Archives for posts with tag: AL East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Nationals played the Chicago Cubs in a four game series last week that while not being a duel of division leaders could serve as a potential playoff preview (even though the Cubs have been playing tag with .500 this year they’re just two games out of first place in the Central).  And while they split with the defending World Series champs, the series caused more concern than confidence.  While they won handily in the middle two games (by a combined 14-5 score) the Nats bookended the series with a pair of 5-4 losses.  Defeats where they failed to execute the little things (errors one night, a bullpen blowup another).  October baseball magnifies all of the little things…and with a chance to show the world they could execute on all cylinders the Nats came up short.

Plan C- so much for Trea Turner lighting up the basepaths this summer.  Before suffering a non-displaced fracture in his right wrist, the Nats shortstop was tops in the Majors with 35 steals (22 of them coming in June).  The offensive engine will now be on its third sparkplug this season (remember Adam Eaton?) and while Brian Goodwin and Michael A. Taylor have had their moments this year neither is what Turner was.  See you in September…

All Star Central- I know the midsummer classic doesn’t drop by the district until next year, but the Nats are sending five to Miami.  Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy were each voted as starters by the fans.  Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg make the roster as well…while Anthony Rendon is one of the five NL finalists for the final roster spot.  Vote early and often.

Dissecting the Division- is anyone worried about Atlanta?  The Braves have inched a little closer by winning 11 of 15…and now stand seven and a half games back in second place.  All this while ranking 18th in the majors in runs scored and 20th in ERA.  With Freddie Freeman on the shelf due to injury.  Just like the Nats regained their mojo a few weeks ago by taking three of four from the Mets, they can kick the Braves back into the land of non-contention this week during their four game series in DC.

O’s Woes- after taking four of six from Tampa Bay and Toronto on the road, the Birds dropped two of three to the Rays at Camden Yards over the weekend.  Halfway through the season the team is 40-41…and closer to last place in the AL East than a playoff spot.  Seven games on the road take manager Buck Showalter’s team into the All Star Break;  Milwaukee leads the NL Central while Minnesota’s only three games back in the AL Central.  There’s been plenty of talk about if the O’s are buyers or sellers as the trading deadline approaches.  This week could go a long ways toward determining their status.

Last Week’s Heroes- we’re here to praise Trea Turner, not to bury him.  The sparkplug hit .429 and stole 7 bases before his injury.  Bryce Harper homered twice in prime time Sunday (helping avert a sweep in St. Louis) and hit .346.  Max Scherzer went 2-0 with an ERA of 0.69, striking out 18 over 13 innings.  Gio Gonzalez was almost as impressive, posting an ERA of 1.38 over two starts with 17 strikeouts over 13 frames.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Wieters each hit .167.  Tanner Roark’s June swoon ends with a three-inning effort (he went 1-4 this month with an 8.31 ERA) where he allowed three earned runs.  Relievers Blake Treinen, Jacob Turner and Matt Grace each had ERA’s of 10+.

Game to Watch- Friday Max Scherzer starts against Atlanta’s ageless R.A. Dickey.  Every Max start is must-watch.  And you can’t beat a July Friday night in DC.

Game to Miss- Tuesday Joe Ross pitches against the Mets’ Seth Lugo.  It’s an 11:05 AM start.  Go to the pool…

The Nationals enter the final leg of their three-city, nine-game roadtrip with five wins in six games…but it’s not the 5-1 start everybody’s focused on.  Can the bullpen turn itself around?  Was Bryce Harper trying to throw his helmet away or at Hunter Strickland?  And why didn’t the term “Malachi Crunch” return to our lexicon?

Division Discussion- once again the dust clears and the Nats own first place.  This time by ten and a half games.  Atlanta, Miami and the New York Mets are all fighting over second place while Philadelphia brings up the rear.  When do we start calculating magic numbers?

AL East Beast- meanwhile the Nats’ interleague neighbors to the north are in the middle of the toughest race in the bigs.  A seven game losing streak drops the Orioles from nipping at the New York Yankees’ heels to battling Boston for second.  The O’s are one of two MLB teams with a winning record that own a negative run differential.

