Archive for the ‘predictions’ Category

Nats Notes: Washington’s XBH Machine

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

1408158633000-Nationals-Pirates-081514-Harper

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.

(more…)

LaRoche Blast Lifts Nats, Streak Now At Seven

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Untitled

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.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 10.13.03 AM

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 . . .”

(more…)

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

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

Untitled

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.

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 9.06.16 AM

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 . . .

(more…)

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

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Untitled

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.

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 4.12.35 AM

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 . . .

(more…)

Nats Notes: The Road To October Still Goes Through Atlanta

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

St Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals might have lost in Atlanta last night, but they’re still sitting on a solid lead in the National League East. And their lead is now the second largest in the majors (the Baltimore Orioles’ lead is just a tad more impressive). The recent homestand against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Fighting Showalters, and the New York Mets delivered everything the Nats have been doing well and (let’s admit it) everything they haven’t.

The Nats were given a chance to set the pace for the NL pennant run, but they let two blowouts and a scraper to two sub-.500 teams get past them. As much as we like to complain about how well they should have done, we can take heart that the hated Atlanta Braves fared even worse. The Barves were swept on their West Coast road trip and returned to Atlanta reeling from an eight game dip.

Nice as it is that Washington is in first place, the Washington 9 get blown away whenever their starter has a meltdown — or can’t make it past the third inning. And they drop one and two run games whenever the bullpen can’t lock it down or the defense is sloppy. Conversely, they win squeakers when the pitching is on point, the defense is tight, and their baserunning is smart. And they blow away the other guys when everything is firing on all cylinders.

We admit — that’s pretty standard stuff for any team. When the Braves, Marlins, Mets or Phillies can’t “lock it down,” they look as bad as (or worse than) anyone.

But wouldn’t it be nice if the Nats could (just once) author a blow-out of the Chops (as they did with the Phillies) that would leave Fredi Gonzalez reeling, and the Upton Brothers wondering what hit ‘em. That’s the kind of win the Nationals need just now to seal the feeling of inevitability that’s the hallmark of a champ.

Pointing out the positives from the homestand, Bryce Harper’s two-run opposite-field walk-off homer in the 13th inning against the Mets was well timed, both for him and the team. Each of the outfielders (Harper, Denard Span, and Jayson Werth) notched at least one outfield assist, and Span is working on a 34 game on-base streak, a definite plus for a lead-off hitter.

And there’s this: New acquisition Asdrubal Cabrera (2B) slotted right into the defense and even Danny Espinosa (2B) demonstrated that he shouldn’t be counted out of the lineup, at least when he’s batting right-handed.

That said, the team did some things that are still a cause for concern. Jayson Werth has been playing through tweaky knees and a sore ankle (“he’s pretty banged up,” the Post says) the past few weeks and it has shown in his defense. Lately, in right, it has taken him awhile to make it to balls down the line, in the corner, or blooped behind first. First-sacker Adam LaRoche, while healthy, has always been prone to streaks both hot and cold and, until his two-run homer on Wednesday, he’s been pretty cold.

So, was this the best homestand in Nats’ history? No, but neither was it the worst. All of the ingredients are there, a few nitpicks aside, and things should be trending up. A good test is the current series in Atlanta. The road to October always (always) goes through the Barves.

But never fear: this year, and thanks to the way the Chops are playing, that highway may actually be smoother than it’s been in a long time.

bal-2013-mlb-awards-fredi-gonzalez-20131007

 

Strasburg Returns To Form, Blanks The Phillies

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Untitled

After a short stint at Cleveland’s Progressive Field (where we saw the Indians blank the lowly Rangers, 2-0), we returned just in time to see Washington righty Stephan Strasburg reclaim his rightful place as the Nat’s starting ace. On Sunday afternoon, Strasburg showed the form that he first exhibited in his first 14k game, taming the Phillies with 10 strikeouts and leading Washington to a 4-0 victory.

Strasburg was dominant: he threw 17 of 25 first strike pitches, tossed seven complete innings, walked a single batter and lowered his season ERA to 3.39 in notching his eighth win of the season. “Stephen was the guy we went to the first day of the season, he’s the guy we went to after the (All-Star) break, and he’s proven why he’s a really good pitcher,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said after the win.

While baseball analysts point to Strasburg’s fastball as the primary reason for his success, the flamethrower’s most effective weapon on Sunday was his curveball and change-up, which had Phillies right handed hitters chasing balls that were low and away and had left handed hitters flailing at inside pitches on their hands.

