Archives for posts with tag: Davey Martinez

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

For a game that celebrates its tradition, baseball has evolved quite a bit this century.  “Moneyball”.  Pitchers batting eighth. “Launch Angles”. Extreme defensive shifts.  Just when you thought you’d seen everything, the “opener” gets trotted out to the mound.  I know we’re a long ways from four-man rotations and complete games being more than a random aberration, but pitching by committee shakes the core of the game’s basic duel between one pitcher facing one batter.  Houston and the New York Yankees even went with “openers” and essentially tossed staff games Saturday in Game Six of the ALCS. However, viewers of the upcoming World Series should prepare themselves for a blast from the past.

The Nationals’ path to and through the playoffs has been marked from the start; with a rotation that boasts a guy who once struck out 20 in a game, a former No. 1 overall draft pick, a high-priced free agent, and a veteran who threw a no-hitter in his 13th career start.  “You know I’ve said this all year. Our starting pitching was the key. They’ve kept us in every ball game this year and they’ve done it all playoffs,” Manager Davey Martinez said. ” It’s nice to go out there with a Max Scherzer, Strasburg, Sanchez, Corbin. These guys are a big reason why we’re here.”  Simply put:  starting pitching is the bedrock of this team.

The rotation’s 3.53 ERA ranked second best in the majors during the regular season, the same case as with its 1,010 strikeouts thrown and 938.2 innings pitched.  “They don’t give anything away and I think that’s what makes them really special. No matter the situation, no matter how many people are on, what the score is, they don’t give in,” shortstop Trea Turner said. “They continue to stick to their gameplan and use the preparation to make the best decisions and the best pitches they can.”

Four arms featuring four different approaches.  Just like the compass has four points, the Nationals rotation comes at you from four completely different directions-with four completely different personalities.

Do you want high heat?  Max Scherzer throws 48% fastballs (according to baseballsavant.mlb.com) and his preferred pitch averages 95 miles per hour.  His personality is rather easy for to describe. “Max IS Mad Max,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said.  The three-time Cy Young Award winner was steamrolling his way to a fourth Cy this summer when a back injury sidelined the right-hander for over a month.  What followed was the strangest rehab stints of recent memory:  two four-inning outings while continuing to ramp up, before finally tossing 100+ pitches in his final two September starts. “We’re at the point of the season where there’ no room for error. I cannot get hurt,” Scherzer said in August. “That’s why I’m going out there pitching under control. I’m not going to put my body in jeopardy.”  After allowing an two-run homer in the first inning of the Wild Card Game, Scherzer has resembled the pitcher who went 6-0 in June, winning his NLDS and NLCS starts.  He also tossed an inning of relief in Game two against the Dodgers.

First Intermission- while Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin have each taken turns coming out of the bullpen this month, they’ve shined as starters in the postseason with Sanchez.  The quartet has tossed 88 strikeouts over 61.2 innings as starters, posting an ERA of 2.04 over the ten-game run.  “When you try and figure baseball out, it kind of goes back to starting pitching. Always been the key,” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “There’s been some teams that have been successful without it, but for us it’s always been the backbone of our team.”

Looking for something a little offspeed? Stephen Strasburg’s bread and butter is his curveball (31%) and change-up (21%).  “I think my change-up’s really evolved over the years,” Strasburg said. “When I first started my pro career it was a pitch I threw like once or twice a game. Over the years it’s turned into a weapon.” He’s not completely abandoning his fastball (28%), but the 30-year old altered his winter regime and that helped lead to setting career highs with 18 wins and 251 strikeouts in 2019.  “I obviously worked really hard last offseason;  I wasn’t really satisfied with how last season ended up,” Strasburg “I think it’s just part of the process…learning how to take care of your body better.”  How does Suzuki see Strasburg?  “Silent assassin for Stras for sure,” the catcher said.  Alliteration aside, Stras is 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA over three starts and a season-saving relief appearance.

Second Intermission- General Manager Mike Rizzo was the Director of Souting Operations with the Arizona Diamondbacks when they won the 2001 World Series behind the arms of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.  This year he’s built a rotation that not only produces on the field, but also pushes one another in the clubhouse.  “First of all you’ve got some talented, talented guys who are taking the mound for us. Yeah, they’re all competitors-they all want to one-up each other,” Rizzo said. “I think it’s healthy competition and when you get guys that are in that kind of rhythm and on that kind of roll it’s fun to watch.”

