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August 2, 2022 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ July in review: ‘I’m just going to be here to play baseball’

July was a dreary month for the Nationals. In the first 16 days they went 1–14. Most of these games were against divisional rivals, against whom they went 2–12 for the month. (Their cumulative record against the NL East opponents is now 8–36, compared to 27–32 against teams outside the division.) They finished July with a 6–19 monthly record for their worst month since April 2009. The month ended with the Nats’ record at 35–68, the worst in MLB. And as the month ended, the trade deadline loomed, which means the team is likely to be even worse in the last two months of this season.

The month began with the Nats at home playing a four-game series with the Marlins. Even though the Marlins didn’t start their Cy Young candidate, Sandy Alcantara, they still managed to sweep all four games from the hapless Nats. The home team managed to keep the last two games close but lost both of them in the tenth inning. The series ended with the Nats holding a 1–12 record against the fourth-place Marlins. For the home stand as a whole, the Nats’ record was 2–5.

Their next series was in Philadelphia against the Phillies. The series began with an 11–0 blowout loss to the Phils. The Nats managed to win the next game 3–2 but lost the finale. Their next series was in Atlanta, and it began with a 12–2 blowout loss to the Braves. The other two games were closer—one-run games—with the finale not decided until the twelfth inning, but the Nats were the losing team in all three games. Their record on the road trip was 1–5.

Returning home, the Nats had six games to play before the All-Star break. The first of two games scheduled against the Mariners was rained out, so they played both games the following day as a day-night doubleheader. The Nats lost both games, with a 2–1 loss coming in the nightcap. They then faced the Braves for four games. They lost the first three, giving them a nine-game losing streak (their longest since 2008), and losses in 15 of their last 16 games. But in the series finale, the last game before the All-Star break, the Nats rallied to win the game 7–3, letting them move to the break on a more hopeful note.

During that last weekend before the break, the news broke that Juan Soto had turned down the Nats’ last offer for a contract extension, and the team would be putting him on the trade market. Soto had made the All-Star team and was competing in the home-run derby, so he would face the full attention of the national media. With 17 days remaining until the August 2 trade deadline, the baseball news was full of trade rumors and speculation about possible trades.

The Nats’ only representatives at the All-Star game were Soto and Davey Martinez, who was designated as a coach under manager Brian Snitcker of the Braves. Martinez, of course, had missed his chance to manage the All-Star game after the team’s 2019 championship due to the 2020 pandemic, which led to the cancellation of that year’s game. Soto won the home run derby. It seemed eerily similar to the Nationals’ other home-run derby champion, Bryce Harper, who won in 2018, also shortly before leaving the team.

The first-year player draft also took place during the All-Star break. The Nats used their number 5 pick to draft 18 year-old outfielder Elijah Green and signed him a few days later. He’s described as hitting with power and having the speed and arm to play center field, and as having “the biggest upside of any player in this draft.”

After the break, the Nats had a western road trip, which opened with three games in Phoenix against the Diamondbacks. The series again opened with a blowout loss, this time by a 10–1 score. The Nats lost the first two games, but managed to win the finale by a one-run margin. Their next series was in Los Angeles against the Dodgers, who were on an eight-game winning streak and held the best record in baseball. In the opener, the Nats’ pitching (especially the relievers) kept the Dodger bats at bay, and the Nats won 4 to 1. They followed up the next evening with late rallies in the eighth and ninth innings for an 8 to 3 win, giving them their first series victory in four weeks. They lost the finale, finishing the road trip with a 3–3 record.

The month concluded at home with a series against the Cardinals, another team with playoff aspirations. The Nats won one of three, ending a largely miserable month that also featured several memorable games.

The Nationals were pretty awful all around. The starting pitchers in July had the worst ERA and ERA– in the National League and the worst fielding independent pitching (FIP) and FIP– in baseball. The batters were near the bottom (13th of 15 teams in the NL in weighted runs created, or wRC+) with only Juan Soto and Josh Bell hitting better than league average according to wRC+. The one bright spot for the team was the relief pitchers, whose 3.36 ERA in July ranked fifth in the NL.

Maybe the most devastating article I read on the Nationals this season was actually this article about the Orioles. It included an interview with Austin Voth, whom the Nats DFA’d after he pitched as a reliever in 19 games this season with a 10.13 ERA. With the Orioles for the last two months, he’s returned to starting and has a 2.84 ERA in 11 games. Voth said “I was kind of blown away by all the data that they have here, the video guys and how they can break down stats and pitches. And individually things for each pitcher. That was big for me.” The interview and Voth’s improved performance raises the question of just how bad the Nationals are at analytics, and how it may have led to disappointing performance by many talented young pitchers.

