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First Series Impressions: The Atlanta Braves

After their walk-off win on Tuesday against the three time NL East Division Champions the Atlanta Braves, the Nationals were in prime position to sneak out a series win. However, that wasn't the case. Here is my thoughts and perspectives on the first series of the 2021 regular season

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Well, after a rough start to the 2021 season, we finally had some baseball to watch and (of course) analyze from every angle possible, so here we go.

I am going to start by looking at the pitching in the three-game set against the Braves

Pitching

Max Scherzer

As I mentioned in my recap of the Washington Nationals Opening Day win, as much as I enjoy watching Max Scherzer pitch, I think that he gets way too amped up for games and it turns out to be his downfall. I am not saying that he can’t handle a tough moment, all I am saying is that he needs to figure out a way to tamper down his energy level and focus on executing and locating his pitches. Over the past six seasons, we’ve seen when Max is able to handle the mixture of energy and execution and it’s a thing of baseball beauty. But maybe, he isn’t the right pitcher for Opening Day.

This year was the third year in a row that Scherzer has given up a first-inning home run on Opening Day. However, once he settles down, we get to see the two time CY-Young Award winner and how he can still dominate hitters in the box.  


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On Tuesday, Scherzer gave up four solo home runs, while throwing a total of 91 pitches. This puts him on a pace to have an average trajectory of giving up 22 home runs this season. According to Baseball Savant, Scherzer’s first pitch strike percentage was only 65% in the first game of the season. He threw a total of 41 4-seam fastballs, 8 curveballs, and 23 sliders during the game. During the first game, Scherzer’s pitches were mostly down and in the strike zone, which in an era of launch angles, works really well for the batter, if he is able to get underneath the ball.

Two other stats that stood out to me were the chase rate of the opposing batters and the percentage of his pitches hitting the zone on Tuesday afternoon. Scherzer’s chase rate was only 33.2 which ranked him in just the 22nd percentile so far for Major League pitchers, and his percentage of pitches hitting the zone was less than 50%. So batters are not chasing pitches and he isn’t hitting the zone, which makes it more likely that batters get ahead in the count. As a result of this, Scherzer has very little margin for error in his pitches.

Obviously, the sample size is super small. However, I think that now that Scherzer has gotten the excitement of his first appearance of the season and Opening Day out of the way, he can focus on delivering his pitches and not letting his emotions get the best of him. If he succeeds, those numbers will come down and we will see the good old fashion Max Scherzer.

Erick Fedde

To be honest, I am not 100% sure why Manager Dave Martinez handed the ball to Erick Fedde in the first game of the doubleheader. I realize that due to the COVID-19 situation and having Lester and Corbin out of the lineup, Martinez’s choices were limited. However, there was one pitcher available, who performed extremely well during Spring Training and probably should have gotten the ball on Wednesday afternoon: Joe Ross.

So, let’s look at Fedde’s work in the first game of the doubleheader on Wednesday against the Braves. After the Nationals batted around the order and scored a handful of runs in the bottom of the first, Fedde took the mound with a three-run lead in the top half of the second. That lead quickly disappeared as he gave up five runs.

(Related Article: Perspective: Has Joe Ross Pitched his way to the Fifth Spot of the Washington Nationals Rotation?)

During the second frame, he surrendered a single, double, single, single, an intentional walk, and a double and only recorded two outs in eight batters. Fedde went 1.2 innings, allowing six hits and five earned runs to bring his ERA to a 27.00. I don’t think that there is anything more to say. Dave Martinez should move Fedde to the bullpen or put him in low leverage situations that he can be successful in and boost his confidence. (More on that later)

Stephen Strasburg

Over the years we have seen two different Stephen Strasburgs. Early in his career, he was a pitcher who would start to spiral out of control whenever something went wrong after he executed his pitch. Over the past year or two, that has changed significantly. Strasburg had an amazing 2019 and his 2020 was cut short due to an injury. He has matured as a pitcher and as a baseball player. In 2019, when things didn’t go his way after a pitch was executed, he would be able to just move on and focus on what needed to be done.  Fast forward to his first start of the 2021 season against the Braves on Wednesday afternoon. Strasburg only gave up one hit over six innings of work, striking out eight while only walking two batters.

Strasburg struck out the 2020 NL MVP Fredde Freeman on a “fifthly” pitch, which left Freeman looking off balance and not knowing what hit him. During the game on Wednesday, Strasburg hit the zone 50% of the time, had a chase rate of 31%, threw a first-pitch strike 63% of the time and his swing percentage was 48%. Pure filth.

If this is the Strasburg that we are going to be seeing over the 2021 season, it is going to be something to watch and I can’t wait for his next start. I know that I am going to be tuning in.

Hitting

Now Leading Off, Victor Robles

Moving Victor Robles up in the lineup was such a great idea by Dave Martinez. Robles was on fire during Spring Training, and it continued to show during Tuesday’s game. Robles went 1-for-3 and scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning.

(Related Article: Perspective: The Case For Victor Robles Leading Off)

Over the first three games, Robles has reached base in seven of his 12 plate appearances for a .583 OBP, and has been working the counts to his favor. He has scored three runs and drawn four walks, while only striking out twice. He has just two hits and a batting average of .286, but it doesn’t really matter because he was still able to reach base and set up Trea Turner and Juan Soto to drive him home.

Andrew Stevenson the fifth outfielder 

One of the players that stood out towards the end of last year was outfielder Andrew Stevenson, and he picked up right where he left off. On Opening Day, Stevenson went 2-for-4 with a game-tying RBI single in the 8th inning of the eventual win. On Wednesday, he drove in another run with a sacrifice fly. If this pace continues, Stevenson will be a great addition to the team as a pinch hitter, defensive replacement, or starting if one of the other three outfielders needs a day off.

Ryan Zimmerman: A Year Off Does Wonders

I wonder if everyone took a year off in between playing, how they would perform coming back. Well, I think that we are seeing the results of that year off in Ryan Zimmerman. During Spring Training, Zimmerman was hitting the cover off the baseball, and we all hoped that it would continue into the regular season. Well, we don’t have to wonder anymore. In the three games that Zimmerman played in during the series, he went a total of 4-for-9 with a 1.000 OPS. Not bad at all.

Overall Impression

The fact that the Washington Nationals had to play without the majority of their  “A” lineup due to the COVID-19 situation and didn’t get swept by the Braves is a win in itself. Hopefully, on the upcoming road trip to LA and then St. Louis, the  entire “A” lineup will be ready to play and bring some much needed additional power to the lineup. Then the Nationals can get into a good grove and finish April strong.

Edited by: Jonathan Mailloux

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