The Good with the Bad: PIT 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.

ALYSSA'S TAKE

Really Close to Perfect. Nats fans should focus less on booing the Pirates’ Jose Tabata and more on celebrating Max Scherzer’s no-hitter. Whether or not Tabata leaned into the pitch that cost Scherzer his perfect game, the fact that Nats fans had to “settle” for a no-hitter as a follow-up to Scherzer’s 100-game-score rout is monumental. Nevertheless, Scherzer’s past two outings have brought his ERA down to 1.76 for the season—an impressive feat for anyone in late June.

Break out the Brooms. The Nationals celebrated their second sweep of a series featuring more than two games this season. What’s more, the Nats actually caught the Pirates in the midst of a tear in which they won eight straight. Brooms aside, the series win marked the Nationals’ first since their late May set in Chicago.

Who Said Anything about a Strained Hamstring? Those who cried “season-ending injury” should feel a bit foolish, and love every moment of doing so. If Harper is still bothered by a left hamstring strain, he’s certainly done a great job hiding it. The Nats’ power hitter went 2-for-4 with a home run Saturday, and.kicked off Sunday’s offensive onslaught with a monstrous two-run homer that landed in the second deck.

How 'bout that Offense? To start Sunday's game, the Nats batted through the order and then some, breaking the club record for most first-inning runs scored. Washington conjured up nine runs on eight hits, and Yunel Escobar followed Harper’s homer with one of his own. More than the first-inning record, the nine runs scored tied the team record for most runs scored in any single inning.

Joe Ross is Forcing the Nats to Make Decisions. The hoopla surrounding Scherzer’s no-hitter may have led baseball fans to lose sight of one key positive coming out of the Pirates series: Joe Ross pitched an absolute gem Friday night. Ross held Pittsburgh to one run over 7 1/3 innings, while striking out 11. In just three Major League starts, Ross has already tallied 23 strikeouts, and showcased excellent movement on his slider. With Stephen Strasburg nearing a return, the Nats will have to determine exactly what Ross’s role with the team might be. But, as Washington fans know, the Nats have a knack for landing in this spot: one in which the team boasts too many qualified pitching candidates. There are certainly worse problems to have.

OUIJ'S TAKE

Friday Night Lights. In a series that was so very nearly perfect, it's tough for anyone to find fault with the Nats over the weekend. Still, in the top of the fifth inning of Friday night's game, Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco hit what should have been a routine popup towards Denard Span in center field. Span looked up and saw nothing. The ball dropped in front of him for a hit. The episode illustrates one of the less well-understood perils of playing outfield at Nats Park: the lights. Unlike other ballparks, where banks of lights are placed on light towers, the lights at Nats park are built into the structure of the stadium itself. This means that the lights are at a sharper angle, relative to the position of an outfielder's eyes, than they would otherwise be. This makes twilight games especially challenging. Friday was even more difficult, as the cloudy sky was the color of a dirty baseball. Low contrast combined with light glare makes it really hard to pick up in-between pop ups. If anything, Span's lapse on Friday should make Nats fans appreciate just how tricky playing the outfield at Nats Park can really be.

Michael Shark Taylor. With that in mind, let's look at another play in that same Friday Night fifth inning. Two batters after Span lost the pop-up in the (twi)light(s), Michael A. Taylor made a fantastic looking grab at the wall to rob Josh Harrison of what would have been a sure RBI double. There are three things to notice about that catch. First: Taylor misjudges the ball off the bat. He steps in where he probably should have stepped back—but the difficult sky and lighting conditions probably made it impossible for him to get a good jump on the ball. Second: Taylor takes a less than optimal path to the ball. As he realizes that the ball was going to be hit over his head, Taylor turns and runs to chase it down. Taylor's path to the ball is a series of abrupt changes of pace and direction. In his inexperience, Taylor still lacks the polish and experience that Span brings to the outfield, with each adjustment in course so small as to be imperceptible to the crowd watching him glide to the ball. Third: Taylor's raw foot speed enables him to overcome both his bad initial read and his sub-optimal path to the ball and make the play. Taylor's physical gifts and lack of outfield polish bring to mind former Nats fourth outfielder Roger "The Shark" Bernadina—too good, maybe, for the minors, but will he make it in the big leagues?

The Nats outfield injury situation means that the Nats cannot afford to send Taylor down to the minor leagues to perfect his craft. But it also means that he cannot play center field every day (at least while Span stays healthy). If the Nationals do not opt to extend Denard Span's tenure in DC, 2016 Nats fans are going to have to watch Taylor perfect the art of center fielding at Nats Park. I wonder if he could be convinced to play winter ball in one of the Caribbean leagues, with instructions to pay extra attention to his play in the field.

Harper and Escobar. Both Bryce Harper and Yunel Escobar have a habit of discussing the niceties of the strike zone with home plate umpires, but each has a particular way of doing so. Escobar seems to be engaging in a constant banter with the umpire—lots of fidgets, small gestures, shakes of the head, and so forth. Any discussion about the strike zone fades into the general background noise of Escobar's batters'-box fidgeting. Harper, on the other hand, is an altogether more earnest disputant. In the bottom of the fourth inning of Sunday's game, Harper was called out on a low slider from Vance Worley. He turned, faced the home plate umpire, and pointed at the dirt. Luckily for Harper, the home plate umpire was not Marvin Hudson. Umpire Sean Barber allowed Harper to register his displeasure, but did not eject him. It might be a good thing for the team if Harper sat down with Escobar and emulated Yunel's umpire banter. A less indulgent home plate umpire would have probably been within his rights to eject Harper for arguing balls and strikes—and Harper can't do the team any good from the clubhouse.


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