Archives for posts with tag: Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals’ long September road isn’t even halfway complete, but this month already feels too long with rain delays, postponements, doubleheaders and makeup games.  What is certain is that the Nats remain on the cusp of contention…not being good enough to make a move and not being bad enough to fall out of the race just yet.  I’m already into the NFL and college football season.  But the games continue.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta owns a four and a half game lead over Philadelphia;  the Nats’ tragic number is now 12.  The Marlins were eliminated over the weekend despite being out of it since April, while the Mets have won seven of ten to remain alive-but just barely.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .438 with seven RBI and six runs scored, taking NL Player of the Week honors.  Anthony Rendon hit .370 while driving in five.  Max Scherzer struck out 22 over 16 innings and tossed a complete game last Saturday.

Last Week’s Humbled- Austen Williams, Sammy Solis and Jimmy Cordero each posted ERA’s over 10.  Juan Soto had a rough week during an otherwise sensational season, hitting .211 with eight strikeouts in 19 at bats.

Game to Watch- Friday Max Scherzer pitches against Kevin Gausman in Atlanta.  Max has been must-see TV anytime he goes to the mound.  That’s not going to change in the final month of the season.

Game to Miss- Wednesday Stephen Strasburg pitches, but the Washington Mystics will host their first-ever WNBA Finals game at George Mason University’s EagleBank Arena.  Can they climb out of a two games to none deficit?

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The Washington Nationals reach Labor Day one game under .500, eight games back in the Wildcard race and eight and a half games off the pace in the NL East.  The worst record to win the NL East this decade is 90-72; in order to get there this team would need to finish 22-3.  As they pass the final marker of the regular season, it’s hard to imagine this team was nine games over .500 on Memorial Day.  Instead of the season ending with a bang, it’s going to end with a whimper in 25 games.

Gio Gone- two more waiver-wire deals on August 31 saw the Nats part with reliever Ryan Madson and starter Gio Gonzalez.  In his seven seasons with the team Gio went 86-65 with an ERA of 3.71; his best year came in his first with the team (21-8, 2.89 in 2012).  The lefthander was a mainstay in the rotation (averaging 30+ starts per year) and his departure means that just Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are still around from the 2012 team that first reached the postseason.  With Harper and five other players on the current roster hitting free agency this fall, the winds of change could certainly be hitting Washington this winter.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta leads Philadelphia by four games.  While the two will meet seven times over the final eleven days of the season, the Phillies play 15 of their other 19 remaining games against clubs with losing records (for the Braves its 10/19).

O’s Woes-  enter another tragic number for the Birds after the sweep by Kansas City over the week:  last place in the AL East can be secured with a combination of four losses or Toronto wins.  Lost in the shuffle is the fact that Trey Mancini has had a decent second half for the O’s (.299 with nine homers and 24 RBI in 40 games since the All Star break) while Chris Davis is hitting 62 points higher since this mid-summer hiatus.

Last Week’s Heroes- Juan Soto hit .478 with a team-high six RBI and Anthony Rendon led the Nats with six runs scored and added four RBI.  Stephen Strasburg struck out 12 over 12 innings while posting an ERA of 3.00 and Matt Grace Koda Glover each tossed three scoreless frames.

Last Week’s Humbled- Gio Gonzalez’ last start in a Nats uniform was not awesome as the lefthander allowed six runs over five innings against the Phillies.  His August was not ideal: 1-4 with a 7.47 ERA over six starts.  Matt Wieters hit .133 while Bryce Harper batted .125.

Game to Watch- Saturday Max Scherzer pitches against the Cubs Cole Hamels at Nats Park.  With 25 games left in the season Max has potentially five starts remaining…and one should try to see every last inning of his campaign.  As today is the final day most area pools are open, the Saturday night game takes precedence.

Game to Miss- the Nats have yet to name a starter for Sunday’s game against the Cubs. It’s also the first Sunday of the NFL regular season.  Enjoy the games…

 

 

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…

Portions previously appearing in this very space one year ago:

The Nationals are 52-53, meaning they’re close enough to the NL East lead to be considered buyers but middling enough to be considered sellers.  A look at previous July 31 moves:

2014-– infielder Asdrubal Cabrera (more like a stocking stuffer than a gift wrapped under the tree) was brought to DC for reserve Zach Walters.  Cabrera didn’t set the world on fire, but was a decided upgrade over Danny Espinosa at second base (just one error and 20 runs + 21 RBI over 49 games; Espy had 31 runs + 27 RBI over 114 games played).  Walters last saw action in a Major League game over two years ago.

