Archives for posts with tag: Bryce Harper

Home is supposed to be where the heart is…not seven losses in ten games.  Not the haven of bad baserunning and sloppy defense.  And certainly not the incubator of an offense that can’t seem to get out of its own way.  When the homestand began, the 4-2 Nats were looking forward to using their 10-game set on South Capitol Street as a springboard.  Instead, they leave for a suddenly crucial nine-game journey that involves a west coast swing but starts at the NL East-leading New York Mets.  Traditionally the west coast trip sneaks up on you in August at the most crucial time and often makes or breaks a season.  Could that be the case-gulp-in April?  Welcome to another interesting week in review… 

Break up the Mets!- while we know that a 12-2 start is not sustainable through a 162 game schedule, a division lead is still a division lead.  Pitching has been the difference for the Mets- who lead the majors with a 2.58 team ERA- while Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce have delivered at the plate.  In previous seasons the injury bug didn’t just bite the Mets–the bug chewed and spit out this team.  It’s safe to say a healthy Mets team aren’t just going to provide the Nats with a challenge–but if the Mets take two or even sweep this week, the Nats will go from being the hunted to the hunters.

O’s Woes- at least the Nats are their neighbors to the north.  The Orioles are 5-11 (not too good) and have had issues hitting (29th ranked batting average in the bigs) and pitching (worst opponent’s batting average in MLB).  Chris Tillman, Alex Cobb, Kevin Gausman and Mike Wright Jr. each own ERA’s over six.  Thank goodness Tampa Bay is worse.

Last Week’s Heroes-  Max Scherzer notched 21 strikeouts while winning both of his starts…notching more hits at the plate (2) than walks issued from the mound (1).  Max also stole a base.  Tanner Roark scored a run in his lone start while allowing 3 hits over 6 innings Friday in a hard-luck loss.  Matt Wieters came off the DL with a bang…belting a pair of home runs against the Rockies.  Bryce Harper made the most of the limited pitches he saw to score a team-high five runs.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Ryan Zimmerman’s April issues (.136 battaing average with 6 strikeouts) continue while Trea Turner, Matt Adams, Moises Sierra and Brian Goodwin also hit under .200 for the week.  Shawn Kelley gave up a pair of homers while Sean Doolittle coughed up a ninth inning blast to Ian Desmond in the series finale.

Game to Watch- Saturday Stephen Strasburg pitches against Clayton Kershaw at Chavez Ravine.  This is the dream matchup when both are on their game. The fact that it’s on a Saturday makes the 9:10 first pitch more than workable.

Game to Miss- Tuesday the Capitals try to climb out of a 2-0 series crater against Columbus while the Wizards attempt to bounce back from their Game One loss at Toronto.  Sorry, Gio Gonzalez as you pitch against the New York Mets.  Postseason crises trump regular season issues more often than not.

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Okay, so we knew the Nationals were not going to go 162-0.  Or even 130-32.  But the last five games have been somewhat tough to stomach…as five consecutive losses drops the club under .500 since the days of Matt Williams.  They’ve been outscored 37-16 in that stretch…and while they knew the NL East would not be a cakewalk, now the Braves and Mets know it too.

Dissecting the Division- getting swept by the Mets means New York is atop the NL East at 7-1 while Atlanta is a game and a half back.  It’s still early, but the Mets rank 2nd in the majors in WHIP (walks + hits divided by innings pitched) and ERA while boasting the third best batting average in the bigs.  Meanwhile, the Braves lead MLB in batting average, runs scored, slugging and on base percentage.  The Nats are in third–with Philadelphia and Miami stumbling over each other thanks to and offseason fire sale and puzzling managerial moves by Gabe Kapler.  Yes, there are some in Philly who would rather have Gabe Kaplan managing.

Sick Bay- add Matt Wieters and a strained oblique to the DL.  While we weren’t expecting the world from the catcher this year, having to mine the minors for early-season replacements was not what the club intended

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .333 while drawing 11 walks in 29 plate appearances.  Pedro Severino hit .320 with 3 RBI and 2 runs scored after being called up from the minors.  Relievers Sean Doolittle, Matt Grace, Ryan Madson, Shawn Kelley and Sammy Solis combined to toss 16.2 scoreless innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- AJ Cole had a less than ideal 2018 debut, allowing 10 earned runs over three and two thirds innings pitched.  Michael A Taylor (.182 with 9 strikeouts) and Ryan Zimmerman (.105) continue to struggle in early April.

