Archives for posts with tag: NL East

It’s about time.  The least-suspenseful regular season since 90210’s final turn (yeah, like Kelly & Dylan weren’t going to end up together) wrapped up with the Nationals 20 (yes, twenty-as in XX) games ahead of second-place Miami in the NL East.  No more “division of depression”.  No more double-digit cushion (that was really fun while it lasted).  No more getting in gear or trying to hit one’s stride.  The time is now for glory.

Dissecting the Division- so second-place Miami (77-85) landed with a horrendous thud (21 losses in their last 32 games make for a bad finishing kick) to post the worst runner-up record of the six divisions.  Atlanta, the New York Mets and Philadelphia each finished with 90+ losses–the equivalent of going 6-10 in the NFL.  Thank goodness RPI doesn’t factor into postseason qualification.

O’s Woes- a 4-18 finish isn’t as bad as the 2002 bunch that went from 63-63 to 67-95, but the September crash was heard all the way from here in DC.  Bad starting pitching was the culprit, but the lineup that ranked 8th in batting average had issues getting the players home (16th in runs scored).  There will no doubt be changes this offseason, and one wonders if we’ll have Duquette & Showalter back in tandem after what appears to be a major step back.

Last Week’s Heroes, Milestones and Millstones- Daniel Murphy hit .529 to catapult past the rest of the field and finish with a team-best .322 batting average for the season.  Bryce Harper scored twice, giving him a team-high 95 runs scored despite missing almost a third of the season.  Anthony Rendon finished with 25 homers and 100 RBI for the first time in his career and Ryan Zimmerman hit .350 to finish with a flourish (7 HR & 20 RBI over the last 30 days).   Stephen Strasburg joins Gio & Max as a 15-game winner.

Last Week’s Humbled- Wilmer Difo hit under .200…and although he’s a near-lock to make the postseason roster this fade does not give one confidence.  Tanner Roark’s final start what has been a rollercoaster season was less than ideal…and Brandon Kintzler misfired in Saturday’s loss.  Max Scherzer’s hamstring joins his neck and Bryce Harper’s knee as “body parts we want to yell at now”…hopefully the right-hander will be ready to start Game One or Two in DC.

Bring on the Cubs!- you may have heard that Chicago’s NL team ended a long championship drought last year.  In 2017 they suffered their first post-championship hangover since 1909 and didn’t have William Howard Taft in the White House to look up to for guidance (Taft was sneakily versatile–the only man to head the Executive and Judicial Branches (he was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court).  Manager Joe Maddon’s team ranked 4th in the majors.  Kris Bryant & Anthony Rizzo are the bats to watch (although Rizzo hit .239 in September) while Kyle Schwarber (remember him?) is back in theory after hitting six homers last month.  Jon Lester starts Game One…and the Cubs’ rotation ranks 7th in ERA while the bullpen ERA is 6th-best in the league.

 

My Rotation- with Max Scherzer’s hamstring tweaked, the starting order may be flipped with Strasburg (Pitcher of the Month for September thanks to his 4-0 mark and 0.83 ERA).   And Max isn’t the best in October (4-4 with an ERA of 3.74).  But barring major hamstring issues, I still want #31 on the hill for Game One.  He embraces the big moments and Game Ones are made for people like Max.  Until Friday we are monitoring Max’s hammy, his neck, potential hangnails as well as keeping him in bubble wrap.  Strasburg starts Game 2– and that gives me the option of pitching either Max or Stras in a potential Game 5.  Gio is on the mound in Game 3–with Tanner Roark slated for Game 4 if the Nats are up 2-1.  Down 2-1 I’m going with my Game 1 starter.

