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So…the Redskins after having a week off almost lost to an 0-5 team.  Despite taking a 17-point first half lead.  And they almost lost the lead in the end after missing an extra point as a rookie quarterback got his team to midfield before short-circuiting. But in a world where just about everybody is 3-2, 3-3 or 2.3 the Redskins are living in the upper crust of the NFL’s middle class thanks to their 26-24 win over San Francisco.  A 3-2 start can just as easily turn into an 11-5 as it can become a 5-11.  But at least they’re not 0-6.

 

Captain Kirk- the Franchise Tagged One posted another remarkable episode, throwing for 330 yards and two touchdowns while running for the team’s other score.  His interception keeps this week from being a top-tier show, but at least he didn’t lead the team in rushing again (bad things happen when Kirk ison the ground).  Episode Equivalent:  “I, Mudd”- where Kirk has to deal with familiar face (Kyle Shanahan substituting for Roger Carmel’s Harry Mudd) and chaos ensues, but the crew comes out on top again.

Thompson Twins- Hey, lets give a round of applause for the team’s leading rusher (remember they’re 0-2 when the Captain leads them in rushing)– Chris Thompson.  Let’s also give a round of applause for the team’s leading receiver– Chris Thompson.  The diminutive scatback played big, amassing 138 total yards of offense.  On a team where there is no true #1 ball-carrier and the receiving corps has yet to find itself, Thompson is just what this team needs now.  But how long can he sustain this kind of production and take the pounding?

Third and Subjective- the Skins converted 7 of 14 tries…with 11 pass plays to 3 runs.  Cousins completed 7 of 11 attempts for 6 conversions…with Ryan Grant emerging as the top target (2 catches and conversions in 3 passes).  Yardage breakdown:  3 for 5 on third and short (including 1-2 on the ground), 1 for 4 on third and manageable (0-1 on the ground) and 3 for 5 on third and long.

Zac Brown Band’s new LP “Getting off the Field”– the linebacker led the defense with 8 tackles…and the D held San Francisco short on 11 of 17 third down attempts.  The key was containing on 1st and 2nd down…as the Niners faced 11 third and longs (7+ yards needed).  The Skins did give up a pair of third and short runs…but were able to dial up a last-minute interception by Kendall Fuller.

Special Situations- Dustin Hopkins made both of his field goal attempts (including a 48-yarder) but missed an extra point.  He then went on short term Injured Reserve with what ESPN.COM is reporting as a “right hip rotator muscle strain”.  They’re signing former Texas kicker Nick Rose to fill the void.  Tress Way averaged 45 yards per punt–again.  The return game yielded just one runback for the Skins–a 6-yarder by Jamison Crowder while the punt coverage team allowed a 39-yard return that set up a missed Niners field goal.

Flying Flags- five infractions for 43 yards.  Three were on the offense (false start, unnecessary roughness and delay of game) while two were on the defense (unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct).  Bashaud Breeland’s defensive hold was declined…so although the cornerback still leads the team with 4 penalties on the season he doesn’t add to his total.  Two still sting:  the first one is a false start on Morgan Moses…that turned a 2nd & 7 into a 2nd  & 12.  Kirk Cousins’ interception came two plays later on 3rd & 12.  DJ Swearinger’s unsportsmanlike conduct turned a 4th & 2 from the 5 into a 1st & goal for the Niners…and would lead to their final TD of the day.  But guess what?  Five games into the season the Skins are the second least penalized team in the NFL.  

Dissecting the Division-  Philadelphia’s Thursday night win keeps the Eagles flying atop the NFC East and after six weeks the #1 seed in the NFC (YES, it’s early–but six weeks should be enough of a sample size to sort things out).  The Redskins are in second place and are one of four teams tied for the #6 seed;  the strength of victory tiebreaker eliminates the Burgundy & Gold.  Dallas is in third place and 12th overall in the conference (thanks to the strength of victory tiebreaker over Tampa Bay), but has to wonder if their defense will continue allow 35 points at home.  In last–for the moment–are those plucky New York Giants who are no longer winless after going into Denver and beating the Broncos.  Welcome to the NFL.

