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Half-full or half-empty?  How do you view the last week where the team went 3-3? The 2019 season continues with the Nationals splitting a pair of series against the Chicago White Sox and Arizona.  Not ideal, but after their string of 11 wins in 15 games, somewhat acceptable.  This week the stakes get a little higher as they take on the top two teams in the NL East-beginning with four games against Philadelphia before hosting division-leading Atlanta on the weekend.  At 33-38 and 7.5 games off the pace, the Nats can ill afford a poor showing here.  They’ll be almost 50% through the regular season slate when the Braves leave Sunday, and while they’re almost assured of wrapping up the homestand under .500 it would be a nightmare to be double digits off the pace.  And given the way things turn on a dime in DC, not completely out of the realm of possibility. Buckle up…

Digesting the Division- Atlanta takes a two and a half game lead at 42-30 and the Braves have won nine of ten. They’re also getting free agent pickup Dallas Keuchel to bolster a pitching staff that currently owns the tenth best ERA in the majors.  Philadelphia’s dropped five of seven to slide towards the pack, and the Phillies’ run differential has shrunk to +6.  The New York Mets (34-37, 7.5 GB) remain the driver who can’t find a parking spot on the P1 level, losing three of four at home to St. Louis.  Miami has lost eight of ten and at 25-44 isn’t competing with the Nats, Mets, Phillies and Braves as much as they’re scoreboard-watching with the Orioles–for the first pick of 2020.

O’s Woes- Bad days for the Birds.  A twelfth straight series loss (they haven’t won a series since late April).  A sweep at the hand of the defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox.  This week the team is far from Baltimore–and just as far from successful. At 21-50 they’re 22.5 games back in the AL East. Although they are one game better than last year’s 47-115 club at this time.  And while the team is no longer allowing more than two homers per game, they’re still on pace to cough up over 300 this year.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted 4-for-20 (.200) while striking out eight times.  While he’s still on pace to post 27 HR with 112 RBI, Harper’s 91 K’s keep him on track to break the 200 mark. But, Harper is hitting .321 against the Nats this year. And he comes back to DC this week with the proverbial chip on his shoulder.

Last Week’s Heroes- Matt Adams made his mark on Father’s Day, belting a grand slam as well as a three-run homer (the best drive of the day was by his dad, Jamie, who came down from Pennsylvania–I hope he didn’t take the Turnpike); Adams hit .308 for the week. Howie Kendrick batted .400 while scoring seven runs and Trea Turner had an on base-percentage of .448. Kurt Suzuki drove in eight runs.  Max Scherzer struck out ten for the fifth time this year and the 87th time in his career, while Javy Guerra notched five scoreless innings over three appearances.

Last Week’s Humbled- Patrick Corbin has been sliding.  In his last three starts, the lefthander is 0-3 with an ERA of 11.37.  He had a rough outing against the White Sox (7 runs over 5 innings).  Kyle Barraclough had an ERA of 20.25 for the week before landing on the Injured List while Wander Suero struggled in spots.  Brian Dozier is hitting .211 and could be the odd man out whenever Ryan Zimmerman is healthy enough to return, as his at-bats at first base will move Howie Kendrick to second more often.

Game to Watch- Wednesday the Nats host Philadelphia with Max Scherzer squaring off against a former Nationals prospect for the second time in a week:  Nick Pivetta (dealt in the trade for Jonathan Papelgon) is 4-1 with an ERA of 5.00 over eight starts this year. It’s the semi-pivotal third game of the series.

Game to Miss- Saturday Patrick Corbin pitches against Mike Foltynewicz in prime time.  Both starters have hit snags in the early season:  while Corbin’s dropped three straight decisions Foltynewicz has an ERA of 5.53.  Stay late at the pool–which closes at 8 p.m. even though it stays light until nine this month. Really?

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So they didn’t win their series in San Diego. But back to back wins Saturday and Sunday preserve a split, and four consecutive homers in the victory at the Padres in the series finale give the Nationals hope.  Despite being under .500 over 40% of the way into the regular season, this team is finding its stride recently.  After winning four series over the first two months, the club won four straight series entering their split in San Diego.  Yes, the bullpen has issues-especially in the eighth inning.  But the season is far from over-and the Nats are far from irrelevant.

