Archives for posts with tag: Dusty Baker

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…

 

 

 

 

The word “denouement” is defined as “the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved”.  After last Sunday’s clinching of the NL East, the Nats were due for a little denouement.  Instead of being hot on the Dodgers’ tail for home field in the National League, manager Dusty Baker’s team dropped the last two series of their homestand and almost assured themselves of the #2 seed (which they had last year).  Denoument!  The usually rock-solid rotation had one of its few subpar weeks, and one writes off the 2-4  thud as a throat-clearing.  Unless it continues…and when I say continues I mean for the next two weeks and into October.  Thirteen games to finish denoumenting (“you keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means”). 

 

Magic and Tragic Numbers- the Nats trail the Dodgers by six games for the best record in the league;  thus LA’s magic number is eight.  The Nats’ magic number to clinch at least the second-best mark in the NL is seven (Cubs are currently in the #3 spot as the NL Central leader).  Miami (eliminated from the NL East race eight days ago) is one loss or one Colorado win away from being officially out for October (and even if they win every game and the Rockies finish 0-12 Milwaukee is four wins away from bouncing the Marlins).

O’s Woes- let the record show that the Orioles have been very good against AL East foes this year:  10-6 against division-leading Boston and 33-26 overall entering last week.  But with three games against last-place Toronto and four games at the Wild Card contending New York Yankees, the Birds blew up.  Five losses in seven games almost eliminates the plucky bunch from the Charm City…as their “tragic number” is eight.  Blame a bad rotation for the 5-11 September…as Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson both own ERA’s at 9+ this month.  An 8-4 finish is needed to avoid the team’s first losing season since 2011.

If the Playoffs Began Today- the Nationals would have home field over the Chicago Cubs in one Divisional Series while the Dodgers would face the winner of Arizona-Colorado.  Cleveland (thanks to the 22-game winning streak) plays the Wild Card winner in the AL (Yankees-Minnesota) while Houston has home field advantage over Boston.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .353 while Ryan Zimmerman added two homers and four RBI.  But the stage was set for Victor Robles:  the prime outfield prospect went 2-for-5, scoring twice while driving in a run.  Shades were necessary to watch this future.  Stephen Strasburg won his lone start, striking out eight.  The bullpen boasted several solid efforts:  multiple scoreless innings were thrown by Matt Grace, Ryan Madson, Austin Adams, Shawn Kelley, Sean Doolittle, Enny Romero and Matt Albers.

Last Week’s Humbled- for one of the first times all season, multiple starters experienced rough outings.  Edwin Jackson allowed seven runs over two and a third innings, while Max Scherzer (seven over six) and Gio Gonzalez (six over six) didn’t help their cases in the chase for lowest ERA in the NL (Clayton Kershaw still the leader at 2.12).  Howie Kendrick (.167) and Michael A. Taylor (.182) had off-weeks, while Matt Wieters (0-for-12) is hitting .042 this month.

Game to Watch- devoid of potential playoff previews and magnificent mound matchups, I’ve circled Saturday night’s duel at Citi Field against the New York Mets.  Stephen Strasburg since coming off the disabled list is 4-1 with and ERA of 0.66.  He has a decent chance to reach 200 strikeouts for the second time in his career and match his career high of 15 wins in a season.

Game to Miss- thank you Nationals for making things easy for me with the six-man rotation.  A.J. Cole pitches against the Mets Sunday afternoon, amidst a flurry of NFL action.  While the Redskins won’t be playing until Sunday night, we’re going to enjoy afternoon football instead of afterthought baseball.

Thirty-three games remain in the regular season marathon before the playoff sprint.  The Nationals wrap up the dog days of summer with a 12-game lead in the division (not horrible) and 12 players on the disabled list (not ideal).  Barring a meltdown of historic proportions, this team will once again be admitted to the postseason party…and the success of 2017 will be measured not by how many regular season games this club won, but how many postseason series captured.  And yes–that’s plural.

Dissecting the Division- the magic number is 22…as Miami is not going quietly into the night.  The Marlins have won 8 of 10 to enter the wildcard conversation as Colorado has dropped 12 of 19.  They also own the fourth best batting average in the majors and boast the biggest bat– Giancarlo Stanton after hitting 26 homers in 325 pre-All Star Break at-bats has clubbed 24 home runs in 151 post-hiatus at-bats.  Marcell Ozuna has quietly surpassed 100 RBI for the season…and the pitching is not an absolute grease-fire (only 18th in team ERA).  The two teams tangle six more times over the next two weeks.

Birds Break out the Brooms- the Orioles get a needed sweep of first-place Boston and move to .500 for the second time since June.  Just as impressive was the pitching allowing just four runs over three games.  Can they win a third straight series for the first time since April?  O’s apologists will be the first to remind you how the team is 10-6 against the Red Sox…but the team is 35-43 outside the AL East.  Five of the Birds’ next seven series are against clubs with records of .500 and above…and we’ll see if this team is more pretender or contender.

