Nats go from a losing streak to a winning streak!

The Washington Nationals just did a complete 180° turn this week from a 4-game losing streak to a 3-game winning streak. That just reinforces that you’re never as bad as you look when you’re losing, and as good as you look when you’re winning. Somewhere between those points is where every team is at the end and according to their record. But until we get to that point, the statistics and the record define you at nearly every step of the way.

When you’re a team that is not smashing home runs, you’re relying on BABIP which is simply the non-home run balls that you make contact on and put in play, resulting in the batting average on those balls in play.

Ryan Zimmerman said it right, “ … you have to get a couple lucky bounces. I’ve seen it the other way, where the other team gets a couple lucky bounces go their way. It’s a wacky game.”

So today, the Nationals are 1.5 games from a Wild Card spot with 97 games to play. Yes, a long way to play, and the Nationals are 5-games under .500. The coincidence — it’s the exact same record as the Nats had in 2019 on this exact day. So yes, it is possible — and in 2019 there were only two Wild Card berths. Now, there are three spots for Wild Card teams. Call it improbable to make the postseason — but this is why we play the games.

All of this seems possible because of the parity in the middle of the National League, and that has kept the Washington Nationals in close proximity of the Wild Card. The season is 40 percent complete, and 16 games from the true middle of the season. A long way to go in this season, and the Nats have the tenth easiest remaining schedule facing teams with an average of a .492 winning percentage based on this moment.

You can really only count out two teams in the NL with the Rockies and Marlins. A team that can go on a long winning streak can easily take over a better positioning. Again, a long way to go, but wins now will add to the optimism — and certainly put more butts in the seats. The Nats had a huge weekend for attendance during this 3-game winning streak in totals over 100,000. So what does the standings look like now:

On May 29, Baseball Reference (BBRef) had the Nats at 8.9 percent odds of making the playoffs, and just 2.8 percent after Saturday’s win. On May 23, 2019, the Nats playoff odds at 19-31 were .01 percent. So you’re saying there’s a chance. Sure. The Nats are 30-35 today and BBRef raised the Nats playoff chances to 7.4 percent after today’s win.

But the wins and losses have come with some internal issues. Veteran outfielder Eddie Rosario has had some very questionable plays with not hustling after balls in the outfield, and not running hard to first base. On Saturday, he just didn’t run on a groundball and stood at homeplate, and that turned into an easy double play. Instead of Rosario being apologetic, he tried to explain it away.

“I think it’s a foul ball, but it stayed fair. It doesn’t feel great when I see that, but sometimes that happens in the game.” — Eddie Rosario said after the game.

“It’ll be another conversation, let’s just say it that way. But he helped us win the game today. Let him enjoy the victory.” — manager Dave Martinez said about the Rosario play.

While you might think that Rosario’s lack of effort might land him on baseball’s unemployment line or at the very least a benching — Martinez had him right back in the starting lineup as the DH.

By the statistics, backup catcher Riley Adams was playing better than Rosario, but a week ago, general manager Mike Rizzo decided to demote Adams to Triple-A, and they brought up Drew Millas. Why is Rosario getting a pass? Clearly there are alternatives when top prospect James Wood is ready. As of today, Wood is still on the 7-day IL with Triple-A Rochester, and will need some time to get back to playing full-time. Change may not be coming any time soon.

In a week that the team placed their best pitcher, Trevor Williams, on the 15-day IL with a forearm strain, the young pitchers of MacKenzie Gore, Jake Irvin, and Mitchell Parker all stepped up. The back of the bullpen with Dylan Floro, Hunter Harvey, and Kyle Finnegan has been fantastic. If you picked your 12 playoff teams based on team ERA, the Nats would be close but at No. 17 at the moment. The team’s 3.99 pitching staff ERA is mind-blowing given how bad it was at the first week of the season, and even when we looked in at the end of April, the starters were chipping away at a 5.09 ERA. It has taken time, and today, the starter’s ERA is tied for the 14th best in MLB at 4.07.

The problem here is mostly about the offense. The team is the 8th worst in runs scored per game, and tied for second-to-last in home runs at just 52. Even though the power isn’t there, the team has been helped by their 98 stolen bases which is the best in the Majors, yet hurt by the demoralizing 24 outs on the bases (mostly TOOTBLANS) plus the addition of the 15 pick-offs, both which are the worst in the Majors. And it goes back to that this team has to be aggressively smart and coached better on running the bases. Add the 16 caught-stealing plays that did not involve pick-offs, and the Nats have eliminated 55 of their own baserunners.

In total, the team has 280 runs allowed and 260 scored. That is a -20 run differential. That is just .31 runs per game in differential, and if you look at the .85 runners eliminated off of the basepaths you start to see that the team has lost games by bad baserunning. Of course some pickoffs will happen, and caught-stealing is also going to happen — but think about that this team is 22nd in OBP (on-base percentage) and you can see that you have to get on-base and not be eliminated when you get there.

If you believe in WAR, you start to see those weak links in the chain. Each link must be tested for their tensile strength. WAR is cumulative so players with more innings and more games are not the same as those who have not played as much. Also trend analysis is important.

The team DFA’d Victor Robles earlier in the month in order to keep Rosario. But how much longer can Rizzo and Martinez write Rosario into the lineup? The last time we talked about a Rosario DFA he went on a smoking hot streak in his 14-games from May 4 – May 20. But his overall numbers are poor, and if you remove that hot streak, he is batting just .122 with two homers for the rest of the season. He isn’t a great baserunner or defensive player. In right field, he is well below average. At least the move to DH has helped to minimize his negative defense which is at a -5 OAA at the moment. The problem here is that Lane Thomas and Jesse Winker are also negative defenders.

What is going on with Tanner Rainey? He has barely pitched in just 16.0 innings this year. That is it. It’s as if the team has a 7-man bullpen. Why wouldn’t you replace Rainey by someone who deserves a chance from the minor leagues? Or is the team going to wait for Cade Cavalli or Josiah Gray to make their way into this rotation and push a starter into the bullpen? First off, let both Cavalli and Gray prove that they belong as Gray’s first rehab start at Low-A Fredericksburg was not great with 3 earned runs in just 3.0 innings with a home run and some hard contact given up. Cavalli’s first start at Wilmington was nothing great either and now the team has him back to pitching bullpen sessions.

Gray’s ERA was 14.04 when he departed for the 15-day IL, and if you go back to May 27 of 2023 and into this season, Gray’s ERA is almost as bad as Patrick Corbin. In that period, Gray’s ERA has been 5.33 in a large sample size. Cavalli has one game in MLB back in 2022 before his injury and his ERA was 14.54. Nothing should be a given.

So if the weak links off of that WAR sheet can be replaced, that is the key here. Who can you replace? How can you improve internally? The team called up DJ Herz for Williams, and they will skip Corbin in his next turn in the rotation as the team travels to Detroit. Skipping your worst starting pitcher for a few days is just a temporary band-aid. The Nats need more.

Whether you believe you are a Wild Card team or not, you should still look to improve because incremental improvement is improvement.

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