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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.

 

 

 

The Nats almost went from the ridiculous high of sweeping San Francisco behind the oh so unpredictable arms of Joe Ross and Erick Fedde (plus Anibal Sanchez) to a nightmare weekend in New York.  Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin both pitched well enough, but the bullpen blew up both Friday and Saturday nights and the team was fortunate on Sunday to beat the Mets 7-4.  Juan Soto’s strained ankle is day to day and Max Scherzer remains on the long road back, but for the moment the Nats are still trending upward: 4-2 for the week, 5-4 for the month and 15-13 since the All Star Game.  They won’t go back inside the division until August 30 but will play 21 of their final 30 games against NL East foes.

Digesting the Division- Atlanta remains atop the NL East thanks to a 4-3 week; they’re 70-50 mark is two games better than where last year’s division champs were at this point.  The Nats (62-55) inch to within six and a half games of the lead while the streaking New York Mets (61-57 after a 6-1 week) are eight behind the Braves.  Philadelphia (60-58) drops nine games back after a 2-5 week; they’re 4-7 this month and 13-15 since the All Star Game.  Thank goodness the basement is a few levels down as Miami (44-73) is zeroing in on a tenth straight losing season (after five winning years the previous decade).

The Wild Wildcard Race- Sunday’s win over the Mets kept the Nats a half game ahead of St. Louis for the Wildcard lead; a loss would have dropped the team into a tie with Milwaukee a half game behind the Cardinals and Mets.  Of the five teams in the mix (Philadelphia is just two and a half games behind the Nationals), the Nats own the worst record in one-run decisions (12-18).  The best?  The Brewers are 20-13 in such games.

O’s Woes- the Birds beat back the brooms by outslugging Houston 8-7 thanks to a Rio Ruiz walkoff homer.  The victory ends a five-game losing streak that included a 23-2 rout at the hands of the Astros the night before.  The home run coughed up Sunday was the 241st allowed this year by the Orioles-tying the American League record set by the 1996 Detroit pitching staff.  They’re also 17 homers shy of Cincinnati’s major league record of 258 set three years ago.  This week the Birds battle the New York Yankees- as the current elimination number is eight the O’s could be eliminated from the AL East by Thursday night.

Harper’s Weekly- the former face of the franchise hit .286 with three homers and seven RBI, putting him back on pace to hit .250 with 30 HR and 110 RBI.  He’s also on track to strike out 188 times (he’s currently tied for the  league  lead at 137).  All while the Phillies sink into the Wildcard quicksand.

Last Week’s Heroes- Juan Soto hit .368 with three homers and six RBI while Trea Tuner (.304) and Adam Eaton (.400) each scored seven runs. Erick Fedde and Joe Ross may be the back end of this rotation, but each tossed six scoreless innings at San Francisco.

Last Week’s Humbled- Sean Doolittle and Fernando Rodney had late-inning hiccups Friday and Saturday against the Mets. Brian Dozier went 0-for-14 at the plate while Matt Adams went 5-for-21 with nine strikeouts.

Game to Watch- Wednesday the Nats wrap up their series with Cincinnati as Stephen Strasburg (14-5, 3.72 ERA) faces midseason pickup Trevor Bauer (10-8, 3.74).  It’s also the final game for the Reds in DC, meaning Marty Brennaman will say one last time, “So long, everybody” as he closes the broadcast.  The longtime announcer is calling it a career after 46 years with the team.

Game to Miss- Marty’s final tour distracts the faithful from another disappointing campaign;  the Reds haven’t had a winning record or made the playoffs since 2013 (a Wildcard loss to Pittsburgh).  In his first 23 years at the mic, Cincinnati posted 16 winning records and finished first or second in the division 15 times while winning three World Series (two via sweep).  Over the last 22 and a half years (including this season’s 56-60 start) the Reds have finished over .500 just five times.  Tuesday they pitch Alex Wood, who won 16 games two years ago for the Dodgers but has a 5.65 ERA over three starts.  Watch old videos of the Big Red Machine instead.

Things were going oh so well.  A sweep of Philadelphia. A gritty one-run win over first place Atlanta in the series opener.  And then an 8-4 lead after six innings Saturday where Anibal Sanchez didn’t necessarily shine but pitched well enough.  Unfortunately, “bring on the bullpen” is now the four most dreaded words inside the Beltway.  Trevor Rosenthal issued three walks before Tanner Rainey allowed a bases-loaded pass.  And then a three-run double.  While the Nats retook the lead in the eighth, Joe Ross returned the favor by allowing an RBI double and a three-run homer.  Instead of taking two in a row against the division leaders and reaching .500 for the first time since April 23, the Nats wind up falling 13-9 and then go on to lose a series for the first time since May 23.  Instead of an 8-2 or 7-3 jumpstart the season homestand, the 6-4 stretch will have to suffice.  And midseason looms with the Nats now three games under .500.

