Archives for category: Nationals

Do we have to do this?  I mean…the season’s over.  Winter is underway in Washington…can’t we focus on how the Capitals will get our hopes up again before melting in May?  Yes, the Nationals will not be advancing to the NLCS again.  Another Game Five loss at home.  Another offseason of head-scratching.

Series Heroes- start with Michael A Taylor who was the only regular to hit over .211.  His Game Four-sealing grand slam and three-run homer in Game Five accounted for 35% of the team’s runs during the series.  Adam Lind went 2 for 3 in a pinch-hitting role (to be expected after hitting .341 in September).  Stephen Strasburg turned in two gems, striking out 22 over 14 innings (while allowing two unearned runs).  Sean Doolittle and Matt Albers combined for 5.1 scoreless frames.  Max Scherzer had a great start in Chicago despite a bad hamstring (6.1 innings of one-hit ball over 98 pitches).

Series Humbled- the bats were flat:  Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Trea Turner and Matt Wieters each hit under .200 in the NLDS.  Gio Gonzalez had a rough start in Game Five…and Max Scherzer was one strike away from a 1-2-3 inning when an infield single began the drizzle that ended in a 4-run shower of runs.  Manager Dusty Baker’s tactics were called into question, from bringing in Sammy Solis to staying with a Jayson Werth that was hitting .155 since coming back from injury.  It was rough all around…

Bye Bye Beard- Jayson Werth’s seven year tenure seems likely to be ending…and from the moment he signed his 7 year, 126 million dollar contract there were those who said the Nats would never get true value for their money.  While Werth never reached the 30 HR or 90 RBI plateaus with the Nats and played fewer than 90 games during three of his seven seasons in DC, the fan favorite will be missed in the clubhouse.  He marched to the beat of his own drummer…and band.  Other pending free agents include bats off the bench Howie Kendrick and Adam Lind.

Opening Day 2018- if Adam Eaton returns to his April 2017-form, we can pencil him back at the leadoff spot.  And I’m going to move Eaton over to LF and put Michael A Taylor in CF.  Trea Turner goes back to hitting second while Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon form the core of the order.  That brings up the catcher’s spot in the order:  Lobaton becomes a free agent and Matt Wieters hit .196 after the All Star Game and .118 in September.  He has a player option for 2018…and in the wings the Nats have Pedro Severino (.242 with 5 HR and 29 RBI in AAA) and Raudy Read (.265 with 17 HR and 61 RBI in AA and a name that smacks of Wrestlemania IV).  Taylor looks like the #8 guy as Dusty loves to go left-right (or switch) in the order.  Outfield depth provides promise if Brian Goodwin can stay healthy and Victor Robles can make the leap.  Wilmer Difo is on his way to becoming a Swiss Army Knife after playing three infield and all three outfield positions in 2017.

Rating the Rotation- Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg return for another season while Gio Gonzalez enters his contract year and Tanner Roark comes back after not pitching in the postseason.  Last year the Nats tried to land Chris Sale to no avail… do they attempt to bring in another front-line pitcher this winter?  Or do they trot out Joe Ross/AJ Cole for another round of auditions?

Bullpen Blues- at least Sean Doolittle is coming back next year to close.  That eliminates what was the never-ending story of the first four months of the 2017 campaign.  Ryan Madson is also signed through 2018.  Matt Albers and Brandon Kintzler become free agents…and patching up that part of the pen will be key.  But I’d rather have holes in the 6th and 7th than the 8th and 9th….

Caps and Wiz!  The beauty of working in a four-team town is that the seasons collide in such a manner you often don’t have the chance to labor over the abrupt end of a playoff run.  Just like the Nats first place surge in May moves the Wizards and Capitals to the back-burner our winter friends have rejoined us with the usual high hopes (conventional wisdom says the Caps’ window is closing while the Wiz’ window is opening).  Enjoy the offseason and prepare for another 162-game marathon.

