Shawn Kelley and the Nats were walked-off by the lowly Braves last afternoon (7-6 final in 10) and, while Washington did take three games in the series, they were really plagued by rough pitching in the latter parts of the game. In the first 5 frames of all four games, Atlanta scored 7 runs total but, once it reached the 6th inning, a hideous 17 runners crossed the plate for the Braves. Not all of the late-inning offense came against the ‘pen but it has been pretty clear that the bullpen has not been as dominant as it was earlier in the season.
Offensively, the Nationals scored 32 runs in their 4 game series (Bryce Harper knocked in 6 and Trea Turner made it possible for 5 others to cross the plate) but I left the series thinking that this team was very lucky to pull away with 3 out of 4. That is because the usually-sure gloved defense has absolutely crumbled in the past four games. In the first 119 games, Washington committed just 47 errors – pretty good – but, in the most recent 4, 9 errors were committed. That is 16% of the team’s seasonal tally in fielding errors all crammed into one series. I don’t really see a trend like this continuing into future games and the weather wasn’t optimal but this is also definitely not the time for this team to take their foot off the gas. Sure, the Nats have an 8.5 game lead on the division and sure the past series was against the worst team in baseball but the magic number is still 31 and this team has to keep playing until that number reaches 0 (then extend that tenacity onto the postseason).
The Nats gave up a ton of runs in the series to the Braves. From July 20th through August 20th, the Nat’s pen had an ERA of 4.15, 11th worst in all of baseball. When you compare this to the team’s 3.20 mark for the season (2nd best in all of baseball), you have to start to wonder whether something is up. Of course, part of the inflated ERA in the past month has to do with Pap and his inflated ego, but his 8 earned runs allowed definitely don’t explain everything. The team’s bullpen has also stopped K-ing opposing batters as frequently as they did in the past. A bullpen that struck out more than a batter per inning for the first 3 1/2 months of the year is suddenly only getting around 7.8 strikeouts per 9 innings. Again, its pretty easy to point to the loss of Felipe Rivero as a possible narrative but that line of thinking just wouldn’t be true. Mark Melancon with the Nationals has struck out batters at an identical rate as Rivero when he was with the team. Whatever the issues with the bullpen are, they should be fixable and we are going to need that strong pen when it comes time for some post-season baseball.
Next up, we’ve got the big Beltway Series against the O’s – the first venue will be Camden this year – and Stephen Strasburg will look to right the ship after watching his ERA sky-rocket from 2.63 to 3.59 over the past 20 days. Strasburg has a tough opponent in the talented Dylan Bundy but I feel pretty confident with all 4 of the pitching matchups as we hope to win our first Beltway Series in nearly a decade.