The Midsummer Classic is upon us, even though it’s not technically in the middle of summer (technically that’s around August 7 or 8) or even in the actual midseason (a few weeks ago) but it gives us a chance to take a break.  And the Nats could use one…last week they had seven games with sub-500 squads in Pittsburgh and the New York Mets.  A team looking to enter the hiatus on a strong note would win five of seven…and instead they were lucky to win three.  While the offense has improved (9th in runs in July), the pitching has begun to spring leaks (25th in team ERA this month).  It’s beginning to feel as though the odor of 2013 and 2015 when defending division champs underachieved their way out of contention is back.  It’s not longer early as just under 60% of the schedule has been played. Max Scherzer likely has only 12-13 starts remaining in the season.  And the deficit isn’t shrinking.  Gimme a break?  One break…coming up.

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia despite losing consecutive games to Miami still stand atop the division one half game ahead of Atlanta and five and a half ahead of the Nats.  The Phillies are here because of pitching:  they rank fourth in quality starts and are 11th in team ERA while having major issues at the plate.  They’re 26th in MLB in hitting and 21st in runs scored.  The Braves boast a little better balance:  8th in runs scored and 10th in team ERA.  Meanwhile the Marlins and Mets played spoiler by snatching games from the Nats and Phillies over the weekend…remaining in a tie for last place.  We’ll be by with tragic elimination numbers at the appropriate time.

O’s Woes- the Birds won their first series at home since taking three of four from Tampa Bay Mother’s Day weekend.  Still, the 28-69 slide has the club inhaling elimination fumes: the tragic number is now 26 (Red Sox wins + Oriole losses) and the Manny Machado departure countdown is in full force. Philadelphia, the Dodgers and even Milwaukee is in the mix.  Manny was asked at the All Star Game’s media availability what the strangest rumor he’s heard was and replied– “the Giants.  The Tokyo Giants…”.  Regardless, the end of an era looms and one wonders what is next for this franchise and the key figures in the management team.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy hit .533 while Adam Eaton batted .458 andAnthony Rendon led the team with 3 HR and 6 RBI.  Jeremy Hellickson won both of his starts while finishing with an ERA of 0.82 and Max Scherzer won his second straight.

Last Week’s Humbled- Jefry Rodriguez and Austin Voth allowed 13 runs over 9.1 innings in their starts.  They’re not ready for the Major League level and while that is to be understood, the middle of a pennant race with the Nats losing ground is not where you want to see these guys earn their stripes.  Trea Turner hit .115 while Bryce Harper batted .167 with 11 strikeouts in 24 at-bats.

Game to Watch- well with only three games on the slate I’m going with the series opener against Atlanta Friday.  Will Stephen Strasburg finally make his return from the DL?  Since he went on the shelf the starters are a combined 4-20 with an ERA I’d rather not disclose.  If he doesn’t make the start, this is still a huge game as the Nats need to make a dent into the Phillies’ lead–and they have to get past the Braves first..

Game to Miss- the series with the Braves wraps up Sunday with a 1:35 start on a day when the British Open (or “Open Championship” if you insist) wraps up.  Unless it’s a Scherzer start, I’m out.

Advertisements

These are interesting times.  Another weird week is over as the Nationals get swept and then almost pull off a sweep of their own.  One crazy comeback, one walk-off homer and one offensive extravaganza all in one series.  And that was supposed to be the back-burner to the clash of contenders.  Yet after all of the chills, thrills, spills and meetings– the Nats remain five games back in the NL East.  Exactly where they were one week ago. Rinse and repeat.

Meetings and Comebacks- the Nats after getting swept by Boston (not the worst thing given the Red Sox own the best record in the bigs) the team called the famed “players-only meeting”.  We’ve seen these not work out with alarming lack of success, and after trailing last-place Miami 9-0 the next day it appeared as we were only a Jonathan Papelbon choke-hold away from the classic Nats title defense implosion.  Only Trea Turner turned it on with a solo homer in the fourth inning.  You could say that was the genesis of the comeback as that put the team on the board.  And then Turner turned it on again with an RBI grounder in the fifth, a grandslam in the sixth and finally a two-run single in the seventh.  The 14-12 win was the biggest comeback in Washington Nationals history…and if there is an October July 5th will be a date circled on many fans’ calendars.

