Nationals Retrospective

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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Nationals Retrospective: Week 14

 

Bryce Harper is back. Wilson Ramos
is back. Dan Haren is (unfortunately) coming back. Despite the loss of Ross
Detwiler to the DL with a lower back problem, this was a strong week from the
Nationals, who posted a 5-2 record with a disappointing four game split against
the Brewers followed by an impressive sweep of the lowly Padres. With all the
position players back and fully healthy, the offense has really come alive,
scoring 43 runs in 7 games, and has been able to overcome some mediocre bullpen
work to give the team four straight wins for the first time since early May.
With seven games left before the all-star break (on the road against the
Phillies and Marlins) and the NL East leading Braves only four games ahead, the
Nats have done an impressive job cutting the division lead down in a short
amount of time. Still, despite the myriad different positive takeaways one
could make from this week, a couple of observations were disheartening and will
hopefully be remedied in the weeks (and break) ahead. Through all the good, the
bad, the meh, let’s take a closer look at how the Nats got to 46-42 and sit
poised to make some serious noise in the coming NL East race.

OBSERVATIONS:

PHENOMENAL: WILSON “VAMOS” RAMOS

Kurt Suzuki has done more than an
admirable job filling in for Ramos while he was nursing his hamstring injury;
after all, he is an above average defensive catcher who has been deft in his
ability to manage a starting rotation that has been consistently in flux this
year. But Suzuki has been below average at the plate, posting a .224/.281/.327
line on the year. Considering he was a .250-.260 player last year when he came
over at the trade deadline, one has to wonder whether the increased time behind
the plate sapped his hitting ability. But with the return of Ramos, Suzuki will
now have more rest before each start and it will hopefully help both players
provide stability and some danger to the bottom half of the hitting order.
Ramos, despite his defensive deficiencies, is an above average hitter, and he
put that on display during his 4th of July return, going 3-4 and hitting a two
run single in the sixth and a game winning three run HR in the 7th that sealed
the win – and the series split – over the Brewers. On Friday, Ramos hit a pair
of singles to finish the day 2-4, driving in three runs in the process. All
told, in the three games he has played since his return, he’s put up a .500/.500/.833
stat line that will obviously regress to the mean at some point, but has been
one of the biggest contributors to the 8, 8, and 11 run explosions the Nats put
up in the games he played. While it would be nice if he could add the element
of throwing base-runners out on steal attempts to his repertoire (Kurt Suzuki’s
.125 caught stealing percentage was the second lowest for qualifying catchers
in the league this season), his .270 average bat has been sorely needed for
this offensively deficient team.

GOOD: TYLER CLIPPARD

The struggles of some members of the
Nats bullpen (more on that in a second) have overshadowed what has been another
phenomenal season from Tyler Clippard, who deserves to make the all-star team
since his ascendance to one of the league’s best 8th inning pitchers. He
pitched in four of this week’s seven games, surrendering no runs while posting
a solid 5:1 K/BB ratio. More importantly, he had a week that saw him throw less
of his customary “20 pitch work myself into a jam and then get out of it”
scenario. He threw 8 pitches in Monday’s 10-5 win over Milwaukee. He pitched
only 13 in Friday’s 8-5 win over San Diego. While his other two outings so
pitch counts in the upper teens, they came because he was striking people out,
not because he was getting hit – in fact, Clippard didn’t even give up a hit in
his four innings of work. It was an absolutely dominant performance from a guy
who has been remarkably consistent this year, and he has been one of the most
important cogs in ensuring that the Nationals are where they are at this point
in the season. He definitely has my vote for all-star considerations.

MEH: DREW STOREN

It has been well documented that
Storen has not been “Clippard-esque” this season, struggling a lot more often
than he has in recent seasons. I don’t know if those struggles are in
connection with his demotion from closer to 7th inning reliever, or if he has a
physical problem he’s not letting on, but he had a couple bad outings that
would have looked a lot worse had he not come back strong to record two
positive outings in a row to make it a so-so week. In Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to
Milwaukee, Storen came into a 0-0 game and promptly gave up all four runs,
getting absolutely shelled by a Milwaukee team that had been struggling all
day. But hey, bad starts happen – it would be unrealistic of fans to expect a
reliever to go out there everytime and pitch a scoreless inning of relief. But
he followed up that bad outing with another one in Thursday’s dramatic 8-5
victory, giving up two HR’s to Yuniesky Betancourt and Carlos Gomez that tied
the game and forced the Nats into doing something theatrical in order to win
the game. To be fair, he followed up those bad outings with two really good
ones, going scoreless on both Saturday and Sunday, the former of which only
required five pitches of work to retire the side. Hopefully he’s figured out
what was bothering him earlier in the week – after all, he’s probably their
second best reliever after Clippard, so having him back on track from his
earlier struggles will be key in the coming weeks.  

BAD: CRAIG STAMMEN

When the offense puts up the numbers
they did, and the starting pitching was about as good as it has been all year,
it’s hard to look anywhere else other than the bullpens for signs of struggles
this past week. Unfortunately, it was another really rough week for long
reliever Craig Stammen, who has not looked impressive in any outing he’s had in
last 2 to 2 ½ weeks or so. He has now given up at least one run in five of his
last six outings, and his one scoreless appearance required impressive
defensive plays from Anthony Rendon and Denard Span to preserve the quality
appearance.  His two most recent appearances were the most troubling. On
Friday, he entered the game in the top half of the 7th after Gio Gonzalez had
put one man on base and worked his pitch count well above 100. Needing one out,
he gave up a single to Chris Denorfia which brought Carlos Quentin at the
plate. Stammen promptly threw an 82 MPH slider that didn’t slide at all, giving
it the appearance of a batting practice fastball that was absolutely murdered
into the left field bleachers. I will confess that I found it curious Stammen
had entered the game in this position and not Fernando Abad or Ian Krol, who
have now not pitched since the 2nd and 3rd respectively, but I can understand
Davey’s desire to get him one high leverage out to boost his confidence from
his recent bad outings. I can also understand Stammen coming out on Sunday with
an 11-4 lead, hoping to get 1-2 innings of quality work in without the stress
of needing to preserve a slender lead. But Sunday’s outing was a disaster – he
gave up 5 hits and 3 runs (2 earned) that made his ERA climb to an alarming
3.86 on the season. I’m hoping this is just a rough patch that some relievers
experience over the course of the long season, but given Ross Ohlendorf’s
lackluster performance in the long relief spot earlier this week, having
Stammen back to his customary best will be key, especially with Dan Haren and
Taylor Jordan expected to have multiple starts in the coming weeks. Given their
proclivity/inexperience in pitching deep into games, having a solid long
reliever will help give us some wins that may not be expected, like his
dominant four inning relief game against the Braves back in early May when
Strasburg left injured. I’m optimistic that some rest during the all-star break
will help him out, but for now, there is no denying that his week was the most
troublesome from a fan’s perspective.

AROUND THE NL EAST

ATLANTA BRAVES

The Nats finally caught a break scheduling
wise this week, as their 5-2 record was matched by a pedestrian 2-4 record from
the Braves, who lost two of three to the Marlins at home before dropping
two of three against the Phillies in Philadelphia. Vanderbilt alum Mike Minor
has had a rough go of it lately, not winning a decision in four straight starts
– his most recent start against Miami on Wednesday saw him get tagged for six
hits and four runs over the course of six very high leverage innings. Equally
disappointing was Kris Medlen, who gave up 8 hits, 7 runs (6 earned), and 3
walks in only 5 1/3rd innings of work on Sunday in a loss to the Phillies. At
the plate, they have a number of guys who are seriously struggling: B.J Upton
is now batting an Espinosa-like .175, offensive sieve Dan Uggla is batting
.205, and Jayson Heyward is batting .229. If it weren’t for the very impressive
play from all-star caliber catcher Bryan McCann, this team would have some
serious problems at the plate. Elsewhere, 1B Freddie Freeman is the current leader
in the NL All-Star game final fan vote, with Nats shortstop Ian Desmond in
fourth place. Freeman is a quality player, but I think Nats fans would much
rather see Desmond get the nod, so it will be curious to see if he can make it
over Desmond and Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig when the end of voting comes
around.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

A nice 4-2 week for the Phillies,
who took two of three from the league best Pirates in Pittsburgh before
returning home and taking two of three from the Braves. Jonathan Pappelbon had
a pretty solid week, recording four scoreless outings of his own, including
three save opportunities, to help ensure that his team finished the week with a
winning record. In those outings, he only gave up two hits and never pitched
more than 18 pitches in any of his four outings this week. Domonic Brown had
another impressive week at the dish, posting a .375/.385/.750 slash line at the
plate this week, including an absolute bomb on Sunday that constituted his 23rd
HR of the season. His emergence continues to be a bright spot for a Phillies
team that, at 43-46, really needs to get hot if they have any shot of making
some noise come September and October.  

NEW YORK METS

A split with the division leading
Arizona Diamondbacks followed by a series win in Milwaukee saw the Mets go 4-3
on the week. Leading the charge was starting pitcher Jeremy Heffner, who in his
two starts this past week, went 7 innings and gave up one run in both contests,
which resulted in wins for his ballclub. His peripherals this week were equally
impressive; nearly a 5:1 K/BB ratio and a .65 WHIP make it obvious that he was
pretty dominant in his two starts this week. He might not be this kind of
pitcher all the time, but if he can provide regular above replacement level
caliber pitching, he would be a nice compliment to the Matt Harvey/Zach Wheeler
one-two punch that should be around for some time. Kirk Nieuwenheis had a
pretty solid week at the plate, hitting .450 and showing some serious prowess
in Friday’s 12-5 win over the Brewers. He was a HR away from the cycle and had
5 RBI’s to boot. I guess he might be slightly better than Rick Ankiel.

