Archives for posts with tag: baseball

Now that the All Star Game is in the Nats’ rear-view mirror, the road gets a little rougher. Yes, they took two of three from fading Philadelphia and battle the woeful Orioles this week, but ten of the team’s final fourteen games this month come against division-leading Atlanta or the Los Angeles Dodgers (who just happen to own the best record in he bigs).  Even the other four games are against a Colorado team that was tied for the second Wildcard as recently as July 1.  Not the best time to lose Max Scherzer to the Injured List with back tightness:  the team dropped his missed start in Philadelphia and Max remains a question mark for their upcoming series with the Braves.  After recovering from a frigid (19-31) start by playing out of their minds (30-12), the Nats will likely learn if they should be buyers or sellers at the Trading Deadline–right at the Trading Deadline.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta remains in front at 58-37 by picking up where they left off, sweeping San Diego.  Monday’s win over Milwaukee puts the Braves seven and a half games ahead of the Nationals, who are currently 3-2 against leaders so far this year.  Philadelphia is 48-46 after their 16-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and even though they avoided getting swept by the Nats remain somewhat adrift.  The New York Mets (42-51) are biding time before the late-July sell-off while Miami (34-57) is already making calls.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted 2 for 11 with 3 strikeouts against the Nats.  He’s on pace to hit 28 HR with 108 RBI while striking out 188 times. And he whiffed three more times Monday night.

O’s Woes- the Birds drop to 28-65 after losing two of three to Tampa Bay.  At this rate their tragic number in the AL East is 39…and they need to finish 35-34 to avoid a second straight 100-loss season. The rebuild continues with the trade of Andrew Cashner (9-3, 3.83 ERA) to Boston for a pair of prospects.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon looked well-rested after missing the All Star Game, batting 5-for-11 with 3 RBI. Juan Soto notched a team-high 3 runs with 3 RBI.  Stephen Strasburg set the tone for the series in Philadelphia by striking out 6 over 6 scoreless innings.  Patrick Corbin K’d 10 in his lone start.

Last Week’s Humbled- Matt Grace allowed a walkoff homer Sunday in Philadelphia.  It was the first earned run he’s allowed this month; the question now is that the start of a trend or simply a blip.

Game to Watch- the Nats face first place Atlanta this weekend, with Patrick Corbin starting Friday’s showdown. The Braves counter with Mike Soroka (10-1, 2.24 ERA).

Game to Miss- do we have to watch the Battle of the Beltways?  Austin Voth has averaged more pitches per inning in each of his outings while the Birds counter with Alex Wojciechowski and his 6.10 ERA.  Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Moon Launch.

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The Nats enter the All Star break as the hottest team in the Major Leagues, having won 28 of 39 to move into the Wildcard lead.  But are they that far removed from the team that started 19-31?  Despite taking four of six, the bullpen that was leaky over the first two months still had issues over the weekend.  And despite the cosmetic changes, the relievers’ ERA remains a big league-worst 6.06 while their 18 blown saves is tied for second-most in the majors (behind the flammable Mets).  While getting a healthy lineup (at one point the second through fifth hitters in order were on the Injured List) was a big factor in the team’s turnaround, it didn’t hurt that they’ve built momentum while facing a slew of sub-.500 teams.  When they come back from their midseason hiatus, they’ll face Philadelphia (one-half game back for the Wildcard lead), while division leading Atlanta and the Los Angeles Dodgers also loom later this month.  It’s a long way to October.  But the road looks much more pleasant than it did a month and a half ago.

Digesting the Division- Atlanta after a 4-2 week leads the NL East with a 54-37 mark as they’re well-represented at the All Star Break by Freddie Freeman, who’s batting .309 with 23 HR and 68 RBI, and Ronald Acuna.  The Nats are 47-42 and six games back while leading the Wildcard.  The #2 Wildcard team is Philadelphia at 46-43 after a 3-3 week; J.T. Realmuto heads to Cleveland on the strength of his 10 homers and 42 RBI.  The New York Mets may be 40-50 but they possess the Home Run Derby champ in rookie Pete Alonso, who also has 30 HR at the break.  The Marlins? At 33-55 they’re on track for another 100-loss campaign despite the solid pitching of All Star Sandy Alcantara.

