Yesterday marked 2 weeks from the last time the Nationals had a big chunk of their lineup missing. On Tuesday 7/28 Werth and Zimmermann would join the recently returned Rendon and the line-up would basically be as originally planned, save Span. Span has been a very good player for the Nats, but one line-up spot lost to injury has to be par for course, if not better off than most teams. Since that moment the Nats have gone 5-8 and have fallen from in first place by 2 games, to down by 1.5. Nats are back, baby!
The Nats hit a middling .232 / .309 / .376 in the past two weeks but really the weeks are distinct pieces, as they hit .263 / .363 / .424 over the past one. That's actually pretty good. Now they should hit pretty good against the Diamondbacks and the Rockies, but you have to take the fact that they did do it to be a positive. At least I do. Doing what you should do is never something to just write off.
Of course they didn't win despite hitting well. They went 3-4 losing every game they scored 4 runs in for some reason. 4-6, 4-11, 4-5, and 4-6 again. A team should be able to win at least one of those games, and a team with the best pitching staff ever (TM) should probably expect more. What happened? Doug Fister, Aaron Barrett, Drew Storen and Drew Storen again. Two of those guys are no longer doing what they were doing at that moment.
That leaves us with Drew. What to think? You have to just write it off. Maybe the Rockies just have his number. He was nearly perfect in his previous 5 outings as 8th inning guy, (5IP, 0H , 6K, 1BB) so it isn't that. Or at least there isn't evidence that it is that. He wasn't hit especially hard in either blown game. The first involved a walk, a single past a drawn in Zimm (expecting a bunt? Couldn't have been holding the runner on with 3 run lead, right?) a swinging bunt single then the mistake. The second was worse but still involves a multi bounce GB finding it's way into the hole to score the runs. The Nats really don't have a choice here. They brought in Papelbon so the 8th and 9th would be set. Move Drew around and you brought Papelbon in for nothing. Let's hope this setlles down now.
What's more concerning to me is the continued morphing into "just good" of Max Scherzer. He's had two straight outings that were perfectly competent but little more. In the five games before that he had two bad games. This isn't terrible in of itself, but it is terrible compared to the bar he set for himself early in the season. In the past month he's given up more homers and had more 3+ runs allowed outings than he had in the previous 3+ months before that.
Is there anything concerning or relieving in the fancy stats? Well, Max is getting hit with a higher than expected BABIP (.346) in August. That is part of it. But a more telling stat is the increase in HR/FB rate that has been consistent all year. 0.0% -> 6.3% -> 9.1% -> 13.3% -> 23.1%. Part of that is of course the weather, but is there something more here? GBs have generally gone down and FBs generally up all season. Perhaps he's not getting down in the zone as much as he once was? Or perhaps batters are attempting to tee off on him when they have a chance? Kind of a "swing for the fences" mentality because whatever more cautious way of approaching Max they were trying earlier in the year, it wasn't working. It'll take more digging. Something even more weird out there - a 3.5% "soft%" (how hard the balls are being hit off him - soft, medium or hard) two games into August. Now that is crazily low. I would normally take that to mean "not fooling anyone" but he's still getting strikeouts and the LD-rate isn't any higher. So what could it be?
This could be it. Basically Max is throwing more meatballs as the season goes on. It may be tied to his new obsession about not walking anyone or maybe not but the straight pitches (fastballs and changes) thrown in the middle middle of the plate have gone up steadily since June. It's not a lot but if hitters are going to the plate looking to hit that one mistake someone is going to be successful. Based on the heat maps (where he's throwing pitches) I think this is more a righty issue but I'll have to do more thinking / looking up to come close to a decent guess, which is confirming nothing. So... yeah.
Anyway this road trip is exactly not what the Nats needed. Away against the two best teams in the West (reeling or not) followed up by a series in Colorado, where the Rockies are much better. The Mets are in slightly better shape - home against Colorado and Pirates, then off on their own road trip starting in Baltimore. Given how the NL East does against the other divisions* I don't see either team running away over the next two weeks.
Time for some night baseball. Who's up until 1 with me?
*The NL East is the worst division in baseball. If you disagree you do not understand concepts like "wins" and "losses" and maybe you should follow something with more nebulous achievements like acting. However the NL East is not the worst division ever and likely won't be. The combined winning percentage of the East is at .460 which is really really low, but the AL Central went through a good 7+ years of being terrible around the turn of the century where multiple seasons had even lower winning percentages that that. The NL East could beat this but it would take a pretty solid losing streak to do it. Like both the Nats and Mets coing 2-8 in their next 10. And although it may not count the "winner" is the 1994 AL West, where the best team was sitting at 10 games under when the season was cut short.