Archives for posts with tag: baseball

Forgive us if we’re a little giddy here.  It’s one thing to be a one-hit wonder…another to have “Get off of My Cloud” hit #1 in the US or “From Me To You” top the UK charts.  While the Nats had previously won NL East crowns in 2012 and 2014, they were unable to repeat the feat–sometimes embarrassing themselves in the process (Papelbon, anyone?).  Not the case this year, where General Manager Mike Rizzo made the necessary offseason (Adam Eaton) and in-season (the bullpen trio) moves to give Manager Dusty Baker the best club possible.  Baker’s firm but not overbearing hand on the wheel steered the club through injury-ravaged seas (they’ve used 50+ players this year).  And the players who came up short in defending previous titles had career-defining seasons (Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon & Gio Gonzalez specifically).  Instead of a winter of what-if, there are postseason possibilites.  And I no longer mention the magic number in this space.  That should be reason enough to celebrate.

From Magic to Tragic- while Philadelphia is already out of Wild Card contention, the other three NL East teams still have hopes.  Miami’s fall from orbit (12 losses in 14 games, including 0-7 against the Nats) drops the Marlins ten games behind Colorado for the final playoff spot in the National League.  Their “Tragic Number” is now ten.  Atlanta’s elimination number is seven while the Mets need a combination of five losses/Rockies wins to call it a year.  Enjoy at your own risk.

O’s Woes- somehow after getting swept by AL Central leading Cleveland the Birds remain on the fringe of the Wild Card, three games behind Minnesota.  Doesn’t anyone want this playoff berth?  The Twins, Angels and Rangers are a combined 14-16 over their last 30 combined games.  Twelve of the O’s remaining 19 games are on the road…but they only play seven games against teams with winning records.  And three of those are at home against Boston, a team that might lead the division but one Manager Buck Showalter’s crew is 10-6 against.

Playoff Possibilities- if the season ended today, the Nats would own the #2 seed in the NL and would host the Chicago Cubs in the first round.  The Los Angeles Dodgers would get the winner of the Wild Card game between Arizona and Colorado.  American League pairings would have top seed Cleveland host the Wild Card winner (New York Yankees or Minnesota) while Boston would visit Houston in the other series.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy hit .450 while Trea Turner tallied seven runs and six RBI, but Michael A. Taylor earned his middle initial by batting .409 with three homers and nine RBI.  Did we mention his inside-the-park grand slam?  Did we forget his out of this world defense that saved a home run Thursday and cut down a runner at the plate Friday?  For today I’m calling him Michael A+ Taylor.  Stephen Strasburg won both of his starts while posting an 18 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Last Week’s Humbled- relievers Shawn Kelley and Oliver Perez are not making the best case to be included on the postseason roster…as both pitched Friday but were unable to record an out while allowing three-run homers.  The Nats also had the gall to clinch the division on the day the Redskins opened their season.  How dare the perennial postseason contenders win their fourth title in six years while the football team loses its fifth straight opener!  Talk about rubbing it in…

Game to Watch- the NL West leading Los Angeles Dodgers come to town this weekend, and Friday they send Alex Wood (14-3, 2.81 ERA) to the hill against Edwin Jackson.  Memories of last year’s hard-fought NLDS loss to LA and the division clinched has Friday not arriving soon enough.

Game to Miss-  I’m sorry, Gio Gonzalez.  You are having your best season since the 21-win campaign and your ERA is under two since the All Star Break.  But your start Tuesday against Atlanta is the same night that the Washington Mystics meet Minnesota.  WNBA fever takes over for at least one evening…as the upstart squad led by Maryland great Kristi Toliver and Elena Della Donne face last year’s runners-up and this year’s top regular season team.  It’s not the Kastles in World Team Tennis, but it’s close.

 

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It’s good to be in the NL East.  Instead of falling back in a hotly contested race after losing 4 of 6 on a road trip, the Nationals remain seven games ahead of Atlanta.  The bats that were so hot in April are hitting just .243 in May, yet the team still stands atop the majors in runs scored.  The bullpen resembles a poorly wrapped cigar (reliever’s ERA ranks 29th in the majors), yet the Nationals own the fourth best record and fifth best run differential in the game.  Sometimes hiccups are uncomfortable…but right now they aren’t deadly.

