Archives for posts with tag: The Americans

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

How well do we really know each other?  How many of our secrets to we share with those who we consider close friends, neighbors and co-workers?  How much of each of us is an iceberg to others–and what steps do we take to make sure the 90% stays underwater?

It’s easy to be all-in on FX’s “The Americans”.  The spy show takes place in Washington, D.C. during the Reagan administration and unlike the movie “No Way Out” did not have anyone boarding the Metro in Georgetown.  There was plenty of violence and sex…with plenty of 80’s cultural references in the mix (David Copperfield really DID make the Statue of Liberty disappear!).  Over six seasons the show was equal parts up-tempo and slow-burn…led by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys (two actors that wound up getting married during the series run) as a pair of travel agents who might just be working for the KGB (okay, SPOILER ALERT, they are).  The seemingly normal couple with two kids and a nice house in Falls Church (I swear a buddy of mine used to mow lawns in that neighborhood) were doing their darnedest to undermine the good old United States of America.  And this was no “Boris & Natasha”–they were chillingly effective at what they did (the suitcase from season three).  But the show became just as much about an evolving marriage as it was about the two spies in it.

Deception lurked around every corner for six strong seasons– from the semi-convincing wigs to having a teenage daughter swipe pages of her minister’s diary.  In the midst of all of the deception, targets (poor Martha) and multiple handlers (Frank Langella as Gabriel remains my favorite), the characters of Philip and Elizabeth (or Mischa and Nadezhda in their home country) went from spies pretending to be married to a married couple pretending to not be spies.  A parent always wants a better world for their children, and after they brought Paige into their world of spycraft one saw both parents push back from condemning their daughter to their world of deception.  Elizabeth wanted a safe job as a State Department mole while Philip wanted Paige to be completely out of the family business (I know what you’re thinking as we head to the finale:  poor Henry Jennings was going to be captain of his prep school hockey team as a senior–as they say in the mother country, Не больше).

And as fate would have it (aren’t TV coincidences crazy?!?), “The Americans” added the wrinkle of having an FBI Agent move next door.  Unlike most sit-coms where the wacky neighbor provides welcome comic relief, Noah Emmerich as Stan Beeman was akin to having missiles in Cuba (or Turkey, depending on whose perspective you prefer)-danger on the doorstep.  Naturally, Stan and Philip became best friends.  And while we saw Philip evolve in his marriage and work we saw Stan’s marriage crumble (due to deception) and work go sideways to a point where he left counter-intelligence.  But in the final episodes, he can’t stop thinking that the Jennings might not be all what they seem.  And what has made the show work is you want to root for Stan and his FBI co-workers to win (it doesn’t hurt that Emmerich played assistant coach Craig Patrick in the movie “Miracle”)…while still be caught up in rooting for Philip and Elizabeth in some way (but not too much).

What also helped “The Americans” maintain a high standard was the devotion to the process of spying:  more than simply car chases and gadgets, the nuts and bolts of espionage was handled deftly from day one.  Philip, Elizabeth, Stan and everyone in the spy game were dogged grinders with not every play paying off.  The show also boasted quite an assembly-line of quality actors in minor roles and bit-parts, from Costa Ronin’s Oleg to Dylan Baker’s turn as a bio-chemist in Season 4.  The show was rich in characters, capers and possibilities.  The biggest one facing fans now is whether Stan’s new wife Renee is KGB, CIA or simply a red herring? In the true spirit of the show, I have a feeling we will never know.

The final run of episodes take place in 1987, during the INF Treaty talks.  Elizabeth has turned against her handler who is trying to overthrow Gorbachev and ruin the summit. Philip is on the run after being spotted with a Russian Orthodox Priest in DC (which amazingly looks like Brooklyn).  Stan is getting closer.  And everybody’s favorite machine, the Mail Robot, continues to hum efficiently.

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Hey- it’s finally good to get some games in after the Nationals played just three the week before thanks to the schedule and rainouts.  It’s also nice for the Nats to play well–and they won five of six to inch closer to the top of the NL East standings (pesky Atlanta continues to win–what gives?).  On Memorial Day the Nats may be in third place but are only one game behind the Braves.  Buckle up for a scintillating summer.