Wary of the slider and sinker combo?  Patrick Corbin (38% and 33%) is just what the doctor ordered.  One of the reasons he came to DC via Free Agency last winter was the chance to be a part of this staff. “When you have starting pitching that can go out there and pitch deep into ballgames and keep us close with the offense we do have with some veterans and young guys,” Corbin said. “It seemed like a good fit: a team that wanted to win and had the guys here to win.”  He had no issues fitting in, finishing strong with a 14-7 mark that included going 4-1 in September.  “Patty Ice–he’s cool, calm and collected,”  is how Suzuki describes Corbin.  The left-hander appreciates collecting input from the rest of the rotation. “Everyone’s been around for a little bit now and has seen pretty much everybody in the league.  When one guy’s out there pitching, the other guys are just communicating and talking with each other,” Corbin said. “I think what’s good is no one’s really selfish: we’re all rooting for each other and if anything can help it’ll be great for the team.”

Third Intermission- While the rotation is succeeding in 2019, they’re also helping lay the groundwork for the future.  Young pitchers like Erik Fedde have the chance to watch and learn from the four.  “Very very lucky to be a part of this. All four of them kind of go about in a different way,” Fedde said. “Anibal and Scherzer–you probably couldn’t have two more opposite guys and yet both still so effective. It’s good as a young guy just to be able to watch that and pick up small things from each of them and create my own personality.”

How about a seven-pitch buffet?  Anibal Sanchez empties the tank when it comes to variety:  while the majority of his pitches are fastballs (30% four-seam and 24% split-finger), the 35-year old also uses a sinker, curveball, change-up and slider.  The veteran also brings an infectious enthusiasm to the team. “Happy go lucky and nothing really fazes this guy,” Suzuki said. “He’s always happy, keeps the clubhouse loose and he has fun.”  After starting 0-6 with an ERA of 5.10, a stint on the Injured List set the veteran straight: he went 11-2 with an ERA of 3.42 after coming back in late-May.  He also set the tone in the NLCS by tossing 7.2 scoreless innings in the Game One shutout of St. Louis.

A catcher is part-planner, part-psychologist.  Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes signed with the Nationals this past offseason to help the quartet navigate their way through batting orders, slumps, bumps and bruises and long seasons.  They couldn’t ask for a more diverse–or more professional group.  “They’re all good and they have their own quirks about them,” Suzuki said. “They go about their business the right way–they’re pros and the bottom line is they know how to get the job done. That’s what sets them apart from a lot of guys.”

The Nationals’ four arms will have their work cut out for them in the World Series. Houston’s trio of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke has 77 strikeouts over 62 playoff innings, posting a combined ERA of 3.04 against American League hitting (as in a DH instead of a pitcher).  But reliever Daniel Hudson is confident, as the mid-season pickup has had a front row seat  “Those guys have gone out just about every time since I’ve been here and pretty much do what they do,” Hudson said. “To be able to come in and jump in and watch it from here instead of somewhere else has been a pretty special experience.”  Four points of the compass, looking to point the Washington Nationals towards a first-ever World Championship.

 

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

Autumn in Washington can come at you fast.  Didn’t we just have a week of 90-degree weather?  You blink and all of a sudden you’re looking for the lining in your coats you removed in April and breaking out the scarf and gloves.  Baseball’s playoffs are just as abrupt, as teams gearing up for a long postseason run all of a sudden are packing up their gear after a Game Five loss.

Ryan Zimmerman is deep into the autumn of his career, one that spans the entirety of the Washington Nationals’ stay in DC.  The teams initial first round pick in 2005 was a September call-up during the tail-end of the Nats’ inaugural season at RFK Stadium.  He shined the following season as an everyday player, finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year race (to Hanley Ramirez, for those curious).  Zimmerman topped that off by hitting a walk-off home run in the first regular season game at Nationals Park the next March.

