Archive for the ‘predictions’ Category

Strasburg Sharp As Nats Sink Seattle

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

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When Stephen Strasburg is on there is simply no one better, and the Washington ace showed why on Saturday night, throwing 7.2 innings while striking out eight in leading the Nationals to a 3-1 victory against the Mariners in Seattle. Strasburg’s eight Ks set a franchise record for strikeouts in a year, surpassing that set by Gio Gonzalez two years ago.

The Strasburg victory was a vindication for the righty, who struggled in his last outing and has been viewed as inconsistent by many baseball analysts. He was anything but on Saturday, walking none and allowing a single earned run (on a Dustin Ackley home run), in notching his 11th victory of the season.

“Just the fact that he had two good ones and then a little bit of a clunker, and tonight to come back and answer, for him is important,” Washington skipper Matt Williams said of Strasburg. “For him, it’s just that if he throws it where he wants to, he can be dominant out there.

“I had pretty good fastball command today and kind of set up my other pitches,” Strasburg said of his outing. “I wanted to go out and give everything I had until [Williams] took the ball out of my hand. I just stuck to the game plan. I just had to execute pitches. I made them hit my best stuff.”

The Nationals scored early off of Seattle starter Roenis Elias. The Nationals plated two runs in the first inning when Jayson Werth hit his fifteenth home run of the season, scoring Denard Span who had reached on an error. Washington added a third run on an Anthony Rendon double in the fifth, which scored Jose Loboton.

The 3-1 victory put the Nationals up by seven games in the National League East, as the Braves lost to the Marlins 4-0 in Atlanta. The Nationals have a shot at sweeping Seattle today, with Tanner Roark facing off against the Mariners Hisashi Iwakuma.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: MASN on-field analyst Dan Kolko engaged in an interesting bit of speculation on Saturday, pointing out that if the Nationals had finished just a bit better back in 2008, Seattle would have drafted Stephen Strasburg first overall in 2009, with Dustin Ackley falling to the Nationals with the second overall pick . . .

Seattle thought that the North Carolina hitter was bound for stardom and he might well be, but it’s taken him some time to develop — so long, in fact, that many Mariners fans were will to label him as a “bust” at any point over the intervening years. But Ackley, after hitting just .215 up to July 1, has found his swing and is hitting .313 since . . .

Seattle partisans point to the addition of Robinson Cano as the reason for Seattle’s revival, but the club was 16-8 in August, when Ackley drove in 19 of his 55 RBIs. Ackley credits his turnaround to fixing a glitch in his swing . . .

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One For The Books: Nats Blast The Giants, 14-6

Monday, August 25th, 2014

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Can the Nats hit in big games? Can they move runners over, hit behind them, launch massive home run shots that plate big runs? Can they play from behind? Are they an offensive powerhouse, or a team that sometimes (and really not that often), loses its center, allowing their opponents back into a game?

While sometimes nothing will convince a skeptic, Sunday afternoon’s Nationals 14-6 victory against the San Francisco Giants will assuredly silence all the negativity that followed the team through April and May. Yesterday, in front of 35,000-plus, the Nationals blasted the Giants with eighteen hits, six of which were doubles and three home runs. It was one of the most satisfying wins of the season.

Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Asdrubal Cabrera, Bryce Harper, Scott Hairston and Jose Loboton doubled during the game and Ian Desmond, Harper and Danny Espinosa each hit home runs. The Nationals were 10-17 with runners in scoring position. The victory marked the end of a remarkable homestand in which the Nationals were 9-1, with five walk-off wins in a six game stretch.

“This was a great homestand,” Scott Hairston, who hit a clutch pinch-hit double in the fourth inning yesterday, said of the Nationals victory. “I’ve never experienced anything like it. I think it’s safe to say nobody has. And it’s a lot of fun.”

In spite of the fireworks that Nats hitters enjoyed on Sunday, the game started ominously, with righty Stephen Strasburg being pulled by Nats skipper Matt Williams after just four innings. Strasburg gave up eight hits and five earned runs, which included home runs to Gregor Blanco and Travis Ishikawa.