2015– closer Jonathan Papelbon was brought to South Capitol Street to shore up the bullpen.  The price tag?  Nick Pivetta (6-9 with a 4.82 ERA this season for the Phillies).  And the team’s mental well-being. Instead, the veteran was ineffective, Drew Storen went on a downward spiral that ended when he broke his hand punching a locker, and Papelbon put his hand on the throat of NL MVP Bryce Harper in a dugout dustup.  Decidedly a bad move.

2016– new year, new closer.  This time it was Pittsburgh’s Marc Melancon…and the price tag was pitchers Felipe Rivero (44 saves over the last season and a half and an All Star appearance this year in DC) and Taylor Hearn (currently posting a 3.55 ERA over 19 starts with AA Altoona).  Melancon delivered 17 saves in 18 chances with an ERA of 1.82 in 30 appearances and almost as important allowed the team to jettison Papelbon.  A definite win for the team.

2017- bullpen depth was the key with the acquistion of Brandon Kintzler for 20-year-old left-hander Tyler Watson and $500,000 in international bonus pool money.  Watson’s made 12 starts this year at Class A Cedar Rapids after beginning the season in high A ball while Kintzler was the 7th inning man last year (3.46 ERA over 27 appearances) and saw setup work for the most part this season.

So much for a sweep of the last-place Marlins.  And then so much for a series win over the cellar dwellers.  After dropping two of three to NL Wildcard-leading Milwaukee, the Nationals once again missed out on an opportunity to pull closer to floundering Philadelphia and eroding Atlanta.  Once again this club wins its blowouts but botches nailbiters:  they’re now 10-18 in one-run games, third-worst in the National League.  Instead of breathing down the Phillies’ necks the Nats are assured of a third sub-500 month (the 20-7 May looking more like an isolated incident).  And not only are they chasing the Phils and Braves, there are also five teams between the Nats and the final playoff spot in the NL.  It was expected they’d be buyers (especially with the pre-emptive move to bring Kelvin Herrera aboard), but could the preseason World Series favorites possibly be in the process of shedding salaries?  Relievers Ryan Madson and Herrera are in the final years of their contracts, as are Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Murphy and-GULP-Bryce Harper.  Do the Nats dare try to get prospects/players for the Home Run Derby champ?  Tune in Tuesday at 4:15 to 103.5 FM in Washington.

Dissecting the Division- what’s frustrating about the Nats’ middling season has been the fact that the NL East is still theirs to win.  Neither Philadelphia (14-11 this month) nor Atlanta (9-13) are running away with this thing.  And both are under .500 since the All Star break.  Ten of the Nats’ 29 games next month will be against those two clubs…and one has the feeling that by this time in August we’ll know if they’re a contender or a pretender.

O’s Woes- back to back to back wins for the Birds?  Scoring 11+ runs in each game?  When did Don Buford and Boog Powell return to Camden Yards?  While there’s no more Zach Britton to not bring into extra innings at Toronto (sorry) nor Brad Brach to eat up late innings, there is Adam Jones who refused a trade.  As mentioned there’s also a three game winning streak, meaning the Orioles are over half way towards not posting a 100-loss campaign this year.  Can they go 31-25 the rest of the way?  They are 4-5 since the All Star break.  Compared to the rest of the season, they’re skyrocketing.

Hall Swing and a Miss- all eyes were on Cooperstown Sunday when Baseball’s Hall of Fame added six…and because there was a full plate of games it felt like an afterthought.  Unlike the Pro Football HOF–which inducts its new class in mid-summer and the Basketball HOF which adds its newest class the week after Labor Day, baseball honors its best in midseason.  Making one wonder why they don’t move the ceremony to the All Star Break…you know, when there are no other games going on and there’s a major news vacuum.

Last Week’s Heroes- Tanner Roark dug deep and struck out 11 over 8 innings to notch his first win since early June–one will be paying attention to see if this is something that will be sustained.  Max Scherzer merely struck out 11 while winning his MLB-best 14th of the season…while going 1-2 at the plate with a run scored.  Juan Soto led the team with 3 homers and 6 runs scored while Bryce Harper paced the club with 6 RBI.

