Archives for posts with tag: Cubs

The Nats’ ten-game roadtrip is now in their rear-view mirror.  The 3-7 finish was less than ideal but not as disastrous as it could have been.  From getting swept in Milwaukee to getting shut out twice in Los Angeles.  From a comedy of errors in the field against the Brewers to a silent outing by the bats in almost getting no-hit by the Dodgers.  This team returns to DC a little healthier (Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto are both back) but far from full-strength.  And just as far from successful:  they’ve not won consecutive games since April 18 and have had just a pair of two-game winning streaks.  Things won’t get any easier as they face fellow NL East contender New York (more on the Mets in a moment) and the NL East-leading Cubs.  Can things get turned around by Memorial Day?

 

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia (23-16) won four of six games and took both of their series last week; the Phils are led by the twin arms of Zach Eflin and Jake Arrieta this year while Rhys Hoskins (11 homers with 35 RBI) has been the primary producer at the plate.  Atlanta (21-20) lost four of seven to hover near the .500 mark as Nick Markakis (.299) is threatening to hit .300 for the first time since his second season in the bigs.  The New York Mets (19-20) won three of five behind the one-two youth movement of rookie Pete Alonso (12 HR with 32 RBI) and Jeff McNeil (his .360 batting average is second best in the majors).  The Marlins?  Drifting at 10-29…and after splitting their four game set with Colorado have won just one series in 2019.  And yes, that series was against the Nationals.

 

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted .200 last week while bringing his average down to .229 for the year (his career low? .243 in 2016).  The former face of the franchise has scored 25 runs while driving in 25 (he’s roughly on a pace to reach 100 in both categories this year).  He’s also on a pace (51 strikeouts over 39 games played) to shatter his career high in K’s–with a chance to reach 200 for the season.  Good thing the Phillies are winning-for now.

O’s Woes- another homestand, another two series lost.  The Birds are 6-15 at home, tied with Miami for the worst in the majors.  Last week the heartache was Trey Mancini getting robbed by Jackie Bradley Jr. making a game-saving catch well over the wall.  There is hope, however: even though the team ranks 30th in team ERA they’re 14th in that category since April 30th.  This week they visit the New York Yankees (24-16 despite all of the injuries) and Cleveland (21-18 and owning the third best team ERA this season).

 

Last Week’s Heroes- Patrick Corbin ended the team’s four game losing streak by tossing seven scoreless innings while Max Scherzer struck out 17 over two starts, winning for the first time in over a month.  Newcomer Gerardo Parra hit a grandslam in Saturday night’s win while ending a no-hit bid by the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu Sunday afternoon. Howie Kendrick’s homer helped the Nats snap the slide, and he led the team with seven RBI last week.

Last Week’s Humbled- Anthony Rendon came off the injured list and hit .136 with seven strikeouts.  He’s not alone-as none of the regulars hit over .250 last week. The catching combination of Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki went 1-for-25 with 10 strikeouts.  Jeremy Hellickson allowed six runs over four innings of work while Kyle Barraclough and Matt Grace each posted a 13.50 ERA.  That of course pales in comparison to Dan Jennings’ 40.50 blemish.

 

Game to Watch- Friday night Max Scherzer pitches against Cole Hamels.  While the Nats have won just two of Max’s nine starts this year, Scherzer is beginning to hum as he’s lowered his ERA for the season in four straight.  Hamels leads the Cubs in innings pitched and is 3-0 to start the year.  It’s the series opener against a red-hot team (Cubs have won 12 of 14 entering this week).

Game to Miss- Thursday afternoon Anibal Sanchez (0-6, 5.27 ERA) take to the mound against Zack Wheeler and his 4.35 ERA.  While Sanchez’ winless string isn’t as compelling as Trevor Rosenthal’s outless streak, it’s still concerning that he’s yet to notch a victory this deep into the season.

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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.

Baseball is a sport where a division leader loses two of three to a cellar dweller and nobody blinks.  Instead one is more focused on the cramping of Stephen Strasburg’s leg, the porous pitching on display Sunday and Trea Turner’s inability to merit another at-bat after going 3 for 3 with a walk Friday night.  Now that Ryan Zimmerman’s back from paternity leave (congrats to the new addition to #11’s lineup), Turner can go back to smoking AAA pitching on a daily basis.  To quote Jed Bartlet, “What’s next”?

Dissecting the Division- the Nats lead the Mets by two games in the NL East…and even though Matt Harvey has pitched much better in his last two starts, third baseman David Wright is done for the next 6-8 weeks with neck issues.  They were ranking 28th in the Majors in runs scored with a hobbled Wright–what now?  Miami is four games off the pace but their -16 run differential is the red mark that isn’t washing away anytime soon.  The Phillies are six back and slip under the .500 mark after dropping 8 of their last 10…one would not be surprised if they were to stay underwater for the rest of the season.  Atlanta?  They are trending, having won 7 of their last 19 after starting 9-28.  Baby steps.