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia is far from fading, but the NL East leaders at 37-28 have lost six of ten and remain just one game ahead of Atlanta.  The Braves have won three in a row while moving within one game of the Phillies.  The New York Mets have won two straight and stand five games back while the Nationals at 30-35 remain seven games off the pace.  Miami at 23-40 is all aboard for 2025.

Harper’s Weekly- the former face of the franchise hit .280 last week with one RBI over 25 at bats, and is now batting .251 with 11 homers and 44 RBI-or a pace of .27 & 109 over 162 game season.  His 83 strikeouts keep him on a pace of 206 for the year-and Harper was caught stealing home over the weekend.  Is it 2030 yet?

O’s Woes- the Birds dropped four of six and at 20-65 remain on a pace of fewer than 50 wins. It’s one thing to be 20.5 games out of first place in the AL East; it’s another thing to be more games out of first than you have wins.  But the O’s glass is sometimes half-full, and this week it’s in the form of Pedro Severino:  the catcher is hitting .277 with 8 HR and 18 RBI over 37 games this year-after swatting four home runs in 105 games played with the Nationals. Must be the AL ballparks.

Last Week’s Heroes- Stephen Strasburg went 2-0 while notching his 100th career victory, and Max Scherzer struck out nine over seven innings while snapping a two game losing streak Saturday in San Diego. Tanner Rainey tossed 3.2 scoreless innings over four relief appearances.  Howie Kendrick hit .350 with six RBI and a team-high six runs scored, while Anthony Rendon drove in a team-high 8 RBI and Trea Turner belted a walkoff home run (his first HR since breaking his finger in April) to salvage their sweep of the White Sox.

Last Week’s Humbled- Juan Soto hit .190 while Yan Gomes batted .214.  Gerardo Parra and Michael A. Taylor went hitless in limited action (Parra had seven at bats while Taylor had four at bats).  Relievers Sean Doolittle and Kyle Barraclough posted 6.75 ERA’s while Doo surrendered the game-winning hit Friday in San Diego.

Game to Watch- Friday Max Scherzer pitches against Robbie Ray, as the current ace faces the former Nats prospect that was dealt some time ago.  No time to ask “What if?”- it’s time to ask “What now?”.  Let’s find out…

Game to Miss- Sunday Anibal Sanchez pitches against the Diamondbacks, and while Sanchez has been more than sharp since returning from the Injured List Sunday is the final day of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.  Tiger Woods may have won on that course in 2000, but Brooks Koepka is going for his third straight title-a feat not accomplished since 1905.  I’m headed to the couch… 

 

Out of the ashes from a Memorial Day meltdown against Miami, the Nationals won four of five to all of a sudden win three straight series for the first time all year.  Two series wins on the road. Add in a dominant performance by Max Scherzer (15 strikeouts over eight innings Sunday) and all of a sudden there’s hope.  Despite being seven games under .500. Despite having a bullpen that looks leaky at best. Despite an offense that has been known to underwhelm this year.  But in a division where the leaders have lost four in a row, anything goes.  Four games against the White Sox, four against San Diego and four against Arizona (three teams hovering around the .500 mark) before they face Philadelphia and Atlanta later this month.  Can this be the start of something?

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia’s four-game losing streak brings the NL East leaders back to earth.  Despite losing both games to the Nats last week, Atlanta’s just one game out of first place thanks to a 16-12 road record (best in the division).  The Mets are 28-31 and five games off the pace while the Nats are seven back at 26-33.  Miami’s printing “2024 contender” T-shirts as we speak.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce is back. The former face of the franchise hit .417 with two homers with nine RBI for the Phillies, bringing his total to .248 with 11 HR and a team-high 43 RBI on the season. Only five strikeouts last week increases his total to 78 over 59 games played (the pace decreases to 214 for the year).  Even though his team is hiccuping, it’s not his fault.

