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Is It Just Me, Or Is Anyone Else Worried About FP?

Perhaps I’m making something out of nothing, but the way MASN handled its broadcasters this weekend for the Washington Nationals games sure seems odd.

The games are normally done by Bob Carpenter on play-by-play and F.P. Santangelo doing color commentary. A little over a week ago, it was announced Carpenter would take a few days off and that Dan Kolko would step in and be Carpenter’s replacement doing play-by-play. Santangelo would continue in his role doing commentary, and the two did the two-game series with Toronto.

Friday, however, when a new series started with the Florida Marlins, it was Kolko on play-by-play and former Nationals outfielder Justin Maxwell doing commentary. That struck me as immediately odd because usually when a play-by-play guy takes a break, you want and need the commentary guy there to give some continuity to the booth. Putting two new guys together is almost unheard of. Many times they move the color guy over to play-by-play and bring in a former player to do commentary temporarily.

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Nats Questions Have Been Answered, But Not Favorably

It’s time to face reality.

The season is a long way from being complete, but at this point in time, the Nationals don’t look as good this year as we hoped they would. Entering the season, their roster seemed to have an NL East championship ceiling with plenty of talent spread across the team, including players who had succeeded in high-intensity moments in the past.

But the pieces have not fit together so far this year. Sluggers have not hit well, the batting order continues to not make sense on a day-to-day basis, and the team has repeatedly struggled at the beginning of games and faltered in key situations.

One great way to assess how this year has gone thus far, relative to expectations, is by looking back at many of the questions people – myself included – had about the Nationals entering the regular season. 

Why Sign Both Bell and Schwarber?

This lineup needed to add some power. Anthony Rendon had left a glaring void that wasn’t filled following the World Series, players like Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera were also gone, and Victor Robles regressed in 2020. None of that was arguable, but the way the team addressed it was strange.

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Late-Inning Doozies Against Yanks Raise Concerns For Nats

When they write the book on this past week for the Nationals, it will probably be titled "long fly balls and bullpen calls."

Weaknesses in those areas proved to be the undoing of the Nationals, as a stellar outing by Max Scherzer and improvements from the likes of Victor Robles and Patrick Corbin were wasted. Both teams – particularly the Yankees – are built upon those two topics, and the Nats were unable to match them.

The bullpen wasn’t all bad, except for two pitchers. However, that duo, along with the offense, was largely responsible for Washington’s 1-5 week.

The Bats Have Been Flat

The offense remained quiet for most of the week, which has been consistent all season. The Nationals have only scored more than three runs in one of their last seven games – and even in their 11-run outburst on Friday, they only had three runs through the first seven innings.

This really stems from a larger issue. While Washington is No. 6 in baseball – and first in the NL – in batting average, the Nationals are also No. 19 in slugging percentage, No. 23 in at bats per home run, and subsequently fourth from the bottom in runs scored per game. 

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The Nationals Are Positioned To Add Some New Blood

Washington’s roster construction has often been criticized this season, as they don’t have a proven left-handed specialist out of the bullpen, they only have one true backup infielder (aside from Ryan Zimmerman, who can only play one spot), and four of their five outfielders are left-handed. Few of them, it should be noted, are hitting well.

They recently designated for assignment Hernan Perez - who checked off two of the boxes above - but he was unproductive in the batter’s box in his short time with the Nats. His pitching appearances, however, were entertaining.

In cutting ties with Perez, the Nationals opened up a spot on their 40-man roster. They aren’t required to fill it, but it does present them with an interesting opportunity to fill one of their glaring voids.

The option to promote someone from within is always available, but truthfully, there isn’t a worthy candidate. The few players they could recall from the minor leagues are already on the 40-man roster, anyway.

Strictly in terms of offense, Jonathan Lucroy is still available and could provide some value. However, as a third catcher, he doesn’t fix any of the larger roster conundrums.