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Strasburg, who had pitched well in his previous two outings, with decisive performances against Arizona and the Mets, “didn’t have his A-game,” as reliever Craig Stammen noted, and had to be bailed out by the Nationals bullpen. Strasburg agreed with the assessment.

“I was making dumb pitches,” Strasburg said after the win. “On a 3-2 pitch, I have to execute a better pitch there to Blanco. The same with Ishikawa on the 1-2 pitch. You want to challenge them, but at the same time you have to focus on hitting your spots. I really wasn’t doing that today.”

With Strasburg on the bench, the Nationals mounted their comeback, taking advantage of Bruce Bochy’s decision to bring in Jeremy Affeldt in relief of Giants’ starter Ryan Vogelsong in the sixth inning. Affeldt faced five Washington hitters without getting an out — giving up a Bryce Harper double, singles to Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Loboton, a Scott Hairston double and a Denard Span infield hit.

The Nationals bullpen also came through (as they almost always do) in a big way. Craig Stammen, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano gave up a single earned run in five innings of work, with Soriano closing out the game on a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

“Son of a gun, you just wanted an out anywhere and we couldn’t get it,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of the Nationals sixth inning offensive. The usually reliable Affeldt agreed, shaking his head in frustration at his own outing. “I take full responsibility for that game,” he said.

The Nationals also piled on five more runs in the 8th, though by then the Giants were well out of the game. Juan Gutierrez (“the human rain delay“) threw just 1.1 innings while giving up five earned runs, including home runs to Bryce Harper (his seventh) and Danny Espinosa (2-2 on the day) — his eighth.

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The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: Worries among 1-2-9 regulars over Bryce Harper’s ability to get on track after being on the disabled list have now been replaced by worries over the inconsistent pitching of Stephen Strasburg.  The section was moodily silent after Blanco and Ishikawi authored moon shots against the Washington “ace” . . .

“Look, it’s Gregor DiMaggio,” one regular noted when Gregor Blanco went deep. “Stras just looks terrible.” Another section season ticket holder shook his head. “You know, it could be that they’re just not letting him loose,” he argued. “This guy can throw 98 and once upon a time he did that regularly. They’re easing him back, when they should just let him throw what he wants . . . ”

“So what do we do with Strasburg?” a 1-2-9 regular asked as Craig Stammen emerged from the bullpen in relief of the big righty in the top of the 5th inning. “If this game is an indication, he’s no longer number one in the rotation. You can’t put him up front in the post-season, he’s just too inconsistent . . .”

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. . . And Here Come The Giants

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

MLB: San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres

The San Francisco Giants were our pick to win the National League West, and we had good reason to suppose so. The Giants had a snappy starting rotation, we thought that Tim Lincecum would recover some of the velocity on his fastball, and the team could hit — not least because they added Michael Morse to their mix.

For much of the season our prediction looked solid. The Giants appeared to be running away with the West, the Dodgers were struggling (and Clayton Kershaw was on the disabled list for a short time), and Morse was hitting the snot out of the ball, and still is.

But starting in late June and extending well into mid-August, the Giants were hit by a series of devastating injuries: Matt Cain went down for the season, Brandon Belt and Hector Sanchez were hit with concussions, Marco Scutaro went down with a bad back and a stiff neck and the McCoverys spiraled out of first place.

But the real loss for the Giants came in late June when center fielder Angel Pagan was hit with a back injury that refused to heal. Pagan is San Francisco’s spark and had led the Giants in BA and OBP prior to sitting out an eight game streak in late June. Finally, realizing that he just wasn’t healing, the Giants took Pagan off the bench and put him on the disabled list.

The Giants went 19-26 without Pagan, though G.M. Brian Sabean did his best to back-and-fill off the Pagan injury. Sabean signed struggling second sacker Dan Uggla to a contract on July 25, then swapped two minor leaguers for Red Sox starter and veteran tosser Jake Peavy the next day.

