Archives for category: MLB

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Even though the Boston Red Sox have won three World Series this century, many of the Fenway Faithful still look for the dark clouds on sunny days.  Eighty-six years in the wilderness will do that to a fan base.  The generation that watched Ted Williams bat .200 in the 1946 World Series is mostly gone now, and those who knew in their heart of hearts that Yaz’s last best chance at the brass ring faded away the day he popped foul to Nettles in 1978 are beginning to diminish in number as well.  Today’s “Red Sox Nation Generation” of 25-54 year olds celebrates instead of curses the name Mookie.  For them the “Boston Massacre” refers to the Game Three loss in 2004 that preceded the greatest comeback in baseball playoff history.  But as always, the ghosts of Octobers past lurk in the Fenway Park shadows.

Yes, there are more than a few “Sullies From Southie” who will tell you how wicked awesome this year’s team is–108 wins thanks to the highest-scoring offense will do that.  But for every “Donnie from Dorchester” who basks in rally from being down 3-0 in the ALCS to the New York Yankees, there’s another who recalls the late-season collapse of 2011.  While Bill Buckner has been forgiven, the knowledge that baseball’s fickle momentum can turn on a dime is never forgotten.  So despite the best record in baseball, wiser heads are cautiously optimistic.  Or maybe optimistically cautious.  One can never tell these days.

The Sox may have the best record in the American League, but the AL’s top team in 2017-Cleveland-was bounced in the Division Series.  And twice in the last five years the squad with the best record was swept in the ALDS.  There’s also the case of “momentum”– a 15-11 September mark that saw this team lose four of six to the New York Yankees and two of three to Houston and Cleveland is far from ideal.  That’s 4-8 against the other three teams remaining on the AL side of the bracket.  While teams have bounced back from late-season fades before, the glass remains half-empty for Sox fans who still recall Bucky Dent taking Mike Torrez over the Wall in 1978.

A quick glance at the stat sheet will tell you that Boston led the Majors in batting average and runs scored–but look closer.  In September they ranked 13th in scoring.  Pitching?  How about 26th in team ERA over the last month.  From Chris Sale evolving from Cy Young Shoe-in to postseason non-factor (12 innings pitched over four starts) to David Price’s poor performance against ALDS foe New York (0-3 with a 10.34 ERA), it looks like we’re going to bank on Rick Porcello and his flammable 4.28 ERA.  That’s encouraging.

But Boston has the best outfield in the game today–led by likely AL MVP Mookie Betts who led the majors with a .346 batting average.  Slugger J.D. Martinez’s 130 RBI were the most in baseball…and shortstop Xander Bogaerts drove in over 100 runs.  Fellow middle infielder Brock Holt is getting hot at the right time, hitting .341 in September and making the absence of Dustin Pedroia somewhat tolerable.  Will the lineup find its groove in a postseason world where pitchers are flipped like blackjack dealers at a casino?

Yes, it’s the first year at the helm for manager Alex Cora.  But the Sox won it all in John Farrell’s first year and broke the curse during the initial season of Terry Francona (my records seem to be incomplete regarding the first years of Bobby Valentine and Butch Hobson).  Cora’s pushed every button correctly over the 162-game marathon…but can he make the right moves during the five (and hopefully seven and then another seven) game sprint?  Sully’s glass of Sam Adams Octoberfest is more than half-full…but very well may spill on the first sip.  Naturally I’m going to watch every pitch like it’s the end of the world.  It’s our nature in Red Sox Nation…

 

 

 

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The Nationals wrapped up their long journey into nowhere Sunday in Colorado.  The 12-0 loss was the perfect whimper to a season that had shown plenty of promise and problems.  It was fitting that the team finished 82-80 during a season where we saw a ton of potential (a pythagorean record of 90-72) but fail to execute when it mattered (18-24 in one-run games and 4-10 in extra innings).  With the exception of the team’s dominant play in May, it was two steps forward and two steps  back.  Instead of seeing if they can get further in October…the Nats head into winter wondering if they have what it takes to get back to the playoffs.

Clutch Metrics- combining the one-run games record with the Nats extra-inning results is an interesting exercise:  their 22-24 mark is the worst in the NL East–10.5 games behind Atlanta’s 29-20 record in such games.  They finished eight games out.  I know, some extra-inning games are one run affairs, but an extra inning victory or loss should count double towards the “clutch factor”.