My Lineup- what to do with Bryce Harper?  He’s played in four games since mid-August and has hit .167 with 2 walks and 7 strikeouts.  But he’s BRYCE HARPER, who still leads the team in runs scored and is a threat to explode when he gets back on track.  I want to bat  Harper second.  But my C. Montgomery Burns manager inside me doesn’t want to bat a rusty lefthander in the #2 spot against lefty Jon Lester during Game One.  And what about Jayson Werth?  I can’t forget what an asset he was in the #2 spot during the 2016 season, but  he’s hit .132 since the end of August.  Howie Kendrick hasn’t fared that much better as of late either.  Adam Lind as an option is more of a #6 hitter…and while he doesn’t have the words “defensive liability” written all over him there’s a drop-off.  But Lind is hitting .341 with 12 RBI over his last 20 games.  After much review I want to go with Harper following Turner in the #2 spot with Murphy, Zimmerman and Rendon in the 3-4-5 slots and Werth starting in LF against Lester with Lind batting against righties. Am I nuts?  See you Friday…

 

 

 

 

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The word “denouement” is defined as “the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved”.  After last Sunday’s clinching of the NL East, the Nats were due for a little denouement.  Instead of being hot on the Dodgers’ tail for home field in the National League, manager Dusty Baker’s team dropped the last two series of their homestand and almost assured themselves of the #2 seed (which they had last year).  Denoument!  The usually rock-solid rotation had one of its few subpar weeks, and one writes off the 2-4  thud as a throat-clearing.  Unless it continues…and when I say continues I mean for the next two weeks and into October.  Thirteen games to finish denoumenting (“you keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means”). 

 

Magic and Tragic Numbers- the Nats trail the Dodgers by six games for the best record in the league;  thus LA’s magic number is eight.  The Nats’ magic number to clinch at least the second-best mark in the NL is seven (Cubs are currently in the #3 spot as the NL Central leader).  Miami (eliminated from the NL East race eight days ago) is one loss or one Colorado win away from being officially out for October (and even if they win every game and the Rockies finish 0-12 Milwaukee is four wins away from bouncing the Marlins).

O’s Woes- let the record show that the Orioles have been very good against AL East foes this year:  10-6 against division-leading Boston and 33-26 overall entering last week.  But with three games against last-place Toronto and four games at the Wild Card contending New York Yankees, the Birds blew up.  Five losses in seven games almost eliminates the plucky bunch from the Charm City…as their “tragic number” is eight.  Blame a bad rotation for the 5-11 September…as Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson both own ERA’s at 9+ this month.  An 8-4 finish is needed to avoid the team’s first losing season since 2011.

If the Playoffs Began Today- the Nationals would have home field over the Chicago Cubs in one Divisional Series while the Dodgers would face the winner of Arizona-Colorado.  Cleveland (thanks to the 22-game winning streak) plays the Wild Card winner in the AL (Yankees-Minnesota) while Houston has home field advantage over Boston.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .353 while Ryan Zimmerman added two homers and four RBI.  But the stage was set for Victor Robles:  the prime outfield prospect went 2-for-5, scoring twice while driving in a run.  Shades were necessary to watch this future.  Stephen Strasburg won his lone start, striking out eight.  The bullpen boasted several solid efforts:  multiple scoreless innings were thrown by Matt Grace, Ryan Madson, Austin Adams, Shawn Kelley, Sean Doolittle, Enny Romero and Matt Albers.

Last Week’s Humbled- for one of the first times all season, multiple starters experienced rough outings.  Edwin Jackson allowed seven runs over two and a third innings, while Max Scherzer (seven over six) and Gio Gonzalez (six over six) didn’t help their cases in the chase for lowest ERA in the NL (Clayton Kershaw still the leader at 2.12).  Howie Kendrick (.167) and Michael A. Taylor (.182) had off-weeks, while Matt Wieters (0-for-12) is hitting .042 this month.

Game to Watch- devoid of potential playoff previews and magnificent mound matchups, I’ve circled Saturday night’s duel at Citi Field against the New York Mets.  Stephen Strasburg since coming off the disabled list is 4-1 with and ERA of 0.66.  He has a decent chance to reach 200 strikeouts for the second time in his career and match his career high of 15 wins in a season.

