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A relief pitcher is not always an easy read. These guys hang out in the bullpen for the bulk of the game and either sit around or warm up during the middle to later innings. When they do come in (either running or via the bullpen cart) they’ll display their poker face on the mound while receiving a series of signs from the catcher, and keep centered no matter how each batter fares. The exception (Shawn Kelley throwing his glove after serving up a home run) proves the rule-it’s tough to find a window inside their souls, and they prefer it that way.

But Sean Doolittle is no ordinary reliever. And the bespectacled, bearded left-hander isn’t as much about being read as he is all about reading: coming off of a winter consuming books like he disposes of batters during the summer. “Sometimes during the offseason you get away from it for a little bit, and it’s hard to get back into it,” Doolittle said. “I think I read like 10 or 12 books this offseason, so I still did pretty well.” What’s his winter been like so far? “Right now I’m reading a book called ‘There, There’ by Tommy Orange. It came out a couple of years ago,” Doolittle said. “I just finished ‘Upright Women Wanted’ by Sarah Gailey and that was a shorter read but it was so much fun; I highly recommend people check that out.”

When Doolittle isn’t pitching for the Nationals, he’s often pitching for youth literacy. Last summer the reliever was involved with DC Public Library’s reading program. While he recognizes the importance of reading 20 minutes a day during the summer for area youths, he also recognizes what reading does for him. “It helps me decompress. You know, a lot of times pitching in the later innings it’s tough for that adrenaline-it doesn’t wear off right away and a lot of times you’re still wide awake at two in the morning,” Doolitte said. “Another thing too is just giving your brain something else to do, so that you’re not ruminating on what happened during the game. Good, bad, or otherwise.” The rhythm of the read keeps the veteran even keeled amidst the highs and lows of a 162-game campaign. “I actually probably read more during the season, just because it’s the thing that is part of my routine that I fall into after games when I come home.”
Doolittle’s career has seen more than a few plot twists: he played three minor league seasons as a first baseman/outfielder in the Oakland system before knee injuries led him back to the mound. A swift rise (16 minor league games from high-A to Triple-A) through the A’s farm system in 2012 resulted in 44 appearances as a rookie, and the lefthander was an All Star within two years. After being dealt to the Nats in 2017, he was selected to the All Star Team in DC the next summer and pitch in the midsummer classic on his home field. Unfortunately a foot injury hijacked his 2018 season, and last year it appeared like over-use would burn the lefthander out before the team acquired Fernando Rodney and Daniel Hudson. Rested somewhat, Doolittle posted an ERA of 1.74 in 10.1 innings over nine playoff games last October.
Through it all, Doolittle returns to his books, and when the team is on the road he’ll check out independent bookstores. And he’s just as much at home in a strange bookstore as his familiar place on the mound. “That’s one of my favorite things to do is just wander in,” Doolittle said. “Not looking for anything in particular, just seeing what’s on the shelf and just going wherever it takes you.” Even the offseason couldn’t cure his curiosity. “Our trip that we (Doolittle and his wife) went on over the holidays,” Doolittle said. “Boulder has a couple really good bookstores: Boulder Bookstore and Trident Books and Cafe were some really good spots. And we stocked up for the winter months.”

Just like pitchers mix up fastball and off-speed offerings, the reliever mixes up his subjects. “I read a little bit more non-fiction this year, which isn’t saying a whole lot because I really don’t read that much non-fiction at all,” Doolittle said. “I thought ‘Say Nothing’ was absolutely incredible- I learned a lot. I found it really thorough but also very accessible.” Doolittle tweets regularly about his latest reads at @whatwouldDOOdo.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Nationals boast one of the best rotations in baseball, and that’s thanks in large part to the four horsemen (profiled on these pages entering last year’s World Series).  But there’s no turning the clock back to 1975 when four-man rotations were the rule, meaning somehow this team is going to need 30 or so starts from somebody.   It’s a thankless job, because while it’s difficult to make the playoffs without a reliable fifth starter most teams trim their rotations to four in the playoffs due to the off-days.  And by definition the fifth starter isn’t necessarily going to be awesome;  otherwise they’d be the fourth starter.

