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
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 never been to Boston but I have to imagine that there are many fine folks who call Beantown home. So I’m sure after the Nationals finished off their sweep of the Red Sox today with a 4-3 victory, they will cook up ways to lessen the sting of defeat.
Wait. What’s that? Those enterprising Bostonians have set up a Popeyes across the street from Fenway? Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner! Enjoy Lester and the boys!
Game ball(s): Danny Espinosa. The best thing that happened to Espinosa’s season was me cutting him from my fantasy baseball team in early May. You’re welcome Danny.
Goat(s): Alfredo Aceves. I guess cutting you in fantasy didn’t have the same effect.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Roger Bernandina. After Bryce Harper drew a one-out walk in the top of the ninth, Bernandina delivered the game-winning RBI double (much to the displeasure of Bobby Valentine). I have to give Roger credit. He doesn’t have all that many productive at-bats, but when he does, they sure do seem to be big.
Current Record: 35-23
I’m afraid that being under the weather, I’m going to have to roll out the modified-Twitter blog post about last night’s 2-1 victory …everything that needs to be said in 140 words or less.
Game ball(s): Jordan Zimmermann, who was dominant again, this time though, the Nats squeezed out just enough runs to give him the win. Really great to see the 9 Ks over 7 innings combined with the strong groundball tilt.
Goat(s): Washington’s injury curse which took down Wilson Ramos last night. Just as his bat has been coming around, his season-long defensive struggles start a sequence with an ending Davey Johnson is probably right about: I’ve got a bad feeling he tore something.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Danny Espinosa, whose second home run in as many nights accounted for the winning run.
Current Record: 21-12
So Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post tweeted yesterday that it sounded to him that Davey Johnson was going to give Roger Bernadina an extended shot at laying claim to left field. I don’t know how this latest chance will go for Roger, but at least we can say that the man is a good listener.
Just hours removed from Davey’s proclamation, Bernadina posted the type of game which has raised Nats fans hopes before, going 2 for 5, with a homer, three RBI and a stolen base in Washington’s 7-3 victory over Cincinnati. And the best thing is that the Nationals got out of the gates quickly, posting all seven of their runs in the first four innings. Though the Reds would threaten multiple times to get back into the game, they came up short when it mattered most, going 3 for 14 with runners in scoring position.
Game ball(s): Two homers in two nights plus the added sparkles against the Reds nets it for Bernadina.
Goat(s): Mike Leake of the Reds had a brutal start and the Reds couldn’t hit with men in scoring position. But I’m curious as to the fall-out from Bryce Harper’s Bam-Bam moment. I’m guessing it is just the case of a very competitive player having a bit of misfortune in taking out his frustrations at the end of a tough night. Still, Harper is only 19 so it is always worth watching how he handles adversity, which will be most telling of his maturation as a big leaguer.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Danny Espinosa. I’ve been tough on Danny, and for good reason. So it was nice to see him launch one out of Great American Ball Park. Maybe that bandbox is just the place to get his bat going.
Current Record: 20-12
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
Productive and clutch. On back to back days. One of which was a Saturday. I hardly know who the Tracy’s are anymore.
But after today’s exciting 7-4 comeback victory over the Cubs, I will take a rebel with the Tracy name. And Chad Tracy, with his two-run single in the top of the eight to give the Nationals the lead, wasn’t the only Nats player to come out of the blue with a monster performance. Who saw LaRoche’s 4-5 day, with a 2-run home run coming? Evidently, Miss Cleo was too busy mocking to notice this big day in the crystal ball.
So granted it has been the Cubs, but two games, two comeback victories have felt wonderful so far. Hopefully, Washington’s bats get going a little earlier in the game tomorrow, helping support Zimmermann as he pitches for the series sweep.
Game ball(s): Tracy and the Nationals bullpen, especially Stammen and Mattheus, who combined to deliver 3 1/3 scoreless innings after a rough start from Gio Gonzalez.
