Archives for posts with tag: MLB

The Nationals’ playoff push took some water this past week when they lost five of seven to fellow contenders, all but assuring Atlanta of a second straight NL East title.  The incredible 11-10 comeback win against the New York Mets feels like months ago, but it kept the Nats from getting swept.  And in a world where one isn’t going to win the division but still leads the Wild Card by three games, you want to win every series but you most definitely don’t want to get swept.  Sunday, the Nats beat back the brooms against the Braves thanks to Max Scherzer on the mound and the bats finally breaking out after being dormant all series.  Brace yourself for a bumpy ride as the Nats jet tries to land on the playoff runway.

Digesting the Division- Atlanta’s Magic Number is 11 with 18 left.  For those curious Sunday’s loss ended a 17-2 stretch.  If things break the right or wrong way (depending on your perspective) the Braves could clinch the division Saturday or Sunday in DC.  The Nats (79-63 after a 2-5 week) get AL Central-leading Minnesota before the Braves drop by the district.  Philadelphia (74-68, 4-3) and the New York Mets (72-70, 3-3) find themselves on the outer reaches of the Wild Card pack.  Miami?  Now 51-91, the Marlins have clinched last place for the second straight year and Manager Don Mattingly dips under the .500 mark for his career (he’s now at 716-719).

The Wild, Wild Card- the Nats lead the Chicago Cubs by three games for home field while the Cubs are 1.5 games better than Arizona for the final playoff spot in the NL.  The Nats easily have the toughest schedule with 17 of 20 games coming against winning clubs, although they will play 11 of those 17 at home.  The Cubs have 7/20 against .500+ teams, with all seven games coming at Wrigley Field.  Arizona plays 12/19 against losing clubs, and that’s including a four game series at the slowly sinking Mets.  Milwaukee (74-68, 2GB) plays an equal amount of games against both types of teams.  Philadelphia (74-68) has 11 of its final 20 on the road against winning clubs.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted .188 and hurt his hand.  He’s now at .254 for the season with 30 HR and a career-high 101 RBI.  Harper’s 11 shy of reaching his career high of 169 strikeouts.  And there are still five games against the Nats in DC later this month.

O’s Woes- the sweep by Texas drops the Birds to 46-97, or on pace to win 52 games this year.  While surpassing last year’s 47 wins is almost a certainty, there are those of us who have seen September swoons that have taken much better teams from 63-63 to 67-95 in 2002 and from 71-68 to 75-87 two years ago.  So nothing is a given as of yet.

Last Week’s Heroes- Asdrubal Cabrera hit .450 with 2 HR and 8 RBI while Anthony Rendon batted .333 with a team-high 6 runs and 3 RBI. Somebody should sign him.  Ryan Zimmerman and Kurt Suzuki had clutch hits in the team’s crazy comeback Tuesday against the Mets.  Max Scherzer got the no-decision that night, but struck out 8 over 6 innings Sunday to notch his first win since the All Star Break.  Sean Doolittle tossed two scoreless innings of relief.  But Aaron Barrett outshone them all.  The reliever tossed one scoreless inning, completing his comeback from Tommy John Surgery and a broken humerus bone.  Great to have you back in the bigs, Aaron.

Last Week’s Humbled- Joe Ross coughed up 7 runs over 3.2 innings while Anibal Sanchez, Roenis Elias and Javy Guerra each posted ERA of 10+.  Gerardo Parra (1 for 13) and Matt Adams (1 for 15) had market correction weeks at the plate after enjoying hot flashes this season.

Game to Watch- Friday the Braves come to town with a chance to provide the NL East knockout blow, and they’ll be starting rookie Mike Soroka (11-4, 2.67 ERA).  Max Scherzer will be on the mound for the Nats. Enough said.

Game to Miss- Saturday afternoon Joe Ross and Mike Foltynewich bring a combined 10.45 ERA to the mound, while out on Route 50 Navy will be kicking off AAC play by hosting East Carolina.  Go Mids!