Concerns for Starters- four of the top five pitches per start in the NL belong to Nationals pitchers:  Tanner Roark is tops with Max Scherzer ranking second; Gio Gonzalzez is fourth while Stephen Strasburg is fifth.  Thank Jon Lester for breaking up the quartet.  If Koda Glover can keep up his consistency (four earned runs allowed in 13 innings over 15 appearances) and stay healthy (he’s already done a stint on the DL due to his hip)?  If he can make the ninth inning safe, that allows a lot of flexibility for manager Dusty Baker.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy hit .400 with 3 homers while leading the team in runs scored and RBI.  Stephen Strasburg went 2-0 with 14 strikeouts over 13.2 innings.  His 11-K performance against Atlanta not only ended a four game losing streak, but was his highest total since May 24th of last year.  Koda Glover as mentioned is closing well at the moment (one save over two games, allowing three hits over 2.1 innings).

Last Week’s Humbled- Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper and Trea Turner each hit under .200 for the week.  Tanner Roark allowed 7 runs over 5 innings in his lone start.  The team also made five errors over its three game series with the Pirates.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats host San Diego…with Stephen Strasburg facing his former hometown team.  Stras is coming off his best performance in almost one calendar year, and even though they no longer play the Rick Astley-inspired “fan behavior” video on Fridays, it’s cool to remember those times.

Game to Miss- Sunday the starter is “TBA”.  The opponent is the Padres.  It’s a 1:35 start (when it might be warm outside).  And it being Memorial Day Weekend, the pools are open and “The Dirty Dozen” is being broadcast somewhere on cable.  Cook up the hot dogs…

Well…that was one interesting month of baseball.  Make that one ridiculous week.  Or perhaps just one scintillating Sunday?  What is going on?  One can write off the Colorado air for the 15 and 16-run explosions…but 23?  And all in the same week? One month into the season the Nats boast the best bats in the bigs…and are threatening to run away with the NL East.  Which is great, because we all know how Washington teams fare when they coast their way down the stretch.

Plan B in CF- the loss of Adam Eaton to a torn ACL for the season means Michael A. Taylor takes over in centerfield and Jayson Werth likely returns to the #2 spot in the batting order.  The Nats offense really took off in 2016 when Turner and Werth settled into the one and two spots…and there’s no reason to think it won’t be a solid engine again.  But what a shame for the Nationals to lose their sparkplug in Eaton.  The 28-year old ranked second on the team in walks, runs scored and steals while boasting the third-best on-base-percentage.  His clubhouse energy was contagious…and now the Nats will have to play the final 137 games of the 2017 regular season without last winter’s major acquisition.

Early Returns from the East- after one month the Nats lead the NL East by five games…and the other four teams are all under .500.  Philadelphia’s the only other team with a winning record against the East…and they’ve just lost three in a row.  The Phillies may have Cesar Hernandez (.323 with 20 runs scored) and Jeremy Hellickson (4-0 with an ERA of 1.80), but their lineup walks the 7th fewest times and the team’s ERA ranks 21st in the majors.  Add in four games with the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs, they might not be in the best shape to face the Nats this weekend.

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman hit .500, scoring 11 runs while notching 5 homers and 13 RBI.  Zim finished April with 11 home runs and 29 RBI…after a nightmare 2016 where he was held to 15 blasts and 46 runs batted in.  Trea Turner and Matt Wieters both hit over .400;  getting production from less-offensive positions like shortstop (Turner scored 13 runs while driving in 11) and catcher (Wieters belted 3 homers) are the little things that lift an offense.  Reliever Matt Albers went 1-0 while pitching 5.1 scoreless innings over 4 games…allowing 1 just one hit.

Last Week’s Humbled- in a week where EVERYBODY HIT, Jose Lobaton batted just .091 with 3 strikeouts. Joe Blanton’s April wraps up with three appearances and 6 earned runs over 2 innings.  Joe Ross posted an ERA of 10:38 over 2 starts.

Game to Watch- Wednesday Gio Gonzalez tries to top what’s been a stellar April (3-0, 1.62 ERA) by facing a team that he hasn’t beaten since 2011. In 2016, Gio had an April ERA of 1.42 before posting a May ERA of 5.23.  Arizona counters with former Nats draft pick Robbie Ray.

Game to Miss- Saturday the Kentucky Derby takes front and center.  Sadly, the Nats play Philadelphia at 7:05…with Joe Ross pitching against Aaron Nola (who may be scratched as he’s dealing with back issues and has missed two turns in the rotation).  Even if the Capitals get swept by Pittsburgh (they’d host a Game Five that would be played Saturday), if you’re going to skip a game against the Phillies…

 

Break up the Nationals!  Seven straight wins and a 6-0 start to their road trip give Dusty Baker’s team the best record in the big leagues.  And this is happening in the middle of a bullpen shuffle and a three-city, ten game journey.  While 18 games represents just one-ninth of the schedule, sweeping the Mets at Citi Field is a nice early statement.

