Archives for posts with tag: Ryan Zimmerman

ORIGINALLY POSTED July 1, 2019.

The Nationals begin…what shall we call it?  Spring Training 2.0? Summer Training? Minicamp?  Whatever we wind up calling it, they’ll be minus Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross with each opting out of the 60-game summer sprint.  Zimmerman’s mother has MS and his wife just gave birth;  Ross is less than three years removed from Tommy John Surgery.  Sean Doolittle may very well join them on the sidelines, as his wife has a chronic lung condition.  And the fact that it took players and owners this long to get a deal in place was less than ideal.  Just like Dalton in “Roadhouse” famously said, “Nobody wins a fight”, nobody wins a sports labor tussle.

Thank goodness we have 2019 to look back on.  And thank goodness the Nationals wrapped up an 18-8 month to move over the .500 mark to stay with a victory on June 30.  Here is the “Nats Notebook” from that week.

As always, 2020 thoughts to things written in 2019 are in boldface italics.

“Max’s Mad Month”

The team that entered June nine games under .500 (and Memorial Day 12 games under) finds themselves with a winning record at the start of July–no small feat. The Nats’ 18-8 mark turns the All Star Break conversations from “who should they trade for prospects?” to “can this ridiculous run continue?” and cools off the seat of Manager Davey Martinez considerably.  One major factor in the Nats resurgence was the return to form of three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer: the 1-4 start with an ERA of 4.08 on May 1 was merely a mirage.  The Scherzer we saw in June went 6-0 with an ERA of 1.00 while notching 68 strikeouts to five walks.  He’s notched three straight wins while sporting a black eye from his broken nose to go with the naturally blue and brown ones.  And once again we have to remind ourselves that perhaps the best pitcher of this generation calls Washington, DC his home.  His next start at home is Saturday.  Guess which game I’ll be focusing on below?

Sadly Max would be bothered by injury the rest of the way; the fact he was able to get back in gear after missing most of two months was incredible, just like his ability to pitch Game Seven of the World Series two days removed from needing to crawl out of bed.

 

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta (50-35) owns a five and a half game lead over second place Philadelphia (44-40) while the Nats (42-41) are seven and a half off of the Braves’ pace. But the story this week is the Melting Mets (38-47) have lost 14 of 20 and their bullpen makes the Nats’ issues minuscule. Was that back to back to back to back blown saves against Philly?  Did Manager Mickey Calloway compare himself to Billy Martin when it came to conduct?  And for the record, I don’t believe Martin hit a member of the press–it was a marshmallow salesman.  To top things off, while honoring the 1969 Miracle Mets the franchise saluted those on that team who had passed away–and tipped their caps to a pair of men who are still living.  Remember the “Natinals”?  The team that shot sausage sandwich showers on fans during misguided promotions?  Nook “What was he thinking?” Logan?  These Mets are those Nats.  Enjoy.

The five Billy Martin regimes with the Yankees remain the stuff of legend:  as fate would have it the star-crossed skipper’s first tenure was 471 games while his second, third, fourth, and fifth stints equaled 470 games.

 

Harper’s Weekly- the former face of the franchise hit 7-of-26 to bring his batting average back to .250. His 15 homers and 59 RBI put Bryce on a pace for 29 & 114.  His strikeouts are down (relatively) as his 101 K’s translate to 195 for the season. And after feasting on the Mets, the Phils aren’t taking water anymore.  For the moment…

How reliant were the Phils on Harper last year?  Bryce batted .282 with 27 homers and 89 RBI while scoring 66 runs in Philly’s 78 wins, .235 with 8 HR and 25 RBI while scoring 32 runs in the team’s 79 losses.

 

O’s Woes- well, they did take two of three from Cleveland.  The first series victory since late April puts the Birds at 24-60 (they lost Monday’s series opener to Tampa Bay).  That their pitching has been a problem is a massive understatement (the 5.74 ERA is the worst in the majors), and the grasping at straws portion of the season includes paying cash to Cleveland for Indians minor leaguer Asher Wojciechowski (8-2 in 15 starts at AAA Columbus) as well as starting rookie Thomas Eshelman (who wears #83, a number that doesn’t inspire longevity) Monday against the Rays.  The Orioles need to go .500 (39-39) in order to avoid another 100-loss season.  They’re currently playing under .300 ball.

It’s amazing how quickly things cratered for a team that made the playoffs three times in five years from 2012-16;  proof that no matter how young you might be or no matter how good your stars are the bitter end is often just that.

 

Last Week’s Heroes- Max Scherzer didn’t just have a great month: he wrapped up a dominant June with two more spectacular starts, going 2-0 while striking out 24 without issuing a walk.  He also went 2-for-3 at the plate and scored twice.  Did we mention he was voted NL Player of the Week?  Patrick Corbin pitched well in his start while Fernando Rodney, Tony Sipp and Jonny Venters tossed scoreless outings of relief.  Anthony Rendon (along with Scherzer the Nats’ other All Star representative) hit .320 with five RBI and six runs scored.  Matt Adams drove in six while Juan Soto notched eight walks and drive in four.

Back issues would limit Max the rest of the way; he’d go 3-2 with a 4.14 ERA in 50 innings over nine regular season starts. It’ll be interesting to see how he pitches this year after the start and stop in Spring Training.

 

Last Week’s Humbled- Brian Dozier hit .174.  With Ryan Zimmerman coming off of the Injured List, one can see Howie Kendrick’s starts getting moved to the middle of the infield.  Already feeling the crunch is Michael A. Taylor, who finds himself in AA Harrisburg and hasn’t been the same since Dusty Baker was fired.  Relievers Tanner Rainey and Javy Guerra both posted ERA’s over 20.

Taylor would eventually get back to the bigs and score a key run in the team’s Wild Card win over Milwaukee.

 

Game to Watch- not only is Max Scherzer pitching for the final time before the All Star break, but Saturday’s game will have the Nats wearing powder blue Expos uniforms to honor the 50th anniversary of the start of the franchise.  This will be nice.

I’m a sucker for the Expos’ unis.  I actually wish they had just kept those colors and fonts when they moved to DC instead of the Angels hand-me-downs.  Just flip the “M and e” on the cap upside down–or go with a BLOCK W.

 

Game to Miss- Sunday Patrick Corbin pitches against the Royals, while the Women’s World Cup holds its final. From Team USA’s 13-0 trouncing of Thailand to the nailbiting win over host nation France, this has been one incredible month for the US.  Can they deliver a win over England and a trip to another Final?  One thinks yes.

The US Women’s National Team did not disappoint, while over the course of 2019 neither did Corbin.  He’d go 7-2 after the All Star break while winning Game Seven of the World Series in relief.