Goat(s): Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol. It seems that they once again snuck off to the CubbyBear during the middle innings.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Danny Espinosa, whose solo home run after a masterful 10-pitch at bat with two outs in the top of the eight, started the Nationals five-run rally.
Current Record: 2-0
In Part One of the season preview, we focused on the Nationals pitching staff, broke down their prospects for the coming season, and remarked on the now suspicious injury history of Carl Pavano (okay, we didn’t, but it certainly does deserve the people’s eyebrow). Today, we turn our punditry towards the Nationals lineup and bench, and then will make overly generic predictions for the season that in 400 years’ time, will also be seen to contain clues about the end of time.
SS Ian Desmond – I probably should check with the judge to see if I’m allowed to write anything about Ian after drafting him last year in fantasy baseball, but it goes without saying that Desmond is hardly the ideal lead-off man. He does possess a little pop and can steal 20 bags in a season, but whiffs way too much, doesn’t take a walk, and thus, doesn’t find his way to first and beyond too often (career .304 on-base percentage). I hate to say this, but if Desmond and Espinosa hit most or all of the season at the top of the lineup, the hopes for a good Nationals offense goes out the window.
2nd Danny Espinosa – Well, I drafted you this year, which probably means we won’t be speaking by mid-May. You are talented enough to make many things possible. You have some real thunder in your bat, and a 20-20 season wouldn’t surprise me in the least. But you strike out by the bushel, so a batting average above .250 may be asking too much.
3rd Ryan Zimmerman – I fear he won’t age well, but for now, Zimm is the Nat’s franchise player. He is capable of a .300/30/100 (the latter of which he will probably will be denied because of the lack of base runners) season, all the while bringing gold glove defense to the hot corner every day. I think Baseball Prospectus may have been stretching it just a bit when it said to look to Zimm for a dark horse MVP candidate, but not by that much.
RF Jayson Werth – The good thing is that Werth probably can’t play much worse than last year. I suspect he is due for a decent rebound. Then again, I didn’t think Dana Stubblefield could make a sumo wrestler jealous and he did. That’s life as a Washington sports fan. I actually think it would be best if manager Davey Johnson moved Werth and his career .360 on-base percentage up to the #2 hole, which would work the opponent’s pitchers a bit more and increase the odds that Zimm hits with someone on base. That still wouldn’t solve lead-off, but you have to start somewhere.
LF Michael Morse – The breakout slugger from last season hasn’t done much of anything this Spring, hampered by a right lat strain that has lingered to the point of landing him on the 15-day DL to start the season. I think he got a touch lucky with his batting average last year, but the power is legit. Hopefully, his body holds up because it is bat that makes his butchery in the outfield (-7.9 UZR in 2011) tolerable.
1B Adam LaRoche – Oy. I’m not sure I like the addition of last year’s season-ending shoulder surgery to an already slow and elongated swing susceptible to long periods of wind-only production. Oh, and his shoulder has hurt him throwing during Spring Training. Hopefully, he hasn’t lost his ability to pick it at first, because that may be the only thing keeping him from the scrap heap.
C Wilson Ramos – Wilson’s emergence last year probably contributed to the Nationals willingness to give up Derek Norris as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade. Can’t say I disagree with at least that part of the trade, because a prospect is only good to you playing in the big leagues or as trade bait. And with Ramos in DC, the former wasn’t going to happen. Ramos has a nice bat capable of a solid average (think .270ish) and good power for a catcher (think optimistically 18 home runs or so), all the while playing solid defense. He’s the Ron Popeil of catchers. Set him and forget him.
CF Rick Ankiel/Roger Bernandina – Bleh. Honestly, it won’t be until Bryce Harper is promoted from Triple A that the Nationals will have the hope of fielding a legitimate center fielder. And of course, Harper offers more than just legitimacy beyond 2012 – true star potential. Until then, the combination of Ankiel (who will start the season on the 15 day DL with a tight left quad) and Bernandina will offer up only average defense and below average hitting. Bleh.
