Archives for posts with tag: Danny Espinosa

Portions previously appearing in this very space one year ago:

The Nationals are 52-53, meaning they’re close enough to the NL East lead to be considered buyers but middling enough to be considered sellers.  A look at previous July 31 moves:

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).  Walters last saw action in a Major League game over two years ago.

2015– closer Jonathan Papelbon was brought to South Capitol Street to shore up the bullpen.  The price tag?  Nick Pivetta (6-9 with a 4.82 ERA this season 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 (44 saves over the last season and a half and an All Star appearance this year in DC) and Taylor Hearn (currently posting a 3.55 ERA over 19 starts with AA Altoona).  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.

2017- bullpen depth was the key with the acquistion of Brandon Kintzler for 20-year-old left-hander Tyler Watson and $500,000 in international bonus pool money.  Watson’s made 12 starts this year at Class A Cedar Rapids after beginning the season in high A ball while Kintzler was the 7th inning man last year (3.46 ERA over 27 appearances) and saw setup work for the most part this season.

Who would have known that the balance of power in the NL East would have turned on a mid-winter signing with all of the excitement of leftover potato salad.  Instead of being an afterthought, Daniel Murphy has been the main course of the Nats’ offense.  He’s a major reason why after finishing seven games behind the Mets in 2015, they lead the division by six games halfway through 2016.  How good has Murphy been?  Try .423 with 7 HR and 21 RBI against his former teammates.  That’s the good news…the bad news is that he only has six more games against the Mets to remind them of their mistake in not retaining his services.

Halfway full- or perhaps 55.6% there as the Nats have played 90 games.  First half causes for confidence include stellar showings by Murphy, Danny Espinosa (Nats #8 hitters rank 2nd in the Majors in RBI) and Wilson Ramos (Nats catchers are 1st in RBI, 2nd in OPS and 3rd in runs scored).  The team also leads the Majors in ERA and fielding percentage while ranking second in quality starts and third in opponents batting average.

Halfway empty- how good is this rotation?  Stephen Strasburg has been hurt, Max Scherzer coughs up homers and while the trio of Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross have each had their moments each has given us doubts.  The leadoff spot remains an eyesore-ranking 27th in the Majors in runs scored and last in OPS (on base percentage + slugging).  The first base and centerfield positions rank 29th in OPS and conventional wisdom says there’s no way Murphy, Espinosa and Ramos can each duplicate their way-above-market first halves.

Dissecting the Division- the Nats own a six game lead over the NY Mets and Miami.  They currently are posting better numbers than their NL East foes:  in addition to leading the NL in ERA and fielding, the club ranks 6th in runs scored (Marlins are 11th and the Mets are 13th).  In the strange stat anomaly of the week, Miami ranks 2nd in the Majors in batting average yet is 22nd in the big leagues in scoring.

Across the Divide- the Orioles are in a fun race as well (for those wondering, Mark Trumbo is playing the role of Daniel Murphy on the Camden Yards stage), leading Boston and Toronto by two games for the AL East lead.  Their hold is precarious given the team’s starting pitching problems (minus Chris Tillman the Birds are 17-26 with an ERA of 5.70). The Red Sox lead the AL in hitting, scoring and OPS while making moves to bolster their consistently uneven pitching (21 runs against the Angels?  Really?).  Watch out for the Blue Jays- the defending division champs rate 3rd in OPS while own the league’s second best ERA and fielding percentage.  The Jays also have the most quality starts.

Last Week’s Heroes- Murphy hit .346 with 3 HR and 10 RBI while scoring 9 runs. Max Scherzer posted an ERA of 0.69 over two starts while notching 16 strikeouts to 5 walks.  Jonathan Papelbon in his return from the disabled list tallied 3 saves while striking out 8 over 4 innings of work.

Last Week’s Humbled- we knew Danny Espinosa’s June would be tough to duplicate, but .217 with one walk and 11 strikeouts?  Relievers Sammy Solis and Oliver Perez were tagged for ERA’s of 13.50 and 16.20.

Game to Watch- Friday Stephen Strasburg (12-0, 2.62 ERA) pitches against Pittsburgh.  One doesn’t feel the length of the All Star Break until Thursday’s off-day.  We’re ready for baseball…and we are ready to see Strasburg pitch again.  Do you know he’s lost just twice since last year’s All Star Break?

