Jun 17, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
For all the anguish displayed over the last week — some of it admittedly deserved — the Nationals did just wrap up a 4-4 road trip. No, that shouldn’t be cause for celebration, but neither should it be cause for panic.
Do the Nationals have their share of issues? Absolutely. This has been a painfully inconsistent team through the season’s first 2 1/2 months. But think of it this way: If, despite so many things going wrong during this road trip, you still manage to go 4-4, things can’t be all that bad.
There was plenty to like (and one or two things not to like) during Tuesday night’s 16-4 trouncing of the Rays. Let’s run through some of them…
A RECORD-SETTING NIGHT AT THE PLATE
No, the Nationals didn’t set a club record for runs scored, falling one short of that mark (set May 20, 2011 during a 17-5 win over the Orioles). But they did set a club record with 23 hits. And they did score 10 or more runs for the seventh time this season, only one shy of their total from the entire 2014 season.
Danny Espinosa recorded the first 5-hit game of his career. Clint Robinson recorded the first 4-hit game of his much briefer career, one of those a home run that got stuck somewhere in the catwalk high above Tropicana Field and never returned to Earth.
Every member of the starting lineup recorded a hit, and everyone other than Yunel Escobar recorded multiple hits. Even Ian Desmond, mired in perhaps the worst offensive funk of his career, delivered two hits, an RBI and a walk, perhaps enough to finally get him going in a positive direction again. Wilson Ramos homered twice, in consecutive innings, off two separate position players who were pitching.
Oh yeah, and Bryce Harper went 3-for-3 with a walk and a home run that sailed over the ray tank in right-center field. That gives him 22 homers on the season, matching his career-high even though this season isn’t even half-complete yet. Harper now sports a .481 on-base percentage (tied with Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt for the MLB lead). Nobody has finished a season with an OBP that high since Barry Bonds’ insane .609 mark in 2004. The only other player to top .481 in the last 50 years was Frank Thomas in 1994, but that season ended abruptly on August 12 due to the players’ strike.
TANNER ROARK BOUNCED BACK NICELY
After a couple of shaky starts, Roark was very good Tuesday, tossing seven innings of 1-run ball. Obviously, it helps pitching with a 6-run lead after two innings, but Roark was a different pitcher in this one than he had been the last few times he took the mound.
There weren’t nearly as many hard-hit balls off Roark at Tampa Bay as there were in Milwaukee on Thursday. He was more aggressive in going after hitters. And he didn’t fade as his pitch count rose to 112, capped by a 1-2-3 seventh inning.
What’s next for Roark? That still remains to be seen. Doug Fister will come off the DL and return to the rotation Thursday against this same Rays team in D.C. Roark could move back to the bullpen now, with Joe Ross given a chance to stay in the rotation. Or he could get another start, though he’d still be ticketed for the bullpen once Stephen Strasburg comes off the DL (something that appears likely by the start of next week).
DREW STOREN MAY HAVE COST HIMSELF AN ALL-STAR SELECTION
This isn’t to suggest it should happen, or even that it will, but Storen’s rocky ninth inning during a blowout victory could end up costing him big-time in a couple of weeks.
Inserted to pitch with the Nats up 16-1 because he had taken the mound only once in the previous 10 days, Storen wound up walking his first batter since April 28 and serving up his first homer since July 30, 2014 (a span of 49 relief appearances).
Because of that, Storen’s ERA skyrocketed from a crazy-good 1.11 to a still really-good 2.16. That might be enough of a leap, though, to keep the Nats’ lights-out closer from earning his first All-Star selection.
Relievers are chosen either by fellow major-league players or by the league’s manager (the Giants’ Bruce Bochy this season). No matter how good his peripheral stats are, no matter how well those who watch him every day know he has pitched, relievers tend to get selected to All-Star teams based on two stats alone: saves and ERA.
Storen has 19 saves (currently tied for third in the NL). He entered Tuesday with the league’s fourth-best ERA among all relievers with at least 20 innings pitched. He ended the day in 23rd place, a precipitous drop.
Now, anybody who watches this on a nightly basis knows a 3-run homer with your team up 15 runs means nothing in the big picture. Unfortunately, those who actually get to decide whether Storen earns his first All-Star selection or not probably will be making that decision based on how cumulative numbers at the end of the season’s first half, with little context taken into consideration.
There are still several weeks left before this is decided, so there’s plenty of time for things to change. But if Storen ends up spending his All-Star break at home in Indianapolis instead of in Cincinnati with the rest of baseball’s best players, Tuesday’s performance might very well be to blame.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
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THU: 2:30 p.m.
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SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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