Archives for posts with tag: MLB

Home is supposed to be where the heart is…not seven losses in ten games.  Not the haven of bad baserunning and sloppy defense.  And certainly not the incubator of an offense that can’t seem to get out of its own way.  When the homestand began, the 4-2 Nats were looking forward to using their 10-game set on South Capitol Street as a springboard.  Instead, they leave for a suddenly crucial nine-game journey that involves a west coast swing but starts at the NL East-leading New York Mets.  Traditionally the west coast trip sneaks up on you in August at the most crucial time and often makes or breaks a season.  Could that be the case-gulp-in April?  Welcome to another interesting week in review… 

Break up the Mets!- while we know that a 12-2 start is not sustainable through a 162 game schedule, a division lead is still a division lead.  Pitching has been the difference for the Mets- who lead the majors with a 2.58 team ERA- while Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce have delivered at the plate.  In previous seasons the injury bug didn’t just bite the Mets–the bug chewed and spit out this team.  It’s safe to say a healthy Mets team aren’t just going to provide the Nats with a challenge–but if the Mets take two or even sweep this week, the Nats will go from being the hunted to the hunters.

O’s Woes- at least the Nats are their neighbors to the north.  The Orioles are 5-11 (not too good) and have had issues hitting (29th ranked batting average in the bigs) and pitching (worst opponent’s batting average in MLB).  Chris Tillman, Alex Cobb, Kevin Gausman and Mike Wright Jr. each own ERA’s over six.  Thank goodness Tampa Bay is worse.

Last Week’s Heroes-  Max Scherzer notched 21 strikeouts while winning both of his starts…notching more hits at the plate (2) than walks issued from the mound (1).  Max also stole a base.  Tanner Roark scored a run in his lone start while allowing 3 hits over 6 innings Friday in a hard-luck loss.  Matt Wieters came off the DL with a bang…belting a pair of home runs against the Rockies.  Bryce Harper made the most of the limited pitches he saw to score a team-high five runs.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Ryan Zimmerman’s April issues (.136 battaing average with 6 strikeouts) continue while Trea Turner, Matt Adams, Moises Sierra and Brian Goodwin also hit under .200 for the week.  Shawn Kelley gave up a pair of homers while Sean Doolittle coughed up a ninth inning blast to Ian Desmond in the series finale.

Game to Watch- Saturday Stephen Strasburg pitches against Clayton Kershaw at Chavez Ravine.  This is the dream matchup when both are on their game. The fact that it’s on a Saturday makes the 9:10 first pitch more than workable.

Game to Miss- Tuesday the Capitals try to climb out of a 2-0 series crater against Columbus while the Wizards attempt to bounce back from their Game One loss at Toronto.  Sorry, Gio Gonzalez as you pitch against the New York Mets.  Postseason crises trump regular season issues more often than not.

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PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING AS PART OF A SERIES ON WTOP.COM–

Start spreading the news.  Bryce Harper’s leaving next winter for New York, where he’ll sign as a free agent and achieve his childhood dream of playing for the Yankees.  Of course the Nationals could re-sign him for $500 million dollars over ten years with Teddy Roosevelt Island thrown in as a signing bonus, but it won’t happen for the five-time All Star and 2015 MVP.

Why New York?  Why the Yankees?  It’s been a badly kept secret that Bryce Harper grew up idolizing Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle–to the point where he wore the number 7 when playing youth baseball.  When #7 wasn’t available one year, he wore 16 (1+6).  He now wears 34–do the math.  Even in today’s era of 30 Major League teams, the world of baseball to a point revolves around the Bronx and the new house next to The House That Ruth Built.  Harper appreciates the game’s history and to play every day for the sport’s signature franchise (sorry, Dodgers and Cardinals fans) wouldn’t just be the cherry on top to an already sweet career, but a ridiculously awesome sundae.

What also makes the Yanks a potential landing spot as opposed to the Cubs or simply staying in DC is the fact that they play in the American League.  Harper’s MVP season is the only one in his career where he’s played 150 or more games.  Having the designated hitter option when he might be nicked up or dealing with a tight hamstring would be a nice bonus.  It’s also 314 feet down the line from home plate to the right-field foul pole at Yankee Stadium…as opposed to 335 at Nationals Park.