Dissecting the Division- the Braves now have a six and a half game lead after taking two in a row in DC, while Philadelphia (seven straight losses) is fading at 39-38.  The Mets (37-41) are losing games and winning disdain after Manager Mickey Callaway’s confrontation with a Newsday beat reporter, followed by pitcher Jason Vargas getting after said reporter as well.  Don’t sleep on the last place Marlins, who may be 15 games back but just swept the Phillies.  Before you know, it’ll be 2023 and they’ll be in contend-mode.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce went .263 this past week while seeing time leading off for the slumping Phillies.  He’s now hitting .248 with 13 homers and 52 RBI (projecting to 27 and 109), and for the first time in a while his projected strikeouts total is under 200 (198 as he has 94 over 77 games this year).  Unfortunately, it’s tough to drive in runs from the #1 spot-but sadly he’s the only viable option atop the order for the Phillies at this time.

O’s Woes- the Birds come home from a 1-6 roadtrip and are now 22-56, meaning they’d need to play nearly .500 ball (41-43) to avoid a 100-loss season.  Last week they optioned pitchers David Hess and Dan Straily to AAA Norfolk;  the disastrous duo had posted a combined 3-13 record over 31 starts while allowing 42 homers and posting an ERA of 8.39.  This week the O’s host San Diego-and former face of the franchise Manny Machado.

Last Week’s Heroes- Victor Robles hit .444 with two homers while getting hit by two more pitches (he’s been hit by pitch 12 times this year, tied for second most in the majors). Juan Soto hit .476 with seven RBI.  Sean Doolittle saved a pair of games while tossing three scoreless innings. Max Scherzer struck out 10 over seven innings with a broken nose and a black eye (I have an idea what his 2020 bobble-head will be). Wander Suero tossed four scoreless innings over four games.

Last Week’s Humbled- Trevor Rosenthal’s days are done as a National after allowing three walks without recording an out Saturday; despite his scoreless third of an inning Friday in the win over the Braves the free agent pickup leaves DC with an ERA of 22.74.  Tanner Rainey posted an ERA of 9.82 while Joe Ross allowed four runs in his lone inning of relief.  The top of the order has had issues lately, with Trea Turner batting .250 and Adam Eaton hitting .200.

Game to Watch- like we’re going to pick a non-Scherzer start after last week’s black eye/broken nose gem.  Number 31 pitches twice this week, and is slated to go Sunday at Detroit for the first time since he left the Tigers to sign with the Nats.  He’s also pitching against the guy made superfluous when Max came to DC: Jordan Zimmermann. The last time these two pitched against one another Scherzer struck out 20.  It’s Max See TV.

Game to Miss- Wednesday Patrick Corbin pitches against Miami, but closer to home it’s the Democrats against the Republicans in the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park.

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.

 

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia leads the NL East at 31-22 with Rhys Hoskins on fire (13 homers and 41 RBI) somewhat taking the heat off of their huge offseason acquisition.  They’ve also won seven of ten.  So has Atlanta-and the Braves are led by the power trio of Dansby Swanson, Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr (each has 30+ RBI at this time).  The Mets are .500 thanks in part to their four game sweep of the Nats-and how about Wilson Ramos?!?  The former Nats catcher is hitting .270 with 31 RBI.  Nice for the 31-year old who had issues staying healthy while in DC.  The Marlins are looking great for 2022–and this week’s trade bait is Caleb Smith who’s posted six quality starts and an ERA of 3.05.  I’m sure Derek Jeter can find a willing taker for Smith that will yield a batch of forgettable prospects.

Harper’s Weekly- the former face of the franchise hit .179 last week, dropping his batting average to .227 (eighth among Phillies who had played in 20+ games this year). His 73 strikeouts lead the majors and put him on a pace of 223.  It’s a good thing the Phillies are in first place.

O’s Woes- the Nats’ neighbors to the north continue to go south, with losses in seven games dropping the Birds to big league-worst 16-37.  For those who don’t want to do the math, that’s a pace of 49-113.  While they might not lose a record 121 games this year, the Orioles are definitely capable of setting another infamous mark.  The pitching staff has allowed 114 home runs over 53 games this year, or on a pace of 348 that would shatter the current record by over 100 homers.  And you thought the Nats had it bad…

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.

