The Nationals and the Braves are meeting for the seventh time this season tonight. At this point in the season, the Braves have absolutely dominated the Nationals. Atlanta has won five of the six so far. However, that hasn’t seemed to define the Nationals’ season, as they sit in first place with a 1.5 game lead over Atlanta. Statistically, the Nationals have scored many more runs per game, have had better pitching, made more comebacks and have been just generally the better team. But as the Cardinals proved, some teams just have the Nationals’ number. So what can the Nationals do to win this series and take a definitive lead in the NL East?
No Nationals fan even blinks an eye when it’s mentioned a player has gone to the D.L. this year. After seeing names like Harper, Zimmerman, Gonzalez and Span fall out for fifteen days or more, it’s just not a surprise. However, this latest trip to the D.L. by a player, despite his lack of star-power, may be more important than Harper or Zimmerman.
To win the game, you must score the most runs. To score runs, you have to drive in runners on base. That entire process begins with one player, the leadoff batter. In this case for the Nationals, Denard Span is that player. However, ever since trading for him in 2012,
From the get-go, it didn’t look all too great last night. Even with a half full O.Co colliseum, a low stakes game and a huge ballpark, Doug Fister just did not have it last night. He gave up three home runs and took the loss for the Nats. But don’t, repeat, don’t, press the panic button just yet.
Even though the Nationals’ 4th starter has been traditionally bad these past two years, Fister should be different. One bad game happened for a couple of reasons.
The biggest reason is that it was basically his Opening Day, he was amped, and didn’t have his A stuff, since he was focused on things too mentally. Basic plays like the throw to first in the first inning would get done during the rest of the year – it’s quite literally jitters.
This is also an Oakland team that has studied Detroit and their pitchers for the past two years, as they’ve played each other in two ALDS series since 2012. Doug, being traded from the Tigers, had seen them many times. This team was not unfamiliar with him from those experiences, or just seeing him as a Mariner or Tiger.
Another large reason here is the injury. The arm and all looked fine last night – but he hasn’t faced real batters all year. He missed the end of Spring Training, which is actually crucial for pitchers to see batters that are going to be in the big leagues and actually trying. The last team he faced was a AA team.
So, please. History repeats itself, but it’s highly unlikely it will in this case of Doug Fister.
Do not take this as me telling you to not pay attention to the Wizards this week or this summer. However, do take this as a wake up call. Many people went into last year with the Nationals as their team. The team they would pay attention to, watch every night and read the articles about them every morning. But with every passing game lost by error, mistake, or inability to come back, fans slowly drifted towards looking at Robert Griffin the Third’s Sophomore year or watching their AL team. The ballpark was still full, but the Nats had made a promise and broke it, so the energy and the hope was gone.
Coming into this season, magazines and newspapers came in with the same expectations that so many called bloated, considering the fact they were the same as last year’s. But from day one, something had changed. This was a team that could come back.
After going down early on the first day of the season and losing Wilson Ramos, the Nationals came back in extra innings. Even after losing more key players, like Harper and Zimmerman, the Nats have been able to come back, showing an attitude that Matt Williams says is “In their D.N.A.”
Even after a rough start from the starters, they came back and kept the team in the game consistently. There is no official stat, the Nationals have come back 8 times out of 9 when down or tied in the seventh inning by less than two runs this year, which seems like a lot, especially compared to last year. “When you’re put in situation(s) and the game is on the line, you want to come through for your teammates” says Jayson Werth, who has been a catalyst for many rallies this year.
So I encourage you to pay attention, to not be shoved away by one bad season. Because as Werth said, the Nationals are “Taking opportunities when they’re given to us, and (continue to) win ballgames.”
Quotes from Washington Post, Adam Kilgore.
Less than a week ago, Harper left the game for not hustling enough in Matt Williams’ opinion during a routine groundout. The Nationals eventually lost.
Six days later the Nationals lead by two against the Padres. Bases loaded. Harper hit one deep into right, off the scoreboard. The runners scored, and after his briefing with Matt Williams, Harper wanted a triple. He slid headfirst into third, safe.
But when the next inning began, McClouth replaced Harper in left field. Fans assumed he had just jammed his thumb, and would come back soon. But on Sunday, the Nationals announced he would go on the fifteen-day DL.
Where have we heard this story before?
Oh, wait, we all know. Opening Day, with Ramos. Against the Braves on April 11, with Zimmerman. Fister in his second to last spring training game.
Lady luck has not smiled upon the Nationals with injuries so far this season. Starters have already combined for more than roughly 43 games lost this season, all big blows.
Many things with the ability to go wrong went wrong. Harper sliding into third. Zimmerman with second. Ramos on a foul ball. Fister on a pitch.
But here’s the good news.
The Nats have won 56 percent of their games without Ramos’ big bat, and have gone 7-6 against two very good teams after the Braves series without Zimmerman. Desmond & Werth are stepping it up while Espinosa, LaRoche, Rendon and Lobaton continue to hit. Plus, the time left on the DL remaining for Fister runs out soon, and Zimmerman and Ramos can both come back by mid-late May.
Nats est. DL time left (C/O NatsWX)
Nats est. DL time left (C/O NatsWX)
Harper’s sprain hopefully won’t mean ligamental damage, and the Nats may pick up where they left off very soon.
There was really only one worry coming into Spring Training this year, and it was a good one. In a staff full of aces, who would be the fifth starter in the rotation? Would it be Detwiler, Jordan or Roark? Detwiler was demoted to the bullpen, but the question was never really answered, as Fister was injured in the final week of Spring Training, putting Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark in the rotation.
But looking at the statistics and just the general output this year, the Nats need to change one or two things. And with Fister’s rehab taking even longer than expected, it may be time to make this move. No longer keep the two sophomores in the four and five spot. Instead, put the most dominant candidate for the fifth spot so far in the rotation, Ross Detwiler.
Detwiler has been not only persistent and strong, but also quick, not panic inducing and has not given up an earned run.
If you see the statistics, the clear winner is obvious.
- Tanner Roark: 17 IP, 5.29 ERA, 10 ER
- Taylor Jordan: 16.2 IP, 5.94 ERA, 11 ER
- Ross Detwiler: 10.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 4 R
The case is obvious here. If Williams gives Detwiler time to build up arm strength, he could be starting quite quickly.
The only question left is if his stuff will regress since starters turned relievers sometimes put more power into their arm. However, with the stats, I think it’s a bet Matt Williams is very willing to make. When Detwiler was demoted to the bullpen, he said that “It doesn’t mean he won’t start sometime in the future”