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The Washington Nationals were originally going to hand out World Series rings Sunday, May 24 in a virtual ceremony.  While that is no longer the case, the date chosen was rather fitting as that’s when the surge up the standings began for a 19-31 team that would finish 93-69 before continuing its magical march through October.  And although the team was confident they’d turn things around eventually, it’s more than reasonable for those covering the team or rooting them on from the cheap seats (and not-so-cheap suites) at Nats Park to have given up on the hometown team.

I’ve been covering the Nationals’ home games on a regular basis the last six seasons, anchoring afternoon sportscasts from the ballpark before providing updates during the game that evening.  I’ve dealt with Game Five losses and late summer meltdowns, witnessed hot bats become frigid in October and see untimely injuries become costly in the NLDS.  But I never had to deal with a team ten games under .500 in DC-and that’s exactly what I had last May.  Due to injuries in the lineup and ineffectiveness in the bullpen, the team that had won four division titles in seven years was on pace to lose 100 games after getting swept in a four game series by the New York Mets on May 23.

Since 2015 I’ve written a weekly “Nats Notebook” for prestonsperspective.wordpess that explores the highs and lows, the big picture and minutiae.  These are excerpts from last year’s “Nats Notebook” on the way to Memorial Day.  They provide a bit of a road map as well as highlight who was doing well and who wasn’t on a week by week basis.  Enjoy with retroactive comments in italics.  Because sometimes hindsight isn’t always 20-20; sometimes it turns out to be 93-69.

 

April 2nd–Too Early for a Freakout?

The calendar reads “2019”…but for many the first weekend of this season felt like last year’s 82-80 journey to nowhere.  From stranding runners to bad base running to questionable bullpen use to wasting a solid Max Scherzer start, the season opener had it all. Saturday’s loss doubled down on all of that with a subpar Stephen Strasburg start followed by a bad bullpen outing.  Thank goodness Trea Turner hit a walkoff home run in Sunday’s win, otherwise we’d have a winless last place team facing first place Philadelphia.  Along with a familiar face.  Please tell me it’s only April…

Last Week’s Heroes- Max Scherzer strikes out 12 while allowing two hits over 7.2 innings and Sean Doolittle K’s a pair while tossing 1.2 scoreless in Sunday’s sweep-averting win.  Trea Turner bats .385 with two homers while Victor Robles hits .455.

Last Week’s Humbled- Robles also had an error in Saturday’s loss and his base running blunder helped keep the Nats off of the board in the season opener.  But at least he’s hitting- Brian Dozier began the year 0-for-10 while Juan Soto has seven strikeouts in his 12 at bats.  Trevor Rosenthal has allowed five runs while not recording an out over two appearances.

Rosenthal would live in the land of infinity before finally recording an out in his fifth appearance April 10.  This was the same time that Orioles slugger Chris Davis was oh-for-the-season.  I maintain that if they faced each other during this stretch, the universe would have imploded.

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April 8– “One Bad Bullpen”

Beware the Bad Bullpen. Shaky setup men and closers in crisis are the perfect way to undo five-plus solid innings of work from your rotation.  Eight games into the season, the Nats bullpen ranks last in the majors with an ERA of 10.80.  While last week one was reminded of the 2018 season’s sloppy base running and bad defense, this week one recalls how bad the bullpen was during the first half of the 2017 season.  And this is April- with multiple off-days early in the season.  Can this bullpen get itself together before it’s too late?

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .474 with 4 homers and 7 RBI, while Ryan Zimmerman drove in 5 runs.  Stephen Strasburg tossed 6.2 scoreless innings to start their series against the Mets, Sean Doolittle threw 2.2 scoreless frames over three outings and Max Scherzer tallied 16 strikeouts over 11.1 innings.  Max also gave himself a lead for the first time all year by driving in a run Saturday.

Last Week’s Humbled- Trevor Rosenthal remains in the land of infinity, allowing 2 more earned runs while walking 3 more over two games.  Joe Ross in his 2019 debut allowed a 3-run homer while getting one out Sunday.  For those doing the math, that equates to an earned run average of 81.00.  Tony Sipp’s ERA for the week was a robust 27.00, while Matt Grace and Wander Suero also have double-digit ERA’s.  At the plate, Victor Robles and Brian Dozier are both hitting .133 to start the season.  While neither is expected to carry this team offensively, the loss of Trea Turner to a broken finger for the next 4-8 weeks makes every out sting a little more.

Bryce Harper’s return to Nationals Park was less than ideal for the team he left, as the former face of the franchise went 5-for-10 with 3 RBI in his first series back.  Throw in losing offensive sparkplug Trea Turner, and early April was not awesome in DC.

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April 15– “Whirlwind World”

What a week it was.  From Virginia winning a first-ever men’s college basketball National Championship (Kippy & Buffy are celebrating with a bottle of 2009 Chateau Lynch-Bages) to the Capitals taking a 2-0 first round playoff series lead over Carolina to Tiger Woods winning the Masters to Game of Thrones’ final season premiering, there’s been a lot to experience.  Amidst all of that the Nationals went 3-3 to remain .500 on the season.  One series win that could have gone the other way followed by the exact opposite.  But who’s watching?

Last Week’s Heroes- Howie Kendrick in his return to the roster hit 7-of-11 with 2 homers and 4 RBI.  They missed the Swiss army knife a ton last year.  Anthony Rendon hit .360 while driving in 8 runs.  Adam Eaton scored a team-high 7 runs.  Patrick Corbin struck out 11 over seven innings in his only outing while Kyle Barraclough (1.2 scoreless innings) and Sean Doolittle (3.2 scoreless) kept the lid on things.  Trevor Rosenthal after living in the land of infinity notched his first out of the season.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman hit .167 while Wilmer Difo batted .143.  Stephen Strasburg was touched up for 6 earned runs over 4 innings of work.  Tony Sipp allowed 2 runs in one inning.

Amazing how sports works out. The Cavaliers trailed in every game during their NCAA title run and needed crazy rallies to get to overtime in the Regional Finals and Championship Game.  And that doesn’t include the three free throws with 0.6 seconds left against Auburn in the National Semifinals.  But just as the Cavs go up, the Caps come down as they’d lose four of five to end their title defense on a cold April night.

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April 22– “Sunburned”

So much for getting fat on the last place Miami Marlins.  The Nats visited the one team in the NL East that could be accused of not really trying in 2019 and lost two of three.  And now once again the team finds itself at .500; they were 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 7-7, 8-8, 9-9 and now the club many thought would fight for the NL East is 10-10.  Granted, not having Trea Turner is a major blow to the offense and the bullpen is only beginning to put together outs consistently.  But the longer this team stays in second gear, the longer one feels they’re going to be second-tier. 