Game to Watch- Saturday the Nats play Cincinnati with Eric Fedde (1-0, 2.18 ERA) starting; the early-season call-up has pitched well in spots this year.  He’ll face former back-end rotation fixture Tanner Roark, who appears to have bounced back to his 2014 and 2016 form.

Game to Miss- Tuesday Stephen Strasburg starts the series opener against Atlanta, but we’re going to watch the series finale of “Fosse Verdon”.  FX’s series about the legendary choreographer/director and his collaborator/muse has been an interesting watch (it’s no “The Americans”, but then again what is?  And can we all admit that Renee is a spy?)-but if there’s one issue keeping it from perfection it’s that they didn’t spend nearly enough time on “Damn Yankees”.  Once again, from the top…

The Nats’ ten-game roadtrip 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 (more on the Mets in a moment) and the NL East-leading Cubs.  Can things get turned around by Memorial Day?

 

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia (23-16) won four of six games and took both of their series last week; the Phils are led by the twin arms of Zach Eflin and Jake Arrieta this year while Rhys Hoskins (11 homers with 35 RBI) has been the primary producer at the plate.  Atlanta (21-20) lost four of seven to hover near the .500 mark as Nick Markakis (.299) is threatening to hit .300 for the first time since his second season in the bigs.  The New York Mets (19-20) won three of five behind the one-two youth movement of rookie Pete Alonso (12 HR with 32 RBI) and Jeff McNeil (his .360 batting average is second best in the majors).  The Marlins?  Drifting at 10-29…and after splitting their four game set with Colorado have won just one series in 2019.  And yes, that series was against the Nationals.

 

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted .200 last week while bringing his average down to .229 for the year (his career low? .243 in 2016).  The former face of the franchise has scored 25 runs while driving in 25 (he’s roughly on a pace to reach 100 in both categories this year).  He’s also on a pace (51 strikeouts over 39 games played) to shatter his career high in K’s–with a chance to reach 200 for the season.  Good thing the Phillies are winning-for now.

O’s Woes- another homestand, another two series lost.  The Birds are 6-15 at home, tied with Miami for the worst in the majors.  Last week the heartache was Trey Mancini getting robbed by Jackie Bradley Jr. making a game-saving catch well over the wall.  There is hope, however: even though the team ranks 30th in team ERA they’re 14th in that category since April 30th.  This week they visit the New York Yankees (24-16 despite all of the injuries) and Cleveland (21-18 and owning the third best team ERA this season).

 

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 grandslam 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.

 

Game to Watch- Friday night Max Scherzer pitches against Cole Hamels.  While the Nats have won just two of Max’s nine starts this year, Scherzer is beginning to hum as he’s lowered his ERA for the season in four straight.  Hamels leads the Cubs in innings pitched and is 3-0 to start the year.  It’s the series opener against a red-hot team (Cubs have won 12 of 14 entering this week).

Game to Miss- Thursday afternoon Anibal Sanchez (0-6, 5.27 ERA) take to the mound against Zack Wheeler and his 4.35 ERA.  While Sanchez’ winless string isn’t as compelling as Trevor Rosenthal’s outless streak, it’s still concerning that he’s yet to notch a victory this deep into the season.

On the week that the NFL took center stage with it’s 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.

Dissecting the Division- the 12-14 Nats are three games behind 16-12 Philadelphia, who have won four of five to jump out in front.  The Mets took two of three from the Phillies before dropping two of three to Milwaukee and are now 14-13.  Atlanta dropped four of six to slide under .500.  Miami?  The Marlins have won just one series this year…and yes, it came against the Nationals.

All About Bryce- Harper’s hitting .250 with 6 HR and 20 RBI…while leading the league with 23 walks.  He did get ejected from a game last week…reminding us all that #3 is still in his twenties.

O’s Woes- the Birds got swept by Minnesota and are now 10-19.  Pitching has been a problem this year as the O’s ERA is the worst in the majors.  Bright spots include Dwight Smith Jr.’s hitting (.267 with 19 RBI) and John Means recent outings (1.74 ERA over three starts and seven games).  They’re on the road this week at the Chicago White Sox;  the good news is that they took two of three from the Pale Hose last week and are 7-9 on the road (as opposed to 3-10 at Camden Yards).

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.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats begin a series with Philadelphia;  not only is it a chance to catch the Phillies it’s an opportunity for Jeremy Hellickson to right the wrongs of his previous two starts.

