Archives for category: baseball

The word “denouement” is defined as “the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved”.  After last Sunday’s clinching of the NL East, the Nats were due for a little denouement.  Instead of being hot on the Dodgers’ tail for home field in the National League, manager Dusty Baker’s team dropped the last two series of their homestand and almost assured themselves of the #2 seed (which they had last year).  Denoument!  The usually rock-solid rotation had one of its few subpar weeks, and one writes off the 2-4  thud as a throat-clearing.  Unless it continues…and when I say continues I mean for the next two weeks and into October.  Thirteen games to finish denoumenting (“you keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means”). 

 

Magic and Tragic Numbers- the Nats trail the Dodgers by six games for the best record in the league;  thus LA’s magic number is eight.  The Nats’ magic number to clinch at least the second-best mark in the NL is seven (Cubs are currently in the #3 spot as the NL Central leader).  Miami (eliminated from the NL East race eight days ago) is one loss or one Colorado win away from being officially out for October (and even if they win every game and the Rockies finish 0-12 Milwaukee is four wins away from bouncing the Marlins).

O’s Woes- let the record show that the Orioles have been very good against AL East foes this year:  10-6 against division-leading Boston and 33-26 overall entering last week.  But with three games against last-place Toronto and four games at the Wild Card contending New York Yankees, the Birds blew up.  Five losses in seven games almost eliminates the plucky bunch from the Charm City…as their “tragic number” is eight.  Blame a bad rotation for the 5-11 September…as Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson both own ERA’s at 9+ this month.  An 8-4 finish is needed to avoid the team’s first losing season since 2011.

If the Playoffs Began Today- the Nationals would have home field over the Chicago Cubs in one Divisional Series while the Dodgers would face the winner of Arizona-Colorado.  Cleveland (thanks to the 22-game winning streak) plays the Wild Card winner in the AL (Yankees-Minnesota) while Houston has home field advantage over Boston.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .353 while Ryan Zimmerman added two homers and four RBI.  But the stage was set for Victor Robles:  the prime outfield prospect went 2-for-5, scoring twice while driving in a run.  Shades were necessary to watch this future.  Stephen Strasburg won his lone start, striking out eight.  The bullpen boasted several solid efforts:  multiple scoreless innings were thrown by Matt Grace, Ryan Madson, Austin Adams, Shawn Kelley, Sean Doolittle, Enny Romero and Matt Albers.

Last Week’s Humbled- for one of the first times all season, multiple starters experienced rough outings.  Edwin Jackson allowed seven runs over two and a third innings, while Max Scherzer (seven over six) and Gio Gonzalez (six over six) didn’t help their cases in the chase for lowest ERA in the NL (Clayton Kershaw still the leader at 2.12).  Howie Kendrick (.167) and Michael A. Taylor (.182) had off-weeks, while Matt Wieters (0-for-12) is hitting .042 this month.

Game to Watch- devoid of potential playoff previews and magnificent mound matchups, I’ve circled Saturday night’s duel at Citi Field against the New York Mets.  Stephen Strasburg since coming off the disabled list is 4-1 with and ERA of 0.66.  He has a decent chance to reach 200 strikeouts for the second time in his career and match his career high of 15 wins in a season.

Game to Miss- thank you Nationals for making things easy for me with the six-man rotation.  A.J. Cole pitches against the Mets Sunday afternoon, amidst a flurry of NFL action.  While the Redskins won’t be playing until Sunday night, we’re going to enjoy afternoon football instead of afterthought baseball.

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Forgive us if we’re a little giddy here.  It’s one thing to be a one-hit wonder…another to have “Get off of My Cloud” hit #1 in the US or “From Me To You” top the UK charts.  While the Nats had previously won NL East crowns in 2012 and 2014, they were unable to repeat the feat–sometimes embarrassing themselves in the process (Papelbon, anyone?).  Not the case this year, where General Manager Mike Rizzo made the necessary offseason (Adam Eaton) and in-season (the bullpen trio) moves to give Manager Dusty Baker the best club possible.  Baker’s firm but not overbearing hand on the wheel steered the club through injury-ravaged seas (they’ve used 50+ players this year).  And the players who came up short in defending previous titles had career-defining seasons (Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon & Gio Gonzalez specifically).  Instead of a winter of what-if, there are postseason possibilites.  And I no longer mention the magic number in this space.  That should be reason enough to celebrate.