Dissecting the Division- the Braves (30-21) lost consecutive series to Philadelphia and Boston, but looking closer one sees they’ve played very well against the NL East (20-11).  The Phillies are a half game off the lead and one half game better than the Nats–thanks in part to their 8-4 mark in one-run games and 4-1 record in extra-inning affairs.  The Mets are 8-15 this month and are treading water at the .500 mark.  The Marlins are an embarassment and Derek Jeter should be ashamed of himself.

Wildcard Worries- the Nats may currently hold the second wildcard spot, but there is a lot more competition in the NL amongst non-division winners.  Seven clubs at .500 or better competing for two spots…as opposed to just four in the AL.  We’re only a third of the way through the season, but still…

O’s Woes- after splitting a four-game set with the Chicago White Sox, the Birds dropped two of three to Tampa Bay.  They’re on a pace to lose 110 games and we’re still a month away from wondering on a daily basis if Manny Machado and Adam Jones will get moved for prospects.  Manager Buck Showalter is also wearing a Capitals jersey and “rocking the Red”.  Hey–Buck…the team in the Stanley Cup Final, while appreciative, might not need the mojo of a team with a .321 winning percentage.  Watch them take two of three from the Nats this week.

Last Week’s Heroes- Mark Reynolds hit .500 with three home runs.  Anthony Rendon batted .385.  Sean Doolittle notched a win and two saves in relief.  But the week belonged to 19-year old prime prospect Juan Soto, who homered in his Major League Debut on Monday before drawing three walks on Tuesday (his ninth inning leadoff BB led to the game-winning run).  It’s just one week, but wow.

Last Week’s Humbled- Max Scherzer had a rare rough outing, allowing four runs over six innings.  Baseball Karma gave him the win, though, perhaps to make up for the no-decision he was tagged with in his previous start when he struck out 13.  Scherzer is now 8-1 with an ERA of 2.13 and an NL-best 108 strikeouts.  How is this humbling? “You use that word–perhaps it does not mean what you think it does…”

Game to Watch- the Nationals visit Atlanta this upcoming weekend for four games in a series that could be seismic to the standings.  Friday Stephen Strasburg (6-4, 3.13 ERA) pitches against Mark Foltynewicz (4-3, 2.55).  Bring it on…

Game to Miss- Apologies to Max Scherzer. Because I know he’s going to do something awesome in the series finale against the Orioles.  But the Capitals are playing Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final in Vegas…and “The Americans” wraps up its six-year journey of bad wigs, dead drops gone wrong and 80’s fashion.

After taking six of seven on a west coast swing, the Nationals began a dream homestand (two games with the Yankees and a series with the Dodgers) with the nightmare of one suspended game, two postponed games and three losses.  The cherry on top?  Wasting 13 strikeouts by Max Scherzer.  And don’t get me started on the injuries.  Instead of making their move on Atlanta and Philadelphia atop the division standings, the Nats are back in fourth place.  At least the weather’s supposed to be nice this week…

Dissecting the Division- the 0-3 week coupled with the Mets sweep of Arizona drops the Nats down one rung.  For first place Atlanta, the future is wow with 21-year old Ozzie Albies belting 13 homers to lead the Braves.  Second place Philadelphia is enjoying a stellar season from Odubel Herrera (batting .344 with 30 RBI).  The Nats bats?  Yet to catch fire after scoring 7 runs while getting swept by the Dodgers.  Max Scherzer is the only player on the active roster who’s appeared in 10+ games batting over .300 at this time.

O’s Woes- the Birds drop to 14-32 after losing three of four in Boston.  The team finished 12 games under .500 last year.  They’re now 18 games under .500 with over 110 games left in this journey to nowhere.  This is no longer a micro- thing.  The O’s have to step back and ask themselves where they see this organization in three to five years.  Nats fans know full well how bad things can get.

Last Week’s Heroes- Howie Kendrick was hitting 2-for-5 when he tore his achilles tendon Saturday.  The loss of Kendrick hurts in the lineup and on the field…as he had seen action at three different positions and five different spots in the batting order.  And now the 34-year old is done for 2018.  Max Scherzer struck out 13 Saturday and even drove in a run (he’s hitting .308 with more RBI than strikeouts this year).

Last Week’s Humbled- let the record show three games gives us one super-small sample size.  But Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon each hit .083 and with a patchwork lineup in progress the two key cogs need to deliver.  Shawn Kelley and Sammy Solis had less than desirable episodes out of the bullpen.  The rain blew up what could have been a great miniseries with the Pinstripes…and waterlogged a red-hot Nats club.

