No, that’s not the title to the blog post announcing that I’m finally getting back to covering the National’s run towards the playoffs. And I really mean it this time. No, that’s what the Nats pulled off last night against the Miami Marlins, after a sloppy start put Washington behind the eight ball.
Trailing 6-4 with one out in the bottom of the eighth, thankfully, the Marlins continued their second-half spectacular implosion, with Mike Dunn botching Carlos Lee’s toss on Adam LaRoche’s sure ground-out. So, instead of two outs with no one on, Dunn proceeded to walk Jayson Werth to put two on with only one out, thus limiting the harm that came when newly-acquired Kurt Suzuki then struck out. Four consecutive hits, including home runs by Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper then totaled six unearned runs for Washington, flipping the scoreboard to a much more attractive 10-6 lead. Tyler Clippard would cough up a harmless run in the top of the ninth to secure the victory, and with it, the Nats were able to stretch their lead in the NL East over the Atlanta Braves to three games.
Game ball(s): LaRoche. Ho, hum. I guess Adam got bored with just hitting one home run a game, so he went all Doublemint on the Marlins. Last four games: 8 for 16, 4 home runs, 7 RBIs, and 6 runs scored. This is just what Adam does. He gets crazy hot for stretches. Good thing his current stretch has been the entire second half so far.
Goat(s): Dunn. I love when pitchers with a 1.63 WHIP come into a game. You bring the WHIP, you get the WHIP.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Espinosa. He is still only 25, which has its ups (three-run home run to push the Nats into the lead) and downs (two costly errors that led to three runs). I worry about how that will play come the playoffs, but then again, you could say that about a number of Nats come October. I’m sorry. I’m an auditor. I breathe and I worry.
Current Record: 64-43
It is sort of remarkable to think that after all that has transpired over the first two days and three games of the Nationals-Braves series, that Washington actually can salvage a series split later today. But that is exactly the position the Nationals find themselves in, even after:
- Friday night’s epic collapse
- Being throttled by Ben Sheets and Atlanta’s pitching staff in game one of yesterday’s doubleheader
- Watching Bryce Harper limp off in the very same game after fouling a pitch off his left ankle
- Falling behind 2-0 in yesterday’s night cap, which featured…
- John Lannan, he of the 4.89 Triple-A ERA, toe the rubber to try to stem the bleeding.
Even Barack Obama thought there was no hope. But somehow, someway, the Nats dug deep and battled to a 5-2 victory, and now improbably stand on the cusp of making this a no harm, no foul engagement for the top of the NL East standings.
Game ball(s): Lannan. Things still may be cozier in TomKat land than they are between John and the Nats, but Lannan pitched a splendidly professional game leading Washington to victory. What was most impressive is how he settled down after surrendering two runs in the first. It could have gotten ugly, like when that girl you know keeps putting on makeup and she isn’t applying to clown college. Hey, hey! No, no!
Goat(s): The doctor who fixed Ben Sheets. This isn’t how the script was supposed to go for Ben:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again
Bryce Harper is still only 19: The rest of the Nationals team. Yep, in a similar vein to yesterday’s tribute to the Braves hitters, each and every member of the team. Sure, Steve Lombardozzi went 0-5 and stranded five base runners. And Adam LaRoche pulled off the same feat with one less at-bat. Still, the Nationals needed the win in a desperate way and managed to summon the collective fortitude to pull it off. Congrats. I will put down the Mao literature now.
Current Record: 54-39
As soon as Stephen Strasburg walked the first two batters of the game, I knew it was going to be a very short day on the mound for the young ace. Although he escaped the first inning unscathed, after a three-run bottom of the third and 67 total pitches in 106 degree heat, Strasburg succumbed to the brutal elements, leaving the game in the hands of Chien-Ming Wang, and that’s never a good thing. Trailing 3-2 at the time, by the time Wang left the game two innings later, it was 7-2 Atlanta and for all intents and purposes, the game was over.
