Nationals Notebook: Labor Day pains

The final bench mark of the baseball season is here, and unlike most previous Labor Days, there is little to play for in Washington — except for the future.

Getting swept by Philadelphia and losing three of four to the New York Mets puts the team on the precipice of their second straight losing season after posting eight straight winning campaigns from 2012 to 2019.

Thursday’s sweep-securing, come-from-ahead loss to Philadelphia was especially painful because, even though the Nationals won a World Series without Bryce Harper, it’s still kind of annoying seeing him so happy leading the Phillies into contention (Harper hit .403 with 7 HR and 14 RBI against the Nats this year while doing his best “Daniel Murphy against the Mets” imitation).

But amid the pain of a sub-500 season, there are potential bright spots: The latest is 23-year old catcher Keibert Ruiz, another piece of the trade for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner.

Here’s to tomorrow.

Digesting the Division: Atlanta (72-64) has fallen back to the pack with five losses in their last seven games, while Philadelphia (70-66) is two games back after winning seven of nine (it helps to have a series against the Nationals as they won seven straight to finish 13-6 against Washington). The New York Mets (69-68) get one more shot to pad their mark against the Nats (they’re 11-7 after yesterday’s win). Miami (57-80) is no longer in last place while the Nationals (56-80) continue their early-season residency of the basement. It’s a good thing for them this basement isn’t finished at this time.

O’s Woes: The Birds’ Friday night loss to the New York Yankees officially clinched last place in the AL East for the once-proud franchise that is almost guaranteed to post another 100-loss season (I don’t feel a 20-7 finish, do you?) That said, there is quite a bit to like about this team. Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle and Trey Mancini are 20-something players one can build a lineup around, so now it’s time to revamp the rotation as of the seven pitchers with 10+ starts this year, only John Means has an ERA under 4.50 and five own ERA’s over six.

I Ain’t Missing You: I loved covering Max Scherzer a lot for six-plus years in D.C., and I’m enjoying writing his success with the Dodgers a lot less: 9 strikeouts over 6 scoreless innings in LA’s win Sept. 1. He’s won four of his six starts with his new team, and the others (wins by the Dodgers) where games where Max tossed a combined 9.1 scoreless innings. Trea Turner hit 6-22 with two runs scored last week, but has scored 19 runs in his first in 27 games which translates to 114 over a 162 game season. Kyle Schwarber is hitting .319 with 4 HR and 8 RBI for Boston as the Red Sox make a Wild Card run. Oakland is in the mix as well and Yan Gomes has 13 RBI in 22 games with the A’s while Josh Harrison is batting .293 with 12 runs scored over 26 games. Jon Lester has allowed just one run in four of his last five starts with St. Louis while Daniel Hudson has allowed 7 runs over 9.2 innings with San Diego. Brad Hand is now with the New York Mets after being released by Toronto.

Last Week’s Heroes: Juan Soto hit .348 with 2 homers and 8 RBI while walking 9 times. Carter Kieboom batted .348 with a team-high 6 runs and 4 RBI. Lane Thomas continues his candidacy for 2022 opening day by batting .345 with a team-high 7 runs from the leadoff spot while throwing base-runners out on base like he did Sunday. Paolo Espino tossed 5 scoreless runs in his lone start before becoming undone in the sixth.

Last Week’s Humbled: The bullpen’s ERA was a collective 7.55 last week, second-highest in the MLB. Wander Suero, Austin Voth, Mason Thompson and Andres Machado each had rough outings. Of course it wasn’t helped by a rotation that included Patrick Corbin (6 runs allowed in 5 innings) Josiah Gray (12 in 7 over two starts) and Erick Fedde (4 in 3). Yadiel Hernandez hit 0-11 while prime catching prospect Keibert Ruiz batted .150.

Game to Watch: Tuesday the Nationals try to play spoiler with division-leading Atlanta. Espino, after posting a 1.74 ERA in June, posted a 4.56 ERA in July before recording a 7.45 ERA in August. I want to see if last week’s start (2 runs over 5.1 innings) is the start of a turnaround. The Braves counter with Max Fried who is 3-1 with a 4.76 ERA against the Nats this year.

Game to Miss: On Sunday, the Nationals play Pittsburgh as two potential last place teams meet. And even though Espino starts the matinee, I’m going to be all-in on the Burgundy and Gold as Washington kicks off its football season against the Los Angeles Chargers.

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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