Archives for posts with tag: Bryce Harper

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.

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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.

Nineties Night at Nats Park definitely did not go as planned.  Actually, the whole weekend didn’t go as planned.  Friday’s game with San Francisco was postponed and Saturday’s tilt was delayed…forcing the two teams to play three games in a little over 24 hours.  Let’s just say that Luke Perry didn’t throw out the first pitch on the rescheduled 90’s Night.  Not even Joe E. Tata or the guy who played the Winslow kid on “Family Matters”.

Remember the “Saved by the Bell” episode when Zack injured his knee?  Bryce Harper is more important to the Nats’ title hopes than Mark-Paul Gosselaar.  After slipping on first base Saturday night, the outfielder slips onto the disabled list with a significant bone bruise and hyperextended knee.  Thank goodness no ligaments were torn…although Harper’s agent made comments about slippery bases after rain delays.  File this for the 2018-19 offseason.

Dissecting the Division-  the magic number is now 33 as the Nats own a 14-game lead in the NL East.  Miami’s three-game sweep of Colorado keeps the Marlins not on the fringe of playoff contention, but on the “fringe of the fringe.  They’re 8.5 games behind the Rockies and Arizona for the wildcard, and if those two teams go .500 over the rest of the season Miami would need to finish 31-14.  We aren’t yet to the point where we can pinpoint the champagne celebration, but I’m sure somebody at MASN has a range of dates.

O’s Woes- the Birds climbed back to .500 for the first time since late June with their win last week at the Los Angeles Angels…only to lose two straight against their fellow Wildcard contenders.  Over the weekend against AL West cellar-dwelling Oakland, the Orioles plated 26 runs–only to leave the Bay Area with a split.  While manager Buck Showalter’s team remains 2.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the AL, they still have four teams to pass before they reach the Halos.  The dreaded west coast swing ends with three games against fellow semi-contender (that is…under .500 but still in striking distance of a playoff spot) Seattle.  The Mariners and Angels both come to Camden Yards later this month.

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman hit .346 with 3 HR and 7 RBI…breaking Tim Wallach’s franchise record of 905 runs batted in.  Brian Goodwin hit .346 with 7 runs scored…and Howie Kendrick hit that grand slam Sunday night.  Gio Gonzalez won his lone start…allowing one run over 7 innings just two days after the birth of his son.  Sean Doolittle notched 3 saves.

Last Week’s Humbled- Matt Wieters hit .176…while Anthony Rendon hit .130.  AJ Cole went 0-2 with an ERA of 5.73 while Joe Blanton recorded another double-digit ERA for the week (13.50).  The way the weekend was handled amidst the weather was less than ideal;  many of the players had already changed into streetclothes and were leaving the stadium by the time the game was called at 9:48 p.m.  Instead of playing Saturday afternoon (where it did not rain in the area), they played Saturday night (and was delayed three hours) and Sundays day-night doubleheader gave the Giants a great lift as they had to leave for a series in Miami.

Game to Watch- the journey of Edwin Jackson resumes Thursday in San Diego against one of the pitcher’s 11 former teams.  The 33-year old is 3-2 over five starts with the Nats…posting an ERA of 3.30 and a strikeout to walk ratio of 25-to-7.  Problem is, Jackson hasn’t won consecutive starts since August of last year.  Which Edwin will we get?

Game to Miss- another tough call.  You don’t want to miss the two home games against the Wildcard contending Los Angeles Angels.  And even though Max Scherzer pitches at 10:10 on Friday night, every one of his outings is a must-see.  And could we be seeing Stephen Strasburg returning Saturday?  Sorry, Gio Gonzalez–your Sunday start against the Padres draws the short straw.

