Archives for posts with tag: Daniel Murphy

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…

 

 

 

 

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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.

Forgive us if we’re a little giddy here.  It’s one thing to be a one-hit wonder…another to have “Get off of My Cloud” hit #1 in the US or “From Me To You” top the UK charts.  While the Nats had previously won NL East crowns in 2012 and 2014, they were unable to repeat the feat–sometimes embarrassing themselves in the process (Papelbon, anyone?).  Not the case this year, where General Manager Mike Rizzo made the necessary offseason (Adam Eaton) and in-season (the bullpen trio) moves to give Manager Dusty Baker the best club possible.  Baker’s firm but not overbearing hand on the wheel steered the club through injury-ravaged seas (they’ve used 50+ players this year).  And the players who came up short in defending previous titles had career-defining seasons (Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon & Gio Gonzalez specifically).  Instead of a winter of what-if, there are postseason possibilites.  And I no longer mention the magic number in this space.  That should be reason enough to celebrate.

From Magic to Tragic- while Philadelphia is already out of Wild Card contention, the other three NL East teams still have hopes.  Miami’s fall from orbit (12 losses in 14 games, including 0-7 against the Nats) drops the Marlins ten games behind Colorado for the final playoff spot in the National League.  Their “Tragic Number” is now ten.  Atlanta’s elimination number is seven while the Mets need a combination of five losses/Rockies wins to call it a year.  Enjoy at your own risk.

O’s Woes- somehow after getting swept by AL Central leading Cleveland the Birds remain on the fringe of the Wild Card, three games behind Minnesota.  Doesn’t anyone want this playoff berth?  The Twins, Angels and Rangers are a combined 14-16 over their last 30 combined games.  Twelve of the O’s remaining 19 games are on the road…but they only play seven games against teams with winning records.  And three of those are at home against Boston, a team that might lead the division but one Manager Buck Showalter’s crew is 10-6 against.

Playoff Possibilities- if the season ended today, the Nats would own the #2 seed in the NL and would host the Chicago Cubs in the first round.  The Los Angeles Dodgers would get the winner of the Wild Card game between Arizona and Colorado.  American League pairings would have top seed Cleveland host the Wild Card winner (New York Yankees or Minnesota) while Boston would visit Houston in the other series.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy hit .450 while Trea Turner tallied seven runs and six RBI, but Michael A. Taylor earned his middle initial by batting .409 with three homers and nine RBI.  Did we mention his inside-the-park grand slam?  Did we forget his out of this world defense that saved a home run Thursday and cut down a runner at the plate Friday?  For today I’m calling him Michael A+ Taylor.  Stephen Strasburg won both of his starts while posting an 18 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Last Week’s Humbled- relievers Shawn Kelley and Oliver Perez are not making the best case to be included on the postseason roster…as both pitched Friday but were unable to record an out while allowing three-run homers.  The Nats also had the gall to clinch the division on the day the Redskins opened their season.  How dare the perennial postseason contenders win their fourth title in six years while the football team loses its fifth straight opener!  Talk about rubbing it in…

Game to Watch- the NL West leading Los Angeles Dodgers come to town this weekend, and Friday they send Alex Wood (14-3, 2.81 ERA) to the hill against Edwin Jackson.  Memories of last year’s hard-fought NLDS loss to LA and the division clinched has Friday not arriving soon enough.

Game to Miss-  I’m sorry, Gio Gonzalez.  You are having your best season since the 21-win campaign and your ERA is under two since the All Star Break.  But your start Tuesday against Atlanta is the same night that the Washington Mystics meet Minnesota.  WNBA fever takes over for at least one evening…as the upstart squad led by Maryland great Kristi Toliver and Elena Della Donne face last year’s runners-up and this year’s top regular season team.  It’s not the Kastles in World Team Tennis, but it’s close.

 

The Major League Baseball universe is decidedly tilted to towards the opposite side of the country in 2017.  The top two teams (Dodgers and Houston) plus four of the top seven squads reside west of the Mississippi, and LA’s magic number for home field is less than the Nats number to win the dilapidated NL East.  Pick your poison- while the Astros boast the major’s best offense (tops in runs, on-base percentage and slugging), the Dodgers-surprise-have the best pitching staff (#1 in ERA and opponent’s batting average).  But Houston’s pitchers lead the league in strikeouts.  If you want to see the best baseball, prepare for later nights (or at least a diet of starts after 8 p.m.).