Game to Miss- thank you Nationals for making things easy for me with the six-man rotation.  A.J. Cole pitches against the Mets Sunday afternoon, amidst a flurry of NFL action.  While the Redskins won’t be playing until Sunday night, we’re going to enjoy afternoon football instead of afterthought baseball.

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.

 

Pay no attention to the Nationals series loss at Wild Card contending Milwaukee over the weekend.  The Nats won the week by sweeping second place Miami out of South Capitol Street:  the series included a complete game, two major returns, the customary rain delay and an action figure giveaway.  Despite all of their injury issues, the Nationals still posted the best record in the NL at 18-11.  As rosters expand and the boxes are checked (the matter of that division title, individual milestones), the Nats prepare to face their ghosts of postseasons past.  Let’s enjoy a little September sun before October Angst drops by the district.

Dissecting the Division- the magic number is down to 12…and the Nats meet Miami three times this week.  The Marlins recent dip (1-6) drops them five games back in the Wild Card race.  The Mets (3) and Atlanta (6) are close to being knocked out of the NL East race, but at least they don’t have a single-digit tragic number like Philadelphia.  The Phillies were eliminated from the NL East race last Wednesday…and are 20 games back in the Wild Card with 26 to play.

O’s Pose a Threat- eight wins in ten games has the Orioles in contention…and the Birds battle the New York Yankees in a series with playoff implications this week.  While Aaron Judge and the Bronx bats have been somewhat quieter since the All Star Break, the Pinstripes’ pitching (5th best ERA in the bigs) is what has me concerned.  Especially with the flammable rotation the O’s offer up.

Last Week’s Heroes- Stephen Strasburg struck out eight while tossing a complete-game shutout of the Marlins.  By the way, he homered as well in that game.  Matt Wieters hit .417 while Wilmer Difo hit .300 with a team-high five runs.  Jayson Werth homered in his return to the lineup…and Trea Turner is also back to provide a spark atop the batting order.

Last Week’s Humbled- Gio Gonzalez was oh-so-close to a perfect 6-0 month…only to allow five runs in six innings Thursday.  Adam Lind hit .100 while Howie Kendrick struck out eight times in 19 at bats.

Game to Watch- Friday Max Scherzer takes to the mound against Philadelphia.  One year removed from his Cy Young campaign, the righthander has dealt with neck issues and last Saturday was hit by a line drive.  While a 20-win season is no longer in sight, a strong September most certainly can be.

Game to Miss- Sunday Stephen Strasburg pitches against Ben Lively and the Phillies.  At 1:35.  Hmm…don’t the Redskins play Philadelphia at 1pm?  Isn’t it the regular season opener?  Tough break…

 

Thirty-three games remain in the regular season marathon before the playoff sprint.  The Nationals wrap up the dog days of summer with a 12-game lead in the division (not horrible) and 12 players on the disabled list (not ideal).  Barring a meltdown of historic proportions, this team will once again be admitted to the postseason party…and the success of 2017 will be measured not by how many regular season games this club won, but how many postseason series captured.  And yes–that’s plural.

Dissecting the Division- the magic number is 22…as Miami is not going quietly into the night.  The Marlins have won 8 of 10 to enter the wildcard conversation as Colorado has dropped 12 of 19.  They also own the fourth best batting average in the majors and boast the biggest bat– Giancarlo Stanton after hitting 26 homers in 325 pre-All Star Break at-bats has clubbed 24 home runs in 151 post-hiatus at-bats.  Marcell Ozuna has quietly surpassed 100 RBI for the season…and the pitching is not an absolute grease-fire (only 18th in team ERA).  The two teams tangle six more times over the next two weeks.

Birds Break out the Brooms- the Orioles get a needed sweep of first-place Boston and move to .500 for the second time since June.  Just as impressive was the pitching allowing just four runs over three games.  Can they win a third straight series for the first time since April?  O’s apologists will be the first to remind you how the team is 10-6 against the Red Sox…but the team is 35-43 outside the AL East.  Five of the Birds’ next seven series are against clubs with records of .500 and above…and we’ll see if this team is more pretender or contender.

