One of my good friends is from Los Angeles and naturally roots for the Dodgers and bleeds blue in the most spirited way (when he was a Nats season ticket holder I joked that the Nats were his “east coast mistress”).  Sometimes he’s irrational on balls, strikes and the correct rose to pair with mini crabcakes.  He’s not off the mark when he mentions that seemingly every year the Dodgers come to DC during the hottest week of July.  Many a time he’s melted in his seats…and rumor is he’s burned at least one shirt to put the sweat-stained piece of clothing out of its misery.  Simply put, July is not an awesome time to be in our nation’s capital.  We even had a President perish due to the Washington summer (Zachary Taylor, 1850).  Before constant campaigning/fundraising and pure laziness became acceptable excuses, there was a reason why congress always took its recess around this time.

During this heatbomb the Nats have gotten somewhat cold, dropping 4 of 6 to wrap up their homestand.  While every week is merely a fine snapshot as opposed to the pure picture (don’t forget, the Cubs and Orioles have both had rough patches yet each currently have the best records in their respective leagues) there’s always room for concern.  But first, make sure you hydrate…

July 31st Deadline, August Edition (or Caveat Emptor)- the non-waiver trading deadline is next Monday.  The Nationals despite leading the NL East are far from perfect.  Production from the leadoff spot (lowest on-base percentage in the majors) and first base (27th in the big leagues in on-base + slugging percentage) have been lacking…and the back end of their rotation remains wobbly (the injured Joe Ross and streaky Gio Gonzalez taking the fun out of watching Tanner Roark’s solid season).  Last year the big move brought Jonathan Papelbon into a clubhouse that was already lost by its manager and cooked the mind of Drew Storen (he’s still trying to get right).  Who do they add this year?

Dissecting the Division- the lead remains four and a half games over Miami and five games over the New York Mets.  With the trade deadline looming one wonders what either team has up its sleeve-last year the Mets won the deadline by acquiring Yoenis Cespedes- as it has been an eternity since the Marlins have been a buyer in late July.  Nice job by the Phillies in their 3-7 surge to create a little more breathing room ahead of last place Atlanta (2-8).

Division to Watch- there’s no tighter race than the AL East…where the Orioles swept Cleveland in a weekend duel of division leaders.  Orioles Magic?  You explain how this team is still in front with just one starter producing (Chris Tillman is 14-2, surpassing his win totals from 2014 and 2015).  Timely hitting and solid defense while doing the little things has Buck Showalter’s bunch ahead of the offensive dynamo known as Boston and sneaky-good Toronto.  When the O’s play the Sox or the Jays over the next two months…I’m watching.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy and Wilson Ramos remain the twin engines that drive this offense:  Murphy hit .429 with 4 runs scored  and 6 RBI while Ramos batted .474 with 5 RBI.  Gio Gonzalez won for the third time in four starts by tossing six solid innings against the Dodgers; he’s bookended his 0-6 stretch with a pair of 3-1 straights.  I don’t know if I want to play blackjack next to this guy…

Last Week’s Humbled- Ben Revere’s hitting .125 in the leadoff spot while Bryce Harper’s hitting .111 in the cleanup spot.  That is a double-whammy most lineups can’t get around.  Danny Espinosa hit .087 last week with 9 strikeouts…as the pendulum shifts wildly from his monster June.  It’s easy to point to Jonathan Papelbon’s implosion (4 earned runs in two-thirds of an inning Sunday), but with prospects Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito unable to pitch even 5 innings the Nats have a dead spot in their rotation.  Get well soon, Joe Ross…

Game to Watch- Wednesday in Cleveland Stephen Strasburg (13-1, 2.83 ERA) pitches against Carlos Carasco (7-3, 2.31) in a duel of division leaders.  I’m curious to see how Strasburg bounces back from his first loss of the season (and just his third defeat since last year’s All Star Break).  His ERA in day games is also over a run higher than in night games.

