Archives for posts with tag: major league baseball

Well…that was one interesting month of baseball.  Make that one ridiculous week.  Or perhaps just one scintillating Sunday?  What is going on?  One can write off the Colorado air for the 15 and 16-run explosions…but 23?  And all in the same week? One month into the season the Nats boast the best bats in the bigs…and are threatening to run away with the NL East.  Which is great, because we all know how Washington teams fare when they coast their way down the stretch.

Plan B in CF- the loss of Adam Eaton to a torn ACL for the season means Michael A. Taylor takes over in centerfield and Jayson Werth likely returns to the #2 spot in the batting order.  The Nats offense really took off in 2016 when Turner and Werth settled into the one and two spots…and there’s no reason to think it won’t be a solid engine again.  But what a shame for the Nationals to lose their sparkplug in Eaton.  The 28-year old ranked second on the team in walks, runs scored and steals while boasting the third-best on-base-percentage.  His clubhouse energy was contagious…and now the Nats will have to play the final 137 games of the 2017 regular season without last winter’s major acquisition.

Early Returns from the East- after one month the Nats lead the NL East by five games…and the other four teams are all under .500.  Philadelphia’s the only other team with a winning record against the East…and they’ve just lost three in a row.  The Phillies may have Cesar Hernandez (.323 with 20 runs scored) and Jeremy Hellickson (4-0 with an ERA of 1.80), but their lineup walks the 7th fewest times and the team’s ERA ranks 21st in the majors.  Add in four games with the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs, they might not be in the best shape to face the Nats this weekend.

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman hit .500, scoring 11 runs while notching 5 homers and 13 RBI.  Zim finished April with 11 home runs and 29 RBI…after a nightmare 2016 where he was held to 15 blasts and 46 runs batted in.  Trea Turner and Matt Wieters both hit over .400;  getting production from less-offensive positions like shortstop (Turner scored 13 runs while driving in 11) and catcher (Wieters belted 3 homers) are the little things that lift an offense.  Reliever Matt Albers went 1-0 while pitching 5.1 scoreless innings over 4 games…allowing 1 just one hit.

Last Week’s Humbled- in a week where EVERYBODY HIT, Jose Lobaton batted just .091 with 3 strikeouts. Joe Blanton’s April wraps up with three appearances and 6 earned runs over 2 innings.  Joe Ross posted an ERA of 10:38 over 2 starts.

Game to Watch- Wednesday Gio Gonzalez tries to top what’s been a stellar April (3-0, 1.62 ERA) by facing a team that he hasn’t beaten since 2011. In 2016, Gio had an April ERA of 1.42 before posting a May ERA of 5.23.  Arizona counters with former Nats draft pick Robbie Ray.

Game to Miss- Saturday the Kentucky Derby takes front and center.  Sadly, the Nats play Philadelphia at 7:05…with Joe Ross pitching against Aaron Nola (who may be scratched as he’s dealing with back issues and has missed two turns in the rotation).  Even if the Capitals get swept by Pittsburgh (they’d host a Game Five that would be played Saturday), if you’re going to skip a game against the Phillies…

 

Apologies for getting the weekly feature underway two weeks later than normal.  Who’s ready for a semi-informative and occasionally amusing look at the Nats from a guy who is at the ballpark more often than not?

The 7-5 start has given fans plenty of thrills (Daniel Murphy picking up from where he left off in 2016), chills (Bryce Harper screeching home from first on a double in Friday’s win over Philadelphia) and spills (a leaky bullpen that’s less than ideal). Welcome to the 162-step marathon that involves plenty of missteps in every direction.

Causes for Confidence- an offense that leads the majors in OPS, ranks second in batting average and seventh in runs scored.  The addition of Matt Wieters extends the lineup as many thought it would…and even with Wilmer Difo still finding his bat this team has the potential to bring buckets of runs to the table.

Causes for Concern- the bullpen ranks 25th in ERA and has the fifth most blown saves (3) in the early season.  There’s the thinking that this is just an early hiccup…while the other school of thought labels the subpar start as the beginning of a season-long problem.