Harper’s Weekly- a .292 week moves Bryce over the .250 mark, and he’s on pace to hit 29 HR with 112 RBI-although for the record he’s played more than 150 games just twice in his career.  He’s also cutting down on his strikeouts-the pace of 189 is no longer league-leading.

O’s Woes- finally an extended run of success.  The Birds won three straight games last week and have won five of nine to improve to 27-62 (.303-or on a 49-win pace).  John Means (7-4, 2.50 ERA) represents the Orioles at the Midsummer Classic.

Last Week’s Heroes- Max Scherzer struck out 11 over seven scoreless innings while going 1-2 at the plate with a stolen base.  Stephen Strasburg K’d 14 over 7.1 scoreless frames.  Patrick Corbin tossed 14 scoreless frames. Sean Doolittle notched two wins plus one save in relief.  Ryan Zimmerman hit .429 with a pair of RBI while Juan Soto hit .333 with four RBI and four runs scored.

Last Week’s Humbled- Yan Gomes hit 1-for-11 while Matt Adams batted 1-for-10 with five strikeouts. Jonny Venters and Fernando Rodney suffered hiccups out of the bullpen while Austin Voth allowed four runs over 4.1 innings in his third Major League start this year.

Games to Watch- Friday, Saturday and Sunday the Nats face the Phillies.  Max Scherzer is already ticketed to pitch the series finale, and one can easily see Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin starting the Friday and Saturday games in some order.  A potential Wildcard Game preview?  I’ll be locked in for all three.

Who’s ready for Opening Day!?!  In March???  It’s the price of doing business playing 162 reguarl season games with 3+ rounds of playoffs while not holding the World Series in November.  For better or worse.  I know-I get this feeling twice every year.  It happens in early November, when we’re halfway through the NFL season and just into college football’s closing month when suddenly we’re supposed to care about Maryland-Hofstra.  The men’s college basketball season concludes over the next few weeks, so it’s only fitting some of the NCAA Tournament thunder is robbed by baseball’s pomp and circumstance.  Usually opening week in baseball overlaps with the Final Four;  this year the Nationals will have played nine games (weather permitting) by the time the nets are cut down in Minneapolis.

That said, the calendar waits for no one. The Washington Nationals attempt to bounce back from an 82-80 season as well as the offseason loss of Bryce Harper.  But this team will be bolstered by offseason additions like Patrick Corbin as well as the catching duo of Yan Gomes/Kurt Suzuki.  The Nats were built to handle Harper’s departure as good as they could be, with prime prospect Victor Robles joining last year’s breakout rookie Juan Soto in the “future is now” category.  If only Adam Eaton can play 140 games in rightfield while leading off;  the veteran has been limited by injuries to just 118 games over the last two years.  Other questions involve the health of mainstays Ryan Zimmerman (85 games played last year) and Stephen Strasburg (22 starts).  Also, will manager Davey Martinez return for year two armed with lessons learned in 2018?  Unlike the NFL, baseball is not a snapshot season.  Over 162 games a team’s players and manager rise or fall to their actual level a lot more than pro football-or even the NHL and NBA.  Let’s get this season underway.

 

Regional Roundup: fourteen of the top sixteen seeds advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, with three glaring losses by David over the first weekend.  Thursday, Belmont was a tipped pass away from beating Maryland and New Mexico State missed two of three free throws against Auburn when three makes would have upset the Tigers and two would have forced overtime.  But both of those losses paled in comparison to UCF leading Duke late but being unable to hold off the overall number one seed in the final minute.  So instead of Cinderellas, we get a #5 seed Auburn and a #12 seed Oregon as the only Regional outliers.