Game to Miss- actually this is a challenging week as the first four games involve a double-digit winner for the Nats or their foes…bringing us to Sunday in San Francisco.  Gio Gonzalez (6-8, 4.53) faces Matt Cain, who after going 16-5 in 2012 is 13-27 since.  The 31- year old is 1-6 with a 5.86 ERA to start this season.  Enjoy the pool with a Martha’s Vineyard Margarita (Cuervo, Cointreau & Cranberry)…

Much like a semester break, the All Star break gives teams and fans a chance to rest up and gear up for the march ahead.  The Thursday of the All Star break is now the longest day on the sports calendar…thank goodness for the British Open and Tour De France, not to mention WNBA and MLS.  After taking two of three from Pittsburgh the Nationals get another off day after having four last week (much like the start of the season MLB likes to let teams gather momentum).  Thank goodness for the off day as they played 18 innings Sunday.

Dissecting the Division…and playoff possibilities- the Nats lead the NL East by six games as the New York Mets and Miami are currently tied for the second wildcard.  The Chicago Cubs recent swoon means San Francisco has the best record in the NL…with the Nats in third behind Barry Goldwater’s team.  The Los Angeles Dodgers currently own the top wildcard mark.  St. Louis and Pittsburgh remain on the outside looking in-for now.

Last Week’s Heroes- Tanner Roark is becoming the pitching staff’s George Harrison. Eight scoreless innings Saturday night gave the bullpen the necessary rest entering Sunday’s marathon…and Roark has pitched at least 7 innings in 12 of his 20 starts this year.  The 29-year old is 6-1 since Memorial Day…and is becoming the #3 pitcher that many hoped Gio Gonzalez would be this year.  Daniel Murphy after going 2 for 3 in the All Star Game had hamstring issues all weekend and only had one at-bat against the Pirates.  But what a plate appearance a pinch hit HR in the 9th.  Stephen Drew hit .364 against Pittsburgh.

Last Week’s Humbled- Sometimes it’s tough to get in gear after taking time off.  Ben Revere’s weekend taken by itself (.167 with no runs scored) is hopefully a bump in the road compared to his recent surge while Jayson Werth produced walks, runs and a stolen base despite hitting .077.  Oliver Perez’s 6.35 ERA in July is more of a clear picture than the HR he coughed up to Starling Marte.  Dusty Baker took the blame for not intentionally walking Marte in the 18th…but the toothpick-chewing wizard has made more good moves than bad this year.

Game to Watch- Thursday Stephen Strasburg pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  It’s a 12:05pm game…continuing the tradition of the Dodgers coming to DC during the hottest week of the year.  I can only imagine this week will be no exception-but you can’t miss a Strasburg start.  Even if it’s against Bud Norris…

Game to Miss- Sunday the Nats host San Diego with the starter yet to be determined… wrapping up a homestand during heatbomb season.  It’s a 1:35 start.  Stay at brunch for an extra mimosa.  Get to the pool early and crush the crossword.  Do laundry amidst the backdrop of Law & Order re-runs. You’ll thank me later…

ORIGINALLY APPEARING ON “Preston’s Perspective- BlogSpot Page” in July 2009.  Thus the referring to Governor Palin in the present tense and not having Paul Ryan in the mix.  The Republican Convention kicks off today with Indiana Governor Mike Pence following in the footsteps of Dan Quayle, Thomas Marshall, Thomas Hendricks, Charles Fairbanks and Schuyler Colfax.  Wow-Indiana has given us a lot of VP’s (their 5 is second most to New York’s 11).

The official resignation of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin takes me away from my crossword-by-the-pool this early July… as I marvel at the rise and decline of a modern phenomenon– not since Ronald Miller’s incredible journey in “Can’t Buy Me Love” have we seen anyone go from low status to high status to no status.

No matter what eventually happens to America’s #1 Hockey Mom…she definitely has made her mark on our nation’s most exclusive club that most members wouldn’t choose to be in–vice presidential candidates. Where does she rank in those that dreamed to be a phone call away? I broke down the VP nominees since 1960 (sorry, I can’t justify debating the if Estes Kefaufer or John Sparkman was the better running mate for Stevenson against Eisenhower–I get drowsy just typing this sentence).

Regardless of the candidate’s politics…there are a few fundamental questions regarding each one: Did the running mate bring credibility to the ticket? Did they deliver states from a region the presidential candidate didn’t come from? Did they avoid major embarrassment, faux pas, indictments and shock therapy?