Game to Watch- one wants to see Max Scherzer redeem himself after last Wednesday’s loss to Atlanta.  It’s a cold Monday in April but the Caps and Wiz are both idle.  And “The Americans” airs on Wednesday.  So we are going all-in on Max.

Game to Miss- on a week where we get Scherzer & Strasburg twice apiece, Gio Gonzalez in the hard-luck loser Thursday with the Caps beginning their playoff run the same night.

 

 

 

Four NL East titles in six years is a good thing…even with the unfortunate October endings that have plagued the Washington Nationals this decade. Ryan Zimmerman still has the phantom pains from 100+ loss campaigns where contending was a pipe dream and instead of a magic number a tragic number was posted some times as soon as August.  So even though DC is more than hungry for a champion–or even a team that plays for the championship–let’s enjoy the process as the team is once again favored to win its (albeit not awesome) division and has more than a few players who will potentially factor in the MVP and Cy Young races.

One Sweet Sweep- not only did the Nats take all three from Cincinnati, the Reds did not lead at all during the series.  Dominant pitching and timely hitting set the table for the weekend as the club did plenty of little things and more than a few big things right.  It’s only three games, I know.  But while a team can’t win the division in April, it can definitely lose its way.

O’s Woes- after a thrilling extra inning walkoff win (which is becoming the rule instead of the exception at Camden Yards) the Birds dropped two straight to Minnesota- an expected Wildcard contender.  Kevin Gausman looked bad in coughing up 6 runs over 4 innings while the Chris Davis leading off experiment has the top of the O’s order an 0-for-12.  And the bullpen almost gave away the opener.  But it’s still really early.

Last Week’s Heroes- Adam Eaton hit 8-for-13 with 2 homers and 5 RBI (do you think he was ready for 2018?)…while Bryce Harper not only homered twice but also got the job done with a pair of sac-flies.  Max Scherzer struck out 10 over 6 scoreless innings in the season opener while Sean Doolittle notched a pair of saves.

Last Week’s Humbled- relievers Enny Romero and Sammy Solis had less than ideal opening weekends, each allowing two earned runs while recording a pair of outs.  Ryan Zimmerman and Michael A Taylor both hit .125 against the Reds, but  Zim’s groundout Friday led to the first run of the season and Taylor used a bunt and a stolen base to generate an insurance run.  Once again, it’s only three games.

Game to Watch- there’s nothing quite like the home opener.  Even when it’s a week into the season.  Stephen Strasburg starts Thursday against the New York Mets in a matchup of the last two teams to win the division.

Game to Miss- sadly the Atlanta rebuild makes matchups against the Braves less than desirable.  With apologies to Tanner Roark, Monday night will be all about the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Championship Game as Villanova takes on Michigan.  One shining moment, indeed…

 

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING AS PART OF A SERIES ON WTOP.COM–

Start spreading the news.  Bryce Harper’s leaving next winter for New York, where he’ll sign as a free agent and achieve his childhood dream of playing for the Yankees.  Of course the Nationals could re-sign him for $500 million dollars over ten years with Teddy Roosevelt Island thrown in as a signing bonus, but it won’t happen for the five-time All Star and 2015 MVP.

Why New York?  Why the Yankees?  It’s been a badly kept secret that Bryce Harper grew up idolizing Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle–to the point where he wore the number 7 when playing youth baseball.  When #7 wasn’t available one year, he wore 16 (1+6).  He now wears 34–do the math.  Even in today’s era of 30 Major League teams, the world of baseball to a point revolves around the Bronx and the new house next to The House That Ruth Built.  Harper appreciates the game’s history and to play every day for the sport’s signature franchise (sorry, Dodgers and Cardinals fans) wouldn’t just be the cherry on top to an already sweet career, but a ridiculously awesome sundae.

What also makes the Yanks a potential landing spot as opposed to the Cubs or simply staying in DC is the fact that they play in the American League.  Harper’s MVP season is the only one in his career where he’s played 150 or more games.  Having the designated hitter option when he might be nicked up or dealing with a tight hamstring would be a nice bonus.  It’s also 314 feet down the line from home plate to the right-field foul pole at Yankee Stadium…as opposed to 335 at Nationals Park.

