Nationals quarter-season review

It’s hard to believe how quickly this season is moving, but after 15 games (plus one incomplete game), the Nats are now a quarter through their season. At 6-9, it has certainly been an up-and-down start, but as this team knows well, bumpy roads lead to beautiful places.

However, they’re going to need to get to that beautiful place sooner rather than later. They currently sit fourth in the NL East standings, but are just a half game behind the third place New York Mets and 3.5 games behind the leading Miami Marlins. Of course, the Marlins are having fun with their division lead despite being one of the main coronavirus hotspots that threatened the continuation of the league, but I digress.

Focusing on the Nats, they have plenty of chances to move up in the standings as the season goes on, as they will almost exclusively be playing division rivals, but as it stands right now, they need to start rallying some wins together to get themselves in a postseason spot. Here are some of the main storylines after 15 games.

Soto is raking

Man, did I miss Juan Soto, and so did the Nationals’ lineup. Despite missing the first chunk of the season, Soto is leading the team with five home runs, which includes two absolute moon shots against the Mets that set new records for career-longs.

He’s batting .414 with an astounding 1.486 OPS, although he has not played enough games to actually qualify in those statistics yet. Still, it’s refreshing to see his production has carried over through the pandemic. Hopefully the rest of the offense will be able to catch up.

Starting pitching is a mixed bag

This team lives and dies by starting pitching, so it’s no surprise to see that the current state of the rotation sort of matches the team’s record right now.

Max Scherzer has a 2.75 ERA, allowing 16 hits and 10 walks to go with 29 strikeouts in 19.2 total innings pitched. He’s doing well, but he dealt with an injury scare on Aug. 5 and has been getting himself into more jams than one would like to see.

Stephen Strasburg started the season injured and has made just one start, the unfinished game against the Baltimore Orioles on Aug. 9 in which the team is losing 5-2. In just 4.1 innings pitched, he allowed seven hits and five earned runs while striking out just two batters. He should settle in soon, and the Orioles have been among the more surprising teams this year, but he’s gonna have to deliver if this team wants to improve.

Patrick Corbin has been the most solid starter this season. In three starts, he’s 2-0, and would have been 3-0 had the bullpen not blown the lead in the third game of the year against the New York Yankees back on July 26. He has a 2.50 ERA and has allowed just three walks compared to 20 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched so far this season.

Aníbal Sánchez has been abysmal. The 36-year-old is 0-3 on the year with a 9.69 ERA across 13 innings pitched. He’s allowed a team-high 22 hits, 14 earned runs and five home runs. He still has time to reel it in, but with a season so short, the leash will be much shorter as well.

Austin Voth won the fifth spot in the rotation, with Erick Fedde stepping in for Strasburg and Scherzer when either has been injured. Voth has been a bit unlucky when it comes to run support, or lack thereof. He’s 0-2 on the season, though the most runs he’s allowed in one game is three, and his best outing of the year so far — 5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K — was spoiled by the bullpen, resulting in a no decision.

He hasn’t been amazing, but as a fifth starter, he’s doing about as well as one can hope for. While he has allowed four home runs, he has a 3.21 ERA and has allowed the fewest hits of any starter (12) besides Strasburg, who, again, has just one outing under his belt.

Once the entire rotation can collectively find its groove, wins will be easier to come by, so that should be the main focus entering this next stretch of games.

Tanner Rainey

That’s it. That’s the subhead.

Rainey has been the most pleasant surprise on the team this season, and he’s looking like the team’s best bullpen arm right now. Last year, he threw with a ton of velocity but not much command, which put him out of favor in close games, especially during the postseason.

This year, he is throwing absolute filth. He has allowed just one hit (albeit, a home run) in 8.1 innings pitched for a 1.08 ERA. His 11 strikeouts are tied for most among the team’s relievers, and his 0.360 WHIP is lowest on the team by a wide margin.

Looking beyond the stat sheet, his body language on the mound is incredible. I don’t know what he was doing over the offseason, but he is pitching with much more confidence and the results warrant it. If he can keep pitching like this, he could become the Nats’ closer for years to come. Let’s see how he finishes the season first, though.

The rest of the bullpen isn’t as exciting. Of course, when Rainey is thriving, Sean Doolittle is struggling, because our bullpen has to have issues. That’s just a rule apparently.

Daniel Hudson is doing well as the closer. He has three saves on the year, but a rough outing against the Orioles on Aug. 8 ballooned his ERA to 4.26. He allowed three runs on two hits, the only runs he’s allowed so far this year. If you exclude that hiccup, he has a 0.00 ERA, allowing just one hit and one walk to go with nine strikeouts in 5.2 innings pitched.

Javy Guerra, Sam Freeman and Kyle Finnegan have been the better arms behind Rainey and Hudson in the bullpen, while Ryne Harper, Wander Suero and Will Harris fall into the same “I don’t wanna talk about it” category that Doolittle finds himself in right now.

New additions experiencing varying levels of success

The offense was never going to be the same with the departure of Anthony Rendon this offseason, and while the offense has sputtered at times this year, it has the potential to be almost as potent as it was last year.

As mentioned, Soto is raking, and Howie Kendrick is batting over .300 from the DH spot, but it’s the new players that were biggest question marks entering the season. Some are doing well, while others may need more time to get into the swing of things (pun not intended).

Starlin Castro, while not quite the All-Star he used to be, was still sneakily productive with the Marlins over the past two seasons and has been doing well as the Nats’ everyday second baseman. He is hitting .283 with two home runs and four RBI, and has been good enough defensively.

Carter Kieboom has been rotating in and out at third base, and while the rookie has yet to hit a home run and has just one RBI, it seems like he’ll get better with experience. He is hitting a modest .240 with a .367 on base percentage, but he’s generated a lot of solid at bats and will hopefully continue to develop down the stretch.

Eric Thames is spending the most time at first base, but his bat has been quiet. He’s slashing .219/.306/.281, and he’s struck out 10 times compared to two walks. The Nats signed him hoping to get a left-handed power hitter for the middle of the lineup, but he has yet to heat up at the plate. He’ll have every opportunity to do so, but with Asdrúbal Cabrera hitting well and already slotting in at first occasionally, Thames may fall out of the rotation if he doesn’t pick things up by season’s end.

There is still a good amount of baseball to be played, but the Nats need to pick things up if they want a chance to defend their crown in October; the roads won’t get any less bumpy.

Cover Photo Credit: MASN Sports

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