 

Last Week’s Heroes- Adam Lind hit .300 with two homers and five RBI… delivering an insurance home run Sunday night against the Mets.  Anthony Rendon bats .348, scoring four runs while driving in three.  Stephen Strasburg strikes out seven over six innings in his lone start while Gio Gonzalez continues his wild ride through 2017 with his fifth win in five starts.  Gio’s August ERA? 1.03…

Last Week’s Humbled- Shawn Kelley notched a 13.50 ERA over three appearances, while Matt Grace allowed opponents to hit .455 off of him.  Brandon Kintzler blew a save in Houston.  Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman both had rough weeks, hitting a combined 6-for-39 with two walks and 10 strikeouts.  I mentioned the disabled list now holds a complete dozen…

Game to Watch- Monday Max Scherzer (12-5, 2.25 ERA), neck-permitting, pitches against Miami’s Jose Urena (12-5, 3.68).  The Marlins don’t seriously think they can make up 12 games in five weeks, can they?

Game to Miss- Sunday Edwin Jackson takes to the mound against Milwaukee…while Fed Ex Field will host a college football game between #21 Virginia Tech and #22 West Virginia.  The former Big East foes won or shared 11 of the league’s 20 championships…and haven’t met since 2005 despite the schools’ close proximity (roughly four and a half hours).  Sorry, Edwin…

The Major League Baseball universe is decidedly tilted to towards the opposite side of the country in 2017.  The top two teams (Dodgers and Houston) plus four of the top seven squads reside west of the Mississippi, and LA’s magic number for home field is less than the Nats number to win the dilapidated NL East.  Pick your poison- while the Astros boast the major’s best offense (tops in runs, on-base percentage and slugging), the Dodgers-surprise-have the best pitching staff (#1 in ERA and opponent’s batting average).  But Houston’s pitchers lead the league in strikeouts.  If you want to see the best baseball, prepare for later nights (or at least a diet of starts after 8 p.m.).

Dissecting the Division- the Nationals lead the NL East by 14 games after taking four of six games last week, with their magic number dwindling to 27.  Credit the plucky Marlins for keeping pace…as a hot streak would catapult Miami into the serious Wildcard contention (as it is, they’re just six games back).  Speaking of magic numbers, Philadelphia’s “tragic number” is 12.

O’s Woes- the Birds lost four of six…losing both series after taking their first games against Seattle and the Angels.  Two teams ahead of Baltimore in the American League Wildcard race.  A sweep of AL West cellar-dwelling Oakland would be a great boon to their lagging playoff hopes…because after that they visit AL East-leading Boston and then host Wildcard contender Seattle.

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilmer Difo hit .316…while Howie Kendrick scored 5 runs and homered three times.  Daniel Murphy after a day off was responsible for three of the team’s four runs in Sunday’s win at San Diego.  Gio Gonzalez won both of his starts…the only run allowed being unearned.  Sean Doolittle notched three saves in three appearances.  He’s 11 for 11 since coming to the Nats.

Last Week’s Humbled- Matt Wieters is invaluable behind the plate, working very well with pitchers this season.  He was less than valuable at the plate, batting 0-for-14.  Rookie Andrew Stevenson looked more like Andrew Stevens hitting 1-for-10…and Michael A. Taylor has yet to regain his pre-DL groove.  Max Scherzer’s neck is robbing the game’s best pitcher of his stretch run…where is MyPillow.com when you need it?

Games to Watch- yes, games.  With a trip to Houston and a series against the Mets, break out a new bag of Tostito’s hint of lime chips to enjoy with your hummus.  (1) Friday Max Scherzer (neck-willing) pitches against 13-game winner Jacob deGrom. (2) Thursday Stephen Strasburg pitches for the second time since coming off the DL against an 11-2 Dallas Keuchel. (3) Saturday Gio Gonzalez continues his stellar summer ride (5-1 with an ERA of 1.29 since the All Star Break and 3-0 with a 0.46 ERA in August) against the Mets.

