Nationals Retrospective: Week 17

 

“It’s been done before.”

Those were the words of Mike Rizzo
in a phone interview he gave to CBS’s John Morosi when commenting on the Nationals’
(52-54) ability to come back from their current 8 ½ game deficit to the Atlanta
Braves. There is no doubt that this is a factual statement. But if it’s going
to be done, the Nats need to string together a scorching August if they have
any hope of staying in the race. I said going into the week that 6-2 was the
ideal record coming off this 8 game homestand, with 5-3 being the absolute
worst case scenario. They ended up going 4-4, which is what they deserved
considering they were absolutely dreadful in their opening 4 game set against
the Pirates (in which they lost the first three) before rebounding nicely to
take three of four from the reeling Mets. At this point in the season, 4-4 just
won’t cut it. True, the Nats have now won four of their last five games. But
everytime the blogosphere thinks this team has turned the corner, the Nats have
two or three rocky games that essentially kill whatever momentum they acquired
in the prior series. I believe in this Nats team, and I believe in their
talent, but they need to string together more than 5 games for me to believe
that they have a fighting chance. Fortunately, they get Strasburg and Gio on
the mound for a two game set in Detroit, before a three game set against the
Ryan Braun-less Brewers, who have been pretty dreadful of late. I think they
need to finish this week above .500, so 4-1 should be the expectation – and it
is doable considering their facing Annibal Sanchez, a struggling Justin
Verlander, former National Tom Gorzelanny, long reliever Donovan Hand, and Kyle
Lohse. That’s not a murderer’s row. It can be done.

All that being said, this more than
an eventful week in Natstown. Rick Eckstein was fired as the hitting coach,
against the wishes of manager Davey Johnson. Former closer Drew Storen was demoted
to Triple AAA Syracuse after another rough outing on Friday (don’t worry – I
have a lot more to say on this). Taylor Jordan earned his first professional
win on Sunday after the 14-1 massacre that was the highest offensive output for
the Nationals all season. Jayson Werth had the best statistical month of his
professional career this past July. And Dan Haren may have pitched his best
game as a National, going 7 innings of one run ball to earn his first win in
his last ten outings on Saturday. There were definitely some positive takeaways
from this 4-4 week, so without further ado, let’s take a closer look at some of
the outstanding, the mediocre, and the terrible from this week in Natstown.

THE TERRIBLE: ADAM LAROCHE

Adam Laroche’s career slash line: .266/.336/.477. Adam Laroche’s 2013 slash line: .235/.317/.409. Adam Laroche in
the month of July: .173/.250/.307. Adam Laroche this past week: .111/.200/.296.
Per traditional metrics, it’s fair to say that given Laroche’s above average
defense and well below average offense, he’s having a mediocre to bad season.
Advanced Stats also back this up. Per Fangraphs, he is worth exactly 0 WAR and
has a WRC+ (Runs per PA scaled to where 100 is average, league and park adjusted
and based on his .319 wOBA) is sitting at 101. His BABIP of .282 for this
season sits well below his career average of .307 and the customary .300
average for a major league baseball player. I could go on, but I sense you’re
getting tired and want me to get to my point. And it’s more than just a belief
that Laroche is having one of the stinkiest seasons on the ballclub this year.

The point is this: I think the Nats
should be shopping him with the trade deadline of Wednesday afternoon looming
large. For one, he is never going to revert back to last year’s numbers: It was
a career year for a guy playing in a contract year who became obvious
regression candidate number one this past offseason. He’s 33 years old (aka the
wrong side of 30), and under team control for one more year at a bad, but not
outrageous price of $12 million with a mutual option for an additional year.
There are teams chasing a title who would want a power lefty bat in their
lineup, whether it’s to play first base or DH (the Boston Red Sox, who chased
Laroche hard in free agency this past offseason, reportedly had a scout at
Nationals Park this past Friday, for what it’s worth). And he’s not part of the
young core that the Nationals are building around to contend for years to come.
They can bring up Tyler Moore (who, since being sent down on July 10th, has put
up a .423/.531/.615 slash line that suggests he’s ready to help contribute to
this team in the home stretch), Chris Marrero, or slide veteran Chad Tracy into
the role to finish out the year. There are contingencies in place and Laroche’s
bat has been more of a hindrance than a help this year for a team with the 28th
worst offense in baseball. I doubt it will happen, but if the haul is right,
the Nats should really try and move one of their most expendable pieces.

