Archives for posts with tag: Yankees

Apologies for getting the weekly feature underway two weeks later than normal.  Who’s ready for a semi-informative and occasionally amusing look at the Nats from a guy who is at the ballpark more often than not?

The 7-5 start has given fans plenty of thrills (Daniel Murphy picking up from where he left off in 2016), chills (Bryce Harper screeching home from first on a double in Friday’s win over Philadelphia) and spills (a leaky bullpen that’s less than ideal). Welcome to the 162-step marathon that involves plenty of missteps in every direction.

Causes for Confidence- an offense that leads the majors in OPS, ranks second in batting average and seventh in runs scored.  The addition of Matt Wieters extends the lineup as many thought it would…and even with Wilmer Difo still finding his bat this team has the potential to bring buckets of runs to the table.

Causes for Concern- the bullpen ranks 25th in ERA and has the fifth most blown saves (3) in the early season.  There’s the thinking that this is just an early hiccup…while the other school of thought labels the subpar start as the beginning of a season-long problem.

Dissecting the Division- it’s never too early to freak out about the rest of the NL East.  The Nats are tied for first with Miami and the New York Mets are one-half game behind the leaders.  Two weeks into the season, the club owns the third best run differential (-2) as a 17-3 loss to Philadelphia will cook the numbers a little bit.  Nobody has cause to panic in April–unless you’re 2-10 Toronto.

Meanwhile in the Other East- how about those plucky Orioles?  Despite not having Fort Knox at their disposal like the Yankees and Red Sox, Buck Showalter’s team owns a half-game lead in the division with the best record in the bigs.  Even without Chris Tillman, the Birds are getting it done (although the pitching staff allows the second-highest batting average in the majors).  Now Zach Britton’s on the disabled list…and they still take three of four from the Blue Jays.  Break out the Old Bay…

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .391 with 2 HR and 8 RBI…and scored the game-winning run Friday night against the Phillies before smacking a walk-off homer Sunday.  This is the Bryce of 2015 that was a registered force of nature.  Chris Heisey makes the most of his opportunities, consistently delivering productive at-bats.  Gio Gonzalez tossed 14 and a third innings over two starts, posting an ERA of 1.88.  Shawn Kelley posted two wins in relief, striking out four over three and a third innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- Wilmer Difo is NOT Trea Turner.  Nobody expected the infielder to light up the league with the Nats’ leadoff man on the DL…but hitting .190 with six strikeouts and no walks is far from ideal.  Anthony Rendon hit .240 last week with four strikeouts…hopefully his RBI double last Friday is the start of a turnaround.   Joe Blanton pitched in three games and allowed a home run in each.

Game to Watch- Friday the defending NL East champs face the 2015 division winners for the first time this year.  Tanner Roark (2-0, 3.50 ERA) has a 12-to-2 strikeout to walk ratio and will pitch against a Jacob deGrom who’s coming off a 13-strikeout performance.

Game to Miss- Wednesday the novelty of the Braves’ new ballpark will be worn off…as no doubt Atlanta fans will be clamoring for a new venue.  It’s not Joe Ross’ fault he’s making his 2017 debut the same night the Capitals visit Toronto and the Wizards host Atlanta.  I’ll be curious to see how he fares, but one will be rocking a different red that night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final regular season benchmark is cleared this evening as Labor Day issues the end of white pants wearing for the 2016 season…and shuts down the pools.  Even though tomorrow is going to be even nicer outside.

The Nationals find themselves 8.5 games ahead of the hard-charging New York Mets after dropping two of three at Citi Field.  Will they supercharge their offense for the finishing kick?

Schedule Shakeout- over the final 26 games of the season, the Nats play 17 at home…and 20 against teams with losing records.  For clarification, the slumping Marlins (one game under .500) count towards that total while the 67-67 Pirates do not.  The Mets?  Of their 25 games remaining 22 are against clubs with losing marks…the exception being their upcoming trip to DC.  So the magic number of 18 may take a while to whittle down to single digits.