Last Week’s Heroes- stars past, present and future reigned as Bryce Harper hit .348 in what could be his final week as a Washington National.  Anthony Rendon actually finished with a higher WAR this year and hit .348 with 2 homers and 9 RBI.  The future is bright with prime prospect Victor Robles batting .467 with a homer and 5 RBI…and Juan Soto hitting a pair of HR while driving in five en route to six and 20 in September (and Rookie of the Month honors).  Max Scherzer struck out 10 in his final start of the season, finishing with 300 on the season.

Last Week’s Humbled- Austen Williams, Tim Collins and Jefry Rodriguez each had ERA’s in the double digits, but Sammy Solis wrapped up a rough 2018 with an infinity week- no outs recorded and a home run surrendered in his only outing.  The first base tandem of Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Reynolds combined to hit 3-for-21.  Wilmer Difo hit .143 to wrap up a .191 September.  Upon further review- Difo had the fifth most at-bats on the Nats this year.  That is just one reason why the Nats are home in October.

Who could be Gone:  Bryce Harper isn’t the only National with an expiring contract.  Matt Wieters, Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Jeremy Hellickson and Joaquin Benoit all come off the books this winter.  One would think that Wieters might be the only one to come back out of that pack.  The crowded outfield of Robles, Soto and a presumably healthy Adam Eaton could give cause for the trading of Michael A. Taylor-especially if Harper re-signs.

 

Opening Day Lineup for 2019?  If Bryce Harper departs…

RF- Adam Eaton- hopefully Mighty Mouse will be healthy…as he was limited to 95 games this year and even when he played seem a gear or two shy of what he showed in April 2017.

SS- Trea Turner- one needs his speed close to the top of the order…although I’m tempted to put Victor Robles in this spot.

3B- Anthony Rendon- the best overall hitter in this lineup the last two seasons…this is where you put that guy.

LF- Juan Soto- the 19-year old performed beyond expectations…can he duplicate a season for the ages?  Or at least avoid a sophomore slump?

1B- Ryan Zimmerman with Mark Reynolds- Zim when healthy is still a dangerous player–but the veteran’s been limited to fewer than 120 games in four of the last five seasons.

CF- Victor Robles with Michael A. Taylor- if Soto’s 116 games is a small sample size, then what to make of the prime prospect’s 59 at-bats?  And can Taylor’s bat (.176 after the All Star Break) catch up to his glove?

C- Matt Wieters…and Spencer Kieboom?- is this the duo the Nats want, the tandem they need or the combination they’ll have to settle for?  And if Wieters walks, who comes to DC?

2B- Wilmer Difo/Adrian Sanchez/Howie Kendrick- can the veteran come back from his torn Achilles?  If so, he switches spots with Robles.  If not, this position bats eighth and tries to outhit Max Scherzer.

NL East and Wildcard contention officially ended this past weekend for the Washington Nationals.  It’s mop-up time on South Capitol Street–and the team with a ton of talent but just enough shortcomings prepares to watch October from their couches.  Now the focus is finishing above .500 for a seventh straight season…and award season.

Dissecting the Division- the Nats can still finish second…because flailing Philadelphia proved that they were actually a year away down the stretch.  Four straight losses drops the Phils one half game ahead of the Nationals.  The Nationals can still finish fourth…if they lose out and the Mets win the remainder of their games.  Meanwhile, the NL East becomes the Braves’ new world.

O’s Woes- it’s one thing to finish last. Another to post 100+ wins.  But the Birds blew by the team record of 107 losses and will likely break the St. Louis Browns’ franchise record 111 set in 1939.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .435 with 8 RBI while Trea Turner bats .429 with 8 runs scored.  Prime prospect Victor Robles hit .292 with 2 homers.  Max Scherzer struck out 13 in his lone start while Stephen Strasburg continues his strong second half-(3-0 with a 2.64 ERA over his last five starts).

Last Week’s Humbled- two less than ideal starts for Eric Fedde: 5 runs allowed over 7.2 innings.  Jimmy Cordero, Koda Glover and Wander Suero posted ERA’s of 8+.  Wilmer Difo hit .125 while Juan Soto turned into a 19-year old rookie, batting .087 with 5 strikeouts.

Games to Watch- Monday night Stephen Strasburg makes his final home start of the season while Max Scherzer takes his turn Tuesday.  Wednesday in the home finale we could be witnessing the last time Bryce Harper dons the Nats’ #34.  It’s been quite a ride if this is the end.

Game to Miss- Saturday they visit Colorado and play at 8:10 p.m…right around the time I’m flipping between Stanford-Notre Dame and Ohio State-Penn State.