Could he fit in?  USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported last December that Harper’s agent Scott Boras would be seeking a contract in the neighborhood of ten years in length with the price tag of $400 million dollars-at a minimum.  Who has money?  Naturally, the Yankees are in the #1 media market in the nation–but only have the 7th-highest payroll entering 2018, according to spotrac.com.  After spending freely on big-name players during the latter half of Derek Jeter’s career when it appeared they were only a player or two away, the Yankees tightened their belts this decade and focused on drafting as well as player development.  That focus left the franchise with a talented nucleus–including a pair of right-handed hitters (Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez) who can bat before and after Harper.  Both players are still in their pre-arbitration timetable:  Judge is 25 and fresh off of a 52-home run season while Sanchez turns 25 over the weekend and hit 33 homers in his first full season as a regular.  Put Bryce in that mix and you have a 3-4-5 combination only fantasy teams dream about.  Current leftfielder Brett Gardner is 34 and would be entering a team-option year in 2019.  Whether Harper or Judge plays left or right, the Yanks would be set on the corners for some time.

The New York Yankees also potentially represent stability for a free agent looking at the landscape:  whoever becomes their new manager will be the team’s third skipper since 1995.  Dave Martinez will be the fourth manager (following Davey Johnson, Matt Williams and Dusty Baker) Harper will have played for as he enters his sixth season in the bigs.  Perhaps paying top dollar for a manager has its dividends after all.

FOR OTHER POTENTIAL HARPER DESTINATIONS, GO TO THE SPORTS PAGE AT WTOP.COM. 

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.

Forgive us if we’re a little giddy here.  It’s one thing to be a one-hit wonder…another to have “Get off of My Cloud” hit #1 in the US or “From Me To You” top the UK charts.  While the Nats had previously won NL East crowns in 2012 and 2014, they were unable to repeat the feat–sometimes embarrassing themselves in the process (Papelbon, anyone?).  Not the case this year, where General Manager Mike Rizzo made the necessary offseason (Adam Eaton) and in-season (the bullpen trio) moves to give Manager Dusty Baker the best club possible.  Baker’s firm but not overbearing hand on the wheel steered the club through injury-ravaged seas (they’ve used 50+ players this year).  And the players who came up short in defending previous titles had career-defining seasons (Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon & Gio Gonzalez specifically).  Instead of a winter of what-if, there are postseason possibilites.  And I no longer mention the magic number in this space.  That should be reason enough to celebrate.

From Magic to Tragic- while Philadelphia is already out of Wild Card contention, the other three NL East teams still have hopes.  Miami’s fall from orbit (12 losses in 14 games, including 0-7 against the Nats) drops the Marlins ten games behind Colorado for the final playoff spot in the National League.  Their “Tragic Number” is now ten.  Atlanta’s elimination number is seven while the Mets need a combination of five losses/Rockies wins to call it a year.  Enjoy at your own risk.

O’s Woes- somehow after getting swept by AL Central leading Cleveland the Birds remain on the fringe of the Wild Card, three games behind Minnesota.  Doesn’t anyone want this playoff berth?  The Twins, Angels and Rangers are a combined 14-16 over their last 30 combined games.  Twelve of the O’s remaining 19 games are on the road…but they only play seven games against teams with winning records.  And three of those are at home against Boston, a team that might lead the division but one Manager Buck Showalter’s crew is 10-6 against.

Playoff Possibilities- if the season ended today, the Nats would own the #2 seed in the NL and would host the Chicago Cubs in the first round.  The Los Angeles Dodgers would get the winner of the Wild Card game between Arizona and Colorado.  American League pairings would have top seed Cleveland host the Wild Card winner (New York Yankees or Minnesota) while Boston would visit Houston in the other series.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy hit .450 while Trea Turner tallied seven runs and six RBI, but Michael A. Taylor earned his middle initial by batting .409 with three homers and nine RBI.  Did we mention his inside-the-park grand slam?  Did we forget his out of this world defense that saved a home run Thursday and cut down a runner at the plate Friday?  For today I’m calling him Michael A+ Taylor.  Stephen Strasburg won both of his starts while posting an 18 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Last Week’s Humbled- relievers Shawn Kelley and Oliver Perez are not making the best case to be included on the postseason roster…as both pitched Friday but were unable to record an out while allowing three-run homers.  The Nats also had the gall to clinch the division on the day the Redskins opened their season.  How dare the perennial postseason contenders win their fourth title in six years while the football team loses its fifth straight opener!  Talk about rubbing it in…

Game to Watch- the NL West leading Los Angeles Dodgers come to town this weekend, and Friday they send Alex Wood (14-3, 2.81 ERA) to the hill against Edwin Jackson.  Memories of last year’s hard-fought NLDS loss to LA and the division clinched has Friday not arriving soon enough.

