Archives for category: MLB

On the surface the Nationals dropped four of seven to fellow playoff contenders Atlanta and the Chicago Cubs.  The way they got there is a microcosm of how frustrating this season has been for a team that appears to be less than the sum of its parts.  In three of the seven games the Nats’ bats produced six or more runs–and they won all three.  Three of those games were decided by two runs or fewer–and the Nats lost all three.  Including Sunday night’s come-from-ahead defeat at Wrigley Field.  While Ryan Madson hitting a pair of batters before giving up a grand slam was not ideal (especially with one of the base-runners reaching on an error), Friday’s loss was even more frustrating. Nine left on base after going 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Jeremy Hellickson walking the bases loaded in the sixth to secure a shower despite having a no-hitter going.  Greg Holland walking in what would be the decisive run in the seventh.  And Juan Soto getting picked twice off of first base in a one-run game.  These are the Nationals- a team that is 11-20 in one-run games.  As they trail Atlanta and Philadelphia plus five other teams in the Wild Card race, the little things become big over the final 44 games.  Can the team that has been admittedly sloppy for four-plus months finally turn the corner? 

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta takes a half game lead after blasting Miami 9-1 Monday afternoon. The Braves and Philadelphia are both within striking distance of the Nats in the standings, but the five to six game cushion has existed for some time.  And the longer the cushion stays in place the quicker it hardens.

O’s Woes- well, at long last the Birds have been officially eliminated from AL East contention and are assured of a losing record.  Their chances at avoiding a 100-loss campaign are dwindling (they need a 28-15 finish) by the day and the worst mark in team history (54-107 from 1988) isn’t too far away (they need to finish 20-23 to avoid that distinction).

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman captured NL Player of the Week honors after hitting .476 with three homers and 12 RBI. Matt Wieters hit .353 while Trea Turner batted .345.  Max Scherzer struck out 17 while walking a pair over 14 innings and the Nats also got solid starts from Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark.

Last Week’s Humbled- let the record show that the bullpen is shorthanded, but Matt Grace, Wander Suero and Ryan Madson each posted ERA’s over six.  Same case with Kelvin Herrera who’s on the disabled list.  Adam Eaton hit .200 with eight strikeouts and no walks while Juan Soto batted .182 and got picked off first base twice Friday in a one run game.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats begin a series with Miami, and while Max Scherzer takes to the mound in search for his 16th win of the year it’s also Hawaiian Shirt night at the ballpark.  Very, very tough to pass this one up.

Game to Miss- Saturday Tommy Milone pitches against Wei-Yin Chen in a duel of starters with ERA’s over five. Pool time is slowly but surely shrinking with Labor Day looming. Get a full day in the water if you can.

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The Nationals entered the season as the team to beat in the NL East. But after posting losing records in April, June and July the Nats instead of being the pursued are the pursuers.  Yes, they still have 16 games remaining against Atlanta and Philadelphia but with every day a little bit of sand slips through the division hourglass.  They’re currently in a stretch of five games over three days thanks to the summer weather, and while the rotation appears to be finding itself Stephen Strasburg remains on the disabled list.  Like sands through the hourglass…

Let’s Make a Deal? Minimal movement at the non-waiver trading deadline for the Nationals who opted not to bring in a starting pitcher nor a catcher.  Instead they dealt middle reliever Brandon Kintzler to the Cubs for a minor leaguer.  The challenge to a team that’s played under its abilities for four months:  bring it.  Since that vote of confidence they’ve gone 5-1, which given the fact they played a pair of last-place teams is what they needed to do to stay relevant in the race.

Dissecting the Division- the Nats begin the week five and a half games behind Philadelphia and five games behind Atlanta.  Everybody’s schedule ratchets up a little bit in August as the Phils face division-leading Boston and Arizona, the Braves battle Wildcard contenders Milwaukee and Colorado and the Nats play their next 11 games against clubs with winning records.  Miami has taken a one-game lead over the New York Mets for the East Division Cellar…with both team’s offenses offensive in the wrong way. The Marlins and Mets are tied for 26th in the Majors in runs scored–and at least Miami is consistent in that the team that Derek Jeter blew up ranks 26th in team ERA.

O’s Woes- how will the Dog Days affect the Birds?  So far they’re 2-3 this month…which at .400 is actually an improvement of their full body of work (gulp!-.304).  They’re four losses away from clinching a second straight losing record and the O’s “Tragic Number” is six.  The Wildcard elimination number is 16—and that’s with Oakland not losing games to Seattle.  Last week saw multiple deals at the deadline as the Birds are in rebuild mode.  The final July haul:  14 prospects plus a major leaguer for five guys either with expiring deals or not in the long-tearm plans of the club.  The watered down bunch needs to finish 29-21 to avoid a 100-loss campaign, a tough task for a team that had just 28 wins at the All Star break.  A much more reasonable 21-29 finish means they avoid the worst record in team history (1988).

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .476 with six runs and six RBI while Trea Turner tallied six stolen bases.  Max Scherzer struck out his customary 10 while Tanner Roark appears to have found himself, going 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA-which is impressive until you realize it took him less than a month to grow his hair and beard back after shaving in early July.  Those are mad skills.