 

Sweet Sixteen Showdowns–

South-

 #1 Virginia vs. #12 Oregon.  While the Cavaliers avenged last year’s First Round loss to UMBC by rallying past Gardner-Webb and moved past 2017’s Second Round loss to Florida, the “Ghosts of Regionals Past” are just as haunting.  UVa has won just one Regional Semifinal game this century…while the Ducks have reached the Final Four as recently as 2017.  They also boast the 12th ranked defense in Division I-UVa allowing the fewest points per game again this season.  Coach Dana Altman’s team is the only double-digit seed still in the tournament thanks to ten straight wins.

#2 Tennessee vs. #3 Purdue. Rick Barnes previously led Clemson and Texas to the Sweet Sixteen, and it’s no different with his third straight orange-clad school.  One would think that if things don’t work out longterm in Tallahassee, he’ll head to Illinois.  The Boilermakers were a Lucas Haas injury away from doing major damage last March;  guard Carsen Edwards led the Big Ten in scoring this past winter and is averaging 34 points a game in the NCAA Tournament.

 

West-

#1 Gonzaga vs. #4 Florida State. The Bulldogs have lost to ACC schools in four straight NCAA Tournaments, and the Seminoles are one of the more athletic teams in the bracket.  It’s also amazing how somehow FSU coach Leonard Hamilton looks younger than he did 20 years ago.

#2 Michigan vs. #3 Texas Tech.  Two of the top three defensive teams (UVa being #1) battle with the Wolverines looking to make a return trip to the Elite Eight.  The Red Raiders reached the Regional Final last year as well before falling to Villanova.

 

East-

#1 Duke vs. #4 Virginia Tech.  An ACC matchup takes place one round earlier than it should; I’m still flummoxed that the committee was cool with putting three Big Ten schools in the lower half of the East bracket.  The Hokies beat the Blue Devils when Zion Williamson was hurt, but so was VT guard Justin Robinson. Tech is 17-3 with the senior in the lineup; 7-5 without.

#2 Michigan State vs. #3 LSU.  One coach is being flogged for freaking out during a game, while the other is in the land of limbo. Will Wade hasn’t coached since the Tigers’ penultimatet regular season game…but LSU finds itself in DC along with Tom Izzo, who might be persuaded to drink more decaf this weekend.

 

Midwest-

#1 North Carolina vs. #5 Auburn. Another strong regional has the Tigers as an outlier–although coach Bruce Pearl’s team was in the top 25 for a big chunk of the season and they did win four games in four days at the SEC Tournament.  The Tar Heels are the best team nobody’s talking about, and senior Luke Maye feels like he’s in his 8th year at the school.  Both teams can score in bunches.

#2 Kentucky vs. Houston. They want Wildcats-Heels in the Regional Finals, right?  PJ Washington remains a question mark with his foot injury- and at best will play 15-20 minutes against a Cougars team that is in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1984- when Akeem Olajuwon led the team to the Final Four and a loss to Georgetown in the National Championship game.

 

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

After a winter of wondering, the Harper has landed.  Free agent Bryce Harper agres to a 13-year contract with Philadelphia worth a record-$330 million.  Instead of an amicable split where the one-time face of the franchise heads west to play for San Francisco or the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Nats poster boy is headed to the team’s NL East neighbor to the north.  Instead of dealing with thoughts of what could have been for one or two series a summer, Nationals fans get to face Harper 19 times over the next decade-plus.  He’ll be wearing a different shade of red…with a curly P on his cap.  Phreaking Phantastic.

It’s never ideal to lose a six-time All Star and former league MVP, but the Nationals have constructed their club in a manner to minimize Harper’s departure.  The emergence of Juan Soto last year provided unexpected depth-and the 20-year old will be the team’s leftfielder of the present and future.  Taking over in right will be veteran Adam Eaton, now two years removed from a knee injury that hijacked his 2017 season.  Prime prospect Victor Robles is the future in centerfield, with Michael A. Taylor being able to provide defensive depth at all three positions.

While the absence of Harper in the lineup is not ideal, not having him on the payroll will benefit the long-term sculpting of the roster under General Manager Mike Rizzo.  Anthony Rendon is due to become a free agent next year, and all things being equal an offensive third baseman with sharp defensive skills is much harder to find and develop than an outfielder.  Moving forward, having Rendon on this team for the remainder of their playoff-contending window is more important than having Harper on this team in 2026.