Teams go about finding number five in one of two ways nowadays: they sign a veteran (sometimes off of the scrap heap) like the Nats did with Jeremy Hellickson in 2018 or go with prospects who might be a little green like last summer when Erick Fedde (12 starts), Joe Ross (nine starts), and Austin Voth (eight starts) split the role.  That’s the trio that will be under Manager Davey Martinez’ microscope over the next month. “Joe-two years removed from surgery, he’s completely healthy-he looks really good. Fedde, I watched throw today- threw the ball really well and Voth also threw the ball well,” Martinez said. “When we break camp one of them is going to be the fifth starter.”

Joe Ross has been in this role before. The 26-year old made 23 starts for the Nats in 2016 and was the beneficiary of ridiculous run support (the team averaged 9.15 runs in his 13 startes) the following season before suffering a torn elbow ligament.  After Tommy John Surgery, Ross returned to make three appearances in 2018.  He then split time with the Nats and AAA Fresno in 2019,  and made three appearances in the postseason (0-1 with a 7.45 ERA over 9.2 innings).

Austin Voth went 3-3 with a 3.30 ERA over eight starts (four in September) and nine appearances before shoulder tendinitis helped keep him off of the World Series Roster (he was active for the NLDS and NLCS but didn’t make an appearance).  The University of Washington product and former fifth round pick is healthy and ready for the audition.  “Honestly it’s just going to come down who pitches the best in Spring Training,” Voth said. “I know there’s a lot of other things that go into that, but for me I’m just focusing on what I can do put myself good position to make the ballclub.”

Erick Fedde made 12 starts and 21 major league appearances in 2019, posting an ERA of 4.50 which was a slight improvement over his 2018 (5.54 over 11 starts).  The former first round pick does have one more year of options; in a rule that smacks of Faber University’s “Double Secret Probation” if a player uses up all three years of options before his fifth professional year, he gets a fourth year of options.  What is Davey looking for from Fedde? “Consistency. Strike one. Finishing hitters. He had hitters last year 0-2, took him three or four pitches to finish hitter,” Martinez said. “Look at Max and Stras, and they try to finish hitters on four pitches all the time. I’d like to see him do that.” The fact that Fedde has another potential year of minor league flexibility while Voth and Ross do not could color the competition in March.  But the 27-year old is focused on what he can control. “I just finished up my first live BP,” Fedde said Thursday. “It’s good to see some hitters in there. You really find out what your stuff looks like when you see some swings. That’s a really good starting spot. Things are feeling great- I’m excited and ready to compete for a spot.”

The competition began last weekend with the first of 31 games before they leave Florida.  “I want them to go out there and just keep building of what they did last year,” Martinez said. “They’ve all showed that they can pitch in the big leagues; just go out there and pitch with confidence, relax and just do your thing.”

 

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While the Washington Nationals were propelled by starting pitching that posted the third best ERA in the majors plus a lineup that ranked second in batting average and runs scored, many close to the team felt that that the clubhouse chemistry was a key factor in going from 19-31 in May to a championship parade in November. “When one guy doesn’t do the job the next guy picks him up,” Martinez said before the World Series.  “You watch them go down the line, they pat each other on the back- ‘hey, we got you don’t worry’.” Chemistry in the clubhouse is a tricky thing; if anybody could create it everybody would have it. It’s not a Chia Pet, for heaven’s sake.  How have things gotten so good for the Nats?

It wasn’t always this way. From players reportedly being shipped out for leaking to the press, dugout scuffles between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper, to the famed Mike Rizzo quote “If you’re not in, you’re in the way”, it’s taken a while for the phalanx to come together.  When you spend February through October together, the team has to be together.  “At the end of the day nobody understands what goes on in a clubhouse except the 25 guys and the coaching staff that are in here,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “There’s nothing like it and truly the biggest reason why we won last year is because of how much we enjoyed being around each other.” 

When things got bad last spring and it looked like the team was sinking, the players didn’t jump ship. Instead, they began to bail each other out. “We were all very open with each other,” Gomes said. “Whatever little things were going on we were able to cut them out right away-cut out distractions-and made sure that whatever happened it stayed in here and we were battling for each other in here.

