Archives for posts with tag: Gio Gonzalez

The Washington Nationals reach Labor Day one game under .500, eight games back in the Wildcard race and eight and a half games off the pace in the NL East.  The worst record to win the NL East this decade is 90-72; in order to get there this team would need to finish 22-3.  As they pass the final marker of the regular season, it’s hard to imagine this team was nine games over .500 on Memorial Day.  Instead of the season ending with a bang, it’s going to end with a whimper in 25 games.

Gio Gone- two more waiver-wire deals on August 31 saw the Nats part with reliever Ryan Madson and starter Gio Gonzalez.  In his seven seasons with the team Gio went 86-65 with an ERA of 3.71; his best year came in his first with the team (21-8, 2.89 in 2012).  The lefthander was a mainstay in the rotation (averaging 30+ starts per year) and his departure means that just Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are still around from the 2012 team that first reached the postseason.  With Harper and five other players on the current roster hitting free agency this fall, the winds of change could certainly be hitting Washington this winter.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta leads Philadelphia by four games.  While the two will meet seven times over the final eleven days of the season, the Phillies play 15 of their other 19 remaining games against clubs with losing records (for the Braves its 10/19).

O’s Woes-  enter another tragic number for the Birds after the sweep by Kansas City over the week:  last place in the AL East can be secured with a combination of four losses or Toronto wins.  Lost in the shuffle is the fact that Trey Mancini has had a decent second half for the O’s (.299 with nine homers and 24 RBI in 40 games since the All Star break) while Chris Davis is hitting 62 points higher since this mid-summer hiatus.

Last Week’s Heroes- Juan Soto hit .478 with a team-high six RBI and Anthony Rendon led the Nats with six runs scored and added four RBI.  Stephen Strasburg struck out 12 over 12 innings while posting an ERA of 3.00 and Matt Grace Koda Glover each tossed three scoreless frames.

Last Week’s Humbled- Gio Gonzalez’ last start in a Nats uniform was not awesome as the lefthander allowed six runs over five innings against the Phillies.  His August was not ideal: 1-4 with a 7.47 ERA over six starts.  Matt Wieters hit .133 while Bryce Harper batted .125.

Game to Watch- Saturday Max Scherzer pitches against the Cubs Cole Hamels at Nats Park.  With 25 games left in the season Max has potentially five starts remaining…and one should try to see every last inning of his campaign.  As today is the final day most area pools are open, the Saturday night game takes precedence.

Game to Miss- the Nats have yet to name a starter for Sunday’s game against the Cubs. It’s also the first Sunday of the NFL regular season.  Enjoy the games…

 

 

The Washington Nationals remain on the outskirts of playoff contention after another week where we saw this team at it’s most thrilling (an 8-7 win over Philadelphia with Ryan Zimmerman belting a walk-off home run) and its most underwhelming (three straight shutout losses).  The Nats may have won the aggregate-run week, 33-19, but after another 3-3 showing still find themselves a game under .500.  And while they’re not out of the NL East race just yet, it’s going to take one remarkable September to revive the team’s sagging postseason hopes.  Another week, another slow boil.

Double-Dealing- the Nats made a pair of waiver-wire trades, sending Daniel Murphy to the Chicago Cubs and dealing Matt Adams to St. Louis.  Murphy hit .329 over 342 games with the team and was arguably their best offensive player each of the last two years.  If not for a bad knee last fall and a glut that wouldn’t hold up in 2016,  Murphy could have won an MVP award.  Adams was second on the team in homers but had cooled off since the All Star break and was hitting .061 in August.  While Adams’ at-bats were dwindling with a healthy Ryan Zimmerman, Murphy’s absence gives Wilmer Difo the chance to prove he’s an everyday Major League second baseman.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta (73-57) dropped two of three over the weekend in Miami, keeping the Braves eight and a half games ahead of the Nats in the NL East.  They host red-hot Tampa Bay twice this week before facing the Chicago Cubs for one game.  Philadelphia (70-60) has lost five of their last six series (the other being a miniseries split with Boston) and while their next six games are at home, they’re against the Nats and the Chicago Cubs.  If the Braves and Phillies both finish 16-16 (not out of the realm of possibility), the Nationals would need to go 25-6 to take first.