Playoff Positioning- “if the season ended today” can finally be used without strange looks from everybody.  The Nats would host the Los Angeles Dodgers (who get Clayton Kershaw back this week) in the Division Series while the Chicago Cubs would await the Wildcard winner of St Louis at San Francisco.

The Wild East- the AL East remains the most hotly contested division in baseball, with the New York Yankees still inexplicably hanging around.  Don’t they know it’s “2017 or bust!”?  The Orioles inch closer to Toronto after taking two of three from the Pinstripes…and are now three games behind the Blue Jays and two games behind Boston for the #1 Wildcard.  Two other teams are in the mix for the final playoff spot in the AL- Detroit is tied with the Birds at 72-64 while Houston is just two games back.  And then there are the Yankees 3.5 games off the pace.  Don’t they have to schedule a parade for Mark Teixeira or something?

Last Week’s Heroes- in a six-game stretch where the team scored just 15 runs, the pitching staff came up huge.  Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark and A.J. Cole each won games while allowing a combined 6 runs over 32 innings pitched.  Gonzalez is especially hot having won 7 of his last 9 decisions.

Last Week’s Humbled- averaging 2.5 runs per game is no way to people confidence in your offense.  The bats also went 0-8 with runners in scoring position Sunday.  Daniel Murphy after using his former team like his personal piñata (.423 with 7 HR and 21 RBI in his first 13 games against them) went 3-11 with one run scored over the weekend.  They may finally be on to him…

Game to Watch- Wednesday Stephen Strasburg returns to the rotation… bringing his 15-4 mark to the mound in a matchup with Atlanta’s Mike Foltynewicz (8-5, 4.31 ERA).  Will we get the flamethrower that started the season 13-0, or the guy who lost 4 of his last 6 decisions?

Game to Miss- poor Gio Gonzalez.  The lefty pitches on the first Sunday of the NFL season… and against Philadelphia’s Adam Morgan (1-9, 6.21 ERA) no less.  No word if the Phillies will be bringing up minor league catcher Fog E. Botum for the game.

 

With Boston hosting the New York Yankees in the final week of Alex Rodriguez’ career, instead of another look at a Yankee who was almost a Red Sox let’s go back to a 2009 piece that looked at “A true Sox-Yanks allstar team”…

Leave it to ESPN to lazily start something potentially great…but not finish the job. Due to the New York Yankees – Boston series this weekend, the network decided to announce an “all-time” Yanks-Sox squad…gee whiz– such a tough task to realize Yogi Berra, Ted Williams and Derek Jeter are among the best ever at their respective positions! After filling the requisite 15-20 minutes and wasting the time of everyone from Peter Gammons to Dave Winfield.

I’ll go one better…can you come up with a team of all time players who spent time at Fenway and in Pinstripes? Here’s my all-time Soxyank squad:

FIRST BASE: Bob Watson came to Boston in a 1979 mid-season trade…after hitting .337 and driving in 53 runs over 84 games the ex-Astro signed with the Yankees in the offseason as a free agent and had a decent (.307, 13, 68) first year in the Bronx… plus, he had the pivotal role in Bad News Bears Breaking Training (“Let them play! Let them play!”).

SECOND BASE: a very thin position has Mark Bellhorn the only crossover I could think of: the starter for the 2004 champs was waived the following summer only to be picked up by the Yanks…where he didn’t fare much better (.118 in the Bronx after hitting .216 with the Sox).

SHORTSTOP: Spike Owen leads another weak field… although he hit .366 in the 1986 postseason. The switch-hitting contact specialist was one of three former Texas Longhorns on the ’86 team (Clemens, Schiraldi). His 1993 campaign in the Bronx was nondescript.

