See? Didn't I tell you? What a difference a game makes? Magically a disappointing 2-4 finish to a road trip that started with a sweep becomes just a very very good 7-3 road trip.
So there was a hiccup against the Reds. So what! First place by 2 and a half games. The Phillies and Marlins are showing themselves to be, as expected, non-contenders. The Mets are struggling to keep pace. Fourth best record in the majors but literally a half-game from 2nd best.* Finally a bunch of guys are hitting at the same time. In the past week Ramos and Werth are killing it. Espy and Murphy are hot. Bryce, Rendon, and Revere are doing well. MAT and Zimm are contributing. Literally the worst guy over the past week is Zimm who has only had 3 hits but they were all XBH and he's walked a few times to boot.You're not going to lose many games given that.
This is good because the pitching has been not so hot. Scherzer was great, had the first game he didn't give up a homer since the first of May. But Ross and Roark were terrible and Stras and Gio had their struggles. Anything to worry about? Eh not yet. You know I was on Gio, but he bounced back nicely after that first inning, although admittedly I did say these are the types of teams he should do ok with. I'd be real wary of that Cubs game next week. But maybe he'll surprise? The rest - chalk it up to a bad week for now.
That still doesn't cover the pen, which had several failures. Let's ignore the failings of Perez (it was mostly RH doing damage, which will happen given that he's pretty much a LOOGY) and Papelbon (which we are aware of). Neither Kelley nor Rivero have pitched well recently. Rivero, by all rights, could just be wiped. Kelley I'm confused by and it seems Dusty is too. Here is a quick rundown of how Kelley has been used this year.
April 4-12th : 7th/8th inning of close games. Performed well. 1H, 1BB, 3K in 2.2 IP. Opponents line .111 / .200 / .222. One bases loaded walk in the first game, otherwise no possible complaints. No runs one hit.
April 16th-22nd : complete garbage time usage. 7 runs leads each time used. Was hit a little. 4H, 5K in 2.2 IP. .333 / .333 / .333. Allowing a couple inherited guys to score in a game
April 26th-May 5th : A mix some close games, some not close. Again mostly very good work, though an a falter at the end letting an inherited run score, but the game was mostly lost at that point (down 4 in became down 5 for 9th). Still no runs charged to him. 3 H, 5K in 3.1 IP. .231 / .231 / .385
May 6th-14th : late inning close games. Gave up a big hit in a close game vs the Cubs. Other four outings perfect. 2H, 1BB, 6K, in 4.2 IP. .125 / .176 / .188
May18th-29th : Garbage time again. A couple runs finally charged to him, but not necessarily terrible overall. 2H, 2BB, 5K in 4.2 IP. .143 / 235 / .500
June 4-Today : mostly close games. Garbage time issues against White Sox otherwise ok. 3H 1BB 6 K in 3.2 IP. .214 / .267 / .571
Kelley hasn't been great with inherited runners but overall he's been very good. Yet, being very good or having a problem or two hasn't really effected how Kelley has been used. Instead, it feels like he is at the mercy of how Dusty feels about Treinen on a certain day. He's consistently plan B for late inning RH relief pitching and I don't know why. I don't really know if this is a Dusty thing or a team thing, but it certainly feels like they desperately want Treinen to be the heir apparent to Papelbon and are going to try to force it. I don't think it's the right move. I still think Treinen is too wild and that will be his downfall. But they are going to do what they are going to do and they are winning so what do I know.
I don't know how we got going down that tangent. Oh yes I do. The pen hasn't been great. Unlike a lot of previous things that I've brushed off this does concern me. Rivero having issues is troublesome because with hittable Pap in the 9th and their Treinen obsession that means now the Nats really effective late inning guy is down to... well no one in my opinion. I can't say I like Sammy Solis if I don't like Treinen considering they basically have the same control issue. I think the answer is there. I think Kelley is good. But the Nats aren't going in that direction and I don't know why
Of course, if you're an optimist, I just spent most of this post worrying about the 8th inning guy. That's a pretty good thing to be your major concern at the moment.
OK so the Nats come home and they are going to get the Phillies and the Cubs. They can effectively end the Phillies with a sweep. The Phillies aren't particularly good so their whole season rests on staying in it long enough so that they can't fall out of it. Be that by luck or pitching or the combination that got them through the first 40 games. But they are pretty much falling out of it now and need to take a game from the Nats simply to try to keep their heads near the water line of .500. A sweep would make them 29-34, 5-17 in the past 4 weeks and basically dead in the water.
The Cubs series is an entirely different animal. There's been some attempt to wipe the sweep away since it happened. They were competitive, and it was in Chicago, and the Nats have been fine since then. Still a sweep is a sweep and the idea you can't beat a team can hang over your head. The Nats have to think they will have to beat the Cubs in the playoffs so taking a game here is imperative. It doesn't have to be more than that (thought a series win would better set up the teams as competitive). Just a win will allow the Nats to walk into a playoff series without the idea that they can't beat the team they are playing. They won't play again this year so this is the time.
*What's the catch for the pessimist? Well if you are such a guy the WC race is going exactly as expected. The Mets, Pirates, and Cardinals are in the mix and the likely scenario has the second WC finisher not too far off of 90 wins. Any stumble by the Nats could put then in a danger zone. But this is life for everyone in the NL except for the Cubs (who'd probably have to play games under .500 ball to miss out). It's a tightrope any non-historic pace team will have to walk this year. Better to walk it with a several game lead in hand 40% through the year.