Sometimes, the writing business is hard. But when difficulty and despair creep in, I remember the fans, or more accurately, the fan who calls out for July’s edition of the MESPY (Matt’s Excellence in Self-Promotion Yada Yada) Awards. Sniff. That’s what makes it all worth while.
AL MVP: Mike Trout. Somewhere, Tim Salmon is crying, realizing the gig is up as the top fish to ever play for the Angels. Trout put up a monster July, hitting .392 with 10 home runs, 32 runs scored (32!), 23 RBIs, and 9 stolen bases, just because he can. His 2.8 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) was 33 percent better than the next highest in July, Ryan Zimmerman’s 2.1 WAR.
AL CY Young: David Price. WAR will tell you that Felix Hernandez had the edge, but that was due in large part to King Felix having one additional start. Take that away, and the Price was Right snitches!
AL Rookie of the Month: Trout. I knew fish was brain food but I didn’t realize it made thinking this easy.
NL MVP: Ryan Zimmerman. Andrew McCutchen must be starting to feel like the Susan Lucci of the MESPY awards at this point, but Zimm edged the Dread Pirate in home runs, runs, and RBIs. Also, McCutchen’s surprising total of zero stolen bases and Zimm’s edge in defensive metrics pushed Ryan over the top in WAR, 2.1 to 2.0.
NL CY Young: Jordan Zimmermann. After the July JZ had, I can’t help but wonder if the other Jaz-Z wrote A Star is Born about Zimm:
And I am one, of one
Can’t you see just how long my run?
NL Rookie of the Month: It would be a real dogfight between Michael Fiers of the Brewers and Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs (both 1.0 WAR), if it weren’t for Rizzo accumulating 153 at-bats last season with the Padres. According to those fun-busters at MLB, that’s 23 too many to be considered a rookie. Sigh.
Nationals’ MVP: Ryan Zimmerman. I guess I was talking about Zimm’s monster July around the office so much I shouldn’t have been surprised when I overheard management discussing whether cortisone shots would increase audit productivity.
Nationals’ CY Young: Jordan Zimmermann. Six starts. Six quality starts, with four wins banked. All he does is throw darts, though his xFIP (3.12) in July does leave some room for an upward ERA correction (.97 ERA in July).
Nationals’ Rookie of the Month: Steve Lombardozzi. No Nats rookie really shined in July, with Lombardozzi pacing all rookies with a 0.3 WAR. But with Ian Desmond going down, Lombard has swung a nice bat and picked it on a pretty consistent basis. I can think of far worse things. Like being the sap donning the Teddy Roosevelt costume everyday, running around in a thousand-degree heat, never winning the Presidents race. Yeah, that would make me hot and bitter. Hot and bitter.
And that’s all folks!
Okay. Maybe it was just four days. But the tried and true formula for the National’s first-half success emerged from its respite in all its glory in last night’s 5-1 victory over the Miami Marlins. Outstanding starting pitching. Check. Great bullpen work.* Check. An increasingly productive and deepening offense. Check. After six shutout innings, Jordan Zimmermann notched another win last night, leveling his record at 6-6 and the Nats are now 16 games (16!) over .500. After Jordan amazingly carried around a losing record for the first three months of the season, things have gotten so copacetic in the clubhouse that even Ryan Zimmerman is going nuts in support of Jordan. I told you Ryan that the missing n wasn’t worth it.
Game ball(s): The Zimmerman(n)s. Jordan has surrendered just three runs in his last four starts, and Ryan’s 3-4 night, with a home run and two RBIs, is just the start he needed to get off to after the All-Star break.
Goat(s): Henry Rodriguez. This was the * above. I was Henry’s Craig Buchanan in the early part of the season. But after a strong April, things have veered quite a ways off course for H-Rod. Stop me if you have heard this lament about a pitcher with an electric arm before, but if only he could learn to throw just a few more strikes.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Lucas Giolito. Whew. It came down to the wire, but the Nats signed their first-round pick. Now back to the candle lighting for his elbow…
Current Record: 50-34
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!
In the titanic struggle for the title of Nationals’ most unlucky pitcher, a dominant outing from Orioles’ starter Jason Hammel buoyed by timely slick defense and another woeful offensive performance vaulted Jordan Zimmermann back into the lead over his rival Edwin Jackson last night. If the rest of the season plays out in this fashion, I’m wouldn’t be half surprised if Doris Kearns Goodwin writes about this modern-day incarnation of a team of rivals. Put a stove top hat on Strasburg and he is the spittin’ image of Lincoln. And best of all, Doris could, ahem, borrow without attribution, all of this! Anywho, on to the awards for last night’s 3-1 loss:
Game ball(s): Hammel. He has been the O’s Robin to Adam Jones, their Batman. It’s a shame that Sidney Ponson doesn’t pitch for them anymore. Then they would have the Penguin too.
Goat(s): Ryan Zimmerman. While I’d like to think he just screws Jordan over because his momma wouldn’t give him the extra n, we may be at the point where parking him for a few weeks to get healthy is the only thing that is going to ignite his anemic bat.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Ryan Mattheus. It has been good to see him back in form off of the DL, making his fourth consecutive scoreless appearance last night. The bullpen is getting healthy. Let’s hope the rest of the Baltimore series we see the arms in action with a lead.
Current Record: 40-28
Already feeling under the weather, after last night’s series opening loss to the Evil Empire (erm, New York Yankees), I figured it was worth a roll of the dice to wait to post something (good?) until after today’s matinee. Thank goodness I fought through a nearly five hour battle between the two first-place teams only to see the inevitable occur as soon as Brad Lidge took the mound.