MIAMI MARLINS

They played the finale of a four
game set on Monday at San Diego that resulted in a win, took two of three from
the Barves Braves, then promptly got swept by the very good St. Louis Cardinals
to finish the week 3-4. Giancarlo Stanton is struggling mightily, and his
numbers this week serve as a microcosm for the season he’s had as a whole. He
went .160/.323/.200 at the dish this week, and his season totals of .246/.343/.434
pale in comparison to his career norms of .268/.349/.539. I know he had a stint
on the DL, but I think the whole world is surprised that the explosive hitter
has only hit 8 HR’s this year. While some of their young arms have been
surprisingly better than expected, and they’ve also gotten some quality relief
innings from makeshift closer Scott Cishek, Stanton’s disappointing campaign
leaves a lot to be desired for Marlins fans in what continues to be an
unfortunate season. 

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Nationals Retrospective: Week 13

If you
had told me going into this week that the Nationals would take two of three
from a very good Diamondbacks team while facing Patrick Corbin in one of those
games, then take two of three from the Mets while facing Matt Harvey in one
game and starting rookie pitcher Taylor Jordan in another, I would have been
ecstatic. So all in all this was a pretty good 4-2 week for the Nats who now
sit one game above .500 (41-40) and are now 6.5 games back of the Braves at the
half-way point of the season. There were certainly more positives than
negatives to take away from these six games, so I’m not totally discouraged,
but this was a week that saw a couple missed opportunities that might come back
to haunt this team if they’re in the thick of a division title race come
September. Still, all we can ask of this team is to keep winning 2 out of 3 and
keep playing around .600 ball – it will be the only way we have a shot of
making things interesting on the backend of the season. With all that said,
here’s a closer looks at the good, the bad, and the meh from this week in Nats
baseball.

OBSERVATIONS:

GOOD: IMPROVED
HITTING OF DENARD SPAN AND KURT SUZUKI

When the Nats traded 1st
round pick Alex Meyer to the Twins for Denard Span, the general consensus in
Natstown was that this was a positive “win-now” trade that gave the Nats a
sorely needed leadoff man who played above average offense and gold glove
caliber defense. The defense has definitely been there – he has been stellar in CF, a feeling that before Bryce Harper, Nats fans had no idea what that was like. But his offense has been struggling. Last year, he hit .283/.342/.395 and was worth 3.6 WAR
according to Fangraphs. This year? He’s hitting .262/.314/.361 and is
worth 1.2 WAR halfway through the campaign. I know he’s talked at length about
how he’s still learning the National League and trying to adjust to new
pitchers, so I’m willing to give him a pass, but it was nice to see him have a
very good week at the plate. Against the Diamondbacks and Mets, Span had a
slash line of .308/.333/.500 with three doubles and a triple to boot. It would
be nice if he could draw more walks as he did early in the season; a 2:1 K:BB ratio morphed into a 5:1 ratio
this week, but his improved hitting towards his career norms is refreshing.

As for Suzuki, leave it to the
Hawaiian to start improving at the plate once word comes down that regular
number one catcher Wilson Ramos is nearing his return to the team. Suzuki’s
career averages of .253/.310/.376 look magnificent in comparison to his
.226/.286/.332 line put up this year, and his .197/244/.310 he put up in June.
While much of this should be chalked up to his increased workload, and the fact
that he’s significantly better at managing the pitching staff and calling a
game than backup Jhonotan Solano, the fact remains that Suzuki would be best
served if he had more time to rest in between starts. So for him to come out
and put up a .389/.400/.611 this week, including his first home run since
April, was more than surprising. He drove in 5 RBI’s this week, which was more
than he drove in for the entire month of May. The Nats would love to have that
kind of production from the bottom of the order, whether it’s Suzuki or Ramos,
so this is definitely a positive sign for the struggling offense.

VERY GOOD:
BRYCE HARPER IS COMING BACK

The impending return of Bryce Harper
was probably the best news that came out of Natstown this week, after Harper
put up solid numbers in his rehab starts while showing no signs of discomfort
in his left knee. The Nats are definitely excited to welcome their three-hole
hitter back to the team; after all, the team is 25-18 when he plays (good for a
94 win pace) and 17-22 when he doesn’t. It also means Roger Bernadina will be
relegated to the bench role he really should have for the rest of the season
barring another freak injury. Harper was hitting .287/.386/.587 before his knee
bursitis forced him down; in comparison, Bernadina is hitting .187/.253/.291.
This addition by subtraction is definitely a welcome sign, and comes at just
the right time as the Nats look to get a major win streak going in the coming
weeks.

MEH:
CRAIG STAMMEN

Not the best week for the usually reliable
reliever. On Thursday, Stammen took the loss against the Diamondbacks in
extra innings after only completing one 25 pitch inning as he was hit hard by
Miguel Montero and then caught off guard by a suicide squeeze by Didi Gregorius.
In Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the Mets, Stammen surrendered two additional runs to
put the game out of reach, and he was not impressive in the outing, getting
routinely hard hit and needing major defensive contributions from Anthony
Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman to get out of further danger. In his last five appearances (8.0 IP) he has been hit much harder than usual, to the tune of a 1.001 OPS, but even so there isn’t any reason to sound the alarm. He’s had a rough couple of games, and that’s all that can really be said at the moment.

BAD: THE
DEFENSE

 

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Looking at just errors would tell you that the Nationals are
the second worst defensive team in the National League, only on one behind the
Dodgers for last place. That doesn’t tell the entire story, looking to UZR and,
more importantly, UZR/150 the Nats rank 23rd in MLB, 12th
in the NL. That’s still not fantastic, but there are some very good teams behind
the Nats in this statistic including the Cardinals and the Tigers.

This weekend’s series against the Mets exemplified some of
the problems the Nats have had all season when it comes to garnering enough momentum
to get a winning streak going. On Friday, with David Wright on second base, Ian
Desmond bobbled a Marlon Byrd grounder, and his throw to Adam LaRoche
definitely was not his finest. But a gold glove caliber defender like LaRoche
needs to pick the throw, or, at the very least, keep the ball in front of him
so that the runner can’t score from second. Later in the 7th, a Ross Ohlendorf
pick-off attempt of Daniel Murphy resulted in an error after LaRoche couldn’t
field the throw. I’m hoping it was just one bad game for LaRoche; even though
he wasn’t charged with either error, both plays were routine enough and were
definitely unexpected from his usually sterling defense. It was a microcosm of
a larger problem for the Nats; mainly, that his defense has been slipping all
year and manifested itself in the worst way in Friday’s game. But it paled in
comparison to the team’s defensive performance the next day. With rookie Taylor
Jordan on the mound needing all the help he could get, the Nats promptly
committed three errors and a couple other bad defensive plays to give Jordan
the loss, despite the fact that he only gave up one earned run. A prime culprit
in that game was Ryan Zimmerman. While his throwing problems have been well
documented, Saturday saw him mishandle two hard hit groundballs that are
normally handled by most players at the position. It was probably just a bad
day, but the bottom line is that Zimmerman has been a defensive sieve this
year, and it was disappointing to see him slip up defensively in a non-throwing
situation.

AROUND
THE NL EAST

ATLANTA
BRAVES

Leave it to the Braves to go 4-1 in
a week where the Nats go 4-2. The Braves split two games with the Royals before
impressively sweeping the Diamondbacks to ensure that they could only gain on
the Nats in the division standings. Saturday’s 11-5 was very impressive; down
one run in the 8th inning, the Braves exploded for 7 runs off 5 hits
to gain the victory. The book on this team was that they were going to be
streaky coming into the season, and they’re definitely proving it, seemingly
matching the Nats week in and week out with a near .500 record. Had it not been
for their incredibly hot start in April, the complexion of this race would be
far different. Nonetheless, a solid week for the Braves, who will look to
capitalize on the week with two series at Philadelphia and Miami respectively.
Also, a sincere congratulations to Chipper Jones on getting his number retired by the
Braves organization on Friday night – he was always a class act and a fantastic
baseball player to boot. Considering how he terrorized the Nats, I’m glad we
don’t have to see him 18 times a year.     

PHILADELPHIA
PHILLIES

The Phillies went 3-4 this week,
taking two of three from the upstart Padres before running into the Yasiel Puig
chainsaw and dropping three of four against the Dodgers. Still, in their one
win against L.A. (and in a John Lannan start no less), the Phillies won 16-1 as
they saw an offensive explosion from defensive albatross Delmon Young, who put
up 6 RBI’s in the game. They also gave us the joy of seeing Skip Schumacker
throw an inning of relief for the Dodgers, and as the Nats saw on Sunday when
the Mets’ backup catcher Anthony Recker pitched the top half of the 9th, there
is no greater joy than seeing a position player take the mound in a blowout
loss. If only the Dodgers had Rick Ankiel. Sigh.  

NEW YORK
METS

A bizarre 3-3 week for the Mets –
they split two games with the Chicago White Sox in Chicago, before winning a
make-up game in Colorado on Thursday, before returning home to lose two out of
three to the Nats. Matt Harvey continues to be insane in the membrane (insane
in the brain) when it comes to his dominance of the national league this
season. Despite recording a no decision on Friday, Harvey’s game was an
absolute gem: 7IP, 3H, 1ER, 0BB, 11K’s while repeatedly touching 97-98 mph on
his fastball. His season as a whole has been equally ridiculous, and his
cumulative 2.00 ERA/.85 WHIP are currently tops in the National League.
Unfortunately for Jordan Zimmermann, there is no doubt Harvey is the favorite
to start the all-star game being played at Citi Field this year. I would be
remiss if I didn’t pour a 40 for the Mets bullpen, which returned to its atrocious
form against the Nats this weekend despite playing some good ball in the ten
games prior. Much of the blame falls on Brandon Lyon, who blew the hold on
Friday’s loss giving up a tough walk to Anthony Rendon before the Ryan
Zimmerman bases clearing double. On Sunday, he decided to one-up his awfulness,
giving up doubles to Jayson Werth, Roger Bernadina, Denard Span and Anthony
Rendon and a home run to Kurt Suzuki. Given that he has not been good all
season, it would not be a surprise to see the veteran righty DFA’d sometime
within the next couple of days.