Wildcard Watch-  the Nats currently trail five teams in the NL Wildcard race; and those clubs have created a little separation between themselves and the second group of clubs currently playing tag with the .500 mark.  On the bright side, the Nats have the second best run-differential among Wildcard contenders.  On the not so bright side, the Nats’ 13-21 record in one-run games is the worst among those teams.

O’s Woes- at 37-94 a 100-loss campaign is all but a certainty (some can dream of a 26-5 finish, but I won’t)-so now we move on to the all-time worst record in Baltimore: the 54-107 crater of 1988 that began with 21 straight losses.  To avoid that this team has to go 18-13.  One wonders what this winter will bring for Adam Jones, Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .304 with a team-high 5 RBI, while Adam Eaton led the regulars with a .381 batting average.  Juan Soto scored a team-high 6 runs…and kept a ninth inning rally alive with a two-out, two-strike double.  Ryan Zimmerman merely added to his legend with his 11th career walk-off home run.  Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez combined to allow 2 earned runs over 16 innings.  Max Scherzer struck out 10 over seven frames.  Stephen Strasburg is back from the disabled list.

Last Week’s Humbled- as a team the Nats were 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position during their three game shutout streak (first time in franchise history since they were the Montreal Expos playing in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2004), leaving 18 on base.  They lost those three games by two, two and three runs.  In a race where they can’t afford to lose much more ground, those three losses (especially while getting solid pitching performances) were deadly.

Game to Watch- Tuesday Max Scherzer takes his 16-6 mark to the mound in Philadelphia to face 15-3 Aaron Nola–who outdueled Max just this past Thursday  Scherzer allowed a pair of hits but one was a two-run homer that was the difference.  Looking forward to the rematch.

Game to Miss- Saturday the Nats host Milwaukee…and it’s not the Brewers’ fault for not being a divisional foe.  Nor is it Jefry Rodriguez’ fault for not being a name-pitcher like Max, Stras, Gio or even Roark.  But September first is the first Saturday of the college football season (okay, there were games last week but really) and #23 Texas comes to FedEx Field to exact revenge against a Maryland team that had the gall to beat the Longhorns in Austin last year.  Fear the Hook’em…

The Wizards/Bullets and Capitals used to have a nice benefit of being a DC resident- their slow starts for years were often ignored because of the area’s obsession with all things Redskins.  We called it “Skinsanity” and it ruled the roost between August and December…meanding the Wiz and Caps didn’t have to really get their act together until Christmas.  Not so with the Nationals– who since the night the Capitals won the Stanley Cup are 26-38.  Not to diss the Valor, Spirit, Kastles or DC United, during the time the Nats have had the stage to themselves they’ve resembled a last-place team (.406 may be good for Ted Williams, but translates to 65-97).  A roster that includes multiple All Stars has been less than the sum of its parts…and the team continues to take on water.  When does the NFL season start?

Dissecting the Division- the Nats trail Atlanta by seven games for the NL East lead and are six and a half behind second-place Philadelphia.  While neither the Braves nor the Phillies are pulling away in a manner that should have a team playing tag with the .500 mark like the Nats overly concerned, it’s a slow boil and even though there are games to be played against both clubs the window of opportunity is sliding slowly.  The elimination number for both the division and the wildcard is 32.

O’s Woes- the Birds are just a week and a half removed from being eliminated from playoff contention…and now stare into the face of a 100-loss campaign.  The O’s need to finish 26-12 to do so…and that is so ridiculous one just wants to wonder what it will take to avoid the worst-ever season in Baltimore.  That’s a 55-107 record…meaning the Birds need an 18-20 finish.  Not impossible, but for a team that hasn’t been two games under .500 since April–not exactly attainable.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .379 with two homers and eight RBI.  Matt Wieters hit .368 with four RBI and Anthony Rendon batted .348 while scoring five runs. Max Scherzer struck out seven in his only start of the week while Tanner Roark won his fourth straight decision and helped the Nats avoid a sweep in St. Louis.

Last Week’s Humbled- Gio Gonzalez went 0-2 with an ERA of 13.50…and has won just once since May.  Trevor Gott and Koda Glover post posted double-digit ERA’s last week, while Sammy Solis was charged with two runs and didn’t record an out.  Trea Turner hit .182 while Michael A. Taylor batted .125.