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PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Their lockers are both on the far side of the Nationals’ clubhouse.  Two veterans who despite dressing for games side-by-side couldn’t appear to be any more different if you tried.  Jayson Werth has that beard…and is often outlandish in his postgame interviews, especially with MASN’s Dan Kolko.  Ryan Zimmerman is clean-shaven…and answers in a much softer, low-key tone.  Both have been a part of the Nats nucleus since the first playoff run five years ago, and both thirty-somethings know their October opportunities are numbered.

Baseball may be a timeless sport, but there’s definitely a clock ticking on Jayson Werth’s tenure as a Washington National.  Believe it or not, the outfielder didn’t have a beard when he signed with the Nats in 2011-the first big free agent fish caught by the club after years of 100-loss campaigns, misspelled uniforms and sausage sandwich giveaways gone wrong.  The seven-year, 126 million dollar deal turned heads across the majors…and Werth’s presence helped turn the Nats from pretender to contender.  “I was just really in the right place at the right time and had the foresight to buy into the whole thing,” the 38-year old said, “I was lucky enough this all worked out.  It’s been a fun ride-it’s been a great ride. It’s been of the best teams in baseball since I’ve signed here.”

Werth hasn’t hit 30 homers nor driven in 90 runs, but the bearded one delivered a walk-off home run in Game Four of the NLDS against St. Louis.  Manager Dusty Baker’s move of Werth to second in the batting order in May of 2016 helped jumpstart a struggling lineup.  But this year has not been kind to the veteran…as he has played just 70 games (Werth’s lowest since 2003 when he was with Toronto) after suffering a foot injury in June.  In 22 games since his return in late August, the outfielder has hit .155 and may not be the best option for the club in the postseason (Adam Lind is hitting .341 since the end of August).  Werth’s contract runs out after this season…and with outfield options skewing young in the form of Brian Goodwin and restless in the shape of Adam Eaton, the deal that began with a bang may wind up ending with a whimper.

While Werth started his career elsewhere and might not be in DC next year, Ryan Zimmerman is one of just six players with 12+ years of major league service that have spent their entire career with one team.  Zimmerman is the classic “cradle to grave” MLB player that every city has-or tries to have.  They don’t necessarily have to be Hall of Famers (for every Craig Biggio or Barry Larkin there’s a Ron Oester or Bobby Higginson), and with free agency those players are few and far between.  Ryan Zimmerman is signed with the Nats through 2019 (there is a team option for 2020) and will likely end his career wearing the curly W.  He’s also enjoying his best season since the Nats became relevant.

There was once a time when Ryan Zimmerman was the only reason to watch the Nationals (with apologies to Nook Logan and Willy Mo Pena’s adventures in the outfield and on the basepaths).  From 2007 to 2010 the then-youthful third baseman was averaging 24 homers and 83 RBI for teams that averaged 97 losses.  Zim won the 2009 Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards while toiling for a 103-loss club.  If anyone deserved to enjoy the recent run of NL East titles, it’s the guy who wears #11.  But wouldn’t you know that just as the Nats began winning, Ryan Zimmerman’s time in the sun would be derailed by a series of injuries.  Shoulder issues during the 2012 campaign led to his lowest batting average in four years.  A fractured thumb and an injured hamstring in 2014 led to a career-low 61 games played and the veteran was reduced to pinch-hitting in the NLDS against San Francisco.  Last year rib and wrist issues contributed to a career-low .218 batting average.  The cruel baseball world had the Nats dropping three one-run games to the Dodgers and the best player in their history batting sixth.

That’s what makes 2017 all the more special:  Zim hit .303 (first time over .300 since 2010) with 36 home runs (first year of 30+ since 2009) and 108 RBI (most in his career since Ryan’s rookie year).  The 33-year old has been the rock in the middle of a batting order that has missed Bryce Harper for almost a third of the season.  The guy who missed an average of 70 games over the last three years wound up playing 144 (second-most on the team behind Anthony Rendon) for the NL East winners.  And he sports a lifetime .357 batting average in the postseason.  “What we’ve learned in the playoffs is that nobody can predict what happens,” Zimmerman said, “you show up and play good baseball.  And try to take advantage of every opportunity that you get, because there’s not many of them in the playoffs.  You gotta catch a couple of breaks too.”

