Archives for category: Nationals

I don’t know if Joe Ross gambles at the MGM Casino in the National Harbor, but if he does I want a seat next to him at the blackjack table.  The Nationals have scored 104 runs over his ten starts this year…with Saturday’s 18-run explosion the latest incident of sitting in the right seat at the table.  Ross is off to a 4-3 start with a 5.40 ERA and although he’s bounced back from an awful April (7.47 in the season’s first month), the Nats’ number five starter continues to enjoy a charmed life.  I’m surprised the National League hasn’t tried to change dealers or cards, or heaven forbid bring William H. Macy over to sit on Joe’s shoulder.  As the Nats own a commanding NL Central lead, one of the fun features of the long summer ahead will be watching Ross split aces and eights as well as double down when the dealer shows 5.  Deal me in…

Dissecting the Division- surging Atlanta moves within nine games of the Nats, thanks to an offense that ranks 5th in the Major Leagues in hitting.  Problem is, the Braves pitching is in the bottom third of the big leagues in most major categories and summers in Atlanta aren’t kind to porous pitching.

O’s Woes- at least they stopped allowing 5 runs in a game (after 20 such games).  And at least the Birds took two of three from AL East foe Tampa Bay (you can call them Rays, but ya doesn’t have to call them consistent).  The fact that the Orioles remain on the fringe of contention despite owning the fifth worst run differential in the Major Leagues is a testament to Manager Buck Showalter’s bunch being able to do the little things right when the opportunity arises.  Unfortunately, when you allow 6 runs in the first inning a lot of the little things go out the window.

Last Week’s Heroes- Michael A. Taylor homered three times and Daniel Murphy drove in eight runs, but the emergence of Brian Goodwin as a capable bat in leftfield and in the #2 spot of the lineup was huge.  With Jayson Werth out…the order can ill afford a dead spot before the likes of Harper, Zimmerman and Murphy.  When Werth returns, perhaps we’ll get a chance to see Goodwin stay in the lineup (filling in for Taylor as well in center) against select righties.  Gio Gonzalez struck out eight over seven innings in his lone start of the week…and is off to his best season since 2012 when he won 21 games.

Last Week’s Humbled- catchers Matt Wieters and Jose Lobaton combined to hit 3-for-23 with 7 strikeouts.  The usual rock-solid rotation hit a couple of bumps:  Stephen Strasburg wilted in the heat (5 runs allowed on 8 hits over 5 innings) while Tanner Roark allowed 12 runs over 8.2 innings in his 2 starts.  Max Scherzer had the most humbling outing:  within 5 outs of a no-hitter Scherzer allowed a single off of his glove before an error at first allowed the inning to survive.  A hit batter, a wild pitch and another single turned Max from making history to suffering a loss.

Game to Watch- Tuesday Max Scherzer returns to the mound to face the Cubs and duel with Jake Arrieta (7-5, 4.36 ERA).  Despite his defeat last Thursday in Miami, Max is having special outings every time he steps on the field.  Despite a 2-1 mark this month, Arrieta has not won consecutive starts since April.  The June heat may provide a couple more assists.

Game to Miss- Friday the Nats begin a series in St. Louis (Cardinals are in fourth place) and Tanner Roark pitches against Mike Leake.  Roark’s ERA this month is 8.23 as every outing is an adventure while Leake is sub-500 on the season.  Friday night in June?  Enjoy the Waterfront at Tony & Joes.

The Nationals came up short in attempting to sweep the New York Mets Sunday.  But they still departed Citi Field with a double-digit lead in the NL East…and won’t face a team that currently has a winning record until after the All Star Break.  Not that home-field advantage is worth the paper it’s printed on (as we’ve learned in 2012, 2014 and 2016), but the team has a great opportunity to make a run at the NL West trio (more on them shortly).

Dissecting the Division- what made the 3-1 weekend on the road against the Mets even more special was that in previous years these were weekends that underachieving Nats teams found ways to go 1-3 or even 0-4.  And the Mets were red-hot with five wins in six games entering the four game set.  Instead of giving their NL East foes hope, Manager Dusty Baker’s team proved over 36 innings that they were the better bunch.  Now the Mets are tied with Atlanta for second place, with Miami half a game back in third.  Philadelphia?  When does 2019 begin?