Game to Watch- I know that Stephen Strasburg is returning Wednesday night, but Thursday afternoon Max Scherzer (16-5, 2.11 ERA) starts against the Phillies’ Ivan Nola (14-3, 2.24) in a series finale that could feature a revitalized Nats team or one that is looking to avoid getting swept at home.  Either way, he’ll be working on six days rest.  

Game to Miss- Friday Jefry Rodriguez pitches against the New York Mets as the Nats’ band-aid to a battered rotation.  It’s also the final Friday before Labor Day weekend:  do yourself a favor and enjoy one last sunset over the Key Bridge while enjoying a fried clams basket at Tony & Joe’s.  You’ll thank me…

On the surface the Nationals dropped four of seven to fellow playoff contenders Atlanta and the Chicago Cubs.  The way they got there is a microcosm of how frustrating this season has been for a team that appears to be less than the sum of its parts.  In three of the seven games the Nats’ bats produced six or more runs–and they won all three.  Three of those games were decided by two runs or fewer–and the Nats lost all three.  Including Sunday night’s come-from-ahead defeat at Wrigley Field.  While Ryan Madson hitting a pair of batters before giving up a grand slam was not ideal (especially with one of the base-runners reaching on an error), Friday’s loss was even more frustrating. Nine left on base after going 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Jeremy Hellickson walking the bases loaded in the sixth to secure a shower despite having a no-hitter going.  Greg Holland walking in what would be the decisive run in the seventh.  And Juan Soto getting picked twice off of first base in a one-run game.  These are the Nationals- a team that is 11-20 in one-run games.  As they trail Atlanta and Philadelphia plus five other teams in the Wild Card race, the little things become big over the final 44 games.  Can the team that has been admittedly sloppy for four-plus months finally turn the corner? 

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta takes a half game lead after blasting Miami 9-1 Monday afternoon. The Braves and Philadelphia are both within striking distance of the Nats in the standings, but the five to six game cushion has existed for some time.  And the longer the cushion stays in place the quicker it hardens.

O’s Woes- well, at long last the Birds have been officially eliminated from AL East contention and are assured of a losing record.  Their chances at avoiding a 100-loss campaign are dwindling (they need a 28-15 finish) by the day and the worst mark in team history (54-107 from 1988) isn’t too far away (they need to finish 20-23 to avoid that distinction).

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman captured NL Player of the Week honors after hitting .476 with three homers and 12 RBI. Matt Wieters hit .353 while Trea Turner batted .345.  Max Scherzer struck out 17 while walking a pair over 14 innings and the Nats also got solid starts from Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark.

Last Week’s Humbled- let the record show that the bullpen is shorthanded, but Matt Grace, Wander Suero and Ryan Madson each posted ERA’s over six.  Same case with Kelvin Herrera who’s on the disabled list.  Adam Eaton hit .200 with eight strikeouts and no walks while Juan Soto batted .182 and got picked off first base twice Friday in a one run game.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats begin a series with Miami, and while Max Scherzer takes to the mound in search for his 16th win of the year it’s also Hawaiian Shirt night at the ballpark.  Very, very tough to pass this one up.

Game to Miss- Saturday Tommy Milone pitches against Wei-Yin Chen in a duel of starters with ERA’s over five. Pool time is slowly but surely shrinking with Labor Day looming. Get a full day in the water if you can.

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.

It’s a shame that Major League Baseball doesn’t use aggregate runs to determine series victors.  The Nationals dropped three of four games in Philadelphia and while they won 17-7 Friday night, their three losses were each by one run.  They also dropped a 1-0 game in Tampa Bay last Tuesday…making the team 8-15 in one run affairs this year.  The team’s bad showing in nailbiters magnifies bad base-running and sub-par situational hitting while making dry patches at the plate seem like deserts.  An 8-15 showing in one run games turns banged up players absences into major voids.  The Nats are 42-40 and have the feel of an 8th seed in the NBA Playoffs at this point…and while there’s plenty of baseball ahead the team’s worst month (9-16) since 2010 is looking like less of an aberration and more like the norm.