Division to Watch- the NL Central is home to the juggernaut that is the Chicago Cubs. A 39-16 start may not be the exact equal of the Detroit Tigers of 1984 (35-5), but Joe Maddon’s crew is making the Barry Goldwater lookalike seem rather smart for batting his pitcher 8th (In your heart, you know he’s right).  But like the great lobster dinner that often dismisses the oyster appetizer and delicious beverages, the division also boasts two wildcard contenders in Pittsburgh and St Louis.  Both the Pirates and Cardinals are clubs are familiar with recent runs to the playoffs…and it wouldn’t be a shock to see the two teams playing in the Wildcard game.  With the victor providing a serious challenge for the Cubs.

Last Week’s Heroes-  Wilson Ramos hits .450 with 2 HR and 6 RBI to continue to be the best advertisement ever for Lasik surgery.  Nats catchers this season rank 3rd in MLB in OPS (on base percentage + slugging) and Ramos should be receiving serious consideration for the All Star team.  Daniel Murphy delivered another ho-hum .360 with 3 HR and 7 RBI week (getting so old).  Sammy Solis came out of the bullpen Sunday to stop the bleeding and toss three scoreless innings to help the team avoid getting swept by Cincinnati.  Sammy’s ERA for the weekend? 0.00.  The rest of the team?  9.41.  The kid stays in the picture.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ben Revere’s troubles continue as he hits .100 with just 2 runs scored.  The Nats’ leadoff position ranks last in the majors with a .184 batting average through 57 games.  That is a serious sore spot.  Reliever Felipe Rivero coughs up 5 earned runs over 3 innings of work out of the bullpen.  Thank goodness for him he’s a lefty.

Game to Watch- Wednesday in Chicago, Max Scherzer pitches against the White Sox.  Which Max will we get?  The one who posts double digits in strikeouts or the one who coughs up multiple home runs?  Sometimes we get both in the same outing.  The Pale Hose trot out recent pickup James Shields–who is 2-7 with a 4.28 ERA to start the season.  He wrapped up his tenure with San Diego by allowing 10 runs before being yanked in the 3rd inning.  That is how you make an ignominious exit. 

Game to Miss- Thursday Gio Gonzalez pitches against the White Sox’ Carlos Rodon.  Something has to give– Gio’s dropped three straight decisions while Rodon has lost five of six.  I’ll also be watching on-demand the season finale of the best show on television– “The Americans”.  If you don’t check out this show about a 1980’s Falls Church, Virginia couple who work in DuPont Circle but may have other things going on– you’re missing out.  If only for their teenage son who tries to imitate Eddie Murphy doing “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood” bits.

There’s nothing like a collapsed souffle to end a fantastic meal.  How did we go from what was a magical May to the clunker that was last weekend?  Not only losing a series for the first time since April…but getting outscored 21-9 by a Cincinnati team that was spiraling (9 losses in 10 games) towards the NL Central cellar?  The offense that had broken through in May was held to 3 runs a game while hitting .222 against a Reds pitching staff with the 5th highest ERA (2nd highest in May).  The bullpen that was stout for the most part over the previous 47 games coughed up 14 earned runs over 11.2 innings against Cincinnati lineup that scores the 4th least runs in the majors (that’s a 10.20 ERA for those without a calculator).  Stephen Strasburg pitched one inning before going to the disabled list while Bryce Harper missed Saturday’s loss after being hit by a pitch Friday.  Heading into the series most in and around the beltway were sad to see May come to a close–now everybody’s ready to move on.

Strasburg’s Status–  Well…that escalated quickly.  After being limited to less than 5 innings in three of his last four starts, #37 was lifted Friday after pitching to five batters.  Neck tightness is the official reason he went on the disabled list…while some are saying it’s trapezius trouble and others claim it’s a by-product of a spring training ankle injury.  Hopefully he’ll return in two weeks ready to go.

Werth’s Replacement Rotation– Michael A. Taylor started all three games over the weekend in left field– going 2 for 8 with 2 runs scored and 5RBI, accounting for 77% of the team’s production at Great American Ballpark.  Taylor moved to centerfield late yesterday when Tyler Moore pinch-hit for Denard Span (striking out) and went into leftfield.  Moore flied out as a pinch-hitter Saturday evening in his only other at bat during the series.  Clint Robinson went 2 for 6 with a run scored over the weekend…starting in rightfield Saturday for a banged up Bryce Harper while getting pinch-hit opportunities in the other two games.

Last Week’s Hero– Tanner Roark won his first start of the season and tossed 11 innings over two outings despite not being fully in starter form, posting a 2.45 ERA with a K/BB ratio of 4-3.  To top things off he also performed at the plate–notching the highest OPS of the week (1.250), going 2 for 4 with a double.  Sadly, his hit Sunday was 50% of the team’s total.