MIAMI
MARLINS

Don’t look now, but the Marlins went
15-10 in the month of June, and topped that off with a nice 4-1 week that saw
them sweep two games against the lowly Twins before taking two of three from
the Padres at home. The series win against the Padres was very impressive, and
culminated in an unexpected walk-off grand slam by Jeff Mathis, of all people.
Jose Fernandez has quietly had a fantastic season for the struggling fish; not
only was his 1.67 ERA for the month of June the best in the majors, but he only
gave up two doubles and no home runs in the process. Combined with the
impressive start of Nathan Eovaldi (who went six scoreless against the Padres
on Sunday), the Marlins may have found a decent 1-2 punch.  

Nationals Retrospective: Week 12

Ugh.

I think
that’s the collective feeling from Nats fans everywhere given the performance
of the team as a whole, but this week in particular was yet another in a long
list where the team appears to take one step forward, followed by two steps
backward. The Nationals (37-38) had a 3-4 week, losing two of three at
Philadelphia before splitting a four game set with Colorado despite winning the
first two games of the series. Given the collective struggles of the NL East,
which has now been relegated to the worst of the NL divisions, this was a week
where the Nats had a serious opportunity to make up ground on the Atlanta
Braves (44-33) and close the gap on our fiercest division rivals, who somehow
only managed to gain a half game on the Nats this past week. There were some
good moments and good things that happened this week, but as many Nats fans and
beat reporters have written about this team’s “stuck in neutral” gear, there is
a floating sentiment that this team just won’t be able to put together a
substantial run that could get them in playoff contention. Nonetheless, through
the good, the bad, and the meh, let’s take a closer look at this past week in
Nats baseball.       

OBSERVATIONS:

GOOD: THE
BULLPEN IS COMING AROUND

One
of the presumed strengths heading into this year would be a revitalized bullpen
that had everything sans left handed LOOGY on paper to handle the demands of a
full length season. Between stalwarts Drew Storen, Rafael Soriano, Craig
Stammen and Tyler Clippard – the presumed “guy to get left handers out” thanks
to his nasty changeup – the Nats could ride those four in the clutch to
maintain one of last season’s biggest assets. Yet the start to the year was
troublesome. I don’t need to belabor the atrocity that was the Henry
Rodriguez/Zach Duke combination, but the addition of lefties Ian Krol and
Fernando Abad has been a pleasant addition by subtraction of Nationals dead
weight that has helped this team. Krol in particular has been great – in his 8
2/3IP this year, he still hasn’t allowed a major league run, has a ridiculous
12.46 K/9 ratio, a .23 WHIP and has already amassed .5WAR. He’s also been
economical – in yesterday’s game against Colorado, he threw two innings on only
19 pitches. Tyler Clippard, who has been productive and yet struggling all
season with his proclivity to put people on base and work large pitch counts in
single innings, has been better as of late – in his 7 2/3IP pitched in June, he
hasn’t given up a run and has a 1.04 WHIP, while displaying an ability to be
economical like in Wednesday’s win at Philadelphia, where he went 1 2/3IP on
only 18 pitches. Even Drew Storen, who has been relegated to ROOGY status as of
late and is the subject of many trade rumors as the deadline approaches, has
been better in the last couple of weeks, working full innings of scoreless
relief instead of just a batter or two. If the Nats have any hope of breaking
out of their mediocre doldrums, they’ll need to rely on the continually
improved play from the back end of the pen to ensure that they’ll always be in
close games.

MEH:
DAVEY JOHNSON’S MANAGERIAL DECISIONS

Look: I am fully aware this this has
been the Dumbo-sized elephant in the room for the Nats all season, with Davey
possessing some kind of carte blanche power with setting the lineups given that
this will be his last season in his illustrious big league managerial career.
And I think by and large he’s a pretty good guy and seems to have a refreshing
sense of humor that makes him ten times more endearing than stone faced Jim
Riggleman. But he made some really questionable decisions this past week, both
on the field and in the press, and he deserves to be criticized for them,
rightly or not. On the field, he completely botched last week’s 5-4 loss in
Philadelphia when he had Fernando Abad – a Houston Astros castoff – come in to
pitch in a scoreless 9th inning when he had blown a similar
situation in Cleveland just three days earlier. Why he didn’t use Rafael
Soriano when the Phillies had the heart of their order coming to the plate
remains a mystery. He’s also gotten himself in a minor quibble with Bryce
Harper within the press about when he’s going to return to the lineup, with the
all-star basically saying he’s going to come back when he’s 100% ready, not
when Davey thinks he’s ready. Considering Davey was instrumental in the PR
debacle regarding his knee bursitis (and let’s be honest – no one sits out for
over a month with knee bursitis, so nice going medical staff), I don’t
understand his desire to get involved in something so stupid as this when the
Nats have far bigger issues to worry about. Also, the lineup he trotted out
yesterday that included Jeff Kobernus and Chris Marrero in the stead of Denard
Span and Adam Laroche due to lefty Jorge De La Rosa pitching was kind of
bizarre given that the Nats have today off. It’s one thing to give players
rest, but Davey has had this “old-school” notion of trying to gain as many
righty on lefty matchups as possible in the hopes of jump-starting the offense
all season, and it hasn’t really been a successful managerial strategy all
season. Given that the offense is still mediocre at best, Davey needs to get
this out of his head and start putting his best options on the field at all
opportunities possible if the Nats want to be involved in October.

BAD: THE
HAREN/DETWILER COMBINATION

Rough week for the back end of the
Nats rotation. I’ll start with Haren, who was moved to the DL after Saturday’s
disastrous start against Colorado in the hopes that he can get some minor
league starts to figure out some mechanical issues that have been well
documented on this site and everywhere else in the blogosphere. I was a fan at
the beginning of the year replacing Edwin Jackson – who was mediocre at best –
with a former all-star who regularly pitched 200 innings of quality baseball on
a one year contract. But his 6.15 ERA is now the highest for starters in all of
baseball, joining his dismal 19 HR’s surrendered as the worst in the majors. I
applaud Mike Rizzo and crew for temporarily pulling the plug and letting
journeyman Ross Ohlendorf and his awesome wind up have a shot for the time
being, since it’s obvious Haren’s lost velocity, his inability to have a cutter
actually, you know, cut, and inability to pitch out of the stretch have all
contributed to his struggles this season. Detwiler has been equally
troublesome: Despite the promise of Tuesday’s start at Philadelphia, Detwiler
got shelled in a three run 6th inning that ultimately cost the Nats
the game. On Sunday, he was pretty dreadful in giving up 7 runs while not being
able to get out of the 4th inning. Detwiler has always had problems
getting through lineups the second or third time given that he’s a high
fastball pitcher with mediocre secondary pitches that he doesn’t bust out until
later innings. Detwiler is still getting his timing back
after returning from the DL, but the Nats need Detwiler to be as good as he was
last year, especially with Haren’s struggles, if they have any shot of making a
playoff push.

AROUND
THE NL EAST

ATLANTA
BRAVES

Good news for Nats fans: The Braves
went 3-5 this week while playing against the Mets and the Brewers. Bad news:
The Braves gained a half game in the standings since last week. Their offense
has really struggled as of late (Bryan McCann’s Sunday grand slam notwithstanding)
– in the eight games they played this week, they scored 2, 3, 1, 5, 3, 0, 0,
and 7 runs. That’s Nationals-esque. Part of their problem may be the news that
Evan Gattis has hit the DL with what appears to be a strained oblique, but the
bigger issues is that Justin Upton – who started the year with such a torrid
start – has been struggling as of late, posting a .158/.261/.158 (!) slash line
this week. His average is at a season low .240 right now. Nats fans should be
worried he’ll break out of it sooner rather than later, but his struggles have
definitely been a microcosm for the struggling Braves as a whole in the last
two weeks.           

PHILADELPHIA
PHILLIES

A 3-3 week for the fighting Phils,
taking two of three with the Nats before losing two of three to the Mets.
Surprisingly, they remain only 1.5 further back of the NL East crown than the
Nats. Unsurprising, John Lannan remains a mediocre to bad pitcher – despite the
Nats struggled against the former opening day starter, Lannan got shelled
Sunday against the Mets, giving up four runs over 5 innings while getting hard
hit everywhere. Unfortunately, Ryan Howard is beginning to heat up: He hit a
moonshot off Dan Haren on Monday, and had a ridiculous .476/.538/1.095 line for
the week, including 3HR’s and 7 RBI’s. The Phillies are hopeful they can follow
his coattails while still remaining relevant in the division.  

NEW YORK
METS

They won a 5 game series against the
Braves, then won 2 of 3 against the Mets to finish the week 5-3. Zach Wheeler
had an impressive debut in the backend of Tuesday’s doubleheader, going six
innings, giving up four hits, and striking out seven while giving up no runs.
David Wright had a pretty good week at the plate, going .361/.378/.778 and
staking his claim as the starting 3B come all-star weekend. The Mets are riding
their stars, who played like they were stars this past week, which is something
the Nats have not really had offensively this season.