I separated the candidates into three categories:

Difference-makers: these are the candidates who delivered states (legally of course) and regions… and every so often changed the dynamic of the race.

LBJ– (Kennedy, 1960)… the classic VP blueprint–balancing experience and geography to give JFK a foothold in the south in one of the tightest races ever. Without Johnson… Texas (24 electoral votes) and the south are suddenly on the table and the New Frontier looks awfully different. The JFK-LBJ tandem was the Goldfinger of presidential tickets…ever since then we’ve seen the formula repeated–with the impact far from matched.

Gore-(Clinton, 1992)… far from a slamdunk against George H. W. Bush, the choice of Al Gore gave the Arkansas governor credibility (the second-term Tennessee Senator was nationally known having run for President in ’88) and the ticket a monopoly on the baby boomer generation. Coupled with Perot’s weird withdrawal the week of the Democratic Convention, a campaign in trouble turned the corner and found a bridge if not to the 21st century–at least to the White House.

Bentsen– (Dukakis, 1988)… “You’re no Jack Kennedy”–hands down one of the money slams of all time. The Dems tried to replicate 1960’s Mass-Tex tandem to no avail– but he gave energy to a campaign that excited nobody. Many preferred the GD Spradlin lookalike (actor who played the corrupt senator in Godfather II, the Landryesque coach in North Dallas Forty and evil hoops coach in One On One) as president instead of Dukakis or Bush.

Mondale-(Carter, 1976)…the Minnesota Senator gave the outsider Jimmy Carter an anchor inside the beltway and someone from the midwest to balance the ticket–and he more than held his own against Bob Dole in the debate.

Bush (Reagan, 1980)… solidified Reagan’s base and gave the Republicans a unified front– while making sure that Gerald Ford’s proposed “co-presidency” fiasco wouldn’t happen. Yes, he said he “kicked some ass” after debating Ferraro in ’84, but he caused minimal problems on the campaign trail.

Sometimes the VP choice has minimal impact regardless of the choice… the following choices weren’t hot or cold–just lukewarm.

Lieberman-(Gore, 2000)…in the shadow of the Monica Lewinsky scandal the Vice President had to try to figure out how to get credit for Clinton’s “on the field triumphs” while distancing himself from the “off the field tragedies“–and he found the perfect running mate in the first Democratic Senator to publicly blast the President for the Lewinsky situation. Unfortunately Gore’s sighing during his debate with Bush and inability to carry his own home state of Tennessee made Florida the focus.

Cheney-(GW Bush, 2000)…many were mystified when the leader of the search for Bush’s runningmate ended with himself. His extensive experience inside the beltway as Chief of Staff as well as Defense Secretary gave the ticket stability (GWB having just six years total experience in government); he then went on to behave like the prototypical VP candidate with no major gaffes or issues. The best thing about the two VP candidates in 2000 was they knew well enough to get out of the way and allow the real entertainers (Bush & Gore) to take center stage.

Humphrey-(Johnson, 1964)…seriously, nobody was going to beat the Democrats that year. Least of all Barry Goldwater. Hubert Horatio provided LBJ with some humor horseriding on the President’s ranch.  If anything, his “promotion” robbed the party of one of their better minds in the Senate…and helped propel Walter Mondale to the national stage (he’d leave his post as Minnesota Attorney General to take Humphrey’s seat).

Muskie-(Humphrey, 1968)…as unbeatable as they were in ’64, a chaotic campaign marked by Eugene McCarthy’s NH surprise, LBJ withdrawing, RFK’s assassination and the chaos on the convention floor seemed to work against the Democrats four years later. Oh, and George Wallace split away the party’s once-solid south. At least Maine’s favorite son delivered his state’s four electoral votes. Problem was, there weren’t any other obvious choices from a state that would effectively balance the ticket (San Francisco mayor Joseph Alioto the only remote possibility)–although it should be noted Alabama football coach Bear Bryant received one and a half votes in the presidential convention balloting.