Last Week’s Humbled– the bullpen trio of Casey Janssen (0-1, 18.00 ERA), Aaron Barrett (0-1, 20.25 ERA) and Matt Grace (0-1, 54.00 ERA) came up short over the weekend.  The pitching staff shell game had to come up empty sooner or later with Doug Fister already on the DL and Stephen Strasburg reaching the 5th inning just once over the last month.  Tanner Roark’s infusion into the rotation thinned out an already taxed bullpen–and Strasburg going just 1 inning Friday was the domino that started the slide.  Good thing the next two night’s starters (Jordan Zimmermann and Max Scherzer) both average over 6 innings per game (Scherzer currently ranks 4th in the majors).

Game to Watch– Monday against Toronto (7:05 first pitch on 1500am).  Jordan Zimmermann takes his 4-2 mark to the mound against former NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.  Who’s ready for the Dickey’s knuckleball?  Feast or famine…but always fascinating.  Meanwhile, Zim has been solid as of late (2-0, 1.35 ERA with a 17-5 K/BB ratio over last three starts).  Plus, it’s a reunion of former Canadian rivals.

Game to Miss– Wednesday the Nats look for somebody to fill in for Stephen Strasburg–and the likely candidate is A.J. Cole from Triple A Syracuse.  He’s made one major league start–allowing 9 earned runs over 2 innings (granted, this was the game where the Nationals rallied to win 13-12 so this may be a good thing he pitches).  Regardless, Mark Buehrle pitches for the Blue Jays;  at 6-4 he’s one of the few pitchers to notch a decision in every start so far this year.  Plus, the NHL Finals begin in Tampa.  Playoff hockey…

Memorial Day is the first official turn of the Major League Baseball season–most teams have played at least one-fourth of their season by now and streaky weeks become extended trends.  While the game is often a mosaic of trends in both directions, the Nationals have dominated since the calendar turned.  The team’s 16-5 mark is the best in the Majors this month (although they did win their last three games of April)…and they’ve passed the early rabbit New York Mets (consecutive 1-0 shutouts over the first weekend setting the trend).  How much of a cushion will the Nats create before they cool down?

Cutting down on the K’s– one reason for the upswing in offense has been the decline in strikeouts.  The Nats struck out the 2nd most in the Majors last month, while in May the team’s whiffed the 11th fewest times in the bigs.  A top of the order with contact guys Denard Span and Yunel Escobar gives the meat of the lineup more opportunities…and it’s paid off.

Bullpen Boost– the Nationals relievers rank 8th in ERA this year…and they’ve gotten help from veterans (Drew Storen’s 14 saves lead the NL) and rookies (Matt Grace is 2-0 this month after making his big league debut five weeks ago).  Grace’s path to the majors was nerve-wracking:  he was called up from AAA Syracuse and saw his flight get delayed twice–arriving at the ballpark less than an hour before gametime.  Now that Casey Janssen’s healthy, a strong pen gets a little mightier.

Hero of the Week– Duh.  Bryce Harper has owned this month (.386, 11HR and 26RBI) and last week was no exception.  Sunday’s opposite field hit that brought home an insurance run in a one-run game wasn’t as majestic as one of his bombs, but just as much of a game-changer (let the record show he scored on the next at-bat).  His patience at the plate has paid off;  Harper is one of two players with more walks than strikeouts this month (Dan Uggla being the other) and his 41 RBI lead the big leagues.

Zero of the Week– Stephen Strasburg is 1-3 with a 10.20 ERA this month, with Saturday’s shelling by Philadelphia sending everyone scrambling wondering what might be wrong.  He’s reached the 5th inning just once in May…and his ills have been pinpointed as “misalignment” underneath his right shoulder as well as an ankle injury that’s causing Strasburg to alter his throwing motion.  When healthy, the righthander is a 15-game winner.  He doesn’t appear to be there now– and getting  #37 in gear for the long haul will be key.

Game to Watch–  it’s not official yet, but doing rotational math would likely place Max Scherzer (5-3, 1.67 ERA) on the mound at Wrigley Field Wednesday against Jon Lester.  Two guys who proved their mettle in the American League each enjoying strong starts in new locations.  The Cubs also boast a manager that resembles Barry Goldwater in Joe Maddon.  Even if he double switches for no apparent reason, in your heart you know he’s right.

Game to Avoid– May 31st the Nationals visit Cincinnati.  The Reds are in a tailspin with eight straight losses and boast a manager that would make Tommy Lasorda rethink what he thought about Dave Kingman’s performance.  Their rotation is already somewhat shorthanded with Homer Bailey done for the year.  And it’s the end of May.  After the last few weeks, are we really ready to say goodbye to this month?