Archives for posts with tag: Howie Kendrick

August 31 and Labor Day weekend do not always go hand in hand, but those are two key signposts in a normal baseball season.  This year they represent a trading deadline and a little over the halfway mark of the regular season. By losing five of six games they’ve dropped to under 12-19 which puts them on pace for 23-37 on the season. It’s also the equivalent of 19-31.  And unlike 2019 Stephen Strasburg is not pitching every fifth day this September.  The final day of August this year is also the MLB trading deadline, but these deals are even more difficult to make because the prospects usually thrown into late-summer swaps would normally be playing minor league ball instead of behind closed doors at training sites like Fredericksburg.  Traditionally the trading deadline in DC has meant attempting to upgrade a sagging bullpen;  this year the Nats relievers own a 4.32 ERA (14th in MLB).  But as bad as this season looks now and as logical as it would be to turn one’s eye towards 2021–they’re not completely out of contention.

Santangelo Math- the MASN TV analyst mentioned on the air that with the shortened schedule, each game is now worth “2.7” games on a 162-game slate.  So the Nats are now “32-51” for what it is worth.  In order to reach the equivalent of last year’s 93-win team they’d need to post a 22-7 mark this month.  The shadows grow longer as summer comes to a close.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta (19-14) isn’t just the only NL East team with a winning record, the Braves are also the only club with a positive run differential.  That’s good enough for the number three seed this fall.  Miami and Philadelphia (14-15) are tied for second, with whoever takes the tiebraker earning the fifth seed and the loser taking eighth. The New York Mets (15-19) are a game and a half back while the Nats may be in last but are just three games out of the playoffs.

O’s Woes- sorry, but we’ve put “Break up the Birds” on the bench for the moment. Eight losses in ten games have the O’s four and a half games out of a playoff berth at 14-19. The seventh best offense in the bigs couldn’t carry the 19th best pitching staff forever.  Even though they’re not on pace to match last year’s record-305 (113 over a 60-game season) home runs, they are allowing 46 which is tied for sixth most in the majors.  And now Tommy Milone’s been traded to Atlanta.  They didn’t even give me time to get to the team shop to purchase my jersey.

Anthony’s Song (Movin’ Out)- Tony two-bags came down from his .531 mountaintop to hit in a .188 valley last week, dropping the former Nationals third baseman’s batting average to .299.  He’s still leading the team with 24 walks.  The Angels are 12-23 and are tied for the second-worst mark in the majors.

Last Week’s Heroes- Trea Turner hit .519 while scoring a team-high six runs.  Howie Kendrick hit .375 with a homer and five RBI and while Juan Soto is no longer hitting .400 he batted .346 with two homers and five RBI.  Adam Eaton was dropped in the batting order to sixth and drove in a team-high seven runs.  Max Scherzer struck out 11 over six innings while directing the Nats to their lone victory of the week.

Last Week’s Humbled- Austin Voth started twice last week and allowed 11 runs over 5.2 innings. Anibal Sanchez allowed five runs in five innings in his lone start, and Erick Fedde has become a human rain dance (his start last week was truncated due to mid-game rains while his start in Atlanta was rained out). Asdrubal Cabrera hit .143 while Luis Garcia batted .158.  Carter Kieboom was optioned to the training site after striking out 20 times in 64 at bats without an extra base hit.

Game to Watch- Wednesday Max Scherzer pitches against the Phillies;  if the Nats are going to find a way back into the playoff picture they’re going to need to climb over the Phillies.  And in a season where so many things are going wrong, Max Scherzer represents what can go right.

Game to Miss- Saturday the Nationals face NL East-leading Atlanta while Labor Day weekend offers a different distraction:  the Kentucky Derby was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns earlier this year and even thought they won’t be having fans at Churchill Downs, it’s the DERBY.  There may even be a Bus Captain decked out in madras jacket and breathable fedora enjoying a Manhattan or Mint Julep.  Plus, Erick Fedde is supposed to start and if there’s anything we’ve learned it’s that Fedde on the mound means a monsoon in the skies.

In a short 60-game season like this one, the little things will be magnified.  Especially during the early stages when there is a limited sample size (the Nats are still in the first 20% of their schedule).  If Anibal Sanchez struggles for a second straight start and that’s all you have to go by in 2020, you’re concerned.  If the bullpen blows a 3-0 lead the next night, you’re alarmed because the few games that have been played don’t offer a ton of evidence–and you have to go on something.

That’s why Sunday’s game with the Orioles will be the early benchmark for a while.  It had a little of everything:  a solid start by Stephen Strasburg that faded in a fifth inning where the Orioles plated five runs, missed opportunities with runners on base early, and the disaster of unrolling the tarp onto the field during a rain delay that resembled the keystone cops and resulted in the first base side looking like the beach at low tide.  We’ve all made mistakes while making beds and folding blankets, right?  Imagine doing it under the watchful eye of Major League Baseball.  And wouldn’t you know that in today’s social media climate, video and pictures of the tarp and its troubles would be front and center.  Due to the fact that the infield was unplayable, the game was suspended–so they’ll finish that matchup Friday when the Nats visit the O’s.  I’m hoping for clear skies.

