Archives for posts with tag: Bryce Harper

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While the Washington Nationals were propelled by starting pitching that posted the third best ERA in the majors plus a lineup that ranked second in batting average and runs scored, many close to the team felt that that the clubhouse chemistry was a key factor in going from 19-31 in May to a championship parade in November. “When one guy doesn’t do the job the next guy picks him up,” Martinez said before the World Series.  “You watch them go down the line, they pat each other on the back- ‘hey, we got you don’t worry’.” Chemistry in the clubhouse is a tricky thing; if anybody could create it everybody would have it. It’s not a Chia Pet, for heaven’s sake.  How have things gotten so good for the Nats?

It wasn’t always this way. From players reportedly being shipped out for leaking to the press, dugout scuffles between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper, to the famed Mike Rizzo quote “If you’re not in, you’re in the way”, it’s taken a while for the phalanx to come together.  When you spend February through October together, the team has to be together.  “At the end of the day nobody understands what goes on in a clubhouse except the 25 guys and the coaching staff that are in here,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “There’s nothing like it and truly the biggest reason why we won last year is because of how much we enjoyed being around each other.” 

When things got bad last spring and it looked like the team was sinking, the players didn’t jump ship. Instead, they began to bail each other out. “We were all very open with each other,” Gomes said. “Whatever little things were going on we were able to cut them out right away-cut out distractions-and made sure that whatever happened it stayed in here and we were battling for each other in here.

Perhaps the fact that this was the oldest roster in baseball last season gave some clarity and focus to what was really important: trying to go 1-0 every day while not letting one loss bleed into the next day.  “Just the mix of veterans and young players and just the attitude,” Howie Kendrick said. “There’s no selfish guys here and everybody wants to win. There’s a chemistry here that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Baseball’s regular season is the longest (162 games) while the playoff field is the most exclusive in the major four sports (10 of 30, or 33%).  Fighting through the dog days of summer (and for those who live in the Washington area, August can get particularly houndish) is no easy task, and knowing that the clubhouse is a fountain of positive vibes makes the grind a little easier.  “It’s great when you get to the field every day and you’re just happy to be hear and don’t feel like you’re working,” Michael A. Taylor said. “And it helps on the field too having that camaraderie and just trusting one another.”

Unfortunately for any team in MLB, you can’t bring everyone back.  While we know the Nats will miss Anthony Rendon’s bat and glove as well as the contributions of Brian Dozier and Gerardo Parra (earworm alert-BABY SHARK), we can’t size up yet the intangible loss of those three as well as others on the 2019 team not coming back.  Sometimes the absence of one minor ingredient can change a whole recipe.  “When we finished Game Seven it was one of those things where we knew that everyone wasn’t going to be back,” Adam Eaton said. “Which kind of saddened all of us because you’re with those people for so long it’s part of your family.”  But with most of the parts coming back, the 2020 Nationals should earn another solid grade in Chemistry.  Will it be another A?  Ask me in October.

Talk about finishing with a flourish.  The Nationals entered last week with the path to the playoffs in their hands, and instead of making us sweat this one out won eight games over seven days to secure home field advantage for Tuesday’s Wild Card game.  They broomed Bryce Harper and Philadelphia all the way back to .500 and eliminated Cleveland from the AL playoff picture.  The Nats after starting 19-31 find themselves in the playoffs for the fifth time in eight years.

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!- okay, so things got a little crazy in the clubhouse after the team secured the Wild Card berth last Tuesday.  And yes, it’s not a division title or a playoff series win.  But baseball has teams make the longest journey (162 games) to qualify for the most exclusive postseason (33% of MLB teams make the playoffs, as opposed to 38% for the NFL and over 50% for the NBA and NHL).  So let the boys enjoy their evening of suds.

Playoff Picture- while the Nats/Milwaukee winner plays the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta meets St. Louis in the other NLDS.  The ALDS has Houston facing the Oakland/Tampa Bay winner while the New York Yankees play Minnesota.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted .323 with 2 HR and 6 RBI in the final week of the season, finishing with a .260 batting average, 36 doubles and 35 HR (second best in his career to the 2015 MVP season) and  114 RBI (a career best).  He also posted a career high with 178 strikeouts, and for those scoring at home Harper hit .266 in 18 games against the Nats this season.  Prorating his numbers over 162 games, he would have hit 27 HR with 81 RBI against his former team, walking 126 times while posting 198 strikeouts.

O’s Woes- the Birds wrapped up the season 54-108, seven games better than last year but their second-worst mark since moving to the Charm City from St. Louis in 1954.  It’s also the first time the team has posted consecutive 100-loss campaigns.  What sort of vision will this franchise have for 2020?