Could he fit in?  USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported last December that Harper’s agent Scott Boras would be seeking a contract in the neighborhood of ten years in length with the price tag of $400 million dollars-at a minimum.  Who has money?  Naturally, the Yankees are in the #1 media market in the nation–but only have the 7th-highest payroll entering 2018, according to spotrac.com.  After spending freely on big-name players during the latter half of Derek Jeter’s career when it appeared they were only a player or two away, the Yankees tightened their belts this decade and focused on drafting as well as player development.  That focus left the franchise with a talented nucleus–including a pair of right-handed hitters (Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez) who can bat before and after Harper.  Both players are still in their pre-arbitration timetable:  Judge is 25 and fresh off of a 52-home run season while Sanchez turns 25 over the weekend and hit 33 homers in his first full season as a regular.  Put Bryce in that mix and you have a 3-4-5 combination only fantasy teams dream about.  Current leftfielder Brett Gardner is 34 and would be entering a team-option year in 2019.  Whether Harper or Judge plays left or right, the Yanks would be set on the corners for some time.

The New York Yankees also potentially represent stability for a free agent looking at the landscape:  whoever becomes their new manager will be the team’s third skipper since 1995.  Dave Martinez will be the fourth manager (following Davey Johnson, Matt Williams and Dusty Baker) Harper will have played for as he enters his sixth season in the bigs.  Perhaps paying top dollar for a manager has its dividends after all.

FOR OTHER POTENTIAL HARPER DESTINATIONS, GO TO THE SPORTS PAGE AT WTOP.COM. 

Do we have to do this?  I mean…the season’s over.  Winter is underway in Washington…can’t we focus on how the Capitals will get our hopes up again before melting in May?  Yes, the Nationals will not be advancing to the NLCS again.  Another Game Five loss at home.  Another offseason of head-scratching.

Series Heroes- start with Michael A Taylor who was the only regular to hit over .211.  His Game Four-sealing grand slam and three-run homer in Game Five accounted for 35% of the team’s runs during the series.  Adam Lind went 2 for 3 in a pinch-hitting role (to be expected after hitting .341 in September).  Stephen Strasburg turned in two gems, striking out 22 over 14 innings (while allowing two unearned runs).  Sean Doolittle and Matt Albers combined for 5.1 scoreless frames.  Max Scherzer had a great start in Chicago despite a bad hamstring (6.1 innings of one-hit ball over 98 pitches).

Series Humbled- the bats were flat:  Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Trea Turner and Matt Wieters each hit under .200 in the NLDS.  Gio Gonzalez had a rough start in Game Five…and Max Scherzer was one strike away from a 1-2-3 inning when an infield single began the drizzle that ended in a 4-run shower of runs.  Manager Dusty Baker’s tactics were called into question, from bringing in Sammy Solis to staying with a Jayson Werth that was hitting .155 since coming back from injury.  It was rough all around…

Bye Bye Beard- Jayson Werth’s seven year tenure seems likely to be ending…and from the moment he signed his 7 year, 126 million dollar contract there were those who said the Nats would never get true value for their money.  While Werth never reached the 30 HR or 90 RBI plateaus with the Nats and played fewer than 90 games during three of his seven seasons in DC, the fan favorite will be missed in the clubhouse.  He marched to the beat of his own drummer…and band.  Other pending free agents include bats off the bench Howie Kendrick and Adam Lind.

Opening Day 2018- if Adam Eaton returns to his April 2017-form, we can pencil him back at the leadoff spot.  And I’m going to move Eaton over to LF and put Michael A Taylor in CF.  Trea Turner goes back to hitting second while Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon form the core of the order.  That brings up the catcher’s spot in the order:  Lobaton becomes a free agent and Matt Wieters hit .196 after the All Star Game and .118 in September.  He has a player option for 2018…and in the wings the Nats have Pedro Severino (.242 with 5 HR and 29 RBI in AAA) and Raudy Read (.265 with 17 HR and 61 RBI in AA and a name that smacks of Wrestlemania IV).  Taylor looks like the #8 guy as Dusty loves to go left-right (or switch) in the order.  Outfield depth provides promise if Brian Goodwin can stay healthy and Victor Robles can make the leap.  Wilmer Difo is on his way to becoming a Swiss Army Knife after playing three infield and all three outfield positions in 2017.

Rating the Rotation- Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg return for another season while Gio Gonzalez enters his contract year and Tanner Roark comes back after not pitching in the postseason.  Last year the Nats tried to land Chris Sale to no avail… do they attempt to bring in another front-line pitcher this winter?  Or do they trot out Joe Ross/AJ Cole for another round of auditions?