Santangelo Math- the MASN TV analyst mentioned on the air that with the shortened schedule, each game is now worth “2.7” games on a 162-game slate.  So the Nats are now “10.8-18.9” for what it is worth.  It’s not exactly 19-31, but would translate to 18.1-31.9.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta leads the NL East with an 11-6 mark, outscoring opponents by 27 runs (third best in the majors).  Miami is in second place at 7-3 thanks to their four games sweep of the Orioles.  The New York Mets (7-9) and Philadelphia (4-6) are tied for third, and the 4-7 Nats find themselves in the NL East Cellar with the vibe of last year’s World Series mojo seemingly a million miles away.  They now begin a 10-game road trip.  At least they host the Marlins at the end of this rainbow.

Break up the Birds- “O’s Woes” reared their ugly head while getting swept by the Marlins, but they got their early season vibe back thanks to consecutive wins over the Nats.  The lineup that ranks fourth in the majors in getting on base and sixth in slugging has plated 70 runs, 12th best in MLB.  Renato Nunez hit 31 homers for the O’s last year, and this summer he’s off to a hot start with 5 blasts in the first 14 games.

Anthony’s Song (Movin’ Out)- the former Nats third baseman went hitless in 19 at bats last week, dropping his batting average to .103.  He did walk four times, although he no longer leads the league in that category.  The Angels batted Rendon fifth Sunday, right in front of former teammate Brian Goodwin.

Last Week’s Heroes- Howie Kendrick hit .462 with a home run and did that whole shifting gears thing in the dugout with Adam Eaton.  Asdrubal Cabrera batted .455 while Juan Soto in his first action of the season went 5-14 at the plate with a home run.  Austin Voth in his only start pitched five scoreless innings.  Tanner Rainey and Kyle Finnegan combined for 4.2 scoreless innings over four appearances.

Last Week’s Humbled- Anibal Sanchez didn’t cough up any home runs, but still allowed five runs over 5.1 innings against an Orioles team that had just been swept by Miami. Stephen Strasburg had a rough fifth inning against the O’s, he’ll be much better moving forward as he gets into a groove.  Trea Turner (.105) and Adam Eaton (.111) had less than ideal weeks atop the lineup while Victor Robles batted .077.

Game to Watch- Tuesday the Nationals face the Mets with Max Scherzer on the mound.  Hopefully his hamstring is okay- Scherzer’s last start was shortened to one inning due to a “tweak”.  In a short season one cannot afford a ton of tweaks, especially with Stephen Strasburg still gaining altitude and Anibal Sanchez having issues.

Game to Miss- Thursday Austin Voth pitches a matinee against the Mets, with New York starting “David Peterson”.  I’ve been called “Dave Peterson” on TV, been registered for a road race as “Don Preston”, and regularly called “Don Peterson” by my co-workers in the WTOP newsroom.  I’m going to consciously object to watching this Peterson fellow, hope Voth tosses another strong start, and hope somebody on-air accidentally calls him Preston.

ORIGINALLY POSTED June 17, 2019.

The long road back from 19-30 included a handful of fits and stalls amid the surges and streaks.  While the Nats would win 14 of their next 21 they’d still be submerged deep in the National League standing, climbing from 14th to 11th place.  And the logjam of teams (five clubs separated by three games) right in front of them may have been teetering, but not tottering just yet.  But technically it wasn’t even summer yet–and the club had its lineup healthy with one of its starting pitchers in the middle of a magical month. As always, 2020 thoughts to things written in 2019 are in boldface italics.

 

“The Time is Now”- (I need to get better at headlines)

Half-full or half-empty?  How do you view the last week where the team went 3-3? The 2019 season continues with the Nationals splitting a pair of series against the Chicago White Sox and Arizona.  Not ideal, but after their string of 11 wins in 15 games, somewhat acceptable.  This week the stakes get a little higher as they take on the top two teams in the NL East-beginning with four games against Philadelphia before hosting division-leading Atlanta on the weekend.  At 33-38 and 7.5 games off the pace, the Nats can ill afford a poor showing here.  They’ll be almost 50% through the regular season slate when the Braves leave Sunday, and while they’re almost assured of wrapping up the homestand under .500 it would be a nightmare to be double digits off the pace.  And given the way things turn on a dime in DC, not completely out of the realm of possibility. Buckle up…

I’m not peeking ahead to how they fared against the Phils and Braves, but after playing .500 ball against a pair of .500 teams one could see that this would be one huge week.

 

Digesting the Division- Atlanta takes a two and a half game lead at 42-30 and the Braves have won nine of ten. They’re also getting free agent pickup Dallas Keuchel to bolster a pitching staff that currently owns the tenth best ERA in the majors.  Philadelphia’s dropped five of seven to slide towards the pack, and the Phillies’ run differential has shrunk to +6.  The New York Mets (34-37, 7.5 GB) remain the driver who can’t find a parking spot on the P1 level, losing three of four at home to St. Louis.  Miami has lost eight of ten and at 25-44 isn’t competing with the Nats, Mets, Phillies and Braves as much as they’re scoreboard-watching with the Orioles–for the first pick of 2020.

Keuchel was the big pickup that stalled- going 8-8 with a 3.75 ERA while averaging fewer than six innings per start.  His innings per start has actually declined each year since his 2015 Cy Young Award.  Caveat Emptor.

 

O’s Woes- Bad days for the Birds.  A twelfth straight series loss (they haven’t won a series since late April).  A sweep at the hand of the defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox.  This week the team is far from Baltimore–and just as far from successful. At 21-50 they’re 22.5 games back in the AL East. Although they are one game better than last year’s 47-115 club at this time.  And while the team is no longer allowing more than two homers per game, they’re still on pace to cough up over 300 this year.

