Archives for posts with tag: Michael A Taylor

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.

=====

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.

=====

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.

=====

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.

=====

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.

=====

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.

=====

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.

=====

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.

=====

 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.

 

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

While the Washington Nationals were propelled by starting pitching that posted the third best ERA in the majors plus a lineup that ranked second in batting average and runs scored, many close to the team felt that that the clubhouse chemistry was a key factor in going from 19-31 in May to a championship parade in November. “When one guy doesn’t do the job the next guy picks him up,” Martinez said before the World Series.  “You watch them go down the line, they pat each other on the back- ‘hey, we got you don’t worry’.” Chemistry in the clubhouse is a tricky thing; if anybody could create it everybody would have it. It’s not a Chia Pet, for heaven’s sake.  How have things gotten so good for the Nats?

It wasn’t always this way. From players reportedly being shipped out for leaking to the press, dugout scuffles between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper, to the famed Mike Rizzo quote “If you’re not in, you’re in the way”, it’s taken a while for the phalanx to come together.  When you spend February through October together, the team has to be together.  “At the end of the day nobody understands what goes on in a clubhouse except the 25 guys and the coaching staff that are in here,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “There’s nothing like it and truly the biggest reason why we won last year is because of how much we enjoyed being around each other.” 

When things got bad last spring and it looked like the team was sinking, the players didn’t jump ship. Instead, they began to bail each other out. “We were all very open with each other,” Gomes said. “Whatever little things were going on we were able to cut them out right away-cut out distractions-and made sure that whatever happened it stayed in here and we were battling for each other in here.

Perhaps the fact that this was the oldest roster in baseball last season gave some clarity and focus to what was really important: trying to go 1-0 every day while not letting one loss bleed into the next day.  “Just the mix of veterans and young players and just the attitude,” Howie Kendrick said. “There’s no selfish guys here and everybody wants to win. There’s a chemistry here that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Baseball’s regular season is the longest (162 games) while the playoff field is the most exclusive in the major four sports (10 of 30, or 33%).  Fighting through the dog days of summer (and for those who live in the Washington area, August can get particularly houndish) is no easy task, and knowing that the clubhouse is a fountain of positive vibes makes the grind a little easier.  “It’s great when you get to the field every day and you’re just happy to be hear and don’t feel like you’re working,” Michael A. Taylor said. “And it helps on the field too having that camaraderie and just trusting one another.”

Unfortunately for any team in MLB, you can’t bring everyone back.  While we know the Nats will miss Anthony Rendon’s bat and glove as well as the contributions of Brian Dozier and Gerardo Parra (earworm alert-BABY SHARK), we can’t size up yet the intangible loss of those three as well as others on the 2019 team not coming back.  Sometimes the absence of one minor ingredient can change a whole recipe.  “When we finished Game Seven it was one of those things where we knew that everyone wasn’t going to be back,” Adam Eaton said. “Which kind of saddened all of us because you’re with those people for so long it’s part of your family.”  But with most of the parts coming back, the 2020 Nationals should earn another solid grade in Chemistry.  Will it be another A?  Ask me in October.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

After a winter of wondering, the Harper has landed.  Free agent Bryce Harper agres to a 13-year contract with Philadelphia worth a record-$330 million.  Instead of an amicable split where the one-time face of the franchise heads west to play for San Francisco or the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Nats poster boy is headed to the team’s NL East neighbor to the north.  Instead of dealing with thoughts of what could have been for one or two series a summer, Nationals fans get to face Harper 19 times over the next decade-plus.  He’ll be wearing a different shade of red…with a curly P on his cap.  Phreaking Phantastic.

It’s never ideal to lose a six-time All Star and former league MVP, but the Nationals have constructed their club in a manner to minimize Harper’s departure.  The emergence of Juan Soto last year provided unexpected depth-and the 20-year old will be the team’s leftfielder of the present and future.  Taking over in right will be veteran Adam Eaton, now two years removed from a knee injury that hijacked his 2017 season.  Prime prospect Victor Robles is the future in centerfield, with Michael A. Taylor being able to provide defensive depth at all three positions.

