Here Come the Nationals

The Nats are very lucky to still be in first place in the NL East.  They are not a first place team, as I have said consistently since early Spring Training.  Either the Mets or the Marlins will win the division, but the Mets will have to pull off 1-2 big trades by July 31 to win it.  At this point the Marlins look like the team to beat.  They would help their cause though by acquiring one more good starting pitcher.

Tommy Boswell published a telling article in the June 10 POST.  He had used a fairly new statistic called “batting average on balls in play” (BABIP) to measure how luck affects both batting and pitching.  Basically it factors into the mix how many balls a team’s hitters hit well but right at the other team’s fielders.  By that metric the Nats hitters have been unlucky this year, while their pitchers have been blessed with unusual luck.

The Nats started June on a hot streak, but lately they are coming back down to earth.  Situational clutch hitting has been bad to terrible all season long; they rank near the bottom in all of baseball in batting average with runners in scoring position.  Winning teams HAVE TO BE GOOD at this!  Year after year this has been the main reason the Nats have not succeeded in either winning the division or of going nowhere in the playoffs.  Folks, it is time Mike Rizzo found a new hitting coach! (something I’ve said several times over the past 10 months).

Also, surprise, the bullpen has been mediocre ever since they acquired “the DC Strangler.”  If they don’t get a new closer by July 31, they will not win the NL East.  For a long time It looked like Felipe Rivero would be a great late-inning setup man, but that appears not to be at this point.  He needs to spend time at Syracuse to find himself again.

And then there is Gio Gonzales.  For him this has been the year of two Gios!  He began the year as one of the top pitchers in the NL.  Now he is in the middle of a bad losing streak.  I think he is out of options to be sent to Syracuse to try and get back to his early 2016 form.  Sad.  Maybe Rizzo can put him on the DL and get a replacement.

Dusty is doing a great job with a flawed roster!

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Now They Play the “Big Boys”

Last night’s win was wonderful!  Especially after being swept by the lowly Phillies.

But we now see that the offensive woes of 2014 onward are still in the lineup.  Indeed two of the pitchers are hitting better than 4 of the starting position players!  Can anyone name the pitchers?  The team batting average with runners in scoring position is .225; that is BAD!

So far the defense and starting pitching is doing very well.  The bullpen is getting the job done this far, but I don’t think that will continue over the course of the full season.

I predict the Mets will pass the Nats in the coming week and never look back.  I was about to predict again that the Marlins will have a better season than the Nats.  But now with Dee Gordon gone for 80 games, the Nats might just hold onto second place.

Hard to Ignore 15-1…………..

It would be tempting (after kicking the Braves’ butts last night) to imagine the 2015 Nats are rounding the final turn into the home-stretch of this season about the grab the division title away from the NY Mets.  But after handing the Cardinals 2 out of the last 3 games (when they could have easily won both) most of the Nats fans would probably still bet on the Mets:)

The Nats bats are most likely still smoldering and smoking this morning after exploding last night.  Ryan Zimmerman now has 71 RBIs in the approximately 95 games he has played this year (which projects out to about 121 for a full season).  He is one of the hottest batters in baseball right now.

Bryce Harper, batting just before RZimm, wisely didn’t swing at any bad pitches and managed to walk every time he came to bat!  He scored all 4 times.  Bryce is only the 4th player SINCE 1914 (!) to score 4 runs with NO OFFICIAL AT-BATS in a game.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it:)  He saw 20 pitches and did not swing at a single one!

The rest of the team brought their A-game also.  Rookie Trea Turner even got his first major-league hit!  Pretty good after flying home from St. Louis in the middle of the night and getting to bed around 6am before the game.

 

 

Nats Notes

A footnote regarding my last article:  Boz has a great article on Stephen Strassburg in today’s Wash. Post.

Harper has more HRs in the month of May than two TEAMS:  the Phillies and Braves!

Max Scherzer’s own batting average (.200) is higher than that of all the hitters he has faced thus far in 2015 (.199).  I don’t think many pitchers can say that; maybe only Bumgarner.

Last Minute Ticket to Paradise!

A friend called me about 3pm yesterday to say he had a spare ticket to the game last night.  Luckily I took it!  I watched maybe the best game I have seen ever at Nats Park.

