Archives for posts with tag: Nationals

It’s good to be in the NL East.  Instead of falling back in a hotly contested race after losing 4 of 6 on a road trip, the Nationals remain seven games ahead of Atlanta.  The bats that were so hot in April are hitting just .243 in May, yet the team still stands atop the majors in runs scored.  The bullpen resembles a poorly wrapped cigar (reliever’s ERA ranks 29th in the majors), yet the Nationals own the fourth best record and fifth best run differential in the game.  Sometimes hiccups are uncomfortable…but right now they aren’t deadly.

Concerns for Starters- four of the top five pitches per start in the NL belong to Nationals pitchers:  Tanner Roark is tops with Max Scherzer ranking second; Gio Gonzalzez is fourth while Stephen Strasburg is fifth.  Thank Jon Lester for breaking up the quartet.  If Koda Glover can keep up his consistency (four earned runs allowed in 13 innings over 15 appearances) and stay healthy (he’s already done a stint on the DL due to his hip)?  If he can make the ninth inning safe, that allows a lot of flexibility for manager Dusty Baker.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy hit .400 with 3 homers while leading the team in runs scored and RBI.  Stephen Strasburg went 2-0 with 14 strikeouts over 13.2 innings.  His 11-K performance against Atlanta not only ended a four game losing streak, but was his highest total since May 24th of last year.  Koda Glover as mentioned is closing well at the moment (one save over two games, allowing three hits over 2.1 innings).

Last Week’s Humbled- Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper and Trea Turner each hit under .200 for the week.  Tanner Roark allowed 7 runs over 5 innings in his lone start.  The team also made five errors over its three game series with the Pirates.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats host San Diego…with Stephen Strasburg facing his former hometown team.  Stras is coming off his best performance in almost one calendar year, and even though they no longer play the Rick Astley-inspired “fan behavior” video on Fridays, it’s cool to remember those times.

Game to Miss- Sunday the starter is “TBA”.  The opponent is the Padres.  It’s a 1:35 start (when it might be warm outside).  And it being Memorial Day Weekend, the pools are open and “The Dirty Dozen” is being broadcast somewhere on cable.  Cook up the hot dogs…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Apologies for getting the weekly feature underway two weeks later than normal.  Who’s ready for a semi-informative and occasionally amusing look at the Nats from a guy who is at the ballpark more often than not?

The 7-5 start has given fans plenty of thrills (Daniel Murphy picking up from where he left off in 2016), chills (Bryce Harper screeching home from first on a double in Friday’s win over Philadelphia) and spills (a leaky bullpen that’s less than ideal). Welcome to the 162-step marathon that involves plenty of missteps in every direction.

Causes for Confidence- an offense that leads the majors in OPS, ranks second in batting average and seventh in runs scored.  The addition of Matt Wieters extends the lineup as many thought it would…and even with Wilmer Difo still finding his bat this team has the potential to bring buckets of runs to the table.

Causes for Concern- the bullpen ranks 25th in ERA and has the fifth most blown saves (3) in the early season.  There’s the thinking that this is just an early hiccup…while the other school of thought labels the subpar start as the beginning of a season-long problem.

Dissecting the Division- it’s never too early to freak out about the rest of the NL East.  The Nats are tied for first with Miami and the New York Mets are one-half game behind the leaders.  Two weeks into the season, the club owns the third best run differential (-2) as a 17-3 loss to Philadelphia will cook the numbers a little bit.  Nobody has cause to panic in April–unless you’re 2-10 Toronto.

Meanwhile in the Other East- how about those plucky Orioles?  Despite not having Fort Knox at their disposal like the Yankees and Red Sox, Buck Showalter’s team owns a half-game lead in the division with the best record in the bigs.  Even without Chris Tillman, the Birds are getting it done (although the pitching staff allows the second-highest batting average in the majors).  Now Zach Britton’s on the disabled list…and they still take three of four from the Blue Jays.  Break out the Old Bay…

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .391 with 2 HR and 8 RBI…and scored the game-winning run Friday night against the Phillies before smacking a walk-off homer Sunday.  This is the Bryce of 2015 that was a registered force of nature.  Chris Heisey makes the most of his opportunities, consistently delivering productive at-bats.  Gio Gonzalez tossed 14 and a third innings over two starts, posting an ERA of 1.88.  Shawn Kelley posted two wins in relief, striking out four over three and a third innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- Wilmer Difo is NOT Trea Turner.  Nobody expected the infielder to light up the league with the Nats’ leadoff man on the DL…but hitting .190 with six strikeouts and no walks is far from ideal.  Anthony Rendon hit .240 last week with four strikeouts…hopefully his RBI double last Friday is the start of a turnaround.   Joe Blanton pitched in three games and allowed a home run in each.

