Tagged: Atlanta Braves

Comeback

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

Collapse

Collapse.  Last night around 8:30, I thought that word would best describe my head hitting the pillow as I fell into a deep slumber, reaping the fruits of several consecutive nights of poor sleep.  On the heels of a Ryan Zimmerman three-run home run that put the Nats up 6-0 against the Braves, it never crossed my mind that come the morning, that word would have a wholly different meaning.

Alas, before the sun peaked above the horizon, a check of the box scores revealed the word’s new meaning, a description of Washington throwing away a NINE! run lead to Atlanta in an eventual brutal 11-10 extra inning loss.  For once, my lazy gene paid off, shielding me from what has to be one of the worst losses in National’s franchise history.  And I’m drawing that conclusion from the Washington Post and a box score.  I shudder to think what I would be feeling if the Sandman hadn’t called me.

Game ball(s):  The Atlanta Braves hitters.  Yep, each and every one of them.  You don’t rally from nine runs down, even with the opposition bullpen imploding, without showing a tenacity for winning that is worthy of a game ball.  Make that eight game balls.

Goat(s):  Davey Johnson.  While there were a lot of pigs making a mess in the pen, I will allow Davey’s own words to claim the award: ”Arguably the worst game I’ve ever managed in my life,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. ”I’ve never lost a nine-run lead when it was my part of the game to handle the pitching and it’ll be hard for me to sleep. I had a worse night than the guys did.”

Bryce Harper is still only 19:  The only consolation I see right now is that in less than five hours, the Nats face off again against the Braves, in the first game of a day-night doubleheader.  That’s the magic of baseball.  Tomorrow usually offers the chance at quick redemption.

Current Record:  53-38

Meltdown

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

Dot, Dot, Win

Playing in Colorado is always wacky.  For all the wonderful things it can do for a struggling offense, it can do just as much harm to a team’s pitching staff.  So, after 4 games, 33 runs scored, 25 runs allowed, 15 pitchers used, and a series split, I’m sure the Nationals were looking forward to getting to Atlanta to resume the battle for the NL East crown.  Thankfully, the team’s equipment managers did take one memento from the Mile High City to play the Braves, the hot bats which churned out another 15 hits in route to a 5-4 victory.

Game ball(s):  Michael Morse.  Dot, dot, win.  While I’ve been singing the praises of the warming bat of Ryan Zimmerman, just as importantly, Morse’s bat has been coming around, his game-winning solo home run in the eighth inning being his second in as many days.  We all saw what a healthy Morse can do last year, and that’s just what Washington needs to sustain the offensive gains made in Colorado, because, alas, MLB simply won’t take to the idea of turning the Rockies pitching staff into the Nats’ Washington Generals.

Goat(s):  Davey Johnson.  Sounds strange saying this about Davey, but he kept Ross Detwiler in too long, which nearly cost the Nats the win.  I’m sure Davey was thinking that Ross had been outstanding for six innings, and after burning through the bullpen in Colorado, he was hoping to squeeze another inning out of him.  Unfortunately, when Hotlanta caught up to Detwiler, Davey was too slow to summon the bullpen to the rescue.

Bryce Harper is still only 19:  Stephen Strasburg.  I know I’m looking forward to later today, but with a 4pm start and temperatures expected to rise above triple-digits, I will be watching to see how Strasburg manages his tempo, pitch count, and overall stamina on what will certainly be a very tough day to pitch. 

Current Record:  44-31

Dominant

That’s what Stephen Strasburg was this afternoon in shutting out the Atlanta Braves over seven innings, propelling the Nationals to a 2-0 win.  Every pitch was bananas, leading to nine punch outs and zero walks, while allowing only four hits.  When Stephen is on his game like he was today, it matters a heck of a lot less that the Nats didn’t do too much better against Brandon Beachy.  Jesus Flores went deep in the bottom of the fifth and Xavier Nady doubled home another run for kicks and giggles in the seventh, accounting for all the offense Washington could muster and thankfully, all they would need to secure the victory.

Game ball(s):  See, handing Gio the May MESPY was all a part of the strategy.  You see how well Strasburg pitches when he is angry?

Goat(s):  I’m going to veer off-course a bit here and say all of the critics of Terry Collins for allowing Johan Santana to throw 134 pitches in route to his no-hitter last night.  I understand that Santana is coming off of major shoulder problems that cost him all of last season and if the Mets have any hope of continuing to battle for the NL East crown, they have to have Santana take the mound every fifth day.  But I also don’t understand the obsession with treating pitchers with such kid gloves today.  And for all the pitch counts, innings limits, boutique relievers, can anyone honestly say pitchers are staying healthier than 30-40 years ago?  If the Mets want to try to give Johan an extra day before his next start, kudos to them.  Probably the wise thing to do.  But enough of everyone getting their shorts in a bunch over a manager allowing a pitcher to do what he is supposed to do, and in the course of making history to boot.

Bryce Harper is still only 19:  Flores.  Great to have him back behind home plate because without him, Washington is truly staring into the abyss at the position.

Current Record:  30-21

Changing of the Guard?

Last night, the Nationals continued their excellent start to their road trip, moving to 3-1 after taking down the Atlanta Braves 7-4.  Still, for the first of eighteen games against a Braves squad that is still only two games back, and with every team in the NL East within four games, you would hardly think the win would bring potentially big news.  But with starter Ross Detwiler struggling to throw strikes after being staked to a four-run lead in the top of the first, manager Davey Johnson pulled the plug after only 4 1/3 innings and 100 labored pitches.  And in came Chien-Ming Wang, who tossed three innings in relief for the victory, allowing three hits and one run on a Jason Heyward solo shot in the bottom of the eighth.  Naturally, after the game Davey was asked about whether he was considering swapping Detwiler for Wang.  He cryptically replied, “Yes and no.”