Game ball(s): The Yankees should give it to home plate umpire Tim Timmons, who handed them the win after calling Tyler Moore out at home on a single by Adam LaRoche in the bottom of the eighth. Only one problem. Moore was obviously safe and it wasn’t a tough call to get right. But Timmy is an unaccountable baseball umpire. So nothing to see here, literally. Thus, instead of heading into the ninth up 4-3, the Nats would fight on just long enough to have Lidge do his bull in a china shop routine.
Goat(s): Just because I went all Ike Turner on Timmy doesn’t erase the fact that the Nationals didn’t help their cause. There was Ian Desmond’s error that gave the Yankees a key run early, though at least Desmond offset it with a game-tying blast in the eighth. And then there was the curious decision by Davey Johnson to have Jordan Zimmermann pitch to Eric Chavez with one on, two outs, and the pitcher Andy Petitte on-deck. That didn’t work out. And of course, the mere fact that Brad Lidge is on the team. I can only hope with H-Rod and Mattheus nearing their return, that won’t be the case for very long.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Jesus Flores. His broken-bat double to deep left in the bottom of the second which plated two Nats was a display of pure strength. And with Jordan Zimmermann not super sharp, several times he did a nice job of framing pitches including on a strikeout of Mark Teixeira with two on in the top of the third.
Current Record: 38-25
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
Davey Johnson called it right last night when he said the Nationals 7-6 win over the Mets in 12 innings wasn’t a well-played game. My eyes admittedly drifted as the bullpen cost Jordan Zimmermann a win after another well-pitched game (fantasy curse!). But despite the optics, to both teams credit, they kept fighting back each time it looked like the game was in the bag for one of them. Much to the delight of Nats fans, it was Bryce Harper who struck the final blow of the back and forth struggle, with a walk-off single in the bottom of the twelfth.
Game ball(s): Harper. What is even more impressive than his first career walk-off hit is the kid’s dissatisfaction at going 2 for 7 and striking out twice. It reinforces what Mets catcher Josh Thole said about Harper when he said that Harper cares about the little things, like making outs via the strikeout. His God-given 5-tool talent is what gives Harper a shot at greatness. The fact that he cares about the little things is what will make him great.
Goat(s): I should probably get on the bullpen but I’m still trying to understand Davey’s quick hook (again) with Jordan. I know he got touched up some in the top of the sixth but up until then he was cruising and was only at 81 pitches when he was yanked. Sure, all 3 batters he was to face in the top of the seventh were lefties, but to needlessly call upon your relief staff because you are concerned Zimm can’t handle the trio of Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis (.160 BA!!!), and Josh Thole seems to show you lack confidence when you shouldn’t. And moves like that do have repercussions when a pen gets unnecessarily extended (see 8th inning).
Bryce Harper is still only 19: The very clutch Ian Desmond, who drove in the game-tying run in the 8th, 10th, and 12th innings.
Current Record: 31-22
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
Finally. That’s what Jordan Zimmermann had to be thinking this evening after the Nationals tacked on four runs in the top of the seventh to open Washington’s lead over the San Diego Padres to 6-1. After only getting two runs of support during the 21 innings of his first three starts, Zimm was hanging on to a slim lead after spinning another great outing, six innings of one-run, six strikeout ball. And when you are still looking for your first win of the season after that run of bad luck, you have to guess he was thinking, “Is this when the cards are going to come crashing down?”
Thankfully, Washington’s bats came alive, banging out 11 hits in total, which were more than enough to help lead the Nationals to a 7-2 win. So the series opener saw Gio Gonzalez and the pitching staff dominant. And game two saw both Zimm and the hitters bring their “A” game. What combination will the Nats bring to the series finale tomorrow? Let’s hope the latter, which is a sure-fire prescription for posting more curly w’s in the standings column.
Game ball(s): Zimmermann. There is no truth to the rumor that Zimm was on the verge of sending a sympathy card to Erik Bedard if things didn’t go better today.
Goat(s): Petco Park. I’m a big fan of pitching and defense but Petco Park takes a pitcher’s park to the extreme, and not in a good way.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: With 70 plate appearances under his belt at Triple-A Syracuse, I figured it was about time to check in on Bryce Harper and see how he is faring against his highest level of competition yet. So far, it looks like we can shelve any talk of Harper coming up this year and turning in a Rookie of the Year campaign. Harper is batting just .234, with a weak .300 on-base-percentage. He is also not flashing much power, tallying only one home run and slugging a meager .375. On the upside, he has gotten the opportunity to play a majority of games in centerfield, laying the groundwork for a possible short-term future there in the big leagues. While all this may seem like bad news, it cannot be said enough: Harper is just 19. 19. He still has a world of talent and a world of time on his side.
Current Record: 14-4
Well, if there is one thing you can say with certainty about the 2012 Nationals to start the season, they sure keep their fans on the edge of their seats for all nine innings. And tonight was no exception, with the Nats rallying for two runs in the bottom of the eighth to top the Astros 3-2. While I’m happy as Dick Clark at New Year’s about the amazing start to the season for Washington, the analytical auditor in me does want to throw this out: The probability that the Nats will continue to pitch this well and win so many games scoring so few runs is pretty low. The good thing about that worrywart statement is that Washington’s pitching is very good and the Nationals only need to just sprinkle in a run or two more a game to make their roaring start more sustainable.
Game ball(s): Jordan Zimmermann, who despite being dominant again (7 innings, 4 hits allowed, 3k’s no walks, and 1 ER), was denied a win again. The fantasy curse strikes again.
Goat(s): The Astros bullpen, who channeling their football brothers the Texans, fumbled away a nice start by Lucas Harrell.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Henry Rodriguez, who shut the door on his third save, posting a 1-2-3 inning with one strikeout. With the news that Brad Lidge is battling vertigo, we may be getting closer and closer to shifting the shared closer duties to a one-man H-Rod job.
Current Record: 10-3