Washington Nationals: Inside the late-season collapse

washington nationalsThe Washington Nationals were 59-28 between May 24 and Sept. 3, the night of the unfathomable 11-10 comeback win over the New York Mets in Nats Park.

The team was as close to full strength as it has been all year at that point. Ace Max Scherzer was back from a long stint on the IL, as was one-time franchise foundation Ryan Zimmerman.

You basically had what you envisioned being your Washington Nationals of 2019 back in spring training in full regalia, maybe for the first time all year.

Oddly, then, considering, the Nats are 5-9 since.

The only significant injury of note has had catcher Kurt Suzuki on the shelf, but wasn’t Suzuki signed in the offseason to be Yan Gomes’ backup anyway?

You have to wonder, what gives?

There were seven games in the past two weeks with the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves, and the slight chance that, were the Nationals to take maybe five or even six of those games, then maybe the East gets interesting down the stretch.

No dice there. The Braves won five of the seven, taking the first three of the four games in Atlanta, and then the first two of the three in DC.

This was sandwiched around a series win at AL Central-leading Minnesota, and ahead of a series loss at NL Central-leading St. Louis.

One thing is clear, from reading through the list of foes the past two weeks: it’s been tough.

The Nationals have not played a game since the series finale with the Mets on Sept. 4 against a team that isn’t at least a 92.3 percent probability away from being a 2019 playoff team.

Scherzer (10-7, 2.81 ERA) is largely back and fully healthy, after a couple of what were effectively rehab starts in his return from the IL on Aug. 22.

Over his last four starts, Scherzer has struck out 33 and walked five in 23.2 innings, but he has gone just 1-2 with a 4.94 ERA over that stretch.

Stephen Strasburg (17-6, 3.49 ERA) has struggled to get deep into games of late, not getting past the sixth inning in any of his last three starts, and needing an average of 106 pitches per start even to get that far.

Patrick Corbin (13-7, 3.10 ERA) has had success of late, with wins in three of his last four starts, but even Corbin has had trouble staying on the mound, not getting past the sixth in any of those four starts.

Anibal Sanchez (9-8, 3.86 ERA) has gone seven innings in two of his last three starts, but he has losses in two of his last three.

All of this has meant more pressure on an already-beleaguered Nats bullpen, which has a worst-in-MLB 5.84 ERA in 2019, and has pitched to a 6.12 ERA over the past 14 games.

That has coincided with the sudden relative silence of the Washington offense, which has been averaging 4.1 runs per game over the recent 5-9 stretch, after putting up 8.7 runs per game in the previous 14, a stretch that had seen the Nats go 11-3.

Among the guys struggling right now: Anthony Rendon (.227/.320/.409 slash over the past seven games), Adam Eaton (.167/.167/.208), Juan Soto (.167/.333/.278), Trea Turner (.167/.259/.208), Asdrubal Cabrera (.059/.150/.059) and Zimmerman (.000/.182/.000).

The problem here: your starting lineup is usually Turner-Eaton-Rendon-Soto-Cabrera.

Meaning: your top-of-the-order isn’t getting it done.

That’s the issue, then. Your lineup isn’t producing, your starters aren’t getting deep into games, your relievers, already overworked, aren’t getting the job done.

The Nats are hanging on by a thread right now.

Story by Chris Graham



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