Archives for posts with tag: Max Scherzer

Rain interrupted the Nationals inter-league series with the Orioles last week…while their bullpen is weighing down their 2017 hopes.  The relief corps less than one-quarter into the season has already blown 8 save opportunities (they had 14 blown saves in all of 2016) and owns the fourth worst ERA in the majors.  Initial closer Blake Treinen has watched his ERA balloon to 8.10…and he’s not the most flammable arm coming out in the late innings (Joe Blanton’s holding strong at 9.49).  Look no further than last years San Francisco Giants:  they owned the best record at midseason before 30 blown saves turned them into a wildcard club…and the pen came back one more time to bite them in a Game 4 loss to the Chicago Cubs.  It’s only May…but a leaky pen usually gets worse before it gets better.  Buckle up…it could wind up being a very bumpy summer.

Dissecting the Division– after taking two of three from Philadelphia, the Nats are seven and a half games ahead of the pack in the NL East.  They’re the only team over .500 in the quintet…and the only team with even a .500 win over the last ten games is the oft-injured New York Mets.  Will a race that never starts be a help or a hindrance for a team focused on producing in October?

Oh My Goodness- after coming to Nats Park and chanting “OH” during the anthem, Orioles fans find themselves saddled with a four game losing streak and a much tighter AL East.  They’re a half game behind the Yankees (who own the best run differential in the bigs) and three and a half games ahead of Boston in the East.  All this, while ranking 17th in MLB in scoring and 25th in opponent’s batting average.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .417 with 3 homers and 7 RBI while inking a 21+ million dollar contract for next season.  Did we mention he delivered a walk-off homer in Saturday’s win?  Michael A. Taylor homered twice, with both blasts coming in huge spots of wins over the Orioles and Phillies.  Matt Albers tossed three scoreless innings over four appearances, notching a win in relief as well.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman hit .136 from the cleanup spot while Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner also batted under .200 for the week.  Shawn Kelley’s 20.25 ERA over two appearances let Enny Romero’s 7.71 fly under the radar.

Game to Watch- Saturday in Atlanta Max Scherzer meets Bartolo Colon in a duel for the ages.  Meaning that the Braves pitcher is 43 years old and has enjoyed a career that actually lasted longer than the life of the Braves’ former home Turner Field (1997-2016).  After two starts where Scherzer was let down by either his offense or his bullpen, Max may be looking to leave no stone unturned in pursuit of win #5.  Colon is 1-4 with an ERA of 7.22…and may be one or two starts away from Jeremy Guthrie territory.

Game to Miss- Wednesday in Pittsburgh the Nats will trot out “TBD”, meaning they’ll be calling up somebody from the minors or having Jacob Turner on the mound against hard-luck Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole.  Either way, I’m watching “The Americans” from the previous night because I can’t justify preempting a Stephen Strasburg start.

Thanks, Major League Baseball.  You’ve scheduled the annual interleague showdown between the Nationals and Orioles for early May.  A week where the Capitals are playing Pittsburgh in the NHL Playoffs and the very same week where the Wizards have all the momentum in their second round series with Boston.  Don’t they know the history of the teams inside the beltway?  If MLB had only scheduled this for next week…aka during the Eastern Conference Finals (neither the Wiz nor the Caps have reached that round this century).  Instead, we get one of the most-anticipated series of the regular season being played at the same time as a Game 5 (Wiz-Celtics Wednesday) and 6 (Capitals-Penguins Monday).  Who’s ready for baseball?

Dissecting the Division- at 21-10 the Nats are six and a half games ahead of the pack…with the other four teams in the NL East all under .500.  Only Philadelphia owns a positive run differential (+2), but the Phillies are the only team in the division with fewer wins at home than on the road (Nationals are a big-league best 12-4 on the road).