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Portions previously appearing in this very space one year ago, as well as two years ago:

The Nationals are 57-49, only five and a half games behind NL East-leading Atlanta while in the Wildcard mix.  Unlike last year’s 52-53 mark on July 31, it’s clear that this team is more contender than pretender.  With only one trading deadline this year what moves will be made and which future possibilities are the Nats willing to part with for the next two (hopefully three) months?  A look at previous July 31 moves:

2014-– infielder Asdrubal Cabrera (more like a stocking stuffer than a gift wrapped under the tree) was brought to DC for reserve Zach Walters.  Cabrera didn’t set the world on fire, but was a decided upgrade over Danny Espinosa at second base (just one error and 20 runs + 21 RBI over 49 games; Espy had 31 runs + 27 RBI over 114 games played).  Walters last saw action in a Major League game during the 2016 season.

2015– closer Jonathan Papelbon was brought to South Capitol Street to shore up the bullpen.  The price tag?  Nick Pivetta (4-4 with a 5.45 ERA this season for the Phillies).  And the team’s mental well-being. Instead, the veteran was ineffective, Drew Storen went on a downward spiral that ended when he broke his hand punching a locker, and Papelbon put his hand on the throat of NL MVP Bryce Harper in a dugout dustup.  Decidedly a bad move.

2016– new year, new closer.  This time it was Pittsburgh’s Marc Melancon…and the price tag was pitchers Felipe Rivero (now referred to as Felipe Vasquez, the reliever is a two-time All Star with 79 saves since the start of 2017 and a 1.87 ERA this year) and Taylor Hearn (made his MLB debut this year for Texas by allowing four runs over one third of an inning).  Melancon delivered 17 saves in 18 chances with an ERA of 1.82 in 30 appearances and almost as important allowed the team to jettison Papelbon.  A definite win for both teams.

2017- bullpen depth was the key with the acquistion of Brandon Kintzler for 20-year-old left-hander Tyler Watson and $500,000 in international bonus pool money.  Watson’s made 17 starts this year at Fort Myers (high-A level) in the Minnesota farm system while Kintzler was the 7th inning man in 2017 (3.46 ERA over 27 appearances) and saw setup work for the most part 2018 before being dealt.

2018- minimal movement at the non-waiver trading deadline for the Nationals who opted not to bring in a starting pitcher nor a catcher.  Instead they dealt middle reliever Brandon Kintzler to the Cubs for a minor leaguer.  They’d make other moves (Ryan Madson, Daniel Murphy) after hitting a mid-August wall;  unlike last summer there is no August 31 waiver-wire deadline so this year the team has to stick its landing.

The Nationals are almost two thirds of the way through the regular season, and in two days they’ll learn two important things:  how they stacked against divsion-leading Atlanta and how they’ve addressed their issues at the trading deadline.  Yes this is now  no longer the “non-waiver trading deadline” as in previous summers, but the actual hard-line trading deadline.  Unless you’ve been on vacation since mid-March, you probably realize what the Nats’ needs are this late-July (as has been the case most midseasons during this recent run of contention):  the bullpen.  The relief corps has given little relief (a big league-worst 6.04 ERA is 2.63 runs higher than the starters’, the biggest gap in the majors) and for every Sean Doolittle (6-2 with 23 saves and a 2.72 ERA) there’s a Matt Grace (5.93 ERA over 45 appearances) and Kyle Barraclough (6.66 over 33 outings), with experiments like Trevor Rosenthal (don’t get me started) blowing up in their face.  Who will they bring in and at what cost are two key questions this week- because one of the byproducts of contending for the better part of this decade has been that the Nats have been buyers more often than sellers at the expense of the farm system.

 

Digesting the Division-  NL East-leading Atlanta went 2-3 to slip to 62-44 as their lead over the Nationals shrinks to five and a half games.  The Braves have also lost 7 of their last 11.  The Nats (56-49) lead Philadelphia (55-50) by a game;  the Phillies’ 3-2 week saw them almost get swept by the Braves at home.  The New York Mets (50-55) are coming off of a 5-1 week and seemingly look like buyers (Marcus Stroman?).  Even Miami (40-63 after a 4-2 week) is regressing to the mean.

The Wild Wildcard- while technically there’s a three-way tie for two spots, either St. Louis or the Chicago Cubs (or Milwaukee who’s a game off the pace) would grab the NL Central-meaning there are five teams within three games fighting for two spots.  San Francisco (54-52) brings up the rear but just like the Nats has stormed back from being 12 games under .500 to contend.  The Giants were sellers one month ago at 35-47, but after a 19-5 run now might not have bullpen pieces (Mark Melancon) available for rental.