MIAMI
MARLINS

Yes, they lost two of three at
Arizona, but going into San Francisco and winning three of four is no small
feat to finish the week 4-3. It was a pretty good week for recent call up Nate
Eovaldi, who went six innings giving up two runs on 84 pitches, then went to
San Francisco and did the exact same thing, except on 86 pitches. Opponents in
those two games are hitting a combined .171 against him, and he’s shown the
ability with his pitch counts to go deep into games once the Marlins decide to
stop protecting his young arm. Between him and Jose Fernandez, the Marlins
definitely have had something to smile about in recent weeks as this continues
to be a dismal season for the Florida franchise.

  

Nationals Retrospective: Week 11

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This past week was, how should I put it, middling for our
beloved Washington Nationals, as they went 3-3 while on the road against two
fairly average teams in the Colorado Rockies (37-33) and the Cleveland Indians
(34-34). The Nats were able to take two of three from Colorado despite not swinging
the bats well in situational moments, and they were essentially gifted those
wins thanks to an incredibly fluky Ross  Ohlendorf
performance on Wednesday
combined with terrible injury luck/bad umpiring to hurt the Rockies on
Thursday. In Cleveland, the Nats were two-hit in game one (scoring their only
run on a wild pitch) and shutout in the final leg. The win they got in
Cleveland came after blowing a five run lead and was secured on an Anthony
Rendon

home run that should have not happened if Nick Swisher
were competent
defensively. The Nats have not swept a series since they took down the White
Sox in the third series of the season, and their series win in Colorado was
their first road series win since they downed the Pirates in the first weekend
of May. Put simply, their offense continues to struggle in increasingly
embarrassing fashion, and anytime this team seems to gain momentum, they lose
it within the next two games. Still, there is optimism on the horizon, despite
my cynicism. Let’s take a quick look at some observations from the past week,
from the good to the bad to the NL East in general.

OBSERVATIONS:

GOOD:
DESMOND AND RENDON ARE EN EL FUEGO

 

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The
Nationals’ middle infielders were nothing short of spectacular this past week –
without them, this week could have been a lot uglier than it actually was. Ian
Desmond


had another monster week, extending his hitting streak to a season high
fifteen games before running into a magnum opus type performance from Justin
Masterson



in Cleveland on Friday. Still, Desmond’s slash line for the week of .421/.542/.579
with a 1.121 OPS (!!!) was pretty outstanding. More important than the line,
though, was Desmond’s increased patience on display this week; he walked and
struck out four times a piece on the week. Desmond is going to be an aggressive
hitter, which is what allows him to jump on pitchers early (He has a .426
average when facing a 0-0 count), but his strike out to walk ratio has been at
a putrid rate of about 4/1 according to Baseball Reference. I’m not expecting
him to keep the 1/1 ratio, but this is a good sign for a Nationals team looking
for as many baserunners as possible. However, Desmond was usurped in
impressiveness by 2B fill-in and recent call up Anthony  Rendon, who was
phenomenal this week. His .500/.524/.800 with a 1.324 OPS (!!!!!!!!) notwithstanding,
Rendon proved he had the clutch factor this week, slugging his first career
home run in Saturday’s wild 7-6 game with Cleveland that ultimately proved to
be the game winner. Three of his ten hits went for doubles, showing that he has
some power, and he also managed to strike out only once this week, which is
unusual for such a young player seeing regular major league pitching for the
first time. He will regress to the mean at some point with his averages, but
the Nationals need to ride his hotness for as long as possible. Needless to
say, his spot in the lineup is safe for the time being.

GOOD:
THE ROTATION IS BACK

 

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The
Nats welcomed back Ross  Detwiler
and prodigal son Stephen  Strasburg
into the
starting rotation, thus bringing stability to a pitching staff that has been
hanging on by a thread in recent weeks. More importantly, it relieves the Nats
of throwing out the likes of Nathan Karns
or Ross Ohlendorf to start from here
on out (knock on wood). Detwiler’s Major League return was unimpressive, but
encouraging: 5 innings, 6 hits, 3 ER, 2 K’s. Strasburg’s start was equally
encouraging: 5 innings, 1 hit, 1 ER, 4 BB’s and 4 K’s. He threw only 82
pitches, and while his command was spotty, it was encouraging that he only gave
up one hit and kept Cleveland guessing throughout the afternoon. With these
guys back, it is only a matter of time until Bryce  Harper
returns to get this
team back to full strength, and in a position to start playing like the team
they should be.

BAD: THE
CHAD TRACY CONUNDRUM

 

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Don’t
let Saturday’s game tying home run on Saturday fool you: Chad  Tracy
has been
pretty terrible this season. His slash line of .141/.179/.234 pales in
comparison to his career averages of .274/.333/.440. Many in Nats fandom have
claimed that he needs regular reps, like Tyler  Moore, in order to get out of
his hitting slump, but I think Nats fans need to be prepared to accept that
Tracy is over the hill. He had 8 AB’s this week; that home run on Saturday was
his only hit. He was never expected to get regular reps on this team barring an
injury, as his role as captain of the “goon squad” was to be the power lefty
bat off the bench. While he just played two games at third (to relieve the Nats
of Ryan Zimmerman’s Defensive Adventure, coming to you weekdays on MASN at 7!),
Anthony Rendon could serve as the backup third basemen should something happen
to Zim. The only thing keeping him around right now is the fact that the
closest thing to a true left handed power hitter in the Nats minor league
system are Corey  Brown
and Mike  Costanzo, with Brown already gunning for
Bernadina’s roster spot. I don’t know if Tracy is incredibly important to the
locker room makeup of the team, and I’m all for maintaining chemistry in some
fashion, but Tracy’s role as the designated pinch hitter needs to end, and his
playing time needs to be curtailed going forward.

AROUND
THE NL EAST

ATLANTA
BRAVES

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A
disappointing 2-4 week for the Braves, as they got swept by the up and coming
Padres before rallying to take two of three from the Giants at home. It would
have been even worse if not for Saturday’s come from behind win; Sergio  Romo

imploded for the Giants and the Braves were able to win via walk off courtesy
of a Freddie  Freeman
single. The Braves are now 6.5 games up on the Nats, but
they have a lot of games ahead of them: 5 against the Mets (a doubleheader on
Tuesday) at home followed by three in Milwaukee, who will be without Ryan
Braun
. Hopefully all those games, granted against mediocre competition, in a short time span will give the Nats an
opportunity to make up a game or two in the standings this week.
  

PHILADELPHIA
PHILLIES

A 2-4 week for the fighting Phils,
losing two of three to both the Twins and Rockies while on the road.
Unsurprising yet underrated: Cliff  Lee
has been absolutely fantastic this
season. His 8-2 record notwithstanding, his Thursday performance against the
Twins was masterful: 7IP, 3H, 2ER, 1BB, 6SO’s. Surprising and not properly
rated: Cole  Hamels
has a record of 2-10, and is getting no help from his supporting
cast. In his most recent start on Sunday, Hamels went 7IP, giving up six hits,
three runs, walking two and striking out seven. When Justin de Fratus
relieved
him in the 8th, he promptly gave up two more runs to put the game
out of reach. Hamels’ record doesn’t reflect his quality as a pitcher, but it
is surprising to see that the Phillies can’t buoy him with run support when he’s
on the mound.

NEW YORK
METS

 

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What
do you know, another 2-4 week for an NL East team! The Mets lost two of three
to the Cardinals and Cubs at home in a season that continues to be a train
wreck for the team from Queens. The big news coming from Mets camp is the call
up of stud prospect Zack  Wheeler

to start his first Major League start against
the Braves on Tuesday. Wheeler was the major piece traded to the Mets when they
traded Carlos Beltran to the Giants in 2011. Wheeler is 4-2 in 13 starts in the
minors this season, posting a 3.93 ERA (4.04 FIP) in the process along with a
9.57 K/9 and a 3.54 BB/9. While some in the organization feel that he’s just tired
of the minors – in similar vein to ace Matt  Harvey
– the Mets will be cautious
of his initial performances in the coming weeks ahead. The Nats should be
cautious of the one two punch the Mets have to offer; they have the potential
to be as good as the Strasburg/Gonzalez/Zimmermann trio that will hopefully be
around for at least the next decade.
 

MIAMI
MARLINS

 

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Losing
two of three to Milwaukee isn’t that unexpected, but winning two of three at
home against the Cardinals (aka the best team in the NL) to finish the week 3-3
defies standard logic. It was a pretty good week for closer Steve  Cishek, who
recorded three saves while not surrendering a hit in 2 1/3 IP. It was also a
good week for rookie Jose  Fernandez, who went 7 innings on Friday against the
Cardinals, only giving up two earned runs while striking out ten. The future
looks bright for this young pitcher in a Marlins season that has not had much
to be excited about.

Nationals Retrospective: Week 10

This past week was another
emotionally rollicking roller coaster, as the Nats eked out a 3-2 record
despite facing sub-par competition from the likes of the New York Mets and the
struggling Minnesota Twins. It was a weird week scheduling wise as rainouts on
both Wednesday and Thursday forced the Nats to schedule a Sunday doubleheader,
which ended up benefitting an injury ravaged Nationals roster. With about 1/3rd
of the season completed, the Nats were able to secure the extra win to give
them a .500 record (31-31) as they gear up for a big road trip against the
Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Indians, and Philadelphia Phillies. While the record
might not be the most positive indicator, this was a critical week for a
Nationals team that is looking for any and all momentum possible to make a run
at the Atlanta Braves for the division crown. Let’s take a closer look at why
the Nats might look back on this week as the most critical for the future
success of the ballclub this season.