Game to Miss- they haven’t released the rotation for the first weekend back, but I will go out on a limb and guess Max Scherzer is pitching Saturday against the Pirates.  Max has a history of being magical in Saturday starts against the Bucs…so that leaves the Sunday game with Gio/Tanner/Joe on the hill.  It’s a 1:05 start and I’m sure the stadium will feel like a nice wool blanket during the game…I’ll take a day of the paper, pool and pasta.  Of course, if Scherzer pitches Sunday I reserve my right to flip flop…and wear my flip-flops on Saturday.

Another week, another benchmark.  The All Star break finds the Nationals two games ahead of the pack in the NL East after the team took two of three against the Orioles (now there’s a team tumbling– with 10 losses in 13 games).  Seven of last year’s ten playoff teams were in postseason position during the All Star break of 2014…and this year the Nats can be comfortable knowing that they are the only team with a positive run differential in their division.  While two wins can’t completely erase going 0-2 against Cincinnati, it’s nice to enter the break off a winning series where your ace has returned to form.  But seriously, what is it with the Reds?  The Nats are 0-5 against the NL Central’s 4th place team.

Alan Alda Would Be Proud– four of the Nats projected eight starting position players this year are on the Disabled List, not including last year’s #1 pitcher Stephen Strasburg.  Ryan Zimmerman (on a pace for 100 RBI when he went down) has missed 31 games.  Jayson Werth (hitting .250 with 2 HR and 6 RBI in 12 May games after hitting .175 in April) began the season on the shelf, has missed 60 games overall and won’t return until early August.  Anthony Rendon didn’t play until June 4th and was just beginning to hit his stride (batting 8-15 over his last four games) when he went down three weeks later…meaning the guy who scored 111 runs last year has missed 69 games in 2015.  Denard Span also began the year on the DL–and back issues sent him back to sick bay last week…making him the most active of the bunch at 28 games missed.  Thus, the projected 1, 2, 3 and 5 hitters in the lineup have missed a combined 188 games…and we’ve only just passed the halfway mark.  But that’s not all:  Stephen Strasburg’s in his second stint on the shelf (5 starts missed) while the guy who led the team in victories last year (Doug Fister) has missed 5 or 6 starts (depending on your rotational math with off days in the mix).  Not to mention the absence of bullpen bulldog Craig Stammen (who led the team in relief innings pitched last year)…who’s been an afterthought since tax day.  The fact that this team is even in contention– let alone in first place– is an achievement for the bench, the manager and the organization.

Digesting the Division– the New York Mets begin this week two games behind the Nats…thanks to their sweep of Arizona.  The Mets regained their mojo against the NL West, taking 7 of 9 games over the last week and a half.  Atlanta’s now five games under .500 after losing five straight entering the midseason hiatus.  Can either team make a second half run?  The Mets pitching (3rd in MLB in ERA and quality starts) is betrayed by their bats (28th in runs scored, 29th in slugging and 30th in batting average–clearly they’re spending too much time working on their 26th ranked on base percentage)… while the Braves are lucky to be in the conversation (22nd in runs scored, 21st in ERA–so at least they’re somewhat consistent).  Miami and Philadelphia continue to provide punchlines.

Division to Watch– Sunday night Pittsburgh’s Gregory Polanco belted a walk-off single to give the Pirates a 6-5 win over St. Louis for the second straight night.  The previous night Andrew McCutchen ripped a walk-off homer in the 14th to give the Bucs the W.  While Pittsburgh may have momentum, they still trail the Cardinals for the best record in the NL Central as well as all of baseball.  They’re two of the three teams currently playing over .600 ball (Kansas City being the other).  Two playoff teams from 2014 to watch out for this summer.  Meanwhile, the third place Chicago Cubs would also make the playoffs if they began today and they possess the freshest new face in Kris Bryant as well as a manager in Joe Maddon who’s known for getting the most out of his club.  Even the also-rans merit mention:  as previously dwelled upon, fourth place Cincinnati is 5-0 against the Nationals this year and last place Milwaukee boasts Bob Uecker as their announcer (he got locked in the team’s radio booth earlier this year and had to be rescued by ladder).

Last Week’s Heroes– Danny Espinosa led the team with 2 HR and 4 RBI while continuing to play the role of defensive Swiss Army Knife (he’s played 5 of the 8 positions in the field so far this year).  Max Scherzer bounced back from his worst start of the season to toss 8.2 solid innings against the Orioles while Drew Storen tallied saves at Camden Yards on consecutive days.  While much was expected from Scherzer and Storen this year, Espinosa’s risen above even the most inflated of 2015 hopes.  Despite playing 26 fewer games, he’s already surpassed his 2014 totals in runs scored, doubles, homers, runs batted in and walks.  While Bryce Harper is the team’s MVP, Espinosa and Yunel Escobar have been just as essential in their own way.

