Archives for posts with tag: Nationals

The Nationals entered September knowing they were going to play 24 of 28 games against teams with winning records, and they also knew the centerpiece of the season’s final month would involve 13 straight games against division leaders. The team is 6-8 so far this month, and while they’ve lost three of four series they’ve yet to be swept.  Last week’s 3-3 mark kept the club in the lead for the NL’s first Wild Card, although the 0-4 mark in September series openers reminds one of the first two months when the team was 2-14 in such games.  While the NL East is but a pipe dream, the Nats are still very much in the driver’s seat of the playoff race.

Meanwhile, Nationals Manager Davey Martinez left Sunday’s win over Atlanta with chest pains and was taken to a hospital.  He underwent a cardiac catheterization and will undergo more tests in the hospital.  General Manager Mike Rizzo said there is no timetable for his return, putting the team in the hands of bench coach Chip Hale for the time being.  Thoughts are with the skipper as he recovers.  

Digesting the Division- Atlanta (93-58) didn’t clinch in DC, and we’ll take that as a victory.  They did take 5 of 7 between the two teams this month and slice their magic number to four.  The Braves also own a nine game lead for the second best record in the National League, meaning their magic number to clinch home-field for the NLDS is also four.  Can they catch the Dodgers?  They trail the NL West champs by four games at this time.

The Wild, Wild Race- the Nats own a game and a half lead over the Chicago Cubs for home field.  Nationals play 8 of their remaining 14 games at home and 11 against winning clubs.  The Cubs lead Milwaukee by one game for the final playoff spot, and hte Brewers play their final 13 games of the season against sub-.500 squads.  The Mets (four games behind the Cubs) also have an advantageous schedule with 10 of 13 remaing games against losing clubs.  Philadelphia and Arizona are window dressing at this time.

O’s Woes- the Birds reach the 100-loss plateau for the second straight season, the first time that’s happened since the franchise moved to Baltimore.  Right now they trail Detroit in the race for the first overall pick in next year’s draft.  I hope they know what they’re doing from a tank standpoint.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted .211 with a homer.  The former face of the franchise is now hitting .253 with 31 HR and a career-high 102 RBI. He’s also four strikeouts shy of matching his career high of 169.

Last Week’s Heroes- Howie Kendrick batted 8-for-16 with a team-high 4 RBI while Victor Robles hit .350.  Anibal Sanchez posted two solid starts, allowing just a pair of earned runs over 14 innings. Stephen Strasburg struck out 7 over 6 frames to post his 17th win of the year.  Sean Doolittle, Javy Guerra and Daniel Hudson posted scoreless weeks out of the bullpen.

Last Week’s Humbled- Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, Eric Fedde, and Aaron Barrett were each touched up on their respective ways to ERA’s of 10+.  Trea Turner hit .167, Asdrubal Cabrera went 2-for-14 while Yan Gomes batted 2-for-17.

Game to Watch- Monday Stephen Strasburg pitches the series opener against the Cardinals, who counter with 15-game winner Dakota Hudson.  If this team is going to reverse its recent slide, the series opener is a great way to start.

Game to Miss- Friday the Nats meet Miami and start Austin Voth against fellow rookie Robert Dugger. After 13 straight games against division leaders, it’s okay to take this one off.

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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!

The Nationals reach Labor Day four and a half games in front of the NL Wildcard pack thanks to their sweep of Miami.  Friday’s walk-off win turned into Saturday’s shutout and wrapped up with Sunday’s slugfest.  That’s the good news; the bad news is that the Nats face the toughest schedule over the final month of the regular season with 24 of their 27 games coming against teams with winning records as of today.  Bring it on…

Digesting the Division- will Atlanta ever lose again?  The Braves won four of six last week to see their NL East lead remain at five and a half games.  They have their work cut out for them in September, as the defending division champs play seven games against the Nationals, seven against Philadelphia and three against the New York Mets.  Speaking of the Phillies and Mets, those two teams are now double digits off the pace.  Miami?  The Marlins own a tragic number of six to clinch last place.  Get used to it.

