Nationals Notebook: Getting the blues from the Dodgers

The Nationals finally climbed over .500 and had all the momentum in the world as they faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in a four-game series.

And while they were swept by the defending World Series champs, the Nats led in three of the four games. But a pitching hiccup here, a baserunning blunder there, and all of a sudden they were on the wrong end of the scoreboard.

One night it’s a grand slam allowed in a rain-shortened game (and for the record, “rain” is not the right term for Thursday’s monsoon), the next evening it’s a bullpen blowup wasting six strong innings from Max Scherzer. One night it’s a lineup minus its top two hitters to injury managing just six hits, the next day it’s that same offense that leaves seven on board while netting just one run.

The good thing is the Dodgers are smoking hot (nine straight wins) at this point. The bad thing is that halfway through the season this team is back under .500 and is now 0-1 to start the second half of the schedule. Bring on the dreaded west coast road trip!

Sick bay: Wouldn’t you know that the two hottest hitters in the Nats lineup wouldn’t be available for most of the series with the Dodgers: Trea Turner injured his finger on his birthday while hitting for the cycle and didn’t play at all while Kyle Schwarber hurt his hamstring rounding first base in the second inning Friday. This is a lineup that can ill afford losing one — let alone two — of its primary performers. Schwarber was a big part of the surge up the standings and all of a sudden he’s on the Injured List. Turner’s injury caused a game of “lineup jenga” that resulted in veteran catcher Alex Avila playing second base for the first time in his career Thursday. He then went on the Injured List with calf strains. Pitcher Jon Lester was pinch-hitting not once but twice over the weekend.

All star trio: Turner and Schwarber both were named to the National League Team for this month’s All Star Game along with Juan Soto. It’s the first time each have been so honored, but Schwarber will still be on the Injured List when the game will be played. And who knows if Turner will be back on the field by then. I should be nervous about Soto-disasters come in threes, right?

Digesting the division: The Mets (43-37) continue to lead the NL East, doing just enough to stay in front and just enough to not run away with things. While leading the division is nice, taking two of three from the Yankees gives Nick from Nassau a little more of a spring to his step. Atlanta (41-42) moves into second place after winning consecutive series over the Mets and Marlins. The Nats (40-42) are one half game behind the Braves and a half-game ahead of Philadelphia (39-42). Bryce Harper in year three of his deal with the Phillies is hitting .266 with 14 homers and 26 RBI: it’s rare for an everyday player over a full season to have his home runs account for more than 50% of his runs batted in total (Kevin Maas of the Yankees in 1990 is the only one I can think of).  Miami (35-47) is hoping the proposal of “aggregate runs” sees the light of day (they lead the NL East with a run differential of +20).

O’s woes: The Birds are becoming “aggravatingly bad” as opposed to an “embarrassingly awful dumpster fire bad.” The team is 27-57 and enjoyed a sweep over AL West-leading Houston before getting swept by the Los Angeles Angels (two of the losses to L.A. coming in the walk-off variety).  Ryan Mountcastle is coming on strong after hitting .196 in April. The third baseman tallied 8 HR and 26 RBI in June and at 24-years-old is in only his second Major League season. All of a sudden there’s another building block in Baltimore.

Say, isn’t that? Former Nats outfielder Adam Eaton came off the Injured List and went 2-for-4 in his first game back with the Chicago White Sox to pull his batting average over .200. Sadly a 0-for-3 Sunday dropped him below the Mendoza line. Also returning (from the minors) is Wilmer Difo, who’s hitting .241 with Pittsburgh after spending time with AAA Indianapolis. Pirates pitcher Wil Crowe’s ERA is down again this week, ebbing to 6.26. Could the Nats use Sean Doolittle during the late innings? The lefthander who is 3-0 owns a 4.40 ERA with NL Central-contending Cincinnati. Michael A. Taylor homered for Kansas City to give him 7 with 30 RBI this year while increasing his batting average to .241.

Last week’s heroes (or this weekend’s harmed): Trea Turner batted 7-for-13 and hit for the cycle on his birthday only to jam his finger and miss the entire Dodgers series. NL Player of the Month Kyle Schwarber was hitting .353 with 3 homers until his hamstring gave out Friday night. Starlin Castro hit .471 with 7 RBI and catcher Tres Barrera notched his first Major League hit Sunday. Joe Ross struck out 11 in a loss Sunday and pitched well earlier in the week against the Rays. Max Scherzer struck out 8 Friday before leaving with a 3-1 lead.

Last week’s humbled: Let’s just say it wasn’t the best of times for the bullpen. Justin Miller, Kyle Lobstein, Austin Voth and Sam Clay each posted double-digit ERA’s. Patrick Corbin coughed up a grand slam in Thursday’s rain-shortened loss to the Dodgers after starting the same inning by allowing a leadoff homer. Victor Robles batted .071 while Gerardo Parra and Ryan Zimmerman both hit under .200. Josh Bell ran into the first out of the inning Sunday in a 1-1 tie while trying to stretch a single into a double.

Game to watch: Sunday the team wraps up its pre-All Star break schedule by visiting San Francisco. Kevin Gausman (8-2, 1.68 ERA) has been lights-out this year for the Giants. Patrick Corbin (5-7, 5.66) has been consistently uneven for the Nats. If Washington is going to make a second half run, they will need the lefthander to look more like his 2019 self than the one pitching this year.

Game to miss: Monday the road trip begins in San Diego at 10:10 p.m. After a weekend of seeing the Nats falter in multiple ways, plus the holiday cookouts and plenty of pool-time, it’s going to be a challenge to stay awake past 8.

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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