Archives for posts with tag: Daniel Murphy

I don’t know if Joe Ross gambles at the MGM Casino in the National Harbor, but if he does I want a seat next to him at the blackjack table.  The Nationals have scored 104 runs over his ten starts this year…with Saturday’s 18-run explosion the latest incident of sitting in the right seat at the table.  Ross is off to a 4-3 start with a 5.40 ERA and although he’s bounced back from an awful April (7.47 in the season’s first month), the Nats’ number five starter continues to enjoy a charmed life.  I’m surprised the National League hasn’t tried to change dealers or cards, or heaven forbid bring William H. Macy over to sit on Joe’s shoulder.  As the Nats own a commanding NL Central lead, one of the fun features of the long summer ahead will be watching Ross split aces and eights as well as double down when the dealer shows 5.  Deal me in…

Dissecting the Division- surging Atlanta moves within nine games of the Nats, thanks to an offense that ranks 5th in the Major Leagues in hitting.  Problem is, the Braves pitching is in the bottom third of the big leagues in most major categories and summers in Atlanta aren’t kind to porous pitching.

O’s Woes- at least they stopped allowing 5 runs in a game (after 20 such games).  And at least the Birds took two of three from AL East foe Tampa Bay (you can call them Rays, but ya doesn’t have to call them consistent).  The fact that the Orioles remain on the fringe of contention despite owning the fifth worst run differential in the Major Leagues is a testament to Manager Buck Showalter’s bunch being able to do the little things right when the opportunity arises.  Unfortunately, when you allow 6 runs in the first inning a lot of the little things go out the window.

Last Week’s Heroes- Michael A. Taylor homered three times and Daniel Murphy drove in eight runs, but the emergence of Brian Goodwin as a capable bat in leftfield and in the #2 spot of the lineup was huge.  With Jayson Werth out…the order can ill afford a dead spot before the likes of Harper, Zimmerman and Murphy.  When Werth returns, perhaps we’ll get a chance to see Goodwin stay in the lineup (filling in for Taylor as well in center) against select righties.  Gio Gonzalez struck out eight over seven innings in his lone start of the week…and is off to his best season since 2012 when he won 21 games.

Last Week’s Humbled- catchers Matt Wieters and Jose Lobaton combined to hit 3-for-23 with 7 strikeouts.  The usual rock-solid rotation hit a couple of bumps:  Stephen Strasburg wilted in the heat (5 runs allowed on 8 hits over 5 innings) while Tanner Roark allowed 12 runs over 8.2 innings in his 2 starts.  Max Scherzer had the most humbling outing:  within 5 outs of a no-hitter Scherzer allowed a single off of his glove before an error at first allowed the inning to survive.  A hit batter, a wild pitch and another single turned Max from making history to suffering a loss.

Game to Watch- Tuesday Max Scherzer returns to the mound to face the Cubs and duel with Jake Arrieta (7-5, 4.36 ERA).  Despite his defeat last Thursday in Miami, Max is having special outings every time he steps on the field.  Despite a 2-1 mark this month, Arrieta has not won consecutive starts since April.  The June heat may provide a couple more assists.

Game to Miss- Friday the Nats begin a series in St. Louis (Cardinals are in fourth place) and Tanner Roark pitches against Mike Leake.  Roark’s ERA this month is 8.23 as every outing is an adventure while Leake is sub-500 on the season.  Friday night in June?  Enjoy the Waterfront at Tony & Joes.

The Nationals came up short in attempting to sweep the New York Mets Sunday.  But they still departed Citi Field with a double-digit lead in the NL East…and won’t face a team that currently has a winning record until after the All Star Break.  Not that home-field advantage is worth the paper it’s printed on (as we’ve learned in 2012, 2014 and 2016), but the team has a great opportunity to make a run at the NL West trio (more on them shortly).