From Magic to Tragic- while Philadelphia is already out of Wild Card contention, the other three NL East teams still have hopes.  Miami’s fall from orbit (12 losses in 14 games, including 0-7 against the Nats) drops the Marlins ten games behind Colorado for the final playoff spot in the National League.  Their “Tragic Number” is now ten.  Atlanta’s elimination number is seven while the Mets need a combination of five losses/Rockies wins to call it a year.  Enjoy at your own risk.

O’s Woes- somehow after getting swept by AL Central leading Cleveland the Birds remain on the fringe of the Wild Card, three games behind Minnesota.  Doesn’t anyone want this playoff berth?  The Twins, Angels and Rangers are a combined 14-16 over their last 30 combined games.  Twelve of the O’s remaining 19 games are on the road…but they only play seven games against teams with winning records.  And three of those are at home against Boston, a team that might lead the division but one Manager Buck Showalter’s crew is 10-6 against.

Playoff Possibilities- if the season ended today, the Nats would own the #2 seed in the NL and would host the Chicago Cubs in the first round.  The Los Angeles Dodgers would get the winner of the Wild Card game between Arizona and Colorado.  American League pairings would have top seed Cleveland host the Wild Card winner (New York Yankees or Minnesota) while Boston would visit Houston in the other series.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy hit .450 while Trea Turner tallied seven runs and six RBI, but Michael A. Taylor earned his middle initial by batting .409 with three homers and nine RBI.  Did we mention his inside-the-park grand slam?  Did we forget his out of this world defense that saved a home run Thursday and cut down a runner at the plate Friday?  For today I’m calling him Michael A+ Taylor.  Stephen Strasburg won both of his starts while posting an 18 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Last Week’s Humbled- relievers Shawn Kelley and Oliver Perez are not making the best case to be included on the postseason roster…as both pitched Friday but were unable to record an out while allowing three-run homers.  The Nats also had the gall to clinch the division on the day the Redskins opened their season.  How dare the perennial postseason contenders win their fourth title in six years while the football team loses its fifth straight opener!  Talk about rubbing it in…

Game to Watch- the NL West leading Los Angeles Dodgers come to town this weekend, and Friday they send Alex Wood (14-3, 2.81 ERA) to the hill against Edwin Jackson.  Memories of last year’s hard-fought NLDS loss to LA and the division clinched has Friday not arriving soon enough.

Game to Miss-  I’m sorry, Gio Gonzalez.  You are having your best season since the 21-win campaign and your ERA is under two since the All Star Break.  But your start Tuesday against Atlanta is the same night that the Washington Mystics meet Minnesota.  WNBA fever takes over for at least one evening…as the upstart squad led by Maryland great Kristi Toliver and Elena Della Donne face last year’s runners-up and this year’s top regular season team.  It’s not the Kastles in World Team Tennis, but it’s close.

 

Pay no attention to the Nationals series loss at Wild Card contending Milwaukee over the weekend.  The Nats won the week by sweeping second place Miami out of South Capitol Street:  the series included a complete game, two major returns, the customary rain delay and an action figure giveaway.  Despite all of their injury issues, the Nationals still posted the best record in the NL at 18-11.  As rosters expand and the boxes are checked (the matter of that division title, individual milestones), the Nats prepare to face their ghosts of postseasons past.  Let’s enjoy a little September sun before October Angst drops by the district.

Dissecting the Division- the magic number is down to 12…and the Nats meet Miami three times this week.  The Marlins recent dip (1-6) drops them five games back in the Wild Card race.  The Mets (3) and Atlanta (6) are close to being knocked out of the NL East race, but at least they don’t have a single-digit tragic number like Philadelphia.  The Phillies were eliminated from the NL East race last Wednesday…and are 20 games back in the Wild Card with 26 to play.

O’s Pose a Threat- eight wins in ten games has the Orioles in contention…and the Birds battle the New York Yankees in a series with playoff implications this week.  While Aaron Judge and the Bronx bats have been somewhat quieter since the All Star Break, the Pinstripes’ pitching (5th best ERA in the bigs) is what has me concerned.  Especially with the flammable rotation the O’s offer up.

Last Week’s Heroes- Stephen Strasburg struck out eight while tossing a complete-game shutout of the Marlins.  By the way, he homered as well in that game.  Matt Wieters hit .417 while Wilmer Difo hit .300 with a team-high five runs.  Jayson Werth homered in his return to the lineup…and Trea Turner is also back to provide a spark atop the batting order.