 

 

This year’s Washington Nationals have never made things easy for us.  The sluggish start that turned into a memorable May before fizzling out in a summer of discontent.  The constantly playing tag with the .500 mark when the window of opportunity still existed.  The frustrating lack of moves at the deadline.  The slow slide from contender to pretender status.  The shedding of talent in August.  A September that’s seen the team play just well enough to stay hanging by a thread in the NL East (7.5 games back) and Wildcard (8 games) races.  All that’s left for this team is experiencing the actual moment of elimination and the chasing of milestones.

Bryce Harper:  three runs away from reaching 100 for the first time since the MVP season, two doubles away from reaching 30, three RBI away from getting to the century mark for the first time in his career.

Trea Turner: three homers away from getting to 20 and eight runs away from reaching 100-both would be career highs.  He’s one double shy of last year’s career high 24 and is seven stolen bases away from equalling the 46 tallied in 2017.

Anthony Rendon: one double away from tying last year’s career high of 41.

Wilmer Difo: three triples away from 10…although the way he’s hitting in September (.237) I’m not holding  my breath.

Max Scherzer: 20 wins is out of the question, but he needs just seven strikeouts to tie his career high of 284.

Tanner Roark: despite the nightmare season he’s one win shy of reaching double-digits.  He’ll likely have two more starts.

Stephen Strasburg:  two wins away from 10…with three starts left in the season. It’d be a nice way to end a year interrupted by injury.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta leads Philadelphia by six and a half games with 13 games remaining for the Braves while the Phillies have 14 games left in their season.  The two teams tangle seven times over the final two weeks of the year, starting Thursday in Atlanta.  Meaning the division could be clinched by Sunday night.  The Nats have to hope for the Braves to bomb with the Phillies losing the bulk of the rest of their games–not an impossible order as we’ve seen both teams struggle lately.

Last Week’s Heroes- Juan Soto hit .393 with four homers and eight RBI…as the 19-year old passes his age with his 20th HR.  Spencer Kieboom hit his first two big league home runs.  Eric Fedde struck out nine over five and two-thirds innings.  Sean Doolittle tallied two saves and rode the bullpen cart.

Last Week’s Humbled- Max Scherzer’s drive for 20 wins ended when he allowed six runs over four innings against Atlanta…and prevented a potential sweep of the Braves that would put the Nats within seven games of the lead.  Sammy Solis and Jimmy Cordero cared 10+ ERA’s…again.  Adam Eaton hit .167 while Wilmer Difo batted .143.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats host the New York Mets as Max Scherzer battles Jacob deGrom in a showdown of the top two Cy Young contenders.  Scherzer is 17-7 with a league-high 277 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.53;  deGrom is 8-9 with 251 strikeouts and an MLB-best 1.78 ERA.

Game to Miss- Monday the Nats begin their series in Miami with Eric Fedde dueling Trevor Richards:  the duo are a combined 5-11 (not to good) on the season and each has an ERA that’s well over four.  Enjoy “Better Call Saul”…

The Washington Nationals reach Labor Day one game under .500, eight games back in the Wildcard race and eight and a half games off the pace in the NL East.  The worst record to win the NL East this decade is 90-72; in order to get there this team would need to finish 22-3.  As they pass the final marker of the regular season, it’s hard to imagine this team was nine games over .500 on Memorial Day.  Instead of the season ending with a bang, it’s going to end with a whimper in 25 games.

Gio Gone- two more waiver-wire deals on August 31 saw the Nats part with reliever Ryan Madson and starter Gio Gonzalez.  In his seven seasons with the team Gio went 86-65 with an ERA of 3.71; his best year came in his first with the team (21-8, 2.89 in 2012).  The lefthander was a mainstay in the rotation (averaging 30+ starts per year) and his departure means that just Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are still around from the 2012 team that first reached the postseason.  With Harper and five other players on the current roster hitting free agency this fall, the winds of change could certainly be hitting Washington this winter.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta leads Philadelphia by four games.  While the two will meet seven times over the final eleven days of the season, the Phillies play 15 of their other 19 remaining games against clubs with losing records (for the Braves its 10/19).

O’s Woes-  enter another tragic number for the Birds after the sweep by Kansas City over the week:  last place in the AL East can be secured with a combination of four losses or Toronto wins.  Lost in the shuffle is the fact that Trey Mancini has had a decent second half for the O’s (.299 with nine homers and 24 RBI in 40 games since the All Star break) while Chris Davis is hitting 62 points higher since this mid-summer hiatus.

Last Week’s Heroes- Juan Soto hit .478 with a team-high six RBI and Anthony Rendon led the Nats with six runs scored and added four RBI.  Stephen Strasburg struck out 12 over 12 innings while posting an ERA of 3.00 and Matt Grace Koda Glover each tossed three scoreless frames.