Breaking Down the Beltways- the Nats and O’s boast two of the top three records in the big leagues (thanks Yankees for taking the top spot):  while the Nationals rank 1st in MLB in hitting, runs scored and quality starts the Orioles have been doing the little things right.  Despite allowing the 8th highest batting average the Birds’ pitchers have the 12th best ERA. Despite ranking 19th in runs scored, Manager Buck Showalter’s team is 12-3 in games decided by fewer than three runs.  Both teams are on a course to reach the postseason…because of and in spite of themselves at the same time.

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman stays hot by hitting .500 with 2 homers and 5 RBI.  In other words, he’s two homers and 12 RBI shy of last year’s totals. Anthony Rendon began may by hitting .333 with 2 HR and 8 RBI.  Max Scherzer struck out 11 over 7 innings against Arizona while Jacob Turner tossed six scoreless innings over two bullpen outings.

Last Week’s Humbled- Trea Turner hit .154 with nine strikeouts over 26 at bats…the shortstop gets Monday off to recharge.  Michael A. Taylor struck out 10 times in 22 at bats.  Former closer Blake Treinen took the loss in Sunday’s extra-inning gmae and allowed 4 runs over 3.2 innings.  Joe Blanton’s yet to wake up from a nightmare season;  after allowing 2 runs in one inning of work last week his ERA for the season balloons to 10.64.

Game to Watch- all four games with the Orioles are must-watch; the most must-watch being Tuesday’s tilt at Camden Yards with Scherzer on the hill.  Max makes one more start this week…and that’s the one I have my eye on. Sunday they host Philadelphia as Scherzer squares off with Jeremy Hellickson. Sorry, mom.

Game to Miss- Friday the Nats host Philadelphia with Tanner Roark on the hill.  While that’s nice, there’s definitely a Game 6 at Verizon Center.  One that could send the Wiz to the conference finals for the first time since 1979.  Sorry, Tanner.

 

Break up the Nationals!  Seven straight wins and a 6-0 start to their road trip give Dusty Baker’s team the best record in the big leagues.  And this is happening in the middle of a bullpen shuffle and a three-city, ten game journey.  While 18 games represents just one-ninth of the schedule, sweeping the Mets at Citi Field is a nice early statement.

Starting with the Closer/Closers- looks like the Blake Treinen era was brief:  last week Manager Dusty Baker announced that Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley would share the ninth-inning role.  While the duo answered the challenge over the weekend at the Mets, it’s a long way from late July and the trading deadline.  One thinks that once again the Nats will be in the market for a closer.

Dissecting the Division- the sweep puts the Nats three games in front of the pack…with Miami (10-8, 3 games back) and Philadelphia (9-9, 4 off the pace) giving chase.  The Mets aren’t just 8-11 but are -3 in run differential and 4-8 at home.  Granted, it’s only April.

Meanwhile in the Other East- the Orioles took two of three from Boston (despite some shenanigans) to stay atop the AL Quintet…with Trey Mancini making his case to stay and play every day.  The 25-year old leads the team in homers and RBI….while playing perfect defense in the field.  Before we begin a season-long tango with the Orioles and Red Sox, we have to notice the New York Yankees.  Their +30 run differential just happens to be the best in the major leagues and maybe this team is closer than a year away.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .550 with 10 runs scored while notching 3 homers and 7 RBI en route to taking NL Player of the Week honors.  He’s off to a better start than he was last April when he was the player of the month (when do they visit the Cubs?).   Ryan Zimmerman hit .500 with 10 RBI.  Last year the veteran had just one month where he drove in more than 12.  Max Scherzer tallied 16 strikeouts while going 2-0 and posting a 1.80 ERA.  Koda Glover saved two games over the weekend.

Last Week’s Humbled- Michael A. Taylor’s opportunities are few and far between…but to go 1-for-10 with four strikeouts over five games is not going to inspire confidence in the Nats’ brain trust.  Adam Eaton hitting .208 with an on-base percentage of .321 isn’t an issue- it’s doing that from the leadoff spot.  And after dealing with the spotlight of being the team’s closer, Blake Treinen meets a different spotlight as the ex-closer.