Zimmerman and Werth batted fifth and sixth in the final regular season series against Pittsburgh.  Will we be seeing the clubhouse neighbors next to each other on the lineup card as well against the Chicago Cubs?  Enjoy October…because there’s no guarantee Ryan Zimmerman will be this good for a team this good again.  And it’s definitely a possibility this may be Jayson Werth’s final month on the South Capitol Street stage.

 

 

So…the Nats just might not catch the Dodgers for home field advantage.  But there are still things to play for, even as they’ve clinched home field for the NLDS (we know how much home field helps a team in a deciding game five).  Individual milestones are within multiple players’ reach–even after Ryan Zimmerman crossed the 100 RBI mark last week.  Anthony Rendon enters the final stages of the season four RBI shy of the century mark…and can also finish 2017 with more walks than strikeouts (he currently has an 81-80 ratio), a rarity in today’s free-swinging day.  Other milestones to watch:  Daniel Murphy is at 90 runs scored as well as 90 RBI (shame they’re not playing the Mets this week)…while standing two homers shy of reaching his career high set in 2016.    On the mound, Max Scherzer is 2.1 innings shy of reaching 200 for the season while Stephen Strasburg is four strikeouts away from 200.  Brandon Kintzler remains one save away from 30 for the season…and with the Nats almost locked into the #2 seed may be ready to get a ninth inning appearance.

Bryce is Back?  The Nationals may be getting their rightfielder in the lineup as early as Tuesday…their top hitter has been on the shelf with a knee injury suffered in early August.  Harper had 29 HR…and it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see #34 notch #30 in the final days of the season.  The bigger question is will he be postseason-ready after less than a week of work to find his groove?

Playoff Possibilities- if the season ended today, the Nationals would be the #2 seed in the NL and host the Chicago Cubs in the Divisional Series.  The top seeded Los Angeles Dodgers would host the Wild Card Game winner Arizona/Colorado.  The AL matchups have Cleveland hosting the New York Yankees or Minnesota (Pinstripes pounded the Twins in a series just last week) while Boston visits Houston.

O’s Woes- yes, that means the September of Suffocation is complete for a Birds team that began the month 68-66 but will end with their first losing record since 2011.  Starting pitching needs to be addressed in the offseason…as this year’s rotation dug the rest of the team in a hole every time one turned around.

Last Week’s Heroes- Max Scherzer went 2-0 with an ERA of 2.08 while Gio Gonzalez joined Max as 15-game winners in the rotation.  Sean Doolittle continues to be lights-out with two scoreless innings en route to a pair of saves.  Adam Lind made his most off the bench by hitting .400 with a team-high  7 RBI while Trea Turner batted .318 with a team-high 5 runs and 4 RBI.  Congrats to Ryan Zimmerman for reaching the 100 RBI milestone for the first time since 2009.  For the longest time he was the best and often only player worth watching on a bad club…and once the Nats finally became a contender Zim was battling injuries.  Good to see both the player and the team having great seasons at the same time.  

Last Week’s Humbled- Jayson Werth hit .118 with eight strikeouts and one walk…while Anthony Rendon batted .176 but still walked more than he struck out.  Edwin Jackson is suffering a September to forget:  allowing 6 runs over 4.2 innings means he’s 0-3 with an ERA of 12.38 this month.  At least he ate up some innings when the Nats’ rotation was thin.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nationals play Pittsburgh while Stephen Strasburg tries to reach multiple milestones.  Bryce Harper may also be back and it’s not right after a travel day so there’s a chance we’ll see most of if not all of the regulars in the lineup.   In theory…

Game to Miss- Thursday the Nats begin their series with the Pirates by starting Edwin Jackson, hopefully for the final time in 2017.  To add to the fun, WTOP co-worker Brian Drew is having his farewell happy hour.  He’s as much a die-hard Nationals fan as he was a devotee of TURN on AMC…so one will sadly pass on Pittsburgh.

