Archives for posts with tag: Stephen Strasburg

What a difference a couple of weeks make.  The Nationals have won 13 of 15 to turn from April underachievers to May movers and shakers…highlighted by a four game sweep of Arizona on the road.  Somehow despite missing major pieces in the lineup the Nats are within a stone’s throw of first place in a continuing to deflate NL East.  Credit a starting rotation that is the second stingiest (2.91 ERA) in the big leagues…and just enough offense (7th in MLB this month) to put W’s on the board and keep this club in contention until in theory the big bats on the DL return to the lineup.

More Aches- add Ryan Zimmerman and a hurting oblique to the growing list of lumber in the land of limbo.  Four of the top six bats in the order (Eaton, Rendon, Murphy and now Zim) have been sat down this spring- with Eaton now on the 60-day disabled list and Murphy past the point of “as long as he’s back by May 1st” concern.  In addition, Brian Goodwin’s stay on the DL nears one month means that the team has been forced to go with Plan C…and sometimes D and E in LF.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta’s Monday matinée victory over the Chicago Cubs gave the Braves a game and a half lead in the NL East…as six wins in seven games keeps them ahead of the surging Phillies (four wins in five games) and Nationals.  The Braves’ bats (#1 in the MLB in average) and the Phillies’ rotation (2nd most quality starts in the majors) have those clubs ahead of the Nats (24-18) for the moment.  The Mets remain over .500, but just barely…

Break up the Birds- who are these people?  Back to back series wins for the Orioles have the team no longer saddled with the worst record in the majors.  Manny Machado is a major monster (.350, 13 HR & 38 RBI) while Jonathan Schoop is off the disabled list.  Unfortunately the nightmare season of Chris Tillman lands the former ace on the disabled list.  The 10.46 ERA this year may not be the largest sample size, but he’s 2-11 since the start of last year.

Last Week’s Heroes- Matt Reynolds homered twice in Sunday’s win over Arizona, while Trea Turner scored 8 runs and Matt Adams drove in 7 runs.  Stephen Strasburg went 2-0 while Max Scherzer struck out 11 and allowed zero walks in his lone start (a victory).  Jeremy Hellickson posted a 0.77 ERA over two starts.  Sean Doolittle saved three games while tossing three scoreless innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- Michael A. Taylor hit .148 with 12 strikeouts (and no walks).  The early-season injuries are making life miserable for the training staff.  Hope they can go fishing on their off day this week.

Game to Watch- Wednesday Max Scherzer takes his 7-1 mark to the mound against C.C. Sabathia and the New York Yankees.  The Pinstripes are a big-league best 28-12 with four players already at 10+ home runs.  Max leads the majors in strikeouts and is fourth in ERA.  Even with FBI agent Stan Beeman finally realizing his neighbors are more than just “travel” agents, The Americans takes second place.

Game to Miss- the Washington Capitals are on a collision course with destiny…one that will result in me wearing a red suit for one day when they capture the Stanley Cup.  They took the first two games of their Eastern Conference Final with Tampa Bay on the road (and we won’t mention they did the same thing in the 2003 First Round only to lose in six games)…and host the Lightning Tuesday evening.  I’ll be there for WTOP– and even though the Gio Gonzalez-Masahiro Tanaka duel is compelling, the chance to watch the Caps take a 3-0 lead > regular season baseball in May.

 

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After today the Nationals will no longer have the fail-safe phrase at their disposal.  Nothing writes off inefficient offense or porous pitching better than “it’s only April”.  Even though these games count in the standings as much as the games in August and September.  And while one shouldn’t panic at 7-9…one should have cause for concern at 12-16.  They rank a middling 17th in runs scored…and although one can explain that by realizing they’re still missing arguably three of their best four hitters (Eaton-Murphy-Rendon), the regression of Ryan Zimmerman (.191 with 13 RBI in 27 games) isn’t going away.  The bullpen’s ERA of 4.91 is 25th best and has been healthy for the most part.  May means matchups with contenders like Arizona, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers plus surprising Philadelphia.  It’s only April for just one more day…

Dissecting the Division- the New York Mets remain the problem that won’t go away atop the standings after going 3-3 on their road trip.  Yoenis Cespedes ranks second in the NL with 25 RBI while Asdrubal Cabrera’s .340 batting average is one point behind St. Louis’ Tommy Pham.  That’s a good duo to build your lineup around.  Atlanta and Philadelphia are both 1.5 games back;  the Braves rank second in the majors with 151 runs while the Phillies’ 16 quality starts is tied for sixth most in the bigs.  The Nats are 3-3 against the Braves and 2-4 against the Mets this year;  they play Philadelphia for the first time this Friday.

