Washington Nationals Michael Taylor bunts for an out in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park, Wednesday, May 25, 2016, in Washington. New York won 2-0. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
During the first six weeks of the season, the Washington Nationals starters basically carried a team who was still trying to get into an offensive rhythm. Eventually, the staff would come back down to reality. When that occurred, it would be up to the batters to do their job at the plate. That offense was needed this past week and, unfortunately for Washington, it didn’t show up.
The Nationals (29-21) have lost their grip on the National League East to the New York Mets (28-20), and there are whispers of gloom that are becoming louder with every loss.
Has starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez regressed back to his mentally unstable form of old?
Will ace pitcher Max Scherzer ever stop giving up homers?
Can fellow starting pitchers Joe Ross and Tanner Roark still give the team quality starts with regularity?
Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park, Monday, May 23, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
The curious case of Gio Gonzalez is becoming a conundrum. The main issue during Gonzalez’s tenure in D.C. is his propensity to lose his composure whenever adversity develops during a ballgame. In seasons past, he started games by striking out the competition and showing supreme ability, and in the very next inning, gave up walks and two-out hits that lead to big innings for the opponent. Time and again, starts that began with so much promise succumbed to familiar demons in a flash.
For the moment, it looks like his 2016 season may be going down the same path. Gonzalez has allowed 13 earned runs in his past two starts, bloating his ERA from 1.86 to 3.57. The six earned runs he allowed on six hits and four walks in 4-2/3 innings against the Cardinals on Saturday marked the first time in his career that he has given up six earned runs in back-to-back starts.
“I’m a way better pitcher than what I’m showing out there,” Gonzalez told reporters after the start. “And it sucks that guys are constantly picking up my mess. As a pitcher, I pride myself on being the guy that can go the distance and work his tail off.”
Scherzer’s season has been either spectacular or peculiarly average. Scherzer has shown an inability to keep batters from crushing devastating homers in abundance. As great as he has been for the Nationals, the 41 homers Scherzer has surrendered since his arrival leads all of Major League Baseball. Whether it’s a matter of ball placement or batters being tipped off with his delivery, something’s off. There should be no reason that someone with his capabilities just continues to give up leads so quickly.
Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper circles the bases after hitting a solo homer off St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Mike Leake during the sixth inning of a baseball game at Nationals Park, Thursday, May 26, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
However, Washington’s bats may be waking up. MVP Bryce Harper is slowly coming out of a four-week slump with two homers this week. Anthony Rendon raised his batting average from .237 to .262 in the last 10 games thanks to six multi-hit efforts that included four doubles, a home run and a triple. Finally, Ryan Zimmerman may be finding his much needed power.
Not coming away with a winning home stand this past week wasn’t ideal, but the Nationals had the hardest schedule in the National League during the month of May. Their 29-21 record puts them on pace for 97 wins, and their equally strong plus-51 run differential has been accomplished despite playing 40 games against winning teams and only nine against losers. They’ve faced the Cardinals, Cubs, Royals, Tigers and Mets 21 times. They have hit supposedly weak teams like Miami and Philadelphia while they were hot–or in the Phillies’ case, probably just playing way over their abilities. With a nine-game road trip to Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Chicago upcoming, it is paramount that the Nationals put all phases of their game together as the midway portion of the season approaches.