Game to Miss- Saturday…yeah. The Kentucky Derby. Virginia Gold Cup. Break out the madras jacket and fedora.

 

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.

Dissecting the Division- the Nats are in fourth place but only one and a half games behind NL East-leading Philadelphia.  The Philllies rank fourth in the majors in scoring.  The New York Mets and Atlanta are tied for second, and each team has issues on the mound.  The Braves rank 19th in team ERA while the Mets are 28th.  The Marlins remain scraping the barrel despite two wins over the weekend against the Nats.

A Bryce New World- Mr. Harper is hitting .278 with five homers and 14 RBI…while striking out 27.6% of the time.  And April is traditionally his hot month.  How long will the honeymoon last for #3?

O’s Woes- while the Nats beat back the brooms in Miami, the Orioles were getting swept by AL Central-leading Minnesota.  The long road back to respectability involves traveling through the canyon of poor pitching:  the O’s rank last in the majors with a team ERA of 6.21 and their bullpen ERA is just ahead of the Nats.

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 tosssing 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.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats come back from their roadtrip and host San Diego.  The Padres are a surprising 12-11 with Manny Machado still trying to find his groove (.253 with nine RBI over 22 games).  Max Scherzer is 1-3 with a 4.45 ERA this year, and that was before he tweaked an intercostal muscle in his left rib cage while dodging a foul ball in the dugout Sunday.  Max has been money since signing his free agent deal with this team in 2015, and the sooner he gets on track the better one will feel about this team.

Game to Miss- Monday the Nats begin a series in Colorado.  The same evening the Capitals clash with Carolina in a Game Six.  Plus, today is my birthday and after a haircut I plan to enjoy the evening on the Georgetown Waterfront at Tony & Joe’s.  I’ll be raising a glass to the late Glen Campbell, Charlotte Rae, and Aaron Spelling while celebrating the continued success of Jack Nicholson, Dana Barron (the first and only Audrey Griswold),  and Amber Heard.

So much for a sweep of the last-place Marlins.  And then so much for a series win over the cellar dwellers.  After dropping two of three to NL Wildcard-leading Milwaukee, the Nationals once again missed out on an opportunity to pull closer to floundering Philadelphia and eroding Atlanta.  Once again this club wins its blowouts but botches nailbiters:  they’re now 10-18 in one-run games, third-worst in the National League.  Instead of breathing down the Phillies’ necks the Nats are assured of a third sub-500 month (the 20-7 May looking more like an isolated incident).  And not only are they chasing the Phils and Braves, there are also five teams between the Nats and the final playoff spot in the NL.  It was expected they’d be buyers (especially with the pre-emptive move to bring Kelvin Herrera aboard), but could the preseason World Series favorites possibly be in the process of shedding salaries?  Relievers Ryan Madson and Herrera are in the final years of their contracts, as are Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Murphy and-GULP-Bryce Harper.  Do the Nats dare try to get prospects/players for the Home Run Derby champ?  Tune in Tuesday at 4:15 to 103.5 FM in Washington.

Dissecting the Division- what’s frustrating about the Nats’ middling season has been the fact that the NL East is still theirs to win.  Neither Philadelphia (14-11 this month) nor Atlanta (9-13) are running away with this thing.  And both are under .500 since the All Star break.  Ten of the Nats’ 29 games next month will be against those two clubs…and one has the feeling that by this time in August we’ll know if they’re a contender or a pretender.

O’s Woes- back to back to back wins for the Birds?  Scoring 11+ runs in each game?  When did Don Buford and Boog Powell return to Camden Yards?  While there’s no more Zach Britton to not bring into extra innings at Toronto (sorry) nor Brad Brach to eat up late innings, there is Adam Jones who refused a trade.  As mentioned there’s also a three game winning streak, meaning the Orioles are over half way towards not posting a 100-loss campaign this year.  Can they go 31-25 the rest of the way?  They are 4-5 since the All Star break.  Compared to the rest of the season, they’re skyrocketing.

Hall Swing and a Miss- all eyes were on Cooperstown Sunday when Baseball’s Hall of Fame added six…and because there was a full plate of games it felt like an afterthought.  Unlike the Pro Football HOF–which inducts its new class in mid-summer and the Basketball HOF which adds its newest class the week after Labor Day, baseball honors its best in midseason.  Making one wonder why they don’t move the ceremony to the All Star Break…you know, when there are no other games going on and there’s a major news vacuum.

