Jul 25, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
The Nationals have come out of the All-Star break and gone 3-5, scoring an average of 3.5 runs per game but giving up an average of 4.75 during that same stretch.
Not exactly the kind of baseball you want to be playing at this stage of the season.
Even so, the Nats have actually gained a game on the Mets along the way, thanks to New York’s 2-6 record since the All-Star break. And so they aren’t in nearly as tough a predicament as might otherwise be expected.
If anything, the Nationals have been able to weather the storm and stay afloat during the latest slump in a season that seemingly has featured nothing but extreme highs and lows. But they can’t keep moving along this path forever and expect to emerge where they ultimately want to be.
The good news is, they’re about to get a whole lot healthier. Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth all are within days of returning from injury. Yunel Escobar, too, should work his way back into the lineup, perhaps as soon as Saturday, after missing the first two games of this weekend’s series in Pittsburgh with an injured left wrist.
So, help is on the way, especially at the plate. But that won’t cure everything that ails the Nationals right now.
It’s no secret this team is seeking bullpen help in advance of next week’s trade deadline. It has been the club’s No. 1 area of concern since Opening Day, and it remains a concern due to injuries and inconsistent performances. What that help may look like remains very much uncertain. Rumors have begun flying around the last 36 hours connecting the Nationals to Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Papelbon, but there is legitimate question about what general manager Mike Rizzo is willing to give up, and how much more salary owner Ted Lerner is willing to take on.
A more plausible move might be for a pure setup man or middle reliever, the area of the Nationals’ biggest need. They already have one of the most-effective closers in the game in Drew Storen. They just don’t have enough experienced, reliable arms to bridge the gap and get the ball to Storen in the ninth inning.
Of course, reliable relievers would be less in demand if the Nationals’ vaunted rotation pitched up to expectations instead of falling into the same inconsistent trap that has befallen most of the roster this season. That group was on an utterly dominant roll not long ago, posting a collective 1.84 ERA in 16 starts from mid-June through early-July. But since then, things have taken a turn for the worse, with Nats starters’ ERA rising to 4.59 over the last 12 games.
Even Max Scherzer fell victim to the slump Friday night in Pittsburgh, matching a season-high with five earned runs allowed while failing to complete six innings for only the second time all year. And those three towering home runs he served up to Pedro Alvarez, Gregory Polanco and Neil Walker? That’s the first time Scherzer has allowed three homers in one start since Sept. 15, 2011.
The Nationals did rally to tie the game and get Scherzer off the hook, but Sammy Solis allowed the go-ahead (and eventual winning) runs to score in the bottom of the sixth, taking the loss in the process. Make no mistake, Scherzer was more to blame for this loss than Solis or anybody else out of the bullpen. Give your ace a 2-run lead in the fifth, you expect your ace to hold it.
Scherzer couldn’t do that Friday night, and so the Nats have dropped the first two games of this four-game series. And they’ve now dropped 5-of-8 game to begin the second half.
At 51-44, they own the worst record of any of MLB’s six division leaders, on pace to win a mere 87 games by season’s end.
Thankfully, from the Nationals’ standpoint, the Mets are a bigger mess right now, unable to score enough runs to take advantage of their electric young rotation. But they can’t count on that remaining the case forever.
New York made a couple of significant moves on Friday. First, they called up top prospect Michael Conforto and threw him right to the wolves, batting him seventh and starting him in left field against the Dodgers. Then they pulled off a trade for a pair of veteran infielders: Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, both upgrades over what they currently have.
When healthy, there’s still no comparison between the Nationals’ lineup and the Mets’ lineup. We should see evidence of that in the next few days as the Nats finally start getting players back from injury instead of losing them.
But in the meantime, this team is going to have to try to keep treading water as best it can.
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.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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