Starting with the Closer/Closers- looks like the Blake Treinen era was brief:  last week Manager Dusty Baker announced that Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley would share the ninth-inning role.  While the duo answered the challenge over the weekend at the Mets, it’s a long way from late July and the trading deadline.  One thinks that once again the Nats will be in the market for a closer.

Dissecting the Division- the sweep puts the Nats three games in front of the pack…with Miami (10-8, 3 games back) and Philadelphia (9-9, 4 off the pace) giving chase.  The Mets aren’t just 8-11 but are -3 in run differential and 4-8 at home.  Granted, it’s only April.

Meanwhile in the Other East- the Orioles took two of three from Boston (despite some shenanigans) to stay atop the AL Quintet…with Trey Mancini making his case to stay and play every day.  The 25-year old leads the team in homers and RBI….while playing perfect defense in the field.  Before we begin a season-long tango with the Orioles and Red Sox, we have to notice the New York Yankees.  Their +30 run differential just happens to be the best in the major leagues and maybe this team is closer than a year away.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .550 with 10 runs scored while notching 3 homers and 7 RBI en route to taking NL Player of the Week honors.  He’s off to a better start than he was last April when he was the player of the month (when do they visit the Cubs?).   Ryan Zimmerman hit .500 with 10 RBI.  Last year the veteran had just one month where he drove in more than 12.  Max Scherzer tallied 16 strikeouts while going 2-0 and posting a 1.80 ERA.  Koda Glover saved two games over the weekend.

Last Week’s Humbled- Michael A. Taylor’s opportunities are few and far between…but to go 1-for-10 with four strikeouts over five games is not going to inspire confidence in the Nats’ brain trust.  Adam Eaton hitting .208 with an on-base percentage of .321 isn’t an issue- it’s doing that from the leadoff spot.  And after dealing with the spotlight of being the team’s closer, Blake Treinen meets a different spotlight as the ex-closer.

Game to Watch- Same teams, different weekend.  After sweeping the Mets at Citi Field, the Nats try to push their NL East rivals further back in the standings.  Max Scherzer allowed a pair of home runs in his most recent start while Jacob deGrom struck out ten Nationals the day before.  They’ll meet up this Friday at Nationals Park.  Break out the Rick Astley fan safety video.

Game to Miss- With Scherzer pitching Friday and Stephen Strasburg (after paternity leave) slated to start Sunday, Joe Ross matches up with Zack Wheeler and his 5.40 ERA.  Meanwhile, a certain hockey team in the district will be hosting a certain nemesis that night.  While Game One is Thursday, I want to see Gio Gonzalez and his 1.35 ERA at Coors Field in the late-afternoon air.  Plus, the Caps are 8-1 in Game Ones against Pittsburgh while just 3-6 in Game Twos against the Penguins.  Rock the Red…

 

 

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.

I know the Nationals played on Opening Day…and hosted their home opener as well last week.  So why does it feel like this is actually the first week of real baseball?  Blame the scheduled off days…plus Saturday’s “cold day”.  Thus, they’ve only played four games entering week two.  So instead of simply a snapshot, we have an underdeveloped polaroid.  They’ve looked good (gritty wins in Atlanta), disappointing (1-for-12 with runners in scoring position in the home opener) and redemptive (Werth proving his worth with a blast Sunday).

Orioles Magic!  Who would have thought that the birds would win six straight to begin the season-especially with their pitching staff resembling a gasoline fire in spring training?  Their previous two 5-0 starts (1944 in St. Louis, 1970 in Weaver’s World) also resulted in World Series appearances.

Things they do look awful C-C-Cold:  Was it a surprise to anybody that there was snow in the northeast and unfriendly temps on the shores of Lake Erie?  Either delay the regular season schedule one week (and have each team play 8 weekend doubleheaders over the 6-month season) or have warm-weather (and dome) teams host the first week of the regular season.  It’s the price of doing business in early April when a big chunk of your locations are in the northeast and midwest.

Hoover?  Really?  This year’s sixth wheel in the Racing Presidents will be Herbert Hoover.  I know he’s next in line for the White House Christmas Tree Ornament…and I collect one each fall as well as send one to my mother for her birthday (Mama Presto has a December 8th bday:  it’s a cool tradition because it won’t overshadow her Christmas gift and she can definitely use it during the holiday season).  But Herbert Hoover?  The guy kind of presided over one of the lower points in this nation’s history (Buchanan takes the cake for allowing the nation to dissolve in 1860-61).  What’s worse–he wears 31 as he was the 31st president of the US.  Meaning if Max Scherzer struggles AT ALL this year…I’m blaming Hoover.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy hit .462 with a homer and 5 RBI while Joe Ross struck out 5 Sunday over 7 innings.  Yes, Bryce Harper homered twice and Max Scherzer struck out 7 over 7 frames on opening day–but it’s nice to get contributions from their second-tier players.