Last Week’s Humbled- Gio Gonzalez was oh-so-close to a perfect 6-0 month…only to allow five runs in six innings Thursday.  Adam Lind hit .100 while Howie Kendrick struck out eight times in 19 at bats.

Game to Watch- Friday Max Scherzer takes to the mound against Philadelphia.  One year removed from his Cy Young campaign, the righthander has dealt with neck issues and last Saturday was hit by a line drive.  While a 20-win season is no longer in sight, a strong September most certainly can be.

Game to Miss- Sunday Stephen Strasburg pitches against Ben Lively and the Phillies.  At 1:35.  Hmm…don’t the Redskins play Philadelphia at 1pm?  Isn’t it the regular season opener?  Tough break…

 

Thirty-three games remain in the regular season marathon before the playoff sprint.  The Nationals wrap up the dog days of summer with a 12-game lead in the division (not horrible) and 12 players on the disabled list (not ideal).  Barring a meltdown of historic proportions, this team will once again be admitted to the postseason party…and the success of 2017 will be measured not by how many regular season games this club won, but how many postseason series captured.  And yes–that’s plural.

Dissecting the Division- the magic number is 22…as Miami is not going quietly into the night.  The Marlins have won 8 of 10 to enter the wildcard conversation as Colorado has dropped 12 of 19.  They also own the fourth best batting average in the majors and boast the biggest bat– Giancarlo Stanton after hitting 26 homers in 325 pre-All Star Break at-bats has clubbed 24 home runs in 151 post-hiatus at-bats.  Marcell Ozuna has quietly surpassed 100 RBI for the season…and the pitching is not an absolute grease-fire (only 18th in team ERA).  The two teams tangle six more times over the next two weeks.

Birds Break out the Brooms- the Orioles get a needed sweep of first-place Boston and move to .500 for the second time since June.  Just as impressive was the pitching allowing just four runs over three games.  Can they win a third straight series for the first time since April?  O’s apologists will be the first to remind you how the team is 10-6 against the Red Sox…but the team is 35-43 outside the AL East.  Five of the Birds’ next seven series are against clubs with records of .500 and above…and we’ll see if this team is more pretender or contender.

 

Last Week’s Heroes- Adam Lind hit .300 with two homers and five RBI… delivering an insurance home run Sunday night against the Mets.  Anthony Rendon bats .348, scoring four runs while driving in three.  Stephen Strasburg strikes out seven over six innings in his lone start while Gio Gonzalez continues his wild ride through 2017 with his fifth win in five starts.  Gio’s August ERA? 1.03…

Last Week’s Humbled- Shawn Kelley notched a 13.50 ERA over three appearances, while Matt Grace allowed opponents to hit .455 off of him.  Brandon Kintzler blew a save in Houston.  Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman both had rough weeks, hitting a combined 6-for-39 with two walks and 10 strikeouts.  I mentioned the disabled list now holds a complete dozen…

Game to Watch- Monday Max Scherzer (12-5, 2.25 ERA), neck-permitting, pitches against Miami’s Jose Urena (12-5, 3.68).  The Marlins don’t seriously think they can make up 12 games in five weeks, can they?

Game to Miss- Sunday Edwin Jackson takes to the mound against Milwaukee…while Fed Ex Field will host a college football game between #21 Virginia Tech and #22 West Virginia.  The former Big East foes won or shared 11 of the league’s 20 championships…and haven’t met since 2005 despite the schools’ close proximity (roughly four and a half hours).  Sorry, Edwin…

The Major League Baseball universe is decidedly tilted to towards the opposite side of the country in 2017.  The top two teams (Dodgers and Houston) plus four of the top seven squads reside west of the Mississippi, and LA’s magic number for home field is less than the Nats number to win the dilapidated NL East.  Pick your poison- while the Astros boast the major’s best offense (tops in runs, on-base percentage and slugging), the Dodgers-surprise-have the best pitching staff (#1 in ERA and opponent’s batting average).  But Houston’s pitchers lead the league in strikeouts.  If you want to see the best baseball, prepare for later nights (or at least a diet of starts after 8 p.m.).

