Archives for posts with tag: AL East

These are interesting times.  Another weird week is over as the Nationals get swept and then almost pull off a sweep of their own.  One crazy comeback, one walk-off homer and one offensive extravaganza all in one series.  And that was supposed to be the back-burner to the clash of contenders.  Yet after all of the chills, thrills, spills and meetings– the Nats remain five games back in the NL East.  Exactly where they were one week ago. Rinse and repeat.

Meetings and Comebacks- the Nats after getting swept by Boston (not the worst thing given the Red Sox own the best record in the bigs) the team called the famed “players-only meeting”.  We’ve seen these not work out with alarming lack of success, and after trailing last-place Miami 9-0 the next day it appeared as we were only a Jonathan Papelbon choke-hold away from the classic Nats title defense implosion.  Only Trea Turner turned it on with a solo homer in the fourth inning.  You could say that was the genesis of the comeback as that put the team on the board.  And then Turner turned it on again with an RBI grounder in the fifth, a grandslam in the sixth and finally a two-run single in the seventh.  The 14-12 win was the biggest comeback in Washington Nationals history…and if there is an October July 5th will be a date circled on many fans’ calendars.

All Stars- Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper make their sixth appearances in the upcoming midsummer classic while Sean Doolittle gets his second invitation (he made the 2014 game while with Oakland).  Trea Turner could still make the squad as he’s one of five NL players in the “Final Vote”.  Anthony Rendon finishes out of the mix probably because of the early time he missed to injury.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta and Philadelphia are tied for the NL East lead…and both have a good chance to keep their respective five game cushions over the Nats.  The Braves after losing four of five are home this week to face sub-500 Toronto and an Arizona team that’s dropped seven of ten.  Philadelphia’s on the road but plays four games against the Mets, three at Miami, and a make-up game with the Orioles (three of the bottom five teams in the majors).  The race at the bottom of the division is becoming just as entertaining as the Mets and Marlins are separated by one game.

O’s Woes- an 0-6 week drops the Birds to 24-65, meaning that in order to avoid their first 100-loss campaign in 30 years they’d need to sustain a 39-34 finish.  The Orioles haven’t been five games over .500 since May 26th…of last year.  The “tragic number” counting down their elimination reaches 36…and it doesn’t get any easier with four games against the New York Yankees over the next three days.

Last Week’s Heroes- Mark Reynolds not only hit .625;  the infielder belted a walk-off homer Friday night, notched 10 RBI Saturday and tossed one-third inning of relief Sunday.  Michael A. Taylor goes 7-for-15 at the plate while Trea Turner tallied and 8 RBI game in Thursday’s comeback.  Sean Doolittle notched a save and a win while tossing two scoreless innings while Max Scherzer tallied his first win over a month.

Last Week’s Humbled- Tanner Roark shaved his beard into a Chester A. Arthur getup before going with the full shave…to no avail.  The righthander went 0-2 while allowing 13 runs over 11 innings.  In doing so he dropped to 3-11 on the year…tying his career high for losses in a season.  Nobody was expecting Roark to win 20 games this year, but the fact that the previously reliable starter is floundering is cause for concern as we approach the dog days of summer.  Especially with Stephen Strasburg still on the shelf.

Game to Watch- Thursday the Nats visit the New York Mets, and Max Scherzer takes his 11-5 mark to the mound against Steven Matz (3.31 ERA).  Max currently leads the majors in strikeouts with 177, is tied for fourth with 11 wins and ranks sixth in MLB with a 2.33 ERA.  Must-see TV on Thursday.

Game to Miss- Friday is Tanner Roark’s turn and the Mets have yet to designate a starter.  It’s rough seeing Roark go through the year he’s had so far…and one wonders if, how and when he’ll be able to turn 2018 around.  I’m okay with skipping this baby step back to normalcy…or (heaven forbid) another tough outing.

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We’ve seen this before- haven’t we?  The Yankees are dominating the American League and Washington DC is hoping for a winner.  The team with plenty of heart is having an inconsistent season when all of a sudden a player drops in the district from out of nowhere and starts to produce immediately.  Sound familiar?  The musical “Damn Yankees” was a broadway musical in 1955 and a movie in 1958, and today’s version of Joe Hardy (aka “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO”) is Juan Soto (“beardless Juan from the Dominican”?).  Has anybody checked to see if a middle-aged local real estate agent named Juan Boyd has disappeared?  Is there anybody resembling Mr. Hand from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” hanging out around the ballpark?  Has anyone spotted a petal-pusher wearing temptress named Lola in the seats?  Does manager Davey Martinez spontaneously break out in song?  You gotta have hope…

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta despite dropping two of three to the Orioles own a three game lead over the Nationals in the NL East.  The Braves are getting a big boost from former Nats catcher Kurt Suzuki (.400 last week–and .282 with 8 HR and 26 RBI for the year).  Philadelphia moved a half game ahead of the Nats by taking four of six games, including two of three against the Nats.  Maikel Franco (.556 with 2 HR and 4BI) and Carlos Santana (3 HR with 7 RBI) have been crushing Nats’ pitching in the six games they’ve played this year.  The Mets are chasing Miami for last place–and their six game losing streak puts them within a game and a half of the cellar.  The Marlins are 11-11 this month…which is better than the Nats (who are 8-12 in June).