Last Week’s Heroes- Adam Eaton hit .364 while Matt Adams batted .333 with two homers and six RBI.  Ryan Zimmerman homered twice in Sunday’s win over Miami.  Patrick Corbin struck out nine over seven innings in his only start while Stephen Strasburg K’d 11 while tossing eight scoreless innings in Sunday’s win at the Marlins. Relievers Kyle Barraclough pitched three scoreless outings while Tony Sipp tossed two scoreless frames over three appearances.

Last Week’s Humbled- Max Scherzer had a rare rough outing, coughing up six runs over 5.1 innings at Miami. Austen Williams allowed two homers in two outings and has an ERA of 162.  Yes, it’s a very small sample size but…ouch.  Juan Soto did walk five times last week but hit .200 primarily batting third and fourth.

There’s a Seinfeld episode where “everything evens out” for Jerry, and that’s what the early season felt like for the Nats.  Meanwhile the rogues gallery of relievers gave nobody long-term confidence in the bullpen that would eventually rank 29th in the majors.

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April 29– “The Future is Wow”

On the week that the NFL took center stage with its Draft Party Celebration Extravaganza, it was only fitting that the Nats looked to their youngest players in Sunday’s rally from six runs down to beat San Diego in extra innings.  The 7-6 win in ten innings may have been won by Matt Adams’ walk-off homer, but Carter Kieboom, Juan Soto and Victor Robles helped force extras with home runs of their own.  It’s the first time in Major League history that a trio of teammates under the age of 22 homered in the same game.  And while there are plenty of issues facing this team at this time, one can at least look to the next generation making their mark now.

Last Week’s Heroes- Carter Kieboom provided an instant spark, homering in his first career game Friday night before going yard Sunday.  Juan Soto hit .308 and led the team with 8 RBI while Matt Adams batted .333 and had the sweep-averting homer against the Padres.  Erick Fedde tossed four scoreless innings after getting called up from the minors while Max Scherzer struck out 10 to move past the 2,500 plateau.

Last Week’s Humbled- Trevor Rosenthal had one rough outing against Colorado:  he threw three wild pitches and hit a batter while allowing three runs.  Jeremy Hellickson allowed 10 earned runs over eight innings, while Wander Suero went 0-2 with an ERA of 16.88.  Adam Eaton hit .217 while Victor Robles batted .214 with one walk and eight strikeouts.  Not what you dream about atop the batting order.

I had a chance to interview both Carter Kieboom and Erick Fedde this past February at Spring Training.  Fedde was fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation and while his extra year of options was originally going to keep him in the minors an expanded roster this summer may play into his favor. Conversely, Kieboom’s lack of regular reps the last two months could seriously stunt was going to be his growth into the starting role at third base.

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May 6– “Still Trying to Take Off”

Add Juan Soto to the growing Nats’ Injured List.  And Matt Adams.  And–potentially Michael A. Taylor.  And–for a few hours–the flight from Philadelphia to Milwaukee–the team’s charter plane.  Not to mention their pitching coach:  sayonara Doug Lilliquist, welcome Paul Menhart.  The Nats aren’t just minus their opening day #2 through #5 hitters, but they’re also without their best bat off the bench (who had been forced into a starting role) and potentially their best defensive outfielder (we await the moment when Taylor is put on the IL).  Not helpful in the early season when one has yet to find itself.  The team that had issues getting away from .500 (nine times in April) is now taking serious water (losses in 11 of their last 16 games).  And their gauntlet of playoff teams from last year continues with trips to Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

About that Delay- during a season where the team was expected to contend yet is five games under .500 in early May, it’s only fitting that the team flight had trouble taking off as well Sunday.  The Nats boarded their team charter at 6:30 p.m. but mechanical issues kept them on the tarmac for eight hours. They finally deplaned at 3 a.m. (wondering when the peanuts ran out) and went back to their hotel before flying later in the morning.  On a trip where there are no off-days, this was beyond not ideal.  Fire up the espresso machine in the visitor’s clubhouse.

Last Week’s Heroes- Kurt Suzuki hit .462 with three homers and five RBI while Howie Kendrick hit .348. Sean Doolittle notched a pair saves while tossing 2.1 scoreless innings and Kyle Barraclough threw three scoreless frames over three appearances.  Stephen Strasburg reached the 1,500 strikeout milestone by whiffing nine over 6.2 innings in a sweep-averting victory against St. Louis.

Last Week’s Humbled- Joe Ross allowed seven earned runs over 0.2 innings (94.50 ERA for those without calculators) while Matt Grace posted a 10.38 ERA.  Carter Kieboom suddenly looked like a rookie while hitting 2-for-23 while Michael A. Taylor went 0-12 with five strikeouts before injuring his wrist.

The flight delay was going to be one of those things that becomes symbolic of a lost season.  The change of a pitching coach seemed to make sense, as a staff that boasted quite a bit of talent ended April with the fourth-highest ERA in the NL.

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May 13– “Wandering Out West”

The Nats’ ten-game road trip is now in their rear-view mirror.  The 3-7 finish was less than ideal but not as disastrous as it could have been.  From getting swept in Milwaukee to getting shut out twice in Los Angeles.  From a comedy of errors in the field against the Brewers to a silent outing by the bats in almost getting no-hit by the Dodgers.  This team returns to DC a little healthier (Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto are both back) but far from full-strength.  And just as far from successful:  they’ve not won consecutive games since April 18 and have had just a pair of two-game winning streaks.  Things won’t get any easier as they face fellow NL East contender New York and the NL East-leading Cubs.  Can things get turned around by Memorial Day?

Last Week’s Heroes- Patrick Corbin ended the team’s four game losing streak by tossing seven scoreless innings while Max Scherzer struck out 17 over two starts, winning for the first time in over a month.  Newcomer Gerardo Parra hit a grand slam in Saturday night’s win while ending a no-hit bid by the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu Sunday afternoon. Howie Kendrick’s homer helped the Nats snap the slide, and he led the team with seven RBI last week.

Last Week’s Humbled- Anthony Rendon came off the injured list and hit .136 with seven strikeouts.  He’s not alone-as none of the regulars hit over .250 last week. The catching combination of Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki went 1-for-25 with 10 strikeouts.  Jeremy Hellickson allowed six runs over four innings of work while Kyle Barraclough and Matt Grace each posted a 13.50 ERA.  That of course pales in comparison to Dan Jennings’ 40.50 blemish.