Dissecting the Division- the Nationals lead the NL East by 14 games after taking four of six games last week, with their magic number dwindling to 27.  Credit the plucky Marlins for keeping pace…as a hot streak would catapult Miami into the serious Wildcard contention (as it is, they’re just six games back).  Speaking of magic numbers, Philadelphia’s “tragic number” is 12.

O’s Woes- the Birds lost four of six…losing both series after taking their first games against Seattle and the Angels.  Two teams ahead of Baltimore in the American League Wildcard race.  A sweep of AL West cellar-dwelling Oakland would be a great boon to their lagging playoff hopes…because after that they visit AL East-leading Boston and then host Wildcard contender Seattle.

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilmer Difo hit .316…while Howie Kendrick scored 5 runs and homered three times.  Daniel Murphy after a day off was responsible for three of the team’s four runs in Sunday’s win at San Diego.  Gio Gonzalez won both of his starts…the only run allowed being unearned.  Sean Doolittle notched three saves in three appearances.  He’s 11 for 11 since coming to the Nats.

Last Week’s Humbled- Matt Wieters is invaluable behind the plate, working very well with pitchers this season.  He was less than valuable at the plate, batting 0-for-14.  Rookie Andrew Stevenson looked more like Andrew Stevens hitting 1-for-10…and Michael A. Taylor has yet to regain his pre-DL groove.  Max Scherzer’s neck is robbing the game’s best pitcher of his stretch run…where is MyPillow.com when you need it?

Games to Watch- yes, games.  With a trip to Houston and a series against the Mets, break out a new bag of Tostito’s hint of lime chips to enjoy with your hummus.  (1) Friday Max Scherzer (neck-willing) pitches against 13-game winner Jacob deGrom. (2) Thursday Stephen Strasburg pitches for the second time since coming off the DL against an 11-2 Dallas Keuchel. (3) Saturday Gio Gonzalez continues his stellar summer ride (5-1 with an ERA of 1.29 since the All Star Break and 3-0 with a 0.46 ERA in August) against the Mets.

Game to Miss- another Sunday day-night doubleheader?  AJ Cole pitches the matinee against Steven Matz (2-7, 6.08 ERA).  Since the break Matz is 0-5 with a 10.16 ERA.

 

 

July 31st is the non-waiver trading deadline in Major League Baseball.  While swaps can still go through, this is the big day when deals are made between contenders and pretenders.  For the sixth straight year the Nats are contenders…and the last three seasons have provided a Christmas in July for DC baseball fans.  What might be under their tree this year?

Needs- Relief, relief, relief.  The Nats lead the majors with 66 quality starts but boast the second-worst bullpen ERA in the big leagues.  Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson have been solid additions, but one can never have too many proven arms available in the late innings.  They could also use another table-setter type in the lineup:  Brian Goodwin and Wilmer Difo are hitting just over .250 with 34 walks against 104 strikeouts.  Howie Kendrick was a start…but there’s no guarantee Trea Turner will return to his June-level when he gets back and there’s no guarantee Jayson Werth will even return.  Add to the wish list a #3 or #4 starter…the longer that Stephen Strasburg is in the land of limbo.

Previous Sprees- the last three years General Manager Mike Rizzo has pulled the late-July trigger, with mixed results:

2014-– infielder Asdrubal Cabrera (more like a stocking stuffer than a gift wrapped under the tree) was brought to DC for reserve Zach Walters.  Cabrera didn’t set the world on fire, but was a decided upgrade over Danny Espinosa at second base (just one error and 20 runs + 21 RBI over 49 games; Espy had 31 runs + 27 RBI over 114 games played).

2015– closer Jonathan Papelbon was brought to South Capitol Street to shore up the bullpen.  The price tag?  Nick Pivetta (3-6 with an ERA of 5.73 this year for the Phillies).  And the team’s mental well-being. Instead, the veteran was ineffective, Drew Storen went on a downward spiral that ended when he broke his hand punching a locker, and Papelbon put his hand on the throat of NL MVP Bryce Harper in a dugout dustup.  Decidedly a bad move.

2016– new year, new closer.  This time it was Pittsburgh’s Marc Melancon…and the price tag was pitchers Felipe Rivero (5-5 with an ERA under 2 out of the pen for the Pirates over the last year) and Taylor Hearn (currently in high Class A).  Melancon delivered 17 saves in 18 chances with an ERA of 1.82 in 30 appearances and almost as important allowed the team to jettison Papelbon.  A definite win for the team.