Sabean’s moves haven’t worked out. Uggla went 0-11 with six strikeouts in two weeks of work for the Giants (who then outrighted him, putting him back on the street) and Peavy has been just so-so. The former San Diego righty began his time in San Francisco by going 0-3, though he’s recovered lately, authoring two key wins in his last two outings.

It hasn’t been enough. While the Giants have been able to patch together a workable starting rotation and supplemented it with a solid, very solid, bullpen, the Giants are just middling run scorers. The McCoveys offense is not only not as good as L.A.’s, it’s probably worse than Arizona’s, with a sorry .305 team OBP.

Yes, we know: the Giants have heavyweights Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Morse in their line-up. But the guy the Giants really have to have (they’re 21st in runs and 21st in BA) is Angel Pagan — who needs to get healthy and stay healthy. Pagan is the key, the one guy that makes it all work. Without him, they’re just not the same team.

Nats Notes: Washington’s XBH Machine

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

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There are now less than 40 games to go in the regular season and we are one game into a home series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Washington Nationals are seventeen games over .500 and lead the division by six games on the back of a series loss in Atlanta and sweeps of the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Nats are working on their longest winning streak of the season (currently seven games long), a good place to be in the home stretch.

The last three wins were each walk-offs, courtesy of catcher Wilson Ramos on Saturday, pinch hitter Scott Hairston on Sunday, and first sacker Adam LaRoche on Monday.

The compulsion to grind has been key over the streak. The Nats have pulled off multiple come-from-behind wins over the past ten games and came within a hair of doing so in the first game against the Barves.

Offensively, these wins were built not so much on the long ball, but on extra base hits and small ball. The addition of Asdrubal Cabrera and, most recently, Nate Schierholtz will only enhance that capacity: both of them are notorious gappers and Cabrera is a doubles machine.

Over the last ten games, these are the XBHs the Nats have tallied (not including the fourteen homers):

Denard Span: a triple, three doubles, and a stolen base
Anthony Rendon: a triple and a stolen base
Wilson Ramos: two doubles
Asdrubal Cabrera: a double and a sac fly
Kevin Frandsen: a double and a sac fly
Jayson Werth: a double and a sac fly
Adam LaRoche: a double and a stolen base
Bryce Harper: a sac fly
Scott Hairston: a sac fly
Ian Desmond: a stolen base
Stephen Strasburg: a sacrifice

In other words, over the past ten games, every member of the regular starting lineup, two bench guys, and a pitcher were getting in scoring position, driving in runs, and moving runners. That’s not only impressive, it’s been the key to the recent Nats surge.

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LaRoche Blast Lifts Nats, Streak Now At Seven

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

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Adam LaRoche’s dramatic 11th inning home run lifted the Nats to their seventh straight victory (and their third walk-off win in a row), as Washington slid past the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night, 5-4. The round tripper came off of rookie reliever Will Harris and was the first walk off home run of LaRoche’s career.

The LaRoche homer hit off the facade of the upper deck in right field, as Nationals fans rose in a deafening cheer. “I got every bit of that one,” LaRoche said after the Nationals victory. “I don’t know how we got these walk-off situations the last few days, but we have. I managed to get my first one. It took me long enough. So it’s a good feeling.”

The walk off homer was the culmination of a strange night for the ball club, which found itself in a see-saw battle with a team that is nearly twenty games under .500. While Nats starter Jordan Zimmermann pitched well (seven innings, four hits and three earned runs), the D’Backs had victimized the righty on a pair of lead-off walks in the 5th and 8th innings. In both cases, Arizona was able to turn the walks into runs.

In the 5h inning, Zimmermann walked Mark Trumbo, who moved to third on a single and sacrifice bunt and then scored on a Jake Lamb sacrifice fly. In the 8th, Zimmermann walked Lamb, who then scored on a Didi Gregorius home run. The Nationals forfeited a 2-1 lead and were six outs away from a victory before the Gregorius homer.

