Archives for posts with tag: Max Scherzer

PORTIONS ORIGINALLY POSTED July 8, 2019.

The Nationals received their World Series rings this week-with a near-major error. Series MVP Stephen Strasburg noticed the box his ring arrived in had his name spelled incorrectly. For those who recall the days of “Natinals” on Ryan Zimmerman’s jersey and the team store once sold “Teddy Rosevelt” dolls, this wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility.  Thank goodness the ring was engraved correctly–that’s much harder to change than writing on a box.  At this time last year the Nats had just moved into the Wild Card lead at the All Star break.  Let’s see how they got there.

As always, 2020 thoughts to things written in 2019 are in boldface italics.

 

“Breaktime!”

The Nats enter the All Star break as the hottest team in the Major Leagues, having won 28 of 39 to move into the Wildcard lead.  But are they that far removed from the team that started 19-31?  Despite taking four of six, the bullpen that was leaky over the first two months still had issues over the weekend.  And despite the cosmetic changes, the relievers’ ERA remains a big league-worst 6.06 while their 18 blown saves is tied for second-most in the majors (behind the flammable Mets).  While getting a healthy lineup (at one point the second through fifth hitters in order were on the Injured List) was a big factor in the team’s turnaround, it didn’t hurt that they’ve built momentum while facing a slew of sub-.500 teams.  When they come back from their midseason hiatus, they’ll face Philadelphia (one-half game back for the Wildcard lead), while division leading Atlanta and the Los Angeles Dodgers also loom later this month.  It’s a long way to October.  But the road looks much more pleasant than it did a month and a half ago.

For the record, they’d go 2-1 against Philadelphia, 1-2 against the Dodgers, and 3-4 against the Braves in July.  Not ideal, but not deadly.

 

Digesting the Division- Atlanta after a 4-2 week leads the NL East with a 54-37 mark as they’re well-represented at the All Star Break by Freddie Freeman, who’s batting .309 with 23 HR and 68 RBI, and Ronald Acuna.  The Nats are 47-42 and six games back while leading the Wildcard.  The #2 Wildcard team is Philadelphia at 46-43 after a 3-3 week; J.T. Realmuto heads to Cleveland on the strength of his 10 homers and 42 RBI.  The New York Mets may be 40-50 but they possess the Home Run Derby champ in rookie Pete Alonso, who also has 30 HR at the break.  The Marlins? At 33-55 they’re on track for another 100-loss campaign despite the solid pitching of All Star Sandy Alcantara.

Believe it or not, the Mets would boast an NL East-best 46-26 mark after the break (the Nats were 46-27).  Meanwhile the Marlins would not disappoint, going 24-50 after the hiatus.

 

Harper’s Weekly- a .292 week moves Bryce over the .250 mark, and he’s on pace to hit 29 HR with 112 RBI-although for the record he’s played more than 150 games just twice in his career.  He’s also cutting down on his strikeouts-the pace of 189 is no longer league-leading.

Bryce would bat .270 with 19 homers and 52 RBI in 67 games after the break (that prorates to 45 & 125 over 162 game seasons) while the Phils would play 34-38 ball the rest of the way.

 

O’s Woes- finally an extended run of success.  The Birds won three straight games last week and have won five of nine to improve to 27-62 (.303-or on a 49-win pace).  John Means (7-4, 2.50 ERA) represents the Orioles at the Midsummer Classic.

The Birds would win 27 games after the break to finish 54-108.  Means would post a 5-7 mark with a 4.85 ERA to fall back to earth after a great start.

 

Last Week’s Heroes- Max Scherzer struck out 11 over seven scoreless innings while going 1-2 at the plate with a stolen base.  Stephen Strasburg K’d 14 over 7.1 scoreless frames.  Patrick Corbin tossed 14 scoreless frames. Sean Doolittle notched two wins plus one save in relief.  Ryan Zimmerman hit .429 with a pair of RBI while Juan Soto hit .333 with four RBI and four runs scored.

Yes, Max stole a base.  Something we’re going to miss this year with the DH in all games.

 

Last Week’s Humbled- Yan Gomes hit 1-for-11 while Matt Adams batted 1-for-10 with five strikeouts. Jonny Venters and Fernando Rodney suffered hiccups out of the bullpen while Austin Voth allowed four runs over 4.1 innings in his third Major League start this year.

