Archives for category: Nationals

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.

 

 

Nineties Night at Nats Park definitely did not go as planned.  Actually, the whole weekend didn’t go as planned.  Friday’s game with San Francisco was postponed and Saturday’s tilt was delayed…forcing the two teams to play three games in a little over 24 hours.  Let’s just say that Luke Perry didn’t throw out the first pitch on the rescheduled 90’s Night.  Not even Joe E. Tata or the guy who played the Winslow kid on “Family Matters”.

Remember the “Saved by the Bell” episode when Zack injured his knee?  Bryce Harper is more important to the Nats’ title hopes than Mark-Paul Gosselaar.  After slipping on first base Saturday night, the outfielder slips onto the disabled list with a significant bone bruise and hyperextended knee.  Thank goodness no ligaments were torn…although Harper’s agent made comments about slippery bases after rain delays.  File this for the 2018-19 offseason.

Dissecting the Division-  the magic number is now 33 as the Nats own a 14-game lead in the NL East.  Miami’s three-game sweep of Colorado keeps the Marlins not on the fringe of playoff contention, but on the “fringe of the fringe.  They’re 8.5 games behind the Rockies and Arizona for the wildcard, and if those two teams go .500 over the rest of the season Miami would need to finish 31-14.  We aren’t yet to the point where we can pinpoint the champagne celebration, but I’m sure somebody at MASN has a range of dates.

O’s Woes- the Birds climbed back to .500 for the first time since late June with their win last week at the Los Angeles Angels…only to lose two straight against their fellow Wildcard contenders.  Over the weekend against AL West cellar-dwelling Oakland, the Orioles plated 26 runs–only to leave the Bay Area with a split.  While manager Buck Showalter’s team remains 2.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the AL, they still have four teams to pass before they reach the Halos.  The dreaded west coast swing ends with three games against fellow semi-contender (that is…under .500 but still in striking distance of a playoff spot) Seattle.  The Mariners and Angels both come to Camden Yards later this month.

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman hit .346 with 3 HR and 7 RBI…breaking Tim Wallach’s franchise record of 905 runs batted in.  Brian Goodwin hit .346 with 7 runs scored…and Howie Kendrick hit that grand slam Sunday night.  Gio Gonzalez won his lone start…allowing one run over 7 innings just two days after the birth of his son.  Sean Doolittle notched 3 saves.

Last Week’s Humbled- Matt Wieters hit .176…while Anthony Rendon hit .130.  AJ Cole went 0-2 with an ERA of 5.73 while Joe Blanton recorded another double-digit ERA for the week (13.50).  The way the weekend was handled amidst the weather was less than ideal;  many of the players had already changed into streetclothes and were leaving the stadium by the time the game was called at 9:48 p.m.  Instead of playing Saturday afternoon (where it did not rain in the area), they played Saturday night (and was delayed three hours) and Sundays day-night doubleheader gave the Giants a great lift as they had to leave for a series in Miami.

Game to Watch- the journey of Edwin Jackson resumes Thursday in San Diego against one of the pitcher’s 11 former teams.  The 33-year old is 3-2 over five starts with the Nats…posting an ERA of 3.30 and a strikeout to walk ratio of 25-to-7.  Problem is, Jackson hasn’t won consecutive starts since August of last year.  Which Edwin will we get?

Game to Miss- another tough call.  You don’t want to miss the two home games against the Wildcard contending Los Angeles Angels.  And even though Max Scherzer pitches at 10:10 on Friday night, every one of his outings is a must-see.  And could we be seeing Stephen Strasburg returning Saturday?  Sorry, Gio Gonzalez–your Sunday start against the Padres draws the short straw.

Well, that was a week you don’t often see.  The Nationals began the week with a trading deadline deal that yielded a third reliever in less than a month…and then saw Gio Gonzalez take a no-hitter into the ninth inning.  Max Scherzer hits a home run…but then has to leave the game due to a bad neck (buy him one of those My Pillows pronto).  Tanner Roark stands on his head at Wrigley Field…and the Nats get a clutch hit from their catcher when all looks lost.  Not the week you want to start your final book of the summer, “Shattered”, which to my disappointment was NOT about the Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” recording sessions and instead covers the 2016 Presidential Election.  But after a 3-3 week that provided a little of everything, the Nats are over two-thirds of the way through their regular season marathon.  Will the moves of the last month help them for the October sprint?