Bullpen Blues- at least Sean Doolittle is coming back next year to close.  That eliminates what was the never-ending story of the first four months of the 2017 campaign.  Ryan Madson is also signed through 2018.  Matt Albers and Brandon Kintzler become free agents…and patching up that part of the pen will be key.  But I’d rather have holes in the 6th and 7th than the 8th and 9th….

Caps and Wiz!  The beauty of working in a four-team town is that the seasons collide in such a manner you often don’t have the chance to labor over the abrupt end of a playoff run.  Just like the Nats first place surge in May moves the Wizards and Capitals to the back-burner our winter friends have rejoined us with the usual high hopes (conventional wisdom says the Caps’ window is closing while the Wiz’ window is opening).  Enjoy the offseason and prepare for another 162-game marathon.

It’s about time.  The least-suspenseful regular season since 90210’s final turn (yeah, like Kelly & Dylan weren’t going to end up together) wrapped up with the Nationals 20 (yes, twenty-as in XX) games ahead of second-place Miami in the NL East.  No more “division of depression”.  No more double-digit cushion (that was really fun while it lasted).  No more getting in gear or trying to hit one’s stride.  The time is now for glory.

Dissecting the Division- so second-place Miami (77-85) landed with a horrendous thud (21 losses in their last 32 games make for a bad finishing kick) to post the worst runner-up record of the six divisions.  Atlanta, the New York Mets and Philadelphia each finished with 90+ losses–the equivalent of going 6-10 in the NFL.  Thank goodness RPI doesn’t factor into postseason qualification.

O’s Woes- a 4-18 finish isn’t as bad as the 2002 bunch that went from 63-63 to 67-95, but the September crash was heard all the way from here in DC.  Bad starting pitching was the culprit, but the lineup that ranked 8th in batting average had issues getting the players home (16th in runs scored).  There will no doubt be changes this offseason, and one wonders if we’ll have Duquette & Showalter back in tandem after what appears to be a major step back.

Last Week’s Heroes, Milestones and Millstones- Daniel Murphy hit .529 to catapult past the rest of the field and finish with a team-best .322 batting average for the season.  Bryce Harper scored twice, giving him a team-high 95 runs scored despite missing almost a third of the season.  Anthony Rendon finished with 25 homers and 100 RBI for the first time in his career and Ryan Zimmerman hit .350 to finish with a flourish (7 HR & 20 RBI over the last 30 days).   Stephen Strasburg joins Gio & Max as a 15-game winner.

Last Week’s Humbled- Wilmer Difo hit under .200…and although he’s a near-lock to make the postseason roster this fade does not give one confidence.  Tanner Roark’s final start what has been a rollercoaster season was less than ideal…and Brandon Kintzler misfired in Saturday’s loss.  Max Scherzer’s hamstring joins his neck and Bryce Harper’s knee as “body parts we want to yell at now”…hopefully the right-hander will be ready to start Game One or Two in DC.

Bring on the Cubs!- you may have heard that Chicago’s NL team ended a long championship drought last year.  In 2017 they suffered their first post-championship hangover since 1909 and didn’t have William Howard Taft in the White House to look up to for guidance (Taft was sneakily versatile–the only man to head the Executive and Judicial Branches (he was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court).  Manager Joe Maddon’s team ranked 4th in the majors.  Kris Bryant & Anthony Rizzo are the bats to watch (although Rizzo hit .239 in September) while Kyle Schwarber (remember him?) is back in theory after hitting six homers last month.  Jon Lester starts Game One…and the Cubs’ rotation ranks 7th in ERA while the bullpen ERA is 6th-best in the league.

 

My Rotation- with Max Scherzer’s hamstring tweaked, the starting order may be flipped with Strasburg (Pitcher of the Month for September thanks to his 4-0 mark and 0.83 ERA).   And Max isn’t the best in October (4-4 with an ERA of 3.74).  But barring major hamstring issues, I still want #31 on the hill for Game One.  He embraces the big moments and Game Ones are made for people like Max.  Until Friday we are monitoring Max’s hammy, his neck, potential hangnails as well as keeping him in bubble wrap.  Strasburg starts Game 2– and that gives me the option of pitching either Max or Stras in a potential Game 5.  Gio is on the mound in Game 3–with Tanner Roark slated for Game 4 if the Nats are up 2-1.  Down 2-1 I’m going with my Game 1 starter.