Last Week’s Heroes- Gerardo Parra regained his swing and the Baby Shark batted .615 with 2 homers and 11 RBI.  Trea Turner hit .400 while scoring 8 runs and driving in 7–including that go-ahead grand slam against Philadelphia. Brian Dozier batted .417.  Stephen Strasburg finished his best season as a pro (18-6, 3.32 ERA, 251 K) by striking out ten in his final start.

Last Week’s Humbled- this is no reflection on the awesome season each had, but Juan Soto hit .150 and Anthony Rendon batted .133 to put mild dampeners on their years. Javy Guerra posted an 8.10 ERA out of the bullpen.

September Surges- Howie Kendrick hit .410 in the final month of the season, while Asdrubal Cabrera batted .324 with 4 HR and 21 RBI.  Table-setter Trea Turner hit .308 with a team-high 24 runs, barely missing the 100-run plateau (96) despite missing almost a fourth of the season with a broken finger.  Juan Soto notched 18 RBI while Anthony Rendon drove in 17 RBI in September.  Patick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg both notched 4 quality starts in the final month of the season; Corbin’s 4-1 mark was the best on the staff.

Who’s Beating the Brewers- while the Nats lost four of six to Milwaukee, three of those games were in May when this team was a mess.  Adam Eaton hit .385 with 3 HR and 7 RBI while Victor Robles hit .429 while Adam Eaton hit .385 with 3 HR and 7 RBI.  Max Scherzer starts the Wild Card game, and struck out 10 over six innings of one-run ball in a no-decision this past May.

Brewers to Beware- while Christian Yelich (.480 with 8 runs scored against the Nats in 2019) is done for the season with a fractured right kneecap, Mike Moustakas hit .379 with 4 HR and 12 RBI against the Nationals this season.  Orlando Arcia hit .385 against the Nats this year and is 2-for-3 in his career against Max Scherzer.

This is it.  Eight games over the next seven days to determine if the Nationals will host or be on the road for the Wild Card Game…or if they’ll be on the outside looking in.  A second straight 3-3 week would be a nightmare, if it weren’t for the Chicago Cubs’ epic collapse (1-6 with five straight one-run losses).  The magic number to make the postseason is four, but the Nats will play a Philadelphia team fighting for its playoff life and a Cleveland squad in the AL Wild Card mix. It won’t be easy-but nothing about the 2019 season has been easy.

Health Check- Manager Davey Martinez re-joined the team for their series in Miami after having a procedure last week.  He suffered chest pains during Sunday’s win over Atlanta, but is back with the team for the stretch run.

The Wild, Wild, Sprint- Milwaukee’s magic number to make the playoffs is three, and the Brewers battle sub-500 teams Cincinnati and Colorado this week.  The Chicago Cubs are also in the hunt, and have three games with Pittsburgh before three more with St. Louis (they were swept by the Cardinals last weekend).  The New York Mets also have a “tragic number” of four, and play four against Miami before meeting Atlanta (Braves likely resting up before the NLDS).  Philadelphia (tragic number of three) can play its way back into the conversation by taking four or five games in DC this week, while Arizona (tragic number of two) needs to basically run the table against St. Louis and San Diego.

O’s Woes- the nightmare is almost over as the Birds at 51-105 are done at Camden Yards for the year.  They did win a series for the first time this month.  On to 2020.

Harper’s Weekly- he’s heating up, hitting .350 with 2 HR and 6 RBI as the Phillies went 3-3 against contenders Atlanta and Cleveland.  His 34 doubles are four shy of his career high, and his 108 RBI represent a new career best.  Bryce also sets a new high with 170 strikeouts.

Last Week’s Heroes- Howie Kendrick hit .529 while Yan Gomes batted .364.  Patrick Corbin struck out 11 over 6 scoreless innings in his only outing.  Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey and Javy Guerra combined to throw 9.1 scoreless innings over 8 appearances.

Last Week’s Humbled- Fernando Rodney generated little respect and did not look marvelous, posting an ERA of 15.43.  Hunter Strickland and Sean Doolittle also delivered in the double digits.  Anthony Rendon hit .167 while Juan Soto batted .056.

Game to Watch- Tuesday evening Max Scherzer (0.75 ERA against Philly this year) pitches against Aaron Nola (12-5, 3.75 ERA) in game three of the team’s five games over four days against Philadelphia.  The bullpen could be blown up by this point, and a stellar Scherzer performance is needed.  But can he dial up the Max of June in what might be his final start of the season?