 

Last Week’s Heroes- Adam Lind hit .300 with two homers and five RBI… delivering an insurance home run Sunday night against the Mets.  Anthony Rendon bats .348, scoring four runs while driving in three.  Stephen Strasburg strikes out seven over six innings in his lone start while Gio Gonzalez continues his wild ride through 2017 with his fifth win in five starts.  Gio’s August ERA? 1.03…

Last Week’s Humbled- Shawn Kelley notched a 13.50 ERA over three appearances, while Matt Grace allowed opponents to hit .455 off of him.  Brandon Kintzler blew a save in Houston.  Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman both had rough weeks, hitting a combined 6-for-39 with two walks and 10 strikeouts.  I mentioned the disabled list now holds a complete dozen…

Game to Watch- Monday Max Scherzer (12-5, 2.25 ERA), neck-permitting, pitches against Miami’s Jose Urena (12-5, 3.68).  The Marlins don’t seriously think they can make up 12 games in five weeks, can they?

Game to Miss- Sunday Edwin Jackson takes to the mound against Milwaukee…while Fed Ex Field will host a college football game between #21 Virginia Tech and #22 West Virginia.  The former Big East foes won or shared 11 of the league’s 20 championships…and haven’t met since 2005 despite the schools’ close proximity (roughly four and a half hours).  Sorry, Edwin…

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…

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.

After a winter of retooling, goodbyes, and hellos…the Nationals are back and ready to rebound from a disappointing 2015.  Many (myself included) have them winning the NL East…and there are more than a few cases for confidence and concern.  This team might not make the playoffs, but they’ll certainly give DC an interesting ride through the spring and summer months.

Causes for Confidence– Bryce Harper is the reigning NL MVP and is only 23 years old.  He drove in nearly 100 runs last year despite having a constantly eroding lineup around him.  Max Scherzer tossed two no-hitters and brought the ace mentality to the pitching staff.  The other contributors in the lineup (Anthony Rendon) and rotation (Stephen Strasburg) are among the best in the game when healthy.  And Dusty Baker is running this team.  Nothing like having a proven skipper being in charge…and in his three previous stops Baker’s teams have improved by an average of 20 wins.  Granted, signing Barry Bonds as a free agent may have been a factor in the 1993 Giant success–but still…

Causes for Concern– left field is a potential minefield with Jayson Werth coming off of a less-than productive season while still not completely comfortable in the other corner position (between the angle of balls hit to how they’re hit).  While Gio Gonzalez’ 2012 season is the outlier of his career, does the lefthander’s ERA continue to slide upward (3.36 to 3.57 to 3.79 the last 3 years)?  Will oft-injured players like Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman be healthy?  And then there’s the bullpen:  is Jonathan Papelbon a fuse waiting to go off?  Just as important will the middle relievers consistently provide the bridge from the rotation to the ninth?

Last Month’s Heroes– during the season we’ll have weekly heroes (and humbled), but a tip of the cap to the Monster of March:  Michael A. Taylor.  The 25-year old hit .453 with 5 homers and 16 RBI in Spring Training.  Yes, those numbers mean nothing Monday afternoon…but it has to be encouraging for there to be an option if something goes wrong in the outfield.  Tanner Roark had a solid spring as well, going 2-0 with an ERA of 2.00 over 5 games (4 starts) while striking out 17 over 18 innings.  If Roark can man the #4 spot in the rotation with play like that, 2016 could be somewhat sweet.

Last Month’s Humbled– with the caveat that it was only March (and early April):  Danny Espinosa took a while to find his bat in Florida…the shortstop hitting .139 with 4 walks and 11 strikeouts.  He’s hitting 8th so they don’t need monster production, but he’ll need to repeat last year’s early success to keep management from even thinking about calling up Trea Turner.  Gio Gonzalez allowed a team-high 12 walks over 19 innings while Joe Ross posted a 6.75 ERA in Spring Training.

Game to watch– the first week, aren’t they all?  I’m looking forward to Thursday, April 7th.  Stephen Strasburg perhaps in his final season with the Nats gets the ball for the home opener.  We get the Racing of the Presidents (although I’ve been told that Coolidge does not choose to run in 2016) returning…and hopefully some good seventh inning stretch music (Saturday’s exhibition played “It’s not Unusual” by Tom Jones, a definite upgrade over “Friends in Low Places” while not coming close to “Take On Me”).

Game to Miss–  Sunday April 10th.  Joe Ross makes his first start of 2016 against Miami while the Masters final round percolates on CBS.  I know it’s just a 1:35 start but the Marlins pitch the forgettable Jarred Cosart.  Laundry and spring cleaning need to get done as well…and one has to take the lining out of one’s jackets for the spring season.  Let’s ease into this 162 game marathon…shall we?