Archive for the ‘predictions’ Category

Rethinking The Braves “Ambush”

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

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As we said (and repeatedly) yesterday — after the Nationals were swept by the Atlanta Braves: “It’s still early.” Much has been said of the state of this I-95 rivalry. “They” have the Nats’ number. “They’re” inside the Nats’ heads. They’re Washington’s kryptonite. Maybe, but we’ll leave that particular analysis to the sports psychologists.

In looking back on the series, we here at CFG have come up with something else: in spite of having dropped five of six to the Bravos, there is no real overall difference in quality between Atlanta and the Nationals. For two of the three games in that Atlanta series, the Braves didn’t actually win — so much as the Nationals lost.

Consider: for the first two games, the Nationals outhit the Braves 25-22, while losing both contests by four fewer runs (13 to 9). The reason? Sloppy fielding and poor base running. The usually sure-handed Ian Desmond committed an unheard of three errors, exacerbated by one from Nate McLouth in a call that should have gone the other way. Bryce Harper was caught stealing, and both he and Zimmerman were picked off.

Game three of the series was a legitimate Bravos victory, to be sure, but that’s to be expected in any series against a quality team, which the Braves certainly are. The Braves outhit and outplayed the Nationals in that game, but that wasn’t true for the first game — or the second.

The Braves’ bullpen (with the possible exception of Craig Kimbrel), is not some unhittable juggernaut — as was clear last night in Philadelphia. The Nats chewed up starters Julio Teheran for 10 hits and 5 runs and Alex Wood for 6 hits and one run – and generated nine hits and three runs in the first two face-offs against relievers Kimbrel, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter, and Anthony Varvaro.

Early as the season is, there are still plenty of reasons for confidence. Harper has gotten comfortable at the plate again, banging out six hits over the course of the series. New acquisitions Kevin Frandsen and Nate McLouth and Nats veteran Danny Espinosa have shown themselves to be solid bench players.

The Nats are snake-bit against the Braves, for sure. Snake bit? That just means that, for whatever reason, they’ve played poorly against them. That won’t last. The next time the Nats face the Braves (a four game set in mid-June), Wilson Ramos, Doug Fister, and Ryan Zimmerman should be off the disabled list — and the team will be out to prove that April was a fluke. And there will have been plenty of games (both easy and tough) for the boys in the field to learn each others ticks.

Then too, Nats manager Matt Williams may have even settled on a lineup by then.

Nats Swept In Atlanta

Monday, April 14th, 2014

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Repeat after me: “It’s still early, it’s still early, it’s still early.” And that’s a mighty good thing, because if this was September, with the N.L. East a dogfight between its two best teams (Atlanta and Washington), the Nationals would be in deep trouble.

Just days after rolling out of Washington with a series sweep against Miami under their belts, the Nationals are now departing Atlanta feeling as the Marlins must have felt. Yesterday’s loss, a 10-2 whupping at the hands of the Braves, only emphasized the Nationals problems — in the three game series the team was outscored (23-11), outhit (33-31) and (well) outplayed.

Sunday’s matinee only highlighted Washington’s problems, which seem to be magnified against their division rival. Ace Gio Gonzalez lasted six innings, but was hit hard, giving up six runs on nine hits over six innings. The middle of the Braves line-up seemed to play with Washington: B.J. Upton was 2-5, Freddie Freeman was 2-3, Justin Upton was 2-3 and Andrelton Simmons was 2-5.

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Worse yet, Washington’s hitters couldn’t seem to touch Atlanta starter Aaron Harang, the 35-year-old well traveled righty who Atlanta fans doubted could fit into a rotation that the Braves front office vowed would get younger year-by-year. It was Harang, and not Gonzalez, who ended up on top, with Harang throwing six innings of five hit ball and taming a suddenly anemic Washington line-up.

“The Braves have the Nationals’ number,” Baseball Tonight’s Karl Ravech said during last night’s broadcast. The numbers seem to prove it. Yesterday’s 10-2 pasting was Atlanta’s 18th win in its last 25 match-up against the Nationals, and its fifth win this season in six meetings.

“It’s going to happen sometimes, but what we can’t do is get out of ourselves,” manager Matt Williams said following the loss. “We can’t allow anything to take us out of our game. It didn’t work for us this weekend. We have another one tomorrow against the Marlins. We have to concentrate on that one.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: That long deep sigh you hear comes to you all the way from the North Side of Chicago, where the Cubbies have started the season with a 4-8 record. The most recent example of North Side futility came yesterday, against the Cardinals, when Chicago pitching was victimized by 11 Cardinal hits and a snappy 6.1 innings from starter Michael Wacha . . .