O’s Woes- the Birds own the first overall selection in the 2019 draft, and it appears as though they are on track to repeat the feat next year. The team’s 18-41 mark is the worst in the majors and the same mark they had after 59 games in 2018.  They’re also on pace to allow 334 home runs-which would almost lap the previous mark.  I had a chance to catch Saturday’s loss to the Giants, and while Camden Yards remains a ridiculously great place to watch a game only 19,000 people were on hand to watch a 4:05 game (so there’s no “too early” or “too late” excuses for those who stayed away).  A big chunk of those fans were wearing the orange of the visiting team.

Last Week’s Heroes- Howie Kendrick went 7-for-14 at the plate while driving in five,  Juan Soto scored a team-high nine runs and Anthony Rendon hit .350.  Max Scherzer struck out 21 over 14 innings in his two starts, while Stephen Strasburg K’d 11 over seven frames.  Adrian Sanchez came off of the Injured List to toss six scoreless at the beginning of the roadtrip.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Patrick Corbin-after tossing a complete game in his previous outing-returned to earth by allowing six runs over four innings in a loss to the Reds.  Kyle Barraclough and Kyle McGowin both had issues getting outs.  Adam Eaton hit 1-for-16 while Victor Robles and Yon Gomes posted sub-.200 weeks.

Game to Watch- Sunday Stephen Strasburg goes home, pitching at San Diego.  He’s enjoying a sneaky-sharp season and will either be pitching for his 100th career win or making his first start after reaching that mark.  The Padres counter with Chris Paddack (4-3, 2.40 ERA) in what shapes up as the best pitching matchup of the series.

Game to Miss- Friday Eric Fedde gets his turn against Matt Strahm (10 earned runs over his last 10.1 innings).  It’s the least compelling showdown with a 10 p.m. start to boot.

In light of the eight-way tie (really, an eight-way tie?!?!) at the National Spelling Bee- “Yes, I’d like to spell the word. R-E-S-O-L-U-T-I-O-N’. We dig back into the archives…

Previously appearing on May 30, 2009 on “Preston’s Perspective Blogspot Page”

You always think there will be another opportunity…the excitement of an improbable run often leads one to believe it’s the beginning of something special–and I thought a certain final four appearance would be the beginning of a dynastic run. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t know when it’s merely a one-shot deal.

Am I referring to the Denver Nuggets appearance in this year’s Western Conference Finals? Georgia Tech’s lethal weapon three that reached the Final Four in 1990? The Seattle Seahawks improbable run behind Curt Warner to the AFC Title game in 1983? Not exactly…I’m referring to my final four appearance in the Fifth Grade Spelling Bee.

The National Spelling Bee takes center stage this week…and just like athletics one has the thrill of victory (this years winning word for Kavya Shivashankar was “laodicean“)…the agony of defeat ( “maecenas” was the word that eliminated second place finisher Tim Ruiter)… with stall tactics (“origin?”…”pronunciation?”…”root”) that would make Dean Smith’s four corner offense appear up-tempo–I was hoping a judge would simply reply “just spell the damn word!”

My one shining moment? In the fifth grade I somehow advanced to the final four at Memorial School in Bedford NH. The fact I even qualified for the finals was an upset in and of itself; similar to the era of one-bid conferences in the NCAA basketball tournament–there were only automatic bids for each homeroom… and in my class stood the UCLA of spellers–defending 4th grade champion Matt Butterick. On his way to Harvard and retiring before the age of 30, somehow he forgot a “c” in excited.  We’re talking on the level of that year’s NCAA Tournament when #1 seeds DePaul and Oregon State lost in the round of 32.  All of a sudden there was a huge window of opportunity for the rank and file spellers of Ms. Mullen’s class.  On another note, I don’t know if there’s any truth to the rumor his loss like Maryland’s to NC State in 1974 spurred the inclusion of at-large qualifiers in future bees.