While the absence of Harper in the lineup is not ideal, not having him on the payroll will benefit the long-term sculpting of the roster under General Manager Mike Rizzo.  Anthony Rendon is due to become a free agent next year, and all things being equal an offensive third baseman with sharp defensive skills is much harder to find and develop than an outfielder.  Moving forward, having Rendon on this team for the remainder of their playoff-contending window is more important than having Harper on this team in 2026.

The Phillies get the free agent boost they were looking for this offseason;  last year’s team won 80 games but faded down the stretch.  They also ranked 22nd in the majors in runs scored.  Harper will bat third in a revamped lineup along with offseason acquisitions J.T. Realmuto and Andrew McCutchen. After a few years of building and retooling, the Phillies are ready to win now.  Just like the Washington Nationals have been doing this decade.  The balance of  NL East power began to shift in 2011 when the Nats signed Jayson Werth away from the Phillies; after winning 102 games that year and losing in the NLDS the Phils have not posted a winning record–while the Nats posted a winning mark every year since going 80-81 in 2011.

Oh, and by the way…for those curious Bryce Harper and his new team come to Nationals Park for the first time this season April second.  Who’s ready for a reunion?

 

 

 

 

 

The Nationals wrapped up their long journey into nowhere Sunday in Colorado.  The 12-0 loss was the perfect whimper to a season that had shown plenty of promise and problems.  It was fitting that the team finished 82-80 during a season where we saw a ton of potential (a pythagorean record of 90-72) but fail to execute when it mattered (18-24 in one-run games and 4-10 in extra innings).  With the exception of the team’s dominant play in May, it was two steps forward and two steps  back.  Instead of seeing if they can get further in October…the Nats head into winter wondering if they have what it takes to get back to the playoffs.

Clutch Metrics- combining the one-run games record with the Nats extra-inning results is an interesting exercise:  their 22-24 mark is the worst in the NL East–10.5 games behind Atlanta’s 29-20 record in such games.  They finished eight games out.  I know, some extra-inning games are one run affairs, but an extra inning victory or loss should count double towards the “clutch factor”.

Last Week’s Heroes- stars past, present and future reigned as Bryce Harper hit .348 in what could be his final week as a Washington National.  Anthony Rendon actually finished with a higher WAR this year and hit .348 with 2 homers and 9 RBI.  The future is bright with prime prospect Victor Robles batting .467 with a homer and 5 RBI…and Juan Soto hitting a pair of HR while driving in five en route to six and 20 in September (and Rookie of the Month honors).  Max Scherzer struck out 10 in his final start of the season, finishing with 300 on the season.

Last Week’s Humbled- Austen Williams, Tim Collins and Jefry Rodriguez each had ERA’s in the double digits, but Sammy Solis wrapped up a rough 2018 with an infinity week- no outs recorded and a home run surrendered in his only outing.  The first base tandem of Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Reynolds combined to hit 3-for-21.  Wilmer Difo hit .143 to wrap up a .191 September.  Upon further review- Difo had the fifth most at-bats on the Nats this year.  That is just one reason why the Nats are home in October.

Who could be Gone:  Bryce Harper isn’t the only National with an expiring contract.  Matt Wieters, Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Jeremy Hellickson and Joaquin Benoit all come off the books this winter.  One would think that Wieters might be the only one to come back out of that pack.  The crowded outfield of Robles, Soto and a presumably healthy Adam Eaton could give cause for the trading of Michael A. Taylor-especially if Harper re-signs.

 

Opening Day Lineup for 2019?  If Bryce Harper departs…

RF- Adam Eaton- hopefully Mighty Mouse will be healthy…as he was limited to 95 games this year and even when he played seem a gear or two shy of what he showed in April 2017.

SS- Trea Turner- one needs his speed close to the top of the order…although I’m tempted to put Victor Robles in this spot.

3B- Anthony Rendon- the best overall hitter in this lineup the last two seasons…this is where you put that guy.

LF- Juan Soto- the 19-year old performed beyond expectations…can he duplicate a season for the ages?  Or at least avoid a sophomore slump?

1B- Ryan Zimmerman with Mark Reynolds- Zim when healthy is still a dangerous player–but the veteran’s been limited to fewer than 120 games in four of the last five seasons.