One Messy Pen- the Nationals’ bullpen now ranks last in the majors in ERA (5.15)…even though they’re 11th with nine blown saves.  Sunday saw Shawn Kelley cough up a grand slam yet earn a save.  Last week on WTOP.com our digital sports editor Noah Frank dissected the relief corps in an interesting read.  This isn’t a problem yet…but this will always be there until the Nats trade for Marc Melancon in late July.

Crime and Punishment- how about that beaning and brawl by the bay?  Thank goodness Hunter Strickland carried a grudge through two and a half years.  It had me thinking of who I upstaged while playing freeze-tag and hospital bombardment in the fourth grade  (John Coston, I am really sorry if I hurt your feelings).  The beaning was just the start:  as Harper raced to the mound he tossed his helmet…but was he chucking it aside or trying to hurl it at Strickland?  It had the feel of an ill-advised frisbee throw.  Add in the collision that smacked of a “Happy Days” demolition derby, catcher Buster Posey having nothing to do with any of the proceedings, and Strickland’s teammates dragging him into the dugout.  This was one fun-filled fight.  And then the suspensions were handed out:  four games (shortened to three) for Harper and six for Strickland.  Going inside the math, Harper had appeared in 90% of the Nats games and played 8+ innings in those outings…making his suspension roughly “36 innings”.  Strickland had appeared in 38% of the Giants games, and averaged .75 innings per outing.  Thus his “projected miss” over six games would be in the neighborhood of 1.96 innings.  All’s fair in love and baseball…

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman hit .440 with 3 HR and 9 RBI…while Daniel Murphy batted .500 with 1 HR and 7 RBI.  Michael A. Taylor is striking out less (5 times in 24 at bats) and Brian Goodwin hit his first career home run.  Tanner Roark won both of his starts while striking out 10 over 14.2 innings…and Max Scherzer struck out 11 while tossing a complete game five-hitter.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Joe Ross had another rough start (6 earned runs over 3 innings) but he’s slated to pitch again this Thursday.  He’s only made six starts so you could say his 7.34 ERA is just a snapshot…for now.  Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley both have seen better days out of the bullpen.  Jayson Werth before his foot injury was hitting .182.  The week Bryce Harper was hit by a pitch saw the rightfielder go hitless in 10 at bats.

Game to Watch- Wednesday the Nats wrap up their roadtrip with a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Stephen Strasburg takes his 7-1 mark (2.91 ERA) to the mound against LA’s Clayton Kershaw and his 7-2 record (2.28 ERA).  Remember the Monday night matchup we were all looking forward to last June 20th?  The one where Strasburg was scratched after lifting too much during his off-day?  We get that showdown Wednesday at 3:10.  I’ll be watching.

Game to Miss- Guess what, boys and girls at MLB scheduling?  It gets really hot here in June.  Especially during the middle of the day…like around noon.  Saturday the Nats host Texas at 12:05…and I think the pools around the beltway will have the right combination of kids and idiotic adults.  I’ll be reading “The Miniaturist” and “Shattered” this summer… getting a headstart on both with sunscreen Saturday.

 

 

 

Rain interrupted the Nationals inter-league series with the Orioles last week…while their bullpen is weighing down their 2017 hopes.  The relief corps less than one-quarter into the season has already blown 8 save opportunities (they had 14 blown saves in all of 2016) and owns the fourth worst ERA in the majors.  Initial closer Blake Treinen has watched his ERA balloon to 8.10…and he’s not the most flammable arm coming out in the late innings (Joe Blanton’s holding strong at 9.49).  Look no further than last years San Francisco Giants:  they owned the best record at midseason before 30 blown saves turned them into a wildcard club…and the pen came back one more time to bite them in a Game 4 loss to the Chicago Cubs.  It’s only May…but a leaky pen usually gets worse before it gets better.  Buckle up…it could wind up being a very bumpy summer.