Nats Dissecting the Division- The magic number is now 41 games!  The Nats’ lead stays at a lucky 13 games over Miami as the Marlins drop two of three to Atlanta after taking two of three from the Nationals.  At 52-57, the NL East’s second-place team also stands 10 games back in the wildcard race.   The two teams tangle four times this week.

O’s Position- thought by many to be in the “seller’s mode” at the trading deadline, the Orioles actually made moves- bringing in starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson and infielder Tim Markham.  Both moves have paid in the short-term…and at 55-56 the Birds are within striking distance (2.5 games back in the wildcard) but is another one-game playoff worth it for the organization to tread on .500 water for another season?  The barren farm system could have used an infusion of prospects.  On a macro level, is an organization that doesn’t have a robust farm system a symptom or a cause of the issues at the Major League level?  And is the lack of homegrown talent because of bad drafting or poor development?  One feels like manager Buck Showalter is trying to swim through the shark-infested waters of the AL East while being tethered to an anvil.

Last Week’s Heroes- Gio Gonzalez tossed a near no-hitter on the birthday of his late friend Jose Fernandez.  Daniel Murphy hit .389 with a team-high 6 runs and 2 HR, while Howie Kendrick provided a boost by batting .471.  Tanner Roark turned into the stopper of the staff with his outing Friday night, and Matt Wieters’ grand slam Sunday salvaged their series in Chicago.

Last Week’s Humbled- Max Scherzer’s bad neck turned their series with Miami on its ear:  they had outscored the Marlins 7-0 before the neck and were outscored 14-0 after Scherzer sat down.  The bad neck also blew up the bullpen for the next few days.  Talking about the bullpen, Matt Grace and Matt Albers each posted ERA’s in the double-digits.  At the plate, Ryan Zimmerman hit .100 and his primary backup Adam Lind batted .063 (for those scoring at home, that’s a combined 3-for-36 with 10 K’s).

Game to Watch- Saturday the Nats host San Francisco with Max Scherzer (hopefully) taking to the mound against Jeff Samardija.  Plenty of heat available on South Capitol Street.

Game to Miss- Friday Edwin Jackson starts against the Giants Chris Stratton (0-2, 6.63 ERA).  It’s also “Nineties Night” at the ballpark.  I swore Ricky Stratton and Silver Spoons was canceled in the late 80’s.

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.

The storyline of the first half of the Nationals season was three-fold:  explosive offense, solid starting pitching and a flammable bullpen.  One weekend after the All Star Break, little has changed.  The offense pounded out 29 runs (even though Joe Ross is on the DL and headed for Tommy John Surgery instead of on the mound), the starting pitchers tossed 20 and a third scoreless innings while the bullpen notched an ERA of 9.95.  Will the trade for Oakland relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle do something to patch up what’s been a leaky hull (5.31 ERA, worst in the Majors) all season?  If nothing else, it removes Blake Treinen from the equation:  the 6-foot-5 right-hander began the year as the team’s closer but wound up sporting a pre-All Star Break ERA of 5.73.  He’d been more “Blaze” than Blake over the last month. 

Dissecting the Division- pesky Atlanta (nine and a half games back) keeps pace by sweeping their weekend as well, and with Freddie Freeman back in the lineup the Braves could make a run at the postseason.  At least their pitching is consistent–meaning the starter’s ERA ranks 19th in the big leagues and their reliever’s ERA is 20th.  The Nats have six more games against Atlanta this season–all in September.