Game to Miss- Friday’s game has the Nats hosting Cleveland.  After the NL East brawl, lets just stay the intensity may be a little down for a foe from the AL Central.  Austin Voth also pitches.  Friday there’s also a Big Ten opener in College Park, as Maryland meets No. 12 Penn State.  A little Terpness will be on tap.

The Nationals’ playoff push took some water this past week when they lost five of seven to fellow contenders, all but assuring Atlanta of a second straight NL East title.  The incredible 11-10 comeback win against the New York Mets feels like months ago, but it kept the Nats from getting swept.  And in a world where one isn’t going to win the division but still leads the Wild Card by three games, you want to win every series but you most definitely don’t want to get swept.  Sunday, the Nats beat back the brooms against the Braves thanks to Max Scherzer on the mound and the bats finally breaking out after being dormant all series.  Brace yourself for a bumpy ride as the Nats jet tries to land on the playoff runway.

Digesting the Division- Atlanta’s Magic Number is 11 with 18 left.  For those curious Sunday’s loss ended a 17-2 stretch.  If things break the right or wrong way (depending on your perspective) the Braves could clinch the division Saturday or Sunday in DC.  The Nats (79-63 after a 2-5 week) get AL Central-leading Minnesota before the Braves drop by the district.  Philadelphia (74-68, 4-3) and the New York Mets (72-70, 3-3) find themselves on the outer reaches of the Wild Card pack.  Miami?  Now 51-91, the Marlins have clinched last place for the second straight year and Manager Don Mattingly dips under the .500 mark for his career (he’s now at 716-719).

The Wild, Wild Card- the Nats lead the Chicago Cubs by three games for home field while the Cubs are 1.5 games better than Arizona for the final playoff spot in the NL.  The Nats easily have the toughest schedule with 17 of 20 games coming against winning clubs, although they will play 11 of those 17 at home.  The Cubs have 7/20 against .500+ teams, with all seven games coming at Wrigley Field.  Arizona plays 12/19 against losing clubs, and that’s including a four game series at the slowly sinking Mets.  Milwaukee (74-68, 2GB) plays an equal amount of games against both types of teams.  Philadelphia (74-68) has 11 of its final 20 on the road against winning clubs.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted .188 and hurt his hand.  He’s now at .254 for the season with 30 HR and a career-high 101 RBI.  Harper’s 11 shy of reaching his career high of 169 strikeouts.  And there are still five games against the Nats in DC later this month.

O’s Woes- the sweep by Texas drops the Birds to 46-97, or on pace to win 52 games this year.  While surpassing last year’s 47 wins is almost a certainty, there are those of us who have seen September swoons that have taken much better teams from 63-63 to 67-95 in 2002 and from 71-68 to 75-87 two years ago.  So nothing is a given as of yet.

Last Week’s Heroes- Asdrubal Cabrera hit .450 with 2 HR and 8 RBI while Anthony Rendon batted .333 with a team-high 6 runs and 3 RBI. Somebody should sign him.  Ryan Zimmerman and Kurt Suzuki had clutch hits in the team’s crazy comeback Tuesday against the Mets.  Max Scherzer got the no-decision that night, but struck out 8 over 6 innings Sunday to notch his first win since the All Star Break.  Sean Doolittle tossed two scoreless innings of relief.  But Aaron Barrett outshone them all.  The reliever tossed one scoreless inning, completing his comeback from Tommy John Surgery and a broken humerus bone.  Great to have you back in the bigs, Aaron.

Last Week’s Humbled- Joe Ross coughed up 7 runs over 3.2 innings while Anibal Sanchez, Roenis Elias and Javy Guerra each posted ERA of 10+.  Gerardo Parra (1 for 13) and Matt Adams (1 for 15) had market correction weeks at the plate after enjoying hot flashes this season.

Game to Watch- Friday the Braves come to town with a chance to provide the NL East knockout blow, and they’ll be starting rookie Mike Soroka (11-4, 2.67 ERA).  Max Scherzer will be on the mound for the Nats. Enough said.

Game to Miss- Saturday afternoon Joe Ross and Mike Foltynewich bring a combined 10.45 ERA to the mound, while out on Route 50 Navy will be kicking off AAC play by hosting East Carolina.  Go Mids!