Dole-(Ford, 1976)… one of the few situations worse than the Democrats in ’68 came eight years later for the other party…in the wake of Watergate, Pardons and Whip Inflation Now Gerald Ford faced Jimmy Carter a battered candidate by a primary challenge from Ronald Reagan. While the conservative senator from Kansas helped Ford lock down the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states, he caused a stir by blaming Democratic presidents for World Wars I & II, Korea and Vietnam. I’m trying to see the link between Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare and Woodrow Wilson…or at least maybe there was something between Japan’s imperialistic designs and FDR. At least nobody lied about Dole’s record in ’76.

Kemp-(Dole, 1996)… Clinton-Gore’s Bridge to the 21st Century ran right through a ticket that pit a pair of ideological opposites…Dole an arch-conservative all about the balanced budgets against Kemp the supply-side economist. The ex-Buffalo Bills quarterback actually was well received on the campaign trail; in fact more than once Kemp was introduced with the enthusiasm befitting the presidential candidate instead of the running mate. Unfortunately for the topsy-turvy ticket at odds with itself, their fate resembled that of Kemp’s hometown Bills earlier that decade–second place.

Biden-(Obama, 2008)…after a mantra of change in the primaries… the Democrats chose a six-term Senator from Delaware (gotta love those three electoral votes) to provide national security and foreign policy experience to the ticket. While Biden’s history included a semi-plagiarized campaign speech in 1988…there were no major gaffes and he was almost an afterthought--according to Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, Biden was only included in 5% of the news coverage of the race. He wasn’t even the most popular Joe involvedthat honor belonging to “Joe the Plumber”, aka Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher.

Edwards– (Kerry, 2004)…the Massachussetts Senator had narrowed his VP choices to three candidates from states that had either voted for Bush or had come close (Gore won Iowa by 0.31%): Missouri Congressman Dick Gephart, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and former primary rival/North Carolina Senator John Edwards. The former litigator’s selection was hailed by party regulars–but his inexperience was focused on during the general campaign. Edwards’ running in the primaries was also used as a detraction: in the VP Debate, Dick Cheney told Edwards they had never met because of Edwards’ frequent absences from the Senate–although videotaped proof existed that had Cheney and Edwards shaking hands at an official event. Still, Kerry/Edwards failed to carry North Carolina–or any of its bordering states. If they had just taken the Carolinas in addition to their other states, they would have won.

Ferraro(Mondale, 1984)…”morning in America” meant curtains for Mondale. While his choice of the New York Representative was an inspired one, it came against the backdrop of the Democrats looking like they were pandering to whichever group would net them the most votes– while using the VP spot as a way to , gain votes isn’t a new thing (back in the day there always seemed to be a New York or Ohio feel to the ticket), it seemed like that year they were just dropping all pretenses.

Lodge (Nixon, 1960)… there’s nothing so brilliant as nominating a VP from the same home state as the opposing party’s presidential candidate–especially when he lost to said candidate eight years ago in a senate race. Did Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. bring anything dynamic to the 20th century’s watershed race? To paraphrase then-President Eisenhower, if you give me a week I might think of one. Nixon should have tapped NY governor Nelson Rockefeller instead.

Embarrassments: somewhere these people’s pictures are warnings to prospective nominees– these few should have stuck to mowing lawns and playing late night poker instead of buying Cindy Mancini a suede outfit.

Miller (Goldwater, 1964)… yes, he was from New York–but when a VP candidate appears in American Express “Do you know me” commercials after the electionyou’ve got problems. When you have difficulty getting re-elected in one’s own district…you’ve got problems. Why not Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton? The primary reason Miller was picked was because according to Goldwater -“he drives [President] Johnson nuts”. So not only did they go on to lose spectacularly, Goldwater robbed his party of a congressional thorn in the side of LBJ–Miller would never return to the House.

Agnew- (Nixon, 1968)… one of the classic “who?” choices as VP that mystified conventional wisdom. Unfortunately we eventually discovered who he was–from being the White House’s hatchet man (does the phrase “nattering nabobs of negativism” ring a bell?) to pleading nolo contendre to criminal charges of tax evasion and money laundering— we wish he was simply not famous instead of infamous. Remarkably, he didn’t really hurt Nixon’s campaign.