CF- Victor Robles with Michael A. Taylor- if Soto’s 116 games is a small sample size, then what to make of the prime prospect’s 59 at-bats?  And can Taylor’s bat (.176 after the All Star Break) catch up to his glove?

C- Matt Wieters…and Spencer Kieboom?- is this the duo the Nats want, the tandem they need or the combination they’ll have to settle for?  And if Wieters walks, who comes to DC?

2B- Wilmer Difo/Adrian Sanchez/Howie Kendrick- can the veteran come back from his torn Achilles?  If so, he switches spots with Robles.  If not, this position bats eighth and tries to outhit Max Scherzer.

It’s hot in DC. For those unfamiliar, Washington has a different calendar.  Instead of May it’s called “Monsoon”.  And instead of June it’s “Heatbomb”.  Unfortunately as it’s gotten hot in Washington the Nationals’ bats have cooled off.  The team ranks 26th in MLB in batting average and runs scored this month.  In a game of inches a team’s fortunes can turn on a dime…and since June began the 5-8 Nats resemble their April counterparts more than their May selves.  And with a rotation minus Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson for the time being, the Nats can ill afford getting shut out on consecutive Max Scherzer starts.  Meanwhile, Atlanta and Philadelphia are turning on the heat. 

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta leads by three and a half games….and 70 games into the season it’s obvious the Braves are no fluke with the fifth best run differential in the majors.  Philadelphia moved within four games of the lead by taking two of three from NL Central-leading Milwaukee;  their next four series come against winning ballclubs.  While the New York Mets ended their free-fall by splitting a series with Arizona they’re well on the road to non-contention.  Miami?  Five wins in seven games have the Marlins all of a sudden in contention for fourth place.  Will Derek Jeter hang a celebratory banner?

O’s Woes- the Birds avoided a double-digit losing streak by beating Miami 10-4 Sunday.  The Father’s Day victory was kind of fitting because the O’s last home win came on Mother’s Day (for further reference “Grandparents Day” is September 9th-and the Orioles are on the road that day).  The 20-50 start is one game better than the 1988 Gold Standard- and now Buck Showalter’s team needs to play .467 ball (43-49) the rest of the way to avoid a triple-digit loss campaign.

Last Week’s Heroes- Michael A. Taylor hit .600 while Adam Eaton in his first full week off of the Disabled List batted .333.  Rookie Juan Soto simply led the team in runs scored and RBI.  Max Scherzer struck out ten over six innings while Sean Doolittle notched a save.

Last Week’s Humbled- Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Eric Fedde each posted ERA’s over six. Daniel Murphy’s return from the DL was not as smooth as he hit 2-for-20.  Bryce Harper went 1-for-16. Is Ryan Zimmerman coming back soon?

Game to Watch- Thursday Max Scherzer starts the series finale with the Orioles at Nats Park. Unlike the last few years, there is no “potential World Series preview” chatter about this week’s interleague showdown. Max has been stung by two soft offensive outings in a row.  One thinks he’ll leave little to chance this week.

Game to Miss- Saturday the Nats face Philadelphia at 4:05, meaning the bulk of your day will be spent at the ballpark on what will probably be a day best enjoyed in the pool or on the Georgetown Waterfront.  Even without the happy hour pricing on weekends, the raw oysters are money (try the fried clam basket).  You’ll thank me later…

What a difference a couple of weeks make.  The Nationals have won 13 of 15 to turn from April underachievers to May movers and shakers…highlighted by a four game sweep of Arizona on the road.  Somehow despite missing major pieces in the lineup the Nats are within a stone’s throw of first place in a continuing to deflate NL East.  Credit a starting rotation that is the second stingiest (2.91 ERA) in the big leagues…and just enough offense (7th in MLB this month) to put W’s on the board and keep this club in contention until in theory the big bats on the DL return to the lineup.