Last Week’s Humbled- Mark Reynolds hit .077 (for the record Matt Reynolds got a hit in his lone at-bat last week).  Meanwhile, Wilmer Difo, Matt Wieters and Michael A. Taylor each hit under .200.  A lineup can survive one crater, but not three or four.  Jeremy Hellickson had a rough start Sunday, but even if he pitched well it’s rather difficult to allow fewer than the zero runs the Nats put on the board that day.

Game to Watch- Thursday Max Scherzer goes for his 15th win of the season by pitching against Cincinnati.  Remember the Reds and how woeful they looked opening weekend when the Nats blasted them to bits?  Since the end of May, the Reds are 28-21 while the Nationals are 19-30.

Game to Miss- Sunday Tanner Roark starts against the Reds in the series finale…but the Citi Open Tennis Finals are slated to start at 12:30 p.m. (weather permitting).  Not to mention the season four premiere of “Better Call Saul” in the evening.  Keep your sunroof closed–just in case.

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.

The Midsummer Classic is upon us, even though it’s not technically in the middle of summer (technically that’s around August 7 or 8) or even in the actual midseason (a few weeks ago) but it gives us a chance to take a break.  And the Nats could use one…last week they had seven games with sub-500 squads in Pittsburgh and the New York Mets.  A team looking to enter the hiatus on a strong note would win five of seven…and instead they were lucky to win three.  While the offense has improved (9th in runs in July), the pitching has begun to spring leaks (25th in team ERA this month).  It’s beginning to feel as though the odor of 2013 and 2015 when defending division champs underachieved their way out of contention is back.  It’s not longer early as just under 60% of the schedule has been played. Max Scherzer likely has only 12-13 starts remaining in the season.  And the deficit isn’t shrinking.  Gimme a break?  One break…coming up.

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia despite losing consecutive games to Miami still stand atop the division one half game ahead of Atlanta and five and a half ahead of the Nats.  The Phillies are here because of pitching:  they rank fourth in quality starts and are 11th in team ERA while having major issues at the plate.  They’re 26th in MLB in hitting and 21st in runs scored.  The Braves boast a little better balance:  8th in runs scored and 10th in team ERA.  Meanwhile the Marlins and Mets played spoiler by snatching games from the Nats and Phillies over the weekend…remaining in a tie for last place.  We’ll be by with tragic elimination numbers at the appropriate time.

O’s Woes- the Birds won their first series at home since taking three of four from Tampa Bay Mother’s Day weekend.  Still, the 28-69 slide has the club inhaling elimination fumes: the tragic number is now 26 (Red Sox wins + Oriole losses) and the Manny Machado departure countdown is in full force. Philadelphia, the Dodgers and even Milwaukee is in the mix.  Manny was asked at the All Star Game’s media availability what the strangest rumor he’s heard was and replied– “the Giants.  The Tokyo Giants…”.  Regardless, the end of an era looms and one wonders what is next for this franchise and the key figures in the management team.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy hit .533 while Adam Eaton batted .458 andAnthony Rendon led the team with 3 HR and 6 RBI.  Jeremy Hellickson won both of his starts while finishing with an ERA of 0.82 and Max Scherzer won his second straight.

Last Week’s Humbled- Jefry Rodriguez and Austin Voth allowed 13 runs over 9.1 innings in their starts.  They’re not ready for the Major League level and while that is to be understood, the middle of a pennant race with the Nats losing ground is not where you want to see these guys earn their stripes.  Trea Turner hit .115 while Bryce Harper batted .167 with 11 strikeouts in 24 at-bats.

Game to Watch- well with only three games on the slate I’m going with the series opener against Atlanta Friday.  Will Stephen Strasburg finally make his return from the DL?  Since he went on the shelf the starters are a combined 4-20 with an ERA I’d rather not disclose.  If he doesn’t make the start, this is still a huge game as the Nats need to make a dent into the Phillies’ lead–and they have to get past the Braves first..

Game to Miss- the series with the Braves wraps up Sunday with a 1:35 start on a day when the British Open (or “Open Championship” if you insist) wraps up.  Unless it’s a Scherzer start, I’m out.