Dissecting the Division- it’s never too early to freak out about the rest of the NL East.  The Nats are tied for first with Miami and the New York Mets are one-half game behind the leaders.  Two weeks into the season, the club owns the third best run differential (-2) as a 17-3 loss to Philadelphia will cook the numbers a little bit.  Nobody has cause to panic in April–unless you’re 2-10 Toronto.

Meanwhile in the Other East- how about those plucky Orioles?  Despite not having Fort Knox at their disposal like the Yankees and Red Sox, Buck Showalter’s team owns a half-game lead in the division with the best record in the bigs.  Even without Chris Tillman, the Birds are getting it done (although the pitching staff allows the second-highest batting average in the majors).  Now Zach Britton’s on the disabled list…and they still take three of four from the Blue Jays.  Break out the Old Bay…

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .391 with 2 HR and 8 RBI…and scored the game-winning run Friday night against the Phillies before smacking a walk-off homer Sunday.  This is the Bryce of 2015 that was a registered force of nature.  Chris Heisey makes the most of his opportunities, consistently delivering productive at-bats.  Gio Gonzalez tossed 14 and a third innings over two starts, posting an ERA of 1.88.  Shawn Kelley posted two wins in relief, striking out four over three and a third innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- Wilmer Difo is NOT Trea Turner.  Nobody expected the infielder to light up the league with the Nats’ leadoff man on the DL…but hitting .190 with six strikeouts and no walks is far from ideal.  Anthony Rendon hit .240 last week with four strikeouts…hopefully his RBI double last Friday is the start of a turnaround.   Joe Blanton pitched in three games and allowed a home run in each.

Game to Watch- Friday the defending NL East champs face the 2015 division winners for the first time this year.  Tanner Roark (2-0, 3.50 ERA) has a 12-to-2 strikeout to walk ratio and will pitch against a Jacob deGrom who’s coming off a 13-strikeout performance.

Game to Miss- Wednesday the novelty of the Braves’ new ballpark will be worn off…as no doubt Atlanta fans will be clamoring for a new venue.  It’s not Joe Ross’ fault he’s making his 2017 debut the same night the Capitals visit Toronto and the Wizards host Atlanta.  I’ll be curious to see how he fares, but one will be rocking a different red that night.

Just like the janitor who masqueraded as “The Phantom” in that Scooby Doo mystery, the Nats were this close to scaring away the rest of the NL East from the warehouse (underneath the division was a diamond mine, believe it or not) area and selling off 2015.  Philadelphia?  The Fightin’ Phils became the Fire Sale Phils by jettisoning Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and Ben Revere.  Miami?  the Marlins have been playing for 2016 since May…although some think they’re actually playing for 2017.  Atlanta?  The Braves new world is now 11 games under .500 after getting swept by the Phillies.  All the Nats needed was for the Mets to revert to form after a surprising start. But just like kidnapping Daphne is no way to get rid of the Mystery Machine gang, the Nationals took a sluggish lineup and shaky bullpen into Queens last weekend and the ill-fitting Phantom mask came off.  Two walk-off losses and one rough hiccup by Jordan Zimmermann (3 HR allowed in 5 pitches) later, we have a virtual tie for first place in the NL East.  Matt Williams and company would have gotten away with the division, if it weren’t for those meddling Mets and their pitching.  Be ready for a scrappy final two months (nothing good happens when Scrappy is in the equation).

Dealing at the Deadline– the Nats were looking for a bridge to closer Drew Storen and couldn’t find a setup man for the right price.  Instead they made Storen the bridge and brought in Jonathan Papelbon.  The closer with crazy eyes had 17 saves for the Phillies in limited opportunities…but brings a stellar postseason record to DC.  As long as Storen is cool with being moved out of a role he’s earned for the third time in four years…and Doug Fister gets used to pitching with #33 on his back as opposed to #58.  I hope he got something cool from Papelbon to change numbers…

The Boys are Back in Town– one reason why the Nats stood pat on adding a bat before the deadline was the knowledge that they had multiple players coming off the disabled list.  Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth rejoined the Nats Tuesday in Miami.  While the duo is currently hitting .205 (9-44 with 2 walks and 14 strikeouts) since their return, one would imagine each would eventually find their pre-injury groove.  Now all they need is Span and Strasburg to return…

