One of the last times the Tigers played the Nationals, we saw Max Scherzer and Jordan Zimmermann face off against each other, and Scherzer nearly made history with his 20 strikeout game against the Tigers. It was an incredible game, even as a Tigers fan, but it sure stung.
While the Tigers haven’t officially announced their weekend starters, it seems likely we’ll be seeing that same Zimmermann/Scherzer duel this coming Sunday.
But Scherzer isn’t the only former Tiger on the Nationals roster, and we thought we’d take some time to chat with Patrick Reddington, the managing editor of the SB Nation Nationals blog Federal Baseball, to give us a breakdown on what’s going on with the Nats and what we can expect this weekend.
BYB: I keep hearing rumors that Max Scherzer could be discussed in trades, how serious do you think the team is about listening on offers for him?
PR: GM Mike Rizzo told Ken Rosenthal recently that it’s not something they are considering right now, and it would take something “franchise-altering” for them to ever consider it, though, as Rosenthal noted, at the end of the season Scherzer will have full no-trade protection as a 10-and-5 player, so I understand why other teams might be calling to check in. I can’t really imagine the Nationals trading him, especially with the team within 2.5 of a Wild Card spot and on a 20-9 run going into Thursday’s game. With the loss of Bryce Harper this past winter, Anthony Rendon’s future up in the air unless he signs an extension before he’s a free agent next winter, and Stephen Strasburg able to opt out of his 6-year/$175M deal (which has 4/$100M left on it) after each of the next two seasons (2019-20), it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me to deal Scherzer unless they are about to embark on a full-on, all-out rebuild, which is not Rizzo and Co.’s MO. Plus fans in D.C. love Scherzer, it would be a PR nightmare, and Rizzo drafted him in AZ and signed him as a free agent, so he’s kind of smitten, with good reason.
On that note, the trade deadline is coming up soon and the Nationals are right at the .500 mark. It’s a tough division, but being competitive isn’t out of the question. What do you think the Nationals will do ahead of the deadline?
If they make any significant additions, which is a big question mark in my mind considering their stated desire to remain under the luxury tax threshold after going over it in each of the last two seasons, I don’t see them making any big deals. (They’re currently around $197M-ish according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts). But if they keep playing the way they have over the last six weeks, after a terrible start, I could see them trading from the big league roster (or maybe some lower-level prospect types) for under-the-radar relief help if there’s someone out there that would be an upgrade. And the way the bullpen has struggled this year, just about anyone would probably be an upgrade.
Though they’ve improved, the relief corps started the night on Thursday with an NL-worst 6.36 ERA as a group, a 4.86 FIP (2nd worst in the NL) a 1.55 WHIP (tied for the worst) and a .277 BAA (also the NL’s worst), so it’s a glaring weakness, and though they’ve shown signs of improvement since making a bunch of veteran additions, it’s the one area I think they’d have to improve if they think they’re going to make a run.
Who would you consider to be an under-the-radar player that has been performing really well but most folks might not hear much about?
Say hello to Howie Kendrick. He’s been around forever, but are his exploits on anyone’s radar outside of D.C.? I would like to say Matt Adams too, just because I like the big lug, but Kendrick has been a low-key boss since the Nationals acquired him from the Phillies a few seasons back, and starting play on Thursday the 35-year-old infielder had a .328/.381/.575 line with 10 doubles and 12 HRs in 64 games. He doesn’t play every day, because he’s “older”, but he can still swing it. Another name, though he’ll probably have one of his occasional rough outings in Detroit now that I mention him: Wander Suero. Big, hard-throwing righty, nasty cutter. He’s worked his way into a set-up role, struggles at time, but he’s got some nasty stuff.
Old Tigers friends Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, and now Fernando Rodney are all in the mix for the Nats. How have they been doing this year? I feel like no one talks about that Scherzer guy. (kidding of course)
As Davey Martinez likes to say (after pretty much every good start by Scherzer) Max is Max. He wasn’t getting much support early, and the Nationals found a way to lose a bunch of his starts, but he’s turned it on, and looks like the same pitcher he has been throughout his first few years in D.C. Aníbal was pretty awful (5.10 ERA, .263/.353/.463 line against in his first nine starts) after signing a 2-year deal this winter, but after an IL stint he’s been more like 2018 Sánchez the last five starts (2.45 ERA, .198/.239/.330 line against), which the Nats’ brass is saying has a lot to do with a hammy issue that bothered him early that he pitched through before it got bad enough to land him on the IL. One appearance in, Rodney’s a low-risk/potentially high-reward addition. He still has the velo and the nasty changeup, but his numbers early in ‘19 were alarmingly bad. Though he still is an improvement of the pitcher he replaced (Trevor Rosenthal — who just signed a minor league deal with the Tigers).
Which Tigers player do you think will be the biggest thorn in the Nationals side this series?
I admit I had to look because I don’t get much time to watch other teams, especially AL teams, and I really can’t remember the last time the Nationals and Tigers played (I checked, it was 2016), but I’m looking forward to seeing Jordan Zimmermann pitch against the Nationals for the first time if he gets the nod on Sunday (as he’s lined up to right now I believe). Always was a big fan of Zimmermann (he was one of the first players I interviewed), though in hindsight Rizzo and Co. appear to have made the right choice in letting him leave via free agency. Could see him having something to prove. I’ll be getting to know a lot of the Tigers this weekend, so I’d just be choosing rando players if I tried to pick anyone else who might be a thorn in the Nationals’ side.
What do you think is the most vital thing the Nationals need to focus on as we head into the All-Star Break if the team wants to be competitive in the latter half?
Finding a bullpen arm or two to lock down the late innings. I like the mix they have now, but there isn’t a lot of depth, and there are a numbers of arms in the pen now that are serious question marks, so as I said above, if they’re going to get back in the chase in the division or the Wild Card they need to get some more reliable arms at the back end that could push the relievers who are getting it done down into the 6th/7th so the Nationals aren’t blowing any more games they should win. I like the lineup, bench, and starting staff, though I would not complain if they added a 5th starter in case Austin Voth (who’s starting on Saturday in the series), Erick Fedde, Jeremy Hellickson (if he can come back from shoulder issues), or Joe Ross falter if the Nationals get closer to a postseason spot.
Thanks to Patrick for answering our questions and giving us some insight into how old friends are doing in the NL. You can read more of his work over at Federal Baseball.