Quayle- (GHW Bush, 1988)–Potatoe. “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy”. Murphy Brown. “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind.” The youthful senator from Indiana at first seemed like any other unknown thrust into the national political spectrum. Thank goodness he surpassed everyone’s expectations and became a national punchline for four years. If anything his selection called Bush-41’s judgement into question…if this was his choice for VP, what other decisions will we have to worry ourselves about?

Palin (McCain, 2008)–the irony of being parodied on “Saturday Night Live” was that during and after the campaign it seemed as though the Alaska Governor was the one not ready for prime time. It didn’t help that it appeared as though the SNL bunch had it in for her–or that she was all too easy to parody. It could have been a choice that pushed voters to McCain… instead it was one that had everyone scratching their heads–and wondering if this Maverick wasn’t the top gun they needed in Washington. If anything it grounded the A-4 pilot’s campaign permanently.

Eagleton (McGovern, 1972)–the gold standard of bad vice presidential choices…his failure to disclose the fact he’d had shock therapy or had been hospitalized for mental health problems stole whatever momentum the campaign had–and then he put the engine into reverse by withdrawing after McGovern said he’d back him 1000%. But his killer blow to the Democrats hopes came in a comment he gave under anonymity to columnist Bob Novak–

The people don’t know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot,” the senator said. Once middle America — Catholic middle America, in particular — finds this out, he’s dead.” McGovern then became known as the candidate of “amnesty, abortion and acid.”

One of the few instances of harming a campaign from the inside and the outside.

Who would have known that the balance of power in the NL East would have turned on a mid-winter signing with all of the excitement of leftover potato salad.  Instead of being an afterthought, Daniel Murphy has been the main course of the Nats’ offense.  He’s a major reason why after finishing seven games behind the Mets in 2015, they lead the division by six games halfway through 2016.  How good has Murphy been?  Try .423 with 7 HR and 21 RBI against his former teammates.  That’s the good news…the bad news is that he only has six more games against the Mets to remind them of their mistake in not retaining his services.

Halfway full- or perhaps 55.6% there as the Nats have played 90 games.  First half causes for confidence include stellar showings by Murphy, Danny Espinosa (Nats #8 hitters rank 2nd in the Majors in RBI) and Wilson Ramos (Nats catchers are 1st in RBI, 2nd in OPS and 3rd in runs scored).  The team also leads the Majors in ERA and fielding percentage while ranking second in quality starts and third in opponents batting average.

Halfway empty- how good is this rotation?  Stephen Strasburg has been hurt, Max Scherzer coughs up homers and while the trio of Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross have each had their moments each has given us doubts.  The leadoff spot remains an eyesore-ranking 27th in the Majors in runs scored and last in OPS (on base percentage + slugging).  The first base and centerfield positions rank 29th in OPS and conventional wisdom says there’s no way Murphy, Espinosa and Ramos can each duplicate their way-above-market first halves.

Dissecting the Division- the Nats own a six game lead over the NY Mets and Miami.  They currently are posting better numbers than their NL East foes:  in addition to leading the NL in ERA and fielding, the club ranks 6th in runs scored (Marlins are 11th and the Mets are 13th).  In the strange stat anomaly of the week, Miami ranks 2nd in the Majors in batting average yet is 22nd in the big leagues in scoring.

Across the Divide- the Orioles are in a fun race as well (for those wondering, Mark Trumbo is playing the role of Daniel Murphy on the Camden Yards stage), leading Boston and Toronto by two games for the AL East lead.  Their hold is precarious given the team’s starting pitching problems (minus Chris Tillman the Birds are 17-26 with an ERA of 5.70). The Red Sox lead the AL in hitting, scoring and OPS while making moves to bolster their consistently uneven pitching (21 runs against the Angels?  Really?).  Watch out for the Blue Jays- the defending division champs rate 3rd in OPS while own the league’s second best ERA and fielding percentage.  The Jays also have the most quality starts.