The big one was RZimm’s walk-off homer.  But Spann made an incredible catch on a tailing line-drive in right center.  When I saw it live i was impressed, but when I watched the replay several times it dawned on me (and I’ve been playing outfield for many years) how difficult a catch I had witnessed.  He had to catch it back-handed as it tailed towards him.  If he had dived for it he would have missed it.

And then we got to see Wilmer Difo’s first ever big-league at bat—a sharp single.  he had just been called up from AA (not AAA!).  What impressed me more than the hit though, was how nervous he made the Yankees once they saw him dancing way off first-base:)

And then the Nats bull-pen out-pitched the Yankees pen (a VERY good one).  Closer Miller had not surrendered a run all year!

And then I learned RZimm has 10–count em—walk-off homers.  That has him in rare company (Stan Musial, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Jim Thome).  and Zimm is only 30.

Note:  I left out the following:  Drew Storen striking out A-Rod in a key 9th inning situation was lovely.  And then later learning that since August of 2013 Storen has the third best stats of any reliever in baseball!

 

Amazing!

Scoring 26 runs in two games is just what  the Nats needed to regain a bit of confidence with a bat in their hands.  And the 6,7,8, and 9 hitters in the order have been producing a big chunk of those runs.  Jordan Zimmermann’s three-run hit was the biggest blast last night.  And it was sweet to see Dan Uggla win the Tuesday game with his 9th inning three-run four-bagger:)

Hopefully these two games will help the team put their April funk behind them for good.

Note:  After I published the above short article I saw Tom Boswell’s excellent piece in the Post.  He makes the connection between Freudian theories on depression and the old sports adage “don’t wake up teams in a funk!”  This is a reference to the dirty slide into Yunel Escober in Tuesday night’s game by Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons that injured the Nats third-baseman.  This appeared to light a spark in the Nats dugout that might have been what got their offense charging back from a 9-1 deficit!

Hockey Anybody?

Before 2012, when the Nats first got to the post-season, i had been watching more hockey than baseball.  Tonight, after the Nats fourth error, I switched to the Capitals game seven showdown with the Islanders.  Just after that the caps scored the winning goal, so they are going to the next round of playoffs.

The Nationals are now playing their worst baseball since 2011.  And something is not right with Doug Fister, and apparently this goes all the way back to the start of Spring Training.  His normal fastball used to be at 88-91 mph.  Now it is around 85 mph.  The offense, defense and bull-pen are mediocre this year.

 

Comments on the Game Yesterday

All the Nats weakpoints were on display in this poor effort yesterday.  Hitting with runners in scoring position: one for eleven.  The team is ranked 20th I think on this important stat.  Bull-pen sucks!  Running in one rookie from AAA after another for his first ever MLB game, for a supposed WS contender—-simply pathetic.  Blame this one on Rizzo.  Defense?  Good enough maybe for AAA.

All of the above has been commented on here since early spring training.

Let’s hear it again:  Why did the team go after Sherzer when their biggest need was clutch hitting?  Good hitters were available during the winter.

Poor Hitting With Runners in Scoring Position (RISP)

As I previously predicted the Nats are hurting on offense, and this has been a problem since the start of 2013.  So far they have hit 5 for 30 with runners in scoring position, one of the lowest marks in baseball thus far.  We all know injuries to key hitters (and the trade of LaRoach) have not helped.  But teams that hope to get into the post-season have to produce runs when opportunity knocks.  The fact that this has been a glaring problem for the Nats since early 2013 makes me wonder about the team’s hitting philosophy as well as their choices of hitting coaches.

They are averaging just over 2 runs per game, and that includes un-earned runs.  That is pathetic.

The Marlins?

As MLK once said, “I have a dream.”  Well, I had one last night and it wasn’t pretty:)

The Marlins ended up winning the NL East!  By only 2 games, mind you, but what a shock.  Actually I’ve had the thought in the back of my head for a couple of weeks, but refused to acknowledge it.  What happened?  The Nats offense and bull-pen ended up being the problems I predicted. Take a look at the BP’s collective ERA today, March 30.  Look at how the offense has been performing.  Yes, It’s only spring training, I know.

I think I know where Bryce Harper’s ring will be, come October:)

BTW—Tom Boswell’s article in the POST today is another gem.