Hello Gerardo Parra!  He was hitting .198 for the Giants when the Nats picked him up, and what an acquisition for the Nats.  Even with the “Baby Shark” earworm.

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May 20– “Maylaise” 

Another week, another slate of games where the Nationals were alternately inspiring and frustrating.  The team that started slow (12-16 on April 30) is now 7-11 in May, has lost nine of 15 series (with two splits in the mix) and has dropped 13 of 15 series openers. After winning their first series in almost a month, the Nats went out and turned a 5-4 game in the eighth inning against the Cubs into a 14-6 nightmare.  With Miami’s sweep over the weekend of the Mets, the Nats are now the only team in the majors without a three game-winning streak.  And there’s no possible way this team will be over .500 on Memorial Day.  Could there be a crisis of confidence in DC?

Last Week’s Heroes- Gerardo Parra continues to be the hero the Nats need, hitting .500 with a homer and 3 RBI.  Anthony Rendon is also hitting his stride, batting .435 while scoring eight runs and driving in seven.  Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin each won their starts while allowing one earned run over eight innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- one rough week for Jeremy Hellickson, who goes 0-2 with an ERA of 9.00. Relievers Dan Jennings, Justin Miller, Kyle Barraclough and Matt Grace all post double-digit ERA’s-with Grace’s 15.43 the big number of the week.  Catcher Yon Gomes (now .206 on the season) continues to struggle with an 0-11 week.

I want to say I never said “malaise”, but “crisis of confidence”.  Fans of former President Carter will back me up.

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 27– “A Tale of Two Series” 

It was the worst of times–and the best of times last week. Well, actually–not the best because it’s tough to celebrate wins over the NL East’s AAA team.  But you get what I mean. And just remember the Nats lost two of three to Miami last month.  Nothing like three wins to put some wind back in the team’s sails and give one hope as they cross the first marker of the Major League Marathon (July 4th & 31st plus Labor Day are the other three of note-it’s not like Golf’s Majors where there’s a fixed set- some include the All Star Break as well).  The bullpen remains beyond as bad as anyone feared it might be (the team allowed 49 runs in the eighth inning over the first 50 games of the season) and its ERA has spiked to a mind-boggling and save-blowing 7.25.  As the Nats wind down May they find themselves closer to last place (4.5 games ahead of Miami) than first (nine behind Philadelphia). They entered their eight game stretch against the sub-500 Mets and Marlins with conventional wisdom being the Nats could/would/might win five or six to jump back into the race.  Entering the series finale with the Marlins they need a win just to break even.  Thank goodness the schedule continues to stay semi-soft in June.

Last Week’s Heroes- Juan Soto hit 13-26 with 2 homers and 8 RBI, while Juan Gomes batted .400 with 5 RBI.  Anthony Rendon remains red-hot, scoring a team-high 8 runs while driving in 5 more.  As it’s Rendon’s walk year, the longer this team remains sub-.500 the louder the whispers of trading Tony Two Bags will get.  Patrick Corbin tossed a complete game Saturday (just what the beleaguered bullpen needed) and Max Scherzer tossed six shutout innings earlier in the week.  Matt Grace pitched two scoreless innings over three games. Somebody check his temperature.

Last Week’s Humbled- rookie James Bourque made his major league debut Sunday, allowing 4 earned runs over two-thirds of an inning. He’ll have no issues fitting in here.  The usually sharp Sean Doolittle coughed up a three-run double and a three-run homer to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Just to show it’s not just a bullpen thing, Kyle McGowin allowed five runs over four innings in his start Friday.  Trea Turner hit .212 with six strikeouts while leading off and Victor Robles batted .200.

I remember losing power in my building the day the Nationals lost their matinee to the Mets.  That felt appropriate as the Nats had just gotten swept by their NL East foes, coughing up leads in three of the four games.  And even though they bounced back with three straight wins over the Marlins, they’d find a way to blow a late lead on Memorial Day.

 

 

 

The Washington Nationals at one point owned the second-worst record in the National League. Tonight, they are one of two teams remaining in the playoff party as the World Series gets underway in Houston.  While the Astros are prohibitive favorites, the Nats have been discounted all season–or at least since they were 19-31 after an ignominious sweep by the New York Mets.  Bring on the Fall Classic.

Soaring Astros- the American League champs won a big league-best 107 games during the regular season, ranking third in the majors in runs scored and team ERA.

Bats to Beware- Jose Altuve didn’t just win ALCS MVP honors by hitting a walk-off HR in Game Six, he’s also hitting .349 with 10 runs scored and 8 driven in this month.  Alex Bregman (with serious DC ties) led the team with 41 HR and 112 RBI during the regular season, and has 10 runs scored in the playoffs.

Yet to Take Off- leadoff hitter George Springer hit 39 homers during the regular season;  in the postseason he’s batting .152 with 15  strikeouts.  Yordan Alvarez is the other 100-RBI bat this year, and he’s hitting .171 with 19 strikeouts.

Nats Bats to Watch- Anthony Rendon is hitting .375 in the playoffs with a team-high 8 runs scored an 7 RBI, while also hitting .316 against right-handers.  Victor Robles is back from a bad hamstring and is hitting .313 in October. Howie Kendrick’s 9 RBI are tops on the team this month.

DH Decisions- Kendrick will be the designated hitter for Game One and will still bat fifth; the lineup tweaks are behind him in the order with Asdrubal Cabrera (21 RBI in September) getting the nod at second base instead of Brian Dozier (20 HR in the regular season).  He’ll bat sixth, the switch-hitter separating righty bats Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman- who’ll bat seventh.  Zim missed most of the season with plantar fasciitis, but notched 12 RBI in 53 September at bats.  He’s also hitting .333 against right-handed pitchers in the playoffs.

For Starters- Max Scherzer is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in the playoffs over three starts and one scoreless inning of relief, averaging 13.5 strikeouts over 9 innings.  He was completely unstoppable in June (going 6-0 with an ERA of 1.00) before a back injury cost him the better part of the next two months.  Gerrit Cole (20-5, 2.50 ERA) did not lose a decision after May 22 and is 3-0 with a 0.40 ERA in the playoffs.

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Autumn in Washington can come at you fast.  Didn’t we just have a week of 90-degree weather?  You blink and all of a sudden you’re looking for the lining in your coats you removed in April and breaking out the scarf and gloves.  Baseball’s playoffs are just as abrupt, as teams gearing up for a long postseason run all of a sudden are packing up their gear after a Game Five loss.