Last Week’s Heroes- Murphy hit .346 with 3 HR and 10 RBI while scoring 9 runs. Max Scherzer posted an ERA of 0.69 over two starts while notching 16 strikeouts to 5 walks.  Jonathan Papelbon in his return from the disabled list tallied 3 saves while striking out 8 over 4 innings of work.

Last Week’s Humbled- we knew Danny Espinosa’s June would be tough to duplicate, but .217 with one walk and 11 strikeouts?  Relievers Sammy Solis and Oliver Perez were tagged for ERA’s of 13.50 and 16.20.

Game to Watch- Friday Stephen Strasburg (12-0, 2.62 ERA) pitches against Pittsburgh.  One doesn’t feel the length of the All Star Break until Thursday’s off-day.  We’re ready for baseball…and we are ready to see Strasburg pitch again.  Do you know he’s lost just twice since last year’s All Star Break?

Game to Miss- they haven’t released the rotation for the first weekend back, but I will go out on a limb and guess Max Scherzer is pitching Saturday against the Pirates.  Max has a history of being magical in Saturday starts against the Bucs…so that leaves the Sunday game with Gio/Tanner/Joe on the hill.  It’s a 1:05 start and I’m sure the stadium will feel like a nice wool blanket during the game…I’ll take a day of the paper, pool and pasta.  Of course, if Scherzer pitches Sunday I reserve my right to flip flop…and wear my flip-flops on Saturday.

Bounceback. Market correction.  Call it whatever you will, but the Nationals notched a key sweep over their NL East foe New York Mets to re-establish themselves after a rough road trip.  The sweep keeps the Mets at bay…and has the Nats in front as we reach another regular season marker.  Fourth of July brings morning baseball to the district and a chance of rain in the forecast.  Pay no mind-nothing but sunny skies on the fourth of July for the Nationals.

Injuries to the Rotation, or rotating the injuries?- Stephen Strasburg comes off the disabled list to toss six and two thirds innings of no-hit ball just as the team places Joe Ross on the DL with shoulder inflammation.  Meaning Lucas Giolito stays a little longer.

Division Dissection- the 6-1 week moves the Nats 17 games over .500 at 50-33.  The Mets after getting swept in DC sweep the best in the Majors Chicago Cubs…taking the finale  14-3.  Five games separate the two teams with Miami now six and a half off the pace.  Philadelphia and Atlanta remain on the outside, looking in.  Or at least pretending to look in.

Division to Digest- So the Cubs won’t clinch the NL Central by Independence Day, even though it looked like that might be the case when they started 39-16.  Even with their four game losing streak, Joe Maddon’s team still leads the division at 51-30.  St. Louis and Pittsburgh both were figured to be in the Wildcard chase this season, and that is exactly where they are–chasing.  The Cardinals recent roll puts them one game out while recent contender Pittsburgh reaches the .500 mark with a summer surge.  Both teams have enough recent regular season experience to give them an edge over newbies Miami or perennial underachievers LA in the race to reach the one game showdown.  Milwaukee and Cincinnati are your proper cellar-dwellers.

Last Week’s Heroes-  Danny Espinosa wraps up one incredible series against the Reds with his second grand slam in four days.  The shortstop hit .423 last week with 5 homers and 17 RBI.  Ben Revere hit .391 with 9 runs scored.the losing streak.   Lucas Giolito tossed four innings of one-hit ball in his major league debut.

Last Week’s Humbled- Michael A. Taylor has not had a fun 2016.  He’s struggled in the leadoff role (.206 in  136 of his 191 at bats).  Last week he went 0-8 with 2 strikeouts.  Joe Ross landed on the disabled list after allowing 8 runs on 11 and a third innings worth of work.

Game to Watch- Friday Stephen Strasburg (11-0, 2.71 ERA) pitches against the NY Mets Noah Syndergaard (9-3, 2.41 ERA).  Can Strasburg string together two solid starts coming off the disabled list?  And can the Nats repeat their performance last week against Syndergaard (5 runs in 3 innings)?

Game to Miss- Wednesday the Nats conclude their homestand by starting Tanner Roark against Milwaukee.  The 4:05 start will be the sixth straight day they’ve had a different start time…so you might just miss the game unintentionally.