Dissecting the Division- what made the 3-1 weekend on the road against the Mets even more special was that in previous years these were weekends that underachieving Nats teams found ways to go 1-3 or even 0-4.  And the Mets were red-hot with five wins in six games entering the four game set.  Instead of giving their NL East foes hope, Manager Dusty Baker’s team proved over 36 innings that they were the better bunch.  Now the Mets are tied with Atlanta for second place, with Miami half a game back in third.  Philadelphia?  When does 2019 begin?

The Wild, Wild, West- it’s an odd-numbered year, so forget about San Francisco for the moment.  The NL West is giving fans the best race for their money with three of the top five teams in baseball residing in that division.  Colorado, Arizona and the Los Angeles Dodgers are separated by one game and all three could make the postseason as the next Wildcard contender is nine games behind LA (it’s the Cubs, and it’s a long season, but still…).  The Rockies own the best offense of the trio (tied for first in the bigs in runs scored and second in batting average) while the Diamondbacks boast the most consistent pitching (second in team ERA, ninth in quality starts and fifth in bullpen ERA).  LA has the weakest rotation of the three (24th in the majors in quality starts) and is getting the most out of its offense at this time (sixth in runs score despite ranking 19th in batting average and 17th in home runs).  Brace yourself for plenty of late nights as the three jockey for the division, home field and wildcards.

Last Week’s Heroes- Adam Lind hit .462 over five games while providing depth off the bench.  Daniel Murphy batted .429 while scoring 6 runs and driving in 5.  Max Scherzer strikes out 10 over 8 innings in his lone start while reliever Enny Romero (1 save, 2 holds, 5 strikeouts and no earned runs in 4 innings over 3 games) provided some necessary relief.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman has enjoyed one incredible comeback season, ranking among the league leaders in all three triple crown categories.  Thus hitting .208 will be viewed as a minor hiccup.  Trea Turner struck out 6 times while walking just once.  Tanner Roark allowed 7 runs over 5 innings in his outing of the week…and the righthander’s ERA in April was 3.64, 4.04 in May and now 6.27 in three June starts.  Joe Blanton, Trevor Gott and Matt Albers each posted ERA’s in the double-digits last week.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats return from their road trip and start Stephen Strasburg (8-2, 3.28 ERA) against Cincinnati.  The Reds pitch Bronson Arroyo.  Yes, the 40-year old former Red Sox hurler is back in the bigs for the first time since 2014 (a spring training stint with the Nats occurred in 2016).  He’s named after Charles Bronson, making every outing of the righthander’s redemption tour must-see if only to think about Deathwish and The Dirty Dozen.

Game to Miss- Monday Tanner Roark (6-4, 4.39 ERA) takes to the mound in Miami against Justin Nicolino (4.15 ERA) with “Better Call Saul” warming up in the bullpen as the AMC drama airs its season three finale.  Bob Odenkirk is always good and you’ll recognize Michael McKean (Laverne & Shirley, Spinal Tap) as Jimmy McGill’s upstanding brother with jealousy issues and more, but fans of a certain age will recall blue-blood lawyer Howard Hamlin as the former Professor Lasky from “Saved By the Bell: The College Years”.  My sneaky MVP on this show?  Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, the striving attorney who sees Odenkirk’s character’s possibilities and excesses while trying to stay on the road (literally and figuratively).  Check out all three seasons…

The Nationals enter the final leg of their three-city, nine-game roadtrip with five wins in six games…but it’s not the 5-1 start everybody’s focused on.  Can the bullpen turn itself around?  Was Bryce Harper trying to throw his helmet away or at Hunter Strickland?  And why didn’t the term “Malachi Crunch” return to our lexicon?

Division Discussion- once again the dust clears and the Nats own first place.  This time by ten and a half games.  Atlanta, Miami and the New York Mets are all fighting over second place while Philadelphia brings up the rear.  When do we start calculating magic numbers?