Last Week’s Humbled- Shawn Kelley not only allowed a three-run homer in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s 25-4 rout of the Mets, but the reliever slammed his glove on the mound and reportedly glared into the dugout.  Unfortunately for the Nats front office that was enough as they designated the right-hander for assignment the next day.  Kids, nothing good comes out of a tantrum.

Game to Watch- Tuesday night Max Scherzer brings his 15-5 mark to the mound in search for his sixth straight victory.  In a year with an injury-mangled lineup and a scrambled rotation, Scherzer has been the one constant-with the exception of his April loss in Atlanta the righthander has been spot-on.

Game to Miss- Tuesday afternoon Jefry Rodriguez makes his fourth Major League start against Atlanta’s Max Fried.  While the Braves’ starter’s name is pronounced “freed” he’s off to a “fried” 1-4 start in 2018.  Smart fans should nap by the pool to gear up for the evening affair.

Portions previously appearing in this very space one year ago:

The Nationals are 52-53, meaning they’re close enough to the NL East lead to be considered buyers but middling enough to be considered sellers.  A look at previous July 31 moves:

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).  Walters last saw action in a Major League game over two years ago.

2015– closer Jonathan Papelbon was brought to South Capitol Street to shore up the bullpen.  The price tag?  Nick Pivetta (6-9 with a 4.82 ERA this season 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 (44 saves over the last season and a half and an All Star appearance this year in DC) and Taylor Hearn (currently posting a 3.55 ERA over 19 starts with AA Altoona).  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.

2017- bullpen depth was the key with the acquistion of Brandon Kintzler for 20-year-old left-hander Tyler Watson and $500,000 in international bonus pool money.  Watson’s made 12 starts this year at Class A Cedar Rapids after beginning the season in high A ball while Kintzler was the 7th inning man last year (3.46 ERA over 27 appearances) and saw setup work for the most part this season.

So much for a sweep of the last-place Marlins.  And then so much for a series win over the cellar dwellers.  After dropping two of three to NL Wildcard-leading Milwaukee, the Nationals once again missed out on an opportunity to pull closer to floundering Philadelphia and eroding Atlanta.  Once again this club wins its blowouts but botches nailbiters:  they’re now 10-18 in one-run games, third-worst in the National League.  Instead of breathing down the Phillies’ necks the Nats are assured of a third sub-500 month (the 20-7 May looking more like an isolated incident).  And not only are they chasing the Phils and Braves, there are also five teams between the Nats and the final playoff spot in the NL.  It was expected they’d be buyers (especially with the pre-emptive move to bring Kelvin Herrera aboard), but could the preseason World Series favorites possibly be in the process of shedding salaries?  Relievers Ryan Madson and Herrera are in the final years of their contracts, as are Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Murphy and-GULP-Bryce Harper.  Do the Nats dare try to get prospects/players for the Home Run Derby champ?  Tune in Tuesday at 4:15 to 103.5 FM in Washington.

Dissecting the Division- what’s frustrating about the Nats’ middling season has been the fact that the NL East is still theirs to win.  Neither Philadelphia (14-11 this month) nor Atlanta (9-13) are running away with this thing.  And both are under .500 since the All Star break.  Ten of the Nats’ 29 games next month will be against those two clubs…and one has the feeling that by this time in August we’ll know if they’re a contender or a pretender.

O’s Woes- back to back to back wins for the Birds?  Scoring 11+ runs in each game?  When did Don Buford and Boog Powell return to Camden Yards?  While there’s no more Zach Britton to not bring into extra innings at Toronto (sorry) nor Brad Brach to eat up late innings, there is Adam Jones who refused a trade.  As mentioned there’s also a three game winning streak, meaning the Orioles are over half way towards not posting a 100-loss campaign this year.  Can they go 31-25 the rest of the way?  They are 4-5 since the All Star break.  Compared to the rest of the season, they’re skyrocketing.

Hall Swing and a Miss- all eyes were on Cooperstown Sunday when Baseball’s Hall of Fame added six…and because there was a full plate of games it felt like an afterthought.  Unlike the Pro Football HOF–which inducts its new class in mid-summer and the Basketball HOF which adds its newest class the week after Labor Day, baseball honors its best in midseason.  Making one wonder why they don’t move the ceremony to the All Star Break…you know, when there are no other games going on and there’s a major news vacuum.

Last Week’s Heroes- Tanner Roark dug deep and struck out 11 over 8 innings to notch his first win since early June–one will be paying attention to see if this is something that will be sustained.  Max Scherzer merely struck out 11 while winning his MLB-best 14th of the season…while going 1-2 at the plate with a run scored.  Juan Soto led the team with 3 homers and 6 runs scored while Bryce Harper paced the club with 6 RBI.

Last Week’s Humbled- Mark Reynolds hit .077 (for the record Matt Reynolds got a hit in his lone at-bat last week).  Meanwhile, Wilmer Difo, Matt Wieters and Michael A. Taylor each hit under .200.  A lineup can survive one crater, but not three or four.  Jeremy Hellickson had a rough start Sunday, but even if he pitched well it’s rather difficult to allow fewer than the zero runs the Nats put on the board that day.