More Aches- add Ryan Zimmerman and a hurting oblique to the growing list of lumber in the land of limbo.  Four of the top six bats in the order (Eaton, Rendon, Murphy and now Zim) have been sat down this spring- with Eaton now on the 60-day disabled list and Murphy past the point of “as long as he’s back by May 1st” concern.  In addition, Brian Goodwin’s stay on the DL nears one month means that the team has been forced to go with Plan C…and sometimes D and E in LF.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta’s Monday matinée victory over the Chicago Cubs gave the Braves a game and a half lead in the NL East…as six wins in seven games keeps them ahead of the surging Phillies (four wins in five games) and Nationals.  The Braves’ bats (#1 in the MLB in average) and the Phillies’ rotation (2nd most quality starts in the majors) have those clubs ahead of the Nats (24-18) for the moment.  The Mets remain over .500, but just barely…

Break up the Birds- who are these people?  Back to back series wins for the Orioles have the team no longer saddled with the worst record in the majors.  Manny Machado is a major monster (.350, 13 HR & 38 RBI) while Jonathan Schoop is off the disabled list.  Unfortunately the nightmare season of Chris Tillman lands the former ace on the disabled list.  The 10.46 ERA this year may not be the largest sample size, but he’s 2-11 since the start of last year.

Last Week’s Heroes- Matt Reynolds homered twice in Sunday’s win over Arizona, while Trea Turner scored 8 runs and Matt Adams drove in 7 runs.  Stephen Strasburg went 2-0 while Max Scherzer struck out 11 and allowed zero walks in his lone start (a victory).  Jeremy Hellickson posted a 0.77 ERA over two starts.  Sean Doolittle saved three games while tossing three scoreless innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- Michael A. Taylor hit .148 with 12 strikeouts (and no walks).  The early-season injuries are making life miserable for the training staff.  Hope they can go fishing on their off day this week.

Game to Watch- Wednesday Max Scherzer takes his 7-1 mark to the mound against C.C. Sabathia and the New York Yankees.  The Pinstripes are a big-league best 28-12 with four players already at 10+ home runs.  Max leads the majors in strikeouts and is fourth in ERA.  Even with FBI agent Stan Beeman finally realizing his neighbors are more than just “travel” agents, The Americans takes second place.

Game to Miss- the Washington Capitals are on a collision course with destiny…one that will result in me wearing a red suit for one day when they capture the Stanley Cup.  They took the first two games of their Eastern Conference Final with Tampa Bay on the road (and we won’t mention they did the same thing in the 2003 First Round only to lose in six games)…and host the Lightning Tuesday evening.  I’ll be there for WTOP– and even though the Gio Gonzalez-Masahiro Tanaka duel is compelling, the chance to watch the Caps take a 3-0 lead > regular season baseball in May.

 

Despite taking two of three from the NL East-leading New York Mets, the Nats this week find themselves far from DC–and far from where they want to be in the standings.  After dropping two of three to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a duel of defending division champs that was also a showdown of sub-.500 squads, the Nats are right where they were last week.  Two games under the break-even mark isn’t ideal in April…and only becomes more of a concern the longer this team plays tag with fourth place in the division.  Three guys are hitting .300 or better on this team:  two are pitchers and the third is a guy sitting on the disabled list (Adam Eaton).  Actually AJ Cole has been designated for assignment so Max Scherzer is the only player on the active roster hitting better than even .275.  Not awesome.

Rendon’s Rendevous with the Destiny- Anthony Rendon was finally placed on the DL Sunday.  He’s suffered from an injured toe that has kept him on the shelf since Friday the 13th.  He can only be disabled for three days prior to Sunday, so the Nats bats–already having issues–were further hamstrung for over a week.  Somewhere between the player, trainer, manager and general manager something slipped through the cracks and the underperforming lineup had to play shorthanded against a division leader and defending division champ.  Not awesome.

Dissecting the Division- the Mets continue to lead the NL East at 14-6…but they’ve lost 4 of 6.  Philadelphia is the new hot team with 4 straight wins and a 14-7 mark.  They’re getting it done with pitching:  the Phillies’ rotation ranks 5th in quality starts and 4th in team ERA.  Atlanta (12-8) won series against both clubs last week…and the Braves boast a potent offense that owns the 3rd best batting average in the bigs.  Miami?  The Marlins are 5-16 and are even worse than their record would lead you to believe.  I was amused that Derek Jeter opted not to travel with the team to Yankee Stadium, and assume that he forfeited his salary for those three days.

