Archives for category: baseball

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.

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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.

After taking six of seven on a west coast swing, the Nationals began a dream homestand (two games with the Yankees and a series with the Dodgers) with the nightmare of one suspended game, two postponed games and three losses.  The cherry on top?  Wasting 13 strikeouts by Max Scherzer.  And don’t get me started on the injuries.  Instead of making their move on Atlanta and Philadelphia atop the division standings, the Nats are back in fourth place.  At least the weather’s supposed to be nice this week…

Dissecting the Division- the 0-3 week coupled with the Mets sweep of Arizona drops the Nats down one rung.  For first place Atlanta, the future is wow with 21-year old Ozzie Albies belting 13 homers to lead the Braves.  Second place Philadelphia is enjoying a stellar season from Odubel Herrera (batting .344 with 30 RBI).  The Nats bats?  Yet to catch fire after scoring 7 runs while getting swept by the Dodgers.  Max Scherzer is the only player on the active roster who’s appeared in 10+ games batting over .300 at this time.

O’s Woes- the Birds drop to 14-32 after losing three of four in Boston.  The team finished 12 games under .500 last year.  They’re now 18 games under .500 with over 110 games left in this journey to nowhere.  This is no longer a micro- thing.  The O’s have to step back and ask themselves where they see this organization in three to five years.  Nats fans know full well how bad things can get.

Last Week’s Heroes- Howie Kendrick was hitting 2-for-5 when he tore his achilles tendon Saturday.  The loss of Kendrick hurts in the lineup and on the field…as he had seen action at three different positions and five different spots in the batting order.  And now the 34-year old is done for 2018.  Max Scherzer struck out 13 Saturday and even drove in a run (he’s hitting .308 with more RBI than strikeouts this year).

Last Week’s Humbled- let the record show three games gives us one super-small sample size.  But Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon each hit .083 and with a patchwork lineup in progress the two key cogs need to deliver.  Shawn Kelley and Sammy Solis had less than desirable episodes out of the bullpen.  The rain blew up what could have been a great miniseries with the Pinstripes…and waterlogged a red-hot Nats club.

Game to Watch- Monday Gio Gonzalez pitches against San Diego…the lefthander allowed one earned run over six innings earlier this month in a loss to the Padres. But what makes this the one to watch is that 19-year old Juan Soto (.362 with 14 HR in 39 minor league games) makes his first Major League start.

Game to Miss- Wednesday the Capitals face a potential Game Seven and The Americans airs its second to last episode.  Due to the rainouts wreaking havoc with the rotation the Nats have yet to name a starter for the 4:05 pm game.  At that time I’m either watching highlights of previous Game Sevens (Pat LaFontaine–ugh) or previous Jennings family capers (how much can you fit into a suitcase?).  I’ll leave the light on after watching both…

 

Every car needs a jumpstart once in a while.  Last week Nats manager Davey Martinez with three strokes was able to give a banged-up batting order the needed juice to recover from its early season slumber.  Bryce Harper going to the leadoff spot made plenty of sense–as he’s walking more than once per game and almost forgot what a good pitch to hit looked like.  Matt Adams to Bryce’s #3 spot made sense as the veteran has been solid  this spring.  But Wilmer Difo to the 9th spot has created a little electricity at the bottom of the order.  Batting behind the pitcher but before Bryce, Difo’s been a difference maker and wrapped up the week with a walk-off single that helped the Nats win their series with Philadelphia.  There will be more moves (Rendon taking over the #3 spot now that he’s off the DL) regarding this lineup–but in a division that is suddenly coming back to .500, a little juice might be all they need to retake the lead by Memorial Day.

Healthy and Hitting- Anthony Rendon not only returned to the lineup…but the third baseman delivered a two-run single in the eighth inning Sunday that began the rally.  The Nats are still missing Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy…and now that it’s May one wonders when the two will return and how effective they’ll be.

Dissecting the Division- don’t look now, but the New York Mets are in free-fall with eight losses in their last ten games.   Atlanta now leads the NL East with a 19-14 mark (despite getting swept at home by San Francisco) thanks to the #3 offense in the majors led by Nick Markakis (.344 with 6 HR and 25 RBI- on pace for his best season since 2008).  Philadelphia at 18-15 are in second while the Mets are in third at 17-15.  The Nats (18-17)after seven wins in eight games have moved within two of the lead.  They may be in fourth, but the rest of the division is chasing the Nats right now.

O’s Woes- wow.  Yeah.  Did anyone see an 0-6 roadtrip happening with the Birds getting outscored 35-17?  At 8-26 they’re not only 17 games out of first place but also tied for the worst record in the majors.  Manny Machado is having a decent season  (.346 with 9 HR and 27 RBI)–and the watch begins on when or if they send their best player packing for a bunch of prospects.  Right now they’re on pace to lose more than 120 games–and while teams always regress (or progress) to the mean, one wonders if this is the end of the current management structure and core on the field nucleus.  For those scoring at home, the Orioles need to finish 55-73 to avoid a 100-loss campaign…almost double their current winning percentage.