Perhaps the fact that this was the oldest roster in baseball last season gave some clarity and focus to what was really important: trying to go 1-0 every day while not letting one loss bleed into the next day.  “Just the mix of veterans and young players and just the attitude,” Howie Kendrick said. “There’s no selfish guys here and everybody wants to win. There’s a chemistry here that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Baseball’s regular season is the longest (162 games) while the playoff field is the most exclusive in the major four sports (10 of 30, or 33%).  Fighting through the dog days of summer (and for those who live in the Washington area, August can get particularly houndish) is no easy task, and knowing that the clubhouse is a fountain of positive vibes makes the grind a little easier.  “It’s great when you get to the field every day and you’re just happy to be hear and don’t feel like you’re working,” Michael A. Taylor said. “And it helps on the field too having that camaraderie and just trusting one another.”

Unfortunately for any team in MLB, you can’t bring everyone back.  While we know the Nats will miss Anthony Rendon’s bat and glove as well as the contributions of Brian Dozier and Gerardo Parra (earworm alert-BABY SHARK), we can’t size up yet the intangible loss of those three as well as others on the 2019 team not coming back.  Sometimes the absence of one minor ingredient can change a whole recipe.  “When we finished Game Seven it was one of those things where we knew that everyone wasn’t going to be back,” Adam Eaton said. “Which kind of saddened all of us because you’re with those people for so long it’s part of your family.”  But with most of the parts coming back, the 2020 Nationals should earn another solid grade in Chemistry.  Will it be another A?  Ask me in October.

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A bad dessert can wipe out a great meal.  Last year the Nationals relief corps almost shut down the season before it began. The bullpen ERA of 5.66 was the worst in the majors and their 29 blown saves was the second-highest total in the big leagues.  Even in the team’s postseason run the team was aided by relief appearances from starters Stephen Strasburg (three scoreless innings in the Wildcard win), Max Scherzer (one scoreless frame in the NLDS Game Two victory), and Patrick Corbin (five appearances including three scoreless innings in Game Seven of the World Series).  So manager Davey Martinez has his work cut out for him in 2020.

He starts with a solid base:  Sean Doolittle saved 29 games in 2019 and was an All Star the previous season, Daniel Hudson went 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA and six saves after joining the Nats in a midseason trade, and Will Harris posted a 1.50 ERA in 60 innings over 68 games last year with Houston. “Those guys are going to be the constants in the back end of the bullpen, but with that being said you got (Tanner) Rainey who has pitched in the playoffs and the World Series for us,” Martinez said. “you got (Wander) Suero who did a good job and ate a lot of innings for us.” Suero led the team with 71.1 relief innings in 2019.  Harris is the new kid in town with the Nats becoming his fourth major league team.  The former Astro tries to put his finger on what makes a bullpen’s whole greater than the sum of its parts. “I think it’s having a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things has produced the best results,” Harris said. “Having guys that can pick one another up and do different things to help kind of dissect and navigate a lineup.”

Veteran Javy Guerra posted an ERA of 4.86 over 40 games last season for the Nationals while tossing two innings over three frames in the World Series.  “I think for the most part we collectively sat in that room and believed in each other,” Guerra said. “The numbers are the numbers…but we controlled everything in our room and knew what we had to do as a group.”  The 34-year old is back with the team on a Minor League contract with a Spring Training invitation and returns to a crowded clubhouse.  One offseason acquisition is Ryne Harper; what does the former Minnesota right-hander think is crucial to building a successful bullpen?  “You’re like brothers out there. You develop relationships-you get real close with one another and I think that’s important too,” Harper said. “You’re pulling for another guy, you’re helping another guy between outings.”

Two X-factors in 2020 are two midseason moves from 2019 that didn’t pan out as well as the Nats would have liked to due to injuries:  Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias.  “Elias got hurt and Strickland was hurt before we got him,” Martinez said. “I’m looking forward to watching those two guys pitch to their capabilities.  Strickland was a closer at one point and from what I’ve seen he’s thrown the ball really well early in camp.”

One factor that may ease the 2020 bullpen’s growing pains:  starting pitching.  Last year’s rotation ranked second in the majors in ERA and quality starts.  With multiple off days (six before May 1) Martinez could shorten his rotation which would allow the number five starter (likely Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, or Austin Voth) to provide another option in the pen.  One thing’s for certain:  anyone watching the season opener at Citi Field will sit up and take notice when the Nats bullpen percolates for the first time in 2020.

