It's put up or shut up time for the Nationals

Chris Lingebach
May 03, 2019 - 6:14 pm
It's put up or shut up time for the Nationals

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

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Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist's firing bought second-year Nationals manager Dave Martinez some time from under the microscope. About 10 games' worth of time.

The 13-17 Nationals begin a 10-game road trip against a murderers' row of opponents – the Phillies, Brewers and Dodgers – Friday night.

How the players respond on this trip will determine whether the scrutiny on Martinez resumes when the club arrives back in Washington on May 14.

Another 3-7 stretch – the pace they're currently on – and Nats fans won't even remember Lilliquist being scapegoated a week and a half earlier, no matter if his firing was warranted. The pressure will be squarely back on Martinez as the club slogs back to D.C.

The Positives

Bryce Harper hasn't punished any opponent as harshly he has the Nationals. In five meetings this year, Harper's hit .375 with one double, two homers and six RBI for a 1.358 OPS against his former club. They happen to be catching him at the right time, though. Harper, since going 5-for-7 in Colorado on April 19, is hitting .108 with just four hits in his last 11 games.

Now in the position their opponents were the previous seven years, the Nats have to hope he just doesn't break out of his slump against them.

The Nationals are catching the Brewers on a bit of a downturn. Milwaukee's 4-6 over their last 10 games and has dropped 10 of its last 15. They may even get to face their old pal Gio Gonzalez.

Although it's still the worst in the NL, Washington's bullpen has finally stabilized some, with a collective 5.87 ERA after not allowing a run across 2.1 innings in Thursday's 2-1 win over the Cardinals.

The Negatives

The Nats won't get Aaron Nola this time around, which any other season would be a positive. Nola, third in NL Cy Young voting in 2018, has stumbled out of the gate, going 2-0 with a 5.06 ERA and no decisions in five of his first seven starts. He's gotten knocked around by the Nats especially, allowing 11 runs – 10 earned – in two starts (9.1 IP) against the NL East rival.

Jerad Eickhoff, Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin are the Phillies' probable starters in this three-game series against the Nats.

Eickhoff allowed just two hits over seven scoreless innings in his latest start against Miami, and hasn't allowed a run in 11 innings at home this season.

Eflin (3-3, 3.34 ERA) is coming off a complete game, his first since July 2016, in his latest start, allowing just one run over nine innings against Miami on Sunday. Eflin owned the Nationals in his only start against them this season, pitching five scoreless innings of three-hit ball in an 8-2 Phillies win on April 2.

Christian Yelich is heating back up, with six hits, a homer and three RBI in his last three games. Yelich shares the Major League lead in homers (14) with Cody Bellinger after just 29 games. At that rate, he's on pace to hit a cool 78 homers on the season. Hitting .353 with 34 RBI and a 1.264 OPS on the season, Yelich is in prime position to repeat as NL MVP.

The Nats may dodge this bullet, though. Yelich has missed the past four games with lower back discomfort. Although he wasn't in the lineup Friday night, Brewers skipper Craig Counsell says Yelich is day-to-day and doesn't expect him to end up on the injured list.

The first-place Dodgers are rolling, winning 12 of their last 17 games and five of their last seven. Bellinger is having just as unreal of a season as Yelich, hitting .425 with 38 RBI, a 1.367 OPS and as many homers.

On top of all the injuries the Nats were already dealing with, Juan Soto will miss his third straight game with back discomfort.

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