Werth Every Penny- last week Jayson Werth announced his retirement.  The 39-year old was hitting .206 over 36 games with Seattle’s Triple-A team this season, and hamstring issues put him on the road to calling it a career.  While he never hit 30 homers or drove in 90 runs and the Nats never won a playoff series in his seven years with the team, the free agent paid 126 million dollars produced big-time.  Werth brought a veteran presence and changed the clubhouse immediately while giving the team new ideas and a vision of how to handle itself.  Werth challenged his teammates and management.  He also made DC a free agent destination for the likes of Max Scherzer and Daniel Murphy.  Most importantly, the cantankerous individual was never a dull moment in postgame interviews.  Even though he didn’t return to the team in 2018, his fingerprints are all over this club.  Bye bye, beard…

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta (48-34) finally has a little breathing room after sweeping St. Louis.  The Braves own a three game lead over Philadelphia (45-37);  both are dominating one-run games this year (ATL is 13-6 while PHI is 17-7).  The Nats? A head-scratching 8-15 in one-run contests.  Meanwhile, the New York Mets and Miami are in an interesting race for the division cellar.

O’s Woes- the Birds avoided a sweep by blasting the Los Angeles Angels 8-2 Sunday.  Everything that hadn’t come together over the first three months of the season was there: Kevin Gausman tossed eight solid innings while the lineup produced four home runs.  The win now means they no longer need a .500 finish to avoid a 100-loss campaign; although they do need to go 39-40-a tall task for a team that hasn’t been one game under .500 since April 1st.  Also notable was the timing of the victory:  the Orioles’ last three wins at Camden Yards have taken place on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and now Canada Day.  Book it for Bastille Day:  July 14th they host Texas.

Last Week’s Heroes- Trea Turner hits .375 while scoring seven runs.  Anthony Rendon scores four runs while driving in five.  Bryce Harper walks 10 times and posts an on-base percentage of .481.  Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark notch solid starts while Sean Doolittle remains sharp.

Last Week’s Humbled- Gio Gonzalez had two rough starts, allowing nine runs over six innings.  Michael A. Taylor batted 1-for-14 while Pedro Severino went 1-for-13.  Both players make their impact defensively but each needs to hit over .100 to make this work.

Game to Watch- the week begins with a bang as Boston drops by the district Monday.  Max Scherzer (10-4, 2.04 ERA) faces his former teammate Rick Porcello (9-3, 3.60).  The Red Sox are smarting after two tough losses in their series with the New York Yankees. Could the Nats catch a Sox team with their mind still in the Bronx?

Game to Miss- Sunday Tanner Roark (3-9 with a 4.10 ERA but a 6.08 ERA in June) pitches against Miami’s Elieser Hernandez (0-5, 5.05) at 1:35 p.m. in the DC heat.  How hot is Washington in July?  President Zachary Taylor died after having cherries and milk in 1850 (urban legend says there may have been arsenic in the mix).  Go to the pool and enjoy the crossword.

We’ve seen this before- haven’t we?  The Yankees are dominating the American League and Washington DC is hoping for a winner.  The team with plenty of heart is having an inconsistent season when all of a sudden a player drops in the district from out of nowhere and starts to produce immediately.  Sound familiar?  The musical “Damn Yankees” was a broadway musical in 1955 and a movie in 1958, and today’s version of Joe Hardy (aka “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO”) is Juan Soto (“beardless Juan from the Dominican”?).  Has anybody checked to see if a middle-aged local real estate agent named Juan Boyd has disappeared?  Is there anybody resembling Mr. Hand from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” hanging out around the ballpark?  Has anyone spotted a petal-pusher wearing temptress named Lola in the seats?  Does manager Davey Martinez spontaneously break out in song?  You gotta have hope…

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta despite dropping two of three to the Orioles own a three game lead over the Nationals in the NL East.  The Braves are getting a big boost from former Nats catcher Kurt Suzuki (.400 last week–and .282 with 8 HR and 26 RBI for the year).  Philadelphia moved a half game ahead of the Nats by taking four of six games, including two of three against the Nats.  Maikel Franco (.556 with 2 HR and 4BI) and Carlos Santana (3 HR with 7 RBI) have been crushing Nats’ pitching in the six games they’ve played this year.  The Mets are chasing Miami for last place–and their six game losing streak puts them within a game and a half of the cellar.  The Marlins are 11-11 this month…which is better than the Nats (who are 8-12 in June).