Ryan Zimmerman is deep into the autumn of his career, one that spans the entirety of the Washington Nationals’ stay in DC.  The teams initial first round pick in 2005 was a September call-up during the tail-end of the Nats’ inaugural season at RFK Stadium.  He shined the following season as an everyday player, finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year race (to Hanley Ramirez, for those curious).  Zimmerman topped that off by hitting a walk-off home run in the first regular season game at Nationals Park the next March.

The problem was, there wasn’t a lot of talent around Zimmerman at the time. It was an era of bad baserunning and dismal defense, misspelled uniforms and exploding sausage sandwiches in the skies (true story).  But the team was building for something special, and Ryan Zimmerman was their cornerstone. “He hasn’t changed since I saw him at the University of Virginia. He’s a pro’s pro–and one of the great players that I’ve ever scouted,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “A guy that’s really given his all to the Washington Nationals.  Physically, mentally and in the community he’s been terrific.  He’s the face of the franchise for a reason.”

The “face of the franchise” carries with it a ton of weight on the field and in the clubhouse.  Production at the plate and making great plays in the field are tangible skills one can easily see;  being the leader Zimmerman has been for the bulk of his career is not. But his teammates know and appreciate what Zim has done and continues to do on a daily basis. “He’s just an ultimate professional. A guy that goes out and puts his all into it-even banged up whatever it might be,” Adam Eaton said. “Speaks highly of everybody. Somebody that you would follow into battle type of guy.  There’s a reason he’s been the face of the organization for as long as he has been.”

That means being the go-to quote in the clubhouse when it’s not apparent who’s had a big game; it also means being the guy who the young players look up to in the clubhouse as they try to navigate their way through the early stages of their careers.  Zimmerman has been that kind of teammate; reliever Sean Doolittle played with him in college. “When I was a freshman at Virginia and he was a junior, he was one of the top prospects in all of college baseball,” Doolittle said. “And I got to watch the way he handled that pressure in that the microscope and go about about his business every day and was an awesome mentor to me.”

Being “the guy” for so long means building friendships with teammates that may spend half a season or half a decade in DC.  And Zimmerman knows that while the 2019 Nationals are the team that finally won a playoff series, this World Series appearance also belongs to the Jayson Werths and Adam Laroches.  “It’s definitely a culmination of a lot of guys that have been here,” Zimmerman said.”We’ve had some chances and haven’t come through, but they say you learn from your failures.  All of those guys that were on those teams are part of this tonight even though they’re not here.”

Baseball can be cruelly ironic.  Just when the Nationals were beginning to be competitive, Zimmerman started dealing with a laundry list of injuries.  Shoulder issues eventually moved the Gold Glove-winner across the infield to first base.  Seasons have been hijacked due to an abdominal strain and an oblique injury.  This year Zimmerman played just 52 games (fewest since his September call-up in 2005) while dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.  He finally returned on September first with the rest of the 40-man roster expansion.  After hitting .283 over 53 at bats in the season’s final month, Zimmerman was no guarantee to be a fixture in the lineup.  Matt Adams offered more power (20 homers) while Howie Kendrick was hitting a career-high .344.  Kendrick likely had to play first because second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera was coming off of a 21-RBI September.  The Kendrick-Cabrera combination at first and second base started the Wild Card Game.  “I played with him in 2014 here,” Cabrera said. “He was one of the best teammates, he’s a professional outside (of) and on the field. You want to do everything that is possible to do the best for the team and him.”

Autumn weather can defy explanation though;  it’s not as much of a straight line straight line between the seasons as it is an eventual progression from summer to winter.  And this October Zimmerman has turned back the hands of the clock, hitting .290 with a homer and five RBI over nine games.  His biggest hit was that broken-bat (more of a splintered or shattered bat) single in the Wild Card Game that set up Juan Soto’s go-ahead single in the eighth inning.  “What he’s doing now does not surprise me one bit.” Manager Davey Martinez said. “The biggest thing for him was his health. If you get a healthy Ryan Zimmerman, the product on the field speaks for itself.”

Somehow from the ashes of a 19-31 season this team surged and then scraped its way into the playoffs.  Somehow from 3-0 deficits in the Wild Card Game and Game Five of the NLDS the Nationals found a way to be the team still standing when the final out was secured (a fly-out to centerfield in both cases, just like the NLCS).  And somehow Ryan Zimmerman gets to enjoy being a key part of one historic run.  “Now to share a clubhouse with him again it’s been really special,” Doolittle said. “I’m really happy for him as somebody who’s been here from the beginning of this version of Washington baseball.”

How long will Zimmerman’s extended autumn last?  The 35-year old is in the final year of the contract extension signed way back in February, 2012.  There’s a club option for 2020 worth $18 million (his salary the last two years), or the team can buy out the deal for $2 million.  To say it’s extremely likely the Nationals will take the buyout route would be a major understatement.  But to also say that the veteran wants to come back and play his final days in Washington, even at a reduced rate and playing time, is also a major understatement.  This has become home for the Virginia Beach native and his family, and the only major league home he’s known. “Playing in the big leagues for this long you consider yourself lucky,” Zimmerman said. “To be able to do it with one team and one organization. Being involved in the community and have friends that I’ve met that I’ll be friends with far longer than I’ll play baseball.  It’s a pretty cool situation.”  He has at least four more games before those decisions need to be made, but the face of the franchise hopes to be safe at home here in Washington for 2020.

The Nationals wound up splitting their interleague miniseries with the suddenly red-hot (or maybe orange-hot) Orioles before splitting a four game set in Atlanta.  Instead of a 4-2 or 5-1 week what would have been one giant leap in the NL East and Wildcard race the Nats took several small steps.  Which in the grand scheme of things isn’t that bad as the club does lead the NL Wildcard, but the longer they’re unable to make up ground against the Braves the more of a longshot the division race will be.  Which means, in effect, they’ll need to win a one game playoff to make the playoffs.

Digesting the Division- Atlanta remains in front of the pack at 60-41, while the Nats are six and a half games out at 52-46.  Philadelphia is one game behind the Nats after a 4-3 week that includes a split with the Dodgers which involved a pair of high-scoring slugfest wins.  The New York Mets followed up a sweep of AL Central leading Minnesota by dropping three of four to suddenly contending San Francisco and are nine games under .500.  Miami (36-61) got swept by the Dodgers.

The Wild Wildcard Race- the Nats have plenty of company in the battle to snag the fourth or fifth seeed in the NL.  They own a half game lead over Milwaukee, who boast a minus-4 run differential.  One full game back are the Phillies and St. Louis; the Cardinals have won seven of nine.  Arizona and San Francisco are both 50-50 and three games behind the Nats;  the Diamondbacks have the largest run differential (+63) amongst Wildcard contenders while the Giants have won eight of ten.