Jonny Venters?  The random guys who pitched for this team last year boggles the mind. The 34-year old lefthander wouldn’t appear in a Major League game after the All Star break.  And Fernando Rodney was walking the tightrope between looking mahvelous and needing a little respect.  Thank goodness for 80’s comedy.

 

Games to Watch- Friday, Saturday and Sunday the Nats face the Phillies.  Max Scherzer is already ticketed to pitch the series finale, and one can easily see Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin starting the Friday and Saturday games in some order.  A potential Wildcard Game preview?  I’ll be locked in for all three.

I’m looking forward to checking out those box scores.

 

 

ORIGINALLY POSTED July 1, 2019.

The Nationals begin…what shall we call it?  Spring Training 2.0? Summer Training? Minicamp?  Whatever we wind up calling it, they’ll be minus Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross with each opting out of the 60-game summer sprint.  Zimmerman’s mother has MS and his wife just gave birth;  Ross is less than three years removed from Tommy John Surgery.  Sean Doolittle may very well join them on the sidelines, as his wife has a chronic lung condition.  And the fact that it took players and owners this long to get a deal in place was less than ideal.  Just like Dalton in “Roadhouse” famously said, “Nobody wins a fight”, nobody wins a sports labor tussle.

Thank goodness we have 2019 to look back on.  And thank goodness the Nationals wrapped up an 18-8 month to move over the .500 mark to stay with a victory on June 30.  Here is the “Nats Notebook” from that week.

As always, 2020 thoughts to things written in 2019 are in boldface italics.

“Max’s Mad Month”

The team that entered June nine games under .500 (and Memorial Day 12 games under) finds themselves with a winning record at the start of July–no small feat. The Nats’ 18-8 mark turns the All Star Break conversations from “who should they trade for prospects?” to “can this ridiculous run continue?” and cools off the seat of Manager Davey Martinez considerably.  One major factor in the Nats resurgence was the return to form of three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer: the 1-4 start with an ERA of 4.08 on May 1 was merely a mirage.  The Scherzer we saw in June went 6-0 with an ERA of 1.00 while notching 68 strikeouts to five walks.  He’s notched three straight wins while sporting a black eye from his broken nose to go with the naturally blue and brown ones.  And once again we have to remind ourselves that perhaps the best pitcher of this generation calls Washington, DC his home.  His next start at home is Saturday.  Guess which game I’ll be focusing on below?

Sadly Max would be bothered by injury the rest of the way; the fact he was able to get back in gear after missing most of two months was incredible, just like his ability to pitch Game Seven of the World Series two days removed from needing to crawl out of bed.

 

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta (50-35) owns a five and a half game lead over second place Philadelphia (44-40) while the Nats (42-41) are seven and a half off of the Braves’ pace. But the story this week is the Melting Mets (38-47) have lost 14 of 20 and their bullpen makes the Nats’ issues minuscule. Was that back to back to back to back blown saves against Philly?  Did Manager Mickey Calloway compare himself to Billy Martin when it came to conduct?  And for the record, I don’t believe Martin hit a member of the press–it was a marshmallow salesman.  To top things off, while honoring the 1969 Miracle Mets the franchise saluted those on that team who had passed away–and tipped their caps to a pair of men who are still living.  Remember the “Natinals”?  The team that shot sausage sandwich showers on fans during misguided promotions?  Nook “What was he thinking?” Logan?  These Mets are those Nats.  Enjoy.

The five Billy Martin regimes with the Yankees remain the stuff of legend:  as fate would have it the star-crossed skipper’s first tenure was 471 games while his second, third, fourth, and fifth stints equaled 470 games.

 

Harper’s Weekly- the former face of the franchise hit 7-of-26 to bring his batting average back to .250. His 15 homers and 59 RBI put Bryce on a pace for 29 & 114.  His strikeouts are down (relatively) as his 101 K’s translate to 195 for the season. And after feasting on the Mets, the Phils aren’t taking water anymore.  For the moment…

How reliant were the Phils on Harper last year?  Bryce batted .282 with 27 homers and 89 RBI while scoring 66 runs in Philly’s 78 wins, .235 with 8 HR and 25 RBI while scoring 32 runs in the team’s 79 losses.