Albert Pujols was also recently designated for assignment by the Angels, but the last thing the Nationals need is another first baseman. There are some other players in “DFA limbo” that present some intrigue, though. Left-handed reliever Brandon Waddell was chiefly among them as recently as early Saturday afternoon, but the Orioles beat the Nationals to the punch, claiming him from the Twins and optioning him to AAA Norfolk.

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Nats Minor League Affiliates Kick Off Their 2021 Seasons

At last, minor league baseball is returning tonight!

The junior circuit cancelled its season last year due to COVID-19 restrictions and loss of revenue, and this season was delayed by a month for similar reasons. Nonetheless, it’s back now.

Many teams had already unveiled the rosters of each of their affiliates, but like they often are on this subject, the Nationals were laggards.

On Monday, the Nationals’ affiliates in Rochester (Triple-A), Harrisburg (Double-A), Wilmington (High-A) and Fredericksburg (Low-A) unveiled their Opening Day rosters.

If some of those locations look unfamiliar to you, it’s because they are new to the organization. Harrisburg has remained Washington’s Double-A affiliate, but Rochester and Wilmington were added from other organizations during a far-reaching minor league realignment this offseason, and Potomac (affectionately known as the P-Nats) recently relocated to Fredericksburg.

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The Curious Case of Kyle Schwarber in D.C.

Kyle Schwarber has two of the Nationals’ most memorable hits this season. Yet, the totality of his play has fallen well below the team’s expectations.

Once signed shortly after Josh Bell – who has also seen his fair share of tough times in Washington – to serve as the thump in the middle of the batting order, Schwarber finds himself hitting in the No. 7 spot in Thursday’s lineup.

Sure, it’s against a lefty, and Washington seemed to recognize all along that Schwarber was less potent against same-sided pitching. I’m pretty sure they never thought he’d ever be the second-lowest non-pitcher in the lineup, though.

Schwarber enters Thursday’s game batting a smidge over .180 with an OPS+ of 58, compared to a career mark of 111. However, there are two tendencies that should make fans fairly optimistic that a turnaround could be on the way.

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Soap Opera Appears To Be Continuing For MASN, FP

As the broadcasting soap opera continues involving whether F.P. Santangelo is in the booth from one night to the next, I have to confess a hunch I had last night.

UPDATE: My hunch was wrong. The Athletic is reporting the reason is because of a sexual misconduct allegation against FP. Here's the link to the story by Brittany Ghiroli.

Friday’s Yankees game was the first time the band was back together, as Bob Carpenter was doing play by play after over a week's vacation, FP was in the color commentator seat, and Dan Kolko was the sideline/dugout reporter. It all felt normal, as everyone was in the right seat, and the fact that the Nationals were simulating batting practice against Yankee pitchers just made for a nice, pleasant broadcast.

But there was a brief moment where I had to wonder. FP was launching into one of his typical stories, but started it with “now that Dan Kolko is a major league play-by-play man…” He and Carpenter typically have great chemistry to the point they can almost finish each other’s jokes, but in this case, Carpenter didn’t say a word. It’s like he wanted no part of this topic, and after a brief second of silence, they moved on to something else.

I don’t know what issues have kept FP off the broadcasts, and when I wrote this a week ago, my prime concern was that he might have had some health issue. The fact he was back and on the air earlier this week in the three-game series with the Braves kind of eliminated that concern, because he looked fine.

This would then sort of suggest if it’s not health, it’s an internal issue at MASN. After being admonished by one poster on a Washington Nationals Facebook Group for apparently not keeping up with prior posts on the subject, I went back and looked through earlier mentions.

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Yadiel Hernandez is Here to Stay for the Nationals

The Nationals have won four in a row, Jon Lester has returned to the field, and Max Scherzer had a vintage “Mad Max” complete game start on Sunday against the Florida Marlins.

None of those, however, are really the biggest story in Washington this week.

