A warrior can only do so much when those he leads rely on him to win battles alone.
Since the start of the season, the Nationals have disappointed in every metric. Heavy favorites to win the National League East, their performance in the first two months from the plate to the bullpen looked nothing short of abysmal.
Despite their misfortune, the team is nothing less than stacked with talent, hence the lofty predictions. Their rotation, particularly Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, has actually met expectations. Scherzer commands an impressive 33.3 percent strikeout rate, compared with his 34.6 percent last year. Strasburg, meanwhile, has improved to 30.3 percent over last year’s 28.7 percent. But their respective ERAs of 2.83 and 3.36, however, don’t show it. Solid hitting this month has lifted Strasburg to a 7-3 record, but the Nats are 4-5 in games in which Scherzer has started.
Much ink has been spilled about the Nationals’ bullpen troubles and its 6.43 ERA. But the relievers’ poor performances must only add to the frustration that Scherzer and Strassburg feel toward their infield. Despite a decent rotation, the defense, particularly the infield, has played to the team’s record.
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From missed ground balls to missed throws, the infield has forced the team’s rotation to rely more on the strikeout. With 46 errors, it’s currently tied for sixth worst along with the New York Mets. Scherzer and Strassburg have coped with the task as well as, or better than, anyone could ask a starting pitcher. Scherzer has a 2.04 FIP, which more accurately gauges the pitcher’s contribution minus the defense. Strassburg’s FIP similarly stands at .56 points behind his ERA at 2.76.
But even the greatest of pitching warriors cannot cut down an enemy alone while their comrades watch from a sleepy distance.
Scherzer has remained consistent, despite “playing in front of a bunch of butchers” as The Athletic’s Jonah Keri put it, and Strassburg by some metrics has improved. Consistently poor fielding, however, has doubtlessly hurt the bullpen more than the team’s starters by preventing unseasoned relievers from building the necessary confidence to turn their season around.
The Nats are finally starting to find their bats this month, and the season is far from over. If Nats manager Davey Martinez can find a way to rally the team’s defense and give its bullpen—which lacks the consistency and focus of Scherzer and Strassburg—something to pitch for, this team could still be in the Wild Card race.