Hmmmm.  Not a surprising answer for a DC man, and I’m actually kind of glad he also said he didn’t want to make any sort of decision in the heat of the moment, because despite Detwiler’s recent struggles, I still think he is the better pitcher than Wang.  Now, being the better pitcher doesn’t mean he is the best option to take the ball every fifth day.  Ross has yet to go more than  6 1/3 innings in any of his 9 starts so far, which puts additional strain on a bumped and bruised bullpen.  And his May has been ugly:  5.74 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and just one win.  But I don’t think he is as bad as those numbers indicate (his May FIP is 3.69, which points to a lower ERA once his absurdly low strand percentage (59.1%) normalizes).  Then again, he isn’t the sub-2 ERA pitcher of April either.  He is somewhere in between, which his current 3.88 ERA correctly reflects.  The journey there though has just been of two extremes, which makes this moment so stark for a potential change.

Wang’s career ERA (4.15) and FIP (4.05) seem to point to a solid innings-eating pitcher whose success has been based on getting a lot of ground balls (59.4% career) which just also happened to translate to a bushel of wins with the high-scoring Yankees.  But wins are often not reflective of a pitcher’s underlying skills, and Wang’s skills don’t appear to be quite as good as Detwiler’s.  However, three key questions must be answered before I would finalize the Detwiler-Wang question:

  1. Would Wang address one of Detwiler’s weaknesses, his inability to pitch deep into games?
  2. Does Wang’s injury history and concerns about getting his shoulder properly warmed-up out of the bullpen dictate that he pitch as a starter?
  3. Do the Nationals need to feature Wang as a starter if they want to use him as a trade chip?

The answer to the second question is only known by National’s management, coaches, doctors, and Wang himself.  I’m going to speculate that if they really thought putting him in the bullpen could place him at greater risk of getting hurt, we would have never seen him last night.  Then again, teams across MLB over and over have shown a tremendous ineptness in keeping pitchers healthy, so take my speculation for what it is worth.  Similarly, I’m not plugged into front-office thinking across baseball, so it is hard to say what value Wang carries and whether two months of starting would be enough to land another piece for the Nats (catcher???).  My hunch (I’m throwing darts everywhere baby!) is that teams would need to see Wang start and prove that he is healthy before they would give up even a marginal player.  But the again, if the market for Wang isn’t going to yield you much in the way of talent that will improve your club, then I’m of the notion that you can never have enough starting pitching.

As for the first question, Wang hasn’t pitched seven or more innings since 2008, which appears to make largely moot any advantage Wang would have over Detwiler going deeper into games.  Granted, Wang has been injured for large stretches since 2008.  However, his bum shoulder and middling skills don’t scream out for an absolute need to make the swap.

And that’s what I can’t help but take away from looking at the potential change.  Detwiler is the better pitcher with better skills whose chief weakness would not be remedied by Wang.  Ross is not leaps and bounds better, but I think he is still deserving of holding down the 5th spot.  Now watch Davey announce the move later today. 🙂

Game ball(s):  Ian Desmond and Rick Ankiel, whose single and triple helped fuel the Nationals four-run first inning which was a breath of fresh air for a team that usually starts slow. 

Goat(s):  Detwiler.  I just spilled a lot of ink defending you so it pains me that you couldn’t do more last night to pitch aggressively. 

Bryce Harper is still only 19:  Consider this the column’s third game ball, as Ryan Zimmerman’s three-run double came at just the right time to pad the National’s dwindling lead.

Current Record:  27-18

In La La Land

I’m going to presume that the Nationals’ Assistant to the Traveling Secretary pulled a George and booked the team on a very early flight back to DC; hence, their putrid effort today on get away day.  However, while that assumption is comforting for the moment, the reality is that the Nationals offense is not very good right now.  Gone are the late rallies, the hot start of Ian Desmond, and what has sunk in is that without Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse, the Nats sorely lack offensive punch.

Today, despite holding the Dodgers to just three hits, a bout of untimely wildness from Gio Gonzalez was the hiccup that a struggling Washington offense could not overcome, as they fell 2-0.  As the Nationals head back east for a six-game home stand, they now find themselves tied atop the NL East with the surging Atlanta Braves and in desperate need to find their bats in order to return to their winning ways.

Game ball(s):  Chris Capuano, who took full advantage of an awful display of hitting by the Nationals, whiffing nine in 6 2/3 shutout innings.

Goat(s):  Nats’ hitters.  Each and every one of them.  Washington has pushed across six runs in the last four games, including laying an egg today.  Not surprisingly, the Nationals have lost four straight.

Bryce Harper is still only 19:  So, after several long and intense discussions with Cooley the dog, we settled on a new name for the award formerly known as the Bryce Harper is not as far off award.  Our logic:  While we are on bended knees hoping that Harper is the real deal from the get go, the reality is that he is 19, so for the Nats to have success this season, and in the near future, the team will have to get meaningful contributions from players that can legally drink.  And well, this isn’t a public school report card where everyone gets a game ball.  With that out of the way, Cooley the dog humbly suggests we give out today’s award.  And today it goes to Craig Stammen, who has been fantastic in April, and delivered again with another two scoreless innings of relief today.

Current Record:  14-8