OBSERVATIONS:

LATE
INNING MAGIC

Tuesday’s 3-2 win against the Mets
was the first major comeback win for the Nationals this season, as they
faced poor situational hitting and sloppy defense to overcome a 2-1 deficit
in the ninth thanks to a walk-off sacrifice fly by starting 2B Steve
Lombardozzi. Coming into that game, the Nats had scored two runs total in the
ninth inning, and were 0-21 when trailing after six innings. They were also the
last major league team to win via walk-off this season, which speaks to their
late game woes. Given Zimmermann’s strong start (more on that in a minute), it
would have been beyond demoralizing for a team with such high expectations to
drop that kind of game. That late game comeback magic carried over into the
second game of Sunday’s double header, where the Nats – down 4-1 as a result of
Nathan Karns’ sub-par effort – clawed their way back with individual runs in
the 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th to squeak
out a 5-4 win and sweep the doubleheader. A clutch triple by Denard Span in the
6th and doubles by Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond in the 7th
paved the way. Not every baseball game is going to be won by staking a lead
early in the ballgame, so for the Nats to get two comeback wins in the same
week is a positive sign that this team has the fight to make this division race
competitive.

JORDAN
ZIMMERMANN’S DOMINANCE

While Stephen Strasburg and Gio
Gonzalez were regarded as the feared Nationals 1-2 punch heading into this
season, the Nationals would be in serious trouble if Jordan Zimmermann was not
anchoring this staff. The number 3 pitcher continued his dominant, dare I say
Cy Young-caliber season, with a pair of starts that cemented his status as one
of baseball’s top pitchers. On Tuesday, Zimmermann went 8 innings, giving up 4
hits, 2 runs (0 ER), 1 walk and 4 K’s. Those 2 runs came on a pair of uncharacteristically
sloppy defensive plays by Adam LaRoche – there was hardly anything Zimmermann
could have done differently to alter the outcome. On Sunday, in the first leg
of a double header, it was imperative Zimmermann go deep into the game to rest
a bullpen that was heavily taxed the night before, and would in all likelihood need to be used given the recent performances of nighttime starter Nathan Karns. And boy did Zim deliver.
Zimmermann stymied the Twins to the tune of 7 innings, 2 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks,
and 8 k’s in an absolutely dominant performance. With 94 2/3 IP for the season,
Zimmermann now has an ERA at 2.00 exactly, and an absolutely absurd WHIP of
.887. He has now gone seven innings or more in ten of his thirteen starts this
year, and in those ten starts, he has not given up more than 3 ER’s. He has,
without question, been the MVP for this depleted Nationals team in the first
third of the season.

WELCOME
TO THE SHOW, ANTHONY RENDON

The Anthony Rendon experiment at
second base finally began in earnest on Wednesday, as the recently-turned 23
year old showed how much potential he has, and how far he has to go, in order
to cement his status as the number one second basemen. Rendon’s potential is
most evident at the plate; he went 6-16, including a really impressive game in
the first leg of the Sunday doubleheader, where he knocked in 3 runs while
going 2-3 in the process. While his .293/.383/.390 splits (BA/OPS/SLG) need to
be taken with a grain of salt given the small sample size, these kinds of
numbers are just what the doctor ordered for a Nats team that is looking for offensive
production from just about anyone right now. However, it’s pretty clear that
Rendon won’t be winning a gold glove at second anytime soon. On Sunday, he
committed an error in each game; the first leg featured a dropped pop up while
the second game featured a booted throw to first after a slick dive to pick up
a grounder. Neither were calamitous, and I’m willing to let Rendon make those
kinds of errors as he’s basically learning the position on the job. But the
Nationals have been a horrific defensive team this year, and given Ryan
Zimmerman’s throwing struggles at third, the sooner Rendon picks up the fundamentals at second, the better the Nats will be going forward. Regardless, his four games at second have been thoroughly impressive, and the job at second will be his as long as Danny Espinosa doesn’t morph into a .400 hitter while he’s on the DL; I’ll take my chances that Rendon will be here a while. 

AROUND
THE NL EAST

ATLANTA
BRAVES

The Braves went 5-2 this week,
sweeping the Pirates at home before running into the Yasiel Puig chainsaw and
ultimately settling for a split with the Dodgers in LA. They now have a seven
game lead on the Nats, but continue to stay out west for a three game set
against the San Diego Padres before returning home for three games against the dangerous San Francisco Giants. Kris Medlen had a very impressive week, pitching a
combined 13.2 IP over two games while giving up no runs and striking out 12.
Although his record is currently 3-6, if he’s heating up like he did at the end
of last year, he could be a real threat to the National’s division aspirations.

PHILADELPHIA
PHILLIES

A 4-3 week looks good on paper, but
when you consider that the Phillies swept a triple AAA team in Miami, at home,
it doesn’t look as sound. Losing 3 of 4 at Milwaukee ultimately hurt what could
have been a really solid week for a team looking to stay involved in the
division race. Domonic Brown continues to do his Carl Yastrzemski impression at the plate; he went 12-26, hitting four homers and scoring eleven runs in the last seven
games. I refuse to believe he can continue to produce at this level, but his
emergence has definitely been one of the few positives in an otherwise
disappointing campaign for the Phillies thus far. The Phillies now sit at
31-33, only one game back of the Nats for 2nd place in the division.

NEW YORK METS

Wednesday’s 10-1 thrashing of the
Nats notwithstanding, this was a horrific week for the Mets. Not only did
reliever Bobby Pelfrey blow a 2-1 lead to the Nats the night before, but they
went ahead and lost Saturday’s 20 inning war of attrition with the Marlins that
may have set baseball back about fifty years. Even worse, the Mets did not give
Nats fans, and the national media, the opportunity to see Rick Ankiel fill in
for a reliever during that game. They instead decided to DFA him after Saturday’s
game in order to recall Kirk Nieuwenhuis. I think it’s karmic justice that the
Mets were pushed to late innings again on Sunday, only to lose 8-4 in the
tenth. The Mets bullpen was the worst in the league last year, and they’ve
continued to be terrible this year. I have to believe Ankiel could find a spot
in that bullpen if he wanted one. Major kudos to Shawn Marcum for showing that he could thwart triple AAA hitting by pitching 8 innings of one run ball in relief, but no kudos should be given to any of the Mets for the atrocity they put on the field this past weekend.

MIAMI
MARLINS

Major props to the Marlins for
sweeping the Mets (albeit with a Friday rainout) with two really gutsy
performances. They finished 2-3 on the week, but that 2-1 20 inning game will
probably go down as the highlight of their season. It will certainly be Kevin
Slowey’s; the starter completely shut down the Mets with seven innings of
shutout baseball in relief to gain
the win. A huge thank you from all baseball fans should be sent to Adeiny
Hechavarria for singling in Placido Polanco in the top half of the 20th – if not
for him, that game would probably still be going on right now. At least he put
the Mets bloggers out of their misery. 

Nationals Retrospective: Week 5

 

The Nats were 4-3 this past week
while facing tough competition in the division rival Atlanta Braves and the
up-and-coming Pittsburgh Pirates. Even though the Nationals just barely stayed
above .500, there were many encouraging signs coming from the team that many
deem as ‘underperforming’ thus far on the young season. Let’s take a look at
all that’s been going on in Natstown.

Observations:

Adam
LaRoche is turning things around

LaRoche came into this past week
sporting a dismal .135 avg. Even beyond the numbers, he just looked completely
uncomfortable at the plate. But this week, Adam went 6-for-21 at the plate. It’s
still nothing fancy, but considering LaRoche didn’t record one hit in the
previous week, this is progress. The veteran first baseman also walked seven
times this week, including three times in Saturday’s win against the Pirates. If
Washington is to perform more consistent offensively, it’s no shock that
LaRoche has to get things going. You can’t have your cleanup hitter underneath
the Mendoza line. Unless your name is Mark Reynolds or Carlos Pena, then it
seems to work out for you.

LaRoche raised his average by 30
points this week. Every sign is pointing towards a more comfortable LaRoche.

Davey
is not afraid to experiment with the lineup

For about the first 25 games of the
season, manager Davey Johnson fielded a ‘cookie cutter’ lineup consisting of
all his regulars. And the offense struggled to string hits together. Since
then, Davey has gotten creative in trying to give this club a jump start.

On Monday, Ian Desmond batted sixth.
On Wednesday, he batted cleanup. On Sunday, he hit second.

On Tuesday, Danny Espinosa hit
second. On Friday he batted out of the seven-hole. On Saturday the second
baseman led off.

Bench players such as Steve
Lombardozzi, Chad Tracy, and Roger Bernadina, were sprinkled in and out of the
lineup in all different ways, shapes, and forms.

Even with the tinkering, Washington
only scored an average of 2.42 runs per game this week. As individual players
start to find their groove as the weather warms up, members of the starting
nine should slide back into their usual slots where they were penciled in to
start the season.

Haren
has his most impressive outing as a Nat

Newly acquired veteran starter Dan
Haren certainly had his share of haters entering his sixth start of the season
on Thursday. But he silenced the critics with his best start in a Nationals
uniform. Haren had been completely ineffective prior to this week’s start
against the potent Braves lineup, but he turned things around in dazzling
fashion. Haren twirled eight innings while throwing only 90 pitches. The righty
gave up just one run via a seventh inning solo shot of the bat of Braves second
baseman Dan Uggla. Haren fanned only four in the outing, but absolutely
dominated Atlanta hitters, having them completely in his control. Haren handed
the ball to closer Rafael Soriano to pitch the ninth and secure his third win
of the season. The outing lowered Haren’s season ERA from 6.29 to 5.01. That’s
not a bad trend to try to keep going. Haren will look to build on his recent
successes when he faces off against the tough Detroit Tigers on Wednesday
evening. 