Dissecting the Division- the Nationals lead the NL East by 14 games after taking four of six games last week, with their magic number dwindling to 27.  Credit the plucky Marlins for keeping pace…as a hot streak would catapult Miami into the serious Wildcard contention (as it is, they’re just six games back).  Speaking of magic numbers, Philadelphia’s “tragic number” is 12.

O’s Woes- the Birds lost four of six…losing both series after taking their first games against Seattle and the Angels.  Two teams ahead of Baltimore in the American League Wildcard race.  A sweep of AL West cellar-dwelling Oakland would be a great boon to their lagging playoff hopes…because after that they visit AL East-leading Boston and then host Wildcard contender Seattle.

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilmer Difo hit .316…while Howie Kendrick scored 5 runs and homered three times.  Daniel Murphy after a day off was responsible for three of the team’s four runs in Sunday’s win at San Diego.  Gio Gonzalez won both of his starts…the only run allowed being unearned.  Sean Doolittle notched three saves in three appearances.  He’s 11 for 11 since coming to the Nats.

Last Week’s Humbled- Matt Wieters is invaluable behind the plate, working very well with pitchers this season.  He was less than valuable at the plate, batting 0-for-14.  Rookie Andrew Stevenson looked more like Andrew Stevens hitting 1-for-10…and Michael A. Taylor has yet to regain his pre-DL groove.  Max Scherzer’s neck is robbing the game’s best pitcher of his stretch run…where is MyPillow.com when you need it?

Games to Watch- yes, games.  With a trip to Houston and a series against the Mets, break out a new bag of Tostito’s hint of lime chips to enjoy with your hummus.  (1) Friday Max Scherzer (neck-willing) pitches against 13-game winner Jacob deGrom. (2) Thursday Stephen Strasburg pitches for the second time since coming off the DL against an 11-2 Dallas Keuchel. (3) Saturday Gio Gonzalez continues his stellar summer ride (5-1 with an ERA of 1.29 since the All Star Break and 3-0 with a 0.46 ERA in August) against the Mets.

Game to Miss- another Sunday day-night doubleheader?  AJ Cole pitches the matinee against Steven Matz (2-7, 6.08 ERA).  Since the break Matz is 0-5 with a 10.16 ERA.

 

 

Well, that was a week you don’t often see.  The Nationals began the week with a trading deadline deal that yielded a third reliever in less than a month…and then saw Gio Gonzalez take a no-hitter into the ninth inning.  Max Scherzer hits a home run…but then has to leave the game due to a bad neck (buy him one of those My Pillows pronto).  Tanner Roark stands on his head at Wrigley Field…and the Nats get a clutch hit from their catcher when all looks lost.  Not the week you want to start your final book of the summer, “Shattered”, which to my disappointment was NOT about the Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” recording sessions and instead covers the 2016 Presidential Election.  But after a 3-3 week that provided a little of everything, the Nats are over two-thirds of the way through their regular season marathon.  Will the moves of the last month help them for the October sprint?

Nats Dissecting the Division- The magic number is now 41 games!  The Nats’ lead stays at a lucky 13 games over Miami as the Marlins drop two of three to Atlanta after taking two of three from the Nationals.  At 52-57, the NL East’s second-place team also stands 10 games back in the wildcard race.   The two teams tangle four times this week.

O’s Position- thought by many to be in the “seller’s mode” at the trading deadline, the Orioles actually made moves- bringing in starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson and infielder Tim Markham.  Both moves have paid in the short-term…and at 55-56 the Birds are within striking distance (2.5 games back in the wildcard) but is another one-game playoff worth it for the organization to tread on .500 water for another season?  The barren farm system could have used an infusion of prospects.  On a macro level, is an organization that doesn’t have a robust farm system a symptom or a cause of the issues at the Major League level?  And is the lack of homegrown talent because of bad drafting or poor development?  One feels like manager Buck Showalter is trying to swim through the shark-infested waters of the AL East while being tethered to an anvil.