Everybody gets hurt in baseball.  But not all injuries are created equally.  If the Nats were 5-15 when Adam Eaton went down with the knee injury or if the offseason acquisition were hitting .143 at the time, there’d be no continual jab to the ribs every time one saw Brian Goodwin leading off.  If Jayson Werth hadn’t shown signs of life last year when moved to the #2 spot in the order, his absence over the last month would just de liver shrugs.  If Trea Turner hadn’t been setting the basepaths on fire the month he got hurt (22 of his 35 stolen bases came in June) it would be just another second-year player missing time.  If this were the first time we’ve seen concern over Stephen Strasburg, we’d treat his shortened start with the “isolated incident” mindset.  Instead, this is a team with October dreams where every bump and bruise has an impact not necessarily now but in an NLDS this team has never won.  You think these injuries hurt now?

Digesting the Division- so despite all of the issues, injuries and ineffectiveness the Nats have won 8 of 10 to extend their lead over Atlanta to a dozen games.  Do we dare start the magic number count?  It’s 53 for those scoring at home.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .476 while scoring 7 runs and driving in 6…even with plans B and C hitting ahead of him in the lineup.  Adam Lind made the most of his limited time, notching 5 hits in 9 at-bats.  Edwin Jackson turned back the clock to 2012 by scattering 3 hits over 7 innings in his 2017 debut with the team. Tanner Roark bounced back from a rough patch by striking out 11 over 7 innings in a win.  Relievers Matt Albers and Ryan Madson combined to toss 5 and a third scoreless innings over 5 games.

Last Week’s Humbled- reserves Chris Heisey, Ryan Raburn and Stephen Drew combined to tally 4 hits in 35 at-bats.  Max Scherzer allowed 3 homers in the first inning against the very team that drafted him in 2006 (Arizona) while Gio Gonzalez had a rough outing as well.  Joe Blanton’s 11.57 ERA for the week over four outings has the strange sense of deja vu.

Game to Watch- Wildcard leading Colorado comes to DC this week…giving fans three chances to see the Rockies.  Antonio Senzatela (10-3 but with an ERA over 4) starts the series finale Sunday.  Will we get the good Gio, the bad Gonzalez or simply the snakebitten one?

Game to Miss- originally the series with Milwaukee was going to be a “duel of division leaders”. Now it’s a matchup against a team that trails the Cubs by percentage points in the NL Central.  The Thursday finale sends Tanner Roark to the hill at 12:05 PM.  I’m all for getaway days…but 12:05 in July is more like a sweat-away day.

Out of the pool, kids!  The midsummer hiatus has the Nats atop the NL East with plenty of causes for confidence and concern.  By splitting their series with Atlanta, Bryce Harper and company enter the hiatus nine and a half games ahead of the pack.  They’ve been playing tag with the “16 games over .500 mark” since June 5th…and likely have their fourth busy October in six years on the horizon.  Who wants to trade a reliever?

Dissecting the Division- the Nats lead Atlanta by nine and a half games…while Miami and the New York Mets are both double digits off the pace and Philadelphia owns the worst record in the majors.  All four teams bring negative run differentials to the table…and while the Phillies (29th in scoring and 21st in ERA) seem incapable of a second-half run (they’d need to finish 60-15 to catch a Nats team going .500 the rest of the way) it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see the Braves, Mets or Marlins making a move.  Stop laughing.   Atlanta now has Freddie Freeman back in the lineup;  he’ll boost an offense ranking 23rd in slugging while a rotation that has the fifth most quality starts in the majors (Nats are #1) becomes all the more important in the dog days of summer.  The Marlins boast the 4th best batting average in MLB while their pitchers allow the 9th lowest batting average in the bigs.  Unfortunately Miami’s rotation is one of the worst in the bigs (fewest quality starts).  The Mets?  They can’t stop anybody from scoring (28th in ERA, 27th in batting average and 21st in quality starts).  Barring a major collapse by the Nats, the NL East is theirs whether they want it or not.

O’s Woes- the Birds enter the break winners of two straight but still four games under .500.  But they own the fifth worst run differential in the majors and have the worst ERA in the bigs.  How soon will General Manager Dan Duquette enter “sell” mode?  July 31st is less than three weeks away.

