Nationals Notebook: Four steps forward, three steps back, one Stras out

The case could be made that the level of 2020 expectations were deflated considerably when Stephen Strasburg was shut down after five innings last summer.

While every year is different, the right-hander going on the Injured List over the weekend with right shoulder inflammation provides plenty of cause for concern. And in a world where Jon Lester is not back yet from the IL, and Patrick Corbin has been misfiring, the absence of the man who won 18 games in the last normal regular season before taking World Series MVP honors causes a little more indigestion than it normally would.

In addition to Strasburg going on the shelf, the Nats will also be minus bullpen workhorse Wander Suero (eight appearances in the team’s first 12 games) due to a left oblique strain.

While 34-year old veteran Paolo Espino (in his fifth career MLB start) allowed just a pair of runs over 4.1 innings in Strasburg’s absence, the rotation and bullpen that are both springing leaks early need to be patched up if they’re going to make a play for a postseason berth this season.

And while they won four of seven games this past week, they’re still under .500.

Digesting the Division: The New York Mets are atop the NL East at 7-4 despite ranking last in the majors with under three runs scored per game. Philadelphia (8-7) is in second place thanks to a little home cooking: the Phillies are a robust 7-2 at home and a rancid 1-5 on the road. Miami (7-8) won a pair of series yet lost a pair of getaway games that would have resulted in sweeps. Atlanta (7-9) is in fourth thanks to a team ERA that is the third-highest in the majors, while the Nats (5-8) remain in the rear.

O’s Woes: Baltimore (7-9) is tied for third in the AL East after dropping four of seven. Somehow 2021 is a world where Boston devoid of baseball’s best outfield from three years ago is leading the division and the New York Yankees are in last. Offseason acquisition Maikel Franco is off to a hot start with 14 RBI this month (he had 38 in all of 2020).

Say isn’t that? Michael A. Taylor began the season like a lion, but last week the ex-National hit a lamblike .125 with 2 walks and 6 strikeouts. Adam Eaton batted .238 with a homer and four RBI, while Sean Doolittle allowed 2 runs in 2.2 innings over 3 outings, notching a blown save.

Last Week’s Heroes: Erick Fedde was sharp in a pair of starts, striking out 14 while allowing 2 earned runs over 9.2 innings. Joe Ross struck out five in six scoreless frames at St. Louis in their series finale. Max Scherzer struck out 10 over seven scoreless innings Friday night, while Kyle Schwarber hit a walk-off homer that night. Josh Harrison is hitting .455 with 5 RBI since coming off of the Injured List while Ryan Zimmerman and Trea Turner each hit a pair of home runs.

Last Week’s Humbled: Patrick Corbin allowed nine runs over two innings and is now 0-2 with an ERA over 21 this year. Josh Bell hit .100 in his first week off of the Injured List. Victor Robles hit .200 and found his way out of the leadoff spot.

Game to Watch: Friday the Nationals meet the New York Mets for the first time this season. Erick Fedde starts- can he put together a third straight solid start? I’m not calling Joey Lucchesi a punching bag, but his ERA is 5.40 and might be the Nats bats’ biggest chance for a breakout this weekend.

Game to Miss: Tuesday Patrick Corbin starts against St. Louis, a team that ranks fourth in runs scored. Adam Wainwright (7.11 ERA) is also struggling in 2021, making this Tuesday evening feel like watching “Happy Days” in the early 80s. We’ll have our eyes out for Ted McGinley.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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