Two Nats pitchers, Tanner Rainey and Sean Doolittle, suffered elbow ligament injuries in July that likely ended their seasons. Doolittle had surgery that was less invasive than Tommy John surgery to repair a partial tear and faces a five-to-seven month recovery period. So far, there’s no word that Rainey will need surgery for his elbow ligament strain, but he was placed on the 60-day injured list and is reported to be out for the remainder of the season. Jackson Tetreault suffered a right scapula stress fracture and also went on the 60-day injured list.

In other personnel moves, the Nationals picked up 2023 contract options for Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez, allowing both the general manager and the manager to remain in place for another season as ownership continues to explore the sale of the team. Anibal Sanchez returned to the starting rotation for the first time since 2020—he sat out the 2021 season and was on the injured list for the first three and a half months of 2022 due to cervical nerve impingement.  Departing the team in July was Sam Clay, who was claimed off waivers and is now with the Mets.

Record:

6–19 (.240)

Pythagorean Record:

6–19 (3.12 R/G – 5.48 RA/G)

July MVP:

Juan Soto (.315/.495/.616, 6 HR, 17 R, 13 RBI, 205 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR)

Pitcher of the month:

Kyle Finnegan (0–0, 1.64 RA/9, 9 G, 11 IP, 6.5 K/9, .162 opp OBP, 5.09 RE24, 0.7 RA9-WAR, 5 shutdowns, 1 meltdown)

Starter of the month:

Erasmo Ramirez (As a starter: 0–0, 0.00 RA/9, 1 GS, 3 IP, 6.0 K/9, .100 opp OBP, 0.2 RA9-WAR). Okay, this is kind of a joke award, given that Ramirez was a reliever who made just the one 3-inning start. The point, though, is that none of the actual starters deserved an award. The lowest ERA in July of the Nats’ seven “actual” starters was 5.82 (by Paolo Espino). All of the other starters had ERAs ranging from 6.75 to 9.00. That is not award-worthy performance.

Worst month:

This one is shared by Patrick Corbin (0–4, 8.36 RA/9, 5 GS, 22⅔ IP, 8.7 K/9, .409 opp OBP, –0.6 RA9-WAR) and Nelson Cruz (.173/.253/.213, 0 HR, 5 R, 7 RBI, 35 wRC+, –0.6 fWAR). Cruz’s poor performance in July may have cost him a trade to a contender before the deadline (written with about four hours to go before the deadline).

Best start this month:

Josiah Gray (July 6, 3–2 win over the Phillies in Philadelphia) pitched 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits and 1 walk and striking out 11 for a game score of 66.

Worst start:

Erick Fedde (July 8, 12–2 loss to the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 8 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks in 3+ innings with 1 strikeout for a game score of 9.

Tough losses:

  • None

Cheap wins:

  • None

Biggest shutdown:

Tanner Rainey (July 10, 4–3 loss to the Braves in 12 innings in Atlanta) pitched the 10th and 11th innings of a game that was tied 3–3 and held the Braves scoreless. He gave up a 2-out single in the 10th, but automatic runner Austin Riley was thrown out at the plate trying to score. The Braves also got a one-out single in the 11th, but were unable to score either runner. (Win probability added/WPA +.635)

Worst meltdown:

Tanner Rainey (July 3, 7–4 loss to the Marlins at home). The Nats were ahead 3–2 in the top of the ninth when Rainey was asked to get the save. He got a strikeout and a ground out, but then walked Avisail Garcia. With a 2–2 count, Jesus Sanchez hit a home run to give the Marlins the lead. (WPA –.629) The Nats tied the game in the bottom of the inning, but Carl Edwards Jr. gave up 4 singles and 3 runs in the top of the 10th, and the Nats were unable to score in the bottom of the inning.

Clutch hit:

Luis Garcia (July 26, 8–3 win over the Dodgers in Los Angeles). Garcia came to bat in the top of the eighth with two outs, a runner on first, and the Nats were trailing 3–2. He hit a 1–2 hanging breaking ball into the right field bleachers, giving the Nationals the lead. (WPA +.536) The Nats tacked on 4 runs in the top of the ninth to guarantee the win.

Choke:

Luis Garcia (July 4, 3–2 loss to the Marlins at home). The Nats and Marlins were tied 1 to 1 at the end of nine. In the top of the tenth, Bryan De La Cruz hit a 2-run homer to give the Marlins a 3–1 lead. In the bottom of the inning, Ehire Adrianza led off with a single, advancing the automatic runner to third. So, Garcia came to bat with no outs and runners on first and third. He grounded into a 4–6–3 double play, scoring the runner from third  but leaving two outs and the bases empty. (WPA –.319) The Nats got one more single before the Marlins got the final out.

Memorable fielding plays:

Victor Robles may have misjudged this fly ball off the bat, but he recovered to make a fine play.

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