O’s Woes- as bad as things might be for the Nats, they aren’t their neighbors north on I-95 who are going south in the direction of 67-95.  The Birds have combined ineffective offense (last in the majors in hitting and 23rd in runs scored) with porous pitching (26th in ERA and last in opponent’s batting average).  They’ve won just twice since taking three of four from the New York Yankees in a series that seems a year ago.  Enjoy summer, gang.

Last Week’s Heroes- Michael A. Taylor hit .316 with a homer while Ryan Zimmerman went yard twice and drove in six.  Max Scherzer prevailed in his mound matchup with Clayton Kershaw, striking out 9 over 6 innings in a Nats’ lone LA win…and Tanner Roark scattered 2 hits over 7 innings in his start.  Neither Brandon Kintzler (4 scoreless innings over 4 appearances) nor Sean Doolittle (2 saves) allowed a run in relief.

Last Week’s Humbled- AJ Cole and Ryan Madson both posted ERA’s of 20.25…and while Madson will be a part of the bullpen plan this year, Cole could be done as a National.  The 2010 fourth round pick went 5-8 in 26 career appearances (19 starts) while posting an ERA of 5.32 since making his big-league debut in 2015.  Howie Kendrick hit .154 with 1 walk and 9 strikeouts–not ideal when you’re batting second.  The catching duo of Matt Wieters and Pedro Severino combined to hit 4 for 22 with 8 strikeouts.  Not ideal if you’re hitting anywhere in the lineup.

Game to Watch- Wednesday afternoon Max Scherzer pitches against Jeff Samardzija in the series finale with the Giants.  Max is pretty much must-watch every time he goes to the mound, and Samardzija tossed 5 shutout innings in his 2018 debut against the Angels.  It’s also a 3:45 start so one can get this game out of the way before the Wizards take on Toronto (or heaven forbid, the Caps clash with Columbus in a Game 7).

Game to Miss- Tuesday night the Nats pitch Tanner Roark against the Giants’ Ty Blach…who has been just that this month with 3 losses in 4 outings and ERA over 5 in April.  Plus, if there’s a Game 7 I’m getting to bed early the night before.

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

What was the commercial that said, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression?”  Adam Eaton may get that chance this April as the team’s major offseason acquisition from last winter tries to finish what he started in 2017.  Eaton’s arrival last year was almost as much about who the Nats gave up:  former first round picks Lucas Giolito and Dane Dunning plus prime prospect Reynaldo Lopez. For the record, Giolito and Lopez both went 3-3 last year for the White Sox while Dunning pitched with single-A Kannapolis and Winston-Salem (although let’s be honest:  doesn’t Dane Dunning sound like the name of a teen sleuth in Young Adult Fiction?).  Eaton simply had one incredible April (ranking third in the majors in runs scored) before going down with a torn ACL 23 games into the season.

It’s amazing to think that the Nationals still went on to win 97 games minus their leadoff hitter for the vast majority of the season (and don’t forget they were minus plan B leadoff man Trea Turner for 60+ games due to a broken wrist).  Make no mistake, there was a void atop the order minus the player who earned the nickname Mighty Mouse:  he posted a .388 on base percentage (which would have ranked 2nd in MLB) from the leadoff spot while the other Nats’ leadoff hitters combined to hit .259 and the team finished 19th in the majors in on base percentage from the #1 spot in the batting order.  Trea Turner, Brian Goodwin and Wilmer Difo each have skills and can shine in the lineup, but none of them were able to duplicate Eaton’s April.

Every good sequel is a little bit different from the original, and that’s the case for Eaton II: Left Field Boogaloo.  Michael A. Taylor’s emergence last season in centerfield means Eaton shifts over to left.  There are those who dissect the numbers and analytics, and there are those who rely on the “eye test” when judging defensive players.  Both camps regard Eaton as better served in left field.  Last year 12 players saw action in left (including Eaton for three games) and stabilizing a position that is traditionally expected to produce offensively will be key.  Especially with Daniel Murphy’s recovery from knee surgery keeping the second baseman on the shelf until mid-April.