Last Week’s Humbled– San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy for not adding Drew Storen to the All Star team after Max Scherzer pitched Sunday.  Storen is currently tied for second in the NL in saves…and while Kershaw does lead the majors in strikeouts the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher is 6-6 to start the season.  Storen boasts a sub-2 ERA and has been the backbone of a bullpen that is still finding itself.  In the All Star Game, pitchers only throw 1-2 innings anyways and with Zach Grienke already starting do the Dodgers want to burn another starter?  Maybe that’s the Giants skipper’s MO.

Game to Watch– starters are not announced yet, but if one gives Max Scherzer his normal rest he’s back on the hill Friday in DC against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Do they bring Greinke or Kershaw (providing he pitches Tuesday) on two days rest?  Or do we get one of the staff Zeppos?  Regardless… it’s the Dodgers on a Friday night.

Game to Miss–  Sunday afternoon instead of being focused on the series finale with LA (and potentially either Greinke or Kershaw), I’ll be focused on golf’s British Open.  Spieth shooting for history and the “Hogan Slam” 62 years after Ben won back-to-back-to-back majors.  Is there a better place for a new generation’s Jordan to try to fly than St. Andrews?

How does “That’s Life” go again?  “Flying high in April–shot down in May”?  The Nationals were flying high in May but got shot down during June’s first week– going 2-5 and losing two more series (running their slide to three straight after winning nine series in a row).  The offense that hummed (ranking 5th in hitting and 7th in runs scored) last month hit a few bumps;  hitting .237 (23rd in majors) and scoring 2.57 runs per game (27th).  While the pitching has also slipped somewhat (team ERA from 16th in May to 22nd this month, opponents batting average from 17th to 21st in June) the flat bats remain the major early culprit.  

You want to put your best bats in the lineup every day while limiting one’s defensive deficiencies…but with the triumvirate of Michael A. Taylor, Tyler Moore and Clint Robinson combining to hit .204 with 3 walks and 14 strikeouts last week one wonders if Sunday’s substitution of infielder Danny Espinosa into leftfield is an isolated incident or a realistic option.

Now that Anthony Rendon’s healthy (after missing the first 53 games of the season with knee and oblique issues) and Yunel Escobar (.325 and on pace to score 84 runs) remains productive, at-bats are beginning to shrink for Espinosa.  That’s a shame because he’s actually having a productive season:  Espi’s second on the team in homers and walks while he’s currently tied for second on the team in runs scored.  As a switch-hitter, he’s fared much better against lefties (.375) than Taylor (.172), Moore (.105) or Robinson (0-2).  Do you put an infielder in the outfield for the next two months while Jayson Werth heals and rehabs?

Last Week’s Hero– Jordan Zimmermann was the leader in the clubhouse until he coughed up 4 runs over 5 innings Sunday.  Instead, it’s back to Bryce Harper (1.012 OPS).  Two major differences over his first 56 games of 2015– patience and power.  Harper’s 48 walks are 13 shy of his career high (over 118 games in 2013) while his .706 slugging percentage outpaces his career high by over 200 points.  Keep the kid healthy…

Last Week’s Humbled– Ryan Zimmerman went 1 for 18 with 1 RBI, was moved to 2nd in the batting order and sat multiple games with a foot injury.  While he remains on pace to hit 14 homers with 97 RBI…they can ill afford his bat drying up with Werth on the DL.  Here’s hoping the extra days off gets Zim back on the right track.

Game to Watch– Tuesday at the New York Yankees.  Max Scherzer is 6-4 with a 1.85 ERA…while Masahiro Tanaka is 3-1 with an ERA of 2.76.  Alex Rodriguez is enjoying a career resurgence.  And there’s no better stage than the bright lights of the Bronx.

Game to Miss– Friday at Milwaukee.  The Brewers pitch Mike Fiers (2-6, 4.06 ERA) while the Nats will likely continue to try to hold their rotation together with duct tape and rubber bands:  Joe Ross (5.40 ERA), A.J. Cole (5.79) and Taylor Jordan (8.44) may represent the future– but the present is less than ideal.  Also Friday– the Women’s World Cup continues with Team USA facing Sweden.  If you’re going to skip a Nats game, do so to support your country.