Harper’s Weekly- the former face of the franchise hit .360 with 5 doubles, a homer and 8 RBI.  He’s now batting .258 and is on pace to belt 47 doubles, 28 homers and drive in 113 runs.  Harper remains on pace for 188 strikeouts.  Just imagine the Phillies without him this summer.

O’s Woes- the Birds are no longer historically bad.  Yes, the last place Orioles are still on pace to pass the 100-loss threshold- but the 51 win pace is so much easier to swallow than potentially winning fewer games than last year’s 47-victory disaster.  Taking two of three from defending World Series Champion Boston adds a feather to their cap as well.  The team is on a 9-9 stretch–if they can continue this .500 pace for the rest of the year they’ll avoid 100 losses which would be a victory in and of itself.

Last Week’s Heroes- Adam Eaton hit 9 for 26 while Anthony Rendon batted .400 with 5 RBI. Victor Robles also drove in five while Brian Dozier scored five runs. Stephen Strasburg went 3-for-3 with a homer and 5 RBI against Atlanta while striking out seven. Sean Doolittle and Tony Sipp tossed scoreless weeks of relief while Eric Fedde and Austin Voth posted ERA’s of 1.50 in their starts.

Last Week’s Humbled- Kyle McGowan (8.10 ERA) and Javy Guerra (13.50) were less than effective out of the bullpen, while Max Scherzer’s back prevented the best pitcher in baseball from starting again.  Ryan Zimmerman’s foot is acting up as well, while Juan Soto (4 for 18) and Matt Adams (4 for 18) had less than ideal weeks at the plate.

Game to Watch- Saturday the Nats host the Los Angeles Dodgers at 4:05 pm. Naturally it will be as hot as possible as it is every year then LA comes to town.  Stephen Strasburg (12-4) ranks fourth in the league in strikeouts and is 14th in ERA while Clayton Kershaw (8-2) is sixth in ERA and 20th in strikeouts.  Brave the heat here…

Game to Miss- the only thing worse than a late-afternoon start in the DC swelter is the early-afternoon Sunday matinee.  The Nats and Dodgers play again at 1:35 pm to wrap up their series.  The pool calls…

The team that entered June nine games under .500 (and Memorial Day 12 games under) finds themselves with a winning record at the start of July–no small feat. The Nats’ 18-8 mark turns the All Star Break conversations from “who should they trade for prospects?” to “can this ridiculous run continue?” and cools off the seat of Manager Davey Martinez considerably.  One major factor in the Nats resurgence was the return to form of three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer: the 1-4 start with an ERA of 4.08 on May 1 was merely a mirage.  The Scherzer we saw in June went 6-0 with an ERA of 1.00 while notching 68 strikeouts to five walks.  He’s notched three straight wins while sporting a black eye from his broken nose to go with the naturally blue and brown ones.  And once again we have to remind ourselves that perhaps the best pitcher of this generation calls Washington, DC his home.  His next start at home is Saturday.  Guess which game I’ll be focusing on below?

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta (50-35) owns a five and a half game lead over second place Philadelphia (44-40) while the Nats (42-41) are seven and a half off of the Braves’ pace. But the story this week is the Melting Mets (38-47) have lost 14 of 20 and their bullpen makes the Nats’ issues miniscule. Was that back to back to back to back blown saves against Philly?  Did Manager Mickey Calloway compare himself to Billy Martin when it came to conduct?  And for the record, I don’t believe Martin hit a member of the press–it was a marshmallow salesman.  To top things off, while honoring the 1969 Miracle Mets the franchise saluted those on that team who had passed away–and tipped their caps to a pair of men who are still living.  Remember the “Natinals”?  The team that shot sausage sandwich showers on fans during misguided promotions?  Nook “What was he thinking?” Logan?  These Mets are those Nats.  Enjoy.

Harper’s Weekly- the former face of the franchise hit 7-of-26 to bring his batting average back to .250. His 15 homers and 59 RBI put Bryce on a pace for 29 & 114.  His strikeouts are down (relatively) as his 101 K’s translate to 195 for the season. And after feasting on the Mets, the Phils aren’t taking water anymore.  For the moment…

O’s Woes- well, they did take two of three from Cleveland.  The first series victory since late April puts the Birds at 24-60 (they lost Monday’s series opener to Tampa Bay).  That their pitching has been a problem is a massive understatement (the 5.74 ERA is the worst in the majors), and the grasping at straws portion of the season includes paying cash to Cleveland for Indians minor leaguer Asher Wojciechowski (8-2 in 15 starts at AAA Columbus) as well as starting rookie Thomas Eshelman (who wears #83, a number that doesn’t inspire longevity) Monday against the Rays.  The Orioles need to go .500 (39-39) in order to avoid another 100-loss season.  They’re currently playing under .300 ball.

Last Week’s Heroes- Max Scherzer didn’t just have a great month: he wrapped up a dominant June with two more spectacular starts, going 2-0 while striking out 24 without issuing a walk.  He also went 2-for-3 at the plate and scored twice.  Did we mention he was voted NL Player of the Week?  Patrick Corbin pitched well in his start while Fernando Rodney, Tony Sipp and Jonny Venters tossed scoreless outings of relief.  Anthony Rendon (along with Scherzer the Nats’ other All Star representative) hit .320 with five RBI and six runs scored.  Matt Adams drove in six while Juan Soto notched eight walks and drive in four.

Last Week’s Humbled- Brian Dozier hit .174.  With Ryan Zimmerman coming off of the Injured List, one can see Howie Kendrick’s starts getting moved to the middle of the infield.  Already feeling the crunch is Michael A. Taylor, who finds himself in AA Harrisburg and hasn’t been the same since Dusty Baker was fired.  Relievers Tanner Rainey and Javy Guerra both posted ERA’s over 20.

Game to Watch- not only is Max Scherzer pitching for the final time before the All Star break, but Saturday’s game will have the Nats wearing powder blue Expos uniforms to honor the 50th anniversary of the start of the franchise.  This will be nice.

Game to Miss- Sunday Patrick Corbin pitches against the Royals, while the Women’s World Cup holds its final. From Team USA’s 13-0 trouncing of Thailand to the nailbiting win over host nation France, this has been one incredible month for the US.  Can they deliver a win over England and a trip to another Final?  One thinks yes.

What a week it was.  From Virginia winning a first-ever men’s college basketball National Championship (Kippy & Buffy are celebrating with a bottle of 2009 Chateau Lynch-Bages) to the Capitals taking a 2-0 first round playoff series lead over Carolina to Tiger Woods winning the Masters to Game of Thrones’ final season premiering, there’s been a lot to experience.  Amidst all of that the Nationals went 3-3 to remain .500 on the season.  One series win that could have gone the other way followed by the exact opposite.  But who’s watching?