It’s not a good year when your “games behind” number is larger than your victory total. The homers-allowed record chase would lend a macabre feel to the summer.

 

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted 4-for-20 (.200) while striking out eight times.  While he’s still on pace to post 27 HR with 112 RBI, Harper’s 91 K’s keep him on track to break the 200 mark. But, Harper is hitting .321 against the Nats this year. And he comes back to DC this week with the proverbial chip on his shoulder.

Bryce was in the middle of his second-least productive month of the season (.825 OPS) while his team was floundering (losing two of three in Atlanta including the series finale 15-1).

 

Last Week’s Heroes- Matt Adams made his mark on Father’s Day, belting a grand slam as well as a three-run homer (the best drive of the day was by his dad, Jamie, who came down from Pennsylvania–I hope he didn’t take the Turnpike); Adams hit .308 for the week. Howie Kendrick batted .400 while scoring seven runs and Trea Turner had an on base-percentage of .448. Kurt Suzuki drove in eight runs.  Max Scherzer struck out ten for the fifth time this year and the 87th time in his career, while Javy Guerra notched five scoreless innings over three appearances.

Matt Adams would do most of his damage as the Nats were fighting back to .500 with 17 RBI in June.  This was one of those “Big City” days.

 

Last Week’s Humbled- Patrick Corbin has been sliding.  In his last three starts, the lefthander is 0-3 with an ERA of 11.37.  He had a rough outing against the White Sox (7 runs over 5 innings).  Kyle Barraclough had an ERA of 20.25 for the week before landing on the Injured List while Wander Suero struggled in spots.  Brian Dozier is hitting .211 and could be the odd man out whenever Ryan Zimmerman is healthy enough to return, as his at-bats at first base will move Howie Kendrick to second more often.

Despite the week, Dozier had his best month in June (.275 with 5 HR and 13 RBI) as the team began its surge up the standings.

 

Game to Watch- Wednesday the Nats host Philadelphia with Max Scherzer squaring off against a former Nationals prospect for the second time in a week:  Nick Pivetta (dealt in the trade for Jonathan Papelbon) is 4-1 with an ERA of 5.00 over eight starts this year. It’s the semi-pivotal third game of the series.

Rainouts would force a doubleheader on Wednesday, shifting Scherzer into a showdown with former Orioles underachiever and Cubs overachiever Jake Arrieta (who would also go 8-8 in 2019–what is this, the NFL?)

 

Game to Miss- Saturday Patrick Corbin pitches against Mike Foltynewicz in prime time.  Both starters have hit snags in the early season:  while Corbin’s dropped three straight decisions Foltynewicz has an ERA of 5.53.  Stay late at the pool–which closes at 8 p.m. even though it stays light until nine this month. Really?

Right now I’d be okay if my pool was open at all–but why can’t pools be open while its light out in June and July?  

ORIGINALLY POSTED ONE YEAR AGO ON THIS DATE-

We saw the Washington Nationals rebound from a 19-31 start to win a World Series in 2019. Meanwhile, there might not be a 2020 unless players and owners hammer out a deal.  Thank goodness for last year’s “Nats Notebook”. At this point the team was still under .500 but gaining steam. Thoughts now on what I wrote then are in boldface italics.

 

June 10, 2019- “Back to Back to Back to Back”

So they didn’t win their series in San Diego. But back to back wins Saturday and Sunday preserve a split, and four consecutive homers in the victory at the Padres in the series finale give the Nationals hope.  Despite being under .500 over 40% of the way into the regular season, this team is finding its stride recently.  After winning four series over the first two months, the club won four straight series entering their split in San Diego.  Yes, the bullpen has issues-especially in the eighth inning.  But the season is far from over-and the Nats are far from irrelevant.

We had them all the way, right?  What amazes me is that all during their 19-31 start the team remained resolute that they were capable of playing great baseball.  They’re still under .500 in June, but with two Wild Card spots there’s plenty of hope. 

 

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia is far from fading, but the NL East leaders at 37-28 have lost six of ten and remain just one game ahead of Atlanta.  The Braves have won three in a row while moving within one game of the Phillies.  The New York Mets have won two straight and stand five games back while the Nationals at 30-35 remain seven games off the pace.  Miami at 23-40 is all aboard for 2025.

The Phillies’ would fade; their June swoon saw the team go 11-17 and lose the NL East lead to Atlanta (20-8 in June).  And by the end of the month the Mets would be closer to last place than to fifth.

 

Harper’s Weekly- the former face of the franchise hit .280 last week with one RBI over 25 at bats, and is now batting .251 with 11 homers and 44 RBI-or a pace of 27 & 109 over 162 game season.  His 83 strikeouts keep him on a pace of 206 for the year-and Harper was caught stealing home over the weekend.  Is it 2030 yet?

NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas recently wrote a piece that explored “what if the Nats re-signed Harper?” that presents a different short-term (Eaton likely gets dealt out of a crowded outfield) and long-term (the team loses both Strasburg and Rendon last winter) results. Harper could have been THE FACE of this franchise moving forward.  And while he’ll make a ton of cash in Philly, he won’t be the cradle-to-grave star he would have been here.