Conference Calls- the NFC owns a 13-11 lead after six weeks…with the AFC East (13-9) sporting the best combined record.  The AFC North is 9-14 thanks to the sinking stone that is the Cleveland Browns.  The NFC East?  A middling 11-11.  We’ve only just begun…

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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.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING AT WTOP.COM–

There’s always that October weekend when the herd of unbeaten teams gets thinned out in the most peculiar ways.  I’m going to say very few people had a Syracuse team that had lost at home to Middle Tennessee last month beating the defending national champs…especially after Clemson crushed the Orange 54-0 last season.  The Pac-12 received a double shot with losses by previously unbeaten Washington and Washington State…making the upcoming Apple Cup a little sour.  Even non Power Five Conference schools feel the mid-October sting with San Diego State slipping…and we won’t get into Navy just yet.  Enjoy the pumpkin spice lattes.

 

The biggest October surprise in the area of course is off the field.  It’s only fitting that news of Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson’s departure came on a gameday in College Park:  news of the ACC’s expansion (Syracuse and Pitt) was bubbling the day the Terps lost to West Virginia (the beginning of the end of the Danny O’Brien era) and Maryland’s move to the Big Ten was percolating the day they lost to Florida State (that was the year they were starting a scout team linebacker at quarterback).  Anderson was not at Saturday’s game with Northwestern–and Athletic Directors are almost always attending games involving their high-profile sports.  How long was he actually absent?  The school finally got ahead of the story (or alongside it) by saying Monday he would be taking a sabbatical.

If this is the end of the Anderson era, it certainly hasn’t been a quiet seven years.  Within two years of taking the job in September 2010, he fired a popular football coach in Ralph Friedgen and had to replace an even more popular men’s basketball coach when Gary Williams retired.  Instead of the calm after the storm, Maryland left the ACC that the school helped found for the Big Ten in the fall of 2012–27 months into Anderson’s tenure.  Three major moves that don’t happen often all within his first three winters on campus.  If after this sabbatical Anderson returns to the university with renewed sense of purpose, great.  If he departs for the west coast (the San Francisco State graduate is from the Bay Area originally and previously served as Assistant AD at Oregon State and Cal-Berkeley), he’ll do so leaving a major footprint on the University of Maryland.  Best of luck.

 

Alma Mater Update- about the Orange.  How did that happen???? Somehow the same SU team that barely beat a bad Pitt squad the Saturday before finds itself outplaying and beating the #2 team in the nation?  Eric Dungey keeps freshman phenom Tommy DeVito in the red shirt for 2017 by waking up the echoes of Marvin Graves and Donovan McNabb…and the defense held a Clemson offense that was averaging 35 points per game to 2-of-11 on third down.  I’m stunned that the Orange are 4-3…but recognize they face Miami and Florida State on the road over the next three weeks.  The two games I’m pointing towards are Wake Forest and Boston College.  Get those…and we have dreams of another Pinstripe Bowl banner.

 

Maryland (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) couldn’t keep pace with Northwestern in a 37-21 loss to the Wildcats.  All of a sudden the road to six wins and a bowl berth appears a little cloudier. Terrapin Triumphs:  DJ Moore caught 12 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns.  Antoine Brooks tallies nine tackles and the defense snared a pair of interceptions.  Max Bortenschlager threw for three scores and was sacked just twice.  Terrapin Troubles:  the tailback tandem of Lorenzo Harrison and Ty Johnson gained just 51 yards on 19 carries.  The defense was exposed underneath multiple times as the pass rush wasn’t a factor.  The offense was also unable to take advantage of either turnover, going three and out after both picks.  Next:  Saturday at noon at #6 Wisconsin.