Last Week’s Humbled- Michael A. Taylor followed up a superb spring training with a less than ideal opening week, hitting .063 with 5 strikeouts and no walks from the leadoff spot.  Again, it’s early.  But again, Taylor despite all of his strengths might not be suited best to hitting first in the order.

Game to Watch- Tuesday Gio Gonzalez makes his regular season debut over a week into the season thanks to off days, cold days and simply principle.  The lefthander squares off against Jhoulys Chacin…who makes his debut as well.  It almost feels like television’s midseason premiere night!

Game to Miss- Thursday Tanner Roark pitches against Atlanta’s Julio Teheran in a late-afternoon affair.  Not only do we have the Capitals hosting Philadelphia in Game 1 of their first round playoff series, but taxes are due the next day.  Civic duty first, Stanley Cup watching second…

After a winter of retooling, goodbyes, and hellos…the Nationals are back and ready to rebound from a disappointing 2015.  Many (myself included) have them winning the NL East…and there are more than a few cases for confidence and concern.  This team might not make the playoffs, but they’ll certainly give DC an interesting ride through the spring and summer months.

Causes for Confidence– Bryce Harper is the reigning NL MVP and is only 23 years old.  He drove in nearly 100 runs last year despite having a constantly eroding lineup around him.  Max Scherzer tossed two no-hitters and brought the ace mentality to the pitching staff.  The other contributors in the lineup (Anthony Rendon) and rotation (Stephen Strasburg) are among the best in the game when healthy.  And Dusty Baker is running this team.  Nothing like having a proven skipper being in charge…and in his three previous stops Baker’s teams have improved by an average of 20 wins.  Granted, signing Barry Bonds as a free agent may have been a factor in the 1993 Giant success–but still…

Causes for Concern– left field is a potential minefield with Jayson Werth coming off of a less-than productive season while still not completely comfortable in the other corner position (between the angle of balls hit to how they’re hit).  While Gio Gonzalez’ 2012 season is the outlier of his career, does the lefthander’s ERA continue to slide upward (3.36 to 3.57 to 3.79 the last 3 years)?  Will oft-injured players like Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman be healthy?  And then there’s the bullpen:  is Jonathan Papelbon a fuse waiting to go off?  Just as important will the middle relievers consistently provide the bridge from the rotation to the ninth?

Last Month’s Heroes– during the season we’ll have weekly heroes (and humbled), but a tip of the cap to the Monster of March:  Michael A. Taylor.  The 25-year old hit .453 with 5 homers and 16 RBI in Spring Training.  Yes, those numbers mean nothing Monday afternoon…but it has to be encouraging for there to be an option if something goes wrong in the outfield.  Tanner Roark had a solid spring as well, going 2-0 with an ERA of 2.00 over 5 games (4 starts) while striking out 17 over 18 innings.  If Roark can man the #4 spot in the rotation with play like that, 2016 could be somewhat sweet.

Last Month’s Humbled– with the caveat that it was only March (and early April):  Danny Espinosa took a while to find his bat in Florida…the shortstop hitting .139 with 4 walks and 11 strikeouts.  He’s hitting 8th so they don’t need monster production, but he’ll need to repeat last year’s early success to keep management from even thinking about calling up Trea Turner.  Gio Gonzalez allowed a team-high 12 walks over 19 innings while Joe Ross posted a 6.75 ERA in Spring Training.

Game to watch– the first week, aren’t they all?  I’m looking forward to Thursday, April 7th.  Stephen Strasburg perhaps in his final season with the Nats gets the ball for the home opener.  We get the Racing of the Presidents (although I’ve been told that Coolidge does not choose to run in 2016) returning…and hopefully some good seventh inning stretch music (Saturday’s exhibition played “It’s not Unusual” by Tom Jones, a definite upgrade over “Friends in Low Places” while not coming close to “Take On Me”).

Game to Miss–  Sunday April 10th.  Joe Ross makes his first start of 2016 against Miami while the Masters final round percolates on CBS.  I know it’s just a 1:35 start but the Marlins pitch the forgettable Jarred Cosart.  Laundry and spring cleaning need to get done as well…and one has to take the lining out of one’s jackets for the spring season.  Let’s ease into this 162 game marathon…shall we?