Archives for posts with tag: Jayson Werth

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM…from October when we were wondering how they could beat the Dodgers in the NLDS.

 

The longest season in professional sports wrapped up last weekend with the Nationals not quite done for 2016.  Instead of last year’s soggy plate of nachos rotting on the September plate, the Nats are headed to the playoffs for the third time in five years.

Five major turning points to the 2016 season:

1- Murph and the Magic Tones.  When the Nats brought in NLCS MVP Daniel Murphy as their main free agent find in the offseason, it had the underwhelming taste of an average cake with so-so frosting.  To get 15 homers and 80 RBI from the second baseman would be nice…but those were also numbers he’d yet to reach in his major league career.  When they started the season the second baseman was batting 5th between Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth (perhaps to keep the righty-lefty-righty thing going).  What followed was completely unforeseen as Murphy went on a tear that would have him flirt with .400 as late as Memorial Day…while driving in a ton of runs as the rest of the Nats lineup fell off a collective cliff.  He made his former team rue the day they let him go…hitting .413 with 9 HR and 21 RBI in 19 games against the Mets.  Murphy set career highs, hitting .347 with 25 HR and 104 RBI before being sidelined in September with a gluteal strain.  Just as his emergence helped lead to a playoff appearance, not being able to play and return to form against the Dodgers might lead to another early exit for the Nats.

2- Roark’s Return to the Rotation.  Last season Tanner Roark was buried in a bullpen role, going 4-7 with an ERA of 4.38.  Jordan Zimmermann’s departure via free agency delivered an opportunity…and Roark bettered his numbers from 2014 (15-10, 138 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.84) by going 16-10 while striking out 172 and posting an ERA of 2.83.  His importance was underscored in a rotation where Stephen Stasburg and Joe Ross were on the shelf for most of the second half of the season…and Gio Gonzalez was consistently uneven throughout the year.  While Max Scherzer (league-best 20 wins and 284 strikeouts) will probably get the Cy Young Award, Roark deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

3- Werth’s Worth More Hitting Second.  After hitting .211 in April while batting primarily 5th or 6th, it looked like the 37-year old was reaching the sad final chapters of his stay in DC.  At the same time, nothing was working in the Nats’ #2 spot of the order:  Anthony Rendon (.236) was not the answer and coupled with Ben Revere’s injury plus slow start the table-setters were not providing Bryce Harper & Daniel Murphy many RBI opportunities.  On Memorial Day, Werth was moved into the #2 spot and went 1 for 4 with a run scored and an RBI.  The veteran stayed and solidified a lineup trying to find itself…and while his .259 is only 8 points higher than everyone else hitting 2nd this year Werth’s run production dwarfs the everybody else hitting 2nd this year ((28 more RBI over 162 games played) .  The move also let Anthony Rendon bat deeper in the order and eventually find his groove (his 52 RBI since the All Star break ranks 5th in the National League).

4- Moving on to Melancon…and Releasing another Reliever.  After choking Bryce Harper in the Nats dugout last September, many thought that Jonathan Papelbon would be gone-and quickly.  To the surprise of many he remained on the roster and was the team’s closer for the first half of the season (not including his trip to the disabled list).  In late July, General Manager Mike Rizzo was looking for a closer.  He found one in Pittsburgh’s Mark Melancon…who quietly saved 17 of 18 opportunities while not attempting to strangle any of his teammates.  Melancon’s addition meant the Nationals no longer had to continue the awkward dance with Papelbon…and they released the potential ticking time bomb two weeks later.  As bad as last year’s deal for Papelbon blew up the bullpen, this year’s deadline deal rescued the relief corps.

5- Leading off at Last.  Ben Revere and Michael A. Taylor both failed to click as leadoff hitters during the first half of the season…and while manager Dusty Baker saw the bat of Trea Turner in AAA Syracuse lighting things up with speed to match, he had no place to play him.  Daniel Murphy was off to his incredible start and Danny Espinosa was exceeding expectations while providing solid defense at shortstop.  However, there was an offensive vacuum in centerfield with Revere and Taylor.  While still in the minors Turner began playing games in in the outfield…and Dusty Baker had his master chess move in place.  Turner turned both the leadoff spot and centerfield positions from liabilities into offensive spark plugs, leading the majors in triples and steals since the All Star Break. The rookie’s defense-learned on the fly-for the most part has been solid.