 

Virginia (5-1, 2-0 ACC) held off a second half surge by North Carolina to beat the Tar Heels 20-14.  Not only does this put UVa one step closer to bowl eligibility, but it’s also the school’s first win over UNC since 2009.  Cavalier Congrats:  the thunder and lightning backfield rained again:  Jordan Ellis ran for 136 yards while Olamide Zaccheaus added 100 yards receiving.  The defense held UNC to 46 passing yards and intercepted Brandon Harris three times.  Cavalier Concerns:  the offensive line allowed four sacks and Kurt Benkert lost one of his two fumbles.  UNC was able to run for 211 yards and stayed a lot closer than you’d think a 1-5 team would.  Next: Saturday at 12:30 p.m. against Boston College.

Navy (5-1, 3-1 AAC) finally saw their turnovers come back to haunt them in a 30-27 loss at Memphis.  Three fumbles and two interceptions gave the Tigers plenty of extra opportunities–and they turned those short fields into 13 points.  The West Division is still winnable, but there’s now no margin for error.  Midshipmen Medals:  Zach Abey rushed for 146 yards and three touchdowns.  DJ Palmore led the defense that held the Tigers to 4-14 on third down with nine tackles and a forced fumble.  Owen White averaged 52 yards per punt.  Midshipmen Miscues:  one can’t say enough about the five turnovers.  The passing game (1-for-8 with 2 INTS) continues to be a weakness.  The defense hasn’t shown it can contain foes for four quarters…once again allowing 30 points or more.  Next:  Saturday at 3:30 against #20 UCF.

 

 

The kid brother always has it tough.  He gets hand-me-downs and has to deal with every teacher in school that admired his older sibling–even if the big brother wasn’t really all that.  The Big Ten’s version of “big brother, little brother” is Michigan-Michigan State:  the Wolverines are college football royalty even when their record doesn’t merit that status while the Spartans are the former “cow college” that should be lucky to even be in the Big Ten (actually, their inclusion in 1950 made the conference ten schools).  Michigan alums and students crow about how easy it allegedly is to get into State (I didn’t apply to either so I can’t comment), while Spartan fans remind everyone that they have two Big Ten titles this decade and the Wolverines haven’t even shared a championship since 2004.  And don’t even get me started on men’s basketball.  So last Saturday night when coach Mark Dantonio led the unranked Spartans into Ann Arbor and came out with a win over the #7 Wolverines, kid brothers across the college football world smiled knowing that the younger sibling prevailed over the favored son for the eighth time in ten years.

Alma Mater Update- nice to see the Orange even their record at 3-3 with a nailbiting victory over Pitt.  A necessary win as there are still slim hopes of hanging that Pinstripe Bowl banner in the Dome.  Good to see and hear from friends who made the trip back for Homecoming.  One of the few drawbacks of covering college football and the Nats is it means I am usually in DC for Alumni weekends.  I hope to make it someday…please save me a Dome Dog.

Maryland (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) received a rude awakening at #10 Ohio State in the form of a 62-14 smoking.  And guess what?  Quarterback Max Bortenschlager went down to injury and will likely be placed in concussion protocol for the week, meaning the Terps could very well be starting a fourth quarterback in game number seven.  Introducing Plan D:  UNC transfer Caleb Henderson.  Terrapin Triumphs:  Lorenzo Harrison returned a kickoff 100 yards for the team’s first score of the day.  Antoine Brooks notched 13 tackles to pace the Terps…while the defense did recover a pair of Buckeye fumbles.  Terrapin Troubles:  where to begin?  The offense converted just 1-of-15 third downs while Max Bortenschlager completed 3-of-13 passes for 16 yards while getting sacked four times.  The offense was held to 66 net yards on 55 plays from scrimmage.  The defense allowed OSU to cross midfield on 10 of 11 possessions over the first three quarters…and coughed up 5.6 yards per carry and almost 600 yards of total offense.  Next:  Saturday at 3:30 against 2-3 Northwestern.

Virginia (4-1, 1-0 ACC) has already doubled up its win total from 2016…and in their 28-21 victory over Duke gave the faithful in Charlottesville even more optimism in a return to postseason play.  Just make sure you get those wins before the November gauntlet of Miami, Louisville and Virginia Tech.  Cavalier Congrats: the defense held the Blue Devils to 14-of-42 passing and 5-of-17 on third down…and Quin Blanding tallied eight tackles while returning an interception 58 yards for a touchdown.  Olamide Zaccheaus notched eight catches.  Lester Coleman averaged over 50 yards per punt.  Cavalier Concerns:  two interceptions tossed by Kurt Benkert in the first quarter kept the Blue Devils in the game…and he’s fortunate he didn’t lose his fumble.  Next:  Saturday at 3:30 against 1-5 North Carolina.