Game to Watch- Monday Gio Gonzalez pitches against San Diego…the lefthander allowed one earned run over six innings earlier this month in a loss to the Padres. But what makes this the one to watch is that 19-year old Juan Soto (.362 with 14 HR in 39 minor league games) makes his first Major League start.

Game to Miss- Wednesday the Capitals face a potential Game Seven and The Americans airs its second to last episode.  Due to the rainouts wreaking havoc with the rotation the Nats have yet to name a starter for the 4:05 pm game.  At that time I’m either watching highlights of previous Game Sevens (Pat LaFontaine–ugh) or previous Jennings family capers (how much can you fit into a suitcase?).  I’ll leave the light on after watching both…

 

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.

 

Every car needs a jumpstart once in a while.  Last week Nats manager Davey Martinez with three strokes was able to give a banged-up batting order the needed juice to recover from its early season slumber.  Bryce Harper going to the leadoff spot made plenty of sense–as he’s walking more than once per game and almost forgot what a good pitch to hit looked like.  Matt Adams to Bryce’s #3 spot made sense as the veteran has been solid  this spring.  But Wilmer Difo to the 9th spot has created a little electricity at the bottom of the order.  Batting behind the pitcher but before Bryce, Difo’s been a difference maker and wrapped up the week with a walk-off single that helped the Nats win their series with Philadelphia.  There will be more moves (Rendon taking over the #3 spot now that he’s off the DL) regarding this lineup–but in a division that is suddenly coming back to .500, a little juice might be all they need to retake the lead by Memorial Day.

Healthy and Hitting- Anthony Rendon not only returned to the lineup…but the third baseman delivered a two-run single in the eighth inning Sunday that began the rally.  The Nats are still missing Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy…and now that it’s May one wonders when the two will return and how effective they’ll be.

Dissecting the Division- don’t look now, but the New York Mets are in free-fall with eight losses in their last ten games.   Atlanta now leads the NL East with a 19-14 mark (despite getting swept at home by San Francisco) thanks to the #3 offense in the majors led by Nick Markakis (.344 with 6 HR and 25 RBI- on pace for his best season since 2008).  Philadelphia at 18-15 are in second while the Mets are in third at 17-15.  The Nats (18-17)after seven wins in eight games have moved within two of the lead.  They may be in fourth, but the rest of the division is chasing the Nats right now.

O’s Woes- wow.  Yeah.  Did anyone see an 0-6 roadtrip happening with the Birds getting outscored 35-17?  At 8-26 they’re not only 17 games out of first place but also tied for the worst record in the majors.  Manny Machado is having a decent season  (.346 with 9 HR and 27 RBI)–and the watch begins on when or if they send their best player packing for a bunch of prospects.  Right now they’re on pace to lose more than 120 games–and while teams always regress (or progress) to the mean, one wonders if this is the end of the current management structure and core on the field nucleus.  For those scoring at home, the Orioles need to finish 55-73 to avoid a 100-loss campaign…almost double their current winning percentage.

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilmer Difo hit .524 with 2 HR and 5 RBI…culminating in the game-winning hit Sunday.  Matt Adams batted .360 with 5 homers…and Bryce Harper went deep 4 times last week.  Max Scherzer was masterful in his 15-strikeout performance on Sunday–and had 8 in his other start.  Sean Doolittle notched a win and a save while Gio Gonzalez tossed 5 scoreless innings in the series opener with Philly.

Last Week’s Humbled- Trevor Gott coughed up 3 earned runs while getting one out Friday against the Phillies–and twisted his ankle in the process.  Michael A. Taylor hit .087 while Ryan Zimmerman has yet to eclipse the .200 mark for the season and missed two games over the weekend with a “side” injury.  Nobody expected the veteran to duplicate last year’s career resurgence (.303 with 36 HR and 108 RBI) but nobody expected this sort of prolonged start from a guy whose bat figured to be relied upon early and often (especially with the injuries).

Game to Watch- Let’s be honest, every Max Scherzer start is must-watch.  This one more so because Friday night he’ll be facing the team that drafted him in Arizona…while squaring off against Zack Grienke.  The 2009 Cy Young winner may own an ERA of 4.10, but he’s 2-0 at home with a 1.85 ERA.  Did we mention the Diamondbacks lead the NL West?  I’ll be watching after my appearance on News Channel 8’s Sports Talk.