The Wild, Wild, West- it’s an odd-numbered year, so forget about San Francisco for the moment.  The NL West is giving fans the best race for their money with three of the top five teams in baseball residing in that division.  Colorado, Arizona and the Los Angeles Dodgers are separated by one game and all three could make the postseason as the next Wildcard contender is nine games behind LA (it’s the Cubs, and it’s a long season, but still…).  The Rockies own the best offense of the trio (tied for first in the bigs in runs scored and second in batting average) while the Diamondbacks boast the most consistent pitching (second in team ERA, ninth in quality starts and fifth in bullpen ERA).  LA has the weakest rotation of the three (24th in the majors in quality starts) and is getting the most out of its offense at this time (sixth in runs score despite ranking 19th in batting average and 17th in home runs).  Brace yourself for plenty of late nights as the three jockey for the division, home field and wildcards.

Last Week’s Heroes- Adam Lind hit .462 over five games while providing depth off the bench.  Daniel Murphy batted .429 while scoring 6 runs and driving in 5.  Max Scherzer strikes out 10 over 8 innings in his lone start while reliever Enny Romero (1 save, 2 holds, 5 strikeouts and no earned runs in 4 innings over 3 games) provided some necessary relief.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman has enjoyed one incredible comeback season, ranking among the league leaders in all three triple crown categories.  Thus hitting .208 will be viewed as a minor hiccup.  Trea Turner struck out 6 times while walking just once.  Tanner Roark allowed 7 runs over 5 innings in his outing of the week…and the righthander’s ERA in April was 3.64, 4.04 in May and now 6.27 in three June starts.  Joe Blanton, Trevor Gott and Matt Albers each posted ERA’s in the double-digits last week.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats return from their road trip and start Stephen Strasburg (8-2, 3.28 ERA) against Cincinnati.  The Reds pitch Bronson Arroyo.  Yes, the 40-year old former Red Sox hurler is back in the bigs for the first time since 2014 (a spring training stint with the Nats occurred in 2016).  He’s named after Charles Bronson, making every outing of the righthander’s redemption tour must-see if only to think about Deathwish and The Dirty Dozen.

Game to Miss- Monday Tanner Roark (6-4, 4.39 ERA) takes to the mound in Miami against Justin Nicolino (4.15 ERA) with “Better Call Saul” warming up in the bullpen as the AMC drama airs its season three finale.  Bob Odenkirk is always good and you’ll recognize Michael McKean (Laverne & Shirley, Spinal Tap) as Jimmy McGill’s upstanding brother with jealousy issues and more, but fans of a certain age will recall blue-blood lawyer Howard Hamlin as the former Professor Lasky from “Saved By the Bell: The College Years”.  My sneaky MVP on this show?  Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, the striving attorney who sees Odenkirk’s character’s possibilities and excesses while trying to stay on the road (literally and figuratively).  Check out all three seasons…

Nothing beats getting broomed at home by a sub-500 team that had lost 11 of 14 entering the weekend.  It’s a long season…and there will be multiple ebbs and flows.  It’s just tough to wake up on a Monday with a glass that is decidedly half-empty amidst a season of positives.  It’s easy to get down when you score six runs over the course of a weekend after being the most productive team in the NL for the first 50 games of the year.  It’s easy to get flustered when every answer the bullpen provides is the wrong one.  Have another cup of coffee and remind yourself that this is a marathon…and even with a leaky pen this is a playoff team.  Now they only need to trade for a closer.  Haven’t we been here before?

Division of Depression- the Nats no longer own a double-digit NL East lead.  Could the Mets finally be getting things together (9.5 back) for a charge?  Three straight wins masks a pitching staff that ranks 26th in ERA and a batting order that’s 21st in hitting.  But Yoenis Cespedes is back in the lineup and the Nats are coming off a 3-4 week.  Guess who drops by Citi Field for a four game series this week?

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon didn’t blow up the world last week….but by notching six walks to two strikeouts the third baseman is one of a handful of players to boast more BB than K for the season (Bryce Harper is another).  Stephen Drew in his limited appearances hit .444 and homered. Max Scherzer passed 2,000 career strikeouts while notching 24 over two starts (and giving up just three walks).  Gio Gonzalez also put together two solid starts.