O’s Woes- don’t look now, but the Birds actually had a non-losing week at 3-3.  At 23-53, they now need to only go 40-46 to avoid a 100-loss campaign.  Chris Davis and Colby Rasmus each homered upon their respective returns to the lineup, which is a good sign as the weather gets warmer.  This O’s team was built to blast homers, and their lack of early production was more unexpected than the rotation regression.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .444 with 3 HR and 7 RBI.  Michael A. Taylor now owns the hottest bat in the outfield after batting .438 with 2 runs and 4 RBI.  Juan Soto remains unexplainable as the 19-year old holds his own at the plate (an OBP of .500).  Sean Doolittle notched 3 saves and Max Scherzer struck out 9 in his only start of the week.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Tanner Roark allowed 6 runs over 4 and a third innings and now has an ERA of 7.40 this month.  Right now he’s 3-8 and has never had more than 11 losses over a full season in his major league career.  Mark Reynolds went hitless in 12 at bats…even more of an issue with Matt Adams on the DL.  Pedro Severino hit 1-for-19…and although it’s his defense the team is paying for that’s a gaping hole deep in the lineup to deal with.

Game to Watch- Monday night the team visits Tampa Bay to play a bad team in a worse stadium.  But it’s the best pitching matchup we’ll see all week with Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08 ERA) facing Brad Snell (9-4, 2.48).  Plus we get to see the DH in play.  If you’re too tired from the late Sunday game…rest up for next Sunday’s series finale in Philadelphia when Gio squares off with a slumping Jake Arrietta.

Game to Miss- normally I’d shy away from a non-divisional game, but Max Scherzer pitches Tuesday so I’m tuned into Nats- Tampa Bay bigtime.  Saturday Jefry Rodriguez is slated to pitch in Philadelphia at 6:05 while many of us will be out on the course at TPC Avanel following or covering the Quicken Loans National.  This is probably the last year the PGA will have an event in this area, and what began with such promise will likely end with a quiet exit to the midwest.  It’s a shame the tournament didn’t get a better week with regards to the calendar from a placement or weather standpoint. Fore!

Every car needs a jumpstart once in a while.  Last week Nats manager Davey Martinez with three strokes was able to give a banged-up batting order the needed juice to recover from its early season slumber.  Bryce Harper going to the leadoff spot made plenty of sense–as he’s walking more than once per game and almost forgot what a good pitch to hit looked like.  Matt Adams to Bryce’s #3 spot made sense as the veteran has been solid  this spring.  But Wilmer Difo to the 9th spot has created a little electricity at the bottom of the order.  Batting behind the pitcher but before Bryce, Difo’s been a difference maker and wrapped up the week with a walk-off single that helped the Nats win their series with Philadelphia.  There will be more moves (Rendon taking over the #3 spot now that he’s off the DL) regarding this lineup–but in a division that is suddenly coming back to .500, a little juice might be all they need to retake the lead by Memorial Day.

Healthy and Hitting- Anthony Rendon not only returned to the lineup…but the third baseman delivered a two-run single in the eighth inning Sunday that began the rally.  The Nats are still missing Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy…and now that it’s May one wonders when the two will return and how effective they’ll be.

Dissecting the Division- don’t look now, but the New York Mets are in free-fall with eight losses in their last ten games.   Atlanta now leads the NL East with a 19-14 mark (despite getting swept at home by San Francisco) thanks to the #3 offense in the majors led by Nick Markakis (.344 with 6 HR and 25 RBI- on pace for his best season since 2008).  Philadelphia at 18-15 are in second while the Mets are in third at 17-15.  The Nats (18-17)after seven wins in eight games have moved within two of the lead.  They may be in fourth, but the rest of the division is chasing the Nats right now.