So the guy who is no longer the new kid in town gets a second chance at a first season with his new team that he’s been with for over a year.  At least he’ll get a chance to run around in July’s DC heat for the first time.  Bring some extra Mighty Mouse t-shirts to change into mid-game, Adam.  And welcome back.

Do we have to do this?  I mean…the season’s over.  Winter is underway in Washington…can’t we focus on how the Capitals will get our hopes up again before melting in May?  Yes, the Nationals will not be advancing to the NLCS again.  Another Game Five loss at home.  Another offseason of head-scratching.

Series Heroes- start with Michael A Taylor who was the only regular to hit over .211.  His Game Four-sealing grand slam and three-run homer in Game Five accounted for 35% of the team’s runs during the series.  Adam Lind went 2 for 3 in a pinch-hitting role (to be expected after hitting .341 in September).  Stephen Strasburg turned in two gems, striking out 22 over 14 innings (while allowing two unearned runs).  Sean Doolittle and Matt Albers combined for 5.1 scoreless frames.  Max Scherzer had a great start in Chicago despite a bad hamstring (6.1 innings of one-hit ball over 98 pitches).

Series Humbled- the bats were flat:  Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Trea Turner and Matt Wieters each hit under .200 in the NLDS.  Gio Gonzalez had a rough start in Game Five…and Max Scherzer was one strike away from a 1-2-3 inning when an infield single began the drizzle that ended in a 4-run shower of runs.  Manager Dusty Baker’s tactics were called into question, from bringing in Sammy Solis to staying with a Jayson Werth that was hitting .155 since coming back from injury.  It was rough all around…

Bye Bye Beard- Jayson Werth’s seven year tenure seems likely to be ending…and from the moment he signed his 7 year, 126 million dollar contract there were those who said the Nats would never get true value for their money.  While Werth never reached the 30 HR or 90 RBI plateaus with the Nats and played fewer than 90 games during three of his seven seasons in DC, the fan favorite will be missed in the clubhouse.  He marched to the beat of his own drummer…and band.  Other pending free agents include bats off the bench Howie Kendrick and Adam Lind.

Opening Day 2018- if Adam Eaton returns to his April 2017-form, we can pencil him back at the leadoff spot.  And I’m going to move Eaton over to LF and put Michael A Taylor in CF.  Trea Turner goes back to hitting second while Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon form the core of the order.  That brings up the catcher’s spot in the order:  Lobaton becomes a free agent and Matt Wieters hit .196 after the All Star Game and .118 in September.  He has a player option for 2018…and in the wings the Nats have Pedro Severino (.242 with 5 HR and 29 RBI in AAA) and Raudy Read (.265 with 17 HR and 61 RBI in AA and a name that smacks of Wrestlemania IV).  Taylor looks like the #8 guy as Dusty loves to go left-right (or switch) in the order.  Outfield depth provides promise if Brian Goodwin can stay healthy and Victor Robles can make the leap.  Wilmer Difo is on his way to becoming a Swiss Army Knife after playing three infield and all three outfield positions in 2017.

Rating the Rotation- Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg return for another season while Gio Gonzalez enters his contract year and Tanner Roark comes back after not pitching in the postseason.  Last year the Nats tried to land Chris Sale to no avail… do they attempt to bring in another front-line pitcher this winter?  Or do they trot out Joe Ross/AJ Cole for another round of auditions?

Bullpen Blues- at least Sean Doolittle is coming back next year to close.  That eliminates what was the never-ending story of the first four months of the 2017 campaign.  Ryan Madson is also signed through 2018.  Matt Albers and Brandon Kintzler become free agents…and patching up that part of the pen will be key.  But I’d rather have holes in the 6th and 7th than the 8th and 9th….

Caps and Wiz!  The beauty of working in a four-team town is that the seasons collide in such a manner you often don’t have the chance to labor over the abrupt end of a playoff run.  Just like the Nats first place surge in May moves the Wizards and Capitals to the back-burner our winter friends have rejoined us with the usual high hopes (conventional wisdom says the Caps’ window is closing while the Wiz’ window is opening).  Enjoy the offseason and prepare for another 162-game marathon.