O’s Woes- the Orioles won a series for the first time in three weeks by taking two of three from Detroit.  Anything to stop the profuse bleeding.  There are still fundamental problems facing this fifth place club, from combustible starting pitching (their 5.34 ERA is third-worst in MLB) to underwhelming offense (26th in runs scored, 27th in batting average and 29th in on base percentage).  Will their west coast road trip represent a different direction or a disaster?

Last Week’s Heroes-  Max Scherzer struck out 10 and helped end a Nats losing streak.  We’ll overlook how he’s no longer hitting over .300 for the moment.  Sean Doolittle tossed three scoreless innings.  Andrew Stevenson hit .500 with 5 RBI while Howie Kendrick batted .450 with 2 homers…justifying a move to the #4 spot in the order.

Last Week’s Humbled- Moises Sierra hit .154 with 6 strikeouts while Pedro Severino hit .167.  Stephen Strasburg allowed 5 earned runs in 6.1 innings of work.  Manager Davey Martinez’ strategy and tactics have drawn concern.

Game to Watch- Sunday Max Scherzer pitches against Philadelphia in the series finale against the guy many wanted the Nats to sign-Jake Arrieta (who happens to be 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA).  What could have been…

Game to Miss- Saturday Tanner Roark and Vince Velasquez is your mound matchup…while at Capital One Arena the Caps will be hosting Pittsburgh.  Virginia Gold Cup rages as well.  Oh, and there’s also that Kentucky Derby thing…

Home is supposed to be where the heart is…not seven losses in ten games.  Not the haven of bad baserunning and sloppy defense.  And certainly not the incubator of an offense that can’t seem to get out of its own way.  When the homestand began, the 4-2 Nats were looking forward to using their 10-game set on South Capitol Street as a springboard.  Instead, they leave for a suddenly crucial nine-game journey that involves a west coast swing but starts at the NL East-leading New York Mets.  Traditionally the west coast trip sneaks up on you in August at the most crucial time and often makes or breaks a season.  Could that be the case-gulp-in April?  Welcome to another interesting week in review… 

Break up the Mets!- while we know that a 12-2 start is not sustainable through a 162 game schedule, a division lead is still a division lead.  Pitching has been the difference for the Mets- who lead the majors with a 2.58 team ERA- while Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce have delivered at the plate.  In previous seasons the injury bug didn’t just bite the Mets–the bug chewed and spit out this team.  It’s safe to say a healthy Mets team aren’t just going to provide the Nats with a challenge–but if the Mets take two or even sweep this week, the Nats will go from being the hunted to the hunters.

O’s Woes- at least the Nats are their neighbors to the north.  The Orioles are 5-11 (not too good) and have had issues hitting (29th ranked batting average in the bigs) and pitching (worst opponent’s batting average in MLB).  Chris Tillman, Alex Cobb, Kevin Gausman and Mike Wright Jr. each own ERA’s over six.  Thank goodness Tampa Bay is worse.

Last Week’s Heroes-  Max Scherzer notched 21 strikeouts while winning both of his starts…notching more hits at the plate (2) than walks issued from the mound (1).  Max also stole a base.  Tanner Roark scored a run in his lone start while allowing 3 hits over 6 innings Friday in a hard-luck loss.  Matt Wieters came off the DL with a bang…belting a pair of home runs against the Rockies.  Bryce Harper made the most of the limited pitches he saw to score a team-high five runs.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Ryan Zimmerman’s April issues (.136 battaing average with 6 strikeouts) continue while Trea Turner, Matt Adams, Moises Sierra and Brian Goodwin also hit under .200 for the week.  Shawn Kelley gave up a pair of homers while Sean Doolittle coughed up a ninth inning blast to Ian Desmond in the series finale.

Game to Watch- Saturday Stephen Strasburg pitches against Clayton Kershaw at Chavez Ravine.  This is the dream matchup when both are on their game. The fact that it’s on a Saturday makes the 9:10 first pitch more than workable.