The problem was, there wasn’t a lot of talent around Zimmerman at the time. It was an era of bad baserunning and dismal defense, misspelled uniforms and exploding sausage sandwiches in the skies (true story).  But the team was building for something special, and Ryan Zimmerman was their cornerstone. “He hasn’t changed since I saw him at the University of Virginia. He’s a pro’s pro–and one of the great players that I’ve ever scouted,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “A guy that’s really given his all to the Washington Nationals.  Physically, mentally and in the community he’s been terrific.  He’s the face of the franchise for a reason.”

The “face of the franchise” carries with it a ton of weight on the field and in the clubhouse.  Production at the plate and making great plays in the field are tangible skills one can easily see;  being the leader Zimmerman has been for the bulk of his career is not. But his teammates know and appreciate what Zim has done and continues to do on a daily basis. “He’s just an ultimate professional. A guy that goes out and puts his all into it-even banged up whatever it might be,” Adam Eaton said. “Speaks highly of everybody. Somebody that you would follow into battle type of guy.  There’s a reason he’s been the face of the organization for as long as he has been.”

That means being the go-to quote in the clubhouse when it’s not apparent who’s had a big game; it also means being the guy who the young players look up to in the clubhouse as they try to navigate their way through the early stages of their careers.  Zimmerman has been that kind of teammate; reliever Sean Doolittle played with him in college. “When I was a freshman at Virginia and he was a junior, he was one of the top prospects in all of college baseball,” Doolittle said. “And I got to watch the way he handled that pressure in that the microscope and go about about his business every day and was an awesome mentor to me.”

Being “the guy” for so long means building friendships with teammates that may spend half a season or half a decade in DC.  And Zimmerman knows that while the 2019 Nationals are the team that finally won a playoff series, this World Series appearance also belongs to the Jayson Werths and Adam Laroches.  “It’s definitely a culmination of a lot of guys that have been here,” Zimmerman said.”We’ve had some chances and haven’t come through, but they say you learn from your failures.  All of those guys that were on those teams are part of this tonight even though they’re not here.”

Baseball can be cruelly ironic.  Just when the Nationals were beginning to be competitive, Zimmerman started dealing with a laundry list of injuries.  Shoulder issues eventually moved the Gold Glove-winner across the infield to first base.  Seasons have been hijacked due to an abdominal strain and an oblique injury.  This year Zimmerman played just 52 games (fewest since his September call-up in 2005) while dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.  He finally returned on September first with the rest of the 40-man roster expansion.  After hitting .283 over 53 at bats in the season’s final month, Zimmerman was no guarantee to be a fixture in the lineup.  Matt Adams offered more power (20 homers) while Howie Kendrick was hitting a career-high .344.  Kendrick likely had to play first because second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera was coming off of a 21-RBI September.  The Kendrick-Cabrera combination at first and second base started the Wild Card Game.  “I played with him in 2014 here,” Cabrera said. “He was one of the best teammates, he’s a professional outside (of) and on the field. You want to do everything that is possible to do the best for the team and him.”

Autumn weather can defy explanation though;  it’s not as much of a straight line straight line between the seasons as it is an eventual progression from summer to winter.  And this October Zimmerman has turned back the hands of the clock, hitting .290 with a homer and five RBI over nine games.  His biggest hit was that broken-bat (more of a splintered or shattered bat) single in the Wild Card Game that set up Juan Soto’s go-ahead single in the eighth inning.  “What he’s doing now does not surprise me one bit.” Manager Davey Martinez said. “The biggest thing for him was his health. If you get a healthy Ryan Zimmerman, the product on the field speaks for itself.”

Somehow from the ashes of a 19-31 season this team surged and then scraped its way into the playoffs.  Somehow from 3-0 deficits in the Wild Card Game and Game Five of the NLDS the Nationals found a way to be the team still standing when the final out was secured (a fly-out to centerfield in both cases, just like the NLCS).  And somehow Ryan Zimmerman gets to enjoy being a key part of one historic run.  “Now to share a clubhouse with him again it’s been really special,” Doolittle said. “I’m really happy for him as somebody who’s been here from the beginning of this version of Washington baseball.”