Last Week’s Humbled- Michael A. Taylor hit .115 while striking out 11 times without drawing a walk.  That’s a heavy stone that sinks the bottom of the order.  Koda Glover blew Saturday’s save opportunity and went on the DL with a bad back injured while grabbing bodywash in the shower.  Not ideal.  Blake Treinen’s wild pitch brought home the losing run Sunday.  Even less ideal.

Game to Watch- Friday Max Scherzer pitches against the New York Mets.  Even on days when the bats and bullpen let Max down, he’s in a groove one doesn’t often see.  It may be up to Max to turn what’s been a June swoon around…and I wouldn’t put it past him to be able to do so.

Game to Miss- Tuesday the Nats host Atlanta as Joe Ross pitches.  I’m sorry, but every other pitcher in the rotation is must-watch.  Joe isn’t Groucho (Max and his personality), Harpo (Strasburg is happiest when he’s silent), Chico (Gio sometimes makes more sense when he makes no sense) or Zeppo (Roark remains highly underrated).  Every rotation needs a Gummo…

The Nationals enter the final leg of their three-city, nine-game roadtrip with five wins in six games…but it’s not the 5-1 start everybody’s focused on.  Can the bullpen turn itself around?  Was Bryce Harper trying to throw his helmet away or at Hunter Strickland?  And why didn’t the term “Malachi Crunch” return to our lexicon?

Division Discussion- once again the dust clears and the Nats own first place.  This time by ten and a half games.  Atlanta, Miami and the New York Mets are all fighting over second place while Philadelphia brings up the rear.  When do we start calculating magic numbers?

AL East Beast- meanwhile the Nats’ interleague neighbors to the north are in the middle of the toughest race in the bigs.  A seven game losing streak drops the Orioles from nipping at the New York Yankees’ heels to battling Boston for second.  The O’s are one of two MLB teams with a winning record that own a negative run differential.

One Messy Pen- the Nationals’ bullpen now ranks last in the majors in ERA (5.15)…even though they’re 11th with nine blown saves.  Sunday saw Shawn Kelley cough up a grand slam yet earn a save.  Last week on WTOP.com our digital sports editor Noah Frank dissected the relief corps in an interesting read.  This isn’t a problem yet…but this will always be there until the Nats trade for Marc Melancon in late July.

Crime and Punishment- how about that beaning and brawl by the bay?  Thank goodness Hunter Strickland carried a grudge through two and a half years.  It had me thinking of who I upstaged while playing freeze-tag and hospital bombardment in the fourth grade  (John Coston, I am really sorry if I hurt your feelings).  The beaning was just the start:  as Harper raced to the mound he tossed his helmet…but was he chucking it aside or trying to hurl it at Strickland?  It had the feel of an ill-advised frisbee throw.  Add in the collision that smacked of a “Happy Days” demolition derby, catcher Buster Posey having nothing to do with any of the proceedings, and Strickland’s teammates dragging him into the dugout.  This was one fun-filled fight.  And then the suspensions were handed out:  four games (shortened to three) for Harper and six for Strickland.  Going inside the math, Harper had appeared in 90% of the Nats games and played 8+ innings in those outings…making his suspension roughly “36 innings”.  Strickland had appeared in 38% of the Giants games, and averaged .75 innings per outing.  Thus his “projected miss” over six games would be in the neighborhood of 1.96 innings.  All’s fair in love and baseball…

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman hit .440 with 3 HR and 9 RBI…while Daniel Murphy batted .500 with 1 HR and 7 RBI.  Michael A. Taylor is striking out less (5 times in 24 at bats) and Brian Goodwin hit his first career home run.  Tanner Roark won both of his starts while striking out 10 over 14.2 innings…and Max Scherzer struck out 11 while tossing a complete game five-hitter.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Joe Ross had another rough start (6 earned runs over 3 innings) but he’s slated to pitch again this Thursday.  He’s only made six starts so you could say his 7.34 ERA is just a snapshot…for now.  Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley both have seen better days out of the bullpen.  Jayson Werth before his foot injury was hitting .182.  The week Bryce Harper was hit by a pitch saw the rightfielder go hitless in 10 at bats.