Hall of Blame- congratulations to former Expo Tim Raines and ex-National Pudge Rodriguez on their Hall of Fame inductions.  Shame that Cooperstown’s big day occured while there were 14 MLB games in progress.  Perhaps they can make this part of All Star Week?

Dissecting the Division- the hard-charging Miami Marlins have won seven of ten,  moving within 13 games of the Nats.  For those scoring at home, the magic number is now 47.

O’s Woes- okay, so the Birds took two of three from Texas. And they put 10 runs on the board Sunday against the Rangers.  But the Orioles are 6-1 against Texas this month…and 5-13 against everyone else in July.  At 50-54 they’re on the fringe, five and a half games out of the wildcard.  But the starting pitching remains a nightmare and the dreaded west coast trip is a few weeks away.

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman hit .350 with 4 HR and 9 RBI…replacing Frank Howard atop DC’s career HR list.  Wilmer Difo batted .364 with 2 homers.  Edwin Jackson pitched a gem Sunday night (striking out 6 while allowing 4 hits over 7 innings).  Max Scherzer struck out 9 while improving to 12-5 on the season.

Last Week’s Humbled- Daniel Murphy and Matt Wieters each hit .167.  Tanner Roark allowed 4 runs over 5 innings in his lone start.  The Washington Kastles lost 5 straight matches to slip out of World Team Tennis title contention.

Game to Watch- Monday Gio Gonzalez pitches against Jose Urena in Miami.  So you’ve got Gio’s return to his hometown…facing a nine-game winner.  While Gonzalez has lost four of his last five decisions, the lefthander continues to keep his ERA under three.  Have we mentioned the Marlins are within 13 games of the NL East lead?

Game to Miss- Wednesday the Nats wrap up their series against the Marlins with Stephen Strasburg–nope, he’s on the DL.  Instead, TBA takes to the mound against an 0-2 Vance Worley…proving that the dog days are officially upon us.

Everybody gets hurt in baseball.  But not all injuries are created equally.  If the Nats were 5-15 when Adam Eaton went down with the knee injury or if the offseason acquisition were hitting .143 at the time, there’d be no continual jab to the ribs every time one saw Brian Goodwin leading off.  If Jayson Werth hadn’t shown signs of life last year when moved to the #2 spot in the order, his absence over the last month would just de liver shrugs.  If Trea Turner hadn’t been setting the basepaths on fire the month he got hurt (22 of his 35 stolen bases came in June) it would be just another second-year player missing time.  If this were the first time we’ve seen concern over Stephen Strasburg, we’d treat his shortened start with the “isolated incident” mindset.  Instead, this is a team with October dreams where every bump and bruise has an impact not necessarily now but in an NLDS this team has never won.  You think these injuries hurt now?

Digesting the Division- so despite all of the issues, injuries and ineffectiveness the Nats have won 8 of 10 to extend their lead over Atlanta to a dozen games.  Do we dare start the magic number count?  It’s 53 for those scoring at home.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .476 while scoring 7 runs and driving in 6…even with plans B and C hitting ahead of him in the lineup.  Adam Lind made the most of his limited time, notching 5 hits in 9 at-bats.  Edwin Jackson turned back the clock to 2012 by scattering 3 hits over 7 innings in his 2017 debut with the team. Tanner Roark bounced back from a rough patch by striking out 11 over 7 innings in a win.  Relievers Matt Albers and Ryan Madson combined to toss 5 and a third scoreless innings over 5 games.

Last Week’s Humbled- reserves Chris Heisey, Ryan Raburn and Stephen Drew combined to tally 4 hits in 35 at-bats.  Max Scherzer allowed 3 homers in the first inning against the very team that drafted him in 2006 (Arizona) while Gio Gonzalez had a rough outing as well.  Joe Blanton’s 11.57 ERA for the week over four outings has the strange sense of deja vu.

Game to Watch- Wildcard leading Colorado comes to DC this week…giving fans three chances to see the Rockies.  Antonio Senzatela (10-3 but with an ERA over 4) starts the series finale Sunday.  Will we get the good Gio, the bad Gonzalez or simply the snakebitten one?

Game to Miss- originally the series with Milwaukee was going to be a “duel of division leaders”. Now it’s a matchup against a team that trails the Cubs by percentage points in the NL Central.  The Thursday finale sends Tanner Roark to the hill at 12:05 PM.  I’m all for getaway days…but 12:05 in July is more like a sweat-away day.