Another injury-plagued week concludes for the Nationals, as two pitchers suffered injuries. It wasn’t a great week on the field either for the Nats, as the team posted a 3-3 record, despite having a three-game series against the lowly Miami Marlins. But while the team did not perform as it hoped it would this week, there were a few dazzling showings, and one key takeaway.
Sunday, July 30 — Win over the Rockies, 3-1
The Nationals started off the week with the concluding game of a series against the Colorado Rockies. Edwin Jackson was sent out as the starting pitcher to go up against the Rockies’ Jon Gray. The Rockies opened the scoring with one in the top of the the fifth, and the Nationals responded with three in the bottom of the frame. Adam Lind hit a two-run home run, and was followed by a Brian Goodwin solo shot later in the inning. The Nationals then led 3-1. Jackson exited the game after the seventh inning after allowing just one earned run on four hits while striking out six. The Nationals turned to Ryan Madson in the eighth and Sean Doolittle in the ninth to seal the deal. The two late-inning arms did not allow a hit, and combined to strike out three batters. But more importantly, they maintained the Nationals lead, and the team won, 3-1.
Monday, July 31 (MLB Non-waiver trade deadline) — Win over the Marlins, 1-0
4:00 p.m. EST on July 31 marked the MLB non-waiver trade deadline. Madson and Doolittle had already proven to be the reliable late inning bullpen pitchers that the Nationals desperately needed. However, the Nationals came into deadline day still appearing to need one more arm. Just before the deadline hit, the Nationals were able to acquire Minnesota Twins closer Brandon Kintzler to complete a revamped bullpen.
It was the Nationals starting pitching that stole the show come the opener of a three-game set against the Marlins however. Miami native Gio Gonzalez was sensational on what would have been Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez’s 25th birthday. Gonzalez took a no-hitter into the ninth inning, but Dee Gordon broke up the no-hit bid with a leadoff single. Doolittle came into get the save, a Bryce Harper RBI-single in the sixth providing the Nationals only run of the game, and got the job done. The Nationals won, 1-0.
Tuesday, August 1 — Loss against the Marlins, 7-6
After Gonzalez came so close to a historic outing on Monday, the Nationals sent their ace, Max Scherzer — a man who is a threat to put up a historic performance every time he takes the ball — to the bump.
The Nationals scored six runs in the top of the second inning. Anthony Rendon singled home Daniel Murphy to give the Nationals their first run. Later in the inning, Scherzer hit his first career home run, a deep three run shot to to left field, giving the Nationals a 4-0 lead. Howie Kendrick hit a two run shot two batters later to up the lead to 6-0. Kendrick would go 5-5 in the game.
Scherzer came back out with a six run cushion to work with, but the tables turned very quickly. Scherzer left the game after warming up in the bottom of the second inning, neck spasms proving to the be the culprit.
Facing the Nationals bullpen for eight innings proved to be a blessing for the Marlins, as it only took them until the fifth to make up the deficit and take a 7-6 lead. Matt Grace (three earned runs), Sammy Solis (two earned runs), and Matt Albers (two earned runs) were the ones who were unable to keep what seemed like a safe six run lead. The Nationals would lose the game, 7-6.
Wednesday, August 2 — Loss against the Marlins, 7-0
A.J. Cole pitched for the Nationals in the finale against the Marlins, and allowed five earned runs over five innings pitched. Enny Romero came in to pitch next, and allowed two earned runs in just two thirds of an inning. He would leave the game due to forearm tightness, and eventually found his way onto the disabled list. Kintzler made his first Nationals appearance in this game, striking out two over one and a third innings.
The offense did nothing in this game, and subsequently lost 7-0.
Friday August 4 — Win over the Cubs, 4-2
After a travel day, the Nationals opened a series with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Friday. Tanner Roark faced Kyle Hendricks in the opening matchup. Roark threw six and a third excellent innings, a poorly placed slider to Javier Baez that quickly found itself driven out over the wall for a two run home run proving the only blemish on his line.
The Nationals offense came largely from Murphy, who hit a two run home run in the first, and a solo shot in the sixth. The Nationals tacked on a fourth run in the eighth on a Rendon sacrifice fly to right which drove in Kendrick.
Roark was pulled from the game in the seventh right after the Baez home run. Kintzler came in to pitch. This game would mark the first where the Nationals would use their three late inning bullpen acquisitions to close out a close game, against a division leader and the Nationals likely NLDS opponent nonetheless.
Kintzler finished off the seventh not allowing a hit and striking out one. Madson came in for the eighth not allowing a hit and striking out two. Dusty Baker proved that Madson will serve the role as the eighth inning man no-matter the matchup, as Baker left Madson in to face Kyle Schwarber, despite the righty on lefty matchup. Madson proceeded to blow three straight fastballs past the free-swinging Schwarber, impressively striking him out to close the inning.
Doolittle came in for the ninth, allowed a hit to to Jason Heyward to start the inning, but struck out the next batter, Baez. Doolittle then forced Ian Happ to ground into a game ending double play, giving the Nationals a 4-2 win.
Saturday, August 5 — Loss against the Cubs, 7-4
Edwin Jackson got his second start of the week for the Nationals on Saturday, but did not do as well as he had done against the Rockies. Harper gave the Nationals a quick 1-0 lead in the first as he crushed a solo home run off the scoreboard in right. But the Cubs scored four in the bottom of the first to go up 4-1. The Nationals got back within one run in the fourth, but the Cubs would respond and pull away from the Nationals. The Cubs went on to win 7-4.
Friday’s win against the Cubs was by far the most important game of the week for the Nationals. The retooled bullpen was put into a situation that it will almost certainly face in the postseason, and it held onto the lead it was given, without any kind of a roller coaster ride. The trio of Kintzler, Madson and Doolittle were lights out in the late innings of the game.
This game also showed the structure of how the bullpen will likely look going forward. Kintzler is the seventh inning guy, Madson the eight, and Doolittle the closer. Recent years have shown that having a dominant back end of the bullpen, where the manager has a seventh, eighth and ninth inning guy without having to worry about matchups, has been a key to success. Look no further than the Kansas City Royals for an example. Friday’s game proved that the Nationals bullpen now has that type of a structure, and that they have the guys capable of being dominant in the late innings.
The week ahead
The Nationals start the week with the series finale against the Cubs before heading back to D.C. for a long homestand. The Marlins will be in town for a four-game series, followed by the San Francisco Giants for three to close out the week.