Dissecting the Division– after taking two of three from Philadelphia, the Nats are seven and a half games ahead of the pack in the NL East.  They’re the only team over .500 in the quintet…and the only team with even a .500 win over the last ten games is the oft-injured New York Mets.  Will a race that never starts be a help or a hindrance for a team focused on producing in October?

Oh My Goodness- after coming to Nats Park and chanting “OH” during the anthem, Orioles fans find themselves saddled with a four game losing streak and a much tighter AL East.  They’re a half game behind the Yankees (who own the best run differential in the bigs) and three and a half games ahead of Boston in the East.  All this, while ranking 17th in MLB in scoring and 25th in opponent’s batting average.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .417 with 3 homers and 7 RBI while inking a 21+ million dollar contract for next season.  Did we mention he delivered a walk-off homer in Saturday’s win?  Michael A. Taylor homered twice, with both blasts coming in huge spots of wins over the Orioles and Phillies.  Matt Albers tossed three scoreless innings over four appearances, notching a win in relief as well.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman hit .136 from the cleanup spot while Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner also batted under .200 for the week.  Shawn Kelley’s 20.25 ERA over two appearances let Enny Romero’s 7.71 fly under the radar.

Game to Watch- Saturday in Atlanta Max Scherzer meets Bartolo Colon in a duel for the ages.  Meaning that the Braves pitcher is 43 years old and has enjoyed a career that actually lasted longer than the life of the Braves’ former home Turner Field (1997-2016).  After two starts where Scherzer was let down by either his offense or his bullpen, Max may be looking to leave no stone unturned in pursuit of win #5.  Colon is 1-4 with an ERA of 7.22…and may be one or two starts away from Jeremy Guthrie territory.

Game to Miss- Wednesday in Pittsburgh the Nats will trot out “TBD”, meaning they’ll be calling up somebody from the minors or having Jacob Turner on the mound against hard-luck Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole.  Either way, I’m watching “The Americans” from the previous night because I can’t justify preempting a Stephen Strasburg start.

Apologies for getting the weekly feature underway two weeks later than normal.  Who’s ready for a semi-informative and occasionally amusing look at the Nats from a guy who is at the ballpark more often than not?

The 7-5 start has given fans plenty of thrills (Daniel Murphy picking up from where he left off in 2016), chills (Bryce Harper screeching home from first on a double in Friday’s win over Philadelphia) and spills (a leaky bullpen that’s less than ideal). Welcome to the 162-step marathon that involves plenty of missteps in every direction.

Causes for Confidence- an offense that leads the majors in OPS, ranks second in batting average and seventh in runs scored.  The addition of Matt Wieters extends the lineup as many thought it would…and even with Wilmer Difo still finding his bat this team has the potential to bring buckets of runs to the table.

Causes for Concern- the bullpen ranks 25th in ERA and has the fifth most blown saves (3) in the early season.  There’s the thinking that this is just an early hiccup…while the other school of thought labels the subpar start as the beginning of a season-long problem.

Dissecting the Division- it’s never too early to freak out about the rest of the NL East.  The Nats are tied for first with Miami and the New York Mets are one-half game behind the leaders.  Two weeks into the season, the club owns the third best run differential (-2) as a 17-3 loss to Philadelphia will cook the numbers a little bit.  Nobody has cause to panic in April–unless you’re 2-10 Toronto.

Meanwhile in the Other East- how about those plucky Orioles?  Despite not having Fort Knox at their disposal like the Yankees and Red Sox, Buck Showalter’s team owns a half-game lead in the division with the best record in the bigs.  Even without Chris Tillman, the Birds are getting it done (although the pitching staff allows the second-highest batting average in the majors).  Now Zach Britton’s on the disabled list…and they still take three of four from the Blue Jays.  Break out the Old Bay…

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .391 with 2 HR and 8 RBI…and scored the game-winning run Friday night against the Phillies before smacking a walk-off homer Sunday.  This is the Bryce of 2015 that was a registered force of nature.  Chris Heisey makes the most of his opportunities, consistently delivering productive at-bats.  Gio Gonzalez tossed 14 and a third innings over two starts, posting an ERA of 1.88.  Shawn Kelley posted two wins in relief, striking out four over three and a third innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- Wilmer Difo is NOT Trea Turner.  Nobody expected the infielder to light up the league with the Nats’ leadoff man on the DL…but hitting .190 with six strikeouts and no walks is far from ideal.  Anthony Rendon hit .240 last week with four strikeouts…hopefully his RBI double last Friday is the start of a turnaround.   Joe Blanton pitched in three games and allowed a home run in each.