Being Bryce- Harper’s hitting .280 with 4 HR and 9 RBI to start the season…and is 6-for-16 with 2 HR and 6 RBI against his former team.  He also has his team atop the heap in the East–for the moment.

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia leads the NL East at 9-5 while Atlanta and the New York Mets are tied for second one-half game back at 9-6.  The Braves’ biggest win of the week was locking up infielder Ozzie Albies to a seven-year contract worth 35 million dollars.  After their lockup of Ronald Acuna, Atlanta has set themselves up well.  As long as neither gets hurt or massively underperforms.  The 7-7 Nats are two games off of the pace while 4-12 Miami is preparing for 2021.

O’s Woes- the Birds continue to seek their own level…and after nine losses in eleven games a 6-10 start feels more like it.  Even though they’re currently tied with defending World Series champ Boston and are just a half game behind the Yankees.  Blame 12-4 Tampa Bay for being the one kid who studied and ruins the AL East curve on this April quiz.  At least Chris Davis finally has a hit-three of them in fact.

Last Week’s Heroes- Howie Kendrick in his return to the roster hit 7-of-11 with 2 homers and 4 RBI.  They missed the swiss army knife a ton last year.  Anthony Rendon hit .360 while driving in 8 runs.  Adam Eaton scored a team-high 7 runs.  Patrick Corbin struck out 11 over seven innings in his only outing while Kyle Barraclough (1.2 scoreless innings) and Sean Doolittle (3.2 scoreless) kept the lid on things.  Trevor Rosenthal after living in the land of infinity notched his first out of the season.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman hit .167 while Wilmer Difo batted .143.  Stephen Strasburg was touched up for 6 earned runs over 4 innings of work.  Tony Sipp allowed 2 runs in one inning.

Game to Watch- Tuesday night Jeremy Hellickson pitches against San Francisco’s Jeff Samardzija, who looks like an extra in the next Three Musketeers adaptation (for the record, I’m a 1973-74 Michael York as d’Artagnan and Charlton Heston as the Cardinal kind of guy).  Both are off to decent starts this April.

Game to Miss- Friday Anibal Anchez pitches against a bad team in a worse ballpark. Caleb Smith won his most recent start for the Marlins, but this is an April Friday one hopes is nice on the DC Waterfront.

The Washington Nationals remain on the outskirts of playoff contention after another week where we saw this team at it’s most thrilling (an 8-7 win over Philadelphia with Ryan Zimmerman belting a walk-off home run) and its most underwhelming (three straight shutout losses).  The Nats may have won the aggregate-run week, 33-19, but after another 3-3 showing still find themselves a game under .500.  And while they’re not out of the NL East race just yet, it’s going to take one remarkable September to revive the team’s sagging postseason hopes.  Another week, another slow boil.

Double-Dealing- the Nats made a pair of waiver-wire trades, sending Daniel Murphy to the Chicago Cubs and dealing Matt Adams to St. Louis.  Murphy hit .329 over 342 games with the team and was arguably their best offensive player each of the last two years.  If not for a bad knee last fall and a glut that wouldn’t hold up in 2016,  Murphy could have won an MVP award.  Adams was second on the team in homers but had cooled off since the All Star break and was hitting .061 in August.  While Adams’ at-bats were dwindling with a healthy Ryan Zimmerman, Murphy’s absence gives Wilmer Difo the chance to prove he’s an everyday Major League second baseman.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta (73-57) dropped two of three over the weekend in Miami, keeping the Braves eight and a half games ahead of the Nats in the NL East.  They host red-hot Tampa Bay twice this week before facing the Chicago Cubs for one game.  Philadelphia (70-60) has lost five of their last six series (the other being a miniseries split with Boston) and while their next six games are at home, they’re against the Nats and the Chicago Cubs.  If the Braves and Phillies both finish 16-16 (not out of the realm of possibility), the Nationals would need to go 25-6 to take first.

Wildcard Watch-  the Nats currently trail five teams in the NL Wildcard race; and those clubs have created a little separation between themselves and the second group of clubs currently playing tag with the .500 mark.  On the bright side, the Nats have the second best run-differential among Wildcard contenders.  On the not so bright side, the Nats’ 13-21 record in one-run games is the worst among those teams.

O’s Woes- at 37-94 a 100-loss campaign is all but a certainty (some can dream of a 26-5 finish, but I won’t)-so now we move on to the all-time worst record in Baltimore: the 54-107 crater of 1988 that began with 21 straight losses.  To avoid that this team has to go 18-13.  One wonders what this winter will bring for Adam Jones, Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .304 with a team-high 5 RBI, while Adam Eaton led the regulars with a .381 batting average.  Juan Soto scored a team-high 6 runs…and kept a ninth inning rally alive with a two-out, two-strike double.  Ryan Zimmerman merely added to his legend with his 11th career walk-off home run.  Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez combined to allow 2 earned runs over 16 innings.  Max Scherzer struck out 10 over seven frames.  Stephen Strasburg is back from the disabled list.

Last Week’s Humbled- as a team the Nats were 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position during their three game shutout streak (first time in franchise history since they were the Montreal Expos playing in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2004), leaving 18 on base.  They lost those three games by two, two and three runs.  In a race where they can’t afford to lose much more ground, those three losses (especially while getting solid pitching performances) were deadly.

Game to Watch- Tuesday Max Scherzer takes his 16-6 mark to the mound in Philadelphia to face 15-3 Aaron Nola–who outdueled Max just this past Thursday  Scherzer allowed a pair of hits but one was a two-run homer that was the difference.  Looking forward to the rematch.

Game to Miss- Saturday the Nats host Milwaukee…and it’s not the Brewers’ fault for not being a divisional foe.  Nor is it Jefry Rodriguez’ fault for not being a name-pitcher like Max, Stras, Gio or even Roark.  But September first is the first Saturday of the college football season (okay, there were games last week but really) and #23 Texas comes to FedEx Field to exact revenge against a Maryland team that had the gall to beat the Longhorns in Austin last year.  Fear the Hook’em…

On the surface the Nationals dropped four of seven to fellow playoff contenders Atlanta and the Chicago Cubs.  The way they got there is a microcosm of how frustrating this season has been for a team that appears to be less than the sum of its parts.  In three of the seven games the Nats’ bats produced six or more runs–and they won all three.  Three of those games were decided by two runs or fewer–and the Nats lost all three.  Including Sunday night’s come-from-ahead defeat at Wrigley Field.  While Ryan Madson hitting a pair of batters before giving up a grand slam was not ideal (especially with one of the base-runners reaching on an error), Friday’s loss was even more frustrating. Nine left on base after going 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Jeremy Hellickson walking the bases loaded in the sixth to secure a shower despite having a no-hitter going.  Greg Holland walking in what would be the decisive run in the seventh.  And Juan Soto getting picked twice off of first base in a one-run game.  These are the Nationals- a team that is 11-20 in one-run games.  As they trail Atlanta and Philadelphia plus five other teams in the Wild Card race, the little things become big over the final 44 games.  Can the team that has been admittedly sloppy for four-plus months finally turn the corner? 