How long will Zimmerman’s extended autumn last?  The 35-year old is in the final year of the contract extension signed way back in February, 2012.  There’s a club option for 2020 worth $18 million (his salary the last two years), or the team can buy out the deal for $2 million.  To say it’s extremely likely the Nationals will take the buyout route would be a major understatement.  But to also say that the veteran wants to come back and play his final days in Washington, even at a reduced rate and playing time, is also a major understatement.  This has become home for the Virginia Beach native and his family, and the only major league home he’s known. “Playing in the big leagues for this long you consider yourself lucky,” Zimmerman said. “To be able to do it with one team and one organization. Being involved in the community and have friends that I’ve met that I’ll be friends with far longer than I’ll play baseball.  It’s a pretty cool situation.”  He has at least four more games before those decisions need to be made, but the face of the franchise hopes to be safe at home here in Washington for 2020.

The Nationals are headed to baseball’s final four for the first time since they were the Montreal Expos and needed a strike-shortened split-season to make the playoffs.  Their thrilling 7-3 tenth inning win at the Los Angeles Dodgers sends them straight to St. Louis for Friday’s Game One of the League Championship Series.  How did they get this far?  And can they make the next leap forward into the Fall Classic?

Hot Bats: Anthony Rendon is hitting .350 in the postseason, scoring a team-high six runs over six games while driving in five.  His solo homer in the eighth inning off of Clayton Kershaw got the rally in full gear.  Juan Soto has a pair of homers and six RBI, while delivering the go-ahead hit in the Wild Card Game.  And Howie Kendrick smacked the extra-inning grandslam that gave the Nats the lead and eventually the series against the Dodgers.

Cool on the Mound:  Stephen Strasburg is 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA in the playoffs, posting 21 strikeouts over 15 innings (including his relief turn in the Wild Card Game).  Max Scherzer has been a bulldog, striking out 16 over 13 frames (including a 14-pitch tour de force in the Game Two win).  Daniel Hudson has tossed 3.2 scoreless innings over four games, while earning two saves.  Sean Doolittle nailed down the 10th inning in LA.

Stats vs. St. Louis:  Howie Kendrick went 11-22 against the Cardinals this year, while Victor Robles led the Nats with three runs and four RBI.  The table-setters? Trea Turner & Adam Eaton combined to hit 9-44 (.204), while the meat of the order Anthony Rendon & Juan Soto batted 5-29 (.172) against St. Louis this season.  The second-best bat on the team this year belonged to Yan Gomes (.429), who’s currently hitting 1-6 in the playoffs but pending on Kurt Suzuki’s wrist and face may see more action than originally intended.

Conquering Cardinals:  St. Louis used a second half surge to take the NL Central, snagging the division lead for good on August 23.  They also took five of seven from the Nats:  two of three at home in September and three of four in DC during the Nationals’ injury-ravaged April (I want to say a hot dog vendor may have pitched relief).  They’re just as resilient in the postseason as the Nats, needing an extra-inning victory to force a Game Five before blowing Atlanta out.

Birds to Beware:  the numbers might be skewed a tiny bit because of the 13 runs put on the board against the Braves Wednesday.  Paul Goldschmidt and Marcel Ozuna are both hitting .429 in the playoffs, and Ozuna drove in a team-high seven runs against the Nats during the regular season.  Adam Wainwright went 2-0 with an ERA of 1.35, while Game One starter Mike Mikolas struck out eight while allowing three runs over 12 innings against the Nationals this year.

Anibal Sanchez starts Game One;  the right-hander struck out nine over five innings of one-run ball in Game Three of the NLDS.  He lost his lone regular season start to the Cardinals, but that was in April when he was off to an 0-6 start.  That was when this team was 12 games under .500;  they’re now four wins away from the franchise’s first-ever World Series appearance.

This is it.  Eight games over the next seven days to determine if the Nationals will host or be on the road for the Wild Card Game…or if they’ll be on the outside looking in.  A second straight 3-3 week would be a nightmare, if it weren’t for the Chicago Cubs’ epic collapse (1-6 with five straight one-run losses).  The magic number to make the postseason is four, but the Nats will play a Philadelphia team fighting for its playoff life and a Cleveland squad in the AL Wild Card mix. It won’t be easy-but nothing about the 2019 season has been easy.

Health Check- Manager Davey Martinez re-joined the team for their series in Miami after having a procedure last week.  He suffered chest pains during Sunday’s win over Atlanta, but is back with the team for the stretch run.