O’s Woes- wow.  Yeah.  Did anyone see an 0-6 roadtrip happening with the Birds getting outscored 35-17?  At 8-26 they’re not only 17 games out of first place but also tied for the worst record in the majors.  Manny Machado is having a decent season  (.346 with 9 HR and 27 RBI)–and the watch begins on when or if they send their best player packing for a bunch of prospects.  Right now they’re on pace to lose more than 120 games–and while teams always regress (or progress) to the mean, one wonders if this is the end of the current management structure and core on the field nucleus.  For those scoring at home, the Orioles need to finish 55-73 to avoid a 100-loss campaign…almost double their current winning percentage.

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilmer Difo hit .524 with 2 HR and 5 RBI…culminating in the game-winning hit Sunday.  Matt Adams batted .360 with 5 homers…and Bryce Harper went deep 4 times last week.  Max Scherzer was masterful in his 15-strikeout performance on Sunday–and had 8 in his other start.  Sean Doolittle notched a win and a save while Gio Gonzalez tossed 5 scoreless innings in the series opener with Philly.

Last Week’s Humbled- Trevor Gott coughed up 3 earned runs while getting one out Friday against the Phillies–and twisted his ankle in the process.  Michael A. Taylor hit .087 while Ryan Zimmerman has yet to eclipse the .200 mark for the season and missed two games over the weekend with a “side” injury.  Nobody expected the veteran to duplicate last year’s career resurgence (.303 with 36 HR and 108 RBI) but nobody expected this sort of prolonged start from a guy whose bat figured to be relied upon early and often (especially with the injuries).

Game to Watch- Let’s be honest, every Max Scherzer start is must-watch.  This one more so because Friday night he’ll be facing the team that drafted him in Arizona…while squaring off against Zack Grienke.  The 2009 Cy Young winner may own an ERA of 4.10, but he’s 2-0 at home with a 1.85 ERA.  Did we mention the Diamondbacks lead the NL West?  I’ll be watching after my appearance on News Channel 8’s Sports Talk.

Game to Miss- Wednesday there may very well be a Game Seven at Capital One Arena between the Caps and Penguins.  If there isn’t, The Americans final season continues with the most clueless FBI Agent potentially finally realizing his neighbors in Falls Church are really KGB agents and not just Travel Agents.  So far this season has given us a pair of appearances by the Mail Robot as well as bad country music line dancing.  Sorry, Gio Gonzalez as you pitch against a San Diego team that’s 13-22.

Home is supposed to be where the heart is…not seven losses in ten games.  Not the haven of bad baserunning and sloppy defense.  And certainly not the incubator of an offense that can’t seem to get out of its own way.  When the homestand began, the 4-2 Nats were looking forward to using their 10-game set on South Capitol Street as a springboard.  Instead, they leave for a suddenly crucial nine-game journey that involves a west coast swing but starts at the NL East-leading New York Mets.  Traditionally the west coast trip sneaks up on you in August at the most crucial time and often makes or breaks a season.  Could that be the case-gulp-in April?  Welcome to another interesting week in review… 

Break up the Mets!- while we know that a 12-2 start is not sustainable through a 162 game schedule, a division lead is still a division lead.  Pitching has been the difference for the Mets- who lead the majors with a 2.58 team ERA- while Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce have delivered at the plate.  In previous seasons the injury bug didn’t just bite the Mets–the bug chewed and spit out this team.  It’s safe to say a healthy Mets team aren’t just going to provide the Nats with a challenge–but if the Mets take two or even sweep this week, the Nats will go from being the hunted to the hunters.

O’s Woes- at least the Nats are their neighbors to the north.  The Orioles are 5-11 (not too good) and have had issues hitting (29th ranked batting average in the bigs) and pitching (worst opponent’s batting average in MLB).  Chris Tillman, Alex Cobb, Kevin Gausman and Mike Wright Jr. each own ERA’s over six.  Thank goodness Tampa Bay is worse.

Last Week’s Heroes-  Max Scherzer notched 21 strikeouts while winning both of his starts…notching more hits at the plate (2) than walks issued from the mound (1).  Max also stole a base.  Tanner Roark scored a run in his lone start while allowing 3 hits over 6 innings Friday in a hard-luck loss.  Matt Wieters came off the DL with a bang…belting a pair of home runs against the Rockies.  Bryce Harper made the most of the limited pitches he saw to score a team-high five runs.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Ryan Zimmerman’s April issues (.136 battaing average with 6 strikeouts) continue while Trea Turner, Matt Adams, Moises Sierra and Brian Goodwin also hit under .200 for the week.  Shawn Kelley gave up a pair of homers while Sean Doolittle coughed up a ninth inning blast to Ian Desmond in the series finale.