Dissecting the Division– the Mets after losing 18 of their last 21 home games to the Nats find themselves percentage points out of first place.  The team that won’t go away is staying in the conversation thanks to a pitching staff that ranks 3rd in the Majors in ERA and 1st in Quality Starts.  Now that they’ve added a big bat in Yoesnis Cespedes, watch out world!  This week the Mets head to the sunshine state for series against Miami and Tampa Bay.  The Marlins and Rays are both entering that “thank goodness for NFL Training Camps” mode to their seasons, as both are under .500 entering the dog days of summer.

Division of Rings– only one quartet out of the six in MLB can claim that every team has won the World Series…the AL Central.  Now, only one team (Chicago White Sox-2005) can boast a title in the last 20 years and Cleveland boasts the longest drought in the AL…but this has to be something to hang your hats on, right?  Kansas City (1985) owns the best record in the American League, and pulled off a few at the wire deals to bolster an already-strong roster (just imagine how many All-Stars they’d have now!).  Minnesota (1991) is in the middle of the Wildcard mix -owning a 1-game lead over the Orioles for the 2nd WC spot.  Detroit (1984), the White Sox (don’t forget 1917 either) and Cleveland (1948) are all on the outside looking in.  Watch Major League, boys and girls...

Last Week’s Heroes– Bryce Harper belted two homers in Miami Wednesday to take the NL lead with 29 round-trippers…while hitting .348 with a team-high 8 runs scored.  Anthony Rendon in his first full week off the DL batted .292 with 7 runs scored.  Max Scherzer provided another stellar start, scattering 3 hits while striking out 6 over 7 scoreless innings in a matinee against the Marlins.  In a world where starters rack up no-decisions with numbing regularity, Scherzer has 19 decisions in 21 starts.  That is what an Ace does…

Last Week’s Humbled– Wilson Ramos went hitless in 11 at-bats…and is batting .083 since the All Star Break with no walks and 13 strikeouts.  This from a guy who was hitting 4th and 5th for much of the first half of the season.  Ian Desmond also had a rough week (.130, one walk and 11 strikeouts) after hitting .478 the week before.  Thank goodness the Nats are healthy enough that these guys are hitting 6th and 7th… instead of 2nd and 4th.  Jordan Zimmermann went 0-2 last week…suffering a stretch Sunday where he allowed 3 homers over a 5 pitch span (the 4th pitch yielded a single).  Ouch…

Game to Watch– Max Scherzer pitches Tuesday against the team that drafted him…Arizona.  The Diamondbacks trot out Patrick Corbin, who won his last start while striking out 10 in the outing before that.  Get some popcorn…

Game to Miss– Saturday Doug Fister pitches against Colorado’s Yohan Flande.  While I was able to muster excitement for the Fister-Wistler duel, Fister-Flande just doesn’t carry the same mustard (the 29 year old is making his third start of the season after being a bullpen mainstay before the All Star Break).  Even the “58 meets 58” angle is lost thanks to Fister switching to #33.  It’s the final month before football season.  Enjoy a Saturday at Chateau O’Brien off Exit 18 on I-66.  Say hi to the best pourer in Northern Virginia, Irrational Marc (not to be confused with Winesnob Marc).

Talk about coming back with a bang.  The Nationals returned from the All Star break by facing the Los Angeles Dodgers in a duel of division leaders, and in a potential playoff preview (the two teams would face off in the NLDS if the regular season ended today) to boot.  But it was the visitors who hung two stellar starts on the Nats…as Clayton Kershaw (14 strikeouts over 8 scoreless innings) and Zach Greinke (11K’s over 8 shutout frames) mowed down the home team in the DC heat with a little heat of their own.  Not the way one wants to come off the midseason hiatus.  Especially with the second place New York Mets and wildcard leader Pittsburgh on the horizon.  The trip to Miami can’t come soon enough…

She Wears Short Skirts– Max Scherzer wasn’t pitching on the mound Friday, but he may be onto something when he jokingly tweeted that the ballpark amazingly had electrical issues in the first event following Taylor Swift’s concert.  I mean– what is the track record of this songstress?  “You Belong With Me” is the blueprint for passive-aggressively stealing another girl’s boyfriend.  And Swift’s reliance of singing about ex-boyfriends is akin to “Three’s Company” episodes being about misunderstandings– we get it.  Does this make Scherzer a hater?