The Nationals reach Labor Day four and a half games in front of the NL Wildcard pack thanks to their sweep of Miami.  Friday’s walk-off win turned into Saturday’s shutout and wrapped up with Sunday’s slugfest.  That’s the good news; the bad news is that the Nats face the toughest schedule over the final month of the regular season with 24 of their 27 games coming against teams with winning records as of today.  Bring it on…

Digesting the Division- will Atlanta ever lose again?  The Braves won four of six last week to see their NL East lead remain at five and a half games.  They have their work cut out for them in September, as the defending division champs play seven games against the Nationals, seven against Philadelphia and three against the New York Mets.  Speaking of the Phillies and Mets, those two teams are now double digits off the pace.  Miami?  The Marlins own a tragic number of six to clinch last place.  Get used to it.

The Wild, Wild Card Race- as mentioned the Nats play 89% of their remaining schedule against clubs with winning records.  How about the other contenders?  The Chicago Cubs (73-63, 4-2 last week) play 11 of their remaining 26 games against winning clubs, most notably seven against fellow NL Central contenders Milwaukee and St. Louis.  Philadelphia (70-65, 3-3) play 20 of 27 against winning teams, with 15 coming against the East Division trio of Atlanta, the Nationals and Mets.  Milwaukee (70-66, 3-3) may get a reprieve with 17 of their final 26 games coming against losing ballclubs while Arizona (70-67, 5-1) may stay hot thanks to a finishing stretch of 18 September games against sub-.500 foes.  The Mets (69-67, 2-4) have an uphill battle with 16 of their remaining 26 games against winning foes.

Harper’s Weekly- proud new papa Bryce hit .308 with 2 homers and 5 RBI, increasing his season totals to .257, 29 and 97.  He’s on pace to reach career highs in doubles and RBI, as well as in strikeouts (Harper’s 15 shy of last year’s 169 whiffs).  Bryce and the Phillies play five games over four days in DC later this month.

O’s Woes- the Birds drop two of three in Kansas City to fall 46 games under .500.  While they’ll cruise past (as best as a last place team can cruise past) last year’s 47-win total, the Orioles need to finish 18-8 in order to avoid a 100-loss campaign.  Yes, I wrote that in all seriousness.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .563 with 3 homers and 7 RBI while Juan Soto batted .474 with 9 RBI.  Stephen Strasburg won his career-high 16th of the season by tossing eight scoreless innings.  And Sean Doolittle is back.

Last Week’s Humbled- Tanner Rainey and Daniel Hudson had issues on the mound. Trea Tuner hit .182 while Gerardo Parra, Baby Shark and all, went 1 for 18 at the plate.

Game to Watch- Tuesday evening Max Scherzer makes his third start since coming off of the injured list while the Mets pitch Jacob deGrom.

Game to Miss- Sunday Scherzer starts against Atlanta, but at 1:20 p.m. EDT I think I’ll be watching the regular season return of the NFL.

Well, that was one heck of a weekend at Wrigley.  The Nationals move four games in front of the Chicago Cubs thanks to their sweep, and the hottest team in baseball remains on track to extend its year beyond September.  But despite the 26-15 mark since the All Star Break, there are clouds off in the distance once one reaches Labor Day. As in after September 1, the Nats will play just three games against clubs with losing records.  And the bullpen still springs leaks at inopportune times.  Brace yourselves for the ride ahead, while basking in what has turned out to be one awesome August (16-6 mark is the best in the NL).

Dissecting the Division- somehow the Nats haven’t been able to make a dent in Atlanta’s NL East lead.   Before falling to Colorado in a make-up game Monday the Braves had won eight straight.  With seven games remaining against the leaders over the final month of the season, it’s not over yet.  Philadelphia’s five games behind the Nats and 11 behind the Braves.  The New York Mets?  A half game behind the Phillies thanks to their latest three game losing streak. Miami at 47-82 has an elimination number of one.

The Wild, Wild Card- the Nats lead the Chicago Cubs by four games, and after the Cubs there are five teams within five games of the final playoff spot in the NL.  Be ready next week for a schedule breakdown.

Harper’s Weekly- Congratulations to the former National as he enjoys his paternity leave.  All the best to Bryce’s roster addition, and even though he’s a foe for the time being in Nats Nation, one wishes the best for the Harpers.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon took NL Player of the Week honors after hitting .483 with 2 homers and 7 RBI, upping his total to 29 and 104-or on pace to hit 37 with 132.  Someone should sign him.  Howie Kendrick hit .500 while Asdrubal Cabrera notched 11 RBI and Juan Soto scored 13 runs.  Anibal Sanchez tossed 8.1 innings of one-hit ball while Patrick Corbin threw 8 scoreless innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- what would a Nationals week be without a bullpen blowout?  Fernando Rodney blew a save Sunday against the Cubs, Wander Suero posted an ERA of 10.13 and Matt Grace’s ERA was 13.50.  Brian Dozier hit 1-for-14 while Kurt Suzuki batted 3-for-17.