Game to Miss- another Sunday day-night doubleheader?  AJ Cole pitches the matinee against Steven Matz (2-7, 6.08 ERA).  Since the break Matz is 0-5 with a 10.16 ERA.

 

 

Nineties Night at Nats Park definitely did not go as planned.  Actually, the whole weekend didn’t go as planned.  Friday’s game with San Francisco was postponed and Saturday’s tilt was delayed…forcing the two teams to play three games in a little over 24 hours.  Let’s just say that Luke Perry didn’t throw out the first pitch on the rescheduled 90’s Night.  Not even Joe E. Tata or the guy who played the Winslow kid on “Family Matters”.

Remember the “Saved by the Bell” episode when Zack injured his knee?  Bryce Harper is more important to the Nats’ title hopes than Mark-Paul Gosselaar.  After slipping on first base Saturday night, the outfielder slips onto the disabled list with a significant bone bruise and hyperextended knee.  Thank goodness no ligaments were torn…although Harper’s agent made comments about slippery bases after rain delays.  File this for the 2018-19 offseason.

Dissecting the Division-  the magic number is now 33 as the Nats own a 14-game lead in the NL East.  Miami’s three-game sweep of Colorado keeps the Marlins not on the fringe of playoff contention, but on the “fringe of the fringe.  They’re 8.5 games behind the Rockies and Arizona for the wildcard, and if those two teams go .500 over the rest of the season Miami would need to finish 31-14.  We aren’t yet to the point where we can pinpoint the champagne celebration, but I’m sure somebody at MASN has a range of dates.

O’s Woes- the Birds climbed back to .500 for the first time since late June with their win last week at the Los Angeles Angels…only to lose two straight against their fellow Wildcard contenders.  Over the weekend against AL West cellar-dwelling Oakland, the Orioles plated 26 runs–only to leave the Bay Area with a split.  While manager Buck Showalter’s team remains 2.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the AL, they still have four teams to pass before they reach the Halos.  The dreaded west coast swing ends with three games against fellow semi-contender (that is…under .500 but still in striking distance of a playoff spot) Seattle.  The Mariners and Angels both come to Camden Yards later this month.

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman hit .346 with 3 HR and 7 RBI…breaking Tim Wallach’s franchise record of 905 runs batted in.  Brian Goodwin hit .346 with 7 runs scored…and Howie Kendrick hit that grand slam Sunday night.  Gio Gonzalez won his lone start…allowing one run over 7 innings just two days after the birth of his son.  Sean Doolittle notched 3 saves.

Last Week’s Humbled- Matt Wieters hit .176…while Anthony Rendon hit .130.  AJ Cole went 0-2 with an ERA of 5.73 while Joe Blanton recorded another double-digit ERA for the week (13.50).  The way the weekend was handled amidst the weather was less than ideal;  many of the players had already changed into streetclothes and were leaving the stadium by the time the game was called at 9:48 p.m.  Instead of playing Saturday afternoon (where it did not rain in the area), they played Saturday night (and was delayed three hours) and Sundays day-night doubleheader gave the Giants a great lift as they had to leave for a series in Miami.

Game to Watch- the journey of Edwin Jackson resumes Thursday in San Diego against one of the pitcher’s 11 former teams.  The 33-year old is 3-2 over five starts with the Nats…posting an ERA of 3.30 and a strikeout to walk ratio of 25-to-7.  Problem is, Jackson hasn’t won consecutive starts since August of last year.  Which Edwin will we get?

Game to Miss- another tough call.  You don’t want to miss the two home games against the Wildcard contending Los Angeles Angels.  And even though Max Scherzer pitches at 10:10 on Friday night, every one of his outings is a must-see.  And could we be seeing Stephen Strasburg returning Saturday?  Sorry, Gio Gonzalez–your Sunday start against the Padres draws the short straw.