AL East Beast- meanwhile the Nats’ interleague neighbors to the north are in the middle of the toughest race in the bigs.  A seven game losing streak drops the Orioles from nipping at the New York Yankees’ heels to battling Boston for second.  The O’s are one of two MLB teams with a winning record that own a negative run differential.

One Messy Pen- the Nationals’ bullpen now ranks last in the majors in ERA (5.15)…even though they’re 11th with nine blown saves.  Sunday saw Shawn Kelley cough up a grand slam yet earn a save.  Last week on WTOP.com our digital sports editor Noah Frank dissected the relief corps in an interesting read.  This isn’t a problem yet…but this will always be there until the Nats trade for Marc Melancon in late July.

Crime and Punishment- how about that beaning and brawl by the bay?  Thank goodness Hunter Strickland carried a grudge through two and a half years.  It had me thinking of who I upstaged while playing freeze-tag and hospital bombardment in the fourth grade  (John Coston, I am really sorry if I hurt your feelings).  The beaning was just the start:  as Harper raced to the mound he tossed his helmet…but was he chucking it aside or trying to hurl it at Strickland?  It had the feel of an ill-advised frisbee throw.  Add in the collision that smacked of a “Happy Days” demolition derby, catcher Buster Posey having nothing to do with any of the proceedings, and Strickland’s teammates dragging him into the dugout.  This was one fun-filled fight.  And then the suspensions were handed out:  four games (shortened to three) for Harper and six for Strickland.  Going inside the math, Harper had appeared in 90% of the Nats games and played 8+ innings in those outings…making his suspension roughly “36 innings”.  Strickland had appeared in 38% of the Giants games, and averaged .75 innings per outing.  Thus his “projected miss” over six games would be in the neighborhood of 1.96 innings.  All’s fair in love and baseball…

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman hit .440 with 3 HR and 9 RBI…while Daniel Murphy batted .500 with 1 HR and 7 RBI.  Michael A. Taylor is striking out less (5 times in 24 at bats) and Brian Goodwin hit his first career home run.  Tanner Roark won both of his starts while striking out 10 over 14.2 innings…and Max Scherzer struck out 11 while tossing a complete game five-hitter.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Joe Ross had another rough start (6 earned runs over 3 innings) but he’s slated to pitch again this Thursday.  He’s only made six starts so you could say his 7.34 ERA is just a snapshot…for now.  Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley both have seen better days out of the bullpen.  Jayson Werth before his foot injury was hitting .182.  The week Bryce Harper was hit by a pitch saw the rightfielder go hitless in 10 at bats.

Game to Watch- Wednesday the Nats wrap up their roadtrip with a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Stephen Strasburg takes his 7-1 mark (2.91 ERA) to the mound against LA’s Clayton Kershaw and his 7-2 record (2.28 ERA).  Remember the Monday night matchup we were all looking forward to last June 20th?  The one where Strasburg was scratched after lifting too much during his off-day?  We get that showdown Wednesday at 3:10.  I’ll be watching.

Game to Miss- Guess what, boys and girls at MLB scheduling?  It gets really hot here in June.  Especially during the middle of the day…like around noon.  Saturday the Nats host Texas at 12:05…and I think the pools around the beltway will have the right combination of kids and idiotic adults.  I’ll be reading “The Miniaturist” and “Shattered” this summer… getting a headstart on both with sunscreen Saturday.

 

 

 

It’s good to be in the NL East.  Instead of falling back in a hotly contested race after losing 4 of 6 on a road trip, the Nationals remain seven games ahead of Atlanta.  The bats that were so hot in April are hitting just .243 in May, yet the team still stands atop the majors in runs scored.  The bullpen resembles a poorly wrapped cigar (reliever’s ERA ranks 29th in the majors), yet the Nationals own the fourth best record and fifth best run differential in the game.  Sometimes hiccups are uncomfortable…but right now they aren’t deadly.

