Boy, am I glad that fool Terry Collins left Johan Santana, fresh off of major shoulder surgery, in to throw 134 pitches during his June 1st no-hitter. You don’t need to consult Stephen Hawking to figure that his season had nowhere to go but down from there, which it has, with a 13.50 ERA in July and 19.89 ERA in August. Wait. What is that? Some blogger in Tallahassee said back in June that people shouldn’t get their shorts in a bunch over a manager allowing a pitcher to do what he is supposed to do? Ahem. What can I say? The Nats had just shut out the Braves 2-0 behind seven superlative innings from Stephen Strasburg, so I was liable to say and do anything. Maybe that’s when I also bought the Robo Stir. Well, at least the yoke of having to stir my own food has finally be removed from around my neck!
Game ball(s): Mike Morse. He only got one hit on the night, but he made it count, launching a grand slam off of Santana which staked the Nats to a 4-2 lead which they never surrendered.
Goat(s): Chipper Jones. I know. Larry plays on the Braves and that’s not who the Nationals were playing last night. But he smashed another home run last night in Atlanta’s 4-3 extra-innings win over the Dodgers, making it three home runs in the last two games. Oh, and he is hitting .313 at the Geritol contemplation age of 40 and the Braves keep winning. Anytime now you can begin to break up like the Titanic.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Bryce Harper. His 2 for 3 night with a home run and 2 RBIs was quite the welcome sight, as he’s batted only .183 since the All-Star break. And that includes last night’s hopeful slump-buster effort.
Current Record: 74-45
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
Boy, yesterday was a roller coaster of a day for the Washington Nationals. Thankfully, the train road upwards for most of the day, with the Nationals taking game two of the series against the Rockies 4-1. The Nats were led to victory by the usual suspects: Gio Gonzalez, Ian Desmond, and the bullpen, with a nice assist from a Colorado team that found itself throwing around the ball in the bottom of the sixth.
Then after the game, it was announced that Bryce Harper would replace Giancarlo (say one more time, baby) Stanton in the All-Star game, becoming the youngest position player ever to make an All-Star team. The only plunge on the ride though was the news that Desmond would not be participating in the game, sitting out to rest a sore oblique. I can’t imagine how difficult a decision it was for him to elect to miss his first All-Star game. But I do love the message he sent by choosing to put his health and his team before personal accomplishments. Come the battles of September, I can’t help but think that his team-first mentality is going to do a lot for the Nationals.
Game ball(s): Desmond. For all the reasons elucidated above, and oh by the way, he hit another home run yesterday, his 16th on the season.
Goat(s): Colorado’s defense. I guess I see now why the Rockies have committed the third-most errors in baseball.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Yeah, and the kid made the All-Star game. I know the Harper-hype machine has a lot to do with it, but there is no doubting that he is playing at a high level, especially given his age. From day one, he has made the title of this award seem a bit silly and nothing so far indicates that this ride is going only where but up from here.
Current Record: 49-33
At first, I thought it was a bit strange that I was enjoying my two for one Egg McMuffins at the start of a Nationals game. Now that I’ve woken up from a post-game nap and it is still not even 5 o’clock, all I have to say is God bless 11am starts and God bless America!
Twenty minutes into today’s game against the San Francisco Giants, while I was still flying high on the cheesy goodness of the Egg McMuffins, I wasn’t feeling as high on the Nats chances as they quickly fell behind 3-0 in the top of the first. But then the bombs started flying out of Nationals Park and Edwin Jackson settled down, and the Nats roared to a 9-4 victory. Now, the only thing left to settle on this glorious day is whether I can double-down on the nap. Dare I?
Game ball(s): Ryan Zimmerman. Leaving everyone to wonder why he didn’t take the cortisone shot on Opening Day, Ryan went 2 for 5 with a homer and 3 RBIs and his third inning double missed being a home run by this much (imagine really tiny font).
Goat(s): Madison Bumgarner and I. After Bumgarner’s dominant one-hit shutout last time out, I have to confess that for a moment I thought he was in line for an easy win for my fantasy team. The shower cannot be hot enough!
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Bryce Harper. Now that baseball has taken care of Chipper Jones, it is time to re-double the efforts to send Bryce to Kansas City. You can help send the kid to the All-Star game by voting here.
