The Washington Nationals were dead in the water on May 23 as they sat at 19-31 and had just been swept by the New York Mets. The team was injured, the bullpen was in shambles, the offense had gone silent, Dave Martinez was on a scorching seat and the future never seemed bleaker. Washington was in a total free fall.
But, how things have changed. Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Matt Adams, Juan Soto and Anibal Sanchez have all returned from the IL and look much like their old selves. Of the offensive starters, only Ryan Zimmerman is still on the IL and he is close to returning.
The bullpen still has consistency problems, but some of the relievers have started to calm down and pitch decently. The team is now 40-40, seven games behind the Atlanta Braves for first in the NL East and 2.5 games out of the wildcard. Since May 24 the team has gone 20-9 which is the second-best record in the majors over that span. Only the Los Angeles Dodgers have a better record over that time. So what has played a part in Washington’s recent resurgence?
The Nationals starting rotation has the third-best ERA in the majors with a 3.74 behind only the Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins. Washington’s starters have held opponents to a .234 average, which is good for third best in the majors. The rotation has been able to go seven-plus innings regularly which has given the bullpen fewer chances to implode.
Max Scherzer is having another Cy Young caliber season, as he is 7-5, with a 2.52 ERA and 156 strikeouts. He ranks first in the majors in strikeouts, is tied for fourth in wins, ranks fourth in ERA and is second in WAR. Scherzer has entered another level since June started. In five starts in June, Scherzer is 5-0 with an ERA of .97, and 54 strikeouts.
Anibal Sanchez has been a huge boost for the pitching staff. He started off the season 0-6 and a 5.27 ERA. He then landed on the 10 day IL. Since returning from the IL, Sanchez is 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA in five starts. Sanchez has solidified the fourth starter spot and has added depth to an already deep rotation.
The bats are coming alive
Washington’s offense has been key to their season turn around. The offense has been able to bail out the pitching staff if they have an off night. For example on June four against the Chicago White Sox, Washington was down 5-0 after two innings. The offense rallied around Stephen Strasburg, who was not on his A-game. The Nat’s went on to win 9-5. Washington’s offense was unable to pull off feats such as this early on in the season. Now that the offense is healthy and performing again, they finally have a chance of mounting a comeback.
Anthony Rendon is having the best year of his career. The 29-year-old is hitting .313 with 17 home runs, 55 RBIs and an OPS of 1.027. Rendon’s performance has helped lead the team forward and out of their rut.
Howie Kendrick is having the best year of his career offensively at 35 years old. Kendrick is hitting .328 with 12 home runs, 44 RBIs and an OPS of .956. He is on track to set career highs in batting average, home runs, RBIs and OPS. Kendrick missed last season with a ruptured Achilles, so Washington has been smart in how they have played him. The Nats are platooning him with Matt Adams at first base while Zimmerman is out. Kendrick has also been used in the outfield and at second base to give other starters a night off. Keeping Kendrick fresh has allowed him to break out at the plate and has provided a spark that was missing.
Washington’s bullpen is ranked last in the MLB in ERA with a 6.36. Despite the atrocious numbers, the bullpen has started to improve. Tanner Rainey has proved himself an important piece while Wander Suero and Javy Guerra have started to become more reliable.
Guerra started the season with the Toronto Blue Jays but was designated for assignment on May 18. He was then claimed off of waivers by Washington. Like many of the other Washington relievers, Guerra stumbled right off the back. But similar to Suero, Guerra has started to show flashes of consistency. In 12.1/3 innings pitched in June, Guerra has an ERA of 3.65, and has held opponents to a .191 batting average. He has given up five runs this month and has struck out 10. Four of the five runs he gave up came in the same game, the only bad outing he has had this month. Guerra has started to slowly prove he can be dependable.
As of May 27, Suero had an ERA of 6.85 and was 1-4 with a blown save. Things have started to improve for Suero as he has an ERA of 2.45 in the month of June. In 11 innings pitched in June, he has only given up three runs, struck out 12 and earned his first career save. While he still has to prove himself, Suero is trending in the right direction.
While the bullpen has still blown some games, they have held it together enough for the team to start to turn their season around.
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