O’s Woes- don’t look now, but the Birds actually had a non-losing week at 3-3.  At 23-53, they now need to only go 40-46 to avoid a 100-loss campaign.  Chris Davis and Colby Rasmus each homered upon their respective returns to the lineup, which is a good sign as the weather gets warmer.  This O’s team was built to blast homers, and their lack of early production was more unexpected than the rotation regression.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .444 with 3 HR and 7 RBI.  Michael A. Taylor now owns the hottest bat in the outfield after batting .438 with 2 runs and 4 RBI.  Juan Soto remains unexplainable as the 19-year old holds his own at the plate (an OBP of .500).  Sean Doolittle notched 3 saves and Max Scherzer struck out 9 in his only start of the week.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Tanner Roark allowed 6 runs over 4 and a third innings and now has an ERA of 7.40 this month.  Right now he’s 3-8 and has never had more than 11 losses over a full season in his major league career.  Mark Reynolds went hitless in 12 at bats…even more of an issue with Matt Adams on the DL.  Pedro Severino hit 1-for-19…and although it’s his defense the team is paying for that’s a gaping hole deep in the lineup to deal with.

Game to Watch- Monday night the team visits Tampa Bay to play a bad team in a worse stadium.  But it’s the best pitching matchup we’ll see all week with Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08 ERA) facing Brad Snell (9-4, 2.48).  Plus we get to see the DH in play.  If you’re too tired from the late Sunday game…rest up for next Sunday’s series finale in Philadelphia when Gio squares off with a slumping Jake Arrietta.

Game to Miss- normally I’d shy away from a non-divisional game, but Max Scherzer pitches Tuesday so I’m tuned into Nats- Tampa Bay bigtime.  Saturday Jefry Rodriguez is slated to pitch in Philadelphia at 6:05 while many of us will be out on the course at TPC Avanel following or covering the Quicken Loans National.  This is probably the last year the PGA will have an event in this area, and what began with such promise will likely end with a quiet exit to the midwest.  It’s a shame the tournament didn’t get a better week with regards to the calendar from a placement or weather standpoint. Fore!

Yes, the Nationals are in the midst of the early middle part of their season (not to be confused with the middle early part of their year).  But this week, month, season and year have been swiped away by the Washington Capitals and their first ever NHL championship.  Last Thursday, the Caps captured the Stanley Cup by rallying on the road at Vegas.  And downtown Washington, DC came alive in an incredible melting pot of fans from all over the metropolitan area.  So while the Nats make their charge towards a potential fifth postseason in seven years, let’s marvel at the force of nature that was the Caps since April 12.  And sit back as these guys celebrate.  A championship in the major professional sports (sorry Kastles and United) hasn’t happened in DC since 1992, when the Redskins were the only local pro team to actually play its games in the District.  Amazing how things change as the ‘Skins are the ones who are now outside city limits.  And this is the FIRST in franchise history.  Before Philadelphia won the 1974 Stanley Cup, Flyers coach Fred Shero wrote on the dressing room chalkboard: “Win today and we walk together forever.”  Whatever happens this summer with player exits or next season as the Caps mount a title defense, this team will walk together forever.  So let’s celebrate was one magical spring.  Rock the Red…

Max Factor- according to ESPN.COM, the next home start for Max Scherzer falls on Thursday, June 21 against the Orioles. Plan accordingly.

You Can’t Spell Revolving Door with out “DL”- the Nats could be getting help at the plate with Daniel Murphy potentially returning this week as the DH at the New York Yankees.  Adam Eaton returned to the field Saturday and scored a pair of runs while batting 1-for-4.  But the DL taketh just as it giveth away, as Stephen Strasburg and Brandon Kintzler join the wounded.

Dissecting the Division- the Nats and Atlanta are tied after the Braves dropped four of six on their west coast swing.  Just like the Mets plateaued and then cratered could we be seeing Atlanta ebb a little?  It’s unlikely as the Braves’ next 14 games are coming against clubs with losing records.  Philadelphia has lost seven of nine to slide three games off the pace…and 15 of their next 18 games are against foes with winning marks.  The Mets and Marlins are a combined 4-13 this month to bring up the rear.