The Wild, Wild, Sprint- Milwaukee’s magic number to make the playoffs is three, and the Brewers battle sub-500 teams Cincinnati and Colorado this week.  The Chicago Cubs are also in the hunt, and have three games with Pittsburgh before three more with St. Louis (they were swept by the Cardinals last weekend).  The New York Mets also have a “tragic number” of four, and play four against Miami before meeting Atlanta (Braves likely resting up before the NLDS).  Philadelphia (tragic number of three) can play its way back into the conversation by taking four or five games in DC this week, while Arizona (tragic number of two) needs to basically run the table against St. Louis and San Diego.

O’s Woes- the nightmare is almost over as the Birds at 51-105 are done at Camden Yards for the year.  They did win a series for the first time this month.  On to 2020.

Harper’s Weekly- he’s heating up, hitting .350 with 2 HR and 6 RBI as the Phillies went 3-3 against contenders Atlanta and Cleveland.  His 34 doubles are four shy of his career high, and his 108 RBI represent a new career best.  Bryce also sets a new high with 170 strikeouts.

Last Week’s Heroes- Howie Kendrick hit .529 while Yan Gomes batted .364.  Patrick Corbin struck out 11 over 6 scoreless innings in his only outing.  Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey and Javy Guerra combined to throw 9.1 scoreless innings over 8 appearances.

Last Week’s Humbled- Fernando Rodney generated little respect and did not look marvelous, posting an ERA of 15.43.  Hunter Strickland and Sean Doolittle also delivered in the double digits.  Anthony Rendon hit .167 while Juan Soto batted .056.

Game to Watch- Tuesday evening Max Scherzer (0.75 ERA against Philly this year) pitches against Aaron Nola (12-5, 3.75 ERA) in game three of the team’s five games over four days against Philadelphia.  The bullpen could be blown up by this point, and a stellar Scherzer performance is needed.  But can he dial up the Max of June in what might be his final start of the season?

Game to Miss- Friday’s game has the Nats hosting Cleveland.  After the NL East brawl, lets just stay the intensity may be a little down for a foe from the AL Central.  Austin Voth also pitches.  Friday there’s also a Big Ten opener in College Park, as Maryland meets No. 12 Penn State.  A little Terpness will be on tap.

The Nationals entered September knowing they were going to play 24 of 28 games against teams with winning records, and they also knew the centerpiece of the season’s final month would involve 13 straight games against division leaders. The team is 6-8 so far this month, and while they’ve lost three of four series they’ve yet to be swept.  Last week’s 3-3 mark kept the club in the lead for the NL’s first Wild Card, although the 0-4 mark in September series openers reminds one of the first two months when the team was 2-14 in such games.  While the NL East is but a pipe dream, the Nats are still very much in the driver’s seat of the playoff race.

Meanwhile, Nationals Manager Davey Martinez left Sunday’s win over Atlanta with chest pains and was taken to a hospital.  He underwent a cardiac catheterization and will undergo more tests in the hospital.  General Manager Mike Rizzo said there is no timetable for his return, putting the team in the hands of bench coach Chip Hale for the time being.  Thoughts are with the skipper as he recovers.  

Digesting the Division- Atlanta (93-58) didn’t clinch in DC, and we’ll take that as a victory.  They did take 5 of 7 between the two teams this month and slice their magic number to four.  The Braves also own a nine game lead for the second best record in the National League, meaning their magic number to clinch home-field for the NLDS is also four.  Can they catch the Dodgers?  They trail the NL West champs by four games at this time.

The Wild, Wild Race- the Nats own a game and a half lead over the Chicago Cubs for home field.  Nationals play 8 of their remaining 14 games at home and 11 against winning clubs.  The Cubs lead Milwaukee by one game for the final playoff spot, and hte Brewers play their final 13 games of the season against sub-.500 squads.  The Mets (four games behind the Cubs) also have an advantageous schedule with 10 of 13 remaing games against losing clubs.  Philadelphia and Arizona are window dressing at this time.

O’s Woes- the Birds reach the 100-loss plateau for the second straight season, the first time that’s happened since the franchise moved to Baltimore.  Right now they trail Detroit in the race for the first overall pick in next year’s draft.  I hope they know what they’re doing from a tank standpoint.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted .211 with a homer.  The former face of the franchise is now hitting .253 with 31 HR and a career-high 102 RBI. He’s also four strikeouts shy of matching his career high of 169.