The Wild, Wild Card Race- as mentioned the Nats play 89% of their remaining schedule against clubs with winning records.  How about the other contenders?  The Chicago Cubs (73-63, 4-2 last week) play 11 of their remaining 26 games against winning clubs, most notably seven against fellow NL Central contenders Milwaukee and St. Louis.  Philadelphia (70-65, 3-3) play 20 of 27 against winning teams, with 15 coming against the East Division trio of Atlanta, the Nationals and Mets.  Milwaukee (70-66, 3-3) may get a reprieve with 17 of their final 26 games coming against losing ballclubs while Arizona (70-67, 5-1) may stay hot thanks to a finishing stretch of 18 September games against sub-.500 foes.  The Mets (69-67, 2-4) have an uphill battle with 16 of their remaining 26 games against winning foes.

Harper’s Weekly- proud new papa Bryce hit .308 with 2 homers and 5 RBI, increasing his season totals to .257, 29 and 97.  He’s on pace to reach career highs in doubles and RBI, as well as in strikeouts (Harper’s 15 shy of last year’s 169 whiffs).  Bryce and the Phillies play five games over four days in DC later this month.

O’s Woes- the Birds drop two of three in Kansas City to fall 46 games under .500.  While they’ll cruise past (as best as a last place team can cruise past) last year’s 47-win total, the Orioles need to finish 18-8 in order to avoid a 100-loss campaign.  Yes, I wrote that in all seriousness.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .563 with 3 homers and 7 RBI while Juan Soto batted .474 with 9 RBI.  Stephen Strasburg won his career-high 16th of the season by tossing eight scoreless innings.  And Sean Doolittle is back.

Last Week’s Humbled- Tanner Rainey and Daniel Hudson had issues on the mound. Trea Tuner hit .182 while Gerardo Parra, Baby Shark and all, went 1 for 18 at the plate.

Game to Watch- Tuesday evening Max Scherzer makes his third start since coming off of the injured list while the Mets pitch Jacob deGrom.

Game to Miss- Sunday Scherzer starts against Atlanta, but at 1:20 p.m. EDT I think I’ll be watching the regular season return of the NFL.

Well, that was one heck of a weekend at Wrigley.  The Nationals move four games in front of the Chicago Cubs thanks to their sweep, and the hottest team in baseball remains on track to extend its year beyond September.  But despite the 26-15 mark since the All Star Break, there are clouds off in the distance once one reaches Labor Day. As in after September 1, the Nats will play just three games against clubs with losing records.  And the bullpen still springs leaks at inopportune times.  Brace yourselves for the ride ahead, while basking in what has turned out to be one awesome August (16-6 mark is the best in the NL).

Dissecting the Division- somehow the Nats haven’t been able to make a dent in Atlanta’s NL East lead.   Before falling to Colorado in a make-up game Monday the Braves had won eight straight.  With seven games remaining against the leaders over the final month of the season, it’s not over yet.  Philadelphia’s five games behind the Nats and 11 behind the Braves.  The New York Mets?  A half game behind the Phillies thanks to their latest three game losing streak. Miami at 47-82 has an elimination number of one.

The Wild, Wild Card- the Nats lead the Chicago Cubs by four games, and after the Cubs there are five teams within five games of the final playoff spot in the NL.  Be ready next week for a schedule breakdown.

Harper’s Weekly- Congratulations to the former National as he enjoys his paternity leave.  All the best to Bryce’s roster addition, and even though he’s a foe for the time being in Nats Nation, one wishes the best for the Harpers.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon took NL Player of the Week honors after hitting .483 with 2 homers and 7 RBI, upping his total to 29 and 104-or on pace to hit 37 with 132.  Someone should sign him.  Howie Kendrick hit .500 while Asdrubal Cabrera notched 11 RBI and Juan Soto scored 13 runs.  Anibal Sanchez tossed 8.1 innings of one-hit ball while Patrick Corbin threw 8 scoreless innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- what would a Nationals week be without a bullpen blowout?  Fernando Rodney blew a save Sunday against the Cubs, Wander Suero posted an ERA of 10.13 and Matt Grace’s ERA was 13.50.  Brian Dozier hit 1-for-14 while Kurt Suzuki batted 3-for-17.

Game to Watch- Wednesday Max Scherzer pitches against Asher Wojciechowski.  Let’s see how Max fares in his second start since coming off of the Injured List.