Getting the Blues from Dodger Pitching– now that was a one-two punch.  Back to back uppercuts.  The one-two combo that many expected when the Nationals inked Max Scherzer.  Sadly Stephen Strasburg has yet to find the form that led the NL in strikeouts last year, but Jordan Zimmermann has posted a 1.92 ERA over his last five starts.  Will we see Scherzer and Zimmermann against Kershaw and Greinke during the August 10-12 series out west?

Digssecting the Division– the New York Mets after their 18-inning victory over St. Louis move within 2 games of the Nats.  The pesky fly that just won’t go away comes to DC this week for a three game series.  They couldn’t actually leave the district with the division lead, could they?  Many didn’t expect the Mets to be in the mix this late in the season.  Atlanta shifts from contender to pretender after losing 7 of their last 10…while Miami and Philadelphia look forward to the upcoming NFL season.  Knowing the recent fun the Dolphins and Eagles have provided, perhaps they shouldn’t.

Division to Watch– the Dodgers are the team to beat in the NL West…and second place San Francisco is the perfect foil.  There’s enough dislike between the longtime rivals to fuel any fire…and the combination of the Dodgers cruising to division last year only to see the Giants get hot in the postseason and take the World Series only turns things up a tiny bit.  The Giants have also taken 9 of 12 games against LA this year…with Madison Bumgarner not only getting the better of Clayton Kershaw twice but also homering off the reigning Cy Young winner.  It’s a shame they play only seven times between now and the end of the regular season.  Who cares if the rest of the West quintet is seriously off-key?

Last Week’s Hero– Yunel Escobar had the best OPS (1.154) of the regulars over the weekend…and the fact that he stepped into the leadoff position underscores his value.  Just like one wonders where the outfield would be minus Michael A. Taylor’s ability to patrol left and center this year, last winter’s pickup of Escobar has helped salvage what could have been a very rough season for the infield.

Last Week’s Humbled– Doug Fister won 16 games last season.  Unfortunately, he’s had one rough 2015.  Saturday Fister coughed up 4 runs over 5 innings…and he’s 0-2 with a 4.67 ERA over his last three starts.  In his last six outings, Fister’s allowed 4 or more runs four times.

Game to Watch– with the caveat that every Max Scherzer start is an automatic watch, I’m intrigued by Tuesday’s tilt with the New York Mets.  ESPN.COM has Joe Ross pitching for the Nationals against Jacob de Grom (9-6, 2.14 ERA).  Ross’s improvement over his first three major league starts last month sets the bar high for this week…can the kid continue to deliver?

Game to Miss–  Thursday the Nats begin a four game series in Pittsburgh… and the least appealing pitching matchup has Doug Fister (3-5, 4.30 ERA) against Francisco Liriano (5-6, 2.98 ERA).  Perfect time to check out the bridges that span the three rivers…

The July 4th as well as 81-game benchmarks pass and the Nationals are in first place of the NL East.  Are we printing playoff tickets?  While there are those that will throw out the “63.8% of teams with a lead over 4 games on Independence Day…” postulate, it’s encouraging that this club bounced back from a rough series loss to Atlanta (IT WAS FOUL!  IT WAS FOUL!) to sweep the defending World Series champs.  And not just sweep but outscore the Giants 14-5.  Gems by Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann sandwiched Saturday’s hit parade that featured first inning fireworks from Michael Taylor (leadoff home run) and Bryce Harper (2-run HR with a patriotic bat).  Sadly like any picnic that features incredible hamburgers and fantastic hot dogs, there was seven layer dip that spoiled in the sun:  Stephen Strasburg heads back to the Disabled List with a strained oblique.  Rinse and repeat…