THIRD BASE: Wade Boggs won four straight batting crowns in the 80’s and was pantsed in an episode of Cheers…the 90’s brought a guest appearance on The Simpsons and four straight years hitting .300 with the Yankees.

RIGHT FIELD: Babe Ruth ties it all together–he was on three World Championship teams in Beantown and the Yankees first four title squads…

CENTERFIELD: Johnny Damon gave Red Sox fans one of the best lines ever--“looks like Jesus, acts like Judas, throws like Mary”… but nobody questioned his bat.

LEFTFIELD: Rickey Henderson spent time with nine major league teams–it’s only fitting the Yankees were his second stop and the Red Sox were his second to last employer at the big league level.

CATCHER: for a rivalry defined by dueling catchers in the 70’s…there have been plenty of crossovers in this position–Jim Leyritz, Rick Cerone and even Elston Howard take a back seat to Mike Stanley…who much like Kelly Taylor on 90210 was seemingly passed around the AL East for the better part of a decade: he spent 1992 through 95 in pinstripes, the next season and a half near the Citgo sign before joining the NYY as a late-season pickup…and after fitting Toronto in Steve Sanders-like in 1998 went back for a second term with Boston in ’99.

DESIGNATED HITTER: Don Baylor for Mike Easler was the first trade between the two teams since the Danny Cater for Sparky Lyle fiasco…and paid big dividends in the 1986 AL Championship run despite George Steinbrenner saying “his bat will die by August”.  Along with Easler there were two other big bats to consider– Jose Canseco and Jack Clark… who came to Boston as “Jack the Ripper”only to become “Jack the Whiffer” and leave not with a bang but as“Jack with a Whimper”.

Easler, Clark, Howard, Canseco, Leyritz and Cerone comprise the reserves…not a lot of variety, but there’s not a lot to choose from.

STARTING PITCHING: I’ll hold Babe Ruth out of the rotation because I want him as my everyday rightfielder:

1–Luis Tiant…the heart and soul of the Boston contending teams from 1972 through ’78… his offseason signing with the Yanks effectively the first domino to fall in the three year run that saw the dismantling of a near-champion…and he also smoked cigars in the shower… I still don’t know how the Sox let him go to the Bronx in ’79.

2–Red Ruffing…sign of the times in the 20’s and 30’s–a decent pitcher who was 57 games under five hundred for the Sox who became a Hall of Fame hurler (107 wins over break-even) for six world championship Yankee squads.

3–Roger Clemens…pitches third in the rotation because before, um, his “late-career surge”… he was ever so disappointing in the postseason.

4–Mike Torrez…helped deliver the Yanks their first world title in 15 years by winning two World Series games in 1977…helped the Yanks repeat as champion by allowing a home run to Bucky Dent in the playoff game for the AL East.

5–David Wells/David Cone… a lefty-righty combination with the non-starter on the short list for long-relief: each enjoyed a stellar Yankee career punctuated by perfect games… before going on to moderately successful but brief stops in Boston (Cone: 9-7 in one season; Wells: 17-10 over a year and a half) … and both spent the bulk of their careers with other teams (3 for Cone, 7 for Wells) … collecting rings with the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays.

SETUP MAN: Ramiro Mendoza… along with Ruth I believe the only man to win world titles with both teams–could spot-start as well as come out of the pen.

WASHED UP EX-CLOSERS: Lee Smith and Jeff Reardon both bounced around after
being the man in Boston before finding safe harbor in the Bronx; while Smith this was Reardon’s final stop.

CLOSER: Sparky Lyle…despite going from Cy Young to Sayonara when the Pinstripes signed Rich Gossage– the man who sat naked on birthday cakes was one of the games first dominant firemen.

MANAGER: Joe McCarthy…led the Yanks to 7 world titles before guiding the Red Sox to a pair of second place finishes over three years plus a 94 win season.

