Archives for posts with tag: AL East

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.

Nineteen games remain in the 2016 season with the Nationals magic number to clinch the NL East standing at 11.  Multiple pitchers and position players have chances at reaching magic numbers of their own, with Daniel Murphy the first to cross one last week when he passed the 100-RBI mark. Who else has a chance to hit money marks as the season dwindles?  Murphy needs 5 homers to reach 30 (a suddenly warming-up Bryce Harper needs 6) for the year while the 200-hit (25 shy) and 100-run (14 needed) plateaus likely won’t be met by the infielder.  Harper is just two walks shy of reaching 100 for the second straight year.  Anthony Rendon is 3 doubles shy of 40 and 3 homers away from 20 on the season.  Ben Revere (7) and Trea Turner (6) are within shouting distance of 10 steals… and Turner is also 7 steals away from 30 for the year.  Wilson Ramos is currently hitting .302…but the 29-year old is hitting .259 since the All Star Break and .143 in September.  On the pitching side of the equation, Max Scherzer may have seen his dream of 20 wins disappear with Saturday’s no-decision…but Tanner Roark will have chances to match and exceed his career high of 15 wins.  Roark can also pitch 200 innings for the first time in his career .  Unfortunately, Stephen Strasburg’s run at 20 which became his run at 18 may be stuck at 15…as the righthander is on the shelf again with elbow issues.  Mark Melancon has 41 saves this year…and perhaps may see the ball 9 more times to give him a shot at the half-century.  Happy hunting, gentlemen…

 

 

Dissecting the Division…with Potential Playoff Partners- the Nats lead the New York Mets by nine games with 19 remaining in the season.  Don’t discount the defending division champs-despite missing half of their opening day lineup the kids from Queens have won 16 of 21.  Miami may have won three of four after dropping 10 of 11, but the Marlins still stand 14 games back.  The Nats eliminated Atlanta from the division race last Monday; Saturday they eliminated Philadelphia.  At this point the Nats have home-field advantage over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, while San Francisco would host the New York Mets for the right to play the Chicago Cubs.

AL East Reset- last week the Orioles trailed Boston for the wildcard and Toronto for the division; those two roles have been flip-flopped with the O’s trailing the Red Sox by two games in the AL East while remaining tied with the Blue Jays for the wildcard.  Buck Showalter’s team is 6-6 against both teams with 7 games remaining against each.  By the way, the Sox & Jays have three games remaining and are tied 8-8.  I’m looking forward to a fantastic/frustrating finish.

Last Week’s Heroes- Trea Turner hit .400 with 3 homers and RBI…including a walk-off blast Friday night that was his first walk-off hit of any kind since he was in Little League. Daniel Murphy hit .455…and Anthony Rendon tallied  7 RBI.  Max Scherzer and Anthony Rendon each went 1-0 with no-decisions…as Gio bounced back from his worst start since the All Star Break to toss seven solid innings in the series finale with Philadelphia.

Last Week’s Humbled- Wilson Ramos hit .118, Ryan Zimmerman hit .100…while Jayson Werth and Danny Espinosa also bat under .200 for the week.  Stephen Strasburg’s return ended early…and now the righthander’s 2016 is in doubt.  He missed out on the 2012 playoffs…and it would be another cruel twist of fate if Stras is on the shelf again this October.

Game to Watch- Tanner Roark has been on fire since the end of May…posting a 10-4 mark with an ERA of 2.94.  He tosses the series finale against the Mets Wednesday…and whether the Nats are looking for a series sweep, win or salvage Roark starts the getaway day game that begins at 4:05.

Game to Miss- They’re pitching Matt Latos in his first Major League start since June up against the Redskins on Monday Night Football?  I’m tuning in to see if a defense that ranked 28th last year can contain Pittsburgh’s high-flying offense.  I’m watching to see who emerges as the primary ballcarrier in the runningback rotation.  I’m going to try to count the amount of Steeler fans in the Fed Ex Field stands.

So they almost got swept by the Orioles amidst fans chanting “OH!” at Nats Park.  So they dropped two of three to a Colorado team going nowhere.  So the second-place Marlins got needed outfield help in the form of veteran Jeff Francouer.  The Nationals’ biggest concern is the amount of attention they’ll receive as the Redskins and college football monoliths take their proper places in the Beltway sports landscape.

This week is extremely crunching for yours truly…as WTOP.COM is rolling out a five day forecast of the upcoming college football season. 

http://wtop.com/ncaa-football/2016/08/3-9-season-maryland-football-selling-whats-new/

We also marked the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ last concert on their final tour…

http://wtop.com/entertainment/2016/08/dc-sportscaster-recalls-50th-anniversary-beatles-last-us-show/

So forgive me if this week’s notebook appears a little rushed…

Dissecting the Division…and Projecting the Playoff Picture- the Nats lead the Marlins by 8 games in the NL East and are 9 games in front of the Mets;  those two teams play a three game series this week.  At this moment the Nationals own the second best record in the NL- so they would have home field in the NLDS with the West Division leading Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Chicago Cubs would own the #1 seed while facing the winner between wildcards San Francisco and St Louis.