Last Week’s Heroes- Gio Gonzalez tossed a near no-hitter on the birthday of his late friend Jose Fernandez.  Daniel Murphy hit .389 with a team-high 6 runs and 2 HR, while Howie Kendrick provided a boost by batting .471.  Tanner Roark turned into the stopper of the staff with his outing Friday night, and Matt Wieters’ grand slam Sunday salvaged their series in Chicago.

Last Week’s Humbled- Max Scherzer’s bad neck turned their series with Miami on its ear:  they had outscored the Marlins 7-0 before the neck and were outscored 14-0 after Scherzer sat down.  The bad neck also blew up the bullpen for the next few days.  Talking about the bullpen, Matt Grace and Matt Albers each posted ERA’s in the double-digits.  At the plate, Ryan Zimmerman hit .100 and his primary backup Adam Lind batted .063 (for those scoring at home, that’s a combined 3-for-36 with 10 K’s).

Game to Watch- Saturday the Nats host San Francisco with Max Scherzer (hopefully) taking to the mound against Jeff Samardija.  Plenty of heat available on South Capitol Street.

Game to Miss- Friday Edwin Jackson starts against the Giants Chris Stratton (0-2, 6.63 ERA).  It’s also “Nineties Night” at the ballpark.  I swore Ricky Stratton and Silver Spoons was canceled in the late 80’s.

July 31st is the non-waiver trading deadline in Major League Baseball.  While swaps can still go through, this is the big day when deals are made between contenders and pretenders.  For the sixth straight year the Nats are contenders…and the last three seasons have provided a Christmas in July for DC baseball fans.  What might be under their tree this year?

Needs- Relief, relief, relief.  The Nats lead the majors with 66 quality starts but boast the second-worst bullpen ERA in the big leagues.  Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson have been solid additions, but one can never have too many proven arms available in the late innings.  They could also use another table-setter type in the lineup:  Brian Goodwin and Wilmer Difo are hitting just over .250 with 34 walks against 104 strikeouts.  Howie Kendrick was a start…but there’s no guarantee Trea Turner will return to his June-level when he gets back and there’s no guarantee Jayson Werth will even return.  Add to the wish list a #3 or #4 starter…the longer that Stephen Strasburg is in the land of limbo.

Previous Sprees- the last three years General Manager Mike Rizzo has pulled the late-July trigger, with mixed results:

2014-– infielder Asdrubal Cabrera (more like a stocking stuffer than a gift wrapped under the tree) was brought to DC for reserve Zach Walters.  Cabrera didn’t set the world on fire, but was a decided upgrade over Danny Espinosa at second base (just one error and 20 runs + 21 RBI over 49 games; Espy had 31 runs + 27 RBI over 114 games played).

2015– closer Jonathan Papelbon was brought to South Capitol Street to shore up the bullpen.  The price tag?  Nick Pivetta (3-6 with an ERA of 5.73 this year for the Phillies).  And the team’s mental well-being. Instead, the veteran was ineffective, Drew Storen went on a downward spiral that ended when he broke his hand punching a locker, and Papelbon put his hand on the throat of NL MVP Bryce Harper in a dugout dustup.  Decidedly a bad move.

2016– new year, new closer.  This time it was Pittsburgh’s Marc Melancon…and the price tag was pitchers Felipe Rivero (5-5 with an ERA under 2 out of the pen for the Pirates over the last year) and Taylor Hearn (currently in high Class A).  Melancon delivered 17 saves in 18 chances with an ERA of 1.82 in 30 appearances and almost as important allowed the team to jettison Papelbon.  A definite win for the team.

Hall of Blame- congratulations to former Expo Tim Raines and ex-National Pudge Rodriguez on their Hall of Fame inductions.  Shame that Cooperstown’s big day occured while there were 14 MLB games in progress.  Perhaps they can make this part of All Star Week?

Dissecting the Division- the hard-charging Miami Marlins have won seven of ten,  moving within 13 games of the Nats.  For those scoring at home, the magic number is now 47.

O’s Woes- okay, so the Birds took two of three from Texas. And they put 10 runs on the board Sunday against the Rangers.  But the Orioles are 6-1 against Texas this month…and 5-13 against everyone else in July.  At 50-54 they’re on the fringe, five and a half games out of the wildcard.  But the starting pitching remains a nightmare and the dreaded west coast trip is a few weeks away.