“He was focused on every hitter,” Washington backstop Jose Lobaton said. “He was just in the corner a lot. He was throwing the breaking ball, changeup, he was using everything today. Everything was good. He knew what he was doing. Today, he was pounding the zone. The fastball had more life today. The key was, he knew the hitters.”

Strasburg (and Washington’s) victory came against Phillie Cole Hamels, who finds himself still in a Philadelphia uniform after everyone had him heading to nearly every team in baseball at the trade deadline. Hamels was not nearly as effective as Strasburg, but he put up a seven inning fight to keep his team within one run of the Nats through seven innings.

This was another wasted game for Philadelphia, which saw their GM do nothing at the trading deadline to improve the team’s chance of lifting themselves out of the National League East cellar. “Tough games, it comes down to timely hitting and execution,” Hamels said after the loss, his sixth of the season. “I wasn’t able to execute the one pitch, and then we weren’t able to execute and get some timely hitting.”

Washington piled on three runs in the eighth inning, after center fielder Denard Span had put the Nationals on the board with an RBI single in the bottom of the third. Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon each had RBI doubles for Washington.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 12.24.41 PM

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We’re gone for three days and what happens? The Nationals score eleven runs on fourteen hits in a romp against the Phils (and who wouldn’t want to see that?) and Washington extends their lead over Atlanta in the N.L. East . . .

But the trip to Asdrubal Cabrera’s former home city was worth it — as we were treated to a 2-0 Cleveland Indians shutout over the holy-cow-are-they-bad Texas Rangers . . .

Our stint at Cleveland’s Progressive Field provided us the opportunity to eyeball an Indians franchise that is gamely attempting to recreate the magic of the mid and late 1990s, when the Wahoos were the class of the American League and came itchy close to being the best team in the game . . .

(more…)

Marlins Hook The Nats, 3-0

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

2014_Alvarez

Henderson Alvarez pitched seven complete innings and Giancarlo Stanton had two hits and drove in two runs as the Miami Marlins shut out the Washington Nationals at Marlins Park on Tuesday night, 3-0. The victory was Miami’s sixth in a row and narrowed the gap separating them from first place in the National League East.

Alvarez showed why he’s one of Miami’s premier starters, particularly at home. Alvarez allowed just three hits while striking out four, outdueling Washington’s Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg matched Alvarez’s numbers, also allowing just four hits. The Washington righty also struck out four Marlins.

The Nationals had plenty of scoring opportunities against Alvarez, but couldn’t find a way to get their runners across the plate. The Nats had the bases loaded in the second inning with no outs, but failed to score, and then had Anthony Rendon on third and Bryce Harper on first in the fifth but couldn’t push a run across.

Alvarez admitted that he struggled in the early going, before finding his command. “I was in the bullpen and I didn’t feel like I always feel before I hit the field. I wasn’t into it. For several innings I had to fight through it,” Alvarez said of his performance. “When the bases loaded with nobody out, I started to find my control of my pitches and of the game.”

After showing a solid ability to push runners across the plate earlier in the current road trip, the Nationals reclaimed their inability to score with runners on base. Washington left 26 on base last night, threatening Miami’s lead in the last of the 9th, when they again failed to score with the bases loaded.

The game also marked a revival for the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton, who entered the game at zero for his last nine at bats. But Stanton certainly looked good against the Nationals, lacing a double to left against Strasburg in the bottom of the 6th, scoring Jordany Valdespin.

“I haven’t felt good for a while now,” Stanton said after last night’s victory. “I did a little setup pregame. Hopefully I’m feeling better and more comfortable at the plate. Today was a good plus to that.”

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 7.29.05 AM

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers are in the hunt for starting pitchers, with both teams inquiring about Boston’s Jon Lester, who’s a free agent after the season. The Redbirds have kicked the tires on nearly everyone who’s even remotely available, according to baseball analysts . . .

The once-upon-a-time pitching rich Cardinals are mired right in the middle of the pack with their staff, at least statistically, with both Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia sidelined with arm issues. Wacha has a tweaky shoulder while Garcia is out for the duration with nerve problems in his pitching arm . . .

The loss of Wacha and Garcia have not sent the Cardinals into a tailspin, but St. Louis will need to bolster its pitching to have a shot at another world title. Everyone is in play: the Redbirds have scouted Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and A.j. Burnett of the Phillies, Ian Kennedy of the Padres and Cleveland’s Justin Masterson, in addition to Lester . . .

(more…)