All Stars- Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper make their sixth appearances in the upcoming midsummer classic while Sean Doolittle gets his second invitation (he made the 2014 game while with Oakland).  Trea Turner could still make the squad as he’s one of five NL players in the “Final Vote”.  Anthony Rendon finishes out of the mix probably because of the early time he missed to injury.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta and Philadelphia are tied for the NL East lead…and both have a good chance to keep their respective five game cushions over the Nats.  The Braves after losing four of five are home this week to face sub-500 Toronto and an Arizona team that’s dropped seven of ten.  Philadelphia’s on the road but plays four games against the Mets, three at Miami, and a make-up game with the Orioles (three of the bottom five teams in the majors).  The race at the bottom of the division is becoming just as entertaining as the Mets and Marlins are separated by one game.

O’s Woes- an 0-6 week drops the Birds to 24-65, meaning that in order to avoid their first 100-loss campaign in 30 years they’d need to sustain a 39-34 finish.  The Orioles haven’t been five games over .500 since May 26th…of last year.  The “tragic number” counting down their elimination reaches 36…and it doesn’t get any easier with four games against the New York Yankees over the next three days.

Last Week’s Heroes- Mark Reynolds not only hit .625;  the infielder belted a walk-off homer Friday night, notched 10 RBI Saturday and tossed one-third inning of relief Sunday.  Michael A. Taylor goes 7-for-15 at the plate while Trea Turner tallied and 8 RBI game in Thursday’s comeback.  Sean Doolittle notched a save and a win while tossing two scoreless innings while Max Scherzer tallied his first win over a month.

Last Week’s Humbled- Tanner Roark shaved his beard into a Chester A. Arthur getup before going with the full shave…to no avail.  The righthander went 0-2 while allowing 13 runs over 11 innings.  In doing so he dropped to 3-11 on the year…tying his career high for losses in a season.  Nobody was expecting Roark to win 20 games this year, but the fact that the previously reliable starter is floundering is cause for concern as we approach the dog days of summer.  Especially with Stephen Strasburg still on the shelf.

Game to Watch- Thursday the Nats visit the New York Mets, and Max Scherzer takes his 11-5 mark to the mound against Steven Matz (3.31 ERA).  Max currently leads the majors in strikeouts with 177, is tied for fourth with 11 wins and ranks sixth in MLB with a 2.33 ERA.  Must-see TV on Thursday.

Game to Miss- Friday is Tanner Roark’s turn and the Mets have yet to designate a starter.  It’s rough seeing Roark go through the year he’s had so far…and one wonders if, how and when he’ll be able to turn 2018 around.  I’m okay with skipping this baby step back to normalcy…or (heaven forbid) another tough outing.

It’s a shame that Major League Baseball doesn’t use aggregate runs to determine series victors.  The Nationals dropped three of four games in Philadelphia and while they won 17-7 Friday night, their three losses were each by one run.  They also dropped a 1-0 game in Tampa Bay last Tuesday…making the team 8-15 in one run affairs this year.  The team’s bad showing in nailbiters magnifies bad base-running and sub-par situational hitting while making dry patches at the plate seem like deserts.  An 8-15 showing in one run games turns banged up players absences into major voids.  The Nats are 42-40 and have the feel of an 8th seed in the NBA Playoffs at this point…and while there’s plenty of baseball ahead the team’s worst month (9-16) since 2010 is looking like less of an aberration and more like the norm.