Dissecting the Division– the New York Mets begin this week 4 and a half games behind the Nats…and visit San Francisco before coming home for three games with Arizona.  Both teams are hovering around the .500 mark.  Atlanta’s 6 games off the pace– with the opportunity to make up ground.  The Braves final seven games before the All Star Break may be on the road…but they’re against last place teams Milwaukee and Colorado.  Miami and Philadelphia? Enjoy the sushi and cheesesteaks…

Division to Watch– just up I-95 the AL East is tighter than a Tom Jones jumpsuit.  Two games separate the top four teams (sorry, Boston) with the Orioles, Tampa Bay, New York Yankees and Toronto all showing possibilities and limitations on a nightly basis.  Can this rollercoaster race sustain itself over the dog days of summer?  It’s not unusual to have a race this close…

Last Week’s Hero– while Bryce Harper continues his monster season (1.137 OPS), Clint Robinson led the team with 2 HR and 4RBI.  His homer Friday night was the difference.  Robinson’s also walking (13-10 BB to K ratio over the last 30 games).  With at bats available in the absence of Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, he’s made the most of his opportunities in the outfield and at first base.

Last Week’s Humbled– Calvin Coolidge is the new racing President?  Okay, I know he was the Chief Executive when the Senators won the World Series…but seriously.  His second most famous quote (after “the business of America is business”) was “I do not choose to run”.  Worse than the 300-pound William Howard Taft huffing and puffing in the outfield we now have a man known for saying little and running less.  Plus the mascot looks more like Coolidge’s predecessor, Warren G. Harding.  Nothing like the Teapot Dome Scandal to ruin the middle of the 4th inning…

Game to Watch– Saturday in Baltimore Jordan Zimmermann pitches against Miguel Gonzalez.  Two 7-5 pitchers who are both coming off solid starts.  A chance for whichever team won Friday night to lock up the series…so their fans can taunt the other team’s faithful all day Sunday.  Crab cakes with extra Old Bay.  Bring it, hon…

Game to Miss– By default, one of the games with Cincinnati.  Monday‘s matchup between  Doug Fister and Anthony DeSclafani is less than compelling…and there’s an interesting reading at Politics and Prose.  Harvard Professor James Wood discusses his recent work, “The Nearest Thing to Life”, which “explores the beauty and the power of the art of reading”.  Here’s your chance to be well-rounded, kids…

Let’s begin this week’s edition with proper deference to the masterpiece that was authored by Max Scherzer Saturday:  WOW.  A near-perfect game.  A complete game for the second time in less than a week (the bullpen is sending Scherzer thank-you notes).  In that heat, too (let the record show Scherzer switched shirts in between innings).  Seven year deals are always tricky things and for all we know Max will be a shell of his former self come 2020–but it’s nice to see a big pickup pay off this early into the deal.  Can’t wait for his next start…

Lost in the glare of the no-hitter and the heatbomb that exploded in DC over the weekend was a sweep of a pretty good Pittsburgh team (even after the brooming the Bucs own the second best record in the National League).  Not just a sweep, mind you–but a 19-3 smackdown.  And the team’s first series win since late May (at the Cubs right before getting swept by Cincinnati).  All of a sudden the preseason favorites find themselves atop the NL East;  Atlanta drops by the district this week fresh off their series sweep of the Mets.  Can the Nats create a cushion?

The Bat is More Powerful than the Hamstring– Thursday’s loss to Tampa Bay saw a collective gasp at Nats Park when Bryce Harper went down with a strained hamstring.  The team’s already missing their #3 and #5 hitters (Werth and Zimmerman) and has had to play without their projected leadoff and #2 hitters (Span and Rendon).  If Harper’s hamstring had been a serious injury…look out.  Instead the rightfielder’s back in the lineup and enjoyed another solid week (6 homers and 18 RBI).  He now ranks second in homers and RBI is tied for the Major League lead in walks.  Don’t worry about him potentially going to the Yankees in 2018 or whenever…enjoy the now.  Because it’s pretty incredible.