Game to Miss- Tuesday the Capitals try to climb out of a 2-0 series crater against Columbus while the Wizards attempt to bounce back from their Game One loss at Toronto.  Sorry, Gio Gonzalez as you pitch against the New York Mets.  Postseason crises trump regular season issues more often than not.

Okay, so we knew the Nationals were not going to go 162-0.  Or even 130-32.  But the last five games have been somewhat tough to stomach…as five consecutive losses drops the club under .500 since the days of Matt Williams.  They’ve been outscored 37-16 in that stretch…and while they knew the NL East would not be a cakewalk, now the Braves and Mets know it too.

Dissecting the Division- getting swept by the Mets means New York is atop the NL East at 7-1 while Atlanta is a game and a half back.  It’s still early, but the Mets rank 2nd in the majors in WHIP (walks + hits divided by innings pitched) and ERA while boasting the third best batting average in the bigs.  Meanwhile, the Braves lead MLB in batting average, runs scored, slugging and on base percentage.  The Nats are in third–with Philadelphia and Miami stumbling over each other thanks to and offseason fire sale and puzzling managerial moves by Gabe Kapler.  Yes, there are some in Philly who would rather have Gabe Kaplan managing.

Sick Bay- add Matt Wieters and a strained oblique to the DL.  While we weren’t expecting the world from the catcher this year, having to mine the minors for early-season replacements was not what the club intended

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .333 while drawing 11 walks in 29 plate appearances.  Pedro Severino hit .320 with 3 RBI and 2 runs scored after being called up from the minors.  Relievers Sean Doolittle, Matt Grace, Ryan Madson, Shawn Kelley and Sammy Solis combined to toss 16.2 scoreless innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- AJ Cole had a less than ideal 2018 debut, allowing 10 earned runs over three and two thirds innings pitched.  Michael A Taylor (.182 with 9 strikeouts) and Ryan Zimmerman (.105) continue to struggle in early April.

Game to Watch- one wants to see Max Scherzer redeem himself after last Wednesday’s loss to Atlanta.  It’s a cold Monday in April but the Caps and Wiz are both idle.  And “The Americans” airs on Wednesday.  So we are going all-in on Max.

Game to Miss- on a week where we get Scherzer & Strasburg twice apiece, Gio Gonzalez in the hard-luck loser Thursday with the Caps beginning their playoff run the same night.

 

 

 

Four NL East titles in six years is a good thing…even with the unfortunate October endings that have plagued the Washington Nationals this decade. Ryan Zimmerman still has the phantom pains from 100+ loss campaigns where contending was a pipe dream and instead of a magic number a tragic number was posted some times as soon as August.  So even though DC is more than hungry for a champion–or even a team that plays for the championship–let’s enjoy the process as the team is once again favored to win its (albeit not awesome) division and has more than a few players who will potentially factor in the MVP and Cy Young races.

One Sweet Sweep- not only did the Nats take all three from Cincinnati, the Reds did not lead at all during the series.  Dominant pitching and timely hitting set the table for the weekend as the club did plenty of little things and more than a few big things right.  It’s only three games, I know.  But while a team can’t win the division in April, it can definitely lose its way.

O’s Woes- after a thrilling extra inning walkoff win (which is becoming the rule instead of the exception at Camden Yards) the Birds dropped two straight to Minnesota- an expected Wildcard contender.  Kevin Gausman looked bad in coughing up 6 runs over 4 innings while the Chris Davis leading off experiment has the top of the O’s order an 0-for-12.  And the bullpen almost gave away the opener.  But it’s still really early.

Last Week’s Heroes- Adam Eaton hit 8-for-13 with 2 homers and 5 RBI (do you think he was ready for 2018?)…while Bryce Harper not only homered twice but also got the job done with a pair of sac-flies.  Max Scherzer struck out 10 over 6 scoreless innings in the season opener while Sean Doolittle notched a pair of saves.

Last Week’s Humbled- relievers Enny Romero and Sammy Solis had less than ideal opening weekends, each allowing two earned runs while recording a pair of outs.  Ryan Zimmerman and Michael A Taylor both hit .125 against the Reds, but  Zim’s groundout Friday led to the first run of the season and Taylor used a bunt and a stolen base to generate an insurance run.  Once again, it’s only three games.