Werth Every Penny- last week Jayson Werth announced his retirement.  The 39-year old was hitting .206 over 36 games with Seattle’s Triple-A team this season, and hamstring issues put him on the road to calling it a career.  While he never hit 30 homers or drove in 90 runs and the Nats never won a playoff series in his seven years with the team, the free agent paid 126 million dollars produced big-time.  Werth brought a veteran presence and changed the clubhouse immediately while giving the team new ideas and a vision of how to handle itself.  Werth challenged his teammates and management.  He also made DC a free agent destination for the likes of Max Scherzer and Daniel Murphy.  Most importantly, the cantankerous individual was never a dull moment in postgame interviews.  Even though he didn’t return to the team in 2018, his fingerprints are all over this club.  Bye bye, beard…

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta (48-34) finally has a little breathing room after sweeping St. Louis.  The Braves own a three game lead over Philadelphia (45-37);  both are dominating one-run games this year (ATL is 13-6 while PHI is 17-7).  The Nats? A head-scratching 8-15 in one-run contests.  Meanwhile, the New York Mets and Miami are in an interesting race for the division cellar.

O’s Woes- the Birds avoided a sweep by blasting the Los Angeles Angels 8-2 Sunday.  Everything that hadn’t come together over the first three months of the season was there: Kevin Gausman tossed eight solid innings while the lineup produced four home runs.  The win now means they no longer need a .500 finish to avoid a 100-loss campaign; although they do need to go 39-40-a tall task for a team that hasn’t been one game under .500 since April 1st.  Also notable was the timing of the victory:  the Orioles’ last three wins at Camden Yards have taken place on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and now Canada Day.  Book it for Bastille Day:  July 14th they host Texas.

Last Week’s Heroes- Trea Turner hits .375 while scoring seven runs.  Anthony Rendon scores four runs while driving in five.  Bryce Harper walks 10 times and posts an on-base percentage of .481.  Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark notch solid starts while Sean Doolittle remains sharp.

Last Week’s Humbled- Gio Gonzalez had two rough starts, allowing nine runs over six innings.  Michael A. Taylor batted 1-for-14 while Pedro Severino went 1-for-13.  Both players make their impact defensively but each needs to hit over .100 to make this work.

Game to Watch- the week begins with a bang as Boston drops by the district Monday.  Max Scherzer (10-4, 2.04 ERA) faces his former teammate Rick Porcello (9-3, 3.60).  The Red Sox are smarting after two tough losses in their series with the New York Yankees. Could the Nats catch a Sox team with their mind still in the Bronx?

Game to Miss- Sunday Tanner Roark (3-9 with a 4.10 ERA but a 6.08 ERA in June) pitches against Miami’s Elieser Hernandez (0-5, 5.05) at 1:35 p.m. in the DC heat.  How hot is Washington in July?  President Zachary Taylor died after having cherries and milk in 1850 (urban legend says there may have been arsenic in the mix).  Go to the pool and enjoy the crossword.

We’ve seen this before- haven’t we?  The Yankees are dominating the American League and Washington DC is hoping for a winner.  The team with plenty of heart is having an inconsistent season when all of a sudden a player drops in the district from out of nowhere and starts to produce immediately.  Sound familiar?  The musical “Damn Yankees” was a broadway musical in 1955 and a movie in 1958, and today’s version of Joe Hardy (aka “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO”) is Juan Soto (“beardless Juan from the Dominican”?).  Has anybody checked to see if a middle-aged local real estate agent named Juan Boyd has disappeared?  Is there anybody resembling Mr. Hand from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” hanging out around the ballpark?  Has anyone spotted a petal-pusher wearing temptress named Lola in the seats?  Does manager Davey Martinez spontaneously break out in song?  You gotta have hope…

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta despite dropping two of three to the Orioles own a three game lead over the Nationals in the NL East.  The Braves are getting a big boost from former Nats catcher Kurt Suzuki (.400 last week–and .282 with 8 HR and 26 RBI for the year).  Philadelphia moved a half game ahead of the Nats by taking four of six games, including two of three against the Nats.  Maikel Franco (.556 with 2 HR and 4BI) and Carlos Santana (3 HR with 7 RBI) have been crushing Nats’ pitching in the six games they’ve played this year.  The Mets are chasing Miami for last place–and their six game losing streak puts them within a game and a half of the cellar.  The Marlins are 11-11 this month…which is better than the Nats (who are 8-12 in June).