 

O’s Woes- the Birds dropped four of six and at 20-65 remain on a pace of fewer than 50 wins. It’s one thing to be 20.5 games out of first place in the AL East; it’s another thing to be more games out of first than you have wins.  But the O’s glass is sometimes half-full, and this week it’s in the form of Pedro Severino:  the catcher is hitting .277 with 8 HR and 18 RBI over 37 games this year-after swatting four home runs in 105 games played with the Nationals. Must be the AL ballparks.

Severino would cool off, hitting 5 HR with 26 RBI over his final 59 games played in 2019.  He still has room to improve, having played just 201 Major League games.

 

Last Week’s Heroes- Stephen Strasburg went 2-0 while notching his 100th career victory, and Max Scherzer struck out nine over seven innings while snapping a two game losing streak Saturday in San Diego. Tanner Rainey tossed 3.2 scoreless innings over four relief appearances.  Howie Kendrick hit .350 with six RBI and a team-high six runs scored, while Anthony Rendon drove in a team-high 8 RBI and Trea Turner belted a walkoff home run (his first HR since breaking his finger in April) to salvage their sweep of the White Sox.

Amazing to think how Turner basically played all of last season with an injured finger.  Making a move up the standings is a little easier too with Strasburg and Scherzer at peak perfomance.

 

Last Week’s Humbled- Juan Soto hit .190 while Yan Gomes batted .214.  Gerardo Parra and Michael A. Taylor went hitless in limited action (Parra had seven at bats while Taylor had four at bats).  Relievers Sean Doolittle and Kyle Barraclough posted 6.75 ERA’s while Doo surrendered the game-winning hit Friday in San Diego.

Don’t worry, Parra’s a little over a week away from bringing “Baby Shark” into our lives.

 

Game to Watch- Friday Max Scherzer pitches against Robbie Ray, as the current ace faces the former Nats prospect that was dealt some time ago.  No time to ask “What if?”- it’s time to ask “What now?”.  Let’s find out…

Scherzer would go on to win all six of his June starts.  Simply sensational.

 

Game to Miss- Sunday Anibal Sanchez pitches against the Diamondbacks, and while Sanchez has been more than sharp since returning from the Injured List Sunday is the final day of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.  Tiger Woods may have won on that course in 2000, but Brooks Koepka is going for his third straight title-a feat not accomplished since 1905.  I’m headed to the couch… 

Sanchez after his 0-6 start would go 11-2 with an ERA of 3.42 the rest of the way; he was at his best in a 3-0, 2.76 June.

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

The Washington Nationals were originally going to hand out World Series rings Sunday, May 24 in a virtual ceremony.  While that is no longer the case, the date chosen was rather fitting as that’s when the surge up the standings began for a 19-31 team that would finish 93-69 before continuing its magical march through October.  And although the team was confident they’d turn things around eventually, it’s more than reasonable for those covering the team or rooting them on from the cheap seats (and not-so-cheap suites) at Nats Park to have given up on the hometown team.

I’ve been covering the Nationals’ home games on a regular basis the last six seasons, anchoring afternoon sportscasts from the ballpark before providing updates during the game that evening.  I’ve dealt with Game Five losses and late summer meltdowns, witnessed hot bats become frigid in October and see untimely injuries become costly in the NLDS.  But I never had to deal with a team ten games under .500 in DC-and that’s exactly what I had last May.  Due to injuries in the lineup and ineffectiveness in the bullpen, the team that had won four division titles in seven years was on pace to lose 100 games after getting swept in a four game series by the New York Mets on May 23.

Since 2015 I’ve written a weekly “Nats Notebook” for prestonsperspective.wordpess that explores the highs and lows, the big picture and minutiae.  These are excerpts from last year’s “Nats Notebook” on the way to Memorial Day.  They provide a bit of a road map as well as highlight who was doing well and who wasn’t on a week by week basis.  Enjoy with retroactive comments in italics.  Because sometimes hindsight isn’t always 20-20; sometimes it turns out to be 93-69.

 

April 2nd–Too Early for a Freakout?

The calendar reads “2019”…but for many the first weekend of this season felt like last year’s 82-80 journey to nowhere.  From stranding runners to bad base running to questionable bullpen use to wasting a solid Max Scherzer start, the season opener had it all. Saturday’s loss doubled down on all of that with a subpar Stephen Strasburg start followed by a bad bullpen outing.  Thank goodness Trea Turner hit a walkoff home run in Sunday’s win, otherwise we’d have a winless last place team facing first place Philadelphia.  Along with a familiar face.  Please tell me it’s only April…

Last Week’s Heroes- Max Scherzer strikes out 12 while allowing two hits over 7.2 innings and Sean Doolittle K’s a pair while tossing 1.2 scoreless in Sunday’s sweep-averting win.  Trea Turner bats .385 with two homers while Victor Robles hits .455.

Last Week’s Humbled- Robles also had an error in Saturday’s loss and his base running blunder helped keep the Nats off of the board in the season opener.  But at least he’s hitting- Brian Dozier began the year 0-for-10 while Juan Soto has seven strikeouts in his 12 at bats.  Trevor Rosenthal has allowed five runs while not recording an out over two appearances.

Rosenthal would live in the land of infinity before finally recording an out in his fifth appearance April 10.  This was the same time that Orioles slugger Chris Davis was oh-for-the-season.  I maintain that if they faced each other during this stretch, the universe would have imploded.