Game to Watch- there’s nothing quite like the home opener.  Even when it’s a week into the season.  Stephen Strasburg starts Thursday against the New York Mets in a matchup of the last two teams to win the division.

Game to Miss- sadly the Atlanta rebuild makes matchups against the Braves less than desirable.  With apologies to Tanner Roark, Monday night will be all about the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Championship Game as Villanova takes on Michigan.  One shining moment, indeed…

 

 

 

Do we have to do this?  I mean…the season’s over.  Winter is underway in Washington…can’t we focus on how the Capitals will get our hopes up again before melting in May?  Yes, the Nationals will not be advancing to the NLCS again.  Another Game Five loss at home.  Another offseason of head-scratching.

Series Heroes- start with Michael A Taylor who was the only regular to hit over .211.  His Game Four-sealing grand slam and three-run homer in Game Five accounted for 35% of the team’s runs during the series.  Adam Lind went 2 for 3 in a pinch-hitting role (to be expected after hitting .341 in September).  Stephen Strasburg turned in two gems, striking out 22 over 14 innings (while allowing two unearned runs).  Sean Doolittle and Matt Albers combined for 5.1 scoreless frames.  Max Scherzer had a great start in Chicago despite a bad hamstring (6.1 innings of one-hit ball over 98 pitches).

Series Humbled- the bats were flat:  Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Trea Turner and Matt Wieters each hit under .200 in the NLDS.  Gio Gonzalez had a rough start in Game Five…and Max Scherzer was one strike away from a 1-2-3 inning when an infield single began the drizzle that ended in a 4-run shower of runs.  Manager Dusty Baker’s tactics were called into question, from bringing in Sammy Solis to staying with a Jayson Werth that was hitting .155 since coming back from injury.  It was rough all around…

Bye Bye Beard- Jayson Werth’s seven year tenure seems likely to be ending…and from the moment he signed his 7 year, 126 million dollar contract there were those who said the Nats would never get true value for their money.  While Werth never reached the 30 HR or 90 RBI plateaus with the Nats and played fewer than 90 games during three of his seven seasons in DC, the fan favorite will be missed in the clubhouse.  He marched to the beat of his own drummer…and band.  Other pending free agents include bats off the bench Howie Kendrick and Adam Lind.

Opening Day 2018- if Adam Eaton returns to his April 2017-form, we can pencil him back at the leadoff spot.  And I’m going to move Eaton over to LF and put Michael A Taylor in CF.  Trea Turner goes back to hitting second while Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon form the core of the order.  That brings up the catcher’s spot in the order:  Lobaton becomes a free agent and Matt Wieters hit .196 after the All Star Game and .118 in September.  He has a player option for 2018…and in the wings the Nats have Pedro Severino (.242 with 5 HR and 29 RBI in AAA) and Raudy Read (.265 with 17 HR and 61 RBI in AA and a name that smacks of Wrestlemania IV).  Taylor looks like the #8 guy as Dusty loves to go left-right (or switch) in the order.  Outfield depth provides promise if Brian Goodwin can stay healthy and Victor Robles can make the leap.  Wilmer Difo is on his way to becoming a Swiss Army Knife after playing three infield and all three outfield positions in 2017.

Rating the Rotation- Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg return for another season while Gio Gonzalez enters his contract year and Tanner Roark comes back after not pitching in the postseason.  Last year the Nats tried to land Chris Sale to no avail… do they attempt to bring in another front-line pitcher this winter?  Or do they trot out Joe Ross/AJ Cole for another round of auditions?

Bullpen Blues- at least Sean Doolittle is coming back next year to close.  That eliminates what was the never-ending story of the first four months of the 2017 campaign.  Ryan Madson is also signed through 2018.  Matt Albers and Brandon Kintzler become free agents…and patching up that part of the pen will be key.  But I’d rather have holes in the 6th and 7th than the 8th and 9th….

Caps and Wiz!  The beauty of working in a four-team town is that the seasons collide in such a manner you often don’t have the chance to labor over the abrupt end of a playoff run.  Just like the Nats first place surge in May moves the Wizards and Capitals to the back-burner our winter friends have rejoined us with the usual high hopes (conventional wisdom says the Caps’ window is closing while the Wiz’ window is opening).  Enjoy the offseason and prepare for another 162-game marathon.

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…