Concerns for Starters- four of the top five pitches per start in the NL belong to Nationals pitchers:  Tanner Roark is tops with Max Scherzer ranking second; Gio Gonzalzez is fourth while Stephen Strasburg is fifth.  Thank Jon Lester for breaking up the quartet.  If Koda Glover can keep up his consistency (four earned runs allowed in 13 innings over 15 appearances) and stay healthy (he’s already done a stint on the DL due to his hip)?  If he can make the ninth inning safe, that allows a lot of flexibility for manager Dusty Baker.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy hit .400 with 3 homers while leading the team in runs scored and RBI.  Stephen Strasburg went 2-0 with 14 strikeouts over 13.2 innings.  His 11-K performance against Atlanta not only ended a four game losing streak, but was his highest total since May 24th of last year.  Koda Glover as mentioned is closing well at the moment (one save over two games, allowing three hits over 2.1 innings).

Last Week’s Humbled- Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper and Trea Turner each hit under .200 for the week.  Tanner Roark allowed 7 runs over 5 innings in his lone start.  The team also made five errors over its three game series with the Pirates.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats host San Diego…with Stephen Strasburg facing his former hometown team.  Stras is coming off his best performance in almost one calendar year, and even though they no longer play the Rick Astley-inspired “fan behavior” video on Fridays, it’s cool to remember those times.

Game to Miss- Sunday the starter is “TBA”.  The opponent is the Padres.  It’s a 1:35 start (when it might be warm outside).  And it being Memorial Day Weekend, the pools are open and “The Dirty Dozen” is being broadcast somewhere on cable.  Cook up the hot dogs…

Rain interrupted the Nationals inter-league series with the Orioles last week…while their bullpen is weighing down their 2017 hopes.  The relief corps less than one-quarter into the season has already blown 8 save opportunities (they had 14 blown saves in all of 2016) and owns the fourth worst ERA in the majors.  Initial closer Blake Treinen has watched his ERA balloon to 8.10…and he’s not the most flammable arm coming out in the late innings (Joe Blanton’s holding strong at 9.49).  Look no further than last years San Francisco Giants:  they owned the best record at midseason before 30 blown saves turned them into a wildcard club…and the pen came back one more time to bite them in a Game 4 loss to the Chicago Cubs.  It’s only May…but a leaky pen usually gets worse before it gets better.  Buckle up…it could wind up being a very bumpy summer.

Dissecting the Division– after taking two of three from Philadelphia, the Nats are seven and a half games ahead of the pack in the NL East.  They’re the only team over .500 in the quintet…and the only team with even a .500 win over the last ten games is the oft-injured New York Mets.  Will a race that never starts be a help or a hindrance for a team focused on producing in October?

Oh My Goodness- after coming to Nats Park and chanting “OH” during the anthem, Orioles fans find themselves saddled with a four game losing streak and a much tighter AL East.  They’re a half game behind the Yankees (who own the best run differential in the bigs) and three and a half games ahead of Boston in the East.  All this, while ranking 17th in MLB in scoring and 25th in opponent’s batting average.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .417 with 3 homers and 7 RBI while inking a 21+ million dollar contract for next season.  Did we mention he delivered a walk-off homer in Saturday’s win?  Michael A. Taylor homered twice, with both blasts coming in huge spots of wins over the Orioles and Phillies.  Matt Albers tossed three scoreless innings over four appearances, notching a win in relief as well.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman hit .136 from the cleanup spot while Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner also batted under .200 for the week.  Shawn Kelley’s 20.25 ERA over two appearances let Enny Romero’s 7.71 fly under the radar.

Game to Watch- Saturday in Atlanta Max Scherzer meets Bartolo Colon in a duel for the ages.  Meaning that the Braves pitcher is 43 years old and has enjoyed a career that actually lasted longer than the life of the Braves’ former home Turner Field (1997-2016).  After two starts where Scherzer was let down by either his offense or his bullpen, Max may be looking to leave no stone unturned in pursuit of win #5.  Colon is 1-4 with an ERA of 7.22…and may be one or two starts away from Jeremy Guthrie territory.

