So, clearly, these are not your father’s Washington Nationals. Famously, Bryce Harper abandoned the club over the off-season. Familiar names like Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon are still Nationals. But haven’t played recently due to injuries.
Prominent in the new Washington lineup are three prospects under 23 years of age. Carter Kieboom (what a great name for a baseball player) is just 21 – he started at shortstop. Victor Robles is the 22-year-old centerfielder. And, of course, the future face of the franchise, 20-year-old Juan Soto is the left fielder.
For the kids and the rest of the Nats (and the rest of the lineup was all over 30), it was another day of what might have been. A three-run second gave them an early lead, but a six-run Cardinal fifth flipped the narrative, and St Louis carried home a 6-3 victory in the series opener (box score).
In many ways, the game followed the desired Cardinal script. The resilient lineup finally broke through after the pitching staff – especially the bullpen – kept the opponent within range. Washington finished with just the 3 runs on only 4 hits. The kid starters finished the evening 0-for-10. But they also drew a couple of walks and saw an aggregate 61 pitches.
By game’s end, the Nationals (old as well as young) exacted 177 pitches and 6 walks from the Cardinal pitching staff. The three-run second was aided notably by a couple of walks, and Washington manufactured an eighth-inning rally against John Brebbia as they walked the bases loaded – including a ten-pitch walk nursed by Soto.
I have only seen Washington for one game, but patience seems to be the organizational meme this year. Thirty-seven National batters stood in at the plate last night. Thirty-one of them took the first pitch – 15 of them taking first-pitch strikes.
Things didn’t quite work out for them last night, but sometimes process proceeds production. It was a little uncommon to see such young players committed to patient at bats. It will be something to keep an eye on as the series – and their season – progresses.
Cardinal Bullpen Nearly Unhittable
Washington’s patient approach took its toll on the St Louis bullpen, as well. Cardinal relievers – forced to cover 4 innings after starter Michael Wacha could only give them five – ended up throwing 76 pitches over those four innings. Still, when all was said and done, the Nationals finished 0-for-12 against the St Louis pen. The batting average against Cardinal relievers drops now to .180 – the lowest in the majors (Houston’s bullpen is a fairly distant second at .202).
The pen does have some issues – walks and home runs. But nobody is putting together strings of hits against these guys.
Offensive Consistency Amazing
While none of the offensive numbers from last night’s game are particularly newsworthy, at the end of the day the Cards had put up six more runs. Twenty-eight games into the season, St Louis has scored at least four runs in 24 of them. They currently sit tied for third in the major leagues (with the Yankees) for most runs per game – 5.54.
While the Nats were hesitant to swing at the first pitch, the Cards did so 12 times. St Louis is actually one of baseball’s best hitting teams when they swing at the first pitch. They were 6 of 12 last night in at bats that began with a swing at the first pitch, and are hitting .292 on the season in those at bats.
In the middle of the rally – again – was Marcell Ozuna. His was the two-run single that put the Cards ahead. Ozuna has now driven in 10 runs over his last 5 games – including 3 game-winning hits. Marcell has now driven in the winning run a team-leading 4 times (Paul Goldschmidt is second with 3).
Jose Martinez added two more hits, including a double, and another run batted in last night. Jose has been in the starting lineup for 12 straight games. He is hitting .409 (18 for 44) in those games.
Jose collected the first Cardinal hit of the game – his line single in the fourth. Martinez, I think, gives the impression of being an impatient hitter, but in that at bat he took the first three pitches before jumping on the fourth pitch. For the season, Jose actually takes the first pitch of an at bat 84.6% of the time. That figure actually leads the team (Matt Carpenter is only taking the first pitch 77.5% of the time).
And when he takes that first pitch, he ends up hitting .365 in those at bats.
Gone for ten days earlier this month nursing a slight hamstring pull, Harrison Bader’s opportunities have been somewhat sparse since his return. To this point, Bader doesn’t seem to have suffered from his relative inactivity. He had 2 hits last night in his first start since his return (including the home run that put St Louis on the board) and has been 3 for 6 since his return with a walk and a hit by pitch.
He also hasn’t lost his touch in the outfield.
Speaking of Carpenter, the only time he put a ball in play last night he tried going again to left field – a fly out. His other plate appearances ended in a walk and three strikeouts.
Things still haven’t been falling Matt’s way. He has gone 8 games without an extra-base hit, hitting .192 (5 for 26) in that span.
Playing time has been sparse for Jedd Gyorko as well. A major contributor the last couple of seasons, Jedd has yet to make much of an impact. Twenty-eight games into the season, Gyorko has 20 at bats.
Last night, getting a rare start, he took the first pitch in all 3 plate appearances, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout. The season is very young, but to date, Jedd has taken the first pitch 14 times, going 0-for-13 in those at bats with 1 walk and 6 strikeouts. Jedd is 2-for-7 the times he has swung at the first pitch.
Last night was only the fourth time in ten series that St Louis won the opening game of the series. They went on to sweep the other three series (two games against Pittsburgh, four against the Dodgers, and three against the Brewers).