Injuries:

Ryan
Zimmerman: Hamstring

Face-of-the-franchise Ryan Zimmerman
was activated from the disabled list this past Friday after nursing an ailing
hamstring. Zimmerman struck out in all four at bats in his debut, but went
3-for-6 with three walks in two games over the weekend. Zimmerman was never
really himself even before the injury shut him down two weeks ago. He is
hitting .222 on the season with only one home run in 63 at bats. And the
All-Star’s fielding has been lacking thus far. Zim has five errors on the
season – good for second-most amongst MLB third basemen.

Zimmerman has missed time the past
two seasons early in the year to take care of nagging injuries as well. He has
come back and proven to be effective and a true offensive leader once healthy. There’s
no reason to think this season will be any different.

Jayson
Werth: Hamstring

Just as Washington got Zimmerman
back, slugger Jayson Werth was also hampered by hamstring woes. Werth would up
missing the entire weekend series against the Bucs, but hopes to be reinserted
into the lineup early this week. The team doesn’t believe he’ll need a stint on
the DL, but rather hope that some light rest will get him healed and good to
go. At 33 years of age, Werth is not necessarily in his prime as far as quick
healing is concerned. But the right fielder has proven to be durable over his
career and should be back in the starting lineup soon.

Bryce
Harper: Ribs

Harper slammed hard into the right
field wall in Tuesday’s contest while attempting to rob Tim Hudson of a home
run. Not only was Harper unsuccessful at pulling back the ball, but he also
bruised his rib cage in the process. The injury was initially not thought to be
severe, but Harper tweaked the area during a check swing the following day, and
was lifted after six innings. Harper was reinserted into the lineup on Thursday
and played the rest of the week, but surely anything that happens to the
20-year-old phenom is worth a good scare. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Davey
gave the three-hole-hitter a day off this upcoming week. Or the ump crew could
give him another day off. Either way.

Around the league

Atlanta
Braves:

The Braves has seen their lead in
the standings whittled away to just two games ahead of the second-place Nats. Atlanta
has been at the top of the throne the entire season thus far, but it’s not out
of the question to think this week the Nats may be able to regain their place
on top. The Nats had a four-game series against the rivals this past week and
split the series with two wins apiece. This is the perfect indication of how
neck-and-neck the Braves and Nats will be as the season continues.

Philadelphia
Phillies:

The Phillies are staying in the
race, even despite lackluster performances from members of their starting
rotation. Ace Roy Halladay continues to be dreadful. In Sunday’s game against
the Marlins, Halladay lasted only 2 and ⅓ innings and got slammed for nine
earned runs while being saddled with his fourth loss of the season (2-4 record)
and is now set to have his shoulder examined in the next day or two. The start
rose Halladay’s ERA to 8.65. Two years ago, the Phillies rotation was thought
to be a powerhouse that would last for the better half of the next decade. Nowadays,
things don’t exactly seem to be playing out that way.

New
York Mets:

The Mets have begun the decline that
so many in the baseball world saw as inevitable. The Mets are 3-7 in their last
10 games. A combination of lackluster offense that is only plating an average
of 3.66 runs per game this past week along with mediocre pitching has led to
the Mets current woes. Not terribly surprising as it was fairly evident that
the Mets lineup would not be leading the league in run production for a sizable
portion of the season. This Mets team will have to quickly figure out whether
they’re a team that can contend or if they are still in their rebuilding mode. The
team’s performance in the upcoming weeks will be the deciding factor.  

Miami
Marlins:

Having a .313 winning percentage and
being nine games back in the standings at the end of April, it’s hard to find
positive signs from the floundering fish. But in Sunday’s win against the
Phillies, Marlins rookie shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria knocked in seven runs
with a grand slam and bases clearing triple. The 24-year-old is only hitting
.190 on the season, but any excitement is a good thing for Miami right now.

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Nationals Retrospective: Week 4

It was a tale-of-two-Nats this past week.  After leading off the fourth week of the season getting brutally swept by the St. Louis Cardinals, the Nationals battled back to take three out of four games from the Cincinnati Reds.  Fans were lifted from panic to elation.  The rollercoaster ride of last week gives us plenty to talk about as we take a look back at all that has happened in Natstown over the past seven days.  

Observations:

Davey changes the lineup and gets results

The lack of Nationals offense in the series against St. Louis was beyond frustrating.  The Nats scored a total of four runs in the series off a total of 17 hits in the three games.  The ‘cookie-cutter’ front end of the lineup (Span, Werth, Harper, LaRoche, LaRoche) was simply not getting the job done and spoiling superb performances from Nats starters.  

Clearly frustrated yet retaining his usual composure, Manager Davey Johnson changed his lineup going into Thursday’s series opener against the Cincinnati Reds.  The results were immediate, as the Nats would roll by the Reds and win 8-1.  The new lineup features utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi batting second in the order with Jayson Werth batting cleanup.  Eight runs were scored in the game that saw 14 Nats baserunner.  The slight difference in the lineup seemed to help the offense gel a little more than it had in its previous losing streak.  Denard Span would g 9-for-14 in the first three games with the altered lineup.  The Nats would continue to win their next two games and the struggling offense certainly gained more confidence as April comes to an end.  

Adam LaRoche is Struggling Mightily

We understand Silver Slugger Adam LaRoche has a tendency to start off slow at the beginning of the season.  But this?  This is just getting frustrating.  LaRoche is batting .143 on the season and was batting sixth in the order on Sunday’s series finale against the Reds.  

LaRoche literally did not notch a hit last week.  He was 0-24, mired in a complete and total slump.  And it is not as if the Gold Glover is hitting the ball hard right at people, he has looked terrible.  While not registering a hit in 24 at bats this week, LaRoche whiffed 11 times while stranding 21 runners on base – mostly while batting cleanup.  Its no wonder the Nats have been struggling so much offensively.  LaRoche has simply not been able to get things going.  The cleanup hitter for the team with last season’s best record has not driven in a run in his last nine games.  If the Nats are to truly get themselves on track and start tallying runs with any consistency, getting your cleanup hitter and previous offensive leader on board is essential.  

LaRoche carried the Nats on his back offensively last season through the good times and the bad.  Now, he’s practically just dead weight.  

Harper silences critics

How about that kid in left field, huh?  After a stellar Rookie of the Year campaign last season, All Star Bryce Harper still had his share of critics doubting Harper could retain dominance in his sophomore season as the league continues to learn his hitting strategies.  

Harper has proved them wrong in almost every way.  He is hitting .356 on the season – good for third highest in the NL.  He has already smacked nine homers on the young season – tied for second place in the Major Leagues only behind Braves slugger Justin Upton.  Harper also leagues the NL with a 1.181 OPS.  

Batting in the three hole for the reigning NL East division champions, the 20-year-old has been the offensive spark plug for the team.  It would not be surprising to see a potential triple crown bid from Harper this season as he continues to chew up opposing pitching.

Injuries

Wilson Ramos

Catcher Wilson Ramos was activated from the disabled list on Monday the 29th after nursing a left hamstring injury sustained two weeks ago.  Ramos was not in the starting lineup in his first game back with the team, however.  Expect to see Ramos settle into more playing time throughout this upcoming week.  It is safe to think Ramos will be at 100% as he wins back more playing time from co-starting catcher Kurt Suzuki

Ramos was often to a very solid start this season, hitting .300/.391/.991 with two homers in his six games played prior to sustaining the injury.  

Ryan Zimmerman

Zimmerman is still on the disabled list as he continues to battle hamstring problems of his own.  But he may be expected back with the big club soon. Zim took full batting practice and sprinted around the bases on Monday.  He is reportedly beginning a rehab assignment this week with Class A Potomac.  The All Star third baseman will play in rehab games on Tuesday and Wednesday and will be officially activated from the disabled list on Friday barring any setbacks.

Zimmerman reports he feels absolutely no pain in the hamstring.      

Around the league:

Atlanta Braves (16-9)

After beginning the season with a torrid start and quickly jumping to the top of the NL East standings, the Braves showed signs of cooling off this past week and only compiled a 2-4 record in that stretch.  Braves pitching proved ineffective in a weekend series against the Detroit Tigers where Atlanta allowed 25 runs while being swept in the three game series

Philadelphia Phillies (12-14 , 4.5 GB)

The Phillies were more than happy to travel to the Met’s Citifield and complete the three game sweep.  The Phillies are not too far back in the standings compared to the Nats.  With the potential talent still on Philadelphia’s roster, it’s not unthinkable that a timely surge in production from the former division goliath could catapult the team into contention once again.  

New York Mets (10-13 , 5 GB)

The Mets would probably like a do-over for last week.  New York was shockingly solid in the early weeks to start of this season, holding their own against tough division rivals such as the Braves and Nats.  But the water has begun to level out in the division.  The Mets were 1-5 last week and are beginning to slide towards the bottom of the division as analysts and fans predicted before the season began.  

Miami Marlins (6-19 , 10 GB)

It gets to a certain point where we almost feel bad making fun of Miami.  But the bad news keeps on coming.  Slugger, and lone bright spot on the roster, right fielder Giancarlo Stanton had three home runs in his last 6 at-bats before being removed from this Monday’s game after another apparent hamstring injury.  In the 10th inning of the contest, Stanton grabbed the hamstring and fell to the ground in pain.  A trip to the disabled list is not at all a stretch.  This is literally the worst case scenario for a club whose offense has been absolutely anemic in the early going.  

Nationals Retrospective: Week 3

Facing the Marlins and Mets this
past week theoretically provided the National a chance to steamroll over some
division foes and beef up their record. Fans eyes lit up with the prospect of
getting the team’s offense and pitching to be more consistent against two teams
that aren’t necessarily expected contenders. A 3-3 record on said road trip is
just fine, but the Nats had multiple opportunities to make that a 4-2 or even a
5-1 and put themselves right on the heels of Atlanta.

