The Good With the Bad: Cubs Series Takeaways

The Good With the Bad is a segment in which contributor Luigi (Ouij) de Guzman (@ouij) and Alyssa Wolice break down the negatives and positives for each series, respectively. You, the reader, can then decide to see the glass half empty - or full - with each series wrap.

The Nationals dropped three of four against the Cubs, bringing their record to 30-27.

OUIJ'S TAKE

Running the Bases is Hard. Even after eight years, nobody has been able to guess what Nook Logan was thinking. A new generation of Nats fans will ask themselves of Clint Robinson "Where was he going?!" Robinson was the trail runner with two out in the bottom of the 9th and Anthony Rendon at the plate, and yet still managed to get himself picked off. It is perhaps a measure of how stretched the Nats are for bench players that Robinson was not summarily told to take his bat hoard and leave that evening.

Robinson's gaffe was only the most humiliating of a number of base-running mistakes in this series. Bryce Harper ran right through a stop signal, achieving the dubious feat of being thrown out at second after having recorded a double. The lead runner in that pile-up was Ryan Zimmerman, whose plantar fascitis has reduced him into a station-to-station baserunner at best.

There are going to be a lot of hot takes all over the radio about the Nats' abysmal "situational hitting," but the base-running is a real issue. Even if the consequences aren't as apocalyptic as Clint Robinson's Nook Logan impression, bad base running is a drag on the offense. Harper's gaffe cost the Nats an out and a baserunner in scoring position. Zimmerman's plantar fasciitis (about which more presently) turns a run scored into a runner stranded.

Ryan Zimmerman is Nenê in High Socks Right Now. Nats fans who are also Wizards fans will know what I'm talking about. Ryan Zimmerman's plantar fasciitis seems to have affected every facet of his game. Base running, of course. Matt Williams hinted in his pregame remarks on Sunday that the foot pain has affected Zimmerman's swing.

Zimmerman's plate discipline does not seem to be much different from his career averages. This year, he's made contact 83.6% of the time when he swings, which is a tick up from his career average of 81%. The quality of the contact he has made this year, though, has been terrible. Zimmerman has a career 19.1% line-drive percentage (a good, rough proxy of quality contact). To date, Zimmerman's line drive percentage is 16.2%, a career low if it continues. More noticeable is Zimmerman's home run drought. Sure, his home run/fly ball rate this year is 9.1% so far, better than his abysmal 7.8% in 2014. But the Ryan Zimmerman we knew and grew to love from 2006-2013 had a HR/FB rate of 11.4% and as high as 17.6% (in 2013).

WRC+ is a good overall measure of a player's offensive value compared to league average (always 100). In 2013, Ryan Zimmerman had a wRC+ of 125, making him an above-average hitter. Right now, Zim's wRC+ sits at a miserable 69--which is a long way below average.

This will break the heart of any true Nats fan, but we have to admit that Ryan Zimmerman is just not OK at this point.

Blake Treinen is Anglo Henry Rodriguez. The 6th Inning is not usually a high-leverage spot, so maybe Matty wanted to show Treinen some confidence. But a wild pitch to give the Cubs an insurance run is inexcusable. Treinen can throw 98, but it's anybody's guess as to whether he has any idea where that ball ends up after it leaves his hand.

ALYSSA'S TAKE

Anthony Rendon is Back. It took 53 games and a rain delay, but Anthony Rendon at last returned to the Nationals in Game 1 against the Cubs. Robbed of a potential RBI opportunity by Cubs catcher David Ross, who picked off Clint Robinson to end the inning, Rendon still managed to go 2-for-4 in his return. He also showed no signs of knee trouble and demonstrated his willingness and ability to cover either second or third just the same.

(Some of) The Young Guys Can Pitch. Sure, 22-year-old Joe Ross came away with a loss in his Major League debut. But, the Double-A call-up showed potential, allowing three runs on six hits over five innings Saturday.

Without the pomp and circumstance of Ross’s debut, 23-year-old lefty reliever Felipe Rivero tossed three scoreless innings Saturday. The feat was doubly impressive considering Rivero typically provides just an inning of relief, be it in the majors or at Triple-A Syracuse. Even more, he shut down both right- and left-handed batters, including Kris Bryant who merely flied to right on a mid-90s fastball.

Ross had some hiccups as he faced the Cubs' order a second time through. Nevertheless, both he and Rivero offered a decent case in favor of the Nats’ young arms.

Danny Espinosa is Showing His Worth. Even after all this time, Nats fans should welcome any and all opportunities to celebrate Danny Espinosa’s victories. The fact of the matter is, Washington can largely credit Espinosa with road-blocking a would-be four-game sweep by the Cubs.

Espinosa’s three-run shot Friday night helped the Nats to an eventual 7-5 win. Even more worthy of pause: Espinosa’s homer—his seventh of the season—quietly placed him atop the home runs category for National League second basemen.

Sure, running the bases is hard. Espinosa found that out for himself when he was caught stealing in Game 1 of the series. But, in addition to going 4-for-8 with two runs, three RBIs and a walk in the series, Espinosa came through in an unexpected spot Sunday afternoon: left field. In truth, no balls were hit his way, but at least he kept his cool and showed an eagerness to step in for the Nats should they find themselves short-staffed in the outfield again.

For anyone still holding their breath waiting for the day on which Espinosa would prove his ability to fulfill a regular role if absolutely needed—and contribute—now is as good a time as any to come up for air.

Amidst the Quiet, Bryce Harper Can Still Make Noise. Bryce Harper is going through what should have been deemed an inevitable comedown in the wake of an unbelievable May. Still, his solo shot off Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel was enough to put him atop the majors’ home run leader-board.

Up next, the Nationals take on the New York Yankees in the Bronx for a two-game set.

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