Baseball’s punditocracy has written off the Cubs for 2014, saying the team is headed for 90 losses — at least. But there’s light at the end of Chicago’s endless tunnel, faint though it may be. Chicago has a keeper in first sacker Anthony Rizzo (who’s hitting .319 on the young season), and has a farm system stacked with talent, including third sacker Kris Bryant, center fielder Albert Almora and shortstop uber prospect Javier Baez . . .

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Nats Fall Again To Braves; Zimmerman Out 4-6 Weeks

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

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What a difference 48 hours can make. Just two days ago, the Nationals had just swept the Marlins, were sitting atop the National League East and seemed to be clicking on all cylinders. Now, just two days later, the team is struggling against the division rival Atlanta Braves and — in response to mounting injuries — new skipper Matt Williams is shifting his players from position to position.

Those troubles seemed particularly in evidence on Saturday night, as the Nationals dropped yet another game to the Atlanta Braves, 6-3 and Ryan Zimmerman, the team’s third base stalwart, team leader and big middle-of-the-order bat fractured his right thumb during a pick-off play in the fifth inning. Zimmerman will be lost from four to six weeks.

The Zimmerman injury eclipsed Washington’s loss, which was fueled by starter Taylor Jordan’s inability to subdue a powerful Braves’ line-up. Atlanta put four runs on the board in the first inning on a B.J Upton homer, a Justin Upton double and timely hitting from Dan Uggla and Evan Gattis.

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“I wasn’t hitting my spots, and they capitalized on that. It was a very tough first inning,” Jordan said following the loss. “By the third inning, I started to get my slider back, and it was working for me a little bit,” he then added.

The Nationals gamely fought back, but squandered numerous scoring opportunities, leaving 11 on base for the game. The Nationals, who dominated division rivals New York and Miami, couldn’t capitalize against the Braves and were a pathetic 1-16 with runners in scoring position.

Already hit by injuries to Denard Span and Jayson Werth (Span was placed on the 7-day disabled list with “concussion like” symptoms, Werth is day-to-day with a nagging groin), the team will now feature an infield with Anthony Rendon at third and Danny Espinosa at second.

“It is what it is. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us,” manager Matt Williams said following the announcement that the team had lost Zimmerman. “You’ve got to play.” The Nationals have recalled infielder Zach Walters from Triple-A Syracuse for added bench depth and to (presumably) spell Espinosa at second.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The early take on the new MLB rules on umpire reviews has been mostly positive, until recently. Matt Williams was frustrated by an interminable review of a bang-bang play at first base involving Nate McLouth during the second inning on Saturday, which went against the Nationals . . .

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Nats Notes: Takeaways From The Miami Sweep

Friday, April 11th, 2014

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Fans don’t normally expect a series sweep to be dramatic, but this past series against the Miami Marlins provided theatricality in spades. Nats fans will note: these are not the Fish of yesteryear, or even the Fish of last year. Miami has a real team, forcing the punditocracy to rethink their near-unanimous criticism of Miami’s fire sale to Toronto in 2013.

As MASN commenter F.P Santangelo pointed out yesterday, the Marlins have some good young players (like the surprising Christian Yelich, who’s hitting a torrid .438 over the last week) and preseason predictions about this being just another “rebuilding year in Miami” already look like they’re way off. The Marlins were swept, but they look more dangerous than either New York or Philly.

Nats starter Gio Gonzalez opened the series with a shutout performance, looking as if he’s reached mid-season form, and Stephen Strasburg shook off whatever baggage there might have been from his two earlier and shakier starts to keep his game on lock down. The two aces are exactly where Nats Nation expects them to be on any given day — which will send shivers to the rest of the division.

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But Jordan Zimmermann? Oh my. No one, least of all him, had any explanation for what happened to him on Wednesday, when he gave up five runs in less than three innings and left the game shaking his head. We’ve never seen him have a meltdown like that. That said, Wednesday’s game demonstrated one thing we haven’t always associated with the Nationals: resilience –  the capacity to recover quickly from adversity.

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Werth, Strasburg Skin The Snakes

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

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Stephen Strasburg pitched seven solid innings and Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos each hit three run home runs, and the Washington Nationals easily downed the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Friday night, 8-4. The victory capped the first of a three game series, with two games remaining in the Nats’ season.

Strasburg, who is one of the ERA leaders in the National League (at a snappy 3.00), notched only his eighth victory on the year, throwing 101 pitches, 63 of them for strikes. Strasburg was undoubtedly disappointed with his 2013 win total, but Nats’ manager Davey Johnson acknowledged that the young righty didn’t always enjoy good run support from his teammates.

“We didn’t score many runs for him,” Johnson confirmed following the victory. “A bunch of times, we didn’t score any runs, one run or two runs when he was starting. His numbers indicated he should have won 15 ballgames, at least. He was certainly consistent all year long.”