Game to Watch- Friday the defending NL East champs face the 2015 division winners for the first time this year.  Tanner Roark (2-0, 3.50 ERA) has a 12-to-2 strikeout to walk ratio and will pitch against a Jacob deGrom who’s coming off a 13-strikeout performance.

Game to Miss- Wednesday the novelty of the Braves’ new ballpark will be worn off…as no doubt Atlanta fans will be clamoring for a new venue.  It’s not Joe Ross’ fault he’s making his 2017 debut the same night the Capitals visit Toronto and the Wizards host Atlanta.  I’ll be curious to see how he fares, but one will be rocking a different red that night.

There are four major steps to winning a World Series (actually a fifth if you take the wildcard route, but why bog ourselves down further?)…and winning the division is perhaps the most arduous.  I’m not saying that winning 3 of 5 or 4 of 7 games against a top-flight ballclub isn’t a challenge; nor is prevailing in a winner-take-all one game wildcard showdown (I thought we weren’t going there).  But to be the best team over 162 games with all its ebbs, flows, peaks, valleys, and sideways lurches takes a certain grit.  The 2012 and 2014 Nationals had that grit…and so does the current edition.  Bring on the playoffs…as they begin the mopping-up segment of the season.

Playoff Possibilities, Senior Circuit- the Nats will play the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Divisional Series as the Chicago Cubs already have home field locked up.  They lead LA by a game and a half for home field in that series.  The Cubs will play the wildcard winner…currently the New York Mets lead San Francisco by one game for home field for that game, while St Louis is one half game behind the Giants.  Should the three teams tie for the two playoff spots there would be a musical chair situation that would have either the Cardinals or Mets hosting the first game with the other team getting to choose to host the second game or be on the road for game one.  The two winners would then meet for the wildcard. I’m going to need a nap.

Playoff Possibilities, AL Version- the Orioles had a chance to catch Boston for the AL East lead this past week but instead were swept at home by the Red Sox (going 2-8 at home to Boston this year).  They were bedeviled once again by David Ortiz (.333, 8 HR & 19 RBI this year vs BAL) and Mookie Betts (.408, 9 HR & 21 RBI).  If somehow the O’s face the Sox in the playoffs…a little hint: DO NOT PITCH TO EITHER OF THESE MEN.  Roll the ball to the plate if you need to.  The Orioles currently own the second wildcard spot in the AL, one and a half games behind Toronto in the race for home field and one and a half games ahead of Detroit in the race for not going home for the winter.  AL West champ Texas awaits the winner–although Boston could easily slip past the Rangers in the race for home field (they’re tied at 92-64, with TEX holding the tiebreaker of best intra-division record) advantage.  Cleveland’s magic number to win the Central is one.

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilson Ramos hit .409 while Danny Espinosa led the team in runs scored (4), homers (2) and RBI (6).  Tanner Roark despite being tagged with a loss allowed just one run over seven innings in his lone start of the week.

Last Week’s Humbled- the injury bug has turned into a major virus.  Bryce Harper’s thumb, Daniel Murphy’s leg and Stephen Strasburg’s elbow remain under the microscope. While many were already writing off the Nats pitcher for the postseason, they can ill afford to lose either one of their most productive bats for any stretch of October.

Game to Watch- Tuesday Max Scherzer pitches against the organization that drafted him.  The Nats ace’s pursuit of 20 wins remains alive… with there always being the chance of something special each time it’s his turn in the rotation.

Game to Miss- Miami comes to DC for the final weekend of the season…and rookie AJ Cole starts the series opener.  Just as a team assured of a playoff berth sets up its rotation and lineup for the postseason, you should set your viewing habits in rhythm.