Last Week’s Heroes- Howie Kendrick batted 8-for-16 with a team-high 4 RBI while Victor Robles hit .350.  Anibal Sanchez posted two solid starts, allowing just a pair of earned runs over 14 innings. Stephen Strasburg struck out 7 over 6 frames to post his 17th win of the year.  Sean Doolittle, Javy Guerra and Daniel Hudson posted scoreless weeks out of the bullpen.

Last Week’s Humbled- Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, Eric Fedde, and Aaron Barrett were each touched up on their respective ways to ERA’s of 10+.  Trea Turner hit .167, Asdrubal Cabrera went 2-for-14 while Yan Gomes batted 2-for-17.

Game to Watch- Monday Stephen Strasburg pitches the series opener against the Cardinals, who counter with 15-game winner Dakota Hudson.  If this team is going to reverse its recent slide, the series opener is a great way to start.

Game to Miss- Friday the Nats meet Miami and start Austin Voth against fellow rookie Robert Dugger. After 13 straight games against division leaders, it’s okay to take this one off.

Another week, another slate of games where the Nationals were alternately inspiring and frustrating.  The team that started slow (12-16 on April 30) is now 7-11 in May, has lost nine of 15 series (with two splits in the mix) and has dropped 13 of 15 series openers. After winning their first series in almost a month, the Nats went out and turned a 5-4 game in the eighth inning against the Cubs into a 14-6 nightmare.  With Miami’s sweep over the weekend of the Mets, the Nats are now the only team in the majors without a three game-winning streak.  And there’s no possible way this team will be over .500 on Memorial Day.  Could there be a crisis of confidence in DC?

Dissecting the Division- the Phillies are 27-19 and have won three straight while the Braves have won seven of ten to improve to 25-22.  The Mets have lost five straight to slip to 20-25.  And the Nats are chasing all three teams in this race.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted .269 with two homers and six RBI to give the former face of the franchise .235-9-31 after 46 games.  He’s on a pace for 32 HR & 109 RBI if he doesn’t get hurt.  Harper’s also on a pace for 218 strikeouts; and he’ll most certainly be hurt to hear the boos from an impatient fan base if he continues to provide swings and misses.

O’s Woes- the Birds drop three of four in Cleveland, allowing 10+ runs twice to the Indians.  The 15-31 record is one game better than last year’s march to nowhere. The pitching is bad. But on the bright side, Dwight Smith Jr. and Trey Mancini are producing. Unfortunately, the AL East-leading New York Yankees are in town and the Orioles are an MLB-worst 6-18 at home this year.

Last Week’s Heroes- Gerardo Parra continues to be the hero the Nats need, hitting .500 with a homer and 3 RBI.  Anthony Rendon is also hitting his stride, batting .435 while scoring eight runs and driving in seven.  Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin each won their starts while allowing one earned run over eight innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- one rough week for Jeremy Hellickson, who goes 0-2 with an ERA of 9.00. Relievers Dan Jennings, Justin Miller, Kyle Barraclough and Matt Grace all post double-digit ERA’s-with Grace’s 15.43 the big number of the week.  Catcher Yon Gomes (now .206 on the season) continues to struggle with an 0-11 week.

Game to Watch- yes, the Nats are 2-8 in games Max Scherzer starts. And yes, his ERA of 3.72 over ten starts is his highest since 2012 (the year before his first Cy Young Award in Detroit). But it’s a duel against Jacob deGrom and for all we know it might just be to keep this team from falling ten games below .500.  Max-See-TV once more.

Game to Miss- the Nats aren’t just 2-13 in series openers, they’re also winless on Fridays since last August.  Jeremy Hellickson and his 6.23 ERA take to the mound on South Capitol Street against Pablo Lopez and his ERA of 5.06.  Last Friday’s game took over four hours.  Brace yourselves for another potentially long night.