Game to Watch- Same teams, different weekend.  After sweeping the Mets at Citi Field, the Nats try to push their NL East rivals further back in the standings.  Max Scherzer allowed a pair of home runs in his most recent start while Jacob deGrom struck out ten Nationals the day before.  They’ll meet up this Friday at Nationals Park.  Break out the Rick Astley fan safety video.

Game to Miss- With Scherzer pitching Friday and Stephen Strasburg (after paternity leave) slated to start Sunday, Joe Ross matches up with Zack Wheeler and his 5.40 ERA.  Meanwhile, a certain hockey team in the district will be hosting a certain nemesis that night.  While Game One is Thursday, I want to see Gio Gonzalez and his 1.35 ERA at Coors Field in the late-afternoon air.  Plus, the Caps are 8-1 in Game Ones against Pittsburgh while just 3-6 in Game Twos against the Penguins.  Rock the Red…

 

 

PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

What is it with the yo-yo performances of the Washington Nationals?  They’re slowly becoming the poor man’s San Francisco (forget about the three World Series titles the Giants have- last fall’s flameout against the Cubs in Game Four was even more spectacular than the Nats’ underwhelming Game Five loss to the Dodgers) with playoff appearances during even-numbered seasons…and frustrating walks in the wilderness during odd-numbered years.  The shock of 2012 and making the postseason for the first time ever was tempered by the frustration of a 2013 team that floundered…just like the 2014 club that exceeded expectations found a way to spiral downward in 2015.  The local team’s fortunes remind me of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine loses her job and winds up wearing sweatpants while George gets hired by the Yankees.  Everything evens out eventually…

With a few exceptions (the Joe Torre Yankees, the Bobby Cox Braves), teams don’t repeat because in order to win in the first place a club needs premium seasons from its best players and outlier-type seasons from the mid-range players.  Doug Fister isn’t going to win 16 games every season…and when opposing hitters adjust and things aren’t as sharp as they were during the dream season, a 5-7 nightmare with a 4.17 ERA can be a rude awakening.  It hasn’t helped that there have been whispers around the Nats clubhouse regarding their manager in both occasions where the team was defending its title, whether it was Davey Johnson being put out to pasture or Matt Williams being out of his league.  Dusty Baker’s calm center should keep the yo-yo in check somewhat…but players will still vary production-wise year to year.

That is very good news for Bryce Harper.  The 2015 MVP had a less than stellar 2016…just like his 2014 was less than ideal.  But even with all of his issues (some alleged to be injury-related), the Nats prime offensive weapon still ranked second on the team in on-base-percentage, third in runs scored and second in runs batted in.  Could this be the year he finally surpasses 100 RBI?  The yo-yo says yes.

Does this mean that Max Scherzer will likely not win 20 games this season?  Even thought the ace says he’s recovered from the hairline fracture to the knuckle of his right ring finger, back to back 20-victory campaigns are few and far between in the current era.  And Max had a better WAR (wins above replacement) season the year before when he went 14-12.  What’s more unlikely for the reigning Cy Young winner is his continued prowess at the plate:  last season Scherzer drove in 12 runs over 70 at-bats…a rate that would translate to 102 RBI over 600 AB.

Should Tanner Roark be nervous then?  After winning 15 games in 2014, the pitcher went to the bullpen the following year and showed that he was best suited as a starting pitcher.  His return to the rotation resulted in 16 wins and proved that 2014 wasn’t a fluke.  He gets another year of going against third and fourth starters in other team’s rotations…so another 15+ victory season isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Daniel Murphy fans should be wary, though.  Nobody expected the offseason acquisition to hit .347 with 25 homers and 104 RBI in 2016…and nobody should expect him to match those numbers this year.  Conventional wisdom has the second baseman hitting in the .290’s with 15 HR and 80 RBI in 2017…but the famed conventional wisdom said the same thing about Murphy last year.