 

O’s Woes- well, they did take two of three from Cleveland.  The first series victory since late April puts the Birds at 24-60 (they lost Monday’s series opener to Tampa Bay).  That their pitching has been a problem is a massive understatement (the 5.74 ERA is the worst in the majors), and the grasping at straws portion of the season includes paying cash to Cleveland for Indians minor leaguer Asher Wojciechowski (8-2 in 15 starts at AAA Columbus) as well as starting rookie Thomas Eshelman (who wears #83, a number that doesn’t inspire longevity) Monday against the Rays.  The Orioles need to go .500 (39-39) in order to avoid another 100-loss season.  They’re currently playing under .300 ball.

It’s amazing how quickly things cratered for a team that made the playoffs three times in five years from 2012-16;  proof that no matter how young you might be or no matter how good your stars are the bitter end is often just that.

 

Last Week’s Heroes- Max Scherzer didn’t just have a great month: he wrapped up a dominant June with two more spectacular starts, going 2-0 while striking out 24 without issuing a walk.  He also went 2-for-3 at the plate and scored twice.  Did we mention he was voted NL Player of the Week?  Patrick Corbin pitched well in his start while Fernando Rodney, Tony Sipp and Jonny Venters tossed scoreless outings of relief.  Anthony Rendon (along with Scherzer the Nats’ other All Star representative) hit .320 with five RBI and six runs scored.  Matt Adams drove in six while Juan Soto notched eight walks and drive in four.

Back issues would limit Max the rest of the way; he’d go 3-2 with a 4.14 ERA in 50 innings over nine regular season starts. It’ll be interesting to see how he pitches this year after the start and stop in Spring Training.

 

Last Week’s Humbled- Brian Dozier hit .174.  With Ryan Zimmerman coming off of the Injured List, one can see Howie Kendrick’s starts getting moved to the middle of the infield.  Already feeling the crunch is Michael A. Taylor, who finds himself in AA Harrisburg and hasn’t been the same since Dusty Baker was fired.  Relievers Tanner Rainey and Javy Guerra both posted ERA’s over 20.

Taylor would eventually get back to the bigs and score a key run in the team’s Wild Card win over Milwaukee.

 

Game to Watch- not only is Max Scherzer pitching for the final time before the All Star break, but Saturday’s game will have the Nats wearing powder blue Expos uniforms to honor the 50th anniversary of the start of the franchise.  This will be nice.

I’m a sucker for the Expos’ unis.  I actually wish they had just kept those colors and fonts when they moved to DC instead of the Angels hand-me-downs.  Just flip the “M and e” on the cap upside down–or go with a BLOCK W.

 

Game to Miss- Sunday Patrick Corbin pitches against the Royals, while the Women’s World Cup holds its final. From Team USA’s 13-0 trouncing of Thailand to the nailbiting win over host nation France, this has been one incredible month for the US.  Can they deliver a win over England and a trip to another Final?  One thinks yes.

The US Women’s National Team did not disappoint, while over the course of 2019 neither did Corbin.  He’d go 7-2 after the All Star break while winning Game Seven of the World Series in relief.

ORIGINALLY POSTED June 24, 2019.

The Nationals had .500 in their sights as the calendar turned to summer.  Only they ran into a buzz-saw named the Atlanta Braves that would post a 20-8 mark in June. Not helping their cause was a relief corps that still had to get out of its own way.  But while they were not the equal of Atlanta last June, the Nats had gone 18-9 since reaching the depths of 19-31.  And healthy, they were much more like the team over the most recent 31 days than the first 50 games. Here’s last year’s “Nats Notebook” from that week.

As always, 2020 thoughts to things written in 2019 are in boldface italics.

 

“Bedeviled by the Braves and a Bad Bullpen”- my headline form is back.

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.

They weren’t able to sustain the .667 play for the rest of the season, as the 56-29 finish was a paltry .659.  In all seriousness, wow. That’s a 107-win pace for over half of the season.

 

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.

As much of a mess the Mets were early and often last season, they were able to overtake the Phillies by the end of the season.

 

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.

Harper leading off isn’t as bad as Chris Davis doing the same for the Orioles, but that’s how things had gotten after McCutchen’s injury.