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–APRIL 2016

At first glance, the Nationals outfield in 2016 should be one of their strengths.  You’re led into that sense of security seeing Bryce Harper in right field everyday.  As long as he doesn’t injure a hamstring or get hit by lightning, the reigning National League MVP is the foundation this outfield and batting order will be built upon.  And even with a lightning strike, Harper would probably be able to still play 3 to 4 days a week.  After that?  A group of players that could potentially deliver or disappoint.  The difference betwwen delivery and disappointment could very well determine the Nats 2016 destiny.

To say left field was a disappointment last year would be an understatment:  the position ranked 24th in the Majors in OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage) after being in the middle of the pack the previous season.  Even Danny Espinosa and Ryan Zimmerman had their turns.  Jayson Werth’s transition from across the outfield was much more difficult than originally anticipated–and can you blame him?  Werth played 80% of his games in the field during his career in right…and shoulder surgery prevented him from getting used to playing left field in spring training last March.  Werth’s production at the plate did not justify his fielding issues: Werth’s batting average, on base percentage and slugging were his lowest this decade.

At age 37, does Werth have what it takes to produce at the level major league teams need from that position?  He’s hit more than 20 homers just once since coming to DC as a free agent, and even hitting sixth he’ll be expected to produce something.  If he does, then we simply move along to more pressing matters.  If not, there’s a situation to deal with.

The viable option is on the roster and in the form of Michael A. Taylor.  He actually played more games (96 to 38) in center field than left last season…and this spring the 25-year old has been on fire.  Granted, it’s only March-but Taylor hit .455 with 4 HR and 15 RBI over 17 Grapefruit League games.  He’s a much better defensive option in left field…and you could actually make the case for Taylor starting in center over Ben Revere.  Can he limit his strikeouts (158 last year, 30.9% of plate appearances) this year?  Taylor already appears to be the smart choice for late-inning defensive substitutions.  If he continues his hot spring into April Taylor may force his way into more at-bats, and not just as a sporadic fill-in.

So…if Taylor remains on a tear, what do you do with Werth?  There’s the matter of the 21+ million dollars he’s making this year and next…and the fact that he is a clubhouse leader.  How can you justify cutting the second largest checks on the team for the next two seasons to a part-time player?  And how can you be a clubhouse leader when you’re only playing once or twice a week?  Do you have him learn first base one year after things went so well in the transition to left?

There’s also the matter of Ben Revere settling in at centerfield.  He’s hit leadoff all spring training…hitting .368 but with no walks (yes, it’s only March…but no walks in 14 games?)Revere’s previously led the National League in hits (184 in 2014) and even though this strikeout to walk ratio last year was less than ideal (32/64), Revere has the necessary motor (44 steals per 162 games played at an 80% success rate) managers like Dusty Baker prefer.  It’s also true looking at different defensive numbers (BIS defensive runs saved, total fielding runs above average) that Revere is better is left.  His best defensive numbers are actually in right…but I think the Nats are set there.  Unless lightning strikes…

The Nationals wrapped up a 5-3 homestand with back to back wins over Atlanta.  The weekend was also notable for the release of polarizing reliever Jonathan Papelbon a little over a year after they traded for the closer…and a little less than a eleven months after the reliever choked Bryce Harper in the dugout at Nats Park.  The 35-year old had saved 19 games but had the worst ERA (4.37) of his career while also having his highest WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) since his rookie season.  Clearly he is at the point of his career where he has the closer mindset…and taking a setup role with the trade for Mark Melancon was not going to work long-term for this team.  He’ll be remembered as a bad pickup that blew up in the Nats’ faces as they careened out of contention…despite the fact he saved 26 of 31 opportunities in DC.  General Manager Mike Rizzo can be thankful that this will be viewed as a blip on the radar of his building a contender…while the team now has one less excuse if they don’t win it all.  Not that there’s any pressure now…

Dissecting the Division- the Nats lead in the NL East is now 8.5 games over Miami.  The Marlins’ hopes took a major hit over the weekend with Giancarlo Stanton’s groin injury- and now he’s done for 2016.  Even though he’s hitting a career-low .244, Stanton leads the team in homers and RBI.  The ARod to South Beach rumors are already percolating.  The New York Mets are 10.5 games back and are still in the Wildcard race…trailing St. Louis by 2.5 games.  But they’ve lost 12 of their last 18.  Philadelphia (14.5 GB) and Atlanta (26 GB) remain mildly entertaining sub-500 teams that remain in contention in name only.