Last Week’s Humbled- Gio Gonzalez’ last start in a Nats uniform was not awesome as the lefthander allowed six runs over five innings against the Phillies.  His August was not ideal: 1-4 with a 7.47 ERA over six starts.  Matt Wieters hit .133 while Bryce Harper batted .125.

Game to Watch- Saturday Max Scherzer pitches against the Cubs Cole Hamels at Nats Park.  With 25 games left in the season Max has potentially five starts remaining…and one should try to see every last inning of his campaign.  As today is the final day most area pools are open, the Saturday night game takes precedence.

Game to Miss- the Nats have yet to name a starter for Sunday’s game against the Cubs. It’s also the first Sunday of the NFL regular season.  Enjoy the games…

 

 

The Washington Nationals remain on the outskirts of playoff contention after another week where we saw this team at it’s most thrilling (an 8-7 win over Philadelphia with Ryan Zimmerman belting a walk-off home run) and its most underwhelming (three straight shutout losses).  The Nats may have won the aggregate-run week, 33-19, but after another 3-3 showing still find themselves a game under .500.  And while they’re not out of the NL East race just yet, it’s going to take one remarkable September to revive the team’s sagging postseason hopes.  Another week, another slow boil.

Double-Dealing- the Nats made a pair of waiver-wire trades, sending Daniel Murphy to the Chicago Cubs and dealing Matt Adams to St. Louis.  Murphy hit .329 over 342 games with the team and was arguably their best offensive player each of the last two years.  If not for a bad knee last fall and a glut that wouldn’t hold up in 2016,  Murphy could have won an MVP award.  Adams was second on the team in homers but had cooled off since the All Star break and was hitting .061 in August.  While Adams’ at-bats were dwindling with a healthy Ryan Zimmerman, Murphy’s absence gives Wilmer Difo the chance to prove he’s an everyday Major League second baseman.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta (73-57) dropped two of three over the weekend in Miami, keeping the Braves eight and a half games ahead of the Nats in the NL East.  They host red-hot Tampa Bay twice this week before facing the Chicago Cubs for one game.  Philadelphia (70-60) has lost five of their last six series (the other being a miniseries split with Boston) and while their next six games are at home, they’re against the Nats and the Chicago Cubs.  If the Braves and Phillies both finish 16-16 (not out of the realm of possibility), the Nationals would need to go 25-6 to take first.

Wildcard Watch-  the Nats currently trail five teams in the NL Wildcard race; and those clubs have created a little separation between themselves and the second group of clubs currently playing tag with the .500 mark.  On the bright side, the Nats have the second best run-differential among Wildcard contenders.  On the not so bright side, the Nats’ 13-21 record in one-run games is the worst among those teams.

O’s Woes- at 37-94 a 100-loss campaign is all but a certainty (some can dream of a 26-5 finish, but I won’t)-so now we move on to the all-time worst record in Baltimore: the 54-107 crater of 1988 that began with 21 straight losses.  To avoid that this team has to go 18-13.  One wonders what this winter will bring for Adam Jones, Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .304 with a team-high 5 RBI, while Adam Eaton led the regulars with a .381 batting average.  Juan Soto scored a team-high 6 runs…and kept a ninth inning rally alive with a two-out, two-strike double.  Ryan Zimmerman merely added to his legend with his 11th career walk-off home run.  Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez combined to allow 2 earned runs over 16 innings.  Max Scherzer struck out 10 over seven frames.  Stephen Strasburg is back from the disabled list.

Last Week’s Humbled- as a team the Nats were 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position during their three game shutout streak (first time in franchise history since they were the Montreal Expos playing in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2004), leaving 18 on base.  They lost those three games by two, two and three runs.  In a race where they can’t afford to lose much more ground, those three losses (especially while getting solid pitching performances) were deadly.

Game to Watch- Tuesday Max Scherzer takes his 16-6 mark to the mound in Philadelphia to face 15-3 Aaron Nola–who outdueled Max just this past Thursday  Scherzer allowed a pair of hits but one was a two-run homer that was the difference.  Looking forward to the rematch.

Game to Miss- Saturday the Nats host Milwaukee…and it’s not the Brewers’ fault for not being a divisional foe.  Nor is it Jefry Rodriguez’ fault for not being a name-pitcher like Max, Stras, Gio or even Roark.  But September first is the first Saturday of the college football season (okay, there were games last week but really) and #23 Texas comes to FedEx Field to exact revenge against a Maryland team that had the gall to beat the Longhorns in Austin last year.  Fear the Hook’em…

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.