My Lineup- what to do with Bryce Harper?  He’s played in four games since mid-August and has hit .167 with 2 walks and 7 strikeouts.  But he’s BRYCE HARPER, who still leads the team in runs scored and is a threat to explode when he gets back on track.  I want to bat  Harper second.  But my C. Montgomery Burns manager inside me doesn’t want to bat a rusty lefthander in the #2 spot against lefty Jon Lester during Game One.  And what about Jayson Werth?  I can’t forget what an asset he was in the #2 spot during the 2016 season, but  he’s hit .132 since the end of August.  Howie Kendrick hasn’t fared that much better as of late either.  Adam Lind as an option is more of a #6 hitter…and while he doesn’t have the words “defensive liability” written all over him there’s a drop-off.  But Lind is hitting .341 with 12 RBI over his last 20 games.  After much review I want to go with Harper following Turner in the #2 spot with Murphy, Zimmerman and Rendon in the 3-4-5 slots and Werth starting in LF against Lester with Lind batting against righties. Am I nuts?  See you Friday…

 

 

 

 

So…the Nats just might not catch the Dodgers for home field advantage.  But there are still things to play for, even as they’ve clinched home field for the NLDS (we know how much home field helps a team in a deciding game five).  Individual milestones are within multiple players’ reach–even after Ryan Zimmerman crossed the 100 RBI mark last week.  Anthony Rendon enters the final stages of the season four RBI shy of the century mark…and can also finish 2017 with more walks than strikeouts (he currently has an 81-80 ratio), a rarity in today’s free-swinging day.  Other milestones to watch:  Daniel Murphy is at 90 runs scored as well as 90 RBI (shame they’re not playing the Mets this week)…while standing two homers shy of reaching his career high set in 2016.    On the mound, Max Scherzer is 2.1 innings shy of reaching 200 for the season while Stephen Strasburg is four strikeouts away from 200.  Brandon Kintzler remains one save away from 30 for the season…and with the Nats almost locked into the #2 seed may be ready to get a ninth inning appearance.

Bryce is Back?  The Nationals may be getting their rightfielder in the lineup as early as Tuesday…their top hitter has been on the shelf with a knee injury suffered in early August.  Harper had 29 HR…and it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see #34 notch #30 in the final days of the season.  The bigger question is will he be postseason-ready after less than a week of work to find his groove?

Playoff Possibilities- if the season ended today, the Nationals would be the #2 seed in the NL and host the Chicago Cubs in the Divisional Series.  The top seeded Los Angeles Dodgers would host the Wild Card Game winner Arizona/Colorado.  The AL matchups have Cleveland hosting the New York Yankees or Minnesota (Pinstripes pounded the Twins in a series just last week) while Boston visits Houston.

O’s Woes- yes, that means the September of Suffocation is complete for a Birds team that began the month 68-66 but will end with their first losing record since 2011.  Starting pitching needs to be addressed in the offseason…as this year’s rotation dug the rest of the team in a hole every time one turned around.

Last Week’s Heroes- Max Scherzer went 2-0 with an ERA of 2.08 while Gio Gonzalez joined Max as 15-game winners in the rotation.  Sean Doolittle continues to be lights-out with two scoreless innings en route to a pair of saves.  Adam Lind made his most off the bench by hitting .400 with a team-high  7 RBI while Trea Turner batted .318 with a team-high 5 runs and 4 RBI.  Congrats to Ryan Zimmerman for reaching the 100 RBI milestone for the first time since 2009.  For the longest time he was the best and often only player worth watching on a bad club…and once the Nats finally became a contender Zim was battling injuries.  Good to see both the player and the team having great seasons at the same time.  

Last Week’s Humbled- Jayson Werth hit .118 with eight strikeouts and one walk…while Anthony Rendon batted .176 but still walked more than he struck out.  Edwin Jackson is suffering a September to forget:  allowing 6 runs over 4.2 innings means he’s 0-3 with an ERA of 12.38 this month.  At least he ate up some innings when the Nats’ rotation was thin.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nationals play Pittsburgh while Stephen Strasburg tries to reach multiple milestones.  Bryce Harper may also be back and it’s not right after a travel day so there’s a chance we’ll see most of if not all of the regulars in the lineup.   In theory…

Game to Miss- Thursday the Nats begin their series with the Pirates by starting Edwin Jackson, hopefully for the final time in 2017.  To add to the fun, WTOP co-worker Brian Drew is having his farewell happy hour.  He’s as much a die-hard Nationals fan as he was a devotee of TURN on AMC…so one will sadly pass on Pittsburgh.