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When the Capitals won their Stanley Cup in 2018, the summer of celebration was somewhat subdued after head coach Barry Trotz resigned 11 days after the team won Game Five in Las Vegas.  The Nationals enjoyed a longer winning winter, but 2020 officially began 41 days after they triumphed in Game Seven when Anthony Rendon inked a seven year contract worth $245 million with the Los Angeles Angels. “You’re talking about an MVP-caliber ballplayer,” manager Davey Martinez told the media last week. “He’s definitely going to be missed, his teammates are going to miss him.” How they cover up his absence on the field and in the lineup will go a long ways towards determining if the Nationals will be an NL East contender or pretender in 2020.  Because it’s a challenge to replace your best bat while also replacing your surest glove; doubly so when it’s the same guy.

Infielder Carter Kieboom gets the first crack at replacing Rendon in the field.  The prime prospect hit .303 with 16 homers and 79 RBI last season for AAA Fresno.  Nobody expects the 21-year old to hit 34 homers with 126 RBI as a rookie, but his bat should be major league ready.  The other side of the coin is that he hit .128 over 11 games during a brief audition last spring, although Kieboom did homer in his major league debut.  He’s also played just 10 of his 329 career minor league games at third.  But Kieboom will get plenty of run over the next six weeks; one key is confidence in himself. “I talked to him already and told him I want you to go out there and compete every day,” manager Davey Martinez told the media last week. “Just ‘be you’. This is a fairly new position for him. He’s been coming out every day and working diligently. His footwork is good.”  For a young fielder learning a new everyday position at the major league level, the opposite of good is perfect-meaning Kieboom needs to head out every day knowing he doesn’t need to make perfect plays in order to lock down the starting job.  What is his manager looking for?  “Two things- arm strength and footwork. And that’s something that we’re working on right now,” Martinez said. “Once we get his footwork and legs underneath him he can actually do it (make the throws).”

 

Other possibilities-  while Kieboom is learning the ropes at third base as a 21-year old rookie, three Nats veterans who are options have had the bulk of their experience at the position deep in their careers. Asdrubal Cabrera did not play a game at third last season with the Nats, but he did make 90 starts in the hot corner while with Texas in 2019 and has made 142 of his 143 Major League starts at third base over the last three seasons.  Howie Kendrick made 10 of his 25 career starts at third in 2019, and Starlin Castro made all 42 of his starts at the position last year while with Miami. “I know Cabby’s played there, Howie could possibly play there and Starlin could move over and play there as well,” Martinez said. “We have a lot of guys who can do multiple things and I kind of like that.”

Just as important as finding the right fit in the field at third base is realizing who bats third this spring.  The Nats’ number three spot in the batting order led the majors with an on base percentage of .398 and a slugging percentage of .579; for those who refuse to play the percentages the club’s number three hitters led MLB with 127 runs scored and 143 runs driven in.  At first Juan Soto would appear to be the heir apparent after hitting 34 HR with 110 RBI, but the outfielder has hit just .145 over 83 at bats from the No. 3 spot in his career (barely over half of his .287 career average).  He also won’t have the protection of batting behind himself in the cleanup spot.  An option could be shortstop Trea Turner, who made 503 of his 521 at bats last season from the leadoff spot but provides power (21 homers per 162 games played in his career) while striking out more than most atop the lineup (133 K’s per 162 games).  Unlike getting Kieboom solid footing at third, Martinez could mix things up this spring before arriving at his regular No. 3 hitter.

The Washington Nationals at one point owned the second-worst record in the National League. Tonight, they are one of two teams remaining in the playoff party as the World Series gets underway in Houston.  While the Astros are prohibitive favorites, the Nats have been discounted all season–or at least since they were 19-31 after an ignominious sweep by the New York Mets.  Bring on the Fall Classic.

Soaring Astros- the American League champs won a big league-best 107 games during the regular season, ranking third in the majors in runs scored and team ERA.

Bats to Beware- Jose Altuve didn’t just win ALCS MVP honors by hitting a walk-off HR in Game Six, he’s also hitting .349 with 10 runs scored and 8 driven in this month.  Alex Bregman (with serious DC ties) led the team with 41 HR and 112 RBI during the regular season, and has 10 runs scored in the playoffs.

Yet to Take Off- leadoff hitter George Springer hit 39 homers during the regular season;  in the postseason he’s batting .152 with 15  strikeouts.  Yordan Alvarez is the other 100-RBI bat this year, and he’s hitting .171 with 19 strikeouts.