Virginia Tech (5-1, 1-1 ACC) recovered from a tough loss at home to Clemson by beating Boston College 23-10 on the road.  It wasn’t the prettiest of wins…but while Chestnut Hill isn’t Death Valley, Alumni Stadium is a quirky place to play.  Hokie Highlights:  Sean Savoy paced the offense with nine catches for 139 yards and a touchdown.  The defense handcuffed BC to the tune of 2-for-15 on third down.  Joey Slye converted all three of his field goal attempts.  Hokie Humblings:  Josh Jackson was sacked five times and threw an interception.  Nine penalties for 67 yards might not matter against last-place BC, but it might against the Coastal Division contenders coming up in the schedule.  Next:  Saturday October 21st against North Carolina.

Navy (5-0) has been playing with fire all season, and they almost lost to Air Force before pulling out a 48-45 win in Annapolis.  The defense that has been a potential blemish all autumn is now apparent to every opponent from here on out.  Midshipmen Medals:  Zach Abey ran for 214 of the team’s 471 yards…and the offense produced points on seven of their last nine drives.  No turnovers for the first time all season.  D.J. Palmore tallied six tackles, a sack and two fumble recoveries.  Bennett Moehring connected on both of his field goal attempts and Owen White averaged over 45 yards per punt.  Midshipmen Miscues:  the defense coughed up 621 yards and allowed touchdowns on the Falcons’ first five drives of the second half.  The offense was held to 7-of-14 on third down.  Next:  Saturday at 3:45 at 4-1 Memphis.

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While October is “moving month” in college football, it’s also a time for conferences to crow about how great they are.  You’ll hear how the SEC is back (did it ever really leave?), the Big Ten is top-heavy and the fact that the name schools have struggled in the Pac 12 tells you how great of a league it is.  Each of Power Five conferences has at least one unbeaten–while each league has a school they’d rather us not focus on.

SEC:  three schools in the top 20…with Alabama and Georgia still unbeaten and a 5-6 record against the other Power Five schools.  Best Win: the Bulldogs went on the road and held on to nip then-number 24 Notre Dame.  Worst Loss:  LSU dropped their Homecoming Game with Troy.  Something smells in Baton Rouge.

Big Ten: four teams in the top ten…with Maryland also receiving votes.  The 7-5 mark against other Power Five schools include a tough loss at home by Ohio State.  Best Win:  the Terps went into Texas and hung 51 on the Longhorns.  Worst Loss:  Nebraska losing to Northern Illinois?  Bad enough to get the AD 86’d in the fallout.

ACC: four teams in the top 20…with Clemson looking every bit as good as they did en route to last year’s national title.  But the league is 5-8 versus Power Five schools.  Best Win:  Virginia went to Boise State and somehow won on that blue field.  Worst Loss:  Syracuse dropping a game at home to Middle Tennessee potentially dashed the Orange’s hopes for hanging a Pinstripe Bowl banner at the Carrier Dome.

Big 12:  two top ten schools with one major mullet in Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy’s mane.  That can’t mask a 4-6 mark against the Power Five.  Best Win:  Oklahoma went into the Horseshoe and beat the Buckeyes.  Worst Loss:  usually one would say Baylor slipping to Duke would be embarrassing, but the Bears’ defeats to Liberty and UTSA earn their own pages.

Pac 12:  even a 6-2 record against the Power Five can’t mask the fact that the two unbeatens are the wrong ones- Washington and Washington State do not have the star power that USC and UCLA possess.  Best Win: Cal went on the road to beat North Carolina and topped Ole Miss at home.  That gives the Golden Bears something to be proud about while they run the conference gauntlet.  Worst Loss:  the Bruins loss at Memphis is the classic “noon kickoff dooms west coast team” defeat that we saw a week away.