What followed instead of a glorious march to victory was an ugly battle of attrition…as runner up Mary Bradley and I kept misspelling words with the other unable to spell the next one correctly to wrap things up–like two punch-drunk fighters in the 14th round we staggered towards stupidity. Somehow I survived and advanced– I was NC State two years before Jimmy V cut down the nets–and I’m just thankful I didn’t run around Miss Mullen’s class looking for someone to hug.

The Finals would pit all nine home room winners during lunch recess…and like Syracuse playing the East regional in Albany I had somewhat of a home classroom advantage–the bee was held in Miss Maitland’s room where I took Social Studies–right next door to Mullen’s. I knew the feel of the carpet on my feet…the smell of the chalkboard…the acoustics of the room and how my voice echoed as I spelled words out…this was going to be the start of something special.

Slowly other automatic qualifiers were eliminated…and then there were four:  Dennis Mays, Chris Poppenga, Dave Proulx and myself. Proulx drew “kindergarden” and spelled it “kindergartan”.  The word then came to me-and I quickly slamdunked the word by saying “-den”.  I was ready to make my move! Bring on vacuum and serendipity-but wait! “Kindergarten”? It’s spelled “Kindergarden”–right? What the hell’s a “garten”? Years later I look back and realize I should have asked country of origin… 

Postscript–Dennis Mays wound up winning on “shepherd”…and I turned into the Spelling Bee’s version of the early 80’s DePaul Blue Demons… big on regular season reputation while suffering ridiculous upset postseason losses in future years  (“conferance”, “onamatapea” and “Krzyzewski” my downfall)… so my advice to the Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers–yes, you’re both young and represent the future of the Eastern Conference as well as the league– but you never know the size of your window of opportunity until its closed like the enrollment date to a private kindergarten.

It was the worst of times–and the best of times last week. Well, actually–not the best because it’s tough to celebrate wins over the NL East’s AAA team.  But you get what I mean. And just remember the Nats lost two of three to Miami last month.  Nothing like three wins to put some wind back in the team’s sails and give one hope as they cross the first marker of the Major League Marathon (July 4th & 31st plus Labor Day are the other three of note-it’s not like Golf’s Majors where there’s a fixed set- some include the All Star Break as well).  The bullpen remains beyond as bad as anyone feared it might be (the team allowed 49 runs in the eighth inning over the first 50 games of the season) and its ERA has spiked to a mind-boggling and save-blowing 7.25.  As the Nats wind down May they find themselves closer to last place (4.5 games ahead of Miami) than first (nine behind Philadelphia). They entered their eight game stretch against the sub-500 Mets and Marlins with conventional wisdom being the Nats could/would/might win five or six to jump back into the race.  Entering the series finale with the Marlins they need a win just to break even.  Thank goodness the schedule continues to stay semi-soft in June.

 

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia leads the NL East at 31-22 with Rhys Hoskins on fire (13 homers and 41 RBI) somewhat taking the heat off of their huge offseason acquisition.  They’ve also won seven of ten.  So has Atlanta-and the Braves are led by the power trio of Dansby Swanson, Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr (each has 30+ RBI at this time).  The Mets are .500 thanks in part to their four game sweep of the Nats-and how about Wilson Ramos?!?  The former Nats catcher is hitting .270 with 31 RBI.  Nice for the 31-year old who had issues staying healthy while in DC.  The Marlins are looking great for 2022–and this week’s trade bait is Caleb Smith who’s posted six quality starts and an ERA of 3.05.  I’m sure Derek Jeter can find a willing taker for Smith that will yield a batch of forgettable prospects.

Harper’s Weekly- the former face of the franchise hit .179 last week, dropping his batting average to .227 (eighth among Phillies who had played in 20+ games this year). His 73 strikeouts lead the majors and put him on a pace of 223.  It’s a good thing the Phillies are in first place.