Friday a disagreement between Nationals star pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg hijacked the week.  Strasburg was just coming off of a rough outing in his return from the disabled list and it appeared as though Scherzer gave him words of encouragement.  The two heated up and then went into the clubhouse to discuss matters more.  Following the game (an 8-5 loss to Atlanta) the clubhouse was closed for a while and when reporters finally spoke to Strasburg about the incident, he replied:  “It’s part of family, man. You got to be in the family.”  When pressed further, Strasburg countered, “You’ve got to be in the family. You’re not.”  Well, just like Sonny Corleone beating up Carlo on the streets in view of the Tattaglia/Barzini associates, handling “family matters” on the front porch is not ideal.  Especially when the team is in a tailspin and you haven’t won since May 27th.  Thank goodness the Nats worked out a split of the rain-induced miniseries.

Casting call- so if the “family” exists in the way we are led to believe, what role does Stephen Strasburg play?  One has to think that Max Scherzer and his aggressive personality is tailor-made for Sonny Corleone, while Sean Doolittle has the necessary wisdom to portray Tom Hagen.  Ryan Zimmerman’s quiet confidence gives him the part of Michael, while Bryce Harper could be Al Neri.  Anthony Rendon?  Rocco Lampone.  I’m not saying Trea Turner would sell out the Don, but he could portray Paulie.  Juan Soto can play Cato, Michael’s bodyguard that didn’t blow up his car.  Ryan Madson’s cold efficiency allows him to wear the fedora of Sollozzo–as long as he doesn’t try the veal (it’s the best in the city)…and Kelvin Herrera as hired gun Captain McCluskey.  Daniel Murphy is Willy Cicci– largely absent at the beginning of the film before helping the Corleones in the end.  Matt Wieters is a hobbled Don Tomasino as he legs out doubles.  Adam Eaton is Enzo the baker’s son-in-law, standing with Michael outside of the hospital.  Matt Adams has the presence at the play to be Luca Brasi while Gio Gonzalez & Tanner Roark are tailor-made for the roles of Clemenza & Tessio:  two unsung heroes whose success was necessary for the Corleone family to thrive.  Howie Kendrick is Genco– taken from the stage way too soon in the film to have helped in the war against the Five Families.    I’m inclined to hand the reins of Vito Corleone to Mike Rizzo, with Davey Martinez either Barzini or Tattaglia as we still don’t know if he’s a wartime Don or not.  Sadly that leaves either Johnny Fontaine or Fredo for Strasburg.  As long as it stays in the family.

Dissecting the Division- while the Nats kept pace with the Braves, first place Philadelphia gained a half game by taking two of three from San Diego.  Pitching is propping the Phils up as they own the second best ERA in the majors this month.  The Braves’ bats appear to be hitting the wall as Atlanta’s offense ranks 27th in MLB in July runs scored.  Meanwhile, the Marlins and Mets continue their thrilling chase for last place in the NL East.  Miami has a run differential of -115 to New York’s -67, but the Mets are the ones in the cellar this morning.

O’s Woes- Manny Machado is a Los Angeles Dodger.  That’s going to take a while to get used to, but so is the current state of a team that made the postseason three times in five years and was a Wildcard team just 21 months ago.  The cratering continues with three straight losses to Toronto– a team they now trail by 19 games.  For fourth place in the AL East.  At 28-72 we’ve actually reconfigured their tragic number:  because Boston has 10 games left with the New York Yankees, the O’s elimination number is 18.  At least it won’t happen in July.

Last Week’s Heroes- Juan Soto went 4-for-7 with a homer and three RBI while Adam Eaton batted 3-for-7 with a team-high three runs.  Max Scherzer struck out seven over six innings.  Bryce Harper won the home run derby.

Last Week’s Humbled- a small sample size to say the least, but Matt Wieters (1-for-8) and Michael A. Taylor (2-for-9) had less than productive weeks.  Stephen Strasburg allowed six runs over four and two-thirds innings while blowing up in the dugout, but as we know that’s a family matter.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats are in Miami.  Max Scherzer goes after his 14th win of the season.  Miami was the site of his home run last year–and also where his neck dealt with a bad pillow and Scherzer was mortal for a few weeks.

GGame to Miss- Saturday night Gio Gonzalez pitches against the Marlins, and while one is curious to see how the lefthander will fare in the second half of the season the famed 80’s cover band “The Legwarmers” will be playing at the State Theater in Falls Church.  Do yourself a favor and catch this group in action.