“One pitch, and it looked a little worse than what it is. In that situation, I want to throw a strike,” Zimmermann said of his eighth inning troubles. “Everyone knows I don’t want to walk another guy. [Gregorius] was ready for it and got the bat on the ball.”

The strange night continued for the Nationals, who entered the 9th with a one run lead. But reliever Tyler Clippard, pitching in a closing role to give Rafael Soriano a rest, gave up a game-tying home run to David Peralta. It was the first home run given up by Clippard since mid-April and ended any chance the Nats had of ending the game in nine.

The Nationals kept pace with the D’Backs, but only just — waiting until the seventh inning to put their first two runs on the board (the result of an Ian Desmond walk and a Wilson Ramos home run blast to center), then following it up with two more in the eighth, when Denard Span doubled, Anthony Rendon tripled and Jayson Werth sacrificed Rendon home.

With the score knotted at four apiece and the game headed into extra innings, Nats skipper Matt Williams called on reliever Craig Stammen to keep the D’backs off the board. As usual, Stammen played Houdini for the Nationals crowd, loading the bases in the top of the 11th before striking out Lamb, Gregorius and inducing a Cliff Pennington ground out.

“It feels like every break is going our way,” Stammen said of the Nationals victory. “You don’t get out of a bases-loaded jam very often. It’s a 1-in-25 thing. Walk-off home run, two outs in the 11th inning. Coming back when we’re down and all that stuff. And giving up home runs and then coming back and scoring more runs, it’s just resiliency.”

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The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: There were just over 21,000 in attendance for Monday night’s theatrics, but the regulars of Section 1-2-9 didn’t seem to mind. “There’s a football game on, so there’s that,” one season ticket holder remarked. Another regular shook his head. “I’d rather be here,” he noted. “We can always see those other guys . . .”

Not surprisingly, the early innings of the game were taken up with verbal replays of the two weekend victories over the Pirates (“you shoulda been here, I’ve never seen anything like it,” one fan noted), and praise for a team that, as one regular noted, ” wasn’t nearly this good back in April or May . . .”

Soon enough, and predictably, the talk turned to the struggles of Bryce Harper, a common theme among Nationals fans who think it’s past time that he broke out. “It must bug him that he’s not the face of the franchise,” one 1-2-9 veteran commenter noted. And so who is? he was asked. There was only a moment’s hesitation: “Right now, it’s Denard Span . . .”

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Nats On A Roll, Squeeze By The Bucs, 5-4

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

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Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper had two hits and two RBIs apiece, starter Tanner Roark pitched into the 6th inning, and closer Rafael Soriano provided another nail biting ending as the Nationals squeezed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-4 at Nationals Park on Friday night. This was Washington’s fourth victory in a row.

LaRoche and Harper were the big bats in the Nationals win. The Nationals took an early 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first frame, with a LaRoche single plating Asdrubal Cabrera. Then, with the bases loaded, Harper followed up with a single of his own — scoring Anthony Rendon and LaRoche.

Pirates starter Charlie Morton couldn’t keep the Nationals off the board in the early going and was pulled by Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle after just three innings of work. In all, the Nationals sprayed 11 hits versus Bucco pitching, with Denard Span once again hitting his stride, going 3-4 on the night.

While Roark picked up his twelfth win of the 2014 campaign, he gave up three runs on five hits in just 5.2 innings of work. Pittsburgh got back into the game in the fourth inning, when outfielder Starling Marte powered an 84 mph Roark slider into the left field seats, which scored second sacker Neil Walker. The Pirates were suddenly back in the game.

“He was a little off on his command tonight, the ball was up in the strike zone a little bit,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Roark’s performance. “Marte hit a slider for the homer and the ball just kind of elevated. But he battled. He got through the innings he needed to get through. He pitched well.”

The feisty Pirates showed why they’re still in the hunt for the National League Central crown, pushing the Nationals until the final out. The Pirates three run fourth was followed by a nail-biting 9th in which Starling Marte singled off of Nats closer Rafael Soriano, then scored on a Pedro Alvarez single to bring the Buccos to within one run of tying the game.