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Despite the 8-9 campaign, Strasburg is 3-0 in his last three starts. “I think physically I held up pretty well,” he said following last night’ victory. “I think one thing I learned is sometimes less is more. I like to work really hard and when you reach a point in September you’ve really got to back things off or it’s going to be counterproductive.”

The Nats powered Strasburg to victory on home runs from Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos. The Werth home run came in the top of the fifth with Anthony Rendon and Jeff Kobernus on base, while the Ramos home run came in the top of the 8th with Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond on base.

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Nats Fall In St. Louis, Eliminated From The Postseason

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

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Carlos Beltran homered and Adam Wainwright subdued Washington’s line-up and the St. Louis Cardinals went on to defeat the Nationals, 4-3 at Busch Stadium. The loss eliminated the Nationals from the post-season: they are six games out of the last Wild Card slot with five games to play.

The key to the St. Louis win was Beltran’s fifth inning home run (his 24th on the year) that scored John Jay, breaking a 2-2 tie and putting the Cardinals ahead 4-2. Washington could only muster a single run the rest of the way. “It doesn’t feel too good,” manager Davey Johnson said of the loss. “We gave it a good fight. We just came up short.

The Nationals put on a run in September, going 16-6 on the month and winning a key day-night double header against the Atlanta Braves on September 17 that vaulted that team back into contention for a playoff spot in the National League. But the Cardinals has always played Washington tough, and that was true on Monday night.

Washington starter Tanner Roark notched his first loss of the season after an impressive 7-0 run, but the Cardinals heavy hitting line-up victimized him for nine hits in just five innings. “I was getting behind hitters a lot,” Roark said after the loss. “When you do that with a good team, they are going to hit your mistakes when you get them back in the count. They are going to battle like they did tonight.”

Washington’s scoring came early, on a home run from Jayson Werth that scored Denard Span and gave the Nationals an early 2-0 lead. St. Louis clawed back, despite an additional run put on the board from the Nationals in the 8th inning: a fielder’s choice on a Ryan Zimmerman grounder the scored Anthony Rendon.

But three runs are rarely enough to defeat the Cardinals, who score just under five runs every game. Then too, Adam Wainwright got stronger on the mound as the game went on: Wainwright’s night ended after the 7th, with five strike outs while scattering five hits. The St. Louis victory was Wainwright’s 18th win on the year.

The Nationals stared into the night after a three-up-three-down ninth inning, stunned that their run for the postseason was over. The clubhouse was reportedly silent after the loss, as the team took stock of its “World Series or bust” season. “You put the uniform on to win, and we didn’t get it done,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “So I feel bad for everybody.”

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Mea Culpa: We take no special pride in getting things right and, like everyone else who writes about baseball, we get plenty wrong. We said at the beginning of the year that the Los Angeles Dodgers were overrated and would tank: that players who finished with an attitude in Boston would bring that same attitude to Los Angeles. Well . . .

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Werth Leads The Nats In New York, 6-3

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

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The power of baseball superstitions are such that we dare not even whisper (let alone shout) about what is now true. But we’ll do it anyway: the Washington Nationals are suddenly a part of “the October conversation,” as they say, having won their fourth in a row in New York by overpowering the Mets, 6-3.

The Nationals latest win, coming off the arm of Jordan Zimmermann (who won his 17th) and bat of Jayson Werth, left the Nationals just six games out of the last Wild Card slot, with Cincinnati being overpowered by the Cubs (it was a no contest 9-1 drubbing) at home. The Nationals are in the hunt.

Tuesday’s game seemed almost a replay of the previous three: the Nationals came out swinging, chipping away at starter Dillon Gee (Denard Span continued his consecutive game hitting streak) and then serving up New York fastballs into Citi Field’s lower deck.

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The Nationals have had little luck against Gee this year, but Tuesday night was different. The home towners touched the puzzling righty for four runs in 6-plus innings, which included a home run from Werth in the first, a home run from Adam LaRoche in the second and in-the-gap doubles from Span and Werth in the third.

Prior to Tuesday, Gee had tamed the Nationals in four of his last five starts, transforming himself into the N.L. East’s premier Nats’ killer. But he was flummoxed on Tuesday, talking to himself on the mound. “Obviously, I wasn’t commanding the ball as well as I have been,” Gee said of his outing. “You can’t get away with that against these guys. They made me pay.”

Gee’s nemesis was Werth, who has propelled himself into the race for the N.L. batting title. But it wasn’t all Werth: Jordan Zimmermann and four relievers (Craig Stammen, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano) held the Mets to three runs, putting the lid on the Mets line-up.

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