Nats Bats to Watch- Anthony Rendon is hitting .375 in the playoffs with a team-high 8 runs scored an 7 RBI, while also hitting .316 against right-handers.  Victor Robles is back from a bad hamstring and is hitting .313 in October. Howie Kendrick’s 9 RBI are tops on the team this month.

DH Decisions- Kendrick will be the designated hitter for Game One and will still bat fifth; the lineup tweaks are behind him in the order with Asdrubal Cabrera (21 RBI in September) getting the nod at second base instead of Brian Dozier (20 HR in the regular season).  He’ll bat sixth, the switch-hitter separating righty bats Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman- who’ll bat seventh.  Zim missed most of the season with plantar fasciitis, but notched 12 RBI in 53 September at bats.  He’s also hitting .333 against right-handed pitchers in the playoffs.

For Starters- Max Scherzer is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in the playoffs over three starts and one scoreless inning of relief, averaging 13.5 strikeouts over 9 innings.  He was completely unstoppable in June (going 6-0 with an ERA of 1.00) before a back injury cost him the better part of the next two months.  Gerrit Cole (20-5, 2.50 ERA) did not lose a decision after May 22 and is 3-0 with a 0.40 ERA in the playoffs.

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For a game that celebrates its tradition, baseball has evolved quite a bit this century.  “Moneyball”.  Pitchers batting eighth. “Launch Angles”. Extreme defensive shifts.  Just when you thought you’d seen everything, the “opener” gets trotted out to the mound.  I know we’re a long ways from four-man rotations and complete games being more than a random aberration, but pitching by committee shakes the core of the game’s basic duel between one pitcher facing one batter.  Houston and the New York Yankees even went with “openers” and essentially tossed staff games Saturday in Game Six of the ALCS. However, viewers of the upcoming World Series should prepare themselves for a blast from the past.

The Nationals’ path to and through the playoffs has been marked from the start; with a rotation that boasts a guy who once struck out 20 in a game, a former No. 1 overall draft pick, a high-priced free agent, and a veteran who threw a no-hitter in his 13th career start.  “You know I’ve said this all year. Our starting pitching was the key. They’ve kept us in every ball game this year and they’ve done it all playoffs,” Manager Davey Martinez said. ” It’s nice to go out there with a Max Scherzer, Strasburg, Sanchez, Corbin. These guys are a big reason why we’re here.”  Simply put:  starting pitching is the bedrock of this team.

The rotation’s 3.53 ERA ranked second best in the majors during the regular season, the same case as with its 1,010 strikeouts thrown and 938.2 innings pitched.  “They don’t give anything away and I think that’s what makes them really special. No matter the situation, no matter how many people are on, what the score is, they don’t give in,” shortstop Trea Turner said. “They continue to stick to their gameplan and use the preparation to make the best decisions and the best pitches they can.”

Four arms featuring four different approaches.  Just like the compass has four points, the Nationals rotation comes at you from four completely different directions-with four completely different personalities.

Do you want high heat?  Max Scherzer throws 48% fastballs (according to baseballsavant.mlb.com) and his preferred pitch averages 95 miles per hour.  His personality is rather easy for to describe. “Max IS Mad Max,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said.  The three-time Cy Young Award winner was steamrolling his way to a fourth Cy this summer when a back injury sidelined the right-hander for over a month.  What followed was the strangest rehab stints of recent memory:  two four-inning outings while continuing to ramp up, before finally tossing 100+ pitches in his final two September starts. “We’re at the point of the season where there’ no room for error. I cannot get hurt,” Scherzer said in August. “That’s why I’m going out there pitching under control. I’m not going to put my body in jeopardy.”  After allowing an two-run homer in the first inning of the Wild Card Game, Scherzer has resembled the pitcher who went 6-0 in June, winning his NLDS and NLCS starts.  He also tossed an inning of relief in Game two against the Dodgers.

First Intermission- while Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin have each taken turns coming out of the bullpen this month, they’ve shined as starters in the postseason with Sanchez.  The quartet has tossed 88 strikeouts over 61.2 innings as starters, posting an ERA of 2.04 over the ten-game run.  “When you try and figure baseball out, it kind of goes back to starting pitching. Always been the key,” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “There’s been some teams that have been successful without it, but for us it’s always been the backbone of our team.”

