A few weeks ago it had appeared the Nationals’ “Dead Cat Bounce” after the trade of Juan Soto and Josh Bell was their 5-1 victory over the New York Mets.
But just like cats are said to have nine lives, the team that’s teetering out of contention has more than one post-selloff surge.
This past weekend the Nats took two of four against the very team they traded Soto and Bell to. Even though they didn’t ruin the Padres’ playoff hopes (they’ve got the second Wildcard spot) and the Nats are now assured of a third straight losing season, at least they’re above the projected 50-win plateau. For now.
Ain’t Missing You — Juan Soto is now hitting .286 with two homers and three RBI (scoring 14 runs in 18 games) after going 6-25 with a homer in two series against his former team. Meanwhile, Josh Bell may be the one who really misses D.C. as the slugger is hitting .138 with five RBI since departing the district (for the record he did homer twice over the weekend and is now 2-26 against his ex-teammates).
New Kid in Town — Padres prospect C.J. Abrams was called up from AAA Rochester and although he isn’t lighting the world on fire with his bat (. 154 in his first week with the Nats), the shortstop is looking sure-handed in the infield. Something that wasn’t happening with Luis Garcia who in theory will eventually move to his natural position of second base (90 of his 98 career MLB starts entering 2022 came at that position).
Digesting the Division — The New York Mets (79-44) own a four-game lead and have just matched passed last year’s 77-win total. Atlanta (75-48) leads the Wildcard race and is on pace to surpass last year’s 88 victories (for the record they won the World Series last year). Philadelphia (66-55) is 11-7 in August and owns the third Wildcard spot (just a game and a half ahead of Milwaukee). Miami (52-69) has lost four straight but still leads the Nats (41-82) by double digits.
Break up the Birds — The Orioles incredible summer continues to remind the Camden Yards faithful flashbacks of 1989 team that came off of a 100-loss campaign but contended for the AL East until the final day of the season. They say “build your team up the middle,” and the three players with the highest “Wins Above Replacement” rating are center fielder Cedric Mullins, Jose Urias, and rookie catcher Adley Rutschman. Since making his debut the O’s are 47-34 (94-win pace over a full year) and left last place behind to contend for a playoff spot. After taking two of three from cellar-dwelling Boston they’re 2 1/2 games out of the third Wildcard. This week, they face the Chicago White Sox (62-59) before visiting AL West-leading Houston.
Last Week’s Heroes — Alex Call hit his first career home run Friday in the win over the Padres while Nelson Cruz drove in a team-high seven RBI. Lane Thomas hit .300 and scored a team-high four runs while Ildemaro Vargas batted .273 with a homer and two RBI. Kyle Finnegan earned three saves while tossing four scoreless innings over four outings. Carl Edwards Jr. picked up a pair of wins in relief while allowing just one run (unearned) over four frames in four games.
Last Week’s Humbled — For starters, the rotation has struggled mightily with one win since the end of June (Josiah Gray’s July sixth victory at Philadelphia). Patrick Corbin is now 4-17 and has four more losses than anyone else in MLB (he led the majors with 16 defeats last year) and has seven more likely starts in 2022. Victor Robles hit .091 while Luke Voit batted .143 with six strikeouts over 14 at-bats. Joey Meneses cooled off a little by hitting .226 with no homers (we can still call him Joey Four Bags though).
Game to Watch — Tuesday evening the Nats are in Seattle as rookie Cory Abbott tries for his first MLB win. The Mariners pitch reigning Cy Young Award winner and one-time Nationals minor league prospect Robbie Ray who was dealt to Detroit in the deal for Doug Fister (who won a team-high 16 games for the Nats in 2014). Ray is not the “one who got away” as the Tigers traded him a little over a year later (he’s on his fourth big league stop), but one can always wonder what his career arc would have been had he stayed in the Washington system.
Game to Miss — Saturday the Nationals are in Cincinnati and even though there are “Week Zero” games out there (including Nebraska-Northwestern, perhaps ringing a little too close to “weak zero”) this is the final weekend before the college football season kicks off. For some reason, the Nats-Reds matchup (two fifth-place teams) does not compel me to blow off that final weekend by the pool.