THE BAD: DREW STOREN

Drew Storen had a rough week. On
Monday, he threw a wild pitch with a man on third base that, while charged to
Ian Krol, scored and proved to be the difference in a 6-5 Pirates win. On
Wednesday, Storen gave up three runs in the 9th inning of a 1-0 game that again
proved to be the difference, though to be fair the offense was anemic except
for Jayson Werth’s 2 run homer in the bottom half that sparked a potential
comeback. But the ultimate calamity came in the first leg of Friday’s
doubleheader where Storen, plagued with a 102 fever and supposedly needing an
IV during the opener, was forced into the game where he immediately surrendered
5 runs (3 charged to him) in an 11-0 blowout that had little to do with him and
plenty to do with the bad National’s offense. But still – 3 outings, each one
getting worse and worse, with runs given up in each? Yeah, that will earn you a
demotion.

With all that said, I fully support
the quotes that came from Storen’s roommate and best friend Tyler Clippard, who
ripped the Nationals organization for their handling of the maligned reliever.
Per the great Amanda Comak of the Washington Post:

“I think there’s a lot of things
that led to this that could’ve been prevented. You know, you basically send a
guy a message this offseason for having one bad game that he’s not the guy for
the job. He’s only human. I mean, it’s going to get to anybody.”

The rest of his quotes are worth
reading. Through the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Storen had amassed 47 saves in 110
appearances, posting a 2.64 ERA, a 7.98 K/9, 2.38 BB/9, and a 2.86 FIP. In
other words – pretty fricking bueno. This year hasn’t been pretty: An improved
9.14 K/9 is marred by his 5.95 ERA, 2.76 BB/9, and a 4.15 FIP. But he’s being
held accountable for one bad game he had in the playoffs when he was pitching
with a bad back and on his third day in a row. He was a missed strike call away
from advancing the Nats to the next round. And the organization has made him
the scapegoat for the missed opportunity by bringing in Rafael Soriano, who has
not endeared himself to fans and has been, how should I put it, rocky in
his Nationals tenure thus far (in 20 appearances since the beginning of June,
he’s faced the minimum three batters only three times). I think Storen will
figure it out and that he will be a stud closer for years to come. They will
regret trading him if that’s the route they take.

THE MEH: JORDAN ZIMMERMANN

I know he only pitched once this
week, but ZNN’s last two outings have been a little discouraging. While he got
roughed by the Dodgers last Sunday, bad outings happen and ZNN attributed it to
over rest, not his stiff neck. In the first leg of Friday’s doubleheader, ZNN
got touched for 5 runs on 6 hits, including 3 uncharacteristic walks. He also
gave up 2 homeruns, both to Daniel Murphy of all people; the 4 HR’s he’s given
up in his last two starts are equivalent to the number he surrendered in his
eight starts previous to Sunday’s calamity against LA. It was encouraging that
he had 8 K’s, and Kurt Suzuki tried to take some of the blame off ZNN by
admitting to calling a couple bad hanging sliders that resulted in the homers.
But two uncharacteristic outings in a row is a little surprising, and something
Nats fans will hopefully see rectified when he takes the mound on extended rest
against Milwaukee on Friday.

THE SUPERB: JAYSON WERTH

With apologies to Wilson “The
Buffalo” Ramos, Bryce Harper, Ryan “Mr. Walkoff” Zimmerman, Steve Lombardozzi,
Ross Ohlendorf and Ian Desmond, I need to be fair and give Werth his props on
what has been a sensational month for the biggest free agent signing in
Nationals history. Werth’s .385/.467/.962 on the week, which included 5 HR’s,
was simply terrific, and served as a pretty good sample for what he’s done in
the month of July, posting a .366/.443/.646 that are all career highs for a one
month stretch. He was the sole reason the Nats were in Monday’s 6-5 loss,
hitting two HR’s and amassing four RBI’s, but his performance in the second leg
of Friday’s doubleheader was equally outstanding, going 3-3 and smoking singles
to right, center, and left that kept the pressure on the Mets all night. From
2012 to 2013, the biggest change to Werth’s game has been his HR/FB rate, which
is at 19.2% on the year – last year, it was a paltry 5.3%. Werth has found his
power, and it has been much needed for a team looking to ride any hot bat
possible to a division race.

THE OUTSTANDING: DENARD SPAN

I’ve been equally hard on Denard
Span in earlier weeks, but since his move to the 7 hole, he’s been pretty
fantastic, putting up the bizarre statistical line of .400/.400/.700. He’s
found his power, hitting his first two homeruns of the season in back to back
games on Saturday and Sunday for the first time in his career. He’s still only
hitting .146 against left handed pitching, and I know he’s going to regress
back to the mean at some point. But for a guy who has led the league in
groundouts to second base this year, he turned on the offensive jets at a time
when the Nats desperately needed the production. Here’s to hoping he reverts
back to slightly better than career norms, not the ghastly .250 hitter he was
masquerading as when he hit in the leadoff spot.

