Archives for posts with tag: Orioles

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…

 

 

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.

There are four major steps to winning a World Series (actually a fifth if you take the wildcard route, but why bog ourselves down further?)…and winning the division is perhaps the most arduous.  I’m not saying that winning 3 of 5 or 4 of 7 games against a top-flight ballclub isn’t a challenge; nor is prevailing in a winner-take-all one game wildcard showdown (I thought we weren’t going there).  But to be the best team over 162 games with all its ebbs, flows, peaks, valleys, and sideways lurches takes a certain grit.  The 2012 and 2014 Nationals had that grit…and so does the current edition.  Bring on the playoffs…as they begin the mopping-up segment of the season.

Playoff Possibilities, Senior Circuit- the Nats will play the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Divisional Series as the Chicago Cubs already have home field locked up.  They lead LA by a game and a half for home field in that series.  The Cubs will play the wildcard winner…currently the New York Mets lead San Francisco by one game for home field for that game, while St Louis is one half game behind the Giants.  Should the three teams tie for the two playoff spots there would be a musical chair situation that would have either the Cardinals or Mets hosting the first game with the other team getting to choose to host the second game or be on the road for game one.  The two winners would then meet for the wildcard. I’m going to need a nap.

Playoff Possibilities, AL Version- the Orioles had a chance to catch Boston for the AL East lead this past week but instead were swept at home by the Red Sox (going 2-8 at home to Boston this year).  They were bedeviled once again by David Ortiz (.333, 8 HR & 19 RBI this year vs BAL) and Mookie Betts (.408, 9 HR & 21 RBI).  If somehow the O’s face the Sox in the playoffs…a little hint: DO NOT PITCH TO EITHER OF THESE MEN.  Roll the ball to the plate if you need to.  The Orioles currently own the second wildcard spot in the AL, one and a half games behind Toronto in the race for home field and one and a half games ahead of Detroit in the race for not going home for the winter.  AL West champ Texas awaits the winner–although Boston could easily slip past the Rangers in the race for home field (they’re tied at 92-64, with TEX holding the tiebreaker of best intra-division record) advantage.  Cleveland’s magic number to win the Central is one.

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilson Ramos hit .409 while Danny Espinosa led the team in runs scored (4), homers (2) and RBI (6).  Tanner Roark despite being tagged with a loss allowed just one run over seven innings in his lone start of the week.

Last Week’s Humbled- the injury bug has turned into a major virus.  Bryce Harper’s thumb, Daniel Murphy’s leg and Stephen Strasburg’s elbow remain under the microscope. While many were already writing off the Nats pitcher for the postseason, they can ill afford to lose either one of their most productive bats for any stretch of October.

Game to Watch- Tuesday Max Scherzer pitches against the organization that drafted him.  The Nats ace’s pursuit of 20 wins remains alive… with there always being the chance of something special each time it’s his turn in the rotation.

Game to Miss- Miami comes to DC for the final weekend of the season…and rookie AJ Cole starts the series opener.  Just as a team assured of a playoff berth sets up its rotation and lineup for the postseason, you should set your viewing habits in rhythm.

The NL East remains technically in doubt…but the Nationals in taking two of three from the New York Mets last week pushed the defending division champs to the precipice of playoff elimination.  The quirky crew from Queens can still qualify for the postseason as a wildcard, but barring a major collapse the Nats are en route to a third division title in five years.  That in conjunction with the current road trip means that several cases of champagne will be on hand as the team goes from Miami to Pittsburgh this week.  With the magic number standing at six…they could conceivably wrap it up in the sunshine state (the Marlins at 74-75 are already out of contention for the division) with a sweep plus a Mets implosion.  Most likely the spraying will occur this upcoming weekend in Pittsburgh.  Is there an Iron City Sparkling Wine?

Dissecting the Division- the Nats lead the Mets by eight games…and the defending division champs bounced back nicely from dropping two of three in DC to sweep Minnesota.  The hot bat on the ballclub belongs to Curtis Granderson…who despite hitting .208 this month is clubbing 6 homers and 13 RBI.  Ageless Bartolo Colon is 2-0 this month with a sub-2 ERA while Seth Lugo has won four straight starts.  Could the division still be up for grabs when the Nats come home next week?

Playoff Positioning- if the postseason began today, the Nats would have home field advantage over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS.  The Chicago Cubs would host the wildcard winner (New York Mets hosting San Francisco).  St. Louis is the only other NL team with a winning record; the Cardinals are one game behind the Giants and two games in back of the Mets.  The American League matchups would have the Orioles hosting Toronto in the Wildcard game with the winner facing Texas…while Cleveland would own home field advantage over Boston in the other Divisional Series.

No Scully Sightings- Sadly, Vin Scully will not be announcing any postseason games this fall-preferring to finish his Dodgers broadcasting career by the Bay in the regular season finale.  Interestingly enough, he was once a prime announcer for the NFL on CBS before losing the #1 job (and pairing with John Madden) to Pat Summerall in 1981.  Vin’s final football game?  The classic 1981 NFC Championship Game (Montana-to-Clark) at Candlestick Park.