The Phillies get the free agent boost they were looking for this offseason;  last year’s team won 80 games but faded down the stretch.  They also ranked 22nd in the majors in runs scored.  Harper will bat third in a revamped lineup along with offseason acquisitions J.T. Realmuto and Andrew McCutchen. After a few years of building and retooling, the Phillies are ready to win now.  Just like the Washington Nationals have been doing this decade.  The balance of  NL East power began to shift in 2011 when the Nats signed Jayson Werth away from the Phillies; after winning 102 games that year and losing in the NLDS the Phils have not posted a winning record–while the Nats posted a winning mark every year since going 80-81 in 2011.

Oh, and by the way…for those curious Bryce Harper and his new team come to Nationals Park for the first time this season April second.  Who’s ready for a reunion?

 

 

 

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Even though the Boston Red Sox have won three World Series this century, many of the Fenway Faithful still look for the dark clouds on sunny days.  Eighty-six years in the wilderness will do that to a fan base.  The generation that watched Ted Williams bat .200 in the 1946 World Series is mostly gone now, and those who knew in their heart of hearts that Yaz’s last best chance at the brass ring faded away the day he popped foul to Nettles in 1978 are beginning to diminish in number as well.  Today’s “Red Sox Nation Generation” of 25-54 year olds celebrates instead of curses the name Mookie.  For them the “Boston Massacre” refers to the Game Three loss in 2004 that preceded the greatest comeback in baseball playoff history.  But as always, the ghosts of Octobers past lurk in the Fenway Park shadows.

Yes, there are more than a few “Sullies From Southie” who will tell you how wicked awesome this year’s team is–108 wins thanks to the highest-scoring offense will do that.  But for every “Donnie from Dorchester” who basks in rally from being down 3-0 in the ALCS to the New York Yankees, there’s another who recalls the late-season collapse of 2011.  While Bill Buckner has been forgiven, the knowledge that baseball’s fickle momentum can turn on a dime is never forgotten.  So despite the best record in baseball, wiser heads are cautiously optimistic.  Or maybe optimistically cautious.  One can never tell these days.

The Sox may have the best record in the American League, but the AL’s top team in 2017-Cleveland-was bounced in the Division Series.  And twice in the last five years the squad with the best record was swept in the ALDS.  There’s also the case of “momentum”– a 15-11 September mark that saw this team lose four of six to the New York Yankees and two of three to Houston and Cleveland is far from ideal.  That’s 4-8 against the other three teams remaining on the AL side of the bracket.  While teams have bounced back from late-season fades before, the glass remains half-empty for Sox fans who still recall Bucky Dent taking Mike Torrez over the Wall in 1978.

A quick glance at the stat sheet will tell you that Boston led the Majors in batting average and runs scored–but look closer.  In September they ranked 13th in scoring.  Pitching?  How about 26th in team ERA over the last month.  From Chris Sale evolving from Cy Young Shoe-in to postseason non-factor (12 innings pitched over four starts) to David Price’s poor performance against ALDS foe New York (0-3 with a 10.34 ERA), it looks like we’re going to bank on Rick Porcello and his flammable 4.28 ERA.  That’s encouraging.

But Boston has the best outfield in the game today–led by likely AL MVP Mookie Betts who led the majors with a .346 batting average.  Slugger J.D. Martinez’s 130 RBI were the most in baseball…and shortstop Xander Bogaerts drove in over 100 runs.  Fellow middle infielder Brock Holt is getting hot at the right time, hitting .341 in September and making the absence of Dustin Pedroia somewhat tolerable.  Will the lineup find its groove in a postseason world where pitchers are flipped like blackjack dealers at a casino?

