clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NL East report: Nationals are surging; Braves served by their youth

Washington has 13 wins in their last 15 games.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals were prohibitive favorites to win the National League East in 2018, but got off to a slow start to this season. Now they are playing like most expected and head into the weekend as the hottest team in baseball.

Washington is 13-2 in their last 15 games, with Mother Nature the only thing getting in their way recently. Tuesday’s game against the Yankees was suspended in the sixth inning because of rain, then the Nationals got rained out the next day too. There is more rain in the forecast for both Friday and Saturday in Washington, too.

Starting pitching has been the driver for the Nationals’ run. Washington’s rotation ranks second only to the Houston Astros in MLB in ERA (2.92), FIP (3.20) and strikeout rate (27.9 percent), and are third in innings per start (6.09). In May the Nationals starters have been dominant, going 7-1 with a 1.86 ERA in 14 starts this month.

Max Scherzer — 7-1, 1.69 ERA, 91 strikeouts in 58⅔ innings — is looking like the favorite to win his third consecutive National League Cy Young Award. He has whiffed double digits in six of his nine starts, and has yet to allow more than two earned runs in a start this season.

Washington swept a four-game weekend series against the Diamondbacks, who entered with the best record in the NL. This weekend the Nationals will host the Dodgers, division winners the last five years though struggling mightily in 2018. Still, Washington lost two of three to the Dodgers in Los Angeles in April.

But that was back when Washington was struggling themselves, floundering at 11-16. During their 13-2 run the Nationals have outscored opponents by 34 runs.

Young guns

Even with Washington’s surge the Nationals are still third in the division, starting Friday two games back of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. First baseman Freddie Freeman and outfielder Nick Markakis have been fantastic, but Atlanta has also been infused with loads of fresh blood. Ronald Acuña, the best prospect in baseball this side of Shohei Ohtani entering the season, has been every bit as good as advertised, hitting .275/.348/.500 in his first 20 major league games, at age 20. Acuña also achieved a very specific, but still pretty cool, fun fact.

Acuña is the youngest player in the majors, and shortstop Ozzie Albies is the third youngest, and all he is doing is leading the league in home runs (13) and doubles (15) while hitting .283/.320/.598.

“They’re not 20, 21, whatever the hell they are. It doesn’t feel like you’re watching kids play,” teammate Brandon McCarthy said Wednesday, per the Atlanta Journal-Constituion. “They’re just very, very talented.”

The Braves also have the second-youngest player in the majors in pitcher Mike Soroka, who had a 3.68 ERA with more strikeouts (15) than innings pitched (14⅔) in his three starts before hitting the disabled list.

Backstop setback

The Nationals suffered a blow this week when catcher Matt Wieters required surgery to repair his left hamstring. Wieters, who last played on May 10, is expected to miss an extended, though yet unknown period of time.

Wieters was hitting .231/.342/.385 with three home runs this season.

Does this put Washington in the market for catching replacements? That remains to be seen, but perhaps Boston will have another caller if they intend to honor Blake Swihart‘s trade request.

Never tell me the odds

The Philadelphia Phillies are right there too at the top of the NL East, and starter Aaron Nola has stood out. The fourth-year right-hander has a 1.99 ERA through nine starts, and while the Braves’ Acuña might win Wookiee of the Year the Phillies have other ideas for Nola.