Current Record: 47-32
I’m in a celebratory mood this morning. The Nationals rolled off another win last night, and in the process, put another curly w in the box score for Jordan Zimmermann. Baseball is a funny, funny game. Zimm goes winless between late May and late June and now sees superlative pitching being rewarded in his last two starts, with the Nats offense knocking in 20 runs combined. And of course, it’s our nation’s Independence Day, and while I still have time to write without IRS compulsion, what better way to celebrate than with June’s MESPY (Matt’s Excellence in Self-Promotion Yada Yada) Awards:
AL MVP: Mike Trout. Robinson Cano had a monster June, but on the day we celebrate standing up to the big bully on the block (alliteration!), I’m not going to shirk away from my disdain for the Evil Empire. So it goes to Trout, who actually edged Cano out in WAR (Wins Above Replacement), 2.2 to 2.0. And Trout did this at the tender age of 20. Wow.
AL CY Young: Hiroki Kuroda. Dang. Well, the British did give us the Beatles.
AL Rookie of the Month: Trout. I hate to be a Benedict Arnold on such a hallowed day, but what I said in May’s MESPYs hasn’t changed. Trout has been baseball’s best rookie and at this pace, could be in the running for the AL’s best player by season’s end.
NL MVP: R.A. Dickey. Andrew McCutchen and Joey Votto both deserve kudos for tremendous months, but Dickey taking home the award just goes to show you how dominate he was during June. He posted the second best WAR in baseball (2.1), a sub-one ERA (.93), a .60 WHIP, struck out 55 batters while only walking 8, and went 5-0. Oh, and he did this throwing a knuckleball.
NY CY Young: Dickey. If only I had a Forever Lazy this would be the perfect day.
NL Rookie of the Month: Andrelton Simmons. Bryce, I still want to be your accountant. But while you hit a bit of a soft patch in June, the Braves shortstop batted .333, showed slick fielding skills (alliteration!), and posted a nice 1.6 WAR. I’m going to take a long walk off a short bridge now.
Nationals’ MVP: Ian Desmond. He crushed another one out last night off of Tim Lincecum, which was just more of the same for the Nats’ All-Star shortstop. I’d like to think this is all because of my talk with Ian at Spring Training two years ago. Oh, but he didn’t do so well last year. I see. My silence is golden.
Nationals’ CY Young: Stephen Strasburg. A 2.25 xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching) points to his 3.09 June ERA being unlucky. But a 13.37 k/9 and six quality starts demonstrate that even without luck, Strasburg is simply dominant.
Nationals’ Rookie of the Month: Tyler Moore. I can see why I got into auditing and not public relations. That depressing thought aside, in 68 fewer plate appearances, Moore had the same number of home runs as Bryce Harper (4), same number of RBIs (11), batted a robust .425, and topped Harper in WAR 1.0 to 0.6. I hate myself.
And that’s all folks!
With the Nationals off tonight (there is no truth to the rumor that in a sweaty act of desperation, the Nats offered to play the Giants in San Francisco), I figured it was time for another edition of quick hits:
- First things first. Congratulations are in order for Washington’s All-Star game representatives, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Ian Desmond. It is only fitting that the Nationals landed two starting pitchers on the squad, given the dominance of their starting five through the first half of the season. And Desmond’s selection by manager Tony LaRussa was a very nice surprise. Given some of the putrid selections in both leagues, it was good to see a player not among the fan’s top eight shortstops get selected, as Desmond has been among the NL’s best shortstops.
- Now what to do about Bryce Harper being on the final five-man All-Star ballot? He says that he’d vote for Chipper Jones. For still basically being a kid, he is handling this moment with class. The most interesting thing about all of this is how MLB leaves so much about a glorified exhibition game they’ve made mean so much up to things like a fan vote. And that’s why, while I applaud the kid’s reverence, I actually think Chipper would be the last guy I would vote for. If possible home field advantage is on the line, unless 28 year-old Larry is walking through the tunnel, I would rather take a chance on the kid. Think about that while you go vote here.
- I am bit of a stathead so this was pleasing to my senses: Nationals second in SI.com/FanGraphs Power Poll.
- And a fond farewell to one of baseball’s greatest joys of the early and mid-2000’s, as Dontrelle Willis announced his retirement from baseball today. Living in Florida, I’ve gotten to see a lot of Marlins games on television. And there was a time when a Dontrelle Willis start was must-see tv, if only for the simple pleasure of watching the man smile on the mound. He truly loved what he was doing and while the last few years he has been a wild shell of himself, for a brief moment, he was one of baseball’s better starters.