Game to Watch- Wednesday the Nats wrap up their roadtrip with a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Stephen Strasburg takes his 7-1 mark (2.91 ERA) to the mound against LA’s Clayton Kershaw and his 7-2 record (2.28 ERA).  Remember the Monday night matchup we were all looking forward to last June 20th?  The one where Strasburg was scratched after lifting too much during his off-day?  We get that showdown Wednesday at 3:10.  I’ll be watching.

Game to Miss- Guess what, boys and girls at MLB scheduling?  It gets really hot here in June.  Especially during the middle of the day…like around noon.  Saturday the Nats host Texas at 12:05…and I think the pools around the beltway will have the right combination of kids and idiotic adults.  I’ll be reading “The Miniaturist” and “Shattered” this summer… getting a headstart on both with sunscreen Saturday.

 

 

 

When the Nationals begin their nine-game roadtrip, they’ll do so after flying cross-country and with less than 24 hours between their homestand finale and their roadswing opener.  Usually the west coast swing is something to be feared;  the Nats have dealt with many a nightmare series on the Pacific coast over the last few years.  This year they’re facing two sub-500 teams (Oakland and San Francisco) before visiting a Los Angeles Dodgers team that’s in the playoff hunt (a game and a half behind Colorado in the NL West) and just beginning to get hot (eight wins in their last ten games).  Could the ship that’s 13-11 this month (6-7 on the road) find itself flat-footed as the Braves and Mets gain ground?  Eight and a half games is a wide margin to have…especially on Memorial Day.  But the lead has been in this neighborhood the last few weeks.  Who’s worried?

Woe are the O’s- the Nats’ interleague neighbors to the north are in the middle of a freefall:  seven straight losses (where they’re getting outscored 26-17) and a 3-13 mark that started when they blew a late-inning lead at Nationals Park.  Chris Davis is especially troubled, hitting 3-for-36 since April 19th with 20 strikeouts in that span.  The slide drops them below Boston and four and  half games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East.  The Pinstripes (who look like they’re more than just a passing fad) come to Camden Yards this week.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .429 with 4 homers and 9 RBI…while Trea Turner batted .320 after struggling at the plate for a big chunk of the season.  The one-two combination of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg did not disappoint against the Padres, with Max striking out 13 over eight and two-thirds innings Friday-only to be bested by Strasburg’s 15 K’s the next day.

Last Week’s Humbled- Wilmer Difo went .154 last week…and while nobody’s expecting a ton of offense from the infielder, they are expecting production from Daniel Murphy and he hit .154 last week before missing a few games.  Hopefully the illness that’s kept him on the shelf has passed.  Joe Ross benefited from run support in one start (10 runs) and allowed 5 runs over 4 innings in his other outing.  Jacob Turner also had a rough week, serving up a homer to Nelson Cruz in their series with Seattle.

Game to Watch- Wednesday the Nationals face San Francisco with Max Scherzer elevating his game (opponents are hitting .179 against Max this month).  Matt Cain went 2-0 against the Nats last year…tossing ten scoreless innings.  Even with the 10:15 pm start time and an early schedule the next morning on WTOP, this is one to stay up for.

Game to Miss- Tuesday Gio Gonzales pitches against Jeff Samardzija, who has a 1-6 record with an ERA of 4.50.  It’s also the night the season finale of “The Americans” airs on FX.  Does the Russian youth commit suicide?  Is Stan Beeman’s girlfriend KGB, CIA or just mysterious?  What will the Mail Robot do?  Forgive me, Gio.

 

It’s good to be in the NL East.  Instead of falling back in a hotly contested race after losing 4 of 6 on a road trip, the Nationals remain seven games ahead of Atlanta.  The bats that were so hot in April are hitting just .243 in May, yet the team still stands atop the majors in runs scored.  The bullpen resembles a poorly wrapped cigar (reliever’s ERA ranks 29th in the majors), yet the Nationals own the fourth best record and fifth best run differential in the game.  Sometimes hiccups are uncomfortable…but right now they aren’t deadly.

