Archives for posts with tag: NL East

I don’t know if Joe Ross gambles at the MGM Casino in the National Harbor, but if he does I want a seat next to him at the blackjack table.  The Nationals have scored 104 runs over his ten starts this year…with Saturday’s 18-run explosion the latest incident of sitting in the right seat at the table.  Ross is off to a 4-3 start with a 5.40 ERA and although he’s bounced back from an awful April (7.47 in the season’s first month), the Nats’ number five starter continues to enjoy a charmed life.  I’m surprised the National League hasn’t tried to change dealers or cards, or heaven forbid bring William H. Macy over to sit on Joe’s shoulder.  As the Nats own a commanding NL Central lead, one of the fun features of the long summer ahead will be watching Ross split aces and eights as well as double down when the dealer shows 5.  Deal me in…

Dissecting the Division- surging Atlanta moves within nine games of the Nats, thanks to an offense that ranks 5th in the Major Leagues in hitting.  Problem is, the Braves pitching is in the bottom third of the big leagues in most major categories and summers in Atlanta aren’t kind to porous pitching.

O’s Woes- at least they stopped allowing 5 runs in a game (after 20 such games).  And at least the Birds took two of three from AL East foe Tampa Bay (you can call them Rays, but ya doesn’t have to call them consistent).  The fact that the Orioles remain on the fringe of contention despite owning the fifth worst run differential in the Major Leagues is a testament to Manager Buck Showalter’s bunch being able to do the little things right when the opportunity arises.  Unfortunately, when you allow 6 runs in the first inning a lot of the little things go out the window.

Last Week’s Heroes- Michael A. Taylor homered three times and Daniel Murphy drove in eight runs, but the emergence of Brian Goodwin as a capable bat in leftfield and in the #2 spot of the lineup was huge.  With Jayson Werth out…the order can ill afford a dead spot before the likes of Harper, Zimmerman and Murphy.  When Werth returns, perhaps we’ll get a chance to see Goodwin stay in the lineup (filling in for Taylor as well in center) against select righties.  Gio Gonzalez struck out eight over seven innings in his lone start of the week…and is off to his best season since 2012 when he won 21 games.

Last Week’s Humbled- catchers Matt Wieters and Jose Lobaton combined to hit 3-for-23 with 7 strikeouts.  The usual rock-solid rotation hit a couple of bumps:  Stephen Strasburg wilted in the heat (5 runs allowed on 8 hits over 5 innings) while Tanner Roark allowed 12 runs over 8.2 innings in his 2 starts.  Max Scherzer had the most humbling outing:  within 5 outs of a no-hitter Scherzer allowed a single off of his glove before an error at first allowed the inning to survive.  A hit batter, a wild pitch and another single turned Max from making history to suffering a loss.

Game to Watch- Tuesday Max Scherzer returns to the mound to face the Cubs and duel with Jake Arrieta (7-5, 4.36 ERA).  Despite his defeat last Thursday in Miami, Max is having special outings every time he steps on the field.  Despite a 2-1 mark this month, Arrieta has not won consecutive starts since April.  The June heat may provide a couple more assists.

Game to Miss- Friday the Nats begin a series in St. Louis (Cardinals are in fourth place) and Tanner Roark pitches against Mike Leake.  Roark’s ERA this month is 8.23 as every outing is an adventure while Leake is sub-500 on the season.  Friday night in June?  Enjoy the Waterfront at Tony & Joes.

The Nationals enter the final leg of their three-city, nine-game roadtrip with five wins in six games…but it’s not the 5-1 start everybody’s focused on.  Can the bullpen turn itself around?  Was Bryce Harper trying to throw his helmet away or at Hunter Strickland?  And why didn’t the term “Malachi Crunch” return to our lexicon?

Division Discussion- once again the dust clears and the Nats own first place.  This time by ten and a half games.  Atlanta, Miami and the New York Mets are all fighting over second place while Philadelphia brings up the rear.  When do we start calculating magic numbers?

AL East Beast- meanwhile the Nats’ interleague neighbors to the north are in the middle of the toughest race in the bigs.  A seven game losing streak drops the Orioles from nipping at the New York Yankees’ heels to battling Boston for second.  The O’s are one of two MLB teams with a winning record that own a negative run differential.

One Messy Pen- the Nationals’ bullpen now ranks last in the majors in ERA (5.15)…even though they’re 11th with nine blown saves.  Sunday saw Shawn Kelley cough up a grand slam yet earn a save.  Last week on WTOP.com our digital sports editor Noah Frank dissected the relief corps in an interesting read.  This isn’t a problem yet…but this will always be there until the Nats trade for Marc Melancon in late July.