O’s Woes- pick your poison in the sweep at Toronto. Would you rather lose in extra innings on a bases loaded walk after stranding 13 on base like the Birds did Saturday?  Or get the drama out of the way early in a 13-3 loss Sunday when Alex Cobb coughed up nine runs and left in the fourth inning?  The O’s are a big league worst 19-45…and need to go 44-54 (.449 winning percentage for a team that’s winning 29.7% of the time so far this year) to avoid the dreaded 100-loss campaign.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon celebrated his birthday in style Wednesday by going 4-5 with 3 RBI.  Juan Soto continues to mandate playing time by going .333 with five runs scored.  Max Scherzer went 1-1 while striking out 22 and walking three.  Tanner Roark tossed a solid outing. Sean Doolittle notched two saves in two opportunities.

Last Week’s Humbled- Stephen Strasburg and Brandon Kintzler both land on the disabled list after short outings.  Pedro Severino went 0-for-12 at the plate.  Bryce Harper hit .190 with one walk and 7 strikeouts.  Trea Turner hit 4 for 21 with the bulk of his at-bats near or at the top of the order.

Game to Watch- We didn’t get any resolution in last month’s DC series with the New York Yankees, so here’s hoping there aren’t any rainouts this week.  Tuesday Tanner Roark is coming off of a solid outing and is actually better on the road (3.29 ERA) than at home (3.86) this year.  Ageless C.C. Sabathia might not be on pace to equal last year’s 14 wins, but has an ERA lower than any he’s finished with since 2012.

Game to Miss- Sunday Roark pitches in Toronto as the Nats wrap up their roadtrip.  But golf’s US Open takes center stage.  Sorry, Tanner.

After today the Nationals will no longer have the fail-safe phrase at their disposal.  Nothing writes off inefficient offense or porous pitching better than “it’s only April”.  Even though these games count in the standings as much as the games in August and September.  And while one shouldn’t panic at 7-9…one should have cause for concern at 12-16.  They rank a middling 17th in runs scored…and although one can explain that by realizing they’re still missing arguably three of their best four hitters (Eaton-Murphy-Rendon), the regression of Ryan Zimmerman (.191 with 13 RBI in 27 games) isn’t going away.  The bullpen’s ERA of 4.91 is 25th best and has been healthy for the most part.  May means matchups with contenders like Arizona, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers plus surprising Philadelphia.  It’s only April for just one more day…

Dissecting the Division- the New York Mets remain the problem that won’t go away atop the standings after going 3-3 on their road trip.  Yoenis Cespedes ranks second in the NL with 25 RBI while Asdrubal Cabrera’s .340 batting average is one point behind St. Louis’ Tommy Pham.  That’s a good duo to build your lineup around.  Atlanta and Philadelphia are both 1.5 games back;  the Braves rank second in the majors with 151 runs while the Phillies’ 16 quality starts is tied for sixth most in the bigs.  The Nats are 3-3 against the Braves and 2-4 against the Mets this year;  they play Philadelphia for the first time this Friday.

O’s Woes- the Orioles won a series for the first time in three weeks by taking two of three from Detroit.  Anything to stop the profuse bleeding.  There are still fundamental problems facing this fifth place club, from combustible starting pitching (their 5.34 ERA is third-worst in MLB) to underwhelming offense (26th in runs scored, 27th in batting average and 29th in on base percentage).  Will their west coast road trip represent a different direction or a disaster?

Last Week’s Heroes-  Max Scherzer struck out 10 and helped end a Nats losing streak.  We’ll overlook how he’s no longer hitting over .300 for the moment.  Sean Doolittle tossed three scoreless innings.  Andrew Stevenson hit .500 with 5 RBI while Howie Kendrick batted .450 with 2 homers…justifying a move to the #4 spot in the order.

Last Week’s Humbled- Moises Sierra hit .154 with 6 strikeouts while Pedro Severino hit .167.  Stephen Strasburg allowed 5 earned runs in 6.1 innings of work.  Manager Davey Martinez’ strategy and tactics have drawn concern.

Game to Watch- Sunday Max Scherzer pitches against Philadelphia in the series finale against the guy many wanted the Nats to sign-Jake Arrieta (who happens to be 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA).  What could have been…

Game to Miss- Saturday Tanner Roark and Vince Velasquez is your mound matchup…while at Capital One Arena the Caps will be hosting Pittsburgh.  Virginia Gold Cup rages as well.  Oh, and there’s also that Kentucky Derby thing…

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.

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…