The word “denouement” is defined as “the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved”.  After last Sunday’s clinching of the NL East, the Nats were due for a little denouement.  Instead of being hot on the Dodgers’ tail for home field in the National League, manager Dusty Baker’s team dropped the last two series of their homestand and almost assured themselves of the #2 seed (which they had last year).  Denoument!  The usually rock-solid rotation had one of its few subpar weeks, and one writes off the 2-4  thud as a throat-clearing.  Unless it continues…and when I say continues I mean for the next two weeks and into October.  Thirteen games to finish denoumenting (“you keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means”). 

 

Magic and Tragic Numbers- the Nats trail the Dodgers by six games for the best record in the league;  thus LA’s magic number is eight.  The Nats’ magic number to clinch at least the second-best mark in the NL is seven (Cubs are currently in the #3 spot as the NL Central leader).  Miami (eliminated from the NL East race eight days ago) is one loss or one Colorado win away from being officially out for October (and even if they win every game and the Rockies finish 0-12 Milwaukee is four wins away from bouncing the Marlins).

O’s Woes- let the record show that the Orioles have been very good against AL East foes this year:  10-6 against division-leading Boston and 33-26 overall entering last week.  But with three games against last-place Toronto and four games at the Wild Card contending New York Yankees, the Birds blew up.  Five losses in seven games almost eliminates the plucky bunch from the Charm City…as their “tragic number” is eight.  Blame a bad rotation for the 5-11 September…as Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson both own ERA’s at 9+ this month.  An 8-4 finish is needed to avoid the team’s first losing season since 2011.

If the Playoffs Began Today- the Nationals would have home field over the Chicago Cubs in one Divisional Series while the Dodgers would face the winner of Arizona-Colorado.  Cleveland (thanks to the 22-game winning streak) plays the Wild Card winner in the AL (Yankees-Minnesota) while Houston has home field advantage over Boston.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .353 while Ryan Zimmerman added two homers and four RBI.  But the stage was set for Victor Robles:  the prime outfield prospect went 2-for-5, scoring twice while driving in a run.  Shades were necessary to watch this future.  Stephen Strasburg won his lone start, striking out eight.  The bullpen boasted several solid efforts:  multiple scoreless innings were thrown by Matt Grace, Ryan Madson, Austin Adams, Shawn Kelley, Sean Doolittle, Enny Romero and Matt Albers.

Last Week’s Humbled- for one of the first times all season, multiple starters experienced rough outings.  Edwin Jackson allowed seven runs over two and a third innings, while Max Scherzer (seven over six) and Gio Gonzalez (six over six) didn’t help their cases in the chase for lowest ERA in the NL (Clayton Kershaw still the leader at 2.12).  Howie Kendrick (.167) and Michael A. Taylor (.182) had off-weeks, while Matt Wieters (0-for-12) is hitting .042 this month.

Game to Watch- devoid of potential playoff previews and magnificent mound matchups, I’ve circled Saturday night’s duel at Citi Field against the New York Mets.  Stephen Strasburg since coming off the disabled list is 4-1 with and ERA of 0.66.  He has a decent chance to reach 200 strikeouts for the second time in his career and match his career high of 15 wins in a season.

Game to Miss- thank you Nationals for making things easy for me with the six-man rotation.  A.J. Cole pitches against the Mets Sunday afternoon, amidst a flurry of NFL action.  While the Redskins won’t be playing until Sunday night, we’re going to enjoy afternoon football instead of afterthought baseball.

Forgive us if we’re a little giddy here.  It’s one thing to be a one-hit wonder…another to have “Get off of My Cloud” hit #1 in the US or “From Me To You” top the UK charts.  While the Nats had previously won NL East crowns in 2012 and 2014, they were unable to repeat the feat–sometimes embarrassing themselves in the process (Papelbon, anyone?).  Not the case this year, where General Manager Mike Rizzo made the necessary offseason (Adam Eaton) and in-season (the bullpen trio) moves to give Manager Dusty Baker the best club possible.  Baker’s firm but not overbearing hand on the wheel steered the club through injury-ravaged seas (they’ve used 50+ players this year).  And the players who came up short in defending previous titles had career-defining seasons (Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon & Gio Gonzalez specifically).  Instead of a winter of what-if, there are postseason possibilites.  And I no longer mention the magic number in this space.  That should be reason enough to celebrate.