Game to Miss- Wednesday in Pittsburgh the Nats will trot out “TBD”, meaning they’ll be calling up somebody from the minors or having Jacob Turner on the mound against hard-luck Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole.  Either way, I’m watching “The Americans” from the previous night because I can’t justify preempting a Stephen Strasburg start.

Apologies for getting the weekly feature underway two weeks later than normal.  Who’s ready for a semi-informative and occasionally amusing look at the Nats from a guy who is at the ballpark more often than not?

The 7-5 start has given fans plenty of thrills (Daniel Murphy picking up from where he left off in 2016), chills (Bryce Harper screeching home from first on a double in Friday’s win over Philadelphia) and spills (a leaky bullpen that’s less than ideal). Welcome to the 162-step marathon that involves plenty of missteps in every direction.

Causes for Confidence- an offense that leads the majors in OPS, ranks second in batting average and seventh in runs scored.  The addition of Matt Wieters extends the lineup as many thought it would…and even with Wilmer Difo still finding his bat this team has the potential to bring buckets of runs to the table.

Causes for Concern- the bullpen ranks 25th in ERA and has the fifth most blown saves (3) in the early season.  There’s the thinking that this is just an early hiccup…while the other school of thought labels the subpar start as the beginning of a season-long problem.

Dissecting the Division- it’s never too early to freak out about the rest of the NL East.  The Nats are tied for first with Miami and the New York Mets are one-half game behind the leaders.  Two weeks into the season, the club owns the third best run differential (-2) as a 17-3 loss to Philadelphia will cook the numbers a little bit.  Nobody has cause to panic in April–unless you’re 2-10 Toronto.

Meanwhile in the Other East- how about those plucky Orioles?  Despite not having Fort Knox at their disposal like the Yankees and Red Sox, Buck Showalter’s team owns a half-game lead in the division with the best record in the bigs.  Even without Chris Tillman, the Birds are getting it done (although the pitching staff allows the second-highest batting average in the majors).  Now Zach Britton’s on the disabled list…and they still take three of four from the Blue Jays.  Break out the Old Bay…

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .391 with 2 HR and 8 RBI…and scored the game-winning run Friday night against the Phillies before smacking a walk-off homer Sunday.  This is the Bryce of 2015 that was a registered force of nature.  Chris Heisey makes the most of his opportunities, consistently delivering productive at-bats.  Gio Gonzalez tossed 14 and a third innings over two starts, posting an ERA of 1.88.  Shawn Kelley posted two wins in relief, striking out four over three and a third innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- Wilmer Difo is NOT Trea Turner.  Nobody expected the infielder to light up the league with the Nats’ leadoff man on the DL…but hitting .190 with six strikeouts and no walks is far from ideal.  Anthony Rendon hit .240 last week with four strikeouts…hopefully his RBI double last Friday is the start of a turnaround.   Joe Blanton pitched in three games and allowed a home run in each.

Game to Watch- Friday the defending NL East champs face the 2015 division winners for the first time this year.  Tanner Roark (2-0, 3.50 ERA) has a 12-to-2 strikeout to walk ratio and will pitch against a Jacob deGrom who’s coming off a 13-strikeout performance.

Game to Miss- Wednesday the novelty of the Braves’ new ballpark will be worn off…as no doubt Atlanta fans will be clamoring for a new venue.  It’s not Joe Ross’ fault he’s making his 2017 debut the same night the Capitals visit Toronto and the Wizards host Atlanta.  I’ll be curious to see how he fares, but one will be rocking a different red that night.

PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

What is it with the yo-yo performances of the Washington Nationals?  They’re slowly becoming the poor man’s San Francisco (forget about the three World Series titles the Giants have- last fall’s flameout against the Cubs in Game Four was even more spectacular than the Nats’ underwhelming Game Five loss to the Dodgers) with playoff appearances during even-numbered seasons…and frustrating walks in the wilderness during odd-numbered years.  The shock of 2012 and making the postseason for the first time ever was tempered by the frustration of a 2013 team that floundered…just like the 2014 club that exceeded expectations found a way to spiral downward in 2015.  The local team’s fortunes remind me of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine loses her job and winds up wearing sweatpants while George gets hired by the Yankees.  Everything evens out eventually…

With a few exceptions (the Joe Torre Yankees, the Bobby Cox Braves), teams don’t repeat because in order to win in the first place a club needs premium seasons from its best players and outlier-type seasons from the mid-range players.  Doug Fister isn’t going to win 16 games every season…and when opposing hitters adjust and things aren’t as sharp as they were during the dream season, a 5-7 nightmare with a 4.17 ERA can be a rude awakening.  It hasn’t helped that there have been whispers around the Nats clubhouse regarding their manager in both occasions where the team was defending its title, whether it was Davey Johnson being put out to pasture or Matt Williams being out of his league.  Dusty Baker’s calm center should keep the yo-yo in check somewhat…but players will still vary production-wise year to year.

That is very good news for Bryce Harper.  The 2015 MVP had a less than stellar 2016…just like his 2014 was less than ideal.  But even with all of his issues (some alleged to be injury-related), the Nats prime offensive weapon still ranked second on the team in on-base-percentage, third in runs scored and second in runs batted in.  Could this be the year he finally surpasses 100 RBI?  The yo-yo says yes.

Does this mean that Max Scherzer will likely not win 20 games this season?  Even thought the ace says he’s recovered from the hairline fracture to the knuckle of his right ring finger, back to back 20-victory campaigns are few and far between in the current era.  And Max had a better WAR (wins above replacement) season the year before when he went 14-12.  What’s more unlikely for the reigning Cy Young winner is his continued prowess at the plate:  last season Scherzer drove in 12 runs over 70 at-bats…a rate that would translate to 102 RBI over 600 AB.

Should Tanner Roark be nervous then?  After winning 15 games in 2014, the pitcher went to the bullpen the following year and showed that he was best suited as a starting pitcher.  His return to the rotation resulted in 16 wins and proved that 2014 wasn’t a fluke.  He gets another year of going against third and fourth starters in other team’s rotations…so another 15+ victory season isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Daniel Murphy fans should be wary, though.  Nobody expected the offseason acquisition to hit .347 with 25 homers and 104 RBI in 2016…and nobody should expect him to match those numbers this year.  Conventional wisdom has the second baseman hitting in the .290’s with 15 HR and 80 RBI in 2017…but the famed conventional wisdom said the same thing about Murphy last year.

What to make to Turner and Treinen?  Trea Turner set the base paths on fire last season from the leadoff spot and returns to lead off this season…how much of his 2016 success (.342 with 33 steals and 53 runs scored over 73 games) can be attributed to beginners luck?  Now that pitchers have an actual scouting report on the kid one feels that while he’ll be productive it won’t be at the rate Turner was in 2016.  Blake Treinen had a breakthrough season last summer in the bullpen…but in a setup role.  Posting an ERA of 2.28 over 73 games as a set-up man is one thing…but how will the 28-year old handle the responsibility and expectations of being the team’s closer?

Sometimes the string wears out- Ryan Zimmerman’s coming off his least productive season and hasn’t driven in even 80 runs since 2012.  The “new normal” for the oft-injured 32-year old may be .250 with 15 homers and 55 RBI…not what you look for from a power position like first base.  Jayson Werth enjoyed a resurgence after being moved to the #2 spot in the batting order last spring…but the 37-year old enters the final year of his contract and hasn’t had consecutive 20-homer seasons since 2010-11.  Like Zim, Werth plays a position where production is paramount.  How one veteran bounces back and another prevents a market correction could go long way towards if the Nats will continue their even-odd year yo-yo.  That…and of course the Mets who were ravaged by injuries last year.  One expects a bounce-back from the other NL East team to make the playoffs last year.