 

You never like it when you’re out and about and that one guy in your crew brings up the worst possible result when you’re having a good time.  And then his vision comes true.  Before the west coast swing (that involved Milwaukee, which is on the west shore of Lake Michigan- so there is some semblance of completion) manager Dusty Baker openly mentioned how dreadful a trip like this could be.  Really?  After taking two of three from the Cubs?  Fans chuckled-perhaps even compared him to Lou Holtz dreading Notre Dame-Navy games-as the Nats won their first two from San Diego.  Scherzer pitched well enough to win in the third game…and then the bottom dropped out.  A magnificent seven game losing streak where hitting was weak, pitching was porous, fielding was fickle and the ace had to be reshuffled to the bottom of the deck.  Thank goodness for Tanner Roark…

Adding Injury to Insult- Stephen Strasburg missed his Monday night showdown with Clayton Kershaw due to a strained back…and then six days later was placed on the disabled list.  In a month where pitching has been less than ideal (4.40 ERA), this was not a desired situation.  Avid eyes await his return…

Division Dissection- despite the recent slump, the Nats find themselves three games ahead of the New York Mets and Miami.  The Mets in signing Jose Reyes officially have hit the panic button regarding their inefficient offense-and they’ve been hitting it like a five-year old on an elevator.  The Marlins have won 7 of 10 and have become the “little engine that could” story of the early season…scraping to victories right and left.  Philadelphia and Atlanta remain on the outside looking in…while the Braves have quietly gone 17-21 after losing 28 of their first 39 games.  Traction…

Division to Digest- the Orioles’ five game winning streak gives them a bit of a cushion over Boston and Toronto.  The American League East boasts three of the top nine offenses in the majors while the O’s are the highest scoring team in June (the Blue Jays rank third).  The Orioles are getting this done thanks in part to the best offseason pickup in the AL- Mark Trumbo.  His 22 home runs has already matched his total from last year…and he looks to be on pace to surpass career highs in HR and RBI (34 & 100, set in 2013 while with the Los Angeles Angels).  They’re also winning thanks to a shut-down bullpen:  20-7 with a 2.91 ERA.  Very necessary when your starters are 25-23 with a 4.96 ERA (and that includes Chris Tillman’s 10-1 start). 

Last Week’s Heroes-  TANNER ROARK earns capital letters as he tossed seven strong innings Sunday to help snap the losing streak.  In two starts Roark was 1-1 with a 1.88 ERA, 12 strikeouts and 2 walks.  He also shined at the plate-going 2-5 with 2 walks.  Danny Espinosa tied for the team lead in most home runs and led the club in RBI.  Even if they were 1 and 4, that’s still more than expected for a guy batting eighth.  Wilson Ramos hit .409 in what’s becoming a ho-hum solidly stellar season for the catcher.

Last Week’s Humbled- Michael A. Taylor hit .143 with 8 strikeouts and no walks while committing an error that brought home the deciding run in their last game with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Ben Revere as a leadoff hitter went .111 with just one walk.  While Gio Gonzalez endures another rough outing (6 earned runs in 3 innings pitched), Max Scherzer continues to cough up home runs (he now leads the National League with 20).  With Strasburg on the shelf, this can’t happen…

Game to Watch- Wednesday Max Scherzer pitches against the Mets’ Steven Matz (I’m already hearing the Seinfeld “salsa-seltzer” bit) in the series finale.  Metz in his last visit to DC struck out 7 over 8 scoreless innings…prompting manager Dusty Baker to name-drop John Matlack in the postgame press conference. Hopefully this series wrap-up will be more Seinfeld than MASH…

Game to Watch II- Tuesday the Nats face the Mets’ Matt Harvey…who has had issues early and often this season.  While he’s yet to win this month, Harvey does boast a 2.88 ERA in June.  Facing him is TBA…thanks to Strasburg’s absence.  Instead of trotting out Yusmeiro Petit (after he pitched well last Monday in a spot start against LA) or a AAA bandaid (Austin Voth is 4-3 with a 2.99 ERA, AJ Cole is 6-4 with an ERA OF 4.35, Paolo Espino is 4-7 but with an ERA of 3.31 and a strikeout to walk ratio of 67-15), it’s prime prospect Lucas Giolito.  I WILL NOT be re-watching the TURN season finale…