From Magic to Tragic- while Philadelphia is already out of Wild Card contention, the other three NL East teams still have hopes.  Miami’s fall from orbit (12 losses in 14 games, including 0-7 against the Nats) drops the Marlins ten games behind Colorado for the final playoff spot in the National League.  Their “Tragic Number” is now ten.  Atlanta’s elimination number is seven while the Mets need a combination of five losses/Rockies wins to call it a year.  Enjoy at your own risk.

O’s Woes- somehow after getting swept by AL Central leading Cleveland the Birds remain on the fringe of the Wild Card, three games behind Minnesota.  Doesn’t anyone want this playoff berth?  The Twins, Angels and Rangers are a combined 14-16 over their last 30 combined games.  Twelve of the O’s remaining 19 games are on the road…but they only play seven games against teams with winning records.  And three of those are at home against Boston, a team that might lead the division but one Manager Buck Showalter’s crew is 10-6 against.

Playoff Possibilities- if the season ended today, the Nats would own the #2 seed in the NL and would host the Chicago Cubs in the first round.  The Los Angeles Dodgers would get the winner of the Wild Card game between Arizona and Colorado.  American League pairings would have top seed Cleveland host the Wild Card winner (New York Yankees or Minnesota) while Boston would visit Houston in the other series.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy hit .450 while Trea Turner tallied seven runs and six RBI, but Michael A. Taylor earned his middle initial by batting .409 with three homers and nine RBI.  Did we mention his inside-the-park grand slam?  Did we forget his out of this world defense that saved a home run Thursday and cut down a runner at the plate Friday?  For today I’m calling him Michael A+ Taylor.  Stephen Strasburg won both of his starts while posting an 18 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Last Week’s Humbled- relievers Shawn Kelley and Oliver Perez are not making the best case to be included on the postseason roster…as both pitched Friday but were unable to record an out while allowing three-run homers.  The Nats also had the gall to clinch the division on the day the Redskins opened their season.  How dare the perennial postseason contenders win their fourth title in six years while the football team loses its fifth straight opener!  Talk about rubbing it in…

Game to Watch- the NL West leading Los Angeles Dodgers come to town this weekend, and Friday they send Alex Wood (14-3, 2.81 ERA) to the hill against Edwin Jackson.  Memories of last year’s hard-fought NLDS loss to LA and the division clinched has Friday not arriving soon enough.

Game to Miss-  I’m sorry, Gio Gonzalez.  You are having your best season since the 21-win campaign and your ERA is under two since the All Star Break.  But your start Tuesday against Atlanta is the same night that the Washington Mystics meet Minnesota.  WNBA fever takes over for at least one evening…as the upstart squad led by Maryland great Kristi Toliver and Elena Della Donne face last year’s runners-up and this year’s top regular season team.  It’s not the Kastles in World Team Tennis, but it’s close.

 

Pay no attention to the Nationals series loss at Wild Card contending Milwaukee over the weekend.  The Nats won the week by sweeping second place Miami out of South Capitol Street:  the series included a complete game, two major returns, the customary rain delay and an action figure giveaway.  Despite all of their injury issues, the Nationals still posted the best record in the NL at 18-11.  As rosters expand and the boxes are checked (the matter of that division title, individual milestones), the Nats prepare to face their ghosts of postseasons past.  Let’s enjoy a little September sun before October Angst drops by the district.

Dissecting the Division- the magic number is down to 12…and the Nats meet Miami three times this week.  The Marlins recent dip (1-6) drops them five games back in the Wild Card race.  The Mets (3) and Atlanta (6) are close to being knocked out of the NL East race, but at least they don’t have a single-digit tragic number like Philadelphia.  The Phillies were eliminated from the NL East race last Wednesday…and are 20 games back in the Wild Card with 26 to play.