Game to Watch- Thursday Max Scherzer goes for his 15th win of the season by pitching against Cincinnati.  Remember the Reds and how woeful they looked opening weekend when the Nats blasted them to bits?  Since the end of May, the Reds are 28-21 while the Nationals are 19-30.

Game to Miss- Sunday Tanner Roark starts against the Reds in the series finale…but the Citi Open Tennis Finals are slated to start at 12:30 p.m. (weather permitting).  Not to mention the season four premiere of “Better Call Saul” in the evening.  Keep your sunroof closed–just in case.

Friday a disagreement between Nationals star pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg hijacked the week.  Strasburg was just coming off of a rough outing in his return from the disabled list and it appeared as though Scherzer gave him words of encouragement.  The two heated up and then went into the clubhouse to discuss matters more.  Following the game (an 8-5 loss to Atlanta) the clubhouse was closed for a while and when reporters finally spoke to Strasburg about the incident, he replied:  “It’s part of family, man. You got to be in the family.”  When pressed further, Strasburg countered, “You’ve got to be in the family. You’re not.”  Well, just like Sonny Corleone beating up Carlo on the streets in view of the Tattaglia/Barzini associates, handling “family matters” on the front porch is not ideal.  Especially when the team is in a tailspin and you haven’t won since May 27th.  Thank goodness the Nats worked out a split of the rain-induced miniseries.

Casting call- so if the “family” exists in the way we are led to believe, what role does Stephen Strasburg play?  One has to think that Max Scherzer and his aggressive personality is tailor-made for Sonny Corleone, while Sean Doolittle has the necessary wisdom to portray Tom Hagen.  Ryan Zimmerman’s quiet confidence gives him the part of Michael, while Bryce Harper could be Al Neri.  Anthony Rendon?  Rocco Lampone.  I’m not saying Trea Turner would sell out the Don, but he could portray Paulie.  Juan Soto can play Cato, Michael’s bodyguard that didn’t blow up his car.  Ryan Madson’s cold efficiency allows him to wear the fedora of Sollozzo–as long as he doesn’t try the veal (it’s the best in the city)…and Kelvin Herrera as hired gun Captain McCluskey.  Daniel Murphy is Willy Cicci– largely absent at the beginning of the film before helping the Corleones in the end.  Matt Wieters is a hobbled Don Tomasino as he legs out doubles.  Adam Eaton is Enzo the baker’s son-in-law, standing with Michael outside of the hospital.  Matt Adams has the presence at the play to be Luca Brasi while Gio Gonzalez & Tanner Roark are tailor-made for the roles of Clemenza & Tessio:  two unsung heroes whose success was necessary for the Corleone family to thrive.  Howie Kendrick is Genco– taken from the stage way too soon in the film to have helped in the war against the Five Families.    I’m inclined to hand the reins of Vito Corleone to Mike Rizzo, with Davey Martinez either Barzini or Tattaglia as we still don’t know if he’s a wartime Don or not.  Sadly that leaves either Johnny Fontaine or Fredo for Strasburg.  As long as it stays in the family.

Dissecting the Division- while the Nats kept pace with the Braves, first place Philadelphia gained a half game by taking two of three from San Diego.  Pitching is propping the Phils up as they own the second best ERA in the majors this month.  The Braves’ bats appear to be hitting the wall as Atlanta’s offense ranks 27th in MLB in July runs scored.  Meanwhile, the Marlins and Mets continue their thrilling chase for last place in the NL East.  Miami has a run differential of -115 to New York’s -67, but the Mets are the ones in the cellar this morning.

O’s Woes- Manny Machado is a Los Angeles Dodger.  That’s going to take a while to get used to, but so is the current state of a team that made the postseason three times in five years and was a Wildcard team just 21 months ago.  The cratering continues with three straight losses to Toronto– a team they now trail by 19 games.  For fourth place in the AL East.  At 28-72 we’ve actually reconfigured their tragic number:  because Boston has 10 games left with the New York Yankees, the O’s elimination number is 18.  At least it won’t happen in July.

Last Week’s Heroes- Juan Soto went 4-for-7 with a homer and three RBI while Adam Eaton batted 3-for-7 with a team-high three runs.  Max Scherzer struck out seven over six innings.  Bryce Harper won the home run derby.

Last Week’s Humbled- a small sample size to say the least, but Matt Wieters (1-for-8) and Michael A. Taylor (2-for-9) had less than productive weeks.  Stephen Strasburg allowed six runs over four and two-thirds innings while blowing up in the dugout, but as we know that’s a family matter.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats are in Miami.  Max Scherzer goes after his 14th win of the season.  Miami was the site of his home run last year–and also where his neck dealt with a bad pillow and Scherzer was mortal for a few weeks.

GGame to Miss- Saturday night Gio Gonzalez pitches against the Marlins, and while one is curious to see how the lefthander will fare in the second half of the season the famed 80’s cover band “The Legwarmers” will be playing at the State Theater in Falls Church.  Do yourself a favor and catch this group in action.

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.