O’s Woes- don’t look now, but the Birds actually had a non-losing week at 3-3.  At 23-53, they now need to only go 40-46 to avoid a 100-loss campaign.  Chris Davis and Colby Rasmus each homered upon their respective returns to the lineup, which is a good sign as the weather gets warmer.  This O’s team was built to blast homers, and their lack of early production was more unexpected than the rotation regression.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .444 with 3 HR and 7 RBI.  Michael A. Taylor now owns the hottest bat in the outfield after batting .438 with 2 runs and 4 RBI.  Juan Soto remains unexplainable as the 19-year old holds his own at the plate (an OBP of .500).  Sean Doolittle notched 3 saves and Max Scherzer struck out 9 in his only start of the week.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Tanner Roark allowed 6 runs over 4 and a third innings and now has an ERA of 7.40 this month.  Right now he’s 3-8 and has never had more than 11 losses over a full season in his major league career.  Mark Reynolds went hitless in 12 at bats…even more of an issue with Matt Adams on the DL.  Pedro Severino hit 1-for-19…and although it’s his defense the team is paying for that’s a gaping hole deep in the lineup to deal with.

Game to Watch- Monday night the team visits Tampa Bay to play a bad team in a worse stadium.  But it’s the best pitching matchup we’ll see all week with Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08 ERA) facing Brad Snell (9-4, 2.48).  Plus we get to see the DH in play.  If you’re too tired from the late Sunday game…rest up for next Sunday’s series finale in Philadelphia when Gio squares off with a slumping Jake Arrietta.

Game to Miss- normally I’d shy away from a non-divisional game, but Max Scherzer pitches Tuesday so I’m tuned into Nats- Tampa Bay bigtime.  Saturday Jefry Rodriguez is slated to pitch in Philadelphia at 6:05 while many of us will be out on the course at TPC Avanel following or covering the Quicken Loans National.  This is probably the last year the PGA will have an event in this area, and what began with such promise will likely end with a quiet exit to the midwest.  It’s a shame the tournament didn’t get a better week with regards to the calendar from a placement or weather standpoint. Fore!

It’s hot in DC. For those unfamiliar, Washington has a different calendar.  Instead of May it’s called “Monsoon”.  And instead of June it’s “Heatbomb”.  Unfortunately as it’s gotten hot in Washington the Nationals’ bats have cooled off.  The team ranks 26th in MLB in batting average and runs scored this month.  In a game of inches a team’s fortunes can turn on a dime…and since June began the 5-8 Nats resemble their April counterparts more than their May selves.  And with a rotation minus Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson for the time being, the Nats can ill afford getting shut out on consecutive Max Scherzer starts.  Meanwhile, Atlanta and Philadelphia are turning on the heat. 

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta leads by three and a half games….and 70 games into the season it’s obvious the Braves are no fluke with the fifth best run differential in the majors.  Philadelphia moved within four games of the lead by taking two of three from NL Central-leading Milwaukee;  their next four series come against winning ballclubs.  While the New York Mets ended their free-fall by splitting a series with Arizona they’re well on the road to non-contention.  Miami?  Five wins in seven games have the Marlins all of a sudden in contention for fourth place.  Will Derek Jeter hang a celebratory banner?

O’s Woes- the Birds avoided a double-digit losing streak by beating Miami 10-4 Sunday.  The Father’s Day victory was kind of fitting because the O’s last home win came on Mother’s Day (for further reference “Grandparents Day” is September 9th-and the Orioles are on the road that day).  The 20-50 start is one game better than the 1988 Gold Standard- and now Buck Showalter’s team needs to play .467 ball (43-49) the rest of the way to avoid a triple-digit loss campaign.

Last Week’s Heroes- Michael A. Taylor hit .600 while Adam Eaton in his first full week off of the Disabled List batted .333.  Rookie Juan Soto simply led the team in runs scored and RBI.  Max Scherzer struck out ten over six innings while Sean Doolittle notched a save.