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April 8– “One Bad Bullpen”

Beware the Bad Bullpen. Shaky setup men and closers in crisis are the perfect way to undo five-plus solid innings of work from your rotation.  Eight games into the season, the Nats bullpen ranks last in the majors with an ERA of 10.80.  While last week one was reminded of the 2018 season’s sloppy base running and bad defense, this week one recalls how bad the bullpen was during the first half of the 2017 season.  And this is April- with multiple off-days early in the season.  Can this bullpen get itself together before it’s too late?

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .474 with 4 homers and 7 RBI, while Ryan Zimmerman drove in 5 runs.  Stephen Strasburg tossed 6.2 scoreless innings to start their series against the Mets, Sean Doolittle threw 2.2 scoreless frames over three outings and Max Scherzer tallied 16 strikeouts over 11.1 innings.  Max also gave himself a lead for the first time all year by driving in a run Saturday.

Last Week’s Humbled- Trevor Rosenthal remains in the land of infinity, allowing 2 more earned runs while walking 3 more over two games.  Joe Ross in his 2019 debut allowed a 3-run homer while getting one out Sunday.  For those doing the math, that equates to an earned run average of 81.00.  Tony Sipp’s ERA for the week was a robust 27.00, while Matt Grace and Wander Suero also have double-digit ERA’s.  At the plate, Victor Robles and Brian Dozier are both hitting .133 to start the season.  While neither is expected to carry this team offensively, the loss of Trea Turner to a broken finger for the next 4-8 weeks makes every out sting a little more.

Bryce Harper’s return to Nationals Park was less than ideal for the team he left, as the former face of the franchise went 5-for-10 with 3 RBI in his first series back.  Throw in losing offensive sparkplug Trea Turner, and early April was not awesome in DC.

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April 15– “Whirlwind World”

What a week it was.  From Virginia winning a first-ever men’s college basketball National Championship (Kippy & Buffy are celebrating with a bottle of 2009 Chateau Lynch-Bages) to the Capitals taking a 2-0 first round playoff series lead over Carolina to Tiger Woods winning the Masters to Game of Thrones’ final season premiering, there’s been a lot to experience.  Amidst all of that the Nationals went 3-3 to remain .500 on the season.  One series win that could have gone the other way followed by the exact opposite.  But who’s watching?

Last Week’s Heroes- Howie Kendrick in his return to the roster hit 7-of-11 with 2 homers and 4 RBI.  They missed the Swiss army knife a ton last year.  Anthony Rendon hit .360 while driving in 8 runs.  Adam Eaton scored a team-high 7 runs.  Patrick Corbin struck out 11 over seven innings in his only outing while Kyle Barraclough (1.2 scoreless innings) and Sean Doolittle (3.2 scoreless) kept the lid on things.  Trevor Rosenthal after living in the land of infinity notched his first out of the season.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman hit .167 while Wilmer Difo batted .143.  Stephen Strasburg was touched up for 6 earned runs over 4 innings of work.  Tony Sipp allowed 2 runs in one inning.

Amazing how sports works out. The Cavaliers trailed in every game during their NCAA title run and needed crazy rallies to get to overtime in the Regional Finals and Championship Game.  And that doesn’t include the three free throws with 0.6 seconds left against Auburn in the National Semifinals.  But just as the Cavs go up, the Caps come down as they’d lose four of five to end their title defense on a cold April night.

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April 22– “Sunburned”

So much for getting fat on the last place Miami Marlins.  The Nats visited the one team in the NL East that could be accused of not really trying in 2019 and lost two of three.  And now once again the team finds itself at .500; they were 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 7-7, 8-8, 9-9 and now the club many thought would fight for the NL East is 10-10.  Granted, not having Trea Turner is a major blow to the offense and the bullpen is only beginning to put together outs consistently.  But the longer this team stays in second gear, the longer one feels they’re going to be second-tier. 

Last Week’s Heroes- Adam Eaton hit .364 while Matt Adams batted .333 with two homers and six RBI.  Ryan Zimmerman homered twice in Sunday’s win over Miami.  Patrick Corbin struck out nine over seven innings in his only start while Stephen Strasburg K’d 11 while tossing eight scoreless innings in Sunday’s win at the Marlins. Relievers Kyle Barraclough pitched three scoreless outings while Tony Sipp tossed two scoreless frames over three appearances.

Last Week’s Humbled- Max Scherzer had a rare rough outing, coughing up six runs over 5.1 innings at Miami. Austen Williams allowed two homers in two outings and has an ERA of 162.  Yes, it’s a very small sample size but…ouch.  Juan Soto did walk five times last week but hit .200 primarily batting third and fourth.

There’s a Seinfeld episode where “everything evens out” for Jerry, and that’s what the early season felt like for the Nats.  Meanwhile the rogues gallery of relievers gave nobody long-term confidence in the bullpen that would eventually rank 29th in the majors.

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April 29– “The Future is Wow”

On the week that the NFL took center stage with its Draft Party Celebration Extravaganza, it was only fitting that the Nats looked to their youngest players in Sunday’s rally from six runs down to beat San Diego in extra innings.  The 7-6 win in ten innings may have been won by Matt Adams’ walk-off homer, but Carter Kieboom, Juan Soto and Victor Robles helped force extras with home runs of their own.  It’s the first time in Major League history that a trio of teammates under the age of 22 homered in the same game.  And while there are plenty of issues facing this team at this time, one can at least look to the next generation making their mark now.