Looking for something a little offspeed? Stephen Strasburg’s bread and butter is his curveball (31%) and change-up (21%).  “I think my change-up’s really evolved over the years,” Strasburg said. “When I first started my pro career it was a pitch I threw like once or twice a game. Over the years it’s turned into a weapon.” He’s not completely abandoning his fastball (28%), but the 30-year old altered his winter regime and that helped lead to setting career highs with 18 wins and 251 strikeouts in 2019.  “I obviously worked really hard last offseason;  I wasn’t really satisfied with how last season ended up,” Strasburg “I think it’s just part of the process…learning how to take care of your body better.”  How does Suzuki see Strasburg?  “Silent assassin for Stras for sure,” the catcher said.  Alliteration aside, Stras is 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA over three starts and a season-saving relief appearance.

Second Intermission- General Manager Mike Rizzo was the Director of Souting Operations with the Arizona Diamondbacks when they won the 2001 World Series behind the arms of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.  This year he’s built a rotation that not only produces on the field, but also pushes one another in the clubhouse.  “First of all you’ve got some talented, talented guys who are taking the mound for us. Yeah, they’re all competitors-they all want to one-up each other,” Rizzo said. “I think it’s healthy competition and when you get guys that are in that kind of rhythm and on that kind of roll it’s fun to watch.”

Wary of the slider and sinker combo?  Patrick Corbin (38% and 33%) is just what the doctor ordered.  One of the reasons he came to DC via Free Agency last winter was the chance to be a part of this staff. “When you have starting pitching that can go out there and pitch deep into ballgames and keep us close with the offense we do have with some veterans and young guys,” Corbin said. “It seemed like a good fit: a team that wanted to win and had the guys here to win.”  He had no issues fitting in, finishing strong with a 14-7 mark that included going 4-1 in September.  “Patty Ice–he’s cool, calm and collected,”  is how Suzuki describes Corbin.  The left-hander appreciates collecting input from the rest of the rotation. “Everyone’s been around for a little bit now and has seen pretty much everybody in the league.  When one guy’s out there pitching, the other guys are just communicating and talking with each other,” Corbin said. “I think what’s good is no one’s really selfish: we’re all rooting for each other and if anything can help it’ll be great for the team.”

Third Intermission- While the rotation is succeeding in 2019, they’re also helping lay the groundwork for the future.  Young pitchers like Erik Fedde have the chance to watch and learn from the four.  “Very very lucky to be a part of this. All four of them kind of go about in a different way,” Fedde said. “Anibal and Scherzer–you probably couldn’t have two more opposite guys and yet both still so effective. It’s good as a young guy just to be able to watch that and pick up small things from each of them and create my own personality.”

How about a seven-pitch buffet?  Anibal Sanchez empties the tank when it comes to variety:  while the majority of his pitches are fastballs (30% four-seam and 24% split-finger), the 35-year old also uses a sinker, curveball, change-up and slider.  The veteran also brings an infectious enthusiasm to the team. “Happy go lucky and nothing really fazes this guy,” Suzuki said. “He’s always happy, keeps the clubhouse loose and he has fun.”  After starting 0-6 with an ERA of 5.10, a stint on the Injured List set the veteran straight: he went 11-2 with an ERA of 3.42 after coming back in late-May.  He also set the tone in the NLCS by tossing 7.2 scoreless innings in the Game One shutout of St. Louis.

A catcher is part-planner, part-psychologist.  Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes signed with the Nationals this past offseason to help the quartet navigate their way through batting orders, slumps, bumps and bruises and long seasons.  They couldn’t ask for a more diverse–or more professional group.  “They’re all good and they have their own quirks about them,” Suzuki said. “They go about their business the right way–they’re pros and the bottom line is they know how to get the job done. That’s what sets them apart from a lot of guys.”

The Nationals’ four arms will have their work cut out for them in the World Series. Houston’s trio of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke has 77 strikeouts over 62 playoff innings, posting a combined ERA of 3.04 against American League hitting (as in a DH instead of a pitcher).  But reliever Daniel Hudson is confident, as the mid-season pickup has had a front row seat  “Those guys have gone out just about every time since I’ve been here and pretty much do what they do,” Hudson said. “To be able to come in and jump in and watch it from here instead of somewhere else has been a pretty special experience.”  Four points of the compass, looking to point the Washington Nationals towards a first-ever World Championship.