Last Week’s Humbled- Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Eric Fedde each posted ERA’s over six. Daniel Murphy’s return from the DL was not as smooth as he hit 2-for-20.  Bryce Harper went 1-for-16. Is Ryan Zimmerman coming back soon?

Game to Watch- Thursday Max Scherzer starts the series finale with the Orioles at Nats Park. Unlike the last few years, there is no “potential World Series preview” chatter about this week’s interleague showdown. Max has been stung by two soft offensive outings in a row.  One thinks he’ll leave little to chance this week.

Game to Miss- Saturday the Nats face Philadelphia at 4:05, meaning the bulk of your day will be spent at the ballpark on what will probably be a day best enjoyed in the pool or on the Georgetown Waterfront.  Even without the happy hour pricing on weekends, the raw oysters are money (try the fried clam basket).  You’ll thank me later…

The Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup Champions.  It’s been well over a week and the contact high from that sentence still holds.  The Caps are NHL champs for the first time in franchise history…and the DC metro area has its first major pro sports titlist (sorry, DC United and Washington Kastles) since 1992 when the Redskins ruled the roost.  What a journey and what a destination.

Alex Ovechkin can rest knowing he won’t have an asterisk on his career;  the Stanley Cup winning captain leaves the land of Marcel Dionnes and Gilbert Perraults behind.  Unlike a Ray Bourque, Ovechkin didn’t have to benefit from a late-career trade to piggyback another team’s Cup run.  The face of the franchise is a champion without spending another minute in another club’s home dressing room.  Ovechkin got to enjoy the Cup with his long-time teammate Nicklas Backstrom and now can become a rare cradle-to-grave title-winning Washington sports icon.

Barry Trotz can enjoy the professional achievement of winning a Cup after never having coached a game past the second round before this spring.  He can enjoy reaching the peak of his profession and the validation that the system he built in DC was title-worthy after all.  Trotz will also enter the summer knowing that just about every one of his moves (sitting Holtby after a disastrous February, moving Ovechkin and Backstrom to different lines, maximizing Wilson and Eller) this winter paid off in the long run.  He can also appreciate the fact that his contract with the team expired, and he’s going to be paid in DC or elsewhere at a rate commensurate with having led a franchise to their first-ever Stanley Cup.

Brian MacLellan’s Stanley Cup ring won as a player with Calgary finally has a buddy.  The General Manager made multiple moves to pump up a roster that was high on upside but didn’t have a ton of depth and was a disaster on the blue line when he took over.  The midseason trade for Michal Kempny was everything the move for Kevin Shattenkirk last year wasn’t–and worked for precisely that reason.  Seemingly minor pickups like Devante Smith-Pelly became major in the postseason.  Yes, decisions need to be made regarding John Carlson’s expiring deal and next year’s roster will look different–but for at least one day MacLellan can rest easy knowing he’s achieved what he set out to accomplish.  Even if it was year three of the “two year window”.

As for the team, from TJ Oshie to Nathan Walker, from Dmitri Orlov to Christian Djoos, they’re champs.  Pure and simple.  Unlike if the Redskins or Wizards won it all, there’s no precedent.  There are even those who if the Nats win the World Series will cite the 1924 Senators or how the Orioles were the region’s team for three decades.  But this is the first ever title for a franchise that entered the league under sorry circumstances (8-67-5 the byproduct of the slimmest expansion pickings ever)…only to be locked into the toughest division in an era when that was the only path to a title.  Gone are nightmares of Easter Morning.  Gone is the disappointment of coming up short to the Penguins.  This Stanley Cup was also for the Peter Bondras and Mike Gartners and Yvon Labres…players who skated against the windmills of the Patrick Division.  This Cup belongs to the fans who made the trek to the Cap Centre and suffered through the teal eagle sweaters when the team finally moved to DC.  This title belongs to an area that not only was without a champ in a major pro sport since 1992, but had also not played for a title in 20 years (actually it had been 20 years since a DC major pro team had played for the right to play for a championship).