Last Week’s Heroes- Carter Kieboom provided an instant spark, homering in his first career game Friday night before going yard Sunday.  Juan Soto hit .308 and led the team with 8 RBI while Matt Adams batted .333 and had the sweep-averting homer against the Padres.  Erick Fedde tossed four scoreless innings after getting called up from the minors while Max Scherzer struck out 10 to move past the 2,500 plateau.

Last Week’s Humbled- Trevor Rosenthal had one rough outing against Colorado:  he threw three wild pitches and hit a batter while allowing three runs.  Jeremy Hellickson allowed 10 earned runs over eight innings, while Wander Suero went 0-2 with an ERA of 16.88.  Adam Eaton hit .217 while Victor Robles batted .214 with one walk and eight strikeouts.  Not what you dream about atop the batting order.

I had a chance to interview both Carter Kieboom and Erick Fedde this past February at Spring Training.  Fedde was fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation and while his extra year of options was originally going to keep him in the minors an expanded roster this summer may play into his favor. Conversely, Kieboom’s lack of regular reps the last two months could seriously stunt was going to be his growth into the starting role at third base.

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May 6– “Still Trying to Take Off”

Add Juan Soto to the growing Nats’ Injured List.  And Matt Adams.  And–potentially Michael A. Taylor.  And–for a few hours–the flight from Philadelphia to Milwaukee–the team’s charter plane.  Not to mention their pitching coach:  sayonara Doug Lilliquist, welcome Paul Menhart.  The Nats aren’t just minus their opening day #2 through #5 hitters, but they’re also without their best bat off the bench (who had been forced into a starting role) and potentially their best defensive outfielder (we await the moment when Taylor is put on the IL).  Not helpful in the early season when one has yet to find itself.  The team that had issues getting away from .500 (nine times in April) is now taking serious water (losses in 11 of their last 16 games).  And their gauntlet of playoff teams from last year continues with trips to Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

About that Delay- during a season where the team was expected to contend yet is five games under .500 in early May, it’s only fitting that the team flight had trouble taking off as well Sunday.  The Nats boarded their team charter at 6:30 p.m. but mechanical issues kept them on the tarmac for eight hours. They finally deplaned at 3 a.m. (wondering when the peanuts ran out) and went back to their hotel before flying later in the morning.  On a trip where there are no off-days, this was beyond not ideal.  Fire up the espresso machine in the visitor’s clubhouse.

Last Week’s Heroes- Kurt Suzuki hit .462 with three homers and five RBI while Howie Kendrick hit .348. Sean Doolittle notched a pair saves while tossing 2.1 scoreless innings and Kyle Barraclough threw three scoreless frames over three appearances.  Stephen Strasburg reached the 1,500 strikeout milestone by whiffing nine over 6.2 innings in a sweep-averting victory against St. Louis.

Last Week’s Humbled- Joe Ross allowed seven earned runs over 0.2 innings (94.50 ERA for those without calculators) while Matt Grace posted a 10.38 ERA.  Carter Kieboom suddenly looked like a rookie while hitting 2-for-23 while Michael A. Taylor went 0-12 with five strikeouts before injuring his wrist.

The flight delay was going to be one of those things that becomes symbolic of a lost season.  The change of a pitching coach seemed to make sense, as a staff that boasted quite a bit of talent ended April with the fourth-highest ERA in the NL.

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May 13– “Wandering Out West”

The Nats’ ten-game road trip is now in their rear-view mirror.  The 3-7 finish was less than ideal but not as disastrous as it could have been.  From getting swept in Milwaukee to getting shut out twice in Los Angeles.  From a comedy of errors in the field against the Brewers to a silent outing by the bats in almost getting no-hit by the Dodgers.  This team returns to DC a little healthier (Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto are both back) but far from full-strength.  And just as far from successful:  they’ve not won consecutive games since April 18 and have had just a pair of two-game winning streaks.  Things won’t get any easier as they face fellow NL East contender New York and the NL East-leading Cubs.  Can things get turned around by Memorial Day?

Last Week’s Heroes- Patrick Corbin ended the team’s four game losing streak by tossing seven scoreless innings while Max Scherzer struck out 17 over two starts, winning for the first time in over a month.  Newcomer Gerardo Parra hit a grand slam in Saturday night’s win while ending a no-hit bid by the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu Sunday afternoon. Howie Kendrick’s homer helped the Nats snap the slide, and he led the team with seven RBI last week.

Last Week’s Humbled- Anthony Rendon came off the injured list and hit .136 with seven strikeouts.  He’s not alone-as none of the regulars hit over .250 last week. The catching combination of Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki went 1-for-25 with 10 strikeouts.  Jeremy Hellickson allowed six runs over four innings of work while Kyle Barraclough and Matt Grace each posted a 13.50 ERA.  That of course pales in comparison to Dan Jennings’ 40.50 blemish.

Hello Gerardo Parra!  He was hitting .198 for the Giants when the Nats picked him up, and what an acquisition for the Nats.  Even with the “Baby Shark” earworm.

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May 20– “Maylaise” 

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?

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.

I want to say I never said “malaise”, but “crisis of confidence”.  Fans of former President Carter will back me up.