Having a deep and flexible bench is always a critical ingredient to a playoff-caliber team, and with a couple of injuries to start the season, it won’t take too terribly long to figure out how good the Nationals bench will be. Right now, it looks like Washington will initially carry backup catcher Jesus Flores, infielders Chad Tracy and Steve Lombardozzi, outfielder Brett Carroll, and jacks of all trades, Xavier Nady and Mark DeRosa, the latter who should see most of the starts in place of the injured Morse. At first blush, Washington appears to have a flexible but not necessarily overly talented bench. Finding a decent left-handed bat (Tracy isn’t it) and keeping DeRosa healthy should be the Nats top bench priorities.
The end is nigh! Oh, right, about the upcoming season. As it stands now, the NL East, while seemingly stacked, also has its vulnerabilities. The Phillies lineup is banged up and will actually be fairly pedestrian when it is all said and done. The Braves didn’t do much to improve a middling lineup and will rely too much on young starters that will end up taxing their good, but overworked bullpen. And the Marlins* rotation and bullpen beyond Heath Bell have a lot of question marks. So, do all these weaknesses crack open the door to a Nationals playoff appearance?
My heart says yes but my mind still can’t get all the way there. Stupid brain keeps asking questions like who in the heck is going to be on base when Zimm comes up to bat? Will the holes in the Nationals defense (Morse, Desmond, CF) cost them one too many wins? And the answers, to the extent they exist, are not satisfying enough to make me believe the Nationals will get all the way there. They will get close. Oh so close. But they will fall just short – 87 W, 75 L, 3rd place in the NL East.
*The Bernie Madoff Mets have Mike Pelfrey in their rotation. Your kid sister could hit .250 against him. They aren’t competing for a playoff spot.
All Mike Morse does is hit home runs. Well, not actually, but after last night’s dramatic walk-off, he has hit four in four games and is positively scorching. For a team desperate for offense, Morse’s hot streak could not be coming at a better time.
And well last night, like many nights before it, was one of those nights. Prior to Morse’s game-winner, the Nats were only able to scratch out three hits and a single run, only to see it all vanish in the blink of an eye courtesy of a game-tying Jason Bartlett home run. Thankfully, Morse responded in kind to the message, sending the Nationals home winners, 2-1 over the Padres. Now that the Nationals are back in the win column, let’s see if they can build a little momentum and take game two of the series, first pitch which is a little more than a half-hour away.
Game ball(s): Mike Morse and his boom-stick.
Goat(s): Drew Storen. It hasn’t been a good week for Storen, who posted a messy outing earlier in the week against the Brewers and then his first blown save of the season last night. Still, the peripherals look good. He will be just fine.
Bryce Harper is a long ways off: Danny Espinosa. The average is awful, but he keeps churning out the counting stats with his seventh home run and fourth steal of the season last night.
Current Record: 22-28
Mmmmmm…Doublemint. Great gum for at least 30 seconds. Anyhoos. Yesterday was a banner day for the Nationals, sweeping their doubleheader against the Brewers in dare I say, easy fashion. In the process, the Nationals also swept the series and pushed their record above .500 for the first time all season. Double your pleasure, double your fun.
Game 14 & 15 Natties
Game ball(s): Danny Espinosa who drove in 6 of the Nationals 13 runs. He only had two hits, but made them count, tripling in three and homering in another three. And Jason Marquis and Livan Hernandez both deserve kudos as well, both posting seven quality innings. Too often a doubleheader spells taxing trouble for a team’s bullpen but not so yesterday.
Goat(s): Yovani Gallardo. Every step he takes towards becoming an ace is matched by an almost equal step backwards. The zero walks, though, is a good sign that he should still be great one day. Oh, and what the hay. Chad Gaudin. Another two-thirds of an inning, two runs allowed showing. He’s the Ron Popeil of bad relievers.
Bryce Harper is a ways off: Drew Storen. The good doppelganger of Gaudin, who went two clean innings for the save in game two.
Current record: 8-7