It is important to throw out there;
the Nats are not imploding or showing serious signs of long term
disappointment. Even after a week where Washington played .500 ball, the team
is sitting in second place in the division with a 10-8 record, three games
behind the rival Atlanta Braves. Even though there is no reason to grab the
torches and pitchforks just yet, Nats fans have certainly been watching a good
team play badly.

With that said, let’s take a look at the past week and all the
ups and downs that have come to define the Nats young season:

Observations:

Pitching
Continues to Underperform

Nats pitching has simply not looked
good. Aside from Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler, Washington starters have
been ineffective over the past week. Dan Haren gave up seven runs (three
earned) in under five innings of work against the Marlins on Tuesday. Strasburg
gave up four runs against the Mets on Friday. Gio Gonzalez gave up five runs in
four innings against New York on Saturday. These numbers on their own aren’t
incredibly concerning, but they also don’t even begin to reflect how
unintimidating the starters have looked visually. Nats pitchers have been
criticized this season so far for not ‘attacking the strike zone enough.’ The
results have been palpable.

The starting pitching conundrum
doesn’t even begin to touch upon the issues with the Nats bullpen. Coming into
the 2013, the bullpen was looked upon as one of Washington’s most solid assets.
Thus far, it has proven to be the team’s Achilles heel. The Washington bullpen
is tied for the MLB league in blown saves. After the seventh inning, including
extra innings, the Nationals have a 5.02 ERA. The pen also ranks 24th
in the majors in batting-average-against, with a .266 BAA.

We all understand it’s early. But
any Nats fan will admit it’s frustrating to see the pitching, an aspect of the
team which excelled and dominated in 2012, start of this season so inexplicably
ineffective.

Errors,
Errors, Errors

What? Where did this come from? We
talked a little last week about how Ryan Zimmerman blew a few games for the Nats
because of his defensive miscues. The error bug seems to be contagious and is
spreading through the clubhouse. Washington’s defense leads the league with 18
errors so far on the young season. The reigning American League Champion
Detroit Tigers have made only four.

These facts and figures wouldn’t be
so frustrating if General Manager Mike Rizzo didn’t preach the defense-first
mentality when constructing this team. As fans, we know Rizzo did a good job in
assembling a team of Gold Glove Caliber players. Fans have seen this team play,
know they are capable of rock solid defense and anything to the contrary makes
losses that much more frustrating.

While the errors have been racked up
to this point, the team is not playing as poorly defensively as it would seem. The
MLB standings in UZR/150 has the Nats listed as #14, ahead of preseason
contenders STL, LAD, BAL, CIN, OAK, NYY, TOR and LAA. Errors and mental
mistakes can and will be rectified.

Anthony Rendon Debut

The much anticipated debut of star
infield prospect Anthony Rendon seemed to come and go in a matter of minutes. Rendon
made an amazing play in foul territory in first inning of Sunday’s contest
against the Mets. Playing third base, Rendon chased a ball into third base foul
territory towards the Nats visiting dugout. Using every inch of possible real
estate, the promising prospect leaned over into the dugout and flashed the
leather while reeling in the pop-up, registering the first out of the game. Following
the great play, Rendon would go 0-4 in his offensive debut, striking out twice.
Rendon batted sixth in the debut and replaced an ailing Ryan Zimmerman (more on
that later). Obviously this is just one game, and the first-round draft pick is
believed to have a very bright future ahead of him. But there were no dazzling
heroic story lines to come from the debut.

Injuries:

Ryan
Zimmerman Hits the DL with Tight Hamstring

Oh boy. Is it bad to say we saw this
coming? Over the past three seasons, Zim has averaged 129 games a year. Zimmerman
began to have hamstring issues last weekend in a series against the Atlanta
Braves. The former All-Star began sitting out Friday in the series opener
against the Mets. The Nats opted to put Zimmerman on the DL the next day in
order to give him time to address the hamstring issue.

While losing an everyday player
always has an impact on the team, this Nationals club is built to not rely too
heavily on one guy. If multiple go down it’s a different story, but a 15-day DL
stay for Zimmerman will prove to be negligible when you have the bench talent
to fill in and not to mention the call up of Anthony Rendon.

Around the League

Atlanta
Braves

The Braves have cooled off since we
talked about them last week and are currently riding a three game losing
streak. Atlanta still sits at the top of the NL East with a three game lead, but
the Nats are within striking distance. Slugger Jason Heyward continues to be
off to a slow start, hitting .121 avg. (.519 OPS) through his first 17 games. The
Braves are showing signs of slowing down, but they will hands-down be a
contender the entire season.

New
York Mets

The Mets are still holding their
own, although they are clinging to stay above .500 with a record of 9-8. New
York has seen excellent showings from top young pitcher Matt Harvey. The Mets
will have to ride this strength as they continue to get inconsistent offensive
production and essentially play with a seemingly nonexistent and unproven
outfield that stars Marlon Byrd as its centerpiece.

Philadelphia Phillies

Last week, we discussed how the
Phillies were a .500 team. One week later, the same sentiment essentially holds
true. Philadelphia is 4-6 in their last ten games and sits at fourth in the
division with a 7-11 record. This seems about right for a team that is aging,
trying to replace offensive production once provided by the likes of outfielders
Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino and are simultaneously dealing with a slow
start by Ryan Howard (.685 OPS) and uncharacteristically poor starts by Roy
Halladay (6.04 ERA, 5.50 FIP, 3.63 BB/9) and Cole Hamels (6.46 ERA, 4.81 FIP,
3.80 BB/9). Star pitcher Cliff Lee gave up five runs in as many innings on
Friday as the Phils were shut out. The Phillies were shut out a total of three
times this past week – two of which were only one-run games.

Miami
Marlins

This team is bad. And we’re not being
biased here. Any baseball fan who looks at the standings and sees a 4-15 record
can tell you that. The team as a whole has an astonishingly dismal .557 OPS – that’s
good for last place in the Majors by 74 points. The entire team combined has
hit six home runs. This means there are 7 players that have hit more home runs
than the ENTIRE Miami team. It’s no surprise the Marlins are only scoring 2.26
runs per game. The numbers speak for themselves. And what they’re saying is not
good.

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Nationals Retrospective: Week 2

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Yikes. It seems like almost a
century ago Nats fans were rejoicing over last week’s 3-game sweep of the
Chicago White Sox. I guess that’s what happens when the division rival Atlanta
Braves come in to your house and knock the wind out of you. In the grand scheme
of a 162 game season, this past week will likely fade into the big-picture of a
strong and dominant season. But this week did create some cause for concern
within Natstown and gives us plenty to talk about. Here is a good look at all
that happened in Washington over the past week:

What happened to the pitching?

We all know it’s early. The Citizens
of Natstown staff is definitely not rallying our torches and pitchforks. But
the pitching performances practically across the board this week were
undoubtedly underwhelming. As a whole, the Nats bullpen has a 5.90 ERA,
allowing 26 earned runs in just under 40 IP – good for second worst in the
Major Leagues.

The implosion came from all
different corners of the Nats pitching staff. Tuesday against the White Sox,
Tyler Clippard gave up three runs over one inning of work. Drew Storen blew a
ninth inning lead in Friday’s series opener against the Braves. Stammen would
eventually be saddled with the loss in extra innings after giving up a go-ahead
two-run homer in the tenth inning. And the pitching would be a mess again in
the series finale against Atlanta last Sunday, where Nats pitchers combined to
give up nine runs. Seven of the runs came off a struggling Gio Gonzalez, who
gave up two home runs and an uncharacteristic seven hits over five innings.

This is not the type of pitching you
like to see early on from a team who many in the baseball world have proclaimed
as a practical shoe-in for a playoff spot. Pitchers will have to regain their
2012 dominance as the season gears up. Bats tend to heat up along with the
weather, so it’s not going to get any easier from here.

Defense:

The Nats lead the league in errors. Yeah.
Let’s say that again. The Nats lead Major League Baseball in errors. One aspect
that makes the Nationals so fun to watch is their usual fundamentally sound
baseball. With an infield comprised of two Gold Glove corner infielders and an
outfield of three players that could all arguably man centerfield, the Nats
should have a dynamo defense on paper.

So who has been causing the issues?
All-Star shortstop Ian Desmond leads the team with four errors, followed by
Ryan Zimmerman – who has racked up three miscues.

But Zim’s errors have proved to be
costly this week. In last Friday’s game, an errant throw to second base by
Zimmerman allowed the two tying runs to score. One game later, another
Zimmerman throwing error allowed a scorching hot Justin Upton to reach base. Atlanta
catcher Evan Gattis promptly made the Nats pay for the mistake, launching a
two-run homer out of Nats Park. That would be enough for Washington to lose the
game.

General Manager Mike Rizzo has
prided himself on the defensive integrity of this team. Defense was one of the
larger reasons why upper management decided to re-sign the Gold Glover Adam
LaRoche and shop the defensively-inferior Michael Morse to Seattle.

The Nats defense needs to find their
groove defensively. Good, fundamental, error-less baseball helps pitchers have
more confidence in pitching to contact and allows position players to focus
exclusively on their offensive game, rather than dwelling on costly mistakes
from the inning before.

Injuries:

Wilson
Ramos

Backstop Wilson Ramos will be out
for a few weeks after straining his right hamstring in Saturday’s game against
the Braves. Wilson worked so hard over the past year to rehab a torn ACL
sustained going after a wild pitch last season on May 12 in Cincinnati. But he
will find himself nursing a leg injury again as he tries to regain strength. Ramos
tweaked the hamstring trying to beat out an infield grounder in the eighth
inning of an eventual Nationals loss.