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 27– “A Tale of Two Series” 

It was the worst of times–and the best of times last week. Well, actually–not the best because it’s tough to celebrate wins over the NL East’s AAA team.  But you get what I mean. And just remember the Nats lost two of three to Miami last month.  Nothing like three wins to put some wind back in the team’s sails and give one hope as they cross the first marker of the Major League Marathon (July 4th & 31st plus Labor Day are the other three of note-it’s not like Golf’s Majors where there’s a fixed set- some include the All Star Break as well).  The bullpen remains beyond as bad as anyone feared it might be (the team allowed 49 runs in the eighth inning over the first 50 games of the season) and its ERA has spiked to a mind-boggling and save-blowing 7.25.  As the Nats wind down May they find themselves closer to last place (4.5 games ahead of Miami) than first (nine behind Philadelphia). They entered their eight game stretch against the sub-500 Mets and Marlins with conventional wisdom being the Nats could/would/might win five or six to jump back into the race.  Entering the series finale with the Marlins they need a win just to break even.  Thank goodness the schedule continues to stay semi-soft in June.

Last Week’s Heroes- Juan Soto hit 13-26 with 2 homers and 8 RBI, while Juan Gomes batted .400 with 5 RBI.  Anthony Rendon remains red-hot, scoring a team-high 8 runs while driving in 5 more.  As it’s Rendon’s walk year, the longer this team remains sub-.500 the louder the whispers of trading Tony Two Bags will get.  Patrick Corbin tossed a complete game Saturday (just what the beleaguered bullpen needed) and Max Scherzer tossed six shutout innings earlier in the week.  Matt Grace pitched two scoreless innings over three games. Somebody check his temperature.

Last Week’s Humbled- rookie James Bourque made his major league debut Sunday, allowing 4 earned runs over two-thirds of an inning. He’ll have no issues fitting in here.  The usually sharp Sean Doolittle coughed up a three-run double and a three-run homer to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Just to show it’s not just a bullpen thing, Kyle McGowin allowed five runs over four innings in his start Friday.  Trea Turner hit .212 with six strikeouts while leading off and Victor Robles batted .200.

I remember losing power in my building the day the Nationals lost their matinee to the Mets.  That felt appropriate as the Nats had just gotten swept by their NL East foes, coughing up leads in three of the four games.  And even though they bounced back with three straight wins over the Marlins, they’d find a way to blow a late lead on Memorial Day.

 

 

 

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While the Washington Nationals were propelled by starting pitching that posted the third best ERA in the majors plus a lineup that ranked second in batting average and runs scored, many close to the team felt that that the clubhouse chemistry was a key factor in going from 19-31 in May to a championship parade in November. “When one guy doesn’t do the job the next guy picks him up,” Martinez said before the World Series.  “You watch them go down the line, they pat each other on the back- ‘hey, we got you don’t worry’.” Chemistry in the clubhouse is a tricky thing; if anybody could create it everybody would have it. It’s not a Chia Pet, for heaven’s sake.  How have things gotten so good for the Nats?

It wasn’t always this way. From players reportedly being shipped out for leaking to the press, dugout scuffles between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper, to the famed Mike Rizzo quote “If you’re not in, you’re in the way”, it’s taken a while for the phalanx to come together.  When you spend February through October together, the team has to be together.  “At the end of the day nobody understands what goes on in a clubhouse except the 25 guys and the coaching staff that are in here,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “There’s nothing like it and truly the biggest reason why we won last year is because of how much we enjoyed being around each other.” 

When things got bad last spring and it looked like the team was sinking, the players didn’t jump ship. Instead, they began to bail each other out. “We were all very open with each other,” Gomes said. “Whatever little things were going on we were able to cut them out right away-cut out distractions-and made sure that whatever happened it stayed in here and we were battling for each other in here.

Perhaps the fact that this was the oldest roster in baseball last season gave some clarity and focus to what was really important: trying to go 1-0 every day while not letting one loss bleed into the next day.  “Just the mix of veterans and young players and just the attitude,” Howie Kendrick said. “There’s no selfish guys here and everybody wants to win. There’s a chemistry here that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Baseball’s regular season is the longest (162 games) while the playoff field is the most exclusive in the major four sports (10 of 30, or 33%).  Fighting through the dog days of summer (and for those who live in the Washington area, August can get particularly houndish) is no easy task, and knowing that the clubhouse is a fountain of positive vibes makes the grind a little easier.  “It’s great when you get to the field every day and you’re just happy to be hear and don’t feel like you’re working,” Michael A. Taylor said. “And it helps on the field too having that camaraderie and just trusting one another.”

Unfortunately for any team in MLB, you can’t bring everyone back.  While we know the Nats will miss Anthony Rendon’s bat and glove as well as the contributions of Brian Dozier and Gerardo Parra (earworm alert-BABY SHARK), we can’t size up yet the intangible loss of those three as well as others on the 2019 team not coming back.  Sometimes the absence of one minor ingredient can change a whole recipe.  “When we finished Game Seven it was one of those things where we knew that everyone wasn’t going to be back,” Adam Eaton said. “Which kind of saddened all of us because you’re with those people for so long it’s part of your family.”  But with most of the parts coming back, the 2020 Nationals should earn another solid grade in Chemistry.  Will it be another A?  Ask me in October.