What to make to Turner and Treinen?  Trea Turner set the base paths on fire last season from the leadoff spot and returns to lead off this season…how much of his 2016 success (.342 with 33 steals and 53 runs scored over 73 games) can be attributed to beginners luck?  Now that pitchers have an actual scouting report on the kid one feels that while he’ll be productive it won’t be at the rate Turner was in 2016.  Blake Treinen had a breakthrough season last summer in the bullpen…but in a setup role.  Posting an ERA of 2.28 over 73 games as a set-up man is one thing…but how will the 28-year old handle the responsibility and expectations of being the team’s closer?

Sometimes the string wears out- Ryan Zimmerman’s coming off his least productive season and hasn’t driven in even 80 runs since 2012.  The “new normal” for the oft-injured 32-year old may be .250 with 15 homers and 55 RBI…not what you look for from a power position like first base.  Jayson Werth enjoyed a resurgence after being moved to the #2 spot in the batting order last spring…but the 37-year old enters the final year of his contract and hasn’t had consecutive 20-homer seasons since 2010-11.  Like Zim, Werth plays a position where production is paramount.  How one veteran bounces back and another prevents a market correction could go long way towards if the Nats will continue their even-odd year yo-yo.  That…and of course the Mets who were ravaged by injuries last year.  One expects a bounce-back from the other NL East team to make the playoffs last year.

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

 

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

Five major turning points to the 2016 season:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

There are four major steps to winning a World Series (actually a fifth if you take the wildcard route, but why bog ourselves down further?)…and winning the division is perhaps the most arduous.  I’m not saying that winning 3 of 5 or 4 of 7 games against a top-flight ballclub isn’t a challenge; nor is prevailing in a winner-take-all one game wildcard showdown (I thought we weren’t going there).  But to be the best team over 162 games with all its ebbs, flows, peaks, valleys, and sideways lurches takes a certain grit.  The 2012 and 2014 Nationals had that grit…and so does the current edition.  Bring on the playoffs…as they begin the mopping-up segment of the season.

Playoff Possibilities, Senior Circuit- the Nats will play the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Divisional Series as the Chicago Cubs already have home field locked up.  They lead LA by a game and a half for home field in that series.  The Cubs will play the wildcard winner…currently the New York Mets lead San Francisco by one game for home field for that game, while St Louis is one half game behind the Giants.  Should the three teams tie for the two playoff spots there would be a musical chair situation that would have either the Cardinals or Mets hosting the first game with the other team getting to choose to host the second game or be on the road for game one.  The two winners would then meet for the wildcard. I’m going to need a nap.

Playoff Possibilities, AL Version- the Orioles had a chance to catch Boston for the AL East lead this past week but instead were swept at home by the Red Sox (going 2-8 at home to Boston this year).  They were bedeviled once again by David Ortiz (.333, 8 HR & 19 RBI this year vs BAL) and Mookie Betts (.408, 9 HR & 21 RBI).  If somehow the O’s face the Sox in the playoffs…a little hint: DO NOT PITCH TO EITHER OF THESE MEN.  Roll the ball to the plate if you need to.  The Orioles currently own the second wildcard spot in the AL, one and a half games behind Toronto in the race for home field and one and a half games ahead of Detroit in the race for not going home for the winter.  AL West champ Texas awaits the winner–although Boston could easily slip past the Rangers in the race for home field (they’re tied at 92-64, with TEX holding the tiebreaker of best intra-division record) advantage.  Cleveland’s magic number to win the Central is one.

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilson Ramos hit .409 while Danny Espinosa led the team in runs scored (4), homers (2) and RBI (6).  Tanner Roark despite being tagged with a loss allowed just one run over seven innings in his lone start of the week.

Last Week’s Humbled- the injury bug has turned into a major virus.  Bryce Harper’s thumb, Daniel Murphy’s leg and Stephen Strasburg’s elbow remain under the microscope. While many were already writing off the Nats pitcher for the postseason, they can ill afford to lose either one of their most productive bats for any stretch of October.

Game to Watch- Tuesday Max Scherzer pitches against the organization that drafted him.  The Nats ace’s pursuit of 20 wins remains alive… with there always being the chance of something special each time it’s his turn in the rotation.