O’s Woes- don’t look now, but the Birds are 8-8 since the All Star Game and at 35-70 are on pace to finish seven full games better than last year’s disaster.  Hats off to outfielder Stevie Wilkerson, who became the first position player in MLB history to save a game last week.  Bats off as well–as the rookie is hitting .223 this year with 11 walks and 72 strikeouts.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted 3-for-19 with 11 strikeouts as his average drops to .254.  The former face of the franchise is on pace to hit 28 homers with 112 RBI.  While he’s likely going to set a career high for doubles (Harper’s got 30 already–eight shy of the 38 he had during the MVP year of 2015) Bryce is also on track to strike out 195 times.

Last Week’s Heroes- Stephen Strasburg went 2-0 while striking out 17 over 13 innings while driving in a run to help his cause Sunday.  For the record, the Sledgehammer has more RBI (6) this month than earned runs allowed (4).  Sean Doolittle saved a pair of games while Patrick Corbin tossed six scoreless innings in his lone outing.  Gerardo Parra hit .667 with 5 RBI and continues to get the DC area exposed to the “Baby Shark” song. Anthony Rendon hit .320 with 9 RBI while Trea Turner batted .367 and scored 6 runs.

Last Week’s Humbled- Howie Kendrick hit 3-for-17 while Juan Soto hit .192 for the week.  The Nats bullpen remains an occasional disaster with Kyle Barraclough (ERA of 27.00) and Tony Sipp (20.25) coughing up leads and Joe Ross (11.57) making shaky spot appearances. Max Scherzer’s back is still not right and he may miss his scheduled start this week against Atlanta.

Game to Watch- Monday the Nats battle the Braves as Patrick Corbin (8-5, 3.25 ERA) faces Dallas Keuchel (3-3, 3.50 ERA after his midseason signing).  With Max Scherzer a question mark and Strasburg not starting in this series, the opener looms even larger.

Game to Miss- Tuesday if Scherzer can’t go, it will likely be another “opener” or “staff” game.  The 21st century has seen a lot of great advances in sports. This is not one of them.

The Nationals wound up splitting their interleague miniseries with the suddenly red-hot (or maybe orange-hot) Orioles before splitting a four game set in Atlanta.  Instead of a 4-2 or 5-1 week what would have been one giant leap in the NL East and Wildcard race the Nats took several small steps.  Which in the grand scheme of things isn’t that bad as the club does lead the NL Wildcard, but the longer they’re unable to make up ground against the Braves the more of a longshot the division race will be.  Which means, in effect, they’ll need to win a one game playoff to make the playoffs.

Digesting the Division- Atlanta remains in front of the pack at 60-41, while the Nats are six and a half games out at 52-46.  Philadelphia is one game behind the Nats after a 4-3 week that includes a split with the Dodgers which involved a pair of high-scoring slugfest wins.  The New York Mets followed up a sweep of AL Central leading Minnesota by dropping three of four to suddenly contending San Francisco and are nine games under .500.  Miami (36-61) got swept by the Dodgers.

The Wild Wildcard Race- the Nats have plenty of company in the battle to snag the fourth or fifth seeed in the NL.  They own a half game lead over Milwaukee, who boast a minus-4 run differential.  One full game back are the Phillies and St. Louis; the Cardinals have won seven of nine.  Arizona and San Francisco are both 50-50 and three games behind the Nats;  the Diamondbacks have the largest run differential (+63) amongst Wildcard contenders while the Giants have won eight of ten.

Harper’s Weekly- the former face of the franchise hit .360 with 5 doubles, a homer and 8 RBI.  He’s now batting .258 and is on pace to belt 47 doubles, 28 homers and drive in 113 runs.  Harper remains on pace for 188 strikeouts.  Just imagine the Phillies without him this summer.

O’s Woes- the Birds are no longer historically bad.  Yes, the last place Orioles are still on pace to pass the 100-loss threshold- but the 51 win pace is so much easier to swallow than potentially winning fewer games than last year’s 47-victory disaster.  Taking two of three from defending World Series Champion Boston adds a feather to their cap as well.  The team is on a 9-9 stretch–if they can continue this .500 pace for the rest of the year they’ll avoid 100 losses which would be a victory in and of itself.