All about the AL East- the Orioles after taking 3 of 4 against the Nats turned around and lost their first two games with the New York Yankees.  They now trail Toronto by 3 games in the division…and battle the Blue Jays in a three game series this week.  While the division is within their reach…so is falling out of the wildcard as the O’s lead Detroit by two games for the final playoff spot in the American League.  Meanwhile, Boston continues to churn out high-scoring wins and losses in its usual frustrating fashion.

Last Week’s Heroes- Trea Turner hit .500 with 4 steals and 6 runs…scoring Friday night after an infield single, error, stolen base and grounder to first.  Bryce Harper tallied 10 hits while Daniel Murphy drove in 9 runs…to move within 100 for the season.  Max Scherzer struck out 10 over 8 scoreless innings…while Gio Gonzalez notched career win #100.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman hit .103 with 8 strikeouts…and gets a seat in Monday’s game at Philadelphia to clear his head.  Reynaldo Lopez had a rude awakening in Baltimore–coughing up 4 runs over 2.2 innings.  Blake Treinen posted an ERA of 33.75…

Game to Watch- Tuesday Max Scherzer (14-7, 2.92 ERA) pitches against Jerad Eickhoff (9-12, 3.87). Max is 5-1 since Independence Day while Eickoff has won three straight decisions.

Game to Miss- Saturday the Nats do not have a starter listed for their game against the New York Mets.  There’s a full plate of college football to enjoy, my friends…from Maryland-Howard to Virginia-Richmond to Navy-Fordham to Virginia Tech-Liberty.

It’s finally here.  The Washington-Baltimore Parkway showdown.  Ben’s Chili Bowl vs. Old Bay.  Port City Optimal Wit vs. Natty Bo.  West Wing vs. The Wire.  Sonny vs. Johnny U.  You know the drill.  The upstart Nationals face the establishment Orioles (who rightfully still have more than a few fans on the left bank of the Potomac) in what just one week ago looked like it was going to be a duel of division leaders.  Bring on your area angst. 

The Nationals enter this week’s two-city, four-game showdown eight and a half games ahead of the pack in the NL East while the Orioles are staring up the standings at Boston and Toronto.  Two and a half games separate the three teams and with the Red Sox pitching taking personal days from time to time the order of the three teams could very well change by the end of this sentence.  Both the Blue Jays and Sox boast run differentials (TOR +95, BOS +116) far superior to the Orioles (+18).  With the Birds’ lack of solid starting pitching (26th in ERA and that is with Chris Tillman factored in) is it only a matter of time before they fade?

Comparing the two teams 123 games into the season, the Nats have actually scored more runs (600 to 579) than the O’s despite hitting .255 to the Birds’ .262.  Pitching shows more separation, with the Nationals ERA ranking 2nd for starters, relievers and overall.  The Orioles?  Twenty-sixth for starters, 6th for relievers and 21st overall.  Thank goodness for Orioles Magic.

Sayonara Saturn- while driving home from the Nationals’ 8-5 loss to Atlanta August 12th, my Saturn Ion suddenly lost the “hitch in its giddyup”.  After 13+ years and 240,000 miles the vehicle finally met its end on Fairfax Drive in Arlington.  Thankfully I was able to push the vehicle the necessary 3/10 of a mile with help from a few bros getting out of Ballston bars at the time.  Evidently the motor is a very important and crucial part of driving.  And unfortunately even if said motor was reconstructed the mechanic notified me, “Your car has a lot of other issues too.”  Akin to telling the heart patient that there isn’t just ventricle damage, but they’re missing one kidney and the liver is where one of their lungs should be.  Sadly my Moody Blues CD “To Our Children’s Children’s Children” remains stuck in the CD player.

Last Week’s Heroes- all Bryce Harper needed was five games off…the cleanup hitter cleaning up by hitting .407 with 2 HR and 10 RBI.  Anthony Rendon hit .370 while scoring 7 runs and driving in 3.  Ryan Zimmerman comes off the DL to go 4-8 with a home run.  Rookie Reynaldo Lopez posts the best start of the rotation by striking out 11 over 7 innings.  Mark Melancon tallies 3 saves in 3 opportunities.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Ben Revere hit .182 while Danny Espinosa hit .136 with 10 strikeouts.  Both present great defensive value but the lineup can’t simply give away outs.  With Zimmerman healthy and Daniel Murphy moving back to second base, Trea Turner (still a sparkplug atop the order) gets pushed to centerfield or shortstop.  Despite his error Sunday, Turner looks to be a centerfield fit for this season.  Stephen Strasburg had a rough hiccup last Wednesday, coughing up 9 earned runs over an inning and two thirds.  Do we view that as an isolated incident or part of a bigger picture this August (1-3, 10.19 ERA)?

Game to Watch- Thursday in DC the series finale pits Max Scherzer (13-7, 3.05 ERA) against Chris Tillman (15-5, 3.76).  While both have staggered as of late (Scherzer has a 6.97 ERA over his last two starts while Tillman over his last five outings is 1-3 with a 6.66 ERA), I’m thinking both revert to form on the big stage.

Game to Miss- after all of this inter-city angst, I’ll be exhaling Friday evening when Colorado comes to town. Gio Gonzalez (8-9, 4.30 ERA) pitches against Rockies rookie Jeff Hoffman (0-1, 13.50) who will be making his second career start.  Your perfect opportunity to enjoy one last summer Friday night at Tony & Joes on the Georgetown Waterfront.