Game to Miss-  I’m sorry, Gio Gonzalez.  You are having your best season since the 21-win campaign and your ERA is under two since the All Star Break.  But your start Tuesday against Atlanta is the same night that the Washington Mystics meet Minnesota.  WNBA fever takes over for at least one evening…as the upstart squad led by Maryland great Kristi Toliver and Elena Della Donne face last year’s runners-up and this year’s top regular season team.  It’s not the Kastles in World Team Tennis, but it’s close.

 

Everybody gets hurt in baseball.  But not all injuries are created equally.  If the Nats were 5-15 when Adam Eaton went down with the knee injury or if the offseason acquisition were hitting .143 at the time, there’d be no continual jab to the ribs every time one saw Brian Goodwin leading off.  If Jayson Werth hadn’t shown signs of life last year when moved to the #2 spot in the order, his absence over the last month would just de liver shrugs.  If Trea Turner hadn’t been setting the basepaths on fire the month he got hurt (22 of his 35 stolen bases came in June) it would be just another second-year player missing time.  If this were the first time we’ve seen concern over Stephen Strasburg, we’d treat his shortened start with the “isolated incident” mindset.  Instead, this is a team with October dreams where every bump and bruise has an impact not necessarily now but in an NLDS this team has never won.  You think these injuries hurt now?

Digesting the Division- so despite all of the issues, injuries and ineffectiveness the Nats have won 8 of 10 to extend their lead over Atlanta to a dozen games.  Do we dare start the magic number count?  It’s 53 for those scoring at home.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .476 while scoring 7 runs and driving in 6…even with plans B and C hitting ahead of him in the lineup.  Adam Lind made the most of his limited time, notching 5 hits in 9 at-bats.  Edwin Jackson turned back the clock to 2012 by scattering 3 hits over 7 innings in his 2017 debut with the team. Tanner Roark bounced back from a rough patch by striking out 11 over 7 innings in a win.  Relievers Matt Albers and Ryan Madson combined to toss 5 and a third scoreless innings over 5 games.

Last Week’s Humbled- reserves Chris Heisey, Ryan Raburn and Stephen Drew combined to tally 4 hits in 35 at-bats.  Max Scherzer allowed 3 homers in the first inning against the very team that drafted him in 2006 (Arizona) while Gio Gonzalez had a rough outing as well.  Joe Blanton’s 11.57 ERA for the week over four outings has the strange sense of deja vu.

Game to Watch- Wildcard leading Colorado comes to DC this week…giving fans three chances to see the Rockies.  Antonio Senzatela (10-3 but with an ERA over 4) starts the series finale Sunday.  Will we get the good Gio, the bad Gonzalez or simply the snakebitten one?

Game to Miss- originally the series with Milwaukee was going to be a “duel of division leaders”. Now it’s a matchup against a team that trails the Cubs by percentage points in the NL Central.  The Thursday finale sends Tanner Roark to the hill at 12:05 PM.  I’m all for getaway days…but 12:05 in July is more like a sweat-away day.

Out of the pool, kids!  The midsummer hiatus has the Nats atop the NL East with plenty of causes for confidence and concern.  By splitting their series with Atlanta, Bryce Harper and company enter the hiatus nine and a half games ahead of the pack.  They’ve been playing tag with the “16 games over .500 mark” since June 5th…and likely have their fourth busy October in six years on the horizon.  Who wants to trade a reliever?

Dissecting the Division- the Nats lead Atlanta by nine and a half games…while Miami and the New York Mets are both double digits off the pace and Philadelphia owns the worst record in the majors.  All four teams bring negative run differentials to the table…and while the Phillies (29th in scoring and 21st in ERA) seem incapable of a second-half run (they’d need to finish 60-15 to catch a Nats team going .500 the rest of the way) it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see the Braves, Mets or Marlins making a move.  Stop laughing.   Atlanta now has Freddie Freeman back in the lineup;  he’ll boost an offense ranking 23rd in slugging while a rotation that has the fifth most quality starts in the majors (Nats are #1) becomes all the more important in the dog days of summer.  The Marlins boast the 4th best batting average in MLB while their pitchers allow the 9th lowest batting average in the bigs.  Unfortunately Miami’s rotation is one of the worst in the bigs (fewest quality starts).  The Mets?  They can’t stop anybody from scoring (28th in ERA, 27th in batting average and 21st in quality starts).  Barring a major collapse by the Nats, the NL East is theirs whether they want it or not.

O’s Woes- the Birds enter the break winners of two straight but still four games under .500.  But they own the fifth worst run differential in the majors and have the worst ERA in the bigs.  How soon will General Manager Dan Duquette enter “sell” mode?  July 31st is less than three weeks away.