Game ball(s): Mother Nature and the Atlanta Braves pitching staff. It was a matter of survival yesterday with such extreme temperatures and Atlanta’s staff did just enough to hold on to a 7-5 victory.
Goat(s): Mother Nature and Wang. Congrats Mother Nature! You are the first to take home both a game ball and a goat award from the same game. Guess that’s what happens when Al Gore and Tony Hayward are on the nominating committee. And Wang. What to do about you? I’m sure the Nationals had designs on trading you, but with a brutal 7+ ERA and 2+ WHIP, the only place you really deserve to be shipped to is Triple-A Syracuse. And with the returns of Henry Rodriguez and Drew Storen looming on the horizon, I wouldn’t be making dinner reservations too far out in DC if I were Wang.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Adam LaRoche. The notoriously streaky LaRoche had a woeful time at the plate in June, but with yesterday’s 2 for 3 effort, he is now 5 for 16 in his last 4 games with 2 home runs and 5 RBIs. Let’s hope this is a sign that a big July is in store.
Current Record: 44-32
So, about midway through last night’s 4-2 win over the Pirates, I was starting to think, “Your starting pitcher strikes out a baker’s dozen and you are going to lose. K.” It seemed to sum up the woeful state of the Nationals offense, which coming into the night, was tied for second in least runs scored and had the fourth-worst slugging percentage (.354) in baseball.
And then, BAM! Roger Bernandina solo homer to deep center. Adam LaRoche, two-run home run to center as well. Rick Ankiel solo shot to right. Well, Ankiel’s was a showy tack-on piece in the top of the ninth, but he’s a lefty so that’s to be expected. Anywho, even though the Nationals managed to post only four runs on their three home runs, it was enough to avoid the series sweep against the Pirates and for me to not use more annoying teenage quips. Yeah kids, I used quips.
Game ball(s): Sure, Strasburg whiffed a bushel, but without LaRoche once-again supplying the bulk of Washington’s offense, the Nats losing streak would have been extended to four games.
Goat(s): Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa because I can’t decide if weak pop-ups or grounding into double-plays annoys me more at the moment.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Strasburg. A touch wild late and he ran up the pitch count in just six innings. But that tends to happen when you k 13 hitters. I could think of worse things cough playing golf the day after you miss a start due to an “injury” cough.
Current Record: 19-12
Gotta shoot straight with you. After Adam LaRoche’s two-run home run in the top of the ninth put the Nationals back on top of the Pirates 4-3, of all the ways I could envision the Nats losing, Rod Barajas hitting a home run was not one of them. Perhaps it was his .133 batting average coming into the game. Or that he hadn’t launched a home run yet on the season and was slugging a robust .183. Alas, on a night in baseball which saw plenty of big flies (Wow, Josh Hamilton!), Washington was not immune to the bug, with the last one of the three surrendered on the night proving to be fatal.
Game ball(s): Rod Barajas. Rod Barajas. I had to say it twice because like Halley’s Comet, this moment only comes along so often.
Goat(s): H-Rod. It was only a matter of time before he gave up his first home run, but it would have better computed if it had come at the hands of someone who was slugging more than their weight.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Welcome back Adam! How we missed your bat 🙂
Current Record: 18-11
With the Nationals series opener against the Diamondbacks scheduled to start in less than a half hour, I figured for kicks and giggles that I would take a look back at the April that was in MLB and hand out totally hollow and meaningless awards, all for the entertainment of the masses. I think I will call them the MESPY (Matt’s Excellence in Self-Promotion Yada Yada) Awards.
AL MVP: Josh Hamilton. The only caveat with Hamilton is whether he can hold up for close to 162 games. His current back injury is a small red flag but his April was monster nevertheless. He led the AL in RBIs, home runs, and was second in average and runs scored. No wonder his 1.8 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) according to FanGraphs was second in baseball.