The Wild Wildcard Race– while the Orioles can still win the AL East (they have four games with Boston this week), the Birds have plenty of company scraping for the final two playoff spots in the AL.  Toronto’s one game back…while Seattle and Detroit are two games behind the Blue Jays.  Houston remains in the mix one game behind the Mariners and Tigers while the New York Yankees getting swept by the Sox pushes the pinstripes to the precipice.  Defending World Series champ Kansas City is technically in contention…with a tragic number of nine.

Last Week’s Heroes- Trea Turner bats .462 and scores 8 runs while notching 3 HR and 4 RBI.  Daniel Murphy makes his former team rue the day they let him go by getting a hit in all 19 games played against the New York Mets this year.  Tanner Roark ties a career high with his 15th win of the year…striking out 7 over 7 scoreless innings.  Max Scherzer wins his 17th while striking out 8 over 7 innings of work.

Last Week’s Humbled- Gio Gonzalez lost for the first time since July…but for the second time in three starts the lefthander failed to reach the sixth inning.  Bryce Harper walked 7 times but went 1 for 17 at the plate.  Ryan Zimmerman (.211) is still searching for his swing while Danny Espinosa is hitting .120 in September.  Will the back end of the lineup be able to bounce back by October?

Game to Watch- Tuesday in Miami it’s matching 15-8’s.  Tanner Roark pitches against Jose Fernandez.  While this game won’t be for the division title, it’s the best mound matchup of the week.  And it falls on a non-football night.

Game to Miss- Sunday AJ Cole (1-2) squares off against Pittsburgh rookie Steven Brault (0-3).  Don’t be surprised if both bullpens get emptied as each manager maximizes his 40-man roster.

Nineteen games remain in the 2016 season with the Nationals magic number to clinch the NL East standing at 11.  Multiple pitchers and position players have chances at reaching magic numbers of their own, with Daniel Murphy the first to cross one last week when he passed the 100-RBI mark. Who else has a chance to hit money marks as the season dwindles?  Murphy needs 5 homers to reach 30 (a suddenly warming-up Bryce Harper needs 6) for the year while the 200-hit (25 shy) and 100-run (14 needed) plateaus likely won’t be met by the infielder.  Harper is just two walks shy of reaching 100 for the second straight year.  Anthony Rendon is 3 doubles shy of 40 and 3 homers away from 20 on the season.  Ben Revere (7) and Trea Turner (6) are within shouting distance of 10 steals… and Turner is also 7 steals away from 30 for the year.  Wilson Ramos is currently hitting .302…but the 29-year old is hitting .259 since the All Star Break and .143 in September.  On the pitching side of the equation, Max Scherzer may have seen his dream of 20 wins disappear with Saturday’s no-decision…but Tanner Roark will have chances to match and exceed his career high of 15 wins.  Roark can also pitch 200 innings for the first time in his career .  Unfortunately, Stephen Strasburg’s run at 20 which became his run at 18 may be stuck at 15…as the righthander is on the shelf again with elbow issues.  Mark Melancon has 41 saves this year…and perhaps may see the ball 9 more times to give him a shot at the half-century.  Happy hunting, gentlemen…

 

 

Dissecting the Division…with Potential Playoff Partners- the Nats lead the New York Mets by nine games with 19 remaining in the season.  Don’t discount the defending division champs-despite missing half of their opening day lineup the kids from Queens have won 16 of 21.  Miami may have won three of four after dropping 10 of 11, but the Marlins still stand 14 games back.  The Nats eliminated Atlanta from the division race last Monday; Saturday they eliminated Philadelphia.  At this point the Nats have home-field advantage over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, while San Francisco would host the New York Mets for the right to play the Chicago Cubs.

AL East Reset- last week the Orioles trailed Boston for the wildcard and Toronto for the division; those two roles have been flip-flopped with the O’s trailing the Red Sox by two games in the AL East while remaining tied with the Blue Jays for the wildcard.  Buck Showalter’s team is 6-6 against both teams with 7 games remaining against each.  By the way, the Sox & Jays have three games remaining and are tied 8-8.  I’m looking forward to a fantastic/frustrating finish.

Last Week’s Heroes- Trea Turner hit .400 with 3 homers and RBI…including a walk-off blast Friday night that was his first walk-off hit of any kind since he was in Little League. Daniel Murphy hit .455…and Anthony Rendon tallied  7 RBI.  Max Scherzer and Anthony Rendon each went 1-0 with no-decisions…as Gio bounced back from his worst start since the All Star Break to toss seven solid innings in the series finale with Philadelphia.

Last Week’s Humbled- Wilson Ramos hit .118, Ryan Zimmerman hit .100…while Jayson Werth and Danny Espinosa also bat under .200 for the week.  Stephen Strasburg’s return ended early…and now the righthander’s 2016 is in doubt.  He missed out on the 2012 playoffs…and it would be another cruel twist of fate if Stras is on the shelf again this October.

Game to Watch- Tanner Roark has been on fire since the end of May…posting a 10-4 mark with an ERA of 2.94.  He tosses the series finale against the Mets Wednesday…and whether the Nats are looking for a series sweep, win or salvage Roark starts the getaway day game that begins at 4:05.

Game to Miss- They’re pitching Matt Latos in his first Major League start since June up against the Redskins on Monday Night Football?  I’m tuning in to see if a defense that ranked 28th last year can contain Pittsburgh’s high-flying offense.  I’m watching to see who emerges as the primary ballcarrier in the runningback rotation.  I’m going to try to count the amount of Steeler fans in the Fed Ex Field stands.