him before Hoskins, who grounded out of Suero and Bell made a great defensive play on (see above).
Austin Voth – After watching him last night, I could not wait to watch him again, and yesterday was his chance to show what he could do back to back, and in a high leverage situation. As much as I could not wait for him to come in, after watching him, I could not wait for him to be pulled. Sigh.
Paolo Espino – The Rodney Dangerfeld of the Nationals, I could not figure out why Rainey got in the game when Espino did not — until he showed up in the ninth with Hand sitting down. What a gutty performance when the team needed a clean inning. So happy for him and for the team to have him and his maturity contributing with high priced late inning options Harris and Hudson and Hand sitting, for different reasons. Comes in, gets the big stage guy Harper in a close game in front of a rowdy road crowd. That’ll win my heart for the “too old to be a prospect” breakthrough.
Starlin Castro – I’ve maligned him but the ninth inning hit was a Gatorade dousing hit. Put him up with guys in scoring position any time. His at bats are painful to watch at times, but he, too, is very composed in the field. He made an excellent play in the fourth to save Fedde further damage when he knocked down a single headed for left field off Hoskins bat, that would have made it 6-0. The little things like diving to knock down a ball when your team is down 5-0 and the opposing pitcher had just earlier singled in a run. With the Marlins, Castro’s power surge happened in the latter part of the year. Certainly we’ve seen him pick up the key baserunners and can hope for better RBI output going forward, although the “personal problem” he is grappling with remains unknown.
Jordy Mercer – Comes on as a PH, hits sharp single to right, then takes a shot to the mouth and stays in to make the last play. I’m always amazed when I reflect on three players from the Pirates on the field for the Nationals as they win, and Jordy Mercer proves to be good to have around the house.
In sum, I think the Nationals officially have that heart needed to go to the postseason, They are playing like they smell it, and clearly playing hard. The defense stays locked in, even when things go wrong and the team gets down and pitchers don’t have it. The offense did not make stupid baserunning mistakes and ran with controlled aggression. The hitters were often patient in critical situations. Seven runs of offense on two home runs cures a lot, but timely hitting was needed because of how bad the pitching was – and the Phillies left well more opportunities than did the Nats. They allowed, for example, the Gascanrahan Tanner Rainey to escape in the eighth. They let retread Justin Miller escape in the seventh. I felt bad for the Phillies fans, whom I would repeat are much better people than I expect. We are, right now, a better team and want it more.
Are we there yet? Well there is still a lot of underperformance. Count me among those who are watching Luis Garcia and Carter Kieboom closely, as they are infielders and showing improvement, Garcia’s improvement on offense most notable from the stat lines. Injuries affect everyone and may have a lot of bearing on this. Harrison is great to have around, but he may wear down and needs to have some help to spell him everyday at the very least. But consider that the Nationals are streaking without Strasburg, Hudson, and Harris, especially Strasburg. Max is back.
As for Rizzo, he gets a lot of criticism here and on other sites, and then he goes out and lands a Schwarber. So he and the Nats know how to add major league pieces. The Nationals have a lot of pitching inventory from which to trade. I hope they do not make anymore Luzardo trades, but he was a throw in and the deal could have been made without him. Watch the breakthrough arms like Joan Adon, Andrew Lee, Evan Lee, Gabe Klobotsis, and Sterling Sharp. Those are the kind of pieces that could net a needed bat.
But for now, celebrate the end of the handwringing and how the team is gelling and WINNING only 71 games in. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.