COACHES: Ralph Houk and Don Zimmer… Houk was at the helm of consecutive World Series Champs in 1961 and 62–before wrapping up his career in the Red Sox dugout in the 80’s. Zimmer turned into a wise sage as Joe Torre’s key advisor after a managerial career that included three straight 90+ win seasons in Boston.

Welcome to Bizarro World in the Bronx.  The New York Yankees weren’t just sellers at the trading deadline, they’re dumping everything as they reboot for the first time since the early 1990’s.  It’s been a great run- and when you have the nucleus they did from 1996-2009 you’re going to mortgage the future to add the necessary piece.  Two of the later pieces to the puzzle will be making their exits in 2016…as Mark Teixeira announced his retirement effective at the end of the year and Alex Rodriguez announced the end of his career effective at the end of the week.  Both are hitting under .210 and are the vestiges of earlier times when the Yanks would tack on an expensive bat.  Both produced for the Pinstripes and were key cogs in the 2009 World Series title.  A-Rod leaves the game as a lightning rod:  Seattle fans dislike him because he bolted for Texas and Ranger die-hards curse his contract that hamstring the team.  Boston fans remember his fight with Varitek and slap of the ball from Bronson Arroyo.  The rest of baseball recalls Rodriguez’s dance with PED’s and pop culture recalls Cameron Diaz feeding him popcorn.  Others remember the legend of the centaur self-portrait hanging above his bed.  For years Rodriguez coexisted with Derek Jeter…and for many Yankee fans A-Rod symbolizes the anti-Yankee as much as Jeter symbolized the true Yankee.  Meanwhile the club looks forward to 2017…and the rest of baseball gets a brief reprieve before the Bombers come back reloaded and ready to wreak havoc on the AL East.

Dissecting the Division- the Nats own a seven game lead over Miami and a nine game advantage over the New York Mets;  they have two series (and six games) against each team over the last two months.  They also have seven games remaining against fourth place Philadelphia and 13 against last place Atlanta.  Lost in the fog of the Braves cratering has been the season of Julio Teheran:  the righthander may be 3-9 but owns a 2.81 ERA, averages 7.95 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and has a WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) of 0.97.  Similarly the Phillies fade from a fast start has obscured the year Odubel Herrera has posted:  the second-year centerfielder has already surpassed his rookie totals in homers and stolen bases while needing two more RBI to set a career high.

All in on the AL East- the best division race in baseball resides just up I-95 as the Orioles, Toronto and Boston refuse to blink.  Baltimore owns a one game lead over the Blue Jays while the Red Sox are three games off the pace set by Buck Showalter’s bunch.  While the O’s are by the bay this week visiting AL West cellar-dweller Oakland and NL West leader San Francisco, the Red Sox get the white flag-waving Yankees and last place Arizona.  We continue not to sleep on defending division champ Toronto, who face last place Tampa Bay and on the fringe of contention Houston (Astros falling to earth with 8 losses in their last 10 games).  While Sunday’s hit parade in Chicago against the White Sox by Manny Machado is on everybody’s mind (3 HR and 7 RBI), quality starts thrown by Dylan Bundy & Kevin Gausman have to give the Birds confidence.  If those two can string together solid outings in support of staff ace Chris Tillman, October could be in the offing.

 

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilson Ramos hit .526 with 3 HR and 8 RBI while calling solid games at the plate.  Trea Turner scored 6 runs while homering twice and Daniel Murphy continues to produce (6 runs scored and 5 RBI).  Jayson Werth?  The over-the-hill outfielder simply gets on base game after game after game.  If we could only be over the hill Werth is currently over.  Tanner Roark went 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA while Mark Melancon tossed four scoreless innings of relief (notching one save).

Last Week’s Humbled- Ben Revere hit .154 as his nightmare season at the plate continues…but you still need and want his glove in CF (see Sunday’s stab in deep center).  Bryce Harper hit .200 with one RBI.  He hasn’t been himself since getting walked an unlucky 13 times in Chicago a few months ago.

