August 1, 2015

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

Washington Nationals Game 100 Review: Scherzer shuts down Marlins

DREW STOREN PERFECT IN EIGHTH, JONATHAN PAPELBON THE SAME IN NINTH FOR FIRST NATS SAVE

Max Scherzer rebounded from his rocky last start to pitch seven shutout innings, Ryan Zimmerman homered for the first time since returning from the disabled list, and the Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins 1-0 on Thursday.

The Nats (54-46) extend their lead in the N.L. East to three games with the Mets loss to San Diego.

Scherzer (W, 11-8, 2.22) allowed just three hits and walked three in his effort, striking out six. He threw 75 of his 109 pitches for strikes, generating nine ground ball outs with just two fly ball outs.

Drew Storen, moved into a set-up role after the acquisition of closer Jonathan Papelbon, struck out two in a hitless eighth inning. Papelbon earned his 18th save of the season — in 18 tries — with a 1-2-3 ninth inning, striking out former Nats Michael Morse for the final out.

Morse was then traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-way trade with Atlanta, then designated for assignment by L.A. before ever getting on a plane.

Miami’s Dan Haren did a good job of limiting the Nats, giving up just four hits in six innings. But two of those were from Zimmerman, who’s 4 for 11 since being activated, and he hit his first homer since May 19 against the Yankees.

The Nats travel to New York to face the Mets in a three-game weekend series. Gio Gonzalez (8-4, 3.83) faces Matt Harvey (9-7, 3.16) on Friday night.

MLB Trade Deadline: Nationals reportedly add Jonathan Papelbon

DEAL CONTINGENT ON PAPELBON CLOSING, NATS PICKING UP ’16 OPTION; STOREN DEMOTED TO SET-UP

According to multiple sources, the Washington Nationals made a bold and controversial move on Tuesday, sending AA pitcher Nick Pivetta — the Nats No. 12 prospect — to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for closer Jonathan Papelbon. The deal is contingent on the Nats committing to Papelbon as the closer, and the team picking up his option for 2016 for $11 million, according to the reports. The teams had not announced the deal at the time of this posting.

Papelbon, 34, is 2-1 with 17 saves (in 17 tries) with a 1.59 ERA and 0.983 WHIP this season, with a 9.1 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9, some of his best work in his illustrious career. He’s saved 342 games in 11 seasons at an 88.6 percent success rate, elite for a closer with his mileage.

The biggest drawback to taking on Papelbon is, frankly, his attitude. He’s always been seen as a “me-first” guy, and his insistence on being the nominal “closer” for accepting a trade of any sort is the type of behavior that has been commonplace in Papelbon’s career.

A search for “Papelbon jerk” on any search engine gives a litany of the sort of behavior that makes it difficult to root for the player.

GM Mike Rizzo has been very careful over the past several seasons to acquire quality people in addition to quality players, but this deal is about filling a very big hole in what should otherwise be a championship-contending roster, now that the walking wounded are returning to the lineup.

In Tuesday night’s lineup, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman joined Anthony Rendon in the batting order, Werth for the first time this season. Only Denard Span remains on the disabled list. If Ian Desmond has turned a corner hitting-wise, the additions of Werth and Zimmerman (if they can return to pre-injury production) give the Nats a very solid batting order.

The bullpen, however, has been a source of concern all season long. Really, since the day Rizzo traded Tyler Clippard for Yunel Escobar. Anticipated set-up man Blake Treinen was sent to the minors because he can’t get left-handed hitters out, Tanner Roark has been spotty in any role in the pen this season, and dumpster-diving acquisition David Carpenter ended up on the disabled list.

The only constant in the pen has been at the very back end, in Drew Storen. Storen has put up All-Star caliber numbers this season, with a 1.73 ERA, 1.018 WHIP, 10.9 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9. He’s been, simply, excellent. It seems the Nats have continually been looking for ways to replace Storen at the back end, and he just continues to play good teammate. It seems a shame that Storen is the one to get demoted in this deal, though all he’s done is his job all season long.

It’s a dicey situation all around. Papelbon is a quality pitcher that makes the bullpen longer and stronger, but at the same time, he’s a divisive personality that has been difficult to root for at every stop in his career. Add in the fact that his acquisition means a reduction in service for a fan favorite, and it makes for a tough situation.

The team gets better by adding a divisive personality and demoting a fan favorite. It’s more than wins and losses — fans need a vested interest in players to root for, unless your personality is such that all you care about is the bottom line and you root for the laundry, no matter who’s in it.