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilmer Difo hit .524 with 2 HR and 5 RBI…culminating in the game-winning hit Sunday.  Matt Adams batted .360 with 5 homers…and Bryce Harper went deep 4 times last week.  Max Scherzer was masterful in his 15-strikeout performance on Sunday–and had 8 in his other start.  Sean Doolittle notched a win and a save while Gio Gonzalez tossed 5 scoreless innings in the series opener with Philly.

Last Week’s Humbled- Trevor Gott coughed up 3 earned runs while getting one out Friday against the Phillies–and twisted his ankle in the process.  Michael A. Taylor hit .087 while Ryan Zimmerman has yet to eclipse the .200 mark for the season and missed two games over the weekend with a “side” injury.  Nobody expected the veteran to duplicate last year’s career resurgence (.303 with 36 HR and 108 RBI) but nobody expected this sort of prolonged start from a guy whose bat figured to be relied upon early and often (especially with the injuries).

Game to Watch- Let’s be honest, every Max Scherzer start is must-watch.  This one more so because Friday night he’ll be facing the team that drafted him in Arizona…while squaring off against Zack Grienke.  The 2009 Cy Young winner may own an ERA of 4.10, but he’s 2-0 at home with a 1.85 ERA.  Did we mention the Diamondbacks lead the NL West?  I’ll be watching after my appearance on News Channel 8’s Sports Talk.

Game to Miss- Wednesday there may very well be a Game Seven at Capital One Arena between the Caps and Penguins.  If there isn’t, The Americans final season continues with the most clueless FBI Agent potentially finally realizing his neighbors in Falls Church are really KGB agents and not just Travel Agents.  So far this season has given us a pair of appearances by the Mail Robot as well as bad country music line dancing.  Sorry, Gio Gonzalez as you pitch against a San Diego team that’s 13-22.

Four NL East titles in six years is a good thing…even with the unfortunate October endings that have plagued the Washington Nationals this decade. Ryan Zimmerman still has the phantom pains from 100+ loss campaigns where contending was a pipe dream and instead of a magic number a tragic number was posted some times as soon as August.  So even though DC is more than hungry for a champion–or even a team that plays for the championship–let’s enjoy the process as the team is once again favored to win its (albeit not awesome) division and has more than a few players who will potentially factor in the MVP and Cy Young races.

One Sweet Sweep- not only did the Nats take all three from Cincinnati, the Reds did not lead at all during the series.  Dominant pitching and timely hitting set the table for the weekend as the club did plenty of little things and more than a few big things right.  It’s only three games, I know.  But while a team can’t win the division in April, it can definitely lose its way.

O’s Woes- after a thrilling extra inning walkoff win (which is becoming the rule instead of the exception at Camden Yards) the Birds dropped two straight to Minnesota- an expected Wildcard contender.  Kevin Gausman looked bad in coughing up 6 runs over 4 innings while the Chris Davis leading off experiment has the top of the O’s order an 0-for-12.  And the bullpen almost gave away the opener.  But it’s still really early.

Last Week’s Heroes- Adam Eaton hit 8-for-13 with 2 homers and 5 RBI (do you think he was ready for 2018?)…while Bryce Harper not only homered twice but also got the job done with a pair of sac-flies.  Max Scherzer struck out 10 over 6 scoreless innings in the season opener while Sean Doolittle notched a pair of saves.

Last Week’s Humbled- relievers Enny Romero and Sammy Solis had less than ideal opening weekends, each allowing two earned runs while recording a pair of outs.  Ryan Zimmerman and Michael A Taylor both hit .125 against the Reds, but  Zim’s groundout Friday led to the first run of the season and Taylor used a bunt and a stolen base to generate an insurance run.  Once again, it’s only three games.

Game to Watch- there’s nothing quite like the home opener.  Even when it’s a week into the season.  Stephen Strasburg starts Thursday against the New York Mets in a matchup of the last two teams to win the division.

Game to Miss- sadly the Atlanta rebuild makes matchups against the Braves less than desirable.  With apologies to Tanner Roark, Monday night will be all about the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Championship Game as Villanova takes on Michigan.  One shining moment, indeed…

 

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

What was the commercial that said, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression?”  Adam Eaton may get that chance this April as the team’s major offseason acquisition from last winter tries to finish what he started in 2017.  Eaton’s arrival last year was almost as much about who the Nats gave up:  former first round picks Lucas Giolito and Dane Dunning plus prime prospect Reynaldo Lopez. For the record, Giolito and Lopez both went 3-3 last year for the White Sox while Dunning pitched with single-A Kannapolis and Winston-Salem (although let’s be honest:  doesn’t Dane Dunning sound like the name of a teen sleuth in Young Adult Fiction?).  Eaton simply had one incredible April (ranking third in the majors in runs scored) before going down with a torn ACL 23 games into the season.

