The Washington Nationals continued their second half opening road trip in the first full week back from the All-Star break. The team went 4-2 in its games this week, with series against the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Sunday, July 16 — 14-4 win over the Reds
On Sunday, July 16, the Nationals won its third straight against the Reds in a 14-4 drubbing. In the blowout win, the Nationals hit five home runs; two of them off the bat of Daniel Murphy. Murphy went 3-for-4 with two home runs, five RBIs and two runs. Anthony Rendon, Adam Lind and Jose Lobaton also joined the home run party, each hitting one. Starter Tanner Roark recorded the win after throwing six innings and striking out five. Three runs were scored on Roark, however, all were unearned.
Monday, July 17 — 6-1 win over the Reds
The Nationals completed the four game sweep on Monday, beating the Reds 6-1. Stephen Strasburg was the star of the game for the Nationals, throwing seven dazzling innings, allowing just one run while striking out 11. The Nationals gave Strasburg a lead to work with before he stepped on the mound, as the offense put up five runs in the top of the first. Bryce Harper hit a three-run home run, and the next batter, Ryan Zimmerman, belted a solo home run to put the Nationals up 4-0. Zimmerman’s home run put him past Vladimir Guerrero for the franchise’s all-time home runs lead. The Nationals got one more in the bottom of the first when Matt Wieters drove in Murphy on a sacrifice fly. A Brian Goodwin solo home run in the six inning gave the Nationals its sixth and final run of the game.
Tuesday, July 18 — 4-3 win over the Angels
The team then headed out to Los Angeles for a two-game series for the Angels. Tuesday marked what could be a key turning point in the Nationals season, as Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle joined the roster. The Nationals traded Blake Treinen and two prospects to the Oakland Athletics for Madson and Doolittle in an effort to stabilize a bullpen that owned the worst ERA in the MLB. It would be just hours after joining the roster that Madson and Doolittle were asked to make an impact.
The Nationals sent Edwin Jackson to the hill in his return to the Nationals on Tuesday. Jackson, who hadn’t started a game in the big leagues in 2017, impressed in a big way. Jackson allowed just two runs, both of which were solo home runs, over seven innings. However, his offense didn’t give him much run support. Harper hit a solo home run in the top of the first, but Mike Trout responded in the bottom of the frame with a solo home run of his own to tie the game. The Angels would go up 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth after a solo shot. In the top of the seventh, Rendon homered to left, knotting the two teams at two. The tie was broken by Zimmerman in the top of the eighth as he drove in Harper on an RBI single.
With a 3-2 lead, the ball was turned over to the Ryan Madson and the revamped bullpen. Madson dominated in the bottom of the eighth inning, recording a 1-2-3 inning, while striking out one. In the top of the ninth, Adam Lind provided a little for run support for the Nationals before Doolittle went out to close, as he smashed a solo home run to center.
Doolittle took the team, and the Nationals fans on a roller coaster ride in the bottom of the ninth. Doolittle struggled to get the ball down, and walked the first batter, C.J. Cron. Ben Revere reached on a fielder’s choice that got Cron out at second. The next batter, Kole Calhoun, doubled off of Doolittle and moved Revere to third. Trout would ground out, but it allowed Revere to come home, making it 4-3. But unlike so many bullpen collapses of prior days, Doolittle pulled it together, getting Albert Pujols to fly out, ending the game, and preserving the Nationals win.
Harper was the star of the game for the Nationals, going 4-for-4 and finishing just a double shy of the cycle.
Wednesday, July 19 — 7-0 loss to the Angels
The Nationals took what was now a six-game winning streak into the second game against the Angels. However, the team would play its worst game of the week on Wednesday, getting shut out for just the second time in 2017 and falling 7-0. The Nationals offense mustered just one hit in the entire game, off the bat of Goodwin, and that didn’t even come until the sixth inning.
Gio Gonzalez was the Nationals starter in the loss. He allowed four runs on five hits over five and two-thirds innings pitched. Joe Blanton pitched just a third of an inning, but allowed three runs in doing so.
Friday, July 21 — 6-5 loss to the Diamondbacks
Looking to rebound from the blowout loss, the Nationals headed to Phoenix to face the Diamondbacks. With Max Scherzer getting the start, it seemed inevitable that a win was on the horizon. However, Scherzer did not get off to a strong start. The first three Diamondbacks hitters in the bottom of the first all went deep off of Scherzer, giving Arizona a quick 3-0 lead. A Jeff Mathis RBI single in the same inning put Arizona up 4-0. The Diamondbacks got a fifth run on a Jake Lamb double in the second. After putting his team in 5-0 hole, however, Scherzer settled down and began to look like Max Scherzer again, still managing to strikeouts nine over five innings.
However, the Nationals struck a comeback in the fourth as Murphy doubled in Harper. In the top of the fifth, Goodwin grounded out, but Wieters was able to score on the play. Ryan Raburn would single to right and drive in Wilmer Difo to make the score 5-3. In the sixth, Difo drove in Murphy with a single to right, and in the eighth Difo drove in Rendon on a groundout to tie the game at five. Romero was given the call in the bottom of the ninth, and he returned the Nationals bullpen to its unreliable ways, allowing to Diamondback to score and win the game in walk-off fashion.
Saturday, July 22 — 4-3 win over the Diamondbacks
In the team’s final game of the week, Roark was sent to the bump to face Anthony Banda is his major league debut. Bryce Harper did not take long to welcome him to the MLB, as the slugger crushed a solo home run over the Chase Field pool and onto the concourse running behind it.
The Nationals scored three more in the sixth, Harper drove in one on a ground-run double, Zimmerman drove in one on a double and Rendon drove in one on a single. The Diamondbacks answered in the bottom of the sixth with a run of their own, shrinking the Nationals lead to 4-2.
After seven strong innings from Roark where he struck out 11 batters while allowing just three hits, manager Dusty Baker turned to Madson. Madson allowed one hit, but that was the only break in his armour as only four total Diamondbacks stepped to the plate in the inning. Baker went to Doolittle in the bottom of the ninth, and again it was a roller coaster. Doolittle walked Lamb to start the inning, and a throwing error by Rendon on a ground ball hit by Chris Iannetta allowed Lamb to get to third. Paul Goldschmidt drove in Lamb on a sacrifice fly, but that was all that the Diamondbacks would get as Doolittle sat down the next two batters. The Nationals had won 4-3.
The new Nationals bullpen has paid big dividends so far. In five combined innings between Madson and Doolittle, just two totals runs have score, and only one was earned. Madson has been largely dominant in his role as a set up man. Doolittle has seen a run cross in both of his two innings pitched, however while the nail-biting finish against the Angels can be pinned on Doolittle, the situation against the Diamondbacks was not on him.
Doolittle is two for two in his save attempts, which is exactly what the Nationals were looking for. The team needed a reliable closer to turn the ball to in the ninth inning, and while Doolittle hasn’t been totally dominant like Madson has, he has gotten the job done.
The Nationals offense rolled for the most part this week, scoring 33 runs in six games. A stat that is even more impressive considering that in one of those six games, the Nationals were shut out. Home runs were a big key for the Nationals offense output, as the team hit 11 long balls.
Looking ahead, the Nationals start the new week with the series finale against the Diamondbacks before heading home for the first time in the second half. After the monday travel day, the Nationals will have a three game series against the NL Central leading Milwaukee Brewers. The week, and homestand, will be closed with a three game series against the Colorado Rockies who are tied with the Diamondbacks for the top wild card spot in the National League.