Soriano, struggling to notch his 29th save, then gave up a single to Chris Stewart, which put the tying run on base. But with Stewart looking to score, Soriano induced a foul pop off the bat of Josh Harrison (which landed in the glove of Wilson Ramos) to end the game.

On Wednesday, Soriano had told the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore that one of the reasons for his sometimes shaky outings was that he wasn’t getting enough work. The Soriano statement was apparently heard loud and clear by skipper Williams. “That’s three games in a row for Soriano. He got through it tonight. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” Williams said after last night’s win.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Pirates fans begin each year with the dream that they’ll relive 1979, the last year that the Bucs brought home the World Series trophy. But what’s usually missing from the Pittsburgh narrative, and often forgotten by baseball pundits, is that the 1979 win was notched against a Baltimore team that was among the most celebrated in franchise history . . .

The 1979 Orioles won 102 games, had a winning record against every American League team except the Yankees, led the A.L from mid-April to the wire, featured a 23 game winner (in Mike Flanagan) and a lights-out closer (in Don Stanhouse), and dominated baseball in one run and extra inning games . . .

Which is to say: if the Pirates could just start playing a bit better (and reach the playoffs) a replay of the Baltimore-Pittsburgh seven game, down-to-the-final-out tilt of 1979 is not out of the question. To make this even plainer, we would claim that the 2014 edition of the Orioles might even be better than their 1979 ancestors . . .

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Nats Outlast The Rain, And The Braves, 4-1

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

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After a nearly four hour rain delay that pushed Washington’s game against Atlanta into the early morning hours, the Nationals overcame the Braves in an 11 inning marathon, 4-1. The Washington win marked Atlanta’s ninth loss in ten games and pushed the Nationals 4.5 games ahead of the Braves in the National League East.

A bases loaded single off the bat of Wilson Ramos in the 11th inning was the difference in the game, as the Washington catcher plated Anthony Rendon for the go-ahead run. Kevin Frandsen followed Ramos with a double over the head of Jason Heyward, scoring Adam LaRoche (who had singled) and Bryce Harper (who had walked).

Skipper Matt Williams was pleased with his team’s effort. “Considering all that happened today, and the way we had to fight through the last couple of days, it was pretty good for us,” Williams said after the hard-fought victory. “We fought all the way.”

The game featured a solid pitchers’ duel, with Washington’s Tanner Roark matched up against Atlanta’s Aaron Harang. The two hurlers numbers were similar, with the Nats and Braves trading singles and runs through ten straight innings. Roark’s and Harang’s final lines (each threw seven complete and gave up a single earned run) reflected just how tightly the two teams play.

Washington scored first, in the sixth inning, on Adam LaRoche’s 16th home run of the season. Atlanta responded in the bottom of that frame, when Jason Heyward’s sacrifice fly scored Tommy La Stella. Washington’s bullpen was, once again, outstanding: Matt Thornton, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano held the Braves scoreless through four complete, with Soriano picking up his 26th save.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It’s mid-August (the dog days, when the season seems to go on forever), so analysts, pundits and columnists are searching for things to write and talk about. On Friday, MLB Network listed nominees for the A.L.’s MVP award, apparently because it’s never too soon to speculate . . .

Among those listed were Baltimore’s Adam Jones, L.A.’s Mike Trout, Detroit’s Victor Martinez, Seattle’s Robinson Cano and Oakland’s Josh Donaldson. The surprise in the list (at least for us), is Victor Martinez, who is worthy but often overshadowed by Detroit superstar Miguel Cabrera, who’s having an off year — at least for him . . .

Our pick is Adam Jones, who’s the heartbeat of the first place Orioles. You won’t find Jones at the top of the league in batting average (he’s hitting a respectable .285 on the year), but he’s plated 22 round trippers, which puts him in the company of Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols and he’s knocked in 70, which puts him 11th in the A.L . . .

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