O’s Pose a Threat- eight wins in ten games has the Orioles in contention…and the Birds battle the New York Yankees in a series with playoff implications this week.  While Aaron Judge and the Bronx bats have been somewhat quieter since the All Star Break, the Pinstripes’ pitching (5th best ERA in the bigs) is what has me concerned.  Especially with the flammable rotation the O’s offer up.

Last Week’s Heroes- Stephen Strasburg struck out eight while tossing a complete-game shutout of the Marlins.  By the way, he homered as well in that game.  Matt Wieters hit .417 while Wilmer Difo hit .300 with a team-high five runs.  Jayson Werth homered in his return to the lineup…and Trea Turner is also back to provide a spark atop the batting order.

Last Week’s Humbled- Gio Gonzalez was oh-so-close to a perfect 6-0 month…only to allow five runs in six innings Thursday.  Adam Lind hit .100 while Howie Kendrick struck out eight times in 19 at bats.

Game to Watch- Friday Max Scherzer takes to the mound against Philadelphia.  One year removed from his Cy Young campaign, the righthander has dealt with neck issues and last Saturday was hit by a line drive.  While a 20-win season is no longer in sight, a strong September most certainly can be.

Game to Miss- Sunday Stephen Strasburg pitches against Ben Lively and the Phillies.  At 1:35.  Hmm…don’t the Redskins play Philadelphia at 1pm?  Isn’t it the regular season opener?  Tough break…

 

Thirty-three games remain in the regular season marathon before the playoff sprint.  The Nationals wrap up the dog days of summer with a 12-game lead in the division (not horrible) and 12 players on the disabled list (not ideal).  Barring a meltdown of historic proportions, this team will once again be admitted to the postseason party…and the success of 2017 will be measured not by how many regular season games this club won, but how many postseason series captured.  And yes–that’s plural.

Dissecting the Division- the magic number is 22…as Miami is not going quietly into the night.  The Marlins have won 8 of 10 to enter the wildcard conversation as Colorado has dropped 12 of 19.  They also own the fourth best batting average in the majors and boast the biggest bat– Giancarlo Stanton after hitting 26 homers in 325 pre-All Star Break at-bats has clubbed 24 home runs in 151 post-hiatus at-bats.  Marcell Ozuna has quietly surpassed 100 RBI for the season…and the pitching is not an absolute grease-fire (only 18th in team ERA).  The two teams tangle six more times over the next two weeks.

Birds Break out the Brooms- the Orioles get a needed sweep of first-place Boston and move to .500 for the second time since June.  Just as impressive was the pitching allowing just four runs over three games.  Can they win a third straight series for the first time since April?  O’s apologists will be the first to remind you how the team is 10-6 against the Red Sox…but the team is 35-43 outside the AL East.  Five of the Birds’ next seven series are against clubs with records of .500 and above…and we’ll see if this team is more pretender or contender.

 

Last Week’s Heroes- Adam Lind hit .300 with two homers and five RBI… delivering an insurance home run Sunday night against the Mets.  Anthony Rendon bats .348, scoring four runs while driving in three.  Stephen Strasburg strikes out seven over six innings in his lone start while Gio Gonzalez continues his wild ride through 2017 with his fifth win in five starts.  Gio’s August ERA? 1.03…

Last Week’s Humbled- Shawn Kelley notched a 13.50 ERA over three appearances, while Matt Grace allowed opponents to hit .455 off of him.  Brandon Kintzler blew a save in Houston.  Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman both had rough weeks, hitting a combined 6-for-39 with two walks and 10 strikeouts.  I mentioned the disabled list now holds a complete dozen…

Game to Watch- Monday Max Scherzer (12-5, 2.25 ERA), neck-permitting, pitches against Miami’s Jose Urena (12-5, 3.68).  The Marlins don’t seriously think they can make up 12 games in five weeks, can they?

Game to Miss- Sunday Edwin Jackson takes to the mound against Milwaukee…while Fed Ex Field will host a college football game between #21 Virginia Tech and #22 West Virginia.  The former Big East foes won or shared 11 of the league’s 20 championships…and haven’t met since 2005 despite the schools’ close proximity (roughly four and a half hours).  Sorry, Edwin…