The Nats do have a luxury in that they
have another starting-caliber catcher in Kurt Suzuki. Manager Davey Johnson was
literally alternating the days he played Ramos and Suzuki. With Ramos tending
to the hamstring issue, expect Suzuki to get the vast majority of playing time
behind the plate with recent call up Jhonatan Solano backing him up.

Before the injury, Ramos was having
a solid start to the season, hitting for a .991 OPS with 3 home runs in 6
games.

Danny
Espinosa

There were plenty of discouraging
storylines to take away from Sunday’s 9-0 loss against the Braves. But the
Espinosa injury could be one of the most concerning. In the second inning,
Espinosa’s right wrist caught the full force of an 88-MPH fastball. Danny was
clearly in pain as he gingerly flexed his hand and sauntered to first base.

X-rays came back negative and
Espinosa doesn’t think he will miss any time. Davey Johnson did indicate that,
realistically, his second baseman will probably miss a game or two. Backup
utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi relieved Espinosa in the game and will most
likely get a few starts as Espinosa ensures his wrist is 100% healthy.

A chance to clear his head may be
good for Danny. He has gotten off to a slow start this season, hitting .175
with only one homer and three RBI.

Around the league:

Braves:

By now, we don’t have to tell
Natstown how the Braves are doing. Atlanta sits atop the division with an 11-1
record. The most ridiculous aspect about the Braves so far this season? Besides
newly acquired slugging left fielder Justin Upton, their offense hasn’t even
begun to warm up yet. Dan Uggla is hitting .171 (.637 OPS); Jason Heyward is
hitting .103 (.491 OPS); B.J. Upton is hitting .163 (.529 OPS); and Andrelton
Simmons is hitting .211 (.578 OPS).

The 11 games won by this team have mostly
been because of pitching. The Braves are averaging 1.92 runs allowed per game
with an MLB leading ERA of 1.82.

Mets:

The Mets have been an early surprise
in the NL east – sitting in second place with a 7-4 record on the year.

The Mets were teased by a potential
no-hit bid from starting pitcher Matt Harvey in his outing on Saturday. The
no-hitter was broken up by a solo homer in the seventh inning, but the start
was still a great sign that the Mets new wave of power arms is getting major
league results.

The offense has not been too shabby
either. Mets hitters scored 16 runs on Friday to defeat the Minnesota Twins. Contributions
from Daniel Murphy and David Wright who each drove in four runs during the
game, proved to be key. The two infielders are hitting .368 and .297 respectively
and have been major players in the Mets steady offensive production.

The Met’s were an average 3-2 this
past week. But the record doesn’t necessarily tell the story. The Mets have not
simply rolled over like many initially thought. They have been holding their
own in a challenging and dynamic division and playing some solid baseball.

Washington will be taking a visit to
Citi Field this weekend to take on New York.

Phillies:

The Phillies are sitting at a .500 record
on the season. Phillies fans should get used to this for the next few seasons
as the hair of their players continues to grey.

The Phils won both their series this
past week, taking 2-of-3 from both the Mets and the Marlins. Philadelphia’s
schedule will ramp up as April continues. They will have to face dominant
Cincinnati and St. Louis lineups this week. The matchups should be a great test
to see really how great this Philadelphia team is going to be.

Marlins:

While the Mets have been putting together
solid showings, the same cannot be said for the uber-underdog Miami Marlins. Miami
is sporting a dismal 2-10 record on the early season. They are nine games back
in the division. Oh yeah, and its April 14th. The Marlins went 1-5
last week. Their only win came Saturday when they beat out the Phillies 2 to 1.

The Nats begin a much needed three
game-series against the Marlins on Monday night in Miami. The trip should be a
good chance for the Nats to erase from their minds their own abysmal series
against the Braves.

Nationals Retrospective: Opening Week

After a week of some utter domination by Nats pitching mixed with a
rollercoaster of a series against the Reds, Nat fans have plenty to talk about
as the 2013 season gets underway.  For those of you who may have missed a
few games this week, here’s a great look at what’s been happening in Natstown:

The Pros:

– The starters brought their A-game.

Besides a hiccup from Dan Haren against
the Reds where the newest member of the starting five allowed six runs off four
home runs, the rotation has looked excellent.  In the first run through
the rotation, Nats starters still posted a 2.17 ERA with a 1.14 WHIP.
 While they only posted a mediocre 4.66 K/9, there were still shutout
performances from Stras, Gio, and Detwiler.  The Nats entered this season
with the starting rotation very publicly considered as one of the team’s
biggest strengths.  So while early success is not surprising, it is still
encouraging and always a great sign.  However, Haren’s inability to stump
Red’s hitters will have a few fans raising their eyebrows.  The veteran
righty is coming off an injury plagued season with the Angels.  He is
someone to keep an eye on in the following weeks.  

– Danny Espinosa looks
excellent.  

Even though he has hit for only a .182
average through the first week of the season, the numbers do not tell the whole
story.  Espinosa has been hitting the ball with authority from both sides
of the plate.  Vast improvement from the left side of the plate is needed
if Espinosa is to join the ranks as an elite middle infielder.  The second
baseman hit just .233 against righties last season and struck out 141 times.

Espi looked great in spring training
and it’s great to see him take that confidence into the early days of the
regular season.  Fans were worried this offseason to hear Espinosa battled
rotator cuff issues throughout the end of last year and into the postseason.
 Rather than get surgery to repair the tear in the shoulder’s labrum, Espi
elected to strengthen the area and avoid going under the knife.  So far
there has been no indication that Danny has been feeling any pain from the
shoulder.  It should be all systems go as the season continues.

– Ryan Zimmerman’s shoulder
looks 100%.

We heard it all throughout the end of
the 2012 season and into the offseason.  Ryan Zimmerman just didn’t look
comfortable throwing the ball across the diamond.  Ryan had offseason
shoulder surgery in an attempt to alleviate the issues that lead to the vast
dropoff in his fielding ability last year.  All reports so far indicate
that Ryan feels great both on the field and at the plate.  Zim was tested
early in the first game of the season against the Marlins when third baseman
Placido Polanco scorched a ball between third and short.  Zimmerman ranged
to his left and laid out to keep the ball in the infield.  He quickly and
effortlessly threw a bullet over to first base for the out, showing no signs of
discomfort.

Zimmerman is off to a .238 average so
far this season with 3 RBI in the team’s first week.

– Wilson Ramos is back…..with swag.

After missing most of the 2012 campaign
with a debilitating knee injury sustained at the Red’s Great American Ballpark,
many Nats fans were hesitant about how exactly Ramos would contribute to the
2013 Nationals.  Ramos’ season got off to a better start than even he
could have hoped – calling great games behind the plate, exhibiting stellar
defense, and even blasting two bombs in Saturday’s extra-inning win against the
Reds.  On his second homerun of the day, Ramos stood in the batter’s box
and watched the ball fly, all whilst letting his bat casually fall to his feet
(a la Manny Ramirez?).  The Nationals entered this season planning to
split time behind the plate between Ramos and Kurt Suzuki.  Both players
are capable of starting.  But Ramos’ early success in his three games
played this week has increased confidence in himself, his manager, and the fans
of D.C.  Do not be surprised if the balance of playing time seems to shift
more towards Ramos in the coming weeks.   

The Cons:

-What happened to Ian Desmond’s fielding?

Sure its early in the season, but
Desmond has already made four errors in just his first five games.  The
All-Star shortstop made two errors in Saturday’s extra-inning win against the
Reds.  Both errors lead to unearned runs scoring.  It’s worth noting
that Desi made only 15 errors throughout the entirety of the 2012 season.
 The resurgence of defensive issues for Ian Desmond is a tad bit
concerning since he made great strides in improving that aspect of his game
over the past couple seasons (Back in the 2010 season, Desmond’s defense was a
notable cancer – he allowed 34 errors and compiled a .947 FPCT).  In the
long run, Desmond will surely become more comfortable as he finds his stroke
and the weather warms up.  Nonetheless, Desmond’s inability to make
seemingly routine plays this first week had many Nats fans scratching their
heads.

– Did anyone else expect a blown save this early from Rafael Soriano?

Soriano blew his first save of the year
in Saturday’s rollercoaster of a game against the Reds.  The Nats would up
victorious after 11-innings, but Soriano entered the ninth with a two run lead
which he quickly blew by allowing lead-off homerun, followed by a triple,
followed by a wild pitch.  This type of ninth inning is uncharacteristic
from a closer with Soriano’s dominant track record.  While the blown save
is nothing to panic about, Nats fans wanted to see Soriano be absolutely
dominant out of the gate.  After the crushing blown save in game four of
the 2012 NLDS, Nats fans simply don’t have the stomach to handle another ninth
inning loss.  No one is even mentioning tightening the leash on Soriano,
but his struggles on Saturday, albeit against a potent Reds lineup, certainly
did not leave a great taste in our mouths.

Injuries:

– The Nats were able to send out the
‘cookie cutter’ lineup the first four games of the season.  But Gold Glove
first baseman Adam LaRoche was scratched from both weekend games with soreness
in his back.  Manager Davey Johnson reported his delicacy with LaRoche was
merely a precaution.  But apparently LaRoche couldn’t even bend down to
tie his shoes.  The hope is that liberal rest along with an off-day on
Monday will be just what LaRoche needs to rehab the sore back.  If this
injury develops into anything more serious, the Nats could be in trouble.
 But simply, after the series of trades bringing in Denard Span’s
on-base-ability and shipping off Michael Morse’s power, the Nats need the
production of Adam LaRoche in their lineup.  LaRoche needs to be the
five-hole hitter that repeats his Silver Slugger winning 2012 campaign and
drives in another 100 runs.  Fingers crossed that a little icy hot and a
nice dip in the hot tub is all the Nationals need to get the 33-year-old
veteran back on the diamond.

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