Alma Mater Update- HOMECOMING!  Who’s ready for Pitt?  Last year 134 points went up on the scoreboard.  The proud Panthers have taken their lumps this season but the Orange are more than accommodating at home this fall (witness the Middle Tennessee).  One hopes the alumni in town are able to enjoy themselves early and often…especially with a 12:30 kickoff.

Virginia (3-1) vs Duke (4-1, 0-1 ACC), 12:20 p.m., (ACC Network).  The Cavaliers come off their bye week to face a Blue Devils club that makes big plays happen on defense (their 20 sacks and nine interceptions pace the conference)…but one that for the first time in years is having trouble moving the ball through the air (Daniel Jones is averaging under ten years per completion).  Quarterback consistency has been the key for the Cavaliers, as Kurt Benkert is on his way to surpassing his numbers form 2016.  The defense is also not scraping the bottom of the ACC barrel, and that little difference might just nudge UVa to a bowl.  Conference play means Kippy & Buffy shift over to reds, and nothing says dealing with the ultimate “bro school” Duke like opening a bottle of Breaux Vineyards 2013 Merlot:  “jammy notes of black cherry and fresh fruit compote with hints of cocoa powder”.   Strong suggestions of Gouda on Urban Oven crackers.  Cavaliers come through, 28-20.

 

Navy (4-0, 3-0 AAC) vs Air Force (1-3), 3:30 p.m., (CBS Sports Network).  Despite all of the hype Army-Navy (rightfully) gets each December, this is a sweet undercard rivalry in the race for the Commander in Chief’s Trophy.  The winner of this game has taken the Trophy the last 20 years.  And the home team has been a major factor:  the Mids have won six of the last seven games played in Annapolis.  Navy leads the nation in rushing offense (400 yards per game) and Air Force after shutting out VMI in their opener has allowed 38 points per game…and last week coughed up 363 yards on the ground to New Mexico.  Midshipmen make their first move towards another trophy, 37-21.

 

Maryland (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) at #10 Ohio State (4-1, 1-0), 4 p.m., (FOX).  The Terps get Gus Johnson?!?  This naturally means we’re sure to have a hail-mary TD pass at the end of the first half…I can already hear the “BANG!  CAN!  YOU!  BELIEVE IT!”  The Buckeyes boast the best one-two punch in the league with senior J.T. Barrett completing 63% of his passes while freshman J.K. Dobbins averages 7.6 yards per carry.  Max Bortenschlager won last week on the road in the conference, but Minneapolis is a long way from Columbus.  Third down performance will be key:  Maryland ranks 13th in the conference at moving the chains on offense and 13th in getting off the field on defense.  Terrapins tumble, 38-17.

 

#16 Virginia Tech (4-1, 0-1 ACC) at Boston College (2-3, 0-2), 7:15 p.m., (ESPN2).  Last weekend the Hokies learned that they’re not as good as the defending national champs-and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Can they bounce back against a BC team that is offensively challenged (last in the ACC in scoring, 13th in passing) to say the least?  The Eagles have recently had the reputation of bad offense, good defense–but this year’s team is at the bottom of the conference at stopping the run.  Is this the week VT’s consistently uneven ground game finds its groove?  Hokies handle the Eagles, 27-6.

 

Howard beats NC Central, Georgetown falls at Princeton, William & Mary loses at Elon, Richmond edges Albany.

Last Week: 5-2.

Overall: 28-10.

 

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.

 

 

It’s about time.  The least-suspenseful regular season since 90210’s final turn (yeah, like Kelly & Dylan weren’t going to end up together) wrapped up with the Nationals 20 (yes, twenty-as in XX) games ahead of second-place Miami in the NL East.  No more “division of depression”.  No more double-digit cushion (that was really fun while it lasted).  No more getting in gear or trying to hit one’s stride.  The time is now for glory.