Game to Watch- Friday the defending NL East champs face the 2015 division winners for the first time this year.  Tanner Roark (2-0, 3.50 ERA) has a 12-to-2 strikeout to walk ratio and will pitch against a Jacob deGrom who’s coming off a 13-strikeout performance.

Game to Miss- Wednesday the novelty of the Braves’ new ballpark will be worn off…as no doubt Atlanta fans will be clamoring for a new venue.  It’s not Joe Ross’ fault he’s making his 2017 debut the same night the Capitals visit Toronto and the Wizards host Atlanta.  I’ll be curious to see how he fares, but one will be rocking a different red that night.

PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–APRIL 2016

At first glance, the Nationals outfield in 2016 should be one of their strengths.  You’re led into that sense of security seeing Bryce Harper in right field everyday.  As long as he doesn’t injure a hamstring or get hit by lightning, the reigning National League MVP is the foundation this outfield and batting order will be built upon.  And even with a lightning strike, Harper would probably be able to still play 3 to 4 days a week.  After that?  A group of players that could potentially deliver or disappoint.  The difference betwwen delivery and disappointment could very well determine the Nats 2016 destiny.

To say left field was a disappointment last year would be an understatment:  the position ranked 24th in the Majors in OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage) after being in the middle of the pack the previous season.  Even Danny Espinosa and Ryan Zimmerman had their turns.  Jayson Werth’s transition from across the outfield was much more difficult than originally anticipated–and can you blame him?  Werth played 80% of his games in the field during his career in right…and shoulder surgery prevented him from getting used to playing left field in spring training last March.  Werth’s production at the plate did not justify his fielding issues: Werth’s batting average, on base percentage and slugging were his lowest this decade.

At age 37, does Werth have what it takes to produce at the level major league teams need from that position?  He’s hit more than 20 homers just once since coming to DC as a free agent, and even hitting sixth he’ll be expected to produce something.  If he does, then we simply move along to more pressing matters.  If not, there’s a situation to deal with.

The viable option is on the roster and in the form of Michael A. Taylor.  He actually played more games (96 to 38) in center field than left last season…and this spring the 25-year old has been on fire.  Granted, it’s only March-but Taylor hit .455 with 4 HR and 15 RBI over 17 Grapefruit League games.  He’s a much better defensive option in left field…and you could actually make the case for Taylor starting in center over Ben Revere.  Can he limit his strikeouts (158 last year, 30.9% of plate appearances) this year?  Taylor already appears to be the smart choice for late-inning defensive substitutions.  If he continues his hot spring into April Taylor may force his way into more at-bats, and not just as a sporadic fill-in.

So…if Taylor remains on a tear, what do you do with Werth?  There’s the matter of the 21+ million dollars he’s making this year and next…and the fact that he is a clubhouse leader.  How can you justify cutting the second largest checks on the team for the next two seasons to a part-time player?  And how can you be a clubhouse leader when you’re only playing once or twice a week?  Do you have him learn first base one year after things went so well in the transition to left?

There’s also the matter of Ben Revere settling in at centerfield.  He’s hit leadoff all spring training…hitting .368 but with no walks (yes, it’s only March…but no walks in 14 games?)Revere’s previously led the National League in hits (184 in 2014) and even though this strikeout to walk ratio last year was less than ideal (32/64), Revere has the necessary motor (44 steals per 162 games played at an 80% success rate) managers like Dusty Baker prefer.  It’s also true looking at different defensive numbers (BIS defensive runs saved, total fielding runs above average) that Revere is better is left.  His best defensive numbers are actually in right…but I think the Nats are set there.  Unless lightning strikes…