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When the Capitals won their Stanley Cup in 2018, the summer of celebration was somewhat subdued after head coach Barry Trotz resigned 11 days after the team won Game Five in Las Vegas.  The Nationals enjoyed a longer winning winter, but 2020 officially began 41 days after they triumphed in Game Seven when Anthony Rendon inked a seven year contract worth $245 million with the Los Angeles Angels. “You’re talking about an MVP-caliber ballplayer,” manager Davey Martinez told the media last week. “He’s definitely going to be missed, his teammates are going to miss him.” How they cover up his absence on the field and in the lineup will go a long ways towards determining if the Nationals will be an NL East contender or pretender in 2020.  Because it’s a challenge to replace your best bat while also replacing your surest glove; doubly so when it’s the same guy.

Infielder Carter Kieboom gets the first crack at replacing Rendon in the field.  The prime prospect hit .303 with 16 homers and 79 RBI last season for AAA Fresno.  Nobody expects the 21-year old to hit 34 homers with 126 RBI as a rookie, but his bat should be major league ready.  The other side of the coin is that he hit .128 over 11 games during a brief audition last spring, although Kieboom did homer in his major league debut.  He’s also played just 10 of his 329 career minor league games at third.  But Kieboom will get plenty of run over the next six weeks; one key is confidence in himself. “I talked to him already and told him I want you to go out there and compete every day,” manager Davey Martinez told the media last week. “Just ‘be you’. This is a fairly new position for him. He’s been coming out every day and working diligently. His footwork is good.”  For a young fielder learning a new everyday position at the major league level, the opposite of good is perfect-meaning Kieboom needs to head out every day knowing he doesn’t need to make perfect plays in order to lock down the starting job.  What is his manager looking for?  “Two things- arm strength and footwork. And that’s something that we’re working on right now,” Martinez said. “Once we get his footwork and legs underneath him he can actually do it (make the throws).”

 

Other possibilities-  while Kieboom is learning the ropes at third base as a 21-year old rookie, three Nats veterans who are options have had the bulk of their experience at the position deep in their careers. Asdrubal Cabrera did not play a game at third last season with the Nats, but he did make 90 starts in the hot corner while with Texas in 2019 and has made 142 of his 143 Major League starts at third base over the last three seasons.  Howie Kendrick made 10 of his 25 career starts at third in 2019, and Starlin Castro made all 42 of his starts at the position last year while with Miami. “I know Cabby’s played there, Howie could possibly play there and Starlin could move over and play there as well,” Martinez said. “We have a lot of guys who can do multiple things and I kind of like that.”

Just as important as finding the right fit in the field at third base is realizing who bats third this spring.  The Nats’ number three spot in the batting order led the majors with an on base percentage of .398 and a slugging percentage of .579; for those who refuse to play the percentages the club’s number three hitters led MLB with 127 runs scored and 143 runs driven in.  At first Juan Soto would appear to be the heir apparent after hitting 34 HR with 110 RBI, but the outfielder has hit just .145 over 83 at bats from the No. 3 spot in his career (barely over half of his .287 career average).  He also won’t have the protection of batting behind himself in the cleanup spot.  An option could be shortstop Trea Turner, who made 503 of his 521 at bats last season from the leadoff spot but provides power (21 homers per 162 games played in his career) while striking out more than most atop the lineup (133 K’s per 162 games).  Unlike getting Kieboom solid footing at third, Martinez could mix things up this spring before arriving at his regular No. 3 hitter.

The Washington Nationals at one point owned the second-worst record in the National League. Tonight, they are one of two teams remaining in the playoff party as the World Series gets underway in Houston.  While the Astros are prohibitive favorites, the Nats have been discounted all season–or at least since they were 19-31 after an ignominious sweep by the New York Mets.  Bring on the Fall Classic.

Soaring Astros- the American League champs won a big league-best 107 games during the regular season, ranking third in the majors in runs scored and team ERA.

Bats to Beware- Jose Altuve didn’t just win ALCS MVP honors by hitting a walk-off HR in Game Six, he’s also hitting .349 with 10 runs scored and 8 driven in this month.  Alex Bregman (with serious DC ties) led the team with 41 HR and 112 RBI during the regular season, and has 10 runs scored in the playoffs.

Yet to Take Off- leadoff hitter George Springer hit 39 homers during the regular season;  in the postseason he’s batting .152 with 15  strikeouts.  Yordan Alvarez is the other 100-RBI bat this year, and he’s hitting .171 with 19 strikeouts.

Nats Bats to Watch- Anthony Rendon is hitting .375 in the playoffs with a team-high 8 runs scored an 7 RBI, while also hitting .316 against right-handers.  Victor Robles is back from a bad hamstring and is hitting .313 in October. Howie Kendrick’s 9 RBI are tops on the team this month.

DH Decisions- Kendrick will be the designated hitter for Game One and will still bat fifth; the lineup tweaks are behind him in the order with Asdrubal Cabrera (21 RBI in September) getting the nod at second base instead of Brian Dozier (20 HR in the regular season).  He’ll bat sixth, the switch-hitter separating righty bats Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman- who’ll bat seventh.  Zim missed most of the season with plantar fasciitis, but notched 12 RBI in 53 September at bats.  He’s also hitting .333 against right-handed pitchers in the playoffs.

For Starters- Max Scherzer is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in the playoffs over three starts and one scoreless inning of relief, averaging 13.5 strikeouts over 9 innings.  He was completely unstoppable in June (going 6-0 with an ERA of 1.00) before a back injury cost him the better part of the next two months.  Gerrit Cole (20-5, 2.50 ERA) did not lose a decision after May 22 and is 3-0 with a 0.40 ERA in the playoffs.

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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.