Yes, it’s the first year at the helm for manager Alex Cora.  But the Sox won it all in John Farrell’s first year and broke the curse during the initial season of Terry Francona (my records seem to be incomplete regarding the first years of Bobby Valentine and Butch Hobson).  Cora’s pushed every button correctly over the 162-game marathon…but can he make the right moves during the five (and hopefully seven and then another seven) game sprint?  Sully’s glass of Sam Adams Octoberfest is more than half-full…but very well may spill on the first sip.  Naturally I’m going to watch every pitch like it’s the end of the world.  It’s our nature in Red Sox Nation…

 

 

 

The Nationals wrapped up their long journey into nowhere Sunday in Colorado.  The 12-0 loss was the perfect whimper to a season that had shown plenty of promise and problems.  It was fitting that the team finished 82-80 during a season where we saw a ton of potential (a pythagorean record of 90-72) but fail to execute when it mattered (18-24 in one-run games and 4-10 in extra innings).  With the exception of the team’s dominant play in May, it was two steps forward and two steps  back.  Instead of seeing if they can get further in October…the Nats head into winter wondering if they have what it takes to get back to the playoffs.

Clutch Metrics- combining the one-run games record with the Nats extra-inning results is an interesting exercise:  their 22-24 mark is the worst in the NL East–10.5 games behind Atlanta’s 29-20 record in such games.  They finished eight games out.  I know, some extra-inning games are one run affairs, but an extra inning victory or loss should count double towards the “clutch factor”.

Last Week’s Heroes- stars past, present and future reigned as Bryce Harper hit .348 in what could be his final week as a Washington National.  Anthony Rendon actually finished with a higher WAR this year and hit .348 with 2 homers and 9 RBI.  The future is bright with prime prospect Victor Robles batting .467 with a homer and 5 RBI…and Juan Soto hitting a pair of HR while driving in five en route to six and 20 in September (and Rookie of the Month honors).  Max Scherzer struck out 10 in his final start of the season, finishing with 300 on the season.

Last Week’s Humbled- Austen Williams, Tim Collins and Jefry Rodriguez each had ERA’s in the double digits, but Sammy Solis wrapped up a rough 2018 with an infinity week- no outs recorded and a home run surrendered in his only outing.  The first base tandem of Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Reynolds combined to hit 3-for-21.  Wilmer Difo hit .143 to wrap up a .191 September.  Upon further review- Difo had the fifth most at-bats on the Nats this year.  That is just one reason why the Nats are home in October.

Who could be Gone:  Bryce Harper isn’t the only National with an expiring contract.  Matt Wieters, Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Jeremy Hellickson and Joaquin Benoit all come off the books this winter.  One would think that Wieters might be the only one to come back out of that pack.  The crowded outfield of Robles, Soto and a presumably healthy Adam Eaton could give cause for the trading of Michael A. Taylor-especially if Harper re-signs.

 

Opening Day Lineup for 2019?  If Bryce Harper departs…

RF- Adam Eaton- hopefully Mighty Mouse will be healthy…as he was limited to 95 games this year and even when he played seem a gear or two shy of what he showed in April 2017.

SS- Trea Turner- one needs his speed close to the top of the order…although I’m tempted to put Victor Robles in this spot.

3B- Anthony Rendon- the best overall hitter in this lineup the last two seasons…this is where you put that guy.

LF- Juan Soto- the 19-year old performed beyond expectations…can he duplicate a season for the ages?  Or at least avoid a sophomore slump?

1B- Ryan Zimmerman with Mark Reynolds- Zim when healthy is still a dangerous player–but the veteran’s been limited to fewer than 120 games in four of the last five seasons.

CF- Victor Robles with Michael A. Taylor- if Soto’s 116 games is a small sample size, then what to make of the prime prospect’s 59 at-bats?  And can Taylor’s bat (.176 after the All Star Break) catch up to his glove?

C- Matt Wieters…and Spencer Kieboom?- is this the duo the Nats want, the tandem they need or the combination they’ll have to settle for?  And if Wieters walks, who comes to DC?

2B- Wilmer Difo/Adrian Sanchez/Howie Kendrick- can the veteran come back from his torn Achilles?  If so, he switches spots with Robles.  If not, this position bats eighth and tries to outhit Max Scherzer.

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.