O’s Woes- the only thing worse than a leaky bullpen is a razed rotation.  After entering the All Star Break on a two-game winning streak, the Orioles proceeded to get swept at home by the defending champion Chicago Cubs.  Pitching was porous:  the starters allowed 21 runs over 11 and a third innings (16.68 ERA).  Some storylines never change. The New York Yankees currently own the final playoff spot in the American League at 47-43…a pace of 85 wins over the full season.  In order to catch them, the O’s would have to finish 43-28.  The team may say they’re buyers as the trading deadline looms…but you have to think they’re going to auction off some pieces for prospects.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .636 with 3 homers and 9 RBI.  Granted, three games is a small sample size but WOW.  Daniel Murphy hit .625 with 7 RBI…while Murph and Bryce Harper both homered twice over the weekend.  Gio Gonzalez tossed 8 and a third scoreless innings while Max Scherzer struck out ten in his start and Tanner Roark had a solid outing for his first win since June 4th.

Last Week’s Humbled- Brian Goodwin went 2-for-13 over the weekend (.077) with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts…not what you want to see from your leadoff hitter but repeat after me, “it’s a small sample size”.  Relievers Trevor Gott (5 earned runs in one inning) and Austin Adams (2 runs allowed without recording an out) may have small sample sizes, but anytime you’re a pitcher who wears a number in the 60’s or 70’s it can’t be good.

Game to Watch- Sunday Stephen Strasburg (9-3, 3.43 ERA) pitches in Arizona against Robbie Ray.  Despite having two first names, the Diamondbacks pitcher is 8-4 with an ERA of 2.97.  He’s also a former Nats farmhand…having been sent to Detroit in the Doug Fister deal.

Game to Miss- Wednesday night the Nats wrap up their series with the Los Angeles Angels as Gio Gonzalez pitches against Ricky Nolasco (4-10, 4.82 ERA).  It’s a 10pm start… meaning you’re likely going to bed after golf’s British Open (or as they insist, “The Open Championship”) tees off.  Golf’s oldest major wins the tiebreaker here.

 

Out of the pool, kids!  The midsummer hiatus has the Nats atop the NL East with plenty of causes for confidence and concern.  By splitting their series with Atlanta, Bryce Harper and company enter the hiatus nine and a half games ahead of the pack.  They’ve been playing tag with the “16 games over .500 mark” since June 5th…and likely have their fourth busy October in six years on the horizon.  Who wants to trade a reliever?

Dissecting the Division- the Nats lead Atlanta by nine and a half games…while Miami and the New York Mets are both double digits off the pace and Philadelphia owns the worst record in the majors.  All four teams bring negative run differentials to the table…and while the Phillies (29th in scoring and 21st in ERA) seem incapable of a second-half run (they’d need to finish 60-15 to catch a Nats team going .500 the rest of the way) it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see the Braves, Mets or Marlins making a move.  Stop laughing.   Atlanta now has Freddie Freeman back in the lineup;  he’ll boost an offense ranking 23rd in slugging while a rotation that has the fifth most quality starts in the majors (Nats are #1) becomes all the more important in the dog days of summer.  The Marlins boast the 4th best batting average in MLB while their pitchers allow the 9th lowest batting average in the bigs.  Unfortunately Miami’s rotation is one of the worst in the bigs (fewest quality starts).  The Mets?  They can’t stop anybody from scoring (28th in ERA, 27th in batting average and 21st in quality starts).  Barring a major collapse by the Nats, the NL East is theirs whether they want it or not.

O’s Woes- the Birds enter the break winners of two straight but still four games under .500.  But they own the fifth worst run differential in the majors and have the worst ERA in the bigs.  How soon will General Manager Dan Duquette enter “sell” mode?  July 31st is less than three weeks away.

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilmer Difo hit .571 with an OPS OF 1.310…while Daniel Murphy hit .435 with 9 RBI.  Joe Blanton and Blake Treinen pitched in a combined seven games and did not allow a run.  Who are those guys?

Last Week’s Humbled- Adam Lind hit .083 while catchers Matt Wieters and Jose Lobaton combined to bat 3-for-19.  Stephen Strasburg had a short outing against Atlanta.  Relievers Oliver Perez and Sammy Solis both posted double-digit ERAs.  Now that’s the bullpen I’ve grown accustomed to…

Game to Watch-  Friday the Nats return from the break at Cincinnati. Who’s ready for the ramping up to the trade deadline?

Game to Miss- Sunday they wrap up their series with the Reds.  I’ll be watching Wimbledon.