Nationals Notebook: Leading off the lineup, leading into summer

The Nationals are still under .500 and are over 40% of their way into the season, but the 8-3 homestand gives the team plenty of hope as we officially exit spring and enter summer.

And while sweeping Pittsburgh was nice, taking three of four from the division-leading New York Mets was huge. They’re still five games back (seven in the loss column) but this past weekend served as a message to the Mets that the Nats can beat them even without Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg on the mound. One major reason why was the bat of Kyle Schwarber.

The outfielder’s move to the leadoff spot coincided with his bat waking up (he’s hitting .361 with 9 HR in the number one spot) and he wrapped up the series with the Mets by hitting five homers in two games, tying an MLB record. If he can continue to succeed atop the order, Trea Turner and Juan Soto will get more RBI chances and the Nats will score over three runs more often than they did over the first two months of the season.

Digesting the division: The New York Mets (36-29) had a chance to create some more separation this past weekend but scored nine runs over their four-game series in D.C. Philadelphia (34-35) dropped consecutive series out west to the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco. Atlanta (33-36) continues to grind its gears despite a great seasons by Ronald Acuna (19 HR & 44 RBI) and Freddie Freeman (16 HR & 40 RBI). The Nationals (33-36) moved ahead of last-place Miami (31-40) who boggle the mind with a run differential of +18 (tied with the Mets for the best in the division).

O’s woes: The Birds were swept in a four-game series at Cleveland (increasing their team-record road losing streak to 19) before losing two of three at home to Toronto. Cedric Mullins hit 4 homers and continues to be a threat atop the order (his .319 batting average is sixth best in MLB). Problem is, the O’s pitching staff is allowing 108 home runs (most in the majors) and is on pace to cough up 246 this year.

Say, isn’t that? Michael A. Taylor is hitting .229 for Kansas City and is batting .167 in his last 15 games. Taylor’s 80 strikeouts are tied for eighth most in baseball. Adam Eaton (. 195) is on the White Sox’ 10-day Injured List with hamstring issues and even though he has 27 RBI on the season, 18 of those came in April. Wilmer Difo is in the Pirates’ Minor Leagues, and Wil Crowe missed starting in Washington but has lowered his ERA to 7.90 over nine starts and 10 appearances. Sean Doolittle used a scoreless outing in San Diego to drag his June ERA down to 7.94 for Cincinnati.

Last week’s heroes: Kyle Schwarber hit .385 with 6 homers and 11 RBI from the leadoff spot, while Trea Turner hit .444 and scored five runs while ending his homerless streak Saturday. Yan Gomes homered twice while driving in the lone run Friday and gunned down base runners attempting to steal with precision. Gerardo Parra delivered a double as a pinch-hitter as “Baby Shark” lives on. Brad Hand went 1-0 with 4 saves, Jon Lester posted his first victory of the season, Erick Fedde struck out 6 over 7 scoreless innings in his lone start, and Patrick Corbin quietly went 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA over 14.1 innings.

Last week’s humbled: Joe Ross is going to have nightmares of Francisco Lindor for some time, as the shortstop went 3-3 with 2 homers and 5 RBI Saturday against the Nats starter. Josh Harrison hit .118 while Starlin Castro batted .214.

Games to watch: Max Scherzer is set to come off the injured list Tuesday when the Nats visit Philadelphia. He’ll be matched up against Zack Wheeler (5-3, 2.15 ERA), and for those curious if he pitches Sunday in Miami he’ll face Trevor Rogers (7-3, 1.87). Not the easiest way to get back on the mound. One can set the tone for the road trip while the other can wrap up the journey on a high note. Either way, this team is not going to contend without Max Scherzer contributing every fifth day.

Game to miss: Friday night the Nats pitch Joe Ross against the Marlins who thankfully don’t have Francisco Lindor on their roster. It’s the first day of summer vacation for D.C. students who have gone through a year like none other. Plus the waterfront weather is in that sweet spot between chilly spring and heat-bomb summer. Enjoy an evening off.

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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