 

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.

Hess & Straily were hardly the only underperformers last year for the Orioles, but that’s one tough double-whammy for a subpar offense (21st in battting, 22nd in runs scored) to try to keep pace with in 40% of your starts.

 

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.

Max wasn’t just enjoying a 6-0 June where he helped this team get back on track, he didn’t only pitch relief when called upon in the playoffs before starting Game Seven of the World Series, but he pitched through a broken nose.  And the black eye only added to his blue and brown ones.  I hope you all appreciate him now.

 

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.

Rosenthal would hook up with Detroit and post an ERA of 7.00 over ten relief appearances.  Joe Ross would pitch much better in the second half of the season for the Nats, posting a 3.83 ERA over nine starts and ten appearances.

 

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.

If I wasn’t covering sports, I would cherry-pick Scherzer’s starts and attend those games. Hands down.

 

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.

Last year I had the chance to announce the game with Noah Frank and Mitchell Miller. It was a great experience. Hopefully they’ll play ball again in 2021.

ORIGINALLY POSTED June 17, 2019.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

ORIGINALLY POSTED ONE YEAR AGO ON THIS DATE-

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

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

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

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

 

April 2nd–Too Early for a Freakout?

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

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

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

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

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April 8– “One Bad Bullpen”

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

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

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

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

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April 15– “Whirlwind World”

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

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

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

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

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April 22– “Sunburned”

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

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

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

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

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April 29– “The Future is Wow”

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

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

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

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

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May 6– “Still Trying to Take Off”

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

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

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

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

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

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May 13– “Wandering Out West”

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

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

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

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

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May 20– “Maylaise” 

Another week, another slate of games where the Nationals were alternately inspiring and frustrating.  The team that started slow (12-16 on April 30) is now 7-11 in May, has lost nine of 15 series (with two splits in the mix) and has dropped 13 of 15 series openers. After winning their first series in almost a month, the Nats went out and turned a 5-4 game in the eighth inning against the Cubs into a 14-6 nightmare.  With Miami’s sweep over the weekend of the Mets, the Nats are now the only team in the majors without a three game-winning streak.  And there’s no possible way this team will be over .500 on Memorial Day.  Could there be a crisis of confidence in DC?

Last Week’s Heroes- Gerardo Parra continues to be the hero the Nats need, hitting .500 with a homer and 3 RBI.  Anthony Rendon is also hitting his stride, batting .435 while scoring eight runs and driving in seven.  Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin each won their starts while allowing one earned run over eight innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- one rough week for Jeremy Hellickson, who goes 0-2 with an ERA of 9.00. Relievers Dan Jennings, Justin Miller, Kyle Barraclough and Matt Grace all post double-digit ERA’s-with Grace’s 15.43 the big number of the week.  Catcher Yon Gomes (now .206 on the season) continues to struggle with an 0-11 week.

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

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 27– “A Tale of Two Series” 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For a game that celebrates its tradition, baseball has evolved quite a bit this century.  “Moneyball”.  Pitchers batting eighth. “Launch Angles”. Extreme defensive shifts.  Just when you thought you’d seen everything, the “opener” gets trotted out to the mound.  I know we’re a long ways from four-man rotations and complete games being more than a random aberration, but pitching by committee shakes the core of the game’s basic duel between one pitcher facing one batter.  Houston and the New York Yankees even went with “openers” and essentially tossed staff games Saturday in Game Six of the ALCS. However, viewers of the upcoming World Series should prepare themselves for a blast from the past.

The Nationals’ path to and through the playoffs has been marked from the start; with a rotation that boasts a guy who once struck out 20 in a game, a former No. 1 overall draft pick, a high-priced free agent, and a veteran who threw a no-hitter in his 13th career start.  “You know I’ve said this all year. Our starting pitching was the key. They’ve kept us in every ball game this year and they’ve done it all playoffs,” Manager Davey Martinez said. ” It’s nice to go out there with a Max Scherzer, Strasburg, Sanchez, Corbin. These guys are a big reason why we’re here.”  Simply put:  starting pitching is the bedrock of this team.