Game to Miss- Miami comes to DC for the final weekend of the season…and rookie AJ Cole starts the series opener.  Just as a team assured of a playoff berth sets up its rotation and lineup for the postseason, you should set your viewing habits in rhythm.

The NL East remains technically in doubt…but the Nationals in taking two of three from the New York Mets last week pushed the defending division champs to the precipice of playoff elimination.  The quirky crew from Queens can still qualify for the postseason as a wildcard, but barring a major collapse the Nats are en route to a third division title in five years.  That in conjunction with the current road trip means that several cases of champagne will be on hand as the team goes from Miami to Pittsburgh this week.  With the magic number standing at six…they could conceivably wrap it up in the sunshine state (the Marlins at 74-75 are already out of contention for the division) with a sweep plus a Mets implosion.  Most likely the spraying will occur this upcoming weekend in Pittsburgh.  Is there an Iron City Sparkling Wine?

Dissecting the Division- the Nats lead the Mets by eight games…and the defending division champs bounced back nicely from dropping two of three in DC to sweep Minnesota.  The hot bat on the ballclub belongs to Curtis Granderson…who despite hitting .208 this month is clubbing 6 homers and 13 RBI.  Ageless Bartolo Colon is 2-0 this month with a sub-2 ERA while Seth Lugo has won four straight starts.  Could the division still be up for grabs when the Nats come home next week?

Playoff Positioning- if the postseason began today, the Nats would have home field advantage over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS.  The Chicago Cubs would host the wildcard winner (New York Mets hosting San Francisco).  St. Louis is the only other NL team with a winning record; the Cardinals are one game behind the Giants and two games in back of the Mets.  The American League matchups would have the Orioles hosting Toronto in the Wildcard game with the winner facing Texas…while Cleveland would own home field advantage over Boston in the other Divisional Series.

No Scully Sightings- Sadly, Vin Scully will not be announcing any postseason games this fall-preferring to finish his Dodgers broadcasting career by the Bay in the regular season finale.  Interestingly enough, he was once a prime announcer for the NFL on CBS before losing the #1 job (and pairing with John Madden) to Pat Summerall in 1981.  Vin’s final football game?  The classic 1981 NFC Championship Game (Montana-to-Clark) at Candlestick Park.

The Wild Wildcard Race– while the Orioles can still win the AL East (they have four games with Boston this week), the Birds have plenty of company scraping for the final two playoff spots in the AL.  Toronto’s one game back…while Seattle and Detroit are two games behind the Blue Jays.  Houston remains in the mix one game behind the Mariners and Tigers while the New York Yankees getting swept by the Sox pushes the pinstripes to the precipice.  Defending World Series champ Kansas City is technically in contention…with a tragic number of nine.

Last Week’s Heroes- Trea Turner bats .462 and scores 8 runs while notching 3 HR and 4 RBI.  Daniel Murphy makes his former team rue the day they let him go by getting a hit in all 19 games played against the New York Mets this year.  Tanner Roark ties a career high with his 15th win of the year…striking out 7 over 7 scoreless innings.  Max Scherzer wins his 17th while striking out 8 over 7 innings of work.

Last Week’s Humbled- Gio Gonzalez lost for the first time since July…but for the second time in three starts the lefthander failed to reach the sixth inning.  Bryce Harper walked 7 times but went 1 for 17 at the plate.  Ryan Zimmerman (.211) is still searching for his swing while Danny Espinosa is hitting .120 in September.  Will the back end of the lineup be able to bounce back by October?

Game to Watch- Tuesday in Miami it’s matching 15-8’s.  Tanner Roark pitches against Jose Fernandez.  While this game won’t be for the division title, it’s the best mound matchup of the week.  And it falls on a non-football night.

Game to Miss- Sunday AJ Cole (1-2) squares off against Pittsburgh rookie Steven Brault (0-3).  Don’t be surprised if both bullpens get emptied as each manager maximizes his 40-man roster.