Crime and Punishment- how about that beaning and brawl by the bay?  Thank goodness Hunter Strickland carried a grudge through two and a half years.  It had me thinking of who I upstaged while playing freeze-tag and hospital bombardment in the fourth grade  (John Coston, I am really sorry if I hurt your feelings).  The beaning was just the start:  as Harper raced to the mound he tossed his helmet…but was he chucking it aside or trying to hurl it at Strickland?  It had the feel of an ill-advised frisbee throw.  Add in the collision that smacked of a “Happy Days” demolition derby, catcher Buster Posey having nothing to do with any of the proceedings, and Strickland’s teammates dragging him into the dugout.  This was one fun-filled fight.  And then the suspensions were handed out:  four games (shortened to three) for Harper and six for Strickland.  Going inside the math, Harper had appeared in 90% of the Nats games and played 8+ innings in those outings…making his suspension roughly “36 innings”.  Strickland had appeared in 38% of the Giants games, and averaged .75 innings per outing.  Thus his “projected miss” over six games would be in the neighborhood of 1.96 innings.  All’s fair in love and baseball…

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman hit .440 with 3 HR and 9 RBI…while Daniel Murphy batted .500 with 1 HR and 7 RBI.  Michael A. Taylor is striking out less (5 times in 24 at bats) and Brian Goodwin hit his first career home run.  Tanner Roark won both of his starts while striking out 10 over 14.2 innings…and Max Scherzer struck out 11 while tossing a complete game five-hitter.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Joe Ross had another rough start (6 earned runs over 3 innings) but he’s slated to pitch again this Thursday.  He’s only made six starts so you could say his 7.34 ERA is just a snapshot…for now.  Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley both have seen better days out of the bullpen.  Jayson Werth before his foot injury was hitting .182.  The week Bryce Harper was hit by a pitch saw the rightfielder go hitless in 10 at bats.

Game to Watch- Wednesday the Nats wrap up their roadtrip with a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Stephen Strasburg takes his 7-1 mark (2.91 ERA) to the mound against LA’s Clayton Kershaw and his 7-2 record (2.28 ERA).  Remember the Monday night matchup we were all looking forward to last June 20th?  The one where Strasburg was scratched after lifting too much during his off-day?  We get that showdown Wednesday at 3:10.  I’ll be watching.

Game to Miss- Guess what, boys and girls at MLB scheduling?  It gets really hot here in June.  Especially during the middle of the day…like around noon.  Saturday the Nats host Texas at 12:05…and I think the pools around the beltway will have the right combination of kids and idiotic adults.  I’ll be reading “The Miniaturist” and “Shattered” this summer… getting a headstart on both with sunscreen Saturday.

 

 

 

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.

 

Well…that was one interesting month of baseball.  Make that one ridiculous week.  Or perhaps just one scintillating Sunday?  What is going on?  One can write off the Colorado air for the 15 and 16-run explosions…but 23?  And all in the same week? One month into the season the Nats boast the best bats in the bigs…and are threatening to run away with the NL East.  Which is great, because we all know how Washington teams fare when they coast their way down the stretch.

Plan B in CF- the loss of Adam Eaton to a torn ACL for the season means Michael A. Taylor takes over in centerfield and Jayson Werth likely returns to the #2 spot in the batting order.  The Nats offense really took off in 2016 when Turner and Werth settled into the one and two spots…and there’s no reason to think it won’t be a solid engine again.  But what a shame for the Nationals to lose their sparkplug in Eaton.  The 28-year old ranked second on the team in walks, runs scored and steals while boasting the third-best on-base-percentage.  His clubhouse energy was contagious…and now the Nats will have to play the final 137 games of the 2017 regular season without last winter’s major acquisition.

Early Returns from the East- after one month the Nats lead the NL East by five games…and the other four teams are all under .500.  Philadelphia’s the only other team with a winning record against the East…and they’ve just lost three in a row.  The Phillies may have Cesar Hernandez (.323 with 20 runs scored) and Jeremy Hellickson (4-0 with an ERA of 1.80), but their lineup walks the 7th fewest times and the team’s ERA ranks 21st in the majors.  Add in four games with the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs, they might not be in the best shape to face the Nats this weekend.

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman hit .500, scoring 11 runs while notching 5 homers and 13 RBI.  Zim finished April with 11 home runs and 29 RBI…after a nightmare 2016 where he was held to 15 blasts and 46 runs batted in.  Trea Turner and Matt Wieters both hit over .400;  getting production from less-offensive positions like shortstop (Turner scored 13 runs while driving in 11) and catcher (Wieters belted 3 homers) are the little things that lift an offense.  Reliever Matt Albers went 1-0 while pitching 5.1 scoreless innings over 4 games…allowing 1 just one hit.

Last Week’s Humbled- in a week where EVERYBODY HIT, Jose Lobaton batted just .091 with 3 strikeouts. Joe Blanton’s April wraps up with three appearances and 6 earned runs over 2 innings.  Joe Ross posted an ERA of 10:38 over 2 starts.

Game to Watch- Wednesday Gio Gonzalez tries to top what’s been a stellar April (3-0, 1.62 ERA) by facing a team that he hasn’t beaten since 2011. In 2016, Gio had an April ERA of 1.42 before posting a May ERA of 5.23.  Arizona counters with former Nats draft pick Robbie Ray.

Game to Miss- Saturday the Kentucky Derby takes front and center.  Sadly, the Nats play Philadelphia at 7:05…with Joe Ross pitching against Aaron Nola (who may be scratched as he’s dealing with back issues and has missed two turns in the rotation).  Even if the Capitals get swept by Pittsburgh (they’d host a Game Five that would be played Saturday), if you’re going to skip a game against the Phillies…

 

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…