AL CY Young: Jake Peavy. He paces all pitchers with a 1.5 WAR and has posted a quality start in each of his five outings. Oh, and he belongs to the same caveat club as Hamilton. It’s a party inside!!!
AL Rookie of the Year: Yu Darvish. I’m not too keen in handing out a ROY to a player who has already played seven professional seasons, but hey, these awards are fake anyways. After two shaky outings to start his Ranger career, Darvish has been quite filthy.
NL MVP: Matt Kemp. That is all.
NL CY Young: Stephen Strasburg. Oh, that is like Beethoven to the ears. Five quality starts in five appearances, second in the NL in strikeouts, and he leads all NL pitchers with a 1.3 WAR.
NL Rookie of the Year: Kirk Niewenhuis. I don’t know what was more shocking. That it only took me two attempts to spell his name correctly or that Kirk Niewenhuis! is the early leader. He edges out Lance Lynn of the Cardinals but the yada yada in me could see it going either way.
Nationals’ MVP & CY Young: Strasburg. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the best pitcher on a team that has been led to its good start by its pitching should take home both awards. However, Adam LaRoche does deserve a Reserve MESPY for being by far and away the Nationals best positional player.
Nationals’ ROY: Bryce Harper. Lombardozzi has perhaps done a bit more, but I’m hoping Harper hears about his MESPY and in a moment of tearful gratefulness, hires me as his CPA.
And that’s all folks!
Well, it appears early on that the Nationals are really going to test the notion that pitching and defense wins ball games. Tonight, Gio Gonzalez once again delivered for the Nats, throttling the Astros for seven innings, and then Brad Lidge hung on for the 1-0 victory. Washington hasn’t seen this sort of frugality since GSA’s mind-reader gave management a heads-up that Vegas hot tubs were due for a mutant strain of mycobacteria.
Game ball(s): Gonzalez. He was dominant for a second straight outing, displaying tremendous control of his wicked curveball. It amounted to seven innings of two-hit ball, with eight k’s and two walks.
Goat(s): Although he wasn’t charged with an error, JD Martinez completely misplayed a pop-up to left field that dropped in, giving Adam LaRoche the game-winning RBI. Not to get up on a soap box, but it has long bothered me that fielders can avoid being charged with an error merely by failing to make contact with a ball they are attempting to catch. I know it would invite a lot of judgment calls, but it just seems absurd that it almost pays to be so incompetent as to not even been in a position to field a ball.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Jayson Werth, who continues to surge, going 2 for 3, scoring the only run of the game.
Current Record: 9-3
Ugh. You usually can’t say that an umpire or set of umpires cost your team a game, because most of the time, so many other plays unaffected by a bad call or calls decide the outcome. And in today’s 8-5 setback to the Reds in 11 innings, it probably is the case that the criminal blindness of home plate umpire Laz Diaz in the top of the first didn’t cost the Nationals the victory. Despite his union-guaranteed incompetence, Washington did fight back after falling behind 4-0 to tie the game at 5-5 in the bottom of the seventh. But ultimately, the Nats couldn’t get over the hump, snapping their winning streak at five games.
What was most disappointing about Diaz’s work behind the plate was that he had not one opportunity to call a third strike correctly, which would have ended the top of the first with no Reds crossing home plate, but two such chances. And he blew them both. First, with two on and two out, replay clearly showed Ross Detwiler had struck out Jay Bruce. Laz Diaz, like Colonel Klink, apparently saw nothing. And then again, with the bases loaded, replay clearly showed that he had punched out Ryan Ludwick. This was apparent to all, except again, Colonel Klink. Ludwick promptly deposited the next pitch into the stands for a grand slam.
Game ball(s): Ludwick, who when handed a gift, turned it into a grand slam which staked the Reds to an early 4-0 lead.
Goat(s): Laz Diaz, whose atrocious strike zone contributed greatly to the Nats setback.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Can’t give it to Ian Desmond despite his nice day at the plate because of his critical first-inning error, so it goes to Adam LaRoche, who continued his hitting roll going 2/5 with two runs driven in.