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman hit .350 with 4 HR and 9 RBI…replacing Frank Howard atop DC’s career HR list.  Wilmer Difo batted .364 with 2 homers.  Edwin Jackson pitched a gem Sunday night (striking out 6 while allowing 4 hits over 7 innings).  Max Scherzer struck out 9 while improving to 12-5 on the season.

Last Week’s Humbled- Daniel Murphy and Matt Wieters each hit .167.  Tanner Roark allowed 4 runs over 5 innings in his lone start.  The Washington Kastles lost 5 straight matches to slip out of World Team Tennis title contention.

Game to Watch- Monday Gio Gonzalez pitches against Jose Urena in Miami.  So you’ve got Gio’s return to his hometown…facing a nine-game winner.  While Gonzalez has lost four of his last five decisions, the lefthander continues to keep his ERA under three.  Have we mentioned the Marlins are within 13 games of the NL East lead?

Game to Miss- Wednesday the Nats wrap up their series against the Marlins with Stephen Strasburg–nope, he’s on the DL.  Instead, TBA takes to the mound against an 0-2 Vance Worley…proving that the dog days are officially upon us.

The storyline of the first half of the Nationals season was three-fold:  explosive offense, solid starting pitching and a flammable bullpen.  One weekend after the All Star Break, little has changed.  The offense pounded out 29 runs (even though Joe Ross is on the DL and headed for Tommy John Surgery instead of on the mound), the starting pitchers tossed 20 and a third scoreless innings while the bullpen notched an ERA of 9.95.  Will the trade for Oakland relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle do something to patch up what’s been a leaky hull (5.31 ERA, worst in the Majors) all season?  If nothing else, it removes Blake Treinen from the equation:  the 6-foot-5 right-hander began the year as the team’s closer but wound up sporting a pre-All Star Break ERA of 5.73.  He’d been more “Blaze” than Blake over the last month. 

Dissecting the Division- pesky Atlanta (nine and a half games back) keeps pace by sweeping their weekend as well, and with Freddie Freeman back in the lineup the Braves could make a run at the postseason.  At least their pitching is consistent–meaning the starter’s ERA ranks 19th in the big leagues and their reliever’s ERA is 20th.  The Nats have six more games against Atlanta this season–all in September.

O’s Woes- the only thing worse than a leaky bullpen is a razed rotation.  After entering the All Star Break on a two-game winning streak, the Orioles proceeded to get swept at home by the defending champion Chicago Cubs.  Pitching was porous:  the starters allowed 21 runs over 11 and a third innings (16.68 ERA).  Some storylines never change. The New York Yankees currently own the final playoff spot in the American League at 47-43…a pace of 85 wins over the full season.  In order to catch them, the O’s would have to finish 43-28.  The team may say they’re buyers as the trading deadline looms…but you have to think they’re going to auction off some pieces for prospects.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .636 with 3 homers and 9 RBI.  Granted, three games is a small sample size but WOW.  Daniel Murphy hit .625 with 7 RBI…while Murph and Bryce Harper both homered twice over the weekend.  Gio Gonzalez tossed 8 and a third scoreless innings while Max Scherzer struck out ten in his start and Tanner Roark had a solid outing for his first win since June 4th.

Last Week’s Humbled- Brian Goodwin went 2-for-13 over the weekend (.077) with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts…not what you want to see from your leadoff hitter but repeat after me, “it’s a small sample size”.  Relievers Trevor Gott (5 earned runs in one inning) and Austin Adams (2 runs allowed without recording an out) may have small sample sizes, but anytime you’re a pitcher who wears a number in the 60’s or 70’s it can’t be good.

Game to Watch- Sunday Stephen Strasburg (9-3, 3.43 ERA) pitches in Arizona against Robbie Ray.  Despite having two first names, the Diamondbacks pitcher is 8-4 with an ERA of 2.97.  He’s also a former Nats farmhand…having been sent to Detroit in the Doug Fister deal.

Game to Miss- Wednesday night the Nats wrap up their series with the Los Angeles Angels as Gio Gonzalez pitches against Ricky Nolasco (4-10, 4.82 ERA).  It’s a 10pm start… meaning you’re likely going to bed after golf’s British Open (or as they insist, “The Open Championship”) tees off.  Golf’s oldest major wins the tiebreaker here.