The Wild, Wild, West- don’t the Dodgers know this is an even year?  LA trails San Francisco by one game (we won’t recognize the candidacies of Colorado, San Diego and Arizona) as the Giants have stumbled to a 9-18 mark since the All Star Break.  In Dave Roberts’ first season in the dugout, the Dodgers have cobbled together the 3rd best fielding team in the bigs while LA’s bullpen has the 2nd best ERA in the Majors.  The two teams tangle 9 times between now and the end of the season- with six of those nine taking place in Los Angeles.  Perhaps Vin Scully perhaps will get to call one final fantastic finish in this rivalry.

Last Week’s Heroes- Jayson Werth hits .333 while notching 2 HR and 5 RBI and scoring 5 runs.  Trea Turner and Ben Revere each score 7 runs and Anthony Rendon drives in 8.  Rookie Reynaldo Lopez scatters 5 hits over 7 innings to post his first Major League win.  Outfielder Brian Goodwin tallies his first ML hit and RBI.  Most importantly, Goodwin made sure that his mother received the ball from his first hit.

Last Week’s Humbled- Stephen Strasburg allowed 6 runs over 5.1 innings to Atlanta- coughing up homers to Jace Peterson and Freddie Freeman (who would go 5-9 with 4 walks against Nats pitching).  Gio Gonzalez staggered to 5+ innings en route to victory.  Danny Espinosa hit .133 with 5 strikeouts.  And the heat in the DC Metro area is beyond unbearable.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats are in Atlanta and under-the-radar Tanner Roark (13-6, 2.81 ERA) tries to win his 5th straight start.  He doesn’t have the presence of Scherzer or command the attention of Strasburg, but Roark has been money since Memorial Day (10-2 with an ERA of 2.90).  Julio Teheran (3-9 but owning an ERA of 2.81 as well) is slated to pitch for the Braves (according to ESPN.COM’s schedule).

Game to Miss- Gio Gonzalez (8-9, 4.24 ERA) matches up against Joel De La Cruz (0-5, 4.09) in the series finale.  It’s the final game before the four games in two cities battle of the Beltways with the Orioles…so if you’re going to clear your throat here is your prime chance.

I know the Nationals are currently on a west coast road trip.  But I can’t get their showdown with the Chicago Cubs out of my head.  Three games that had a distinct October feel.  Three hard-fought outings.  And one incredible finish Wednesday with Jayson Werth’s walkoff hit.  So why do we wake up this Monday with a series split in San Diego?  Momentum often doesn’t travel cross-country…and can vanish in an 8th inning barrage.  A west coast swing is where division leads go to die…and the Nats have six more games where they can ill afford to not be on point.

Digesting the Division- break up the Marlins!  Miami’s recent surge of 7 wins in 10 games has them moving into second place ahead of the Mets…and unlike early in the season all of their wins aren’t seemingly against Atlanta.  Miami trails the Nats by five and a half games…while the slumping New York Mets (losers of three straight and six of ten) slide six games off the pace.  David Wright also has neck surgery…bad news for an offense that ranks 28th in the Majors in runs scores (29th in games played this month).  Philadelphia?  It’s tough to imagine the Phillies were once in contention after six more losses in a row and defeats in nine of their last ten games.  They may just be chasing Atlanta for the division cellar–and the Braves are on a 14-18 surge since firing manager Fredi Gonzalez.  Surges are often subjective…

Division Discussion: Cleveland Rocks- congratulations to the Cavaliers for bringing home an NBA title…the first for the city since 1964 (yes, the Lake Erie Monsters won the AHL’s Calder Cup- but we’re talking major sports leagues here).  Could this spark a resurgence like the one we saw in Boston/New England from 2001-10 (7 titles with each team getting at least 1?)  Or even the Philadelphia Straight Flush of 1980-81 (Flyers, Sixers, Phils & Eagles each playing for titles)?  The Indians currently lead the AL Central by one half game over defending World Series champ Kansas City…thanks to a pitching staff that ranks 7th in the Majors in ERA.  The Royals are the only other team in the division with a winning record (although ex-Nat Jordan Zimmermann remains a bright spot for Detroit at 9-3 with an ERA of 3.24)…and it looks as though the shores of Lake Erie could be settling in for a fun summer.  Just don’t set the river on fire.