Last Week’s Heroes- Tanner Roark dug deep and struck out 11 over 8 innings to notch his first win since early June–one will be paying attention to see if this is something that will be sustained.  Max Scherzer merely struck out 11 while winning his MLB-best 14th of the season…while going 1-2 at the plate with a run scored.  Juan Soto led the team with 3 homers and 6 runs scored while Bryce Harper paced the club with 6 RBI.

Last Week’s Humbled- Mark Reynolds hit .077 (for the record Matt Reynolds got a hit in his lone at-bat last week).  Meanwhile, Wilmer Difo, Matt Wieters and Michael A. Taylor each hit under .200.  A lineup can survive one crater, but not three or four.  Jeremy Hellickson had a rough start Sunday, but even if he pitched well it’s rather difficult to allow fewer than the zero runs the Nats put on the board that day.

Game to Watch- Thursday Max Scherzer goes for his 15th win of the season by pitching against Cincinnati.  Remember the Reds and how woeful they looked opening weekend when the Nats blasted them to bits?  Since the end of May, the Reds are 28-21 while the Nationals are 19-30.

Game to Miss- Sunday Tanner Roark starts against the Reds in the series finale…but the Citi Open Tennis Finals are slated to start at 12:30 p.m. (weather permitting).  Not to mention the season four premiere of “Better Call Saul” in the evening.  Keep your sunroof closed–just in case.

The Midsummer Classic is upon us, even though it’s not technically in the middle of summer (technically that’s around August 7 or 8) or even in the actual midseason (a few weeks ago) but it gives us a chance to take a break.  And the Nats could use one…last week they had seven games with sub-500 squads in Pittsburgh and the New York Mets.  A team looking to enter the hiatus on a strong note would win five of seven…and instead they were lucky to win three.  While the offense has improved (9th in runs in July), the pitching has begun to spring leaks (25th in team ERA this month).  It’s beginning to feel as though the odor of 2013 and 2015 when defending division champs underachieved their way out of contention is back.  It’s not longer early as just under 60% of the schedule has been played. Max Scherzer likely has only 12-13 starts remaining in the season.  And the deficit isn’t shrinking.  Gimme a break?  One break…coming up.

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia despite losing consecutive games to Miami still stand atop the division one half game ahead of Atlanta and five and a half ahead of the Nats.  The Phillies are here because of pitching:  they rank fourth in quality starts and are 11th in team ERA while having major issues at the plate.  They’re 26th in MLB in hitting and 21st in runs scored.  The Braves boast a little better balance:  8th in runs scored and 10th in team ERA.  Meanwhile the Marlins and Mets played spoiler by snatching games from the Nats and Phillies over the weekend…remaining in a tie for last place.  We’ll be by with tragic elimination numbers at the appropriate time.

O’s Woes- the Birds won their first series at home since taking three of four from Tampa Bay Mother’s Day weekend.  Still, the 28-69 slide has the club inhaling elimination fumes: the tragic number is now 26 (Red Sox wins + Oriole losses) and the Manny Machado departure countdown is in full force. Philadelphia, the Dodgers and even Milwaukee is in the mix.  Manny was asked at the All Star Game’s media availability what the strangest rumor he’s heard was and replied– “the Giants.  The Tokyo Giants…”.  Regardless, the end of an era looms and one wonders what is next for this franchise and the key figures in the management team.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy hit .533 while Adam Eaton batted .458 andAnthony Rendon led the team with 3 HR and 6 RBI.  Jeremy Hellickson won both of his starts while finishing with an ERA of 0.82 and Max Scherzer won his second straight.

Last Week’s Humbled- Jefry Rodriguez and Austin Voth allowed 13 runs over 9.1 innings in their starts.  They’re not ready for the Major League level and while that is to be understood, the middle of a pennant race with the Nats losing ground is not where you want to see these guys earn their stripes.  Trea Turner hit .115 while Bryce Harper batted .167 with 11 strikeouts in 24 at-bats.

Game to Watch- well with only three games on the slate I’m going with the series opener against Atlanta Friday.  Will Stephen Strasburg finally make his return from the DL?  Since he went on the shelf the starters are a combined 4-20 with an ERA I’d rather not disclose.  If he doesn’t make the start, this is still a huge game as the Nats need to make a dent into the Phillies’ lead–and they have to get past the Braves first..

Game to Miss- the series with the Braves wraps up Sunday with a 1:35 start on a day when the British Open (or “Open Championship” if you insist) wraps up.  Unless it’s a Scherzer start, I’m out.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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