Dissecting the Division- so second-place Miami (77-85) landed with a horrendous thud (21 losses in their last 32 games make for a bad finishing kick) to post the worst runner-up record of the six divisions.  Atlanta, the New York Mets and Philadelphia each finished with 90+ losses–the equivalent of going 6-10 in the NFL.  Thank goodness RPI doesn’t factor into postseason qualification.

O’s Woes- a 4-18 finish isn’t as bad as the 2002 bunch that went from 63-63 to 67-95, but the September crash was heard all the way from here in DC.  Bad starting pitching was the culprit, but the lineup that ranked 8th in batting average had issues getting the players home (16th in runs scored).  There will no doubt be changes this offseason, and one wonders if we’ll have Duquette & Showalter back in tandem after what appears to be a major step back.

Last Week’s Heroes, Milestones and Millstones- Daniel Murphy hit .529 to catapult past the rest of the field and finish with a team-best .322 batting average for the season.  Bryce Harper scored twice, giving him a team-high 95 runs scored despite missing almost a third of the season.  Anthony Rendon finished with 25 homers and 100 RBI for the first time in his career and Ryan Zimmerman hit .350 to finish with a flourish (7 HR & 20 RBI over the last 30 days).   Stephen Strasburg joins Gio & Max as a 15-game winner.

Last Week’s Humbled- Wilmer Difo hit under .200…and although he’s a near-lock to make the postseason roster this fade does not give one confidence.  Tanner Roark’s final start what has been a rollercoaster season was less than ideal…and Brandon Kintzler misfired in Saturday’s loss.  Max Scherzer’s hamstring joins his neck and Bryce Harper’s knee as “body parts we want to yell at now”…hopefully the right-hander will be ready to start Game One or Two in DC.

Bring on the Cubs!- you may have heard that Chicago’s NL team ended a long championship drought last year.  In 2017 they suffered their first post-championship hangover since 1909 and didn’t have William Howard Taft in the White House to look up to for guidance (Taft was sneakily versatile–the only man to head the Executive and Judicial Branches (he was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court).  Manager Joe Maddon’s team ranked 4th in the majors.  Kris Bryant & Anthony Rizzo are the bats to watch (although Rizzo hit .239 in September) while Kyle Schwarber (remember him?) is back in theory after hitting six homers last month.  Jon Lester starts Game One…and the Cubs’ rotation ranks 7th in ERA while the bullpen ERA is 6th-best in the league.

 

My Rotation- with Max Scherzer’s hamstring tweaked, the starting order may be flipped with Strasburg (Pitcher of the Month for September thanks to his 4-0 mark and 0.83 ERA).   And Max isn’t the best in October (4-4 with an ERA of 3.74).  But barring major hamstring issues, I still want #31 on the hill for Game One.  He embraces the big moments and Game Ones are made for people like Max.  Until Friday we are monitoring Max’s hammy, his neck, potential hangnails as well as keeping him in bubble wrap.  Strasburg starts Game 2– and that gives me the option of pitching either Max or Stras in a potential Game 5.  Gio is on the mound in Game 3–with Tanner Roark slated for Game 4 if the Nats are up 2-1.  Down 2-1 I’m going with my Game 1 starter.

My Lineup- what to do with Bryce Harper?  He’s played in four games since mid-August and has hit .167 with 2 walks and 7 strikeouts.  But he’s BRYCE HARPER, who still leads the team in runs scored and is a threat to explode when he gets back on track.  I want to bat  Harper second.  But my C. Montgomery Burns manager inside me doesn’t want to bat a rusty lefthander in the #2 spot against lefty Jon Lester during Game One.  And what about Jayson Werth?  I can’t forget what an asset he was in the #2 spot during the 2016 season, but  he’s hit .132 since the end of August.  Howie Kendrick hasn’t fared that much better as of late either.  Adam Lind as an option is more of a #6 hitter…and while he doesn’t have the words “defensive liability” written all over him there’s a drop-off.  But Lind is hitting .341 with 12 RBI over his last 20 games.  After much review I want to go with Harper following Turner in the #2 spot with Murphy, Zimmerman and Rendon in the 3-4-5 slots and Werth starting in LF against Lester with Lind batting against righties. Am I nuts?  See you Friday…