O’s Woes- the Nats’ neighbors to the north continue to go south, with losses in seven games dropping the Birds to big league-worst 16-37.  For those who don’t want to do the math, that’s a pace of 49-113.  While they might not lose a record 121 games this year, the Orioles are definitely capable of setting another infamous mark.  The pitching staff has allowed 114 home runs over 53 games this year, or on a pace of 348 that would shatter the current record by over 100 homers.  And you thought the Nats had it bad…

Last Week’s Heroes- Juan Soto hit 13-26 with 2 homers and 8 RBI, while Juan Gomes batted .400 with 5 RBI.  Anthony Rendon remains red-hot, scoring a team-high 8 runs while driving in 5 more.  As it’s Rendon’s walk year, the longer this team remains sub-.500 the louder the whispers of trading Tony Two Bags will get.  Patrick Corbin tossed a complete game Saturday (just what the beleaguered bullpen needed) and Max Scherzer tossed six shutout innings earlier in the week.  Matt Grace pitched two scoreless innings over three games. Somebody check his temperature.

Last Week’s Humbled- rookie James Bourque made his major league debut Sunday, allowing 4 earned runs over two-thirds of an inning. He’ll have no issues fitting in here.  The usually sharp Sean Doolittle coughed up a three-run double and a three-run homer to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Just to show it’s not just a bullpen thing, Kyle McGowin allowed five runs over four innings in his start Friday.  Trea Turner hit .212 with six strikeouts while leading off and Victor Robles batted .200.

Game to Watch- Saturday the Nats play Cincinnati with Eric Fedde (1-0, 2.18 ERA) starting; the early-season call-up has pitched well in spots this year.  He’ll face former back-end rotation fixture Tanner Roark, who appears to have bounced back to his 2014 and 2016 form.

Game to Miss- Tuesday Stephen Strasburg starts the series opener against Atlanta, but we’re going to watch the series finale of “Fosse Verdon”.  FX’s series about the legendary choreographer/director and his collaborator/muse has been an interesting watch (it’s no “The Americans”, but then again what is?  And can we all admit that Renee is a spy?)-but if there’s one issue keeping it from perfection it’s that they didn’t spend nearly enough time on “Damn Yankees”.  Once again, from the top…

Another week, another slate of games where the Nationals were alternately inspiring and frustrating.  The team that started slow (12-16 on April 30) is now 7-11 in May, has lost nine of 15 series (with two splits in the mix) and has dropped 13 of 15 series openers. After winning their first series in almost a month, the Nats went out and turned a 5-4 game in the eighth inning against the Cubs into a 14-6 nightmare.  With Miami’s sweep over the weekend of the Mets, the Nats are now the only team in the majors without a three game-winning streak.  And there’s no possible way this team will be over .500 on Memorial Day.  Could there be a crisis of confidence in DC?

Dissecting the Division- the Phillies are 27-19 and have won three straight while the Braves have won seven of ten to improve to 25-22.  The Mets have lost five straight to slip to 20-25.  And the Nats are chasing all three teams in this race.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted .269 with two homers and six RBI to give the former face of the franchise .235-9-31 after 46 games.  He’s on a pace for 32 HR & 109 RBI if he doesn’t get hurt.  Harper’s also on a pace for 218 strikeouts; and he’ll most certainly be hurt to hear the boos from an impatient fan base if he continues to provide swings and misses.

O’s Woes- the Birds drop three of four in Cleveland, allowing 10+ runs twice to the Indians.  The 15-31 record is one game better than last year’s march to nowhere. The pitching is bad. But on the bright side, Dwight Smith Jr. and Trey Mancini are producing. Unfortunately, the AL East-leading New York Yankees are in town and the Orioles are an MLB-worst 6-18 at home this year.

Last Week’s Heroes- Gerardo Parra continues to be the hero the Nats need, hitting .500 with a homer and 3 RBI.  Anthony Rendon is also hitting his stride, batting .435 while scoring eight runs and driving in seven.  Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin each won their starts while allowing one earned run over eight innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- one rough week for Jeremy Hellickson, who goes 0-2 with an ERA of 9.00. Relievers Dan Jennings, Justin Miller, Kyle Barraclough and Matt Grace all post double-digit ERA’s-with Grace’s 15.43 the big number of the week.  Catcher Yon Gomes (now .206 on the season) continues to struggle with an 0-11 week.