If you made it this far, I salute
you. Let’s take a quick look at the rest of the NL East

ATLANTA BRAVES (60-45)

A really solid 5-2 week for the
Braves, who split four with the Mets before sweeping one of the best teams in
baseball in the Cardinals. Chris Johnson has emerged as the NL batting leader,
overtaking Yadier Molina by going 3-4 on Sunday to bring his average to .338,
only .004 higher than Molina. Unfortunately, the Braves took a hit on Wednesday
when veteran pitcher Tim Hudson fractured his ankle on a play at first that
will leave him on the DL for the rest of the year. With southpaw Paul Moholm
missing at least his next start with a bruised wrist, the Braves are turning to
Brandon Beachy to fill Hudson’s shoes – Beachy hasn’t pitched in over a year
due to Tommy John surgery and subsequent inflammation in his elbow. Despite
back to back fantastic starts from Julio Teheran and (Vanderbilt alert!) Mike
Minor, The Braves are reportedly in the market for pitching help as the
deadline looms, and it would not surprise anyone if the Braves made a move for
White Sox righty Jake Peavy to shore up their chances at a World Series run.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES (49-56)

The Phillies got destroyed this
week, going 0-6 and extending their losing streak to 8 games, the longest in
Charlie Manuel’s tenure with the ballclub. Considering they were hanging with
the Nationals last week, their 11 game deficit in the standings has more or
less taken them out of the division race for the foreseeable future. To be
fair, they got swept by two playoff teams in the Cardinals and Tigers on the road,
so it’s not like these were unexpected results. The worst of it came in
Sunday’s 12-4 loss to the Tigers. Despite a Miguel Cabrera ejection in the
third inning for arguing balls and strikes, the Phillies surrendered eight
unearned runs in the 8th inning courtesy of a Jacob Diekman throwing error that
culminated with Biogenesis target Johnny Peralta’s monster grand slam. Jonathan
Papelbon is on record as wanting out the door, and Cliff Lee’s name has also
been dangled in trade talks, but GM Ruben Amaro has been adamant that he will
not blow up the team at the deadline. It will be very interesting to see how
the Phillies handle the next couple days, but their schedule does not get any
easier, as they have two three-game sets with the Giants and Braves.

NEW YORK METS (46-56)

A split with the Braves followed by
losing three of four to the Nats leaves the Mets with a 3-5 record on the week.
The most impressive performance of the week belonged to 23 year old Jenrry
Mejia’s, who has by far the coolest spelling of Henry I’ve ever seen, but was
more importantly dominant in the first leg of Friday’s doubleheader against the
Nats. His 7 innings of shutout ball with 7 K’s to boot were the best numbers
put up by a youngster in a shutout performance since Jason Isringhausen did it
in 1996 (Matt Harvey, in case you were wondering, is 24). Mejia threw 32 of his
49 breaking balls and changeups for strikes, which the Nats swung on and missed
15 times (all stats courtesy of Mark Simon at ESPN New York). He was
sensational in his outing, and the Mets will look to continue his development
as they continue to groom their solid young pitching core. As far as the trade
deadline goes, manager Terry Collins indicated that the Mets would be quiet
this year, so don’t expect to hear their name in any rumblings and grumblings
in the days ahead.  

MIAMI MARLINS (40-63)

A solid week for the Marlins, who
went 5-2 by taking three of four from the Rockies before taking two of three
against the biggest surprise in baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates. Still, that
didn’t stop the Marlins from getting bad national press when it was reported
that hitting coach Tino Martinez was physically and verbally abusive to
players, with one report suggesting that he choked second basemen Derek
Dietrich during an altercation. He resigned on Sunday, but that is not the kind
of press you want to get when your season is as bad as it is. Still, there were
some positives. Jose Fernandez had a freak show of an afternoon on Sunday,
going 8 scoreless with no walks and 13 k’s en route to a 3-2 win, outdueling
another promising pitcher in Gerrit Cole. Fernandez joins the unique company of
Dwight Gooden, Gary Nolan, and Kerry Wood as the only pitchers to put up that
kind of line prior to their 21st birthdays. All signs suggest Fernandez will be
a Cy Young contender for years to come, providing the Marlins something to be
optimistic about that doesn’t rhyme with Fianmarlo Banton. 

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