The rotation’s 3.53 ERA ranked second best in the majors during the regular season, the same case as with its 1,010 strikeouts thrown and 938.2 innings pitched.  “They don’t give anything away and I think that’s what makes them really special. No matter the situation, no matter how many people are on, what the score is, they don’t give in,” shortstop Trea Turner said. “They continue to stick to their gameplan and use the preparation to make the best decisions and the best pitches they can.”

Four arms featuring four different approaches.  Just like the compass has four points, the Nationals rotation comes at you from four completely different directions-with four completely different personalities.

Do you want high heat?  Max Scherzer throws 48% fastballs (according to baseballsavant.mlb.com) and his preferred pitch averages 95 miles per hour.  His personality is rather easy for to describe. “Max IS Mad Max,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said.  The three-time Cy Young Award winner was steamrolling his way to a fourth Cy this summer when a back injury sidelined the right-hander for over a month.  What followed was the strangest rehab stints of recent memory:  two four-inning outings while continuing to ramp up, before finally tossing 100+ pitches in his final two September starts. “We’re at the point of the season where there’ no room for error. I cannot get hurt,” Scherzer said in August. “That’s why I’m going out there pitching under control. I’m not going to put my body in jeopardy.”  After allowing an two-run homer in the first inning of the Wild Card Game, Scherzer has resembled the pitcher who went 6-0 in June, winning his NLDS and NLCS starts.  He also tossed an inning of relief in Game two against the Dodgers.

First Intermission- while Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin have each taken turns coming out of the bullpen this month, they’ve shined as starters in the postseason with Sanchez.  The quartet has tossed 88 strikeouts over 61.2 innings as starters, posting an ERA of 2.04 over the ten-game run.  “When you try and figure baseball out, it kind of goes back to starting pitching. Always been the key,” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “There’s been some teams that have been successful without it, but for us it’s always been the backbone of our team.”

Looking for something a little offspeed? Stephen Strasburg’s bread and butter is his curveball (31%) and change-up (21%).  “I think my change-up’s really evolved over the years,” Strasburg said. “When I first started my pro career it was a pitch I threw like once or twice a game. Over the years it’s turned into a weapon.” He’s not completely abandoning his fastball (28%), but the 30-year old altered his winter regime and that helped lead to setting career highs with 18 wins and 251 strikeouts in 2019.  “I obviously worked really hard last offseason;  I wasn’t really satisfied with how last season ended up,” Strasburg “I think it’s just part of the process…learning how to take care of your body better.”  How does Suzuki see Strasburg?  “Silent assassin for Stras for sure,” the catcher said.  Alliteration aside, Stras is 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA over three starts and a season-saving relief appearance.

Second Intermission- General Manager Mike Rizzo was the Director of Souting Operations with the Arizona Diamondbacks when they won the 2001 World Series behind the arms of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.  This year he’s built a rotation that not only produces on the field, but also pushes one another in the clubhouse.  “First of all you’ve got some talented, talented guys who are taking the mound for us. Yeah, they’re all competitors-they all want to one-up each other,” Rizzo said. “I think it’s healthy competition and when you get guys that are in that kind of rhythm and on that kind of roll it’s fun to watch.”

Wary of the slider and sinker combo?  Patrick Corbin (38% and 33%) is just what the doctor ordered.  One of the reasons he came to DC via Free Agency last winter was the chance to be a part of this staff. “When you have starting pitching that can go out there and pitch deep into ballgames and keep us close with the offense we do have with some veterans and young guys,” Corbin said. “It seemed like a good fit: a team that wanted to win and had the guys here to win.”  He had no issues fitting in, finishing strong with a 14-7 mark that included going 4-1 in September.  “Patty Ice–he’s cool, calm and collected,”  is how Suzuki describes Corbin.  The left-hander appreciates collecting input from the rest of the rotation. “Everyone’s been around for a little bit now and has seen pretty much everybody in the league.  When one guy’s out there pitching, the other guys are just communicating and talking with each other,” Corbin said. “I think what’s good is no one’s really selfish: we’re all rooting for each other and if anything can help it’ll be great for the team.”

Third Intermission- While the rotation is succeeding in 2019, they’re also helping lay the groundwork for the future.  Young pitchers like Erik Fedde have the chance to watch and learn from the four.  “Very very lucky to be a part of this. All four of them kind of go about in a different way,” Fedde said. “Anibal and Scherzer–you probably couldn’t have two more opposite guys and yet both still so effective. It’s good as a young guy just to be able to watch that and pick up small things from each of them and create my own personality.”