Before the Philadelphia Flyers played Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final in 1974, coach Fred Shero wrote on the dressing room blackboard:  “Win today and we walk together forever.”  They went out and beat Boston to capture the franchise’s first of two Stanley Cups.  The Washington Capitals’ road has been long and winding with more than a few fits and starts, but for one brief shining moment they are the best team in hockey.  And for the rest of time this team will walk-and skate-together forever.

 

 

Yes, the Nationals are in the midst of the early middle part of their season (not to be confused with the middle early part of their year).  But this week, month, season and year have been swiped away by the Washington Capitals and their first ever NHL championship.  Last Thursday, the Caps captured the Stanley Cup by rallying on the road at Vegas.  And downtown Washington, DC came alive in an incredible melting pot of fans from all over the metropolitan area.  So while the Nats make their charge towards a potential fifth postseason in seven years, let’s marvel at the force of nature that was the Caps since April 12.  And sit back as these guys celebrate.  A championship in the major professional sports (sorry Kastles and United) hasn’t happened in DC since 1992, when the Redskins were the only local pro team to actually play its games in the District.  Amazing how things change as the ‘Skins are the ones who are now outside city limits.  And this is the FIRST in franchise history.  Before Philadelphia won the 1974 Stanley Cup, Flyers coach Fred Shero wrote on the dressing room chalkboard: “Win today and we walk together forever.”  Whatever happens this summer with player exits or next season as the Caps mount a title defense, this team will walk together forever.  So let’s celebrate was one magical spring.  Rock the Red…

Max Factor- according to ESPN.COM, the next home start for Max Scherzer falls on Thursday, June 21 against the Orioles. Plan accordingly.

You Can’t Spell Revolving Door with out “DL”- the Nats could be getting help at the plate with Daniel Murphy potentially returning this week as the DH at the New York Yankees.  Adam Eaton returned to the field Saturday and scored a pair of runs while batting 1-for-4.  But the DL taketh just as it giveth away, as Stephen Strasburg and Brandon Kintzler join the wounded.

Dissecting the Division- the Nats and Atlanta are tied after the Braves dropped four of six on their west coast swing.  Just like the Mets plateaued and then cratered could we be seeing Atlanta ebb a little?  It’s unlikely as the Braves’ next 14 games are coming against clubs with losing records.  Philadelphia has lost seven of nine to slide three games off the pace…and 15 of their next 18 games are against foes with winning marks.  The Mets and Marlins are a combined 4-13 this month to bring up the rear.

O’s Woes- pick your poison in the sweep at Toronto. Would you rather lose in extra innings on a bases loaded walk after stranding 13 on base like the Birds did Saturday?  Or get the drama out of the way early in a 13-3 loss Sunday when Alex Cobb coughed up nine runs and left in the fourth inning?  The O’s are a big league worst 19-45…and need to go 44-54 (.449 winning percentage for a team that’s winning 29.7% of the time so far this year) to avoid the dreaded 100-loss campaign.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon celebrated his birthday in style Wednesday by going 4-5 with 3 RBI.  Juan Soto continues to mandate playing time by going .333 with five runs scored.  Max Scherzer went 1-1 while striking out 22 and walking three.  Tanner Roark tossed a solid outing. Sean Doolittle notched two saves in two opportunities.

Last Week’s Humbled- Stephen Strasburg and Brandon Kintzler both land on the disabled list after short outings.  Pedro Severino went 0-for-12 at the plate.  Bryce Harper hit .190 with one walk and 7 strikeouts.  Trea Turner hit 4 for 21 with the bulk of his at-bats near or at the top of the order.

Game to Watch- We didn’t get any resolution in last month’s DC series with the New York Yankees, so here’s hoping there aren’t any rainouts this week.  Tuesday Tanner Roark is coming off of a solid outing and is actually better on the road (3.29 ERA) than at home (3.86) this year.  Ageless C.C. Sabathia might not be on pace to equal last year’s 14 wins, but has an ERA lower than any he’s finished with since 2012.

Game to Miss- Sunday Roark pitches in Toronto as the Nats wrap up their roadtrip.  But golf’s US Open takes center stage.  Sorry, Tanner.