Game to Watch- Saturday Stephen Strasburg pitches against Clayton Kershaw at Chavez Ravine.  This is the dream matchup when both are on their game. The fact that it’s on a Saturday makes the 9:10 first pitch more than workable.

Game to Miss- Tuesday the Capitals try to climb out of a 2-0 series crater against Columbus while the Wizards attempt to bounce back from their Game One loss at Toronto.  Sorry, Gio Gonzalez as you pitch against the New York Mets.  Postseason crises trump regular season issues more often than not.

So…the Nats just might not catch the Dodgers for home field advantage.  But there are still things to play for, even as they’ve clinched home field for the NLDS (we know how much home field helps a team in a deciding game five).  Individual milestones are within multiple players’ reach–even after Ryan Zimmerman crossed the 100 RBI mark last week.  Anthony Rendon enters the final stages of the season four RBI shy of the century mark…and can also finish 2017 with more walks than strikeouts (he currently has an 81-80 ratio), a rarity in today’s free-swinging day.  Other milestones to watch:  Daniel Murphy is at 90 runs scored as well as 90 RBI (shame they’re not playing the Mets this week)…while standing two homers shy of reaching his career high set in 2016.    On the mound, Max Scherzer is 2.1 innings shy of reaching 200 for the season while Stephen Strasburg is four strikeouts away from 200.  Brandon Kintzler remains one save away from 30 for the season…and with the Nats almost locked into the #2 seed may be ready to get a ninth inning appearance.

Bryce is Back?  The Nationals may be getting their rightfielder in the lineup as early as Tuesday…their top hitter has been on the shelf with a knee injury suffered in early August.  Harper had 29 HR…and it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see #34 notch #30 in the final days of the season.  The bigger question is will he be postseason-ready after less than a week of work to find his groove?

Playoff Possibilities- if the season ended today, the Nationals would be the #2 seed in the NL and host the Chicago Cubs in the Divisional Series.  The top seeded Los Angeles Dodgers would host the Wild Card Game winner Arizona/Colorado.  The AL matchups have Cleveland hosting the New York Yankees or Minnesota (Pinstripes pounded the Twins in a series just last week) while Boston visits Houston.

O’s Woes- yes, that means the September of Suffocation is complete for a Birds team that began the month 68-66 but will end with their first losing record since 2011.  Starting pitching needs to be addressed in the offseason…as this year’s rotation dug the rest of the team in a hole every time one turned around.

Last Week’s Heroes- Max Scherzer went 2-0 with an ERA of 2.08 while Gio Gonzalez joined Max as 15-game winners in the rotation.  Sean Doolittle continues to be lights-out with two scoreless innings en route to a pair of saves.  Adam Lind made his most off the bench by hitting .400 with a team-high  7 RBI while Trea Turner batted .318 with a team-high 5 runs and 4 RBI.  Congrats to Ryan Zimmerman for reaching the 100 RBI milestone for the first time since 2009.  For the longest time he was the best and often only player worth watching on a bad club…and once the Nats finally became a contender Zim was battling injuries.  Good to see both the player and the team having great seasons at the same time.  

Last Week’s Humbled- Jayson Werth hit .118 with eight strikeouts and one walk…while Anthony Rendon batted .176 but still walked more than he struck out.  Edwin Jackson is suffering a September to forget:  allowing 6 runs over 4.2 innings means he’s 0-3 with an ERA of 12.38 this month.  At least he ate up some innings when the Nats’ rotation was thin.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nationals play Pittsburgh while Stephen Strasburg tries to reach multiple milestones.  Bryce Harper may also be back and it’s not right after a travel day so there’s a chance we’ll see most of if not all of the regulars in the lineup.   In theory…

Game to Miss- Thursday the Nats begin their series with the Pirates by starting Edwin Jackson, hopefully for the final time in 2017.  To add to the fun, WTOP co-worker Brian Drew is having his farewell happy hour.  He’s as much a die-hard Nationals fan as he was a devotee of TURN on AMC…so one will sadly pass on Pittsburgh.