With Juan Soto on the shelf with an injured throwing shoulder, the bigger story may be that the Nats haven’t missed a beat with Yadiel Hernandez in his place. In fact, you could almost make the argument he's been the team’s best hitter over the past week.

The 33-year-old left-handed outfielder has been an afterthought for much of his baseball career. As recently as 2016, he was a relatively everyday Joe, swinging the bat in Cuba.

Hernandez signed a minor league contract with the Nats following the season. That’s not an incredibly uncommon path, except he was already in his late 20s and wasn’t viewed as much of a major league prospect.

He spent three years in the minor leagues – one plus a month in AA Harrisburg and nearly two in AAA Fresno – and batted .301 with a slugging percentage north of .500. After blasting 33 home runs in 2019, the organization had seen enough.

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Jon Lester's Debut Was Worth The Wait For Nationals

Ever since Stephen Strasburg was sent to the IL with right shoulder inflammation, the Washington Nationals have been making ends meet with four starting pitchers.

That's no longer the case, as Jon Lester made his regular-season debut Friday night for the Nats, a 2-1 extra innings win over the Marlins.

No one will confuse Lester for Strasburg, but the 37-year-old left-hander has seen plenty of success in the big leagues, including an 18-win season as recently as 2018. He’s also a five-time All Star and three-time World Series champion, and he threw a no-hitter for the Red Sox in 2008.

There are tons of accolades, but what can Lester still bring to the table for Washington in 2021?

Admittedly, his two most recent seasons weren’t pretty. In 43 starts since the beginning of 2019, he posted an ERA of 4.64. Granted, he won more games than he lost over that span, but the Nats would still prefer for him to be more productive than that.

As a rule, Lester typically relies on a four-seam fastball and cutter around 30 percent of the time, complimented by a sinker, curveball and changeup. All three offspeed pitches are effective, giving him the type of arsenal that many of Washington’s other starters don’t have.

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Josh Bell Isn’t Doing So Swell At The Plate For The Nats

When the Nationals traded two mid-level minor league prospects to Pittsburgh for Josh Bell over the winter, they assumed they were getting the high-upside power-hitting first baseman that they’ve been lacking for a number of years.

Instead, they’ve been stuck with one of the least productive hitters in the majors to start this season. In fact, his tailspin has risen to the point of him getting demoted from third or fourth in the lineup consistently to the No. 6 slot on Wednesday night.

How has the former top prospect gone from an MVP frontrunner to a liability at the plate in only two years, and what will it take for things to turn around for the 28-year-old slugger?

The Overarching Analytics

Two years ago, Josh Bell was among the best hitters in the National League. He hit for a career best .277 average, reached base in nearly 37 percent of his plate appearances, and recorded a whopping .569 slugging percentage with 37 home runs and 116 RBIs.

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Could Nationals Be Saying Goodbye To Max Scherzer Soon?

In seven years with the Nationals, Max Scherzer has consistently been one of the hardest working, most dominant starting pitchers in Major League Baseball, which you'd think would ensure he'd be a Nat the rest of his career.

That's not, however, necessarily true.

Scherzer’s status as a potential trade chip has been one of the hottest topics amongst the national media recently, and it reached a climax during Saturday’s broadcast against the Mets on Fox Sports 1.

Nothing Ken Rosenthal said is incorrect. He even qualified his stance by stating that the Nationals are striving to be playoff contenders and are unlikely to fall far enough out of the picture to strongly consider trading Scherzer. Still, it’s a very possible – and reasonable – outcome at this year’s Trade Deadline.

What This Discussion is Really About

There’s been an outcry amongst the fanbase that the Nationals would never trade away one of their biggest stars if they’re trying – and have a realistic chance – to make the playoffs. That statement in itself is absolutely true, and completely in line with their past tendencies. If they’re still within five (maybe even ten) games of a playoff spot by deadline day, they won’t entertain the idea of a trade.

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