Archives for posts with tag: Matt Adams

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

Autumn in Washington can come at you fast.  Didn’t we just have a week of 90-degree weather?  You blink and all of a sudden you’re looking for the lining in your coats you removed in April and breaking out the scarf and gloves.  Baseball’s playoffs are just as abrupt, as teams gearing up for a long postseason run all of a sudden are packing up their gear after a Game Five loss.

Ryan Zimmerman is deep into the autumn of his career, one that spans the entirety of the Washington Nationals’ stay in DC.  The teams initial first round pick in 2005 was a September call-up during the tail-end of the Nats’ inaugural season at RFK Stadium.  He shined the following season as an everyday player, finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year race (to Hanley Ramirez, for those curious).  Zimmerman topped that off by hitting a walk-off home run in the first regular season game at Nationals Park the next March.

The problem was, there wasn’t a lot of talent around Zimmerman at the time. It was an era of bad baserunning and dismal defense, misspelled uniforms and exploding sausage sandwiches in the skies (true story).  But the team was building for something special, and Ryan Zimmerman was their cornerstone. “He hasn’t changed since I saw him at the University of Virginia. He’s a pro’s pro–and one of the great players that I’ve ever scouted,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “A guy that’s really given his all to the Washington Nationals.  Physically, mentally and in the community he’s been terrific.  He’s the face of the franchise for a reason.”

The “face of the franchise” carries with it a ton of weight on the field and in the clubhouse.  Production at the plate and making great plays in the field are tangible skills one can easily see;  being the leader Zimmerman has been for the bulk of his career is not. But his teammates know and appreciate what Zim has done and continues to do on a daily basis. “He’s just an ultimate professional. A guy that goes out and puts his all into it-even banged up whatever it might be,” Adam Eaton said. “Speaks highly of everybody. Somebody that you would follow into battle type of guy.  There’s a reason he’s been the face of the organization for as long as he has been.”

That means being the go-to quote in the clubhouse when it’s not apparent who’s had a big game; it also means being the guy who the young players look up to in the clubhouse as they try to navigate their way through the early stages of their careers.  Zimmerman has been that kind of teammate; reliever Sean Doolittle played with him in college. “When I was a freshman at Virginia and he was a junior, he was one of the top prospects in all of college baseball,” Doolittle said. “And I got to watch the way he handled that pressure in that the microscope and go about about his business every day and was an awesome mentor to me.”

Being “the guy” for so long means building friendships with teammates that may spend half a season or half a decade in DC.  And Zimmerman knows that while the 2019 Nationals are the team that finally won a playoff series, this World Series appearance also belongs to the Jayson Werths and Adam Laroches.  “It’s definitely a culmination of a lot of guys that have been here,” Zimmerman said.”We’ve had some chances and haven’t come through, but they say you learn from your failures.  All of those guys that were on those teams are part of this tonight even though they’re not here.”

Baseball can be cruelly ironic.  Just when the Nationals were beginning to be competitive, Zimmerman started dealing with a laundry list of injuries.  Shoulder issues eventually moved the Gold Glove-winner across the infield to first base.  Seasons have been hijacked due to an abdominal strain and an oblique injury.  This year Zimmerman played just 52 games (fewest since his September call-up in 2005) while dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.  He finally returned on September first with the rest of the 40-man roster expansion.  After hitting .283 over 53 at bats in the season’s final month, Zimmerman was no guarantee to be a fixture in the lineup.  Matt Adams offered more power (20 homers) while Howie Kendrick was hitting a career-high .344.  Kendrick likely had to play first because second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera was coming off of a 21-RBI September.  The Kendrick-Cabrera combination at first and second base started the Wild Card Game.  “I played with him in 2014 here,” Cabrera said. “He was one of the best teammates, he’s a professional outside (of) and on the field. You want to do everything that is possible to do the best for the team and him.”

Autumn weather can defy explanation though;  it’s not as much of a straight line straight line between the seasons as it is an eventual progression from summer to winter.  And this October Zimmerman has turned back the hands of the clock, hitting .290 with a homer and five RBI over nine games.  His biggest hit was that broken-bat (more of a splintered or shattered bat) single in the Wild Card Game that set up Juan Soto’s go-ahead single in the eighth inning.  “What he’s doing now does not surprise me one bit.” Manager Davey Martinez said. “The biggest thing for him was his health. If you get a healthy Ryan Zimmerman, the product on the field speaks for itself.”

Somehow from the ashes of a 19-31 season this team surged and then scraped its way into the playoffs.  Somehow from 3-0 deficits in the Wild Card Game and Game Five of the NLDS the Nationals found a way to be the team still standing when the final out was secured (a fly-out to centerfield in both cases, just like the NLCS).  And somehow Ryan Zimmerman gets to enjoy being a key part of one historic run.  “Now to share a clubhouse with him again it’s been really special,” Doolittle said. “I’m really happy for him as somebody who’s been here from the beginning of this version of Washington baseball.”

How long will Zimmerman’s extended autumn last?  The 35-year old is in the final year of the contract extension signed way back in February, 2012.  There’s a club option for 2020 worth $18 million (his salary the last two years), or the team can buy out the deal for $2 million.  To say it’s extremely likely the Nationals will take the buyout route would be a major understatement.  But to also say that the veteran wants to come back and play his final days in Washington, even at a reduced rate and playing time, is also a major understatement.  This has become home for the Virginia Beach native and his family, and the only major league home he’s known. “Playing in the big leagues for this long you consider yourself lucky,” Zimmerman said. “To be able to do it with one team and one organization. Being involved in the community and have friends that I’ve met that I’ll be friends with far longer than I’ll play baseball.  It’s a pretty cool situation.”  He has at least four more games before those decisions need to be made, but the face of the franchise hopes to be safe at home here in Washington for 2020.

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 expecte 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.

Dissecting the Division- the Phillies move a game and a half ahead of the pack at 19-14 while the Braves and Mets stand between the Phils and Nats.  Atlanta appears to be in better shape for the long haul, as the Mets’ -23 run differential ranks 12th in the National League.  Miami remains the floor that nobody can possibly touch.

Bryce’s Bat- the former face of the Nats is hitting .233 with six homers and 21 RBI, and that’s while batting .321/2/7 against his former team. Harper’s 43 strikeouts are tied for the fifth most in the majors and he’s getting booed semi-regularly.

O’s Woes- the Birds come home ten games under .500 to a series with the suddenly-hot Boston Red Sox who are finally playing like the defending world champs that they are (12 wins in 17 games).  For the record, this year’s team is four games ahead of last year’s pace at this point–and they’re a step ahead in the rebuilding process.

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.

Game to Watch- the Nats are 1-10 in series openers and are also 1-6 in games where Max Scherzer pitches.  They’ve also plated just 10 runs in his last four starts.  Monday the Nats meet Milwaukee after getting uneven rest while also dealing with a ton of injuries. Let’s just say I’m curious to see how they react.

Game to Miss- they wrap up their roadtrip and series in Los Angeles Sunday.  Boys and girls of all ages, let’s take the day off from the Nats Rollercoaster and celebrate mothers everywhere.  Happy Mother’s Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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