It’s amazing to think that the Nationals still went on to win 97 games minus their leadoff hitter for the vast majority of the season (and don’t forget they were minus plan B leadoff man Trea Turner for 60+ games due to a broken wrist).  Make no mistake, there was a void atop the order minus the player who earned the nickname Mighty Mouse:  he posted a .388 on base percentage (which would have ranked 2nd in MLB) from the leadoff spot while the other Nats’ leadoff hitters combined to hit .259 and the team finished 19th in the majors in on base percentage from the #1 spot in the batting order.  Trea Turner, Brian Goodwin and Wilmer Difo each have skills and can shine in the lineup, but none of them were able to duplicate Eaton’s April.

Every good sequel is a little bit different from the original, and that’s the case for Eaton II: Left Field Boogaloo.  Michael A. Taylor’s emergence last season in centerfield means Eaton shifts over to left.  There are those who dissect the numbers and analytics, and there are those who rely on the “eye test” when judging defensive players.  Both camps regard Eaton as better served in left field.  Last year 12 players saw action in left (including Eaton for three games) and stabilizing a position that is traditionally expected to produce offensively will be key.  Especially with Daniel Murphy’s recovery from knee surgery keeping the second baseman on the shelf until mid-April.

So the guy who is no longer the new kid in town gets a second chance at a first season with his new team that he’s been with for over a year.  At least he’ll get a chance to run around in July’s DC heat for the first time.  Bring some extra Mighty Mouse t-shirts to change into mid-game, Adam.  And welcome back.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING AS PART OF A SERIES ON WTOP.COM–

Start spreading the news.  Bryce Harper’s leaving next winter for New York, where he’ll sign as a free agent and achieve his childhood dream of playing for the Yankees.  Of course the Nationals could re-sign him for $500 million dollars over ten years with Teddy Roosevelt Island thrown in as a signing bonus, but it won’t happen for the five-time All Star and 2015 MVP.

Why New York?  Why the Yankees?  It’s been a badly kept secret that Bryce Harper grew up idolizing Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle–to the point where he wore the number 7 when playing youth baseball.  When #7 wasn’t available one year, he wore 16 (1+6).  He now wears 34–do the math.  Even in today’s era of 30 Major League teams, the world of baseball to a point revolves around the Bronx and the new house next to The House That Ruth Built.  Harper appreciates the game’s history and to play every day for the sport’s signature franchise (sorry, Dodgers and Cardinals fans) wouldn’t just be the cherry on top to an already sweet career, but a ridiculously awesome sundae.

What also makes the Yanks a potential landing spot as opposed to the Cubs or simply staying in DC is the fact that they play in the American League.  Harper’s MVP season is the only one in his career where he’s played 150 or more games.  Having the designated hitter option when he might be nicked up or dealing with a tight hamstring would be a nice bonus.  It’s also 314 feet down the line from home plate to the right-field foul pole at Yankee Stadium…as opposed to 335 at Nationals Park.

Could he fit in?  USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported last December that Harper’s agent Scott Boras would be seeking a contract in the neighborhood of ten years in length with the price tag of $400 million dollars-at a minimum.  Who has money?  Naturally, the Yankees are in the #1 media market in the nation–but only have the 7th-highest payroll entering 2018, according to spotrac.com.  After spending freely on big-name players during the latter half of Derek Jeter’s career when it appeared they were only a player or two away, the Yankees tightened their belts this decade and focused on drafting as well as player development.  That focus left the franchise with a talented nucleus–including a pair of right-handed hitters (Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez) who can bat before and after Harper.  Both players are still in their pre-arbitration timetable:  Judge is 25 and fresh off of a 52-home run season while Sanchez turns 25 over the weekend and hit 33 homers in his first full season as a regular.  Put Bryce in that mix and you have a 3-4-5 combination only fantasy teams dream about.  Current leftfielder Brett Gardner is 34 and would be entering a team-option year in 2019.  Whether Harper or Judge plays left or right, the Yanks would be set on the corners for some time.

The New York Yankees also potentially represent stability for a free agent looking at the landscape:  whoever becomes their new manager will be the team’s third skipper since 1995.  Dave Martinez will be the fourth manager (following Davey Johnson, Matt Williams and Dusty Baker) Harper will have played for as he enters his sixth season in the bigs.  Perhaps paying top dollar for a manager has its dividends after all.

FOR OTHER POTENTIAL HARPER DESTINATIONS, GO TO THE SPORTS PAGE AT WTOP.COM.