Last Week’s Hero– Max Scherzer went through the Pirates lineup like a blowtorch through butter…earning a chocolate syrup bath and NL Player of the Week honors.  He’s eaten up innings (ranking and now leads the majors with a 1.76 ERA.  Also contributing to a 5-2 week was Michael A. Taylor;  the outfielder hit .360 while scoring 9 runs and playing solid defense in center and left (his grab Saturday at the wall preserving the no-hitter as well as the shutout).  He actually walked 3 times last week–and that’s a start.

Last Week’s Humbled– Ian Desmond hit .182 while committing another error (giving him 15 for the season).  June has not been kind to the shortstop (.143, 1 walk and 25 strikeouts).

Game to Watch– A first ever THREE WAY TIE.  Tuesday against Atlanta Stephen Strasburg is slated to come off the disabled list.  I want to know if the time in sick bay helped the man who led the NL in strikeouts last year return to form.  Friday Max Scherzer pitches against Aaron Harang in Philly–Scherzer could be going up against Rudy Stein of the Bad News Bears and I’d watch.  But Thursday the pitching matchup is Doug Fister for the Nats against the Braves Matt Wisler.  A Fister-Wisler matchup has the Seinfeld “seltzer-salsa” comedic potential.

Game to Miss– Adams Morgan is an acquired taste for many in and around the beltway.  It’s a great place to go–until all of a sudden you realize you haven’t visited that neighborhood in years.  Saturday at 3:05 Gio Gonzalez starts against rookie Adam Morgan.  Gio pitched well Sunday against Pittsburgh (scattering 4 hits over 7 scoreless innings) but as of this moment he’s the guy in the rotation who moves the needle the least.  Plus–a 3:05 road game means bailing on the pool.  Not going to happen…as long as I have sunscreen.

A split never tasted so sweet.  Max Scherzer’s complete game one hitter that featured 16 strikeouts Sunday against Milwaukee was pure mastery– and Exhibit A for upcoming free agents (Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg) who wonder what it takes to merit a 210 million dollar contract.  Max’s Masterpiece (T-shirts coming to a store near you) was huge for a limping offense that ranks 22nd in the Majors in hitting and 19th in runs scored.  The 4-0 shutout of the Brewers keeps the Nats one half game behind the New York Mets–who have gone from surprising to sustainable.  Sixty plus games is not a fluke–and while one things the bottom could drop out of the little Big Apple team that could, they appear to be in this NL East race for the long haul.  It’s a division that’s ripe to be taken– the Nationals are the only team with a positive run differential (+2) and there’s a ton of baseball to be played. 

 

Danny’s New Glove– after speculating about potential position changes regarding the team’s hot-hitting infielder, Manager Matt Williams moved Espinosa not to the leftfield but 90 feet to his left.  The Nats newest first baseman went 2-for-10 with one run scored in two games at first…let’s see how he settles in.  In the meantime, there’s always a chance the catchers get hurt so perhaps Danny should take some defensive work behind the plate.

 

Last Week’s Hero– Scherzer’s 16 strikeouts while tossing one-hit ball remains the early season pitching standard.  It also snaps a two game losing streak and somehow obscures Bryce Harper hitting .529 with 2 homers and 5 RBI.  Harper sat out Sunday after being hit by a pitch in Saturday’s win…one hopes he doesn’t become a trending target.

Last Week’s Humbled– Ian Desmond went 1 for 21 at the plate…but the low for the shortstop last week was his throwing error in Tuesday’s game with the Yankees that plated the go-ahead run.  Fourteen errors isn’t ideal–but it feels as though each one comes at a crucial moment.

Game to Watch– Friday against Pittsburgh.  Max Scherzer follows up Sunday’s outing by facing A.J. Burnett–who’s posting an ERA of 1.89 through 13 starts this year.  The Pirates are coming off a sweep of Philadelphia that involved a pair of 1-0 shutouts…and are currently in 2nd place of the NL Central.  They’d lead the NL East.

Game to Miss– Monday or Tuesday in Tampa Bay.  WORST BALLPARK EVER!  Plus, there are NHL and NBA Playoff games to deal with.  And no more Joe Maddon in the Rays dugout.   Like the departure of John McKay from the Buccaneers in 1984, Tampa’s team–win or lose–is just a lot less interesting minus their white-haired field general.