Last Week’s Heroes- Jayson Werth’s walkoff hit was only part of his contributions last week- he’s been a fantastic fit in the #2 spot in the batting order (hitting .301 while everyone else in that spot has combined to hit .263), last week scoring four runs while driving in two more.  His ability to get walks (four more) has provided additional traffic for the likes of Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy.  Shawn Kelley notched two saves after being pressed into the closer role for the injured Jonathan Papelbon.  Max Scherzer posted a 1.38 ERA over two starts–striking out 21 while not allowing a walk.  Max factor, indeed…

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman hit .167 with 11 strikeouts.  The Cubs after walking Bryce Harper last month to get to Zim walked Murphy this month to get to Zim.  Gio Gonzalez posted a 6.17 ERA over two starts and hasn’t won since May 18.  Felipe Rivero allowed 5 runs in the 8th inning Saturday night…wasting a gem tossed by Max Scherzer and setting up the stage for a series split in San Diego.

Game to Watch- Monday night Stephen Strasburg takes his 10-0 record to Dodger Stadium…and Los Angeles counters with 10-1 Clayton Kershaw (1.58 ERA by the way).  Despite Kershaw’s brilliance, LA trails San Francisco by six and a half games.  Needless to say, I won’t be watching TURN.

Game to Miss- Saturday the Nats meet Milwaukee in a battle between Gio Gonzalez (3-6, 4.25 ERA) and Chase Anderson (4-7, 5.13).  It’s another one of those 4:40pm starts where you hate to leave the pool because you know you can knock out at least one more chapter of that Eleanor of Aquitaine biography you’ve been struggling to finish.  Or the crossword.  Or the pool…

So much for making that October dinner reservation.  Evidently the Nationals noticed everyone writing them off in pen instead of pencil last week…and turned from David Banner into a hulking playoff contender by winning 6 of 7 games.  This coupled with the 2015 version of “Mets Meltdown” (4 losses in their last 5 games) gives cause for confidence.  Something about September:  the club leads the Majors in runs scored (117) this month and owns the 5th best ERA since the end of August.  Thirteen games remain and they’re only six games back!  This is where paying attention in Mrs. Janosz’s Advanced Math class comes in handy:  if the Mets tread water heading home (6-7) the Nats would need to win 12 of 13…and even a Mets implosion (3-10) would need a 9-4 finish to send the season to a 163rd game.  So you’re saying there’s a chance…

Last Week’s Heroes– Back to back #1 picks lived up to their standing.  Bryce Harper merely hit .519 with 5 home runs and 10 RBI…reclaiming the NL batting average and homer lead.  If he doesn’t win the MVP, there should be an investigation.  Stephen Strasburg went 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA, striking out 24 while issuing only a pair of walks.  In a year where he’s been hurt early and often, it’s good to see him shine in September.  Unsung shout out to Jose Lobaton, who Friday ended Miami’s threat in the top of the 10th by throwing out Christian Yelich trying to steal second…before ending the game on a sac fly.  Instead of a second straight loss… the backup catcher set up a series win.

Last Week’s Humbled– Why was Lobaton playing?  Perhaps because Wilson Ramos was hitting .118 with 9 strikeouts…and has been less than stellar (.195 with 9 walks and 43 strikeouts) since the All Star Break.  Jayson Werth may be enjoying a solid September (.289, 6HR & 15 RBI) but his faceplant head first slide Friday night to score the game-winning run definitely left some marks…including a strawberry jam spot on his forehead.  Werth rated the slide “an 8 on the crashlanding scale”–while the East German judge gave him a 4.

Game to Watch– Monday Gio Gonzalez (11-7, 3.83 ERA) pitches against the Orioles Ubaldo Jiminez (11-9, 4.31) as the Battle of the Beltways feature two teams with identical tragic numbers (8).  While the Nats are hoping for a Mets collapse of epic proportions in the NL East, the O’s are chasing Houston for the second AL Wildcard–with three other teams in the mix as well.  And of course, we get to hear people shout “OH” during the Anthem.

Game to Miss– Sunday Gonzalez pitches against Philadelphia’s Aaron Harang (5-15, 5.04 ERA)…who hasn’t won since July 30th.  Have we mentioned that the Phillies own the worst record in the majors and are cratering further with 6 straight losses?   Even the original Nats Park home finale loses that status as next Monday’s makeup date with Cincinnati swipes that honor.  Take a drive out I-66 to Virginia’s wine country…with the knowledge that the green sauce on the salmon puffs at Chateau O’Brien isn’t guacamole, it’s wasabi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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