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilmer Difo hit .571 with an OPS OF 1.310…while Daniel Murphy hit .435 with 9 RBI.  Joe Blanton and Blake Treinen pitched in a combined seven games and did not allow a run.  Who are those guys?

Last Week’s Humbled- Adam Lind hit .083 while catchers Matt Wieters and Jose Lobaton combined to bat 3-for-19.  Stephen Strasburg had a short outing against Atlanta.  Relievers Oliver Perez and Sammy Solis both posted double-digit ERAs.  Now that’s the bullpen I’ve grown accustomed to…

Game to Watch-  Friday the Nats return from the break at Cincinnati. Who’s ready for the ramping up to the trade deadline?

Game to Miss- Sunday they wrap up their series with the Reds.  I’ll be watching Wimbledon. 

 

 

 

The Nationals came up short in attempting to sweep the New York Mets Sunday.  But they still departed Citi Field with a double-digit lead in the NL East…and won’t face a team that currently has a winning record until after the All Star Break.  Not that home-field advantage is worth the paper it’s printed on (as we’ve learned in 2012, 2014 and 2016), but the team has a great opportunity to make a run at the NL West trio (more on them shortly).

Dissecting the Division- what made the 3-1 weekend on the road against the Mets even more special was that in previous years these were weekends that underachieving Nats teams found ways to go 1-3 or even 0-4.  And the Mets were red-hot with five wins in six games entering the four game set.  Instead of giving their NL East foes hope, Manager Dusty Baker’s team proved over 36 innings that they were the better bunch.  Now the Mets are tied with Atlanta for second place, with Miami half a game back in third.  Philadelphia?  When does 2019 begin?

The Wild, Wild, West- it’s an odd-numbered year, so forget about San Francisco for the moment.  The NL West is giving fans the best race for their money with three of the top five teams in baseball residing in that division.  Colorado, Arizona and the Los Angeles Dodgers are separated by one game and all three could make the postseason as the next Wildcard contender is nine games behind LA (it’s the Cubs, and it’s a long season, but still…).  The Rockies own the best offense of the trio (tied for first in the bigs in runs scored and second in batting average) while the Diamondbacks boast the most consistent pitching (second in team ERA, ninth in quality starts and fifth in bullpen ERA).  LA has the weakest rotation of the three (24th in the majors in quality starts) and is getting the most out of its offense at this time (sixth in runs score despite ranking 19th in batting average and 17th in home runs).  Brace yourself for plenty of late nights as the three jockey for the division, home field and wildcards.

Last Week’s Heroes- Adam Lind hit .462 over five games while providing depth off the bench.  Daniel Murphy batted .429 while scoring 6 runs and driving in 5.  Max Scherzer strikes out 10 over 8 innings in his lone start while reliever Enny Romero (1 save, 2 holds, 5 strikeouts and no earned runs in 4 innings over 3 games) provided some necessary relief.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman has enjoyed one incredible comeback season, ranking among the league leaders in all three triple crown categories.  Thus hitting .208 will be viewed as a minor hiccup.  Trea Turner struck out 6 times while walking just once.  Tanner Roark allowed 7 runs over 5 innings in his outing of the week…and the righthander’s ERA in April was 3.64, 4.04 in May and now 6.27 in three June starts.  Joe Blanton, Trevor Gott and Matt Albers each posted ERA’s in the double-digits last week.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats return from their road trip and start Stephen Strasburg (8-2, 3.28 ERA) against Cincinnati.  The Reds pitch Bronson Arroyo.  Yes, the 40-year old former Red Sox hurler is back in the bigs for the first time since 2014 (a spring training stint with the Nats occurred in 2016).  He’s named after Charles Bronson, making every outing of the righthander’s redemption tour must-see if only to think about Deathwish and The Dirty Dozen.

Game to Miss- Monday Tanner Roark (6-4, 4.39 ERA) takes to the mound in Miami against Justin Nicolino (4.15 ERA) with “Better Call Saul” warming up in the bullpen as the AMC drama airs its season three finale.  Bob Odenkirk is always good and you’ll recognize Michael McKean (Laverne & Shirley, Spinal Tap) as Jimmy McGill’s upstanding brother with jealousy issues and more, but fans of a certain age will recall blue-blood lawyer Howard Hamlin as the former Professor Lasky from “Saved By the Bell: The College Years”.  My sneaky MVP on this show?  Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, the striving attorney who sees Odenkirk’s character’s possibilities and excesses while trying to stay on the road (literally and figuratively).  Check out all three seasons…