The Mariners travel to Washington — the city — to face the Nationals in a pair of games.
After sinking to a season-low 10 games under .500 on June 19 at the end of that ugly 5-game series against the Angels, the Mariners have really turned on the jets. They’ve gone 16-3 and completed a very impressive sweep of the Blue Jays to move into a tie for the third AL Wild Card spot. This turn around is all the more impressive because it’s come while J.P. Crawford and Jesse Winker were serving their suspensions, essentially limiting the Mariners to 25 men on the roster for 10 straight games. Winker will be active for this series in Washington D.C., Ty France returned from his elbow injury over the weekend, and Mitch Haniger and Kyle Lewis could be activated after the All-Star break. The Mariners have dug themselves out of their early season hole and are about to get healthy at just the right time.
What’s even more encouraging is the upcoming schedule for Seattle. They’ll face the Nationals and Rangers heading into the All-Star break. The opponents after the midsummer pause look daunting — seven against the Astros and six against the Yankees in a three week period — but just 18 of their remaining 75 games are against teams with a record over .500 (it’s 25 of 75 if you include the Guardians who are sitting right at .500 right now). All told, they have the sixth lowest remaining strength of schedule.
After their championship season in 2019, the Nationals have quickly fallen into another rebuilding cycle, unable to sustain the same level of success that brought them to the World Series a few years ago. They’ve won just 39% of their games since their championship season and started their teardown last year with the big Max Scherzer/Trea Turner deal at the trade deadline. Juan Soto will turn 24 in a couple of months and is under team control through 2024. But with massive amounts of payroll tied up in Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, it’s hard to imagine them building another solid core around Soto before he leaves via free agency (or trade).
One note: it looks like today’s weather in Washington is questionable at best. It’s likely this evening’s game will be rained out and these two teams will end up playing a double-header tomorrow. Julio Rodríguez was set to serve his reduced one-game suspension today. If the game is postponed, he’ll serve his suspension during one game of the double-header and be available for the second.
The Nationals lineup is still potent with Soto and Josh Bell carrying much of the load. Even in a “down” season, Soto is still putting up a 145 wRC+ and leading the majors in walks. After his otherworldly performance over the last two seasons — 171 wRC+ combined between 2020 and ‘21 — his fall back to merely elite levels this year is just one more disappointment for the Nationals in a year full of them. Thankfully, you can’t count Bell on that list of disappointments. He’s broken out with a career-high 143 wRC+ this year. This is the type of performance the Nationals expected to get from Bell when they traded for him prior to the 2021 season and it surpasses his other breakout back in 2019 when he posted a 135 wRC+ in Pittsburgh. He’s set to hit free agency after this season so he’ll likely net a huge haul of prospects this month as the Nationals sell off all their veterans from their roster.
Josiah Gray was the other headlining prospect included in the massive Scherzer/Turner deal last year. He was a highly regarded prospect in the Dodgers system who only started pitching in 2018, the year he was drafted. He possesses an extremely flat fastball due to a drop-and-drive delivery, though he hasn’t turned that bat missing characteristic into actual whiffs this year. Instead, he’s used two excellent breaking balls to generate strikeouts. He also throws an occasional changeup too. The big knock on him is his raw quality because he’s so new to pitching. As he matures and hones his secondary offerings, he’ll start fulfilling the lofty prospect grades he earned.
Erick Fedde has spent his entire career in the Nationals organization, peaking as the number four prospect in their system back in 2018. He’s never really lived up to that high ranking with a career ERA and FIP both over five, but he has been a steady, up-and-down starter and long reliever for them, a thankless job that every team needs filled. A sweeping, slurvy curveball is his best pitch and he’s throwing it more often than ever before this year. His primary fastball is a sinker that doesn’t have much tail and drops just an average amount. It’s not an effective pitch despite generating tons of groundball contact; batters posted a .406 wOBA against it last year. That’s fallen to .305 this season and he’s reduced the usage of it in favor of his curve and cutter. The trade off has been a bit better contact management at the expense of control; his walk rate is a career-high 11% now.
The Big Picture:
After their ugly seven-game West Coast road trip in which they won just once, the Blue Jays return home to host the Phillies for two games this week. The Red Sox and Rays started off a four-game series yesterday in Tampa Bay. For maximum chaos and to keep everyone bunched up in the AL Wild Card standings, the Mariners are rooting for a series split between those two teams. The Astros won their series against the A’s last weekend and head to Los Angeles to beat up on the Angels this week. The Rangers took two of three from the Twins and won the first game of their series against the A’s yesterday.