Game to Watch- Wednesday Max Scherzer pitches against Asher Wojciechowski.  Let’s see how Max fares in his second start since coming off of the Injured List.

Game to Miss– Saturday Joe Ross pitches against last-place Miami. College Football officially kicks off its season (pay no attention to last week’s misguided matchup between Miami and Florida) this week and Saturday will feel like one is returning home to see an old friend. The Marlins will understand.

The Nats almost went from the ridiculous high of sweeping San Francisco behind the oh so unpredictable arms of Joe Ross and Erick Fedde (plus Anibal Sanchez) to a nightmare weekend in New York.  Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin both pitched well enough, but the bullpen blew up both Friday and Saturday nights and the team was fortunate on Sunday to beat the Mets 7-4.  Juan Soto’s strained ankle is day to day and Max Scherzer remains on the long road back, but for the moment the Nats are still trending upward: 4-2 for the week, 5-4 for the month and 15-13 since the All Star Game.  They won’t go back inside the division until August 30 but will play 21 of their final 30 games against NL East foes.

Digesting the Division- Atlanta remains atop the NL East thanks to a 4-3 week; they’re 70-50 mark is two games better than where last year’s division champs were at this point.  The Nats (62-55) inch to within six and a half games of the lead while the streaking New York Mets (61-57 after a 6-1 week) are eight behind the Braves.  Philadelphia (60-58) drops nine games back after a 2-5 week; they’re 4-7 this month and 13-15 since the All Star Game.  Thank goodness the basement is a few levels down as Miami (44-73) is zeroing in on a tenth straight losing season (after five winning years the previous decade).

The Wild Wildcard Race- Sunday’s win over the Mets kept the Nats a half game ahead of St. Louis for the Wildcard lead; a loss would have dropped the team into a tie with Milwaukee a half game behind the Cardinals and Mets.  Of the five teams in the mix (Philadelphia is just two and a half games behind the Nationals), the Nats own the worst record in one-run decisions (12-18).  The best?  The Brewers are 20-13 in such games.

O’s Woes- the Birds beat back the brooms by outslugging Houston 8-7 thanks to a Rio Ruiz walkoff homer.  The victory ends a five-game losing streak that included a 23-2 rout at the hands of the Astros the night before.  The home run coughed up Sunday was the 241st allowed this year by the Orioles-tying the American League record set by the 1996 Detroit pitching staff.  They’re also 17 homers shy of Cincinnati’s major league record of 258 set three years ago.  This week the Birds battle the New York Yankees- as the current elimination number is eight the O’s could be eliminated from the AL East by Thursday night.

Harper’s Weekly- the former face of the franchise hit .286 with three homers and seven RBI, putting him back on pace to hit .250 with 30 HR and 110 RBI.  He’s also on track to strike out 188 times (he’s currently tied for the  league  lead at 137).  All while the Phillies sink into the Wildcard quicksand.

Last Week’s Heroes- Juan Soto hit .368 with three homers and six RBI while Trea Tuner (.304) and Adam Eaton (.400) each scored seven runs. Erick Fedde and Joe Ross may be the back end of this rotation, but each tossed six scoreless innings at San Francisco.

Last Week’s Humbled- Sean Doolittle and Fernando Rodney had late-inning hiccups Friday and Saturday against the Mets. Brian Dozier went 0-for-14 at the plate while Matt Adams went 5-for-21 with nine strikeouts.

Game to Watch- Wednesday the Nats wrap up their series with Cincinnati as Stephen Strasburg (14-5, 3.72 ERA) faces midseason pickup Trevor Bauer (10-8, 3.74).  It’s also the final game for the Reds in DC, meaning Marty Brennaman will say one last time, “So long, everybody” as he closes the broadcast.  The longtime announcer is calling it a career after 46 years with the team.

Game to Miss- Marty’s final tour distracts the faithful from another disappointing campaign;  the Reds haven’t had a winning record or made the playoffs since 2013 (a Wildcard loss to Pittsburgh).  In his first 23 years at the mic, Cincinnati posted 16 winning records and finished first or second in the division 15 times while winning three World Series (two via sweep).  Over the last 22 and a half years (including this season’s 56-60 start) the Reds have finished over .500 just five times.  Tuesday they pitch Alex Wood, who won 16 games two years ago for the Dodgers but has a 5.65 ERA over three starts.  Watch old videos of the Big Red Machine instead.