Game to Watch- yes, the Nats are 2-8 in games Max Scherzer starts. And yes, his ERA of 3.72 over ten starts is his highest since 2012 (the year before his first Cy Young Award in Detroit). But it’s a duel against Jacob deGrom and for all we know it might just be to keep this team from falling ten games below .500.  Max-See-TV once more.

Game to Miss- the Nats aren’t just 2-13 in series openers, they’re also winless on Fridays since last August.  Jeremy Hellickson and his 6.23 ERA take to the mound on South Capitol Street against Pablo Lopez and his ERA of 5.06.  Last Friday’s game took over four hours.  Brace yourselves for another potentially long night.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

The Maryland Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse teams have made Memorial Day Weekend an annual tradition lately:  while coach Cathy Reese’s team has reached 10 straight Final Fours John Tillman’s guided his program to five straight and seven of eight National Semifinal rounds.  Each team stands one win away from getting back to the last weekend of the season, although their paths to this point have been markedly different. The Maryland Women entered the tournament as the #1 seed-even with their loss in the Big Ten Tournament to Northwestern-and their road to the Final four goes through the friendly confines of Maryland Stadium (construction has moved the team from the Maryland Field Hockey Lacrosse Complex this season).  The Maryland Men entered the tournament off consecutive losses to arch-rival Johns Hopkins and were the only unseeded team to advance past the first weekend. Their road to the Final Four involves a trip to Towson (and a 14-13 overtime win last Sunday) and now a neutral site-game against a favored foe.

 

Maryland Men (12-4) vs. No. 3 Virginia (14-3), noon, Hempstead NY, ESPNU.  None of the seniors on this team were in the program when these two schools were annual ACC foes, but junior Jared Bernhardt knows better. “I remember watching this game when my brothers (Jake and Jesse) were here.  Definitely a huge rivalry in the ACC. It (still) means a lot-you know obviously we’re not in the ACC anymore, but it’s a big game.”  Bernhardt leads the Terps with 47 goals this season and had two against Towson-including the season-saving score with three seconds left in regulation.  Senior Louis Dubick scored the game-winner that afternoon, and the third-generation Terp doesn’t have to be taught the Terps-Cavaliers history. “My grandfather’s name is above my locker, and my dad’s (name) is above the locker next to me.”  I’m sure both have filled him in on the Terrapins’ onetime nearest ACC neighbor.

Rivalry or not, the Cavaliers boast a high-octane offense that ranks fifth in the nation in scoring.  “They have great parts:  very athletic, very dynamic. I wouldn’t say they’re the most complicated team- but that’s a credit to Virginia,” Tillman said, “They kind of line up and they play. And you have to stop them. They’re a hard team to stop.” Get used to these guys, too: sophomores Matt Moore (38 goals and 39 assists) and Ian Laviano (43 goals) are leading the Cavaliers in points and goals, respectively.

 

No. 1 Maryland Womens (19-1) vs. Denver, 7 p.m. College Park, BTN.  The Explorers may be unseeded, but they aren’t unranked. At number 17 in the nation, they’re the ninth straight ranked foe for the Terps and also bring the top scoring defense (6.79 goals allowed per game) into College Park.  But Maryland is fresh from disposing of Stony Brook, who play zone defense as well. “They’re zone’s different than Stony Brook-but Denver does it and does it well,” said coach Cathy Reese (who incidentally got her first head coaching job with the Explorers from 2004-06).

After falling behind 4-0 against the Seawolves and 10-4 in the Big Ten Tournament Finals, coach Reese is looking for a stronger start this time.  “We’re focusing on moving the ball -working as a unit offensively and making sure we’re looking for the right feed, right look,” sophomore midfielder Grace Griffin said, “Even if the first look isn’t there that we’re looking for the second look and really working the defense and finding those gaps.” Griffin ranks fifth on the team with 38 goals and 47 points;  senior Jen Giles and graduate student Erica Evans have 53 goals apiece to pace an attack that averages 15.95 goals per game (fifth best in Division I).  And while the major storyline may be how the Terps try to solve Denver’s D, Maryland ranks third in the nation in scoring defense.  Could we see a defensive duel under the lights at Maryland Stadium?