How about a seven-pitch buffet?  Anibal Sanchez empties the tank when it comes to variety:  while the majority of his pitches are fastballs (30% four-seam and 24% split-finger), the 35-year old also uses a sinker, curveball, change-up and slider.  The veteran also brings an infectious enthusiasm to the team. “Happy go lucky and nothing really fazes this guy,” Suzuki said. “He’s always happy, keeps the clubhouse loose and he has fun.”  After starting 0-6 with an ERA of 5.10, a stint on the Injured List set the veteran straight: he went 11-2 with an ERA of 3.42 after coming back in late-May.  He also set the tone in the NLCS by tossing 7.2 scoreless innings in the Game One shutout of St. Louis.

A catcher is part-planner, part-psychologist.  Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes signed with the Nationals this past offseason to help the quartet navigate their way through batting orders, slumps, bumps and bruises and long seasons.  They couldn’t ask for a more diverse–or more professional group.  “They’re all good and they have their own quirks about them,” Suzuki said. “They go about their business the right way–they’re pros and the bottom line is they know how to get the job done. That’s what sets them apart from a lot of guys.”

The Nationals’ four arms will have their work cut out for them in the World Series. Houston’s trio of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke has 77 strikeouts over 62 playoff innings, posting a combined ERA of 3.04 against American League hitting (as in a DH instead of a pitcher).  But reliever Daniel Hudson is confident, as the mid-season pickup has had a front row seat  “Those guys have gone out just about every time since I’ve been here and pretty much do what they do,” Hudson said. “To be able to come in and jump in and watch it from here instead of somewhere else has been a pretty special experience.”  Four points of the compass, looking to point the Washington Nationals towards a first-ever World Championship.

 

 

 

The Nationals are headed to baseball’s final four for the first time since they were the Montreal Expos and needed a strike-shortened split-season to make the playoffs.  Their thrilling 7-3 tenth inning win at the Los Angeles Dodgers sends them straight to St. Louis for Friday’s Game One of the League Championship Series.  How did they get this far?  And can they make the next leap forward into the Fall Classic?

Hot Bats: Anthony Rendon is hitting .350 in the postseason, scoring a team-high six runs over six games while driving in five.  His solo homer in the eighth inning off of Clayton Kershaw got the rally in full gear.  Juan Soto has a pair of homers and six RBI, while delivering the go-ahead hit in the Wild Card Game.  And Howie Kendrick smacked the extra-inning grandslam that gave the Nats the lead and eventually the series against the Dodgers.

Cool on the Mound:  Stephen Strasburg is 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA in the playoffs, posting 21 strikeouts over 15 innings (including his relief turn in the Wild Card Game).  Max Scherzer has been a bulldog, striking out 16 over 13 frames (including a 14-pitch tour de force in the Game Two win).  Daniel Hudson has tossed 3.2 scoreless innings over four games, while earning two saves.  Sean Doolittle nailed down the 10th inning in LA.

Stats vs. St. Louis:  Howie Kendrick went 11-22 against the Cardinals this year, while Victor Robles led the Nats with three runs and four RBI.  The table-setters? Trea Turner & Adam Eaton combined to hit 9-44 (.204), while the meat of the order Anthony Rendon & Juan Soto batted 5-29 (.172) against St. Louis this season.  The second-best bat on the team this year belonged to Yan Gomes (.429), who’s currently hitting 1-6 in the playoffs but pending on Kurt Suzuki’s wrist and face may see more action than originally intended.

Conquering Cardinals:  St. Louis used a second half surge to take the NL Central, snagging the division lead for good on August 23.  They also took five of seven from the Nats:  two of three at home in September and three of four in DC during the Nationals’ injury-ravaged April (I want to say a hot dog vendor may have pitched relief).  They’re just as resilient in the postseason as the Nats, needing an extra-inning victory to force a Game Five before blowing Atlanta out.