Concerns for Starters- four of the top five pitches per start in the NL belong to Nationals pitchers:  Tanner Roark is tops with Max Scherzer ranking second; Gio Gonzalzez is fourth while Stephen Strasburg is fifth.  Thank Jon Lester for breaking up the quartet.  If Koda Glover can keep up his consistency (four earned runs allowed in 13 innings over 15 appearances) and stay healthy (he’s already done a stint on the DL due to his hip)?  If he can make the ninth inning safe, that allows a lot of flexibility for manager Dusty Baker.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy hit .400 with 3 homers while leading the team in runs scored and RBI.  Stephen Strasburg went 2-0 with 14 strikeouts over 13.2 innings.  His 11-K performance against Atlanta not only ended a four game losing streak, but was his highest total since May 24th of last year.  Koda Glover as mentioned is closing well at the moment (one save over two games, allowing three hits over 2.1 innings).

Last Week’s Humbled- Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper and Trea Turner each hit under .200 for the week.  Tanner Roark allowed 7 runs over 5 innings in his lone start.  The team also made five errors over its three game series with the Pirates.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats host San Diego…with Stephen Strasburg facing his former hometown team.  Stras is coming off his best performance in almost one calendar year, and even though they no longer play the Rick Astley-inspired “fan behavior” video on Fridays, it’s cool to remember those times.

Game to Miss- Sunday the starter is “TBA”.  The opponent is the Padres.  It’s a 1:35 start (when it might be warm outside).  And it being Memorial Day Weekend, the pools are open and “The Dirty Dozen” is being broadcast somewhere on cable.  Cook up the hot dogs…

Rain interrupted the Nationals inter-league series with the Orioles last week…while their bullpen is weighing down their 2017 hopes.  The relief corps less than one-quarter into the season has already blown 8 save opportunities (they had 14 blown saves in all of 2016) and owns the fourth worst ERA in the majors.  Initial closer Blake Treinen has watched his ERA balloon to 8.10…and he’s not the most flammable arm coming out in the late innings (Joe Blanton’s holding strong at 9.49).  Look no further than last years San Francisco Giants:  they owned the best record at midseason before 30 blown saves turned them into a wildcard club…and the pen came back one more time to bite them in a Game 4 loss to the Chicago Cubs.  It’s only May…but a leaky pen usually gets worse before it gets better.  Buckle up…it could wind up being a very bumpy summer.

Dissecting the Division– after taking two of three from Philadelphia, the Nats are seven and a half games ahead of the pack in the NL East.  They’re the only team over .500 in the quintet…and the only team with even a .500 win over the last ten games is the oft-injured New York Mets.  Will a race that never starts be a help or a hindrance for a team focused on producing in October?

Oh My Goodness- after coming to Nats Park and chanting “OH” during the anthem, Orioles fans find themselves saddled with a four game losing streak and a much tighter AL East.  They’re a half game behind the Yankees (who own the best run differential in the bigs) and three and a half games ahead of Boston in the East.  All this, while ranking 17th in MLB in scoring and 25th in opponent’s batting average.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .417 with 3 homers and 7 RBI while inking a 21+ million dollar contract for next season.  Did we mention he delivered a walk-off homer in Saturday’s win?  Michael A. Taylor homered twice, with both blasts coming in huge spots of wins over the Orioles and Phillies.  Matt Albers tossed three scoreless innings over four appearances, notching a win in relief as well.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman hit .136 from the cleanup spot while Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner also batted under .200 for the week.  Shawn Kelley’s 20.25 ERA over two appearances let Enny Romero’s 7.71 fly under the radar.

Game to Watch- Saturday in Atlanta Max Scherzer meets Bartolo Colon in a duel for the ages.  Meaning that the Braves pitcher is 43 years old and has enjoyed a career that actually lasted longer than the life of the Braves’ former home Turner Field (1997-2016).  After two starts where Scherzer was let down by either his offense or his bullpen, Max may be looking to leave no stone unturned in pursuit of win #5.  Colon is 1-4 with an ERA of 7.22…and may be one or two starts away from Jeremy Guthrie territory.

Game to Miss- Wednesday in Pittsburgh the Nats will trot out “TBD”, meaning they’ll be calling up somebody from the minors or having Jacob Turner on the mound against hard-luck Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole.  Either way, I’m watching “The Americans” from the previous night because I can’t justify preempting a Stephen Strasburg start.