Game to Miss- Wednesday there may very well be a Game Seven at Capital One Arena between the Caps and Penguins.  If there isn’t, The Americans final season continues with the most clueless FBI Agent potentially finally realizing his neighbors in Falls Church are really KGB agents and not just Travel Agents.  So far this season has given us a pair of appearances by the Mail Robot as well as bad country music line dancing.  Sorry, Gio Gonzalez as you pitch against a San Diego team that’s 13-22.

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.

 

 

 

Baseball is a sport where a division leader loses two of three to a cellar dweller and nobody blinks.  Instead one is more focused on the cramping of Stephen Strasburg’s leg, the porous pitching on display Sunday and Trea Turner’s inability to merit another at-bat after going 3 for 3 with a walk Friday night.  Now that Ryan Zimmerman’s back from paternity leave (congrats to the new addition to #11’s lineup), Turner can go back to smoking AAA pitching on a daily basis.  To quote Jed Bartlet, “What’s next”?

Dissecting the Division- the Nats lead the Mets by two games in the NL East…and even though Matt Harvey has pitched much better in his last two starts, third baseman David Wright is done for the next 6-8 weeks with neck issues.  They were ranking 28th in the Majors in runs scored with a hobbled Wright–what now?  Miami is four games off the pace but their -16 run differential is the red mark that isn’t washing away anytime soon.  The Phillies are six back and slip under the .500 mark after dropping 8 of their last 10…one would not be surprised if they were to stay underwater for the rest of the season.  Atlanta?  They are trending, having won 7 of their last 19 after starting 9-28.  Baby steps.

Division to Watch- the NL Central is home to the juggernaut that is the Chicago Cubs. A 39-16 start may not be the exact equal of the Detroit Tigers of 1984 (35-5), but Joe Maddon’s crew is making the Barry Goldwater lookalike seem rather smart for batting his pitcher 8th (In your heart, you know he’s right).  But like the great lobster dinner that often dismisses the oyster appetizer and delicious beverages, the division also boasts two wildcard contenders in Pittsburgh and St Louis.  Both the Pirates and Cardinals are clubs are familiar with recent runs to the playoffs…and it wouldn’t be a shock to see the two teams playing in the Wildcard game.  With the victor providing a serious challenge for the Cubs.

Last Week’s Heroes-  Wilson Ramos hits .450 with 2 HR and 6 RBI to continue to be the best advertisement ever for Lasik surgery.  Nats catchers this season rank 3rd in MLB in OPS (on base percentage + slugging) and Ramos should be receiving serious consideration for the All Star team.  Daniel Murphy delivered another ho-hum .360 with 3 HR and 7 RBI week (getting so old).  Sammy Solis came out of the bullpen Sunday to stop the bleeding and toss three scoreless innings to help the team avoid getting swept by Cincinnati.  Sammy’s ERA for the weekend? 0.00.  The rest of the team?  9.41.  The kid stays in the picture.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ben Revere’s troubles continue as he hits .100 with just 2 runs scored.  The Nats’ leadoff position ranks last in the majors with a .184 batting average through 57 games.  That is a serious sore spot.  Reliever Felipe Rivero coughs up 5 earned runs over 3 innings of work out of the bullpen.  Thank goodness for him he’s a lefty.

Game to Watch- Wednesday in Chicago, Max Scherzer pitches against the White Sox.  Which Max will we get?  The one who posts double digits in strikeouts or the one who coughs up multiple home runs?  Sometimes we get both in the same outing.  The Pale Hose trot out recent pickup James Shields–who is 2-7 with a 4.28 ERA to start the season.  He wrapped up his tenure with San Diego by allowing 10 runs before being yanked in the 3rd inning.  That is how you make an ignominious exit. 

Game to Miss- Thursday Gio Gonzalez pitches against the White Sox’ Carlos Rodon.  Something has to give– Gio’s dropped three straight decisions while Rodon has lost five of six.  I’ll also be watching on-demand the season finale of the best show on television– “The Americans”.  If you don’t check out this show about a 1980’s Falls Church, Virginia couple who work in DuPont Circle but may have other things going on– you’re missing out.  If only for their teenage son who tries to imitate Eddie Murphy doing “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood” bits.