Game to Miss– Saturday Joe Ross pitches against last-place Miami. College Football officially kicks off its season (pay no attention to last week’s misguided matchup between Miami and Florida) this week and Saturday will feel like one is returning home to see an old friend. The Marlins will understand.

MLB’s Trading Deadline saw the Nationals make multiple moves-each for a bullpen bandage (as opposed to previous bandaids or napkins like Javy Guerra and Dan Jennings).  Dan Hudson, Roenis Elias and Hunter Strickland (yes, that guy) come to DC to patch up the worst bullpen in the big leagues.  And while the Nats still need to get solid starting pitching plus continue to produce on offense to make the middle relievers worthwhile pickups, it’s a step in the right direction even in the middle of a week where the team dropped four of six to now lose three straight series.

Digesting the Division- Atlanta (66-47) went 4-3 last week with a huge road series win at the Nationals.  While the Braves aren’t running away with the NL East (they’re 12-10 since the All Star break), they aren’t imploding either (6-4 against division foes since the hiatus).  Philadelphia’s 3-3 week moves Bryce Harper’s Bunch into a second-place tie with the Nats, just in time to visit fellow Wildcard contenders Arizona and San Francisco.  The New York Mets (55-56) had the best week in the division at 5-1, and their trade for Marcus Stroman keeps them in the conversation for some time.  Miami’s irrelevance was underscored at the deadline as Derek Jeter spent all of 2018 getting rid of their servicable players.  Dark days, indeed.

Wild Wildcard Race-  three and a half games separate seven teams competing for two playoff spots.  While St. Louis and Milwaukee are also involved in the NL Central race with the Chicago Cubs, it’s Wildcard or bust for Arizona and San Francisco (barring a collapse of epic proportions by the Los Angeles Dodgers).  While right now it’s the Cardinals followed by the Nats and Phillies, expect weekly and even daily changes to the pecking order over the final 50 games of the season.

O’s Woes- the Birds are 38-73 after a 3-3 week that has them now on pace to win 55 games; while a sub-100 loss campaign remains a possibility they’d have to finish 25-26 to get there.  This week’s bright spot in the Charm City is Trey Mancini, who’s already reached a career high with 26 home runs and is on pace to pass his career mark of 78 RBI while counting down the days to when he’ll eventually sign years from now as a free agent with Atlanta.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted .111 as his average drops to .248.  He’s still on pace to hit 28 homers and 107 RBI while the free-swinger remains on track to strike out 190 times.  He also has seven weeks to prepare for a potential showdown with Hunter Strickland, who hit Harper in the hip on Memorial Day 2017 in retaliation for two homers hit in the 2014 playoffs.  What are the odds they face one another once in the four-game September series?

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .304 with a pair of homers and 9 RBI (SIGN HIM IMMEDIATELY) while Howie Kendrick went 5-for-10 at the plate and Juan Soto belted 3 home runs.  Joe Ross (!?!) one week after getting roasted by the Los Angeles Dodgers at home tossed 5.1 scoreless innings at Arizona (an infield single ruining the no-hit bid), while Tony Sipp, Daniel Hudson and Roenis Elias were all sharp out of the bullpen.

Last Week’s Humbled– after being named July’s NL pitcher of the month, Stephen Strasburg hiccuped by allowing nine earned runs over 4.2 innings against the Diamondbacks. Patrick Corbin had a less than ideal start in the rubber game Sunday. Anibal Sanchez allowed four runs over five innings against Atlanta.  And Roenis Elias suffered a strained hamstring running out a grounder.  At the plate, Yan Gomes batted .091 while Victor Robles hit .063.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats face the New York Mets with Stephen Strasburg attempting to regain his July groove (5-0, 44 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.14) against the Mets deadline-week pickup Marcus Stroman (6-11 but with a 3.07 ERA this year).  Will the Nationals still be in the Wildcard lead?

Game to Miss- Wednesday the team wraps up its series with San Francisco, who starts “Shaun Anderson”. Not to be confused with former Navy scoring machine “Sean Anderson” or current WTOP PM Drive Anchor “Shawn Anderson”.  I’m not ready to have multiple worlds collide…even on a weekday afternoon.

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.