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilmer Difo hit .571 with an OPS OF 1.310…while Daniel Murphy hit .435 with 9 RBI.  Joe Blanton and Blake Treinen pitched in a combined seven games and did not allow a run.  Who are those guys?

Last Week’s Humbled- Adam Lind hit .083 while catchers Matt Wieters and Jose Lobaton combined to bat 3-for-19.  Stephen Strasburg had a short outing against Atlanta.  Relievers Oliver Perez and Sammy Solis both posted double-digit ERAs.  Now that’s the bullpen I’ve grown accustomed to…

Game to Watch-  Friday the Nats return from the break at Cincinnati. Who’s ready for the ramping up to the trade deadline?

Game to Miss- Sunday they wrap up their series with the Reds.  I’ll be watching Wimbledon. 

 

 

 

The Nationals played the Chicago Cubs in a four game series last week that while not being a duel of division leaders could serve as a potential playoff preview (even though the Cubs have been playing tag with .500 this year they’re just two games out of first place in the Central).  And while they split with the defending World Series champs, the series caused more concern than confidence.  While they won handily in the middle two games (by a combined 14-5 score) the Nats bookended the series with a pair of 5-4 losses.  Defeats where they failed to execute the little things (errors one night, a bullpen blowup another).  October baseball magnifies all of the little things…and with a chance to show the world they could execute on all cylinders the Nats came up short.

Plan C- so much for Trea Turner lighting up the basepaths this summer.  Before suffering a non-displaced fracture in his right wrist, the Nats shortstop was tops in the Majors with 35 steals (22 of them coming in June).  The offensive engine will now be on its third sparkplug this season (remember Adam Eaton?) and while Brian Goodwin and Michael A. Taylor have had their moments this year neither is what Turner was.  See you in September…

All Star Central- I know the midsummer classic doesn’t drop by the district until next year, but the Nats are sending five to Miami.  Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy were each voted as starters by the fans.  Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg make the roster as well…while Anthony Rendon is one of the five NL finalists for the final roster spot.  Vote early and often.

Dissecting the Division- is anyone worried about Atlanta?  The Braves have inched a little closer by winning 11 of 15…and now stand seven and a half games back in second place.  All this while ranking 18th in the majors in runs scored and 20th in ERA.  With Freddie Freeman on the shelf due to injury.  Just like the Nats regained their mojo a few weeks ago by taking three of four from the Mets, they can kick the Braves back into the land of non-contention this week during their four game series in DC.

O’s Woes- after taking four of six from Tampa Bay and Toronto on the road, the Birds dropped two of three to the Rays at Camden Yards over the weekend.  Halfway through the season the team is 40-41…and closer to last place in the AL East than a playoff spot.  Seven games on the road take manager Buck Showalter’s team into the All Star Break;  Milwaukee leads the NL Central while Minnesota’s only three games back in the AL Central.  There’s been plenty of talk about if the O’s are buyers or sellers as the trading deadline approaches.  This week could go a long ways toward determining their status.

Last Week’s Heroes- we’re here to praise Trea Turner, not to bury him.  The sparkplug hit .429 and stole 7 bases before his injury.  Bryce Harper homered twice in prime time Sunday (helping avert a sweep in St. Louis) and hit .346.  Max Scherzer went 2-0 with an ERA of 0.69, striking out 18 over 13 innings.  Gio Gonzalez was almost as impressive, posting an ERA of 1.38 over two starts with 17 strikeouts over 13 frames.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Wieters each hit .167.  Tanner Roark’s June swoon ends with a three-inning effort (he went 1-4 this month with an 8.31 ERA) where he allowed three earned runs.  Relievers Blake Treinen, Jacob Turner and Matt Grace each had ERA’s of 10+.

Game to Watch- Friday Max Scherzer starts against Atlanta’s ageless R.A. Dickey.  Every Max start is must-watch.  And you can’t beat a July Friday night in DC.

Game to Miss- Tuesday Joe Ross pitches against the Mets’ Seth Lugo.  It’s an 11:05 AM start.  Go to the pool…