Last Week’s Heroes- Adam Eaton hit 9 for 26 while Anthony Rendon batted .400 with 5 RBI. Victor Robles also drove in five while Brian Dozier scored five runs. Stephen Strasburg went 3-for-3 with a homer and 5 RBI against Atlanta while striking out seven. Sean Doolittle and Tony Sipp tossed scoreless weeks of relief while Eric Fedde and Austin Voth posted ERA’s of 1.50 in their starts.

Last Week’s Humbled- Kyle McGowan (8.10 ERA) and Javy Guerra (13.50) were less than effective out of the bullpen, while Max Scherzer’s back prevented the best pitcher in baseball from starting again.  Ryan Zimmerman’s foot is acting up as well, while Juan Soto (4 for 18) and Matt Adams (4 for 18) had less than ideal weeks at the plate.

Game to Watch- Saturday the Nats host the Los Angeles Dodgers at 4:05 pm. Naturally it will be as hot as possible as it is every year then LA comes to town.  Stephen Strasburg (12-4) ranks fourth in the league in strikeouts and is 14th in ERA while Clayton Kershaw (8-2) is sixth in ERA and 20th in strikeouts.  Brave the heat here…

Game to Miss- the only thing worse than a late-afternoon start in the DC swelter is the early-afternoon Sunday matinee.  The Nats and Dodgers play again at 1:35 pm to wrap up their series.  The pool calls…

Now that the All Star Game is in the Nats’ rear-view mirror, the road gets a little rougher. Yes, they took two of three from fading Philadelphia and battle the woeful Orioles this week, but ten of the team’s final fourteen games this month come against division-leading Atlanta or the Los Angeles Dodgers (who just happen to own the best record in he bigs).  Even the other four games are against a Colorado team that was tied for the second Wildcard as recently as July 1.  Not the best time to lose Max Scherzer to the Injured List with back tightness:  the team dropped his missed start in Philadelphia and Max remains a question mark for their upcoming series with the Braves.  After recovering from a frigid (19-31) start by playing out of their minds (30-12), the Nats will likely learn if they should be buyers or sellers at the Trading Deadline–right at the Trading Deadline.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta remains in front at 58-37 by picking up where they left off, sweeping San Diego.  Monday’s win over Milwaukee puts the Braves seven and a half games ahead of the Nationals, who are currently 3-2 against leaders so far this year.  Philadelphia is 48-46 after their 16-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and even though they avoided getting swept by the Nats remain somewhat adrift.  The New York Mets (42-51) are biding time before the late-July sell-off while Miami (34-57) is already making calls.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted 2 for 11 with 3 strikeouts against the Nats.  He’s on pace to hit 28 HR with 108 RBI while striking out 188 times. And he whiffed three more times Monday night.

O’s Woes- the Birds drop to 28-65 after losing two of three to Tampa Bay.  At this rate their tragic number in the AL East is 39…and they need to finish 35-34 to avoid a second straight 100-loss season. The rebuild continues with the trade of Andrew Cashner (9-3, 3.83 ERA) to Boston for a pair of prospects.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon looked well-rested after missing the All Star Game, batting 5-for-11 with 3 RBI. Juan Soto notched a team-high 3 runs with 3 RBI.  Stephen Strasburg set the tone for the series in Philadelphia by striking out 6 over 6 scoreless innings.  Patrick Corbin K’d 10 in his lone start.

Last Week’s Humbled- Matt Grace allowed a walkoff homer Sunday in Philadelphia.  It was the first earned run he’s allowed this month; the question now is that the start of a trend or simply a blip.

Game to Watch- the Nats face first place Atlanta this weekend, with Patrick Corbin starting Friday’s showdown. The Braves counter with Mike Soroka (10-1, 2.24 ERA).

Game to Miss- do we have to watch the Battle of the Beltways?  Austin Voth has averaged more pitches per inning in each of his outings while the Birds counter with Alex Wojciechowski and his 6.10 ERA.  Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Moon Launch.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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 miniscule. 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.

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…

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.