Game to Watch- another duel of division leaders in the district?  Max Scherzer has been red-hot this summer–posting a 7-2 record with an ERA of 1.83 since Memorial Day.  The 12-game winner is matched up against Trevor Bauer (who hasn’t won a decision since Independence Day).  Nats fans hope they won’t see the reliever that got away (ex-Yankees closer Andrew Miller).

Game to Miss- with two off days this week we already have opportunities to be well-rounded.  I hope you’ll take advantage and perhaps go to Politics & Prose for an author’s reading Monday or Thursday.  Saturday night Tanner Roark (12-6, 2.88 ERA) pitches against 22-year old rookie Rob Whalen (1-0, 7.20 in one career start).  Even though it’s a 7:05 start, enjoy the day at the pool and perhaps a barbecue at your friend’s house.  Because college football will wipe out free Saturdays before you know it.

How does “That’s Life” go again?  “Flying high in April–shot down in May”?  The Nationals were flying high in May but got shot down during June’s first week– going 2-5 and losing two more series (running their slide to three straight after winning nine series in a row).  The offense that hummed (ranking 5th in hitting and 7th in runs scored) last month hit a few bumps;  hitting .237 (23rd in majors) and scoring 2.57 runs per game (27th).  While the pitching has also slipped somewhat (team ERA from 16th in May to 22nd this month, opponents batting average from 17th to 21st in June) the flat bats remain the major early culprit.  

You want to put your best bats in the lineup every day while limiting one’s defensive deficiencies…but with the triumvirate of Michael A. Taylor, Tyler Moore and Clint Robinson combining to hit .204 with 3 walks and 14 strikeouts last week one wonders if Sunday’s substitution of infielder Danny Espinosa into leftfield is an isolated incident or a realistic option.

Now that Anthony Rendon’s healthy (after missing the first 53 games of the season with knee and oblique issues) and Yunel Escobar (.325 and on pace to score 84 runs) remains productive, at-bats are beginning to shrink for Espinosa.  That’s a shame because he’s actually having a productive season:  Espi’s second on the team in homers and walks while he’s currently tied for second on the team in runs scored.  As a switch-hitter, he’s fared much better against lefties (.375) than Taylor (.172), Moore (.105) or Robinson (0-2).  Do you put an infielder in the outfield for the next two months while Jayson Werth heals and rehabs?

Last Week’s Hero– Jordan Zimmermann was the leader in the clubhouse until he coughed up 4 runs over 5 innings Sunday.  Instead, it’s back to Bryce Harper (1.012 OPS).  Two major differences over his first 56 games of 2015– patience and power.  Harper’s 48 walks are 13 shy of his career high (over 118 games in 2013) while his .706 slugging percentage outpaces his career high by over 200 points.  Keep the kid healthy…

Last Week’s Humbled– Ryan Zimmerman went 1 for 18 with 1 RBI, was moved to 2nd in the batting order and sat multiple games with a foot injury.  While he remains on pace to hit 14 homers with 97 RBI…they can ill afford his bat drying up with Werth on the DL.  Here’s hoping the extra days off gets Zim back on the right track.

Game to Watch– Tuesday at the New York Yankees.  Max Scherzer is 6-4 with a 1.85 ERA…while Masahiro Tanaka is 3-1 with an ERA of 2.76.  Alex Rodriguez is enjoying a career resurgence.  And there’s no better stage than the bright lights of the Bronx.

Game to Miss– Friday at Milwaukee.  The Brewers pitch Mike Fiers (2-6, 4.06 ERA) while the Nats will likely continue to try to hold their rotation together with duct tape and rubber bands:  Joe Ross (5.40 ERA), A.J. Cole (5.79) and Taylor Jordan (8.44) may represent the future– but the present is less than ideal.  Also Friday– the Women’s World Cup continues with Team USA facing Sweden.  If you’re going to skip a Nats game, do so to support your country.