Current Record: 7-3
As little fun as it was to realize checking the box score when I got home how close Brad Lidge came to blowing Washington’s home opener against the Reds, in that brief moment, a smile managed to cross my face. In that flash of panic, a thought came to me. I have absolutely no control over the travails of Brad Lidge and when and how often he will puts Nats victories in peril this season. But as someone who has to write a headline every day, his name is heaven sent.
Writing musings aside, I have to say that at this juncture, with Drew Storen undergoing “minor”* elbow surgery, I would go with Henry Rodriguez as the Nationals closer. I know. He is prone to walks like Michael Moore is prone to cupcakes. But not much more than Lidge, who owns a career 4.17 bb/9. Rodriguez? 5.6. Granted, 5.6 is higher by a decent margin. And there is some risk in that. But at this point in their two careers, H-Rod also possesses more dominant stuff, an repertoire led by a fastball that can hit triple-digits, a good slider, and an improving change-up that averages 92.5 mph per FanGraphs and actually has been his best pitch in the early going (3.8 pitch value** on FanGraphs).
Meanwhile, Lidge is handicapped by being basically a one-pitch pitcher. His fastball hasn’t been dominant or evenly terribly good in years, with its velocity dropping from an average 95.8 mph in 2007 to 89.9 mph this season. Not surprisingly, 2007 was the last time Lidge’s fastball had a positive pitch value according to FanGraphs. So Lidge calls more and more upon his slider to get hitters out. While his slider is still a dominant pitch (2.08 career pitch value), unless you are Mariano Rivera, you can’t consistently get outs in the ninth inning against major leaguers with just one pitch.
So, if I had to choose between two pitchers with a penchant for walks, I would cast my lot in with the chap with a deeper and better arsenal capable of stranding those runners on the base paths. And that would be H-Rod.
Game ball(s): Gio Gonzalez. His debut with the Nats was well, poor. But his home debut made up for the clunker, as he dominated over seven innings, allowing only two hits and striking out seven in the process.
Goat(s): I think I nailed Lidge sufficiently to the cross above.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Adam LaRoche, who once again delivered with two hits and two runs driven in.
Current Record: 5-2
*Show me a minor elbow surgery for a pitcher and I will show you a minor heart attack for a fat man.
**Pitch value is more of a descriptive statistic than a predictive one. It attempts to tell you what a pitcher’s best pitch is and the numbers I quote represent the number of runs saved over 100 pitches of the type mentioned. For more, read on here.
Well, the so-so hitting caught up with the Nationals today, as they got shut down by Jeff Samardzija in a 4-3 loss to the Cubs. Displaying dominant stuff, Samardzija wisely took advantage of an impatient Nationals lineup that failed to do much of anything, getting a first pitch strike on 25 of 31 of the hitters he faced. The consequences were inevitable.
The Nationals did make it interesting in the bottom of the 9th after a two-out Starlin Castro error gave Washington a glimmer of hope. And Adam LaRoche promptly turned that into a burst of hope with a two-run bomb to right, bringing the Nats within one. However, it was too little, too late, as Carlos Marmol actually found a way to get an out, finishing off Xavier Nady and the Nationals.
As Washington heads off to New York for a 3-game series, hopefully, they can find their hitting stroke. Otherwise, I may have to start a “When Is Jayson Werth Going to Get a Hit?” watch.
Game ball(s): Samardzija. I guess since Touchdown Jesus hasn’t been performing many miracles on the football field lately, he decided to throw one to Samardzija on Easter. Isn’t that apropos?
Goat(s): Nationals hitters. They hit the switch too late in the game, managing only four hits.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Zimmermann. He was largely on his game today, but my prayers for the bats to get going a little earlier seem to have gone unheard. I hate Notre Dame. And I hate spelling Samardzija.
Current Record: 2-1