12 runs on 21 hits. It took the thin air at Coors Field and baseball’s worse pitching staff (as measured by team ERA), but my gosh at last the Nats offense went nuts and posted double-digits on the scoreboard. After Washington struggled yet again at the plate Monday night, and then Stephen Strasburg melted down after plunking Marco Scutaro, I told myself to take a deep breath, refrain from penning something in frustration, and wait and see if Tuesday would bring better things. Oh, how I love when procrastination and rage make for a merry outcome!
Game ball(s): Edward Calvin Kendall. Could have handed out a half-dozen game balls to actual Nats, but Nancy Reagan started this nation’s conversation on drugs and I’m not about to go quiet now! I know in 1950 Kendall won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research related to the discovery of cortisone, but they’ve been handing out those Nobels like candy since 1901. Homer Simpson probably has one. But he doesn’t have a game ball, which Kendall now can now proudly claim in heaven for contributing to the resurgence of Ryan Zimmerman. I’m thinking maybe now the whole team should line up for cortisone shots and see where that gets us.
Goat(s): Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper. In the midst of the offensive breakout, Espinosa and Harper continued their struggles, going a collective 2 for 11 with just one run scored. This comes on the heels of Monday’s collective 0-7 performance. I understand the Nationals don’t have a lot of great options at the top of the order, but unless they generate more on-base productivity from their top two hitters in the lineup, I can’t foresee many more games like last night.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Tyler Moore. All the kid does is hit when he is in the lineup. If he is going to play more (pun!), which it seems like he will (and should), may I humbly suggest that Davey consider moving Moore behind Adam LaRoche and sliding Ian Desmond up to the #2 spot against lefties (keeping Espinosa leading off since he has swung the bat well against southpaws)? And against righties, perhaps Desmond could lead-off while Harper could still hold down the #2 spot?
Current Record: 42-30
I used to think the only good reason to invade Canada would be to ensure a steady supply of the delicious bacon that tops my occasional Egg McMuffin. The last three days have given me another reason: Wins to add to the ledger for the Washington Nationals. Thanks Canucks!
Now, with a glowing heart, let us hand out the awards for the Nats three-game sweep of the Blue Jays.
Game ball(s): Anytime you go on the road (let alone a foreign country) and sweep a team, everyone deserves a pat on the back for a job well done. Ah, that’s so nurturing of you. But smiley stickers for everyone aside, the Nats bullpen does deserve kudos for logging eight innings of one-run ball over the three games. Each time they took over for Washington’s starter, the Nats held the lead. And each time, when the last reliever left the mound, the team still was ahead on the scoreboard.
Goat(s): The border officials who let the Nationals cross. Wait. They’re heroes!
Bryce Harper is still only 19: This may be the recency effect at play, or the simple fact that my heart already swells at the mere mention of Bryce Harper, but boy did Tyler Moore have a heck of a game today. Moore, starting for the first time in the series, went all crazy American, going 3 for 5 with 2 home runs and 5 RBIs. He probably strikes out too much to have a great average, but with an impressive record of power in the minor leagues, the two home runs isn’t so crazy.
Current Record: 38-23
I know the Boston Red Sox are not the same team this season as in recent seasons, but I didn’t realize they already felt after Friday night that the only chance for a win was to try and prevent the Nationals team bus from making it to the park in time. Alas, for Red Sox Nation, for a second straight game, the Nationals did arrive in time, and unfortunately for them, Gio Gonzalez stepped off the bus, much like Stephen Strasburg did less than 24 hours before him.
It’s funny how more than two months removed from looking at the team before the start of the season, with a myriad of injuries dotting the landscape, shocking demotions and promotions, the formula for a contending season hasn’t changed: Outstanding pitching backed by solid defense and enough offense to limit the heart-wrenching 2-1 losses. Washington has largely delivered on that formula to date, riding it to the top of the NL East standings and wins in the first two games in Boston. Now if only MLB had an innings jump feature like 9 Innings Pro Baseball 2011 on my iPad, the team could already be sitting in the World Series…
Game ball(s): Strasburg and Gonzalez. If anyone can think of a better one-two punch in baseball right now, drop me a note in the comments section.
Goat(s): Me. This is more about what is probably going to happen later today than what has transpired the first two days in Beantown. I’m starting Jordan Zimmermann in my fantasy league today. I’m sorry.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Bryce Harper, for his monster debut at Fenway Friday night, and Tyler Clippard, for bringing stable dominance to the back-end of Washington’s bullpen.
Current Record: 34-23