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta takes a half game lead after blasting Miami 9-1 Monday afternoon. The Braves and Philadelphia are both within striking distance of the Nats in the standings, but the five to six game cushion has existed for some time.  And the longer the cushion stays in place the quicker it hardens.

O’s Woes- well, at long last the Birds have been officially eliminated from AL East contention and are assured of a losing record.  Their chances at avoiding a 100-loss campaign are dwindling (they need a 28-15 finish) by the day and the worst mark in team history (54-107 from 1988) isn’t too far away (they need to finish 20-23 to avoid that distinction).

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman captured NL Player of the Week honors after hitting .476 with three homers and 12 RBI. Matt Wieters hit .353 while Trea Turner batted .345.  Max Scherzer struck out 17 while walking a pair over 14 innings and the Nats also got solid starts from Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark.

Last Week’s Humbled- let the record show that the bullpen is shorthanded, but Matt Grace, Wander Suero and Ryan Madson each posted ERA’s over six.  Same case with Kelvin Herrera who’s on the disabled list.  Adam Eaton hit .200 with eight strikeouts and no walks while Juan Soto batted .182 and got picked off first base twice Friday in a one run game.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats begin a series with Miami, and while Max Scherzer takes to the mound in search for his 16th win of the year it’s also Hawaiian Shirt night at the ballpark.  Very, very tough to pass this one up.

Game to Miss- Saturday Tommy Milone pitches against Wei-Yin Chen in a duel of starters with ERA’s over five. Pool time is slowly but surely shrinking with Labor Day looming. Get a full day in the water if you can.

Friday a disagreement between Nationals star pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg hijacked the week.  Strasburg was just coming off of a rough outing in his return from the disabled list and it appeared as though Scherzer gave him words of encouragement.  The two heated up and then went into the clubhouse to discuss matters more.  Following the game (an 8-5 loss to Atlanta) the clubhouse was closed for a while and when reporters finally spoke to Strasburg about the incident, he replied:  “It’s part of family, man. You got to be in the family.”  When pressed further, Strasburg countered, “You’ve got to be in the family. You’re not.”  Well, just like Sonny Corleone beating up Carlo on the streets in view of the Tattaglia/Barzini associates, handling “family matters” on the front porch is not ideal.  Especially when the team is in a tailspin and you haven’t won since May 27th.  Thank goodness the Nats worked out a split of the rain-induced miniseries.

Casting call- so if the “family” exists in the way we are led to believe, what role does Stephen Strasburg play?  One has to think that Max Scherzer and his aggressive personality is tailor-made for Sonny Corleone, while Sean Doolittle has the necessary wisdom to portray Tom Hagen.  Ryan Zimmerman’s quiet confidence gives him the part of Michael, while Bryce Harper could be Al Neri.  Anthony Rendon?  Rocco Lampone.  I’m not saying Trea Turner would sell out the Don, but he could portray Paulie.  Juan Soto can play Cato, Michael’s bodyguard that didn’t blow up his car.  Ryan Madson’s cold efficiency allows him to wear the fedora of Sollozzo–as long as he doesn’t try the veal (it’s the best in the city)…and Kelvin Herrera as hired gun Captain McCluskey.  Daniel Murphy is Willy Cicci– largely absent at the beginning of the film before helping the Corleones in the end.  Matt Wieters is a hobbled Don Tomasino as he legs out doubles.  Adam Eaton is Enzo the baker’s son-in-law, standing with Michael outside of the hospital.  Matt Adams has the presence at the play to be Luca Brasi while Gio Gonzalez & Tanner Roark are tailor-made for the roles of Clemenza & Tessio:  two unsung heroes whose success was necessary for the Corleone family to thrive.  Howie Kendrick is Genco– taken from the stage way too soon in the film to have helped in the war against the Five Families.    I’m inclined to hand the reins of Vito Corleone to Mike Rizzo, with Davey Martinez either Barzini or Tattaglia as we still don’t know if he’s a wartime Don or not.  Sadly that leaves either Johnny Fontaine or Fredo for Strasburg.  As long as it stays in the family.

Dissecting the Division- while the Nats kept pace with the Braves, first place Philadelphia gained a half game by taking two of three from San Diego.  Pitching is propping the Phils up as they own the second best ERA in the majors this month.  The Braves’ bats appear to be hitting the wall as Atlanta’s offense ranks 27th in MLB in July runs scored.  Meanwhile, the Marlins and Mets continue their thrilling chase for last place in the NL East.  Miami has a run differential of -115 to New York’s -67, but the Mets are the ones in the cellar this morning.

O’s Woes- Manny Machado is a Los Angeles Dodger.  That’s going to take a while to get used to, but so is the current state of a team that made the postseason three times in five years and was a Wildcard team just 21 months ago.  The cratering continues with three straight losses to Toronto– a team they now trail by 19 games.  For fourth place in the AL East.  At 28-72 we’ve actually reconfigured their tragic number:  because Boston has 10 games left with the New York Yankees, the O’s elimination number is 18.  At least it won’t happen in July.

Last Week’s Heroes- Juan Soto went 4-for-7 with a homer and three RBI while Adam Eaton batted 3-for-7 with a team-high three runs.  Max Scherzer struck out seven over six innings.  Bryce Harper won the home run derby.

Last Week’s Humbled- a small sample size to say the least, but Matt Wieters (1-for-8) and Michael A. Taylor (2-for-9) had less than productive weeks.  Stephen Strasburg allowed six runs over four and two-thirds innings while blowing up in the dugout, but as we know that’s a family matter.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats are in Miami.  Max Scherzer goes after his 14th win of the season.  Miami was the site of his home run last year–and also where his neck dealt with a bad pillow and Scherzer was mortal for a few weeks.

GGame to Miss- Saturday night Gio Gonzalez pitches against the Marlins, and while one is curious to see how the lefthander will fare in the second half of the season the famed 80’s cover band “The Legwarmers” will be playing at the State Theater in Falls Church.  Do yourself a favor and catch this group in action.