Welcome to the dog days of summer in Nats Town. The Nationals start a nine-game homestand tonight; they’ll play three series against NL East foes, and they’ll need to come out 6-3 if they want any shot at making a run at the Wild Card. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening, but there’s a good solid chance at 5-4, if they play their cards right. Here’s the full preview of the homestand that brings us fish, the Braves, the first start of the season for one Washington pitcher, and a Jayson Werth Bobblehead doll.
Who’s Playing? Well, the Nationals will first face the Florida Marlins, who arrive at the bottom of the NL East, a half game behind the Nationals. Their 49-53 record has been something of a frustration for the team that had a strong start, then sank fairly rapidly. This three-game series is for all of the marbles in the bottom of the NL East. Should the Nats drop two, they could return to the cellar for the first time in a month or so. The 3-6 road trip they just finished has a fairly large say in that return, and they’ll be looking to turn it around.
After the Thursday midday game at Nats Park, the Marlins leave and the Mets arrive. The Metropolitans have resurged to 51-51, but are facing a strong Cincinnati team while we’re up against Florida, so it’s possible they could arrive in Washington a little weary, and a bit beat up. Given the flux in the standings, look for some solid wins here, especially with the arrival of what appears to be a healthy Chien Ming Wang for Washington on Friday night. Scheduled starters for the Mets are Gee (9-8, 3.75 ERA) Dickey (5-8, 3.74 ERA) and Niese (9-8, 3.76 ERA). That’s not what you’d like to see, given the Nats offensive struggle.
After the weekend, the Nationals will face the current NL Wild Card favorites in the Atlanta Braves, who have dominated the runs debate against the Nationals in 9 games, up 53-41. The Nationals, though, have claimed four wins of the nine played, which is fairly impressive given that differential.
What’s to do at the ballpark? Well, the first biggest event is tonight’s matchup with Florida. Tickets for tonight’s matchup start at just $2. That’s followed shortly by dollar hot dog night on Wednesday, so if you’re feeling a bit peckish and want to pull a Kobayashi, hie thee to Nats Park. Also on special is Monday night’s game at the Braves, where tickets are a dollar, hot dogs and peanuts are a dollar, and parking is a dollar. There’s no excuse not to support the home team for a scant buck.
Looking at the Promo schedule, you’ll find Saturday is Jayson Werth Bobblehead day, which means you’ll find yourself staring down the beared wonder in miniature at the gates. Get there early, though, there’s just 15,000 of these babies. There’s also Peanut-Free Baseball on Sunday if you have an allergy that makes the ballpark a frustrating experience, this is just for you.
What’s coming up? There are just five days left before the MLB non-waiver trade deadline, which means that there’s always some excitement out there. Trade rumors are swirling around the Nationals, but don’t expect the Nats to be sellers at the deadline, or at least, sellers in the traditional sense. While there are holes in the Nationals’ lineup (I’m thinking here of a good leadoff hitter, and a proper CF) don’t expect a one-sided shakeup here. I’m not expecting a big move at this point without a big a payoff, but no one saw last year’s Matt Capps trade coming, either.
There’s talk about grabbing Denard Span from the Twins, in exchange for Tyler Clippard, which could bolster the front of the lineup if Span can complete his concussion recovery successfully, but with that concussion as a big warning sign, I can see Rizzo passing on that opportunity and waiting for the free agent period. Still, watch the wires, this one’s going to come right down to it.
So, what’s your take? This is the part where the casual fan would be forgiven for turning away and letting the baseball nerd just go. The Nationals are struggling significantly right now, and their near-.500 season hangs in the balance this homestand. The Nationals would need 6-3 to get back to .500, and unless they can take two series from the Marlins and Mets, they’re aren’t going to return there before they head to the road. They can’t count on more than one win against the Braves, especially with Jurrjens and Beachy starting.
I can easily see the Nationals winning a pair of series against the Marlins and Mets, but I can just as easily see the Nationals getting swept by the Braves. What’s wrong? Where’s the offense? I can’t quite tell you, but we’re not seeing as nearly a focused team as we did two homestands ago when the Nationals marched right on up from eleven games under .500 and took back a winning record. We’re seeing mental errors in the middle of the infield, and slack play from the outfield. We’re seeing wretched appearances from formerly solid middle relief, and shorter appearances from our starters.
In short, the Nationals have reverted to the statistical mean of their ability, and to do so amid slumps by Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth has meant a return to a losing record.
Don’t fret, Nats fans, streaks go both ways. Slumps break. Pitchers rebound. After their last loss in Los Angeles, Ian Desmond said it quite succinctly: “We’re letting a lot of people down right now. We’ve got to be better than this.” He’s absolutely right. The defensive play coming out of the All-Star Break has been fairly bad. They started off with a five error game, and added four more over the next eight, or 13% of their errors in just 9% of their games. But, there’s good news. Despite their post-All Star Break slide, they’re still 9-11 in July, and have every chance to come out of the month with a positive record, if they can get back to their mid-April form against the Mets, and their mid-June form against the Marlins. There’s every reason to think that they can go back to finding reasons to succeed, instead of taking the option not to.