Game to Miss- Thursday the Nats exhale with a series opener against NL East cellar-dwelling Cincinnati.  Gio Gonzalez has lost six straight decisions while Brandon Finnegan has lost two consecutive starts.  I will be re-watching the TURN season finale…

I know the Nationals are currently on a west coast road trip.  But I can’t get their showdown with the Chicago Cubs out of my head.  Three games that had a distinct October feel.  Three hard-fought outings.  And one incredible finish Wednesday with Jayson Werth’s walkoff hit.  So why do we wake up this Monday with a series split in San Diego?  Momentum often doesn’t travel cross-country…and can vanish in an 8th inning barrage.  A west coast swing is where division leads go to die…and the Nats have six more games where they can ill afford to not be on point.

Digesting the Division- break up the Marlins!  Miami’s recent surge of 7 wins in 10 games has them moving into second place ahead of the Mets…and unlike early in the season all of their wins aren’t seemingly against Atlanta.  Miami trails the Nats by five and a half games…while the slumping New York Mets (losers of three straight and six of ten) slide six games off the pace.  David Wright also has neck surgery…bad news for an offense that ranks 28th in the Majors in runs scores (29th in games played this month).  Philadelphia?  It’s tough to imagine the Phillies were once in contention after six more losses in a row and defeats in nine of their last ten games.  They may just be chasing Atlanta for the division cellar–and the Braves are on a 14-18 surge since firing manager Fredi Gonzalez.  Surges are often subjective…

Division Discussion: Cleveland Rocks- congratulations to the Cavaliers for bringing home an NBA title…the first for the city since 1964 (yes, the Lake Erie Monsters won the AHL’s Calder Cup- but we’re talking major sports leagues here).  Could this spark a resurgence like the one we saw in Boston/New England from 2001-10 (7 titles with each team getting at least 1?)  Or even the Philadelphia Straight Flush of 1980-81 (Flyers, Sixers, Phils & Eagles each playing for titles)?  The Indians currently lead the AL Central by one half game over defending World Series champ Kansas City…thanks to a pitching staff that ranks 7th in the Majors in ERA.  The Royals are the only other team in the division with a winning record (although ex-Nat Jordan Zimmermann remains a bright spot for Detroit at 9-3 with an ERA of 3.24)…and it looks as though the shores of Lake Erie could be settling in for a fun summer.  Just don’t set the river on fire.

Last Week’s Heroes- Jayson Werth’s walkoff hit was only part of his contributions last week- he’s been a fantastic fit in the #2 spot in the batting order (hitting .301 while everyone else in that spot has combined to hit .263), last week scoring four runs while driving in two more.  His ability to get walks (four more) has provided additional traffic for the likes of Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy.  Shawn Kelley notched two saves after being pressed into the closer role for the injured Jonathan Papelbon.  Max Scherzer posted a 1.38 ERA over two starts–striking out 21 while not allowing a walk.  Max factor, indeed…

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman hit .167 with 11 strikeouts.  The Cubs after walking Bryce Harper last month to get to Zim walked Murphy this month to get to Zim.  Gio Gonzalez posted a 6.17 ERA over two starts and hasn’t won since May 18.  Felipe Rivero allowed 5 runs in the 8th inning Saturday night…wasting a gem tossed by Max Scherzer and setting up the stage for a series split in San Diego.

Game to Watch- Monday night Stephen Strasburg takes his 10-0 record to Dodger Stadium…and Los Angeles counters with 10-1 Clayton Kershaw (1.58 ERA by the way).  Despite Kershaw’s brilliance, LA trails San Francisco by six and a half games.  Needless to say, I won’t be watching TURN.

Game to Miss- Saturday the Nats meet Milwaukee in a battle between Gio Gonzalez (3-6, 4.25 ERA) and Chase Anderson (4-7, 5.13).  It’s another one of those 4:40pm starts where you hate to leave the pool because you know you can knock out at least one more chapter of that Eleanor of Aquitaine biography you’ve been struggling to finish.  Or the crossword.  Or the pool…

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