Birds to Beware:  the numbers might be skewed a tiny bit because of the 13 runs put on the board against the Braves Wednesday.  Paul Goldschmidt and Marcel Ozuna are both hitting .429 in the playoffs, and Ozuna drove in a team-high seven runs against the Nats during the regular season.  Adam Wainwright went 2-0 with an ERA of 1.35, while Game One starter Mike Mikolas struck out eight while allowing three runs over 12 innings against the Nationals this year.

Anibal Sanchez starts Game One;  the right-hander struck out nine over five innings of one-run ball in Game Three of the NLDS.  He lost his lone regular season start to the Cardinals, but that was in April when he was off to an 0-6 start.  That was when this team was 12 games under .500;  they’re now four wins away from the franchise’s first-ever World Series appearance.

Talk about finishing with a flourish.  The Nationals entered last week with the path to the playoffs in their hands, and instead of making us sweat this one out won eight games over seven days to secure home field advantage for Tuesday’s Wild Card game.  They broomed Bryce Harper and Philadelphia all the way back to .500 and eliminated Cleveland from the AL playoff picture.  The Nats after starting 19-31 find themselves in the playoffs for the fifth time in eight years.

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!- okay, so things got a little crazy in the clubhouse after the team secured the Wild Card berth last Tuesday.  And yes, it’s not a division title or a playoff series win.  But baseball has teams make the longest journey (162 games) to qualify for the most exclusive postseason (33% of MLB teams make the playoffs, as opposed to 38% for the NFL and over 50% for the NBA and NHL).  So let the boys enjoy their evening of suds.

Playoff Picture- while the Nats/Milwaukee winner plays the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta meets St. Louis in the other NLDS.  The ALDS has Houston facing the Oakland/Tampa Bay winner while the New York Yankees play Minnesota.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted .323 with 2 HR and 6 RBI in the final week of the season, finishing with a .260 batting average, 36 doubles and 35 HR (second best in his career to the 2015 MVP season) and  114 RBI (a career best).  He also posted a career high with 178 strikeouts, and for those scoring at home Harper hit .266 in 18 games against the Nats this season.  Prorating his numbers over 162 games, he would have hit 27 HR with 81 RBI against his former team, walking 126 times while posting 198 strikeouts.

O’s Woes- the Birds wrapped up the season 54-108, seven games better than last year but their second-worst mark since moving to the Charm City from St. Louis in 1954.  It’s also the first time the team has posted consecutive 100-loss campaigns.  What sort of vision will this franchise have for 2020?

Last Week’s Heroes- Gerardo Parra regained his swing and the Baby Shark batted .615 with 2 homers and 11 RBI.  Trea Turner hit .400 while scoring 8 runs and driving in 7–including that go-ahead grand slam against Philadelphia. Brian Dozier batted .417.  Stephen Strasburg finished his best season as a pro (18-6, 3.32 ERA, 251 K) by striking out ten in his final start.

Last Week’s Humbled- this is no reflection on the awesome season each had, but Juan Soto hit .150 and Anthony Rendon batted .133 to put mild dampeners on their years. Javy Guerra posted an 8.10 ERA out of the bullpen.

September Surges- Howie Kendrick hit .410 in the final month of the season, while Asdrubal Cabrera batted .324 with 4 HR and 21 RBI.  Table-setter Trea Turner hit .308 with a team-high 24 runs, barely missing the 100-run plateau (96) despite missing almost a fourth of the season with a broken finger.  Juan Soto notched 18 RBI while Anthony Rendon drove in 17 RBI in September.  Patick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg both notched 4 quality starts in the final month of the season; Corbin’s 4-1 mark was the best on the staff.

Who’s Beating the Brewers- while the Nats lost four of six to Milwaukee, three of those games were in May when this team was a mess.  Adam Eaton hit .385 with 3 HR and 7 RBI while Victor Robles hit .429 while Adam Eaton hit .385 with 3 HR and 7 RBI.  Max Scherzer starts the Wild Card game, and struck out 10 over six innings of one-run ball in a no-decision this past May.

Brewers to Beware- while Christian Yelich (.480 with 8 runs scored against the Nats in 2019) is done for the season with a fractured right kneecap, Mike Moustakas hit .379 with 4 HR and 12 RBI against the Nationals this season.  Orlando Arcia hit .385 against the Nats this year and is 2-for-3 in his career against Max Scherzer.