Nationals Notebook: Trying to avoid a gloomy June

As the post-Memorial Day weather heats up, so does the pressure on the team that has won five division titles in the last nine years, yet still resides in the NL East basement.

We’d like to say it’s no longer early, but early left the station a few weeks ago. The Nationals have played 56 games, or over one-third of the regular season, and they’re still in last place of the softest division in baseball.

The NL East is the only division not to sport at least two teams with winning records, and the five team’s 134 combined wins in the lowest in baseball.

The Nats got more bad news last week when Stephen Strasburg went on the Injured List for the second time this year. Instead of his right shoulder, this time it’s his neck, and after making two starts in 2020s 60-game schedule, he’s been limited to five over 56 games this year.

Now, before you start saying the Nats should have signed Anthony Rendon instead of Strasburg in the 2019-20 offseason, just know that the former third baseman has missed 36% of the Angels’ games this year.

But the last-place Nationals are entering dangerous waters. A team can only put Band-Aids on serious wounds for so long. And it doesn’t get any easier with games against division-leading Tampa Bay and San Francisco this week.

Digesting the Division: The New York Mets (29-23) remain the driver’s seat thanks in part to a historic season from Jacob deGrom: the right-hander is 5-2 with an ERA of 0.52 ERA. Second place Atlanta (28-29) is led by Ian Anderson (4-3, 3.64) who bears more than a passing resemblance to the Jethro Tull frontman. Third place Philadelphia (28-30) is led by Zack Wheeler (4-3, 2.51) and is coming off of a series win over the Nationals. Miami (25-33) remains in the conversation in larger part because the other teams have gotten off to slow starts and also because of Trevor Rogers’ (6-3, 1.97) 2021 start.

O’s Woes: The Birds no longer have a double-digit losing streak and while they remain in last place of the AL East Baltimore have won four of five to the tune of a combined 38-23 score. But John Means is on the Injured List with left shoulder soreness and the team’s ERA is fourth-worst in the Majors even with Means having a career year.

Say, Isn’t That? Michael A. Taylor hit .286 with 5 RBI to give the former National and current Royal a .253 batting average in his new surroundings. His 22 RBI put him on pace to pass his career high of 63 set with the Nats in 2015 while his 23 runs scored puts him in position to pass the 55 posted in 2017. Adam Eaton (. 197) is still hitting under .200 after a 4-for-21 week, but the Chicago White Sox are leading the AL Central so there’s at least that. Wilmer Difo batted .333, but only for 6 at bats over 3 games. He’s hitting .244 for the year with Pittsburgh. Speaking of the Pirates, the SS Wil Crowe allowed 8 earned runs over 4 innings and now has a 7.12 ERA with his new team. Sean Doolittle allowed one earned run in his lone inning of work (he’s now 3-0 with an ERA of 4.12 with one save in three opportunities).

Last Week’s Heroes: Max Scherzer struck out 9 over 7.2 innings of one-run ball while Jon Lester allowed one run over 5.2 innings in his lone start. Kyle McGowin (3.2 innings over 3 appearances) and Wander Suero (2.1 over 2) escaped unscathed out of the bullpen. Juan Soto hit .348 with 3 homers and 9 RBI while scoring a team-high 7 runs. Yan Gomes hit .385 while Josh Bell added 2 homers and 4 RBI.

Last Week’s Humbled: Victor Robles came off the injured list and hit 2-for-20. Kyle Schwarber and Starlin Castro also hit under .200 for the week. Patrick Corbin allowed 4 earned runs in 5.1 innings pitched while Tanner Rainey (5 runs allowed in 3 innings over 3 games) and Sam Clay (5 runs in 2.2 innings over 5 games) didn’t put out any fires.

Game to Watch: Joe Ross pitches against San Francisco on Friday. The Giants counter with Kevin Gausman, who is off to a 7-0 start with a 1.27 ERA. We’ll also have full capacity at Nats Park this weekend. After the last 15 months, it’s nice to have a capacity crowd at the ballpark.

Game to Miss: Tampa Bay may lead the AL East, but their ballpark is one of the least appealing in the majors and their 22nd century analytics helped doom them in the World Series last year. The Rays are technically starting Shane McClanahan (4.11 ERA), but one never knows with a team that embraces openers and bullpen games. Corbin (3-5, 6.28 ERA) needs to turn around his season, and a game against the hot-hitting Rays (third in runs scored) may not be the best chance for the left-hander.

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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