The big question now is can the Nats rehabilitate Papelbon so that fans can get behind the deal? That will take a LOT of work in certain circles, and may not be possible for some — even if the move brings a World Series Championship.

MLB Trade Deadline: Nats close on Papelbon?

There are plenty of rumors flying around NatsTown these days, with the Washington Nationals seemingly in the market to add another closer to the bullpen, though they possess one of the statistical best this season. Nevertheless, the Nats have been linked to Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Tyler Clippard (until he was traded to the Mets) and now Jonathan Papebon.

On the surface, Papelbon is probably the least expensive — in terms of prospects — for the Nats to acquire. But he has some unusual demands in his contract that would have to be satisfied for him to accept any deal, especially to a team that has an established closer.

According to multiple reports, Papelbon has a full no-trade clause and will reject any deal where he won’t be assured of the closer role and his vesting option for 2016 isn’t picked up. He will make $13 million next season if the option is picked up by whatever team acquires him.

Papelbon is having another quality season closing for a crummy Phillies team (1.59 ERA, 17/17 saves, 9.1 K/9, 1.8 BB/9). But his prickly demeanor and me-first demands have made him a hated enemy in NatsTown and his contractual demands make this a complicated deal to consider.

Nats GM Mike Rizzo could entice Papelbon to come to set up Drew Storen by guaranteeing the 2016 money, but then you’ve got a disgruntled guy in your bullpen not happy with his role. It’s a dicey situation all around.

 

MLB Trade Deadline: Nats all-in on Kimbrel?

The Washington Nationals have been linked to talks with the San Diego Padres on closer Craig Kimbrel. In fact, by the time you read this the deal may have been done. Kimbrel is owed $11M in 2016 and $13M in 2017, with a team option for $13M in 2018.

Now, the Nats already have a pretty good closer (whom they used a first round pick on), but they seem to want to replace him at any chance they can get.

It strikes me strange that GM Mike Rizzo would be willing to assume $24 million over the next two seasons on a redundant part, especially since he can’t have any idea what he’s going to get health or performance-wise from his aging and injury-prone left fielder and first baseman, if and when they take the field.

Thus far, Rizzo has been very judicial in how he’s managed the Lerner’s money. He’s willing to allow Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Denard Span to walk at the end of the season. He traded Tyler Clippard instead of paying him. The only big contracts he’s doled out were Jayson Werth’s original deal (when the Nats were still a very bad team), Ryan Zimmerman’s extension, and Max Scherzer this off-season.

Trading for a closer still on the hook for $24 million over two years, when they already have an affordable one on the roster, just seems, to me, counter to how Rizzo’s managed this roster thus far.

But it’s not just about the money, either. National baseball writers had the Padres asking for Trea Turner back in a deal for Kimbrel. Rizzo will balk at that, but that’s the level of prospect the Padres want, and they’ll want more than one. Can the Nats afford to deal one top-flight prospect and a couple of lesser ones with the holes this roster is going to have over the next season or two with free agents moving on?

Of course, if Rizzo thinks Werth and Zimmerman return to their pre-injury production down the stretch and Kimbrel is the last piece of the puzzle, then we’ll have to reserve judgment and see how things play out. But color me skeptical on any of those three propositions being fulfilled.

MLB Trade Deadline: Where do Nats fit in?

The MLB non-waiver trade deadline is this Friday. It’s a frenzied time of year, with baseball fans glued to social media to see who their favorite team has picked up — or traded away.

Fans of the Washington Nationals are no different, with rumors the team has been attached to acquiring big-name relievers such as Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Jonathan Papelbon and former Nats-Tyler Clippard, who was traded to the division-rival New York Mets on Monday.

It’s easy to assume, then, that the Nats are looking for bullpen help. The anchor of the bullpen, Drew Storen, has All-Star qualifications this season, but the rest of the equation is still a work in progress. Matt Thornton, quietly, has been excellent, but Tanner Roark has been wildly inconsistent, Blake Treinen was demoted and David Carpenter, a basement-bargain pick-up, was disabled.

So it only seems that a deal for consistent reliever would be in the offing.

But looking at the roster, it’s hard to determine, other than that, what the Nats really need.

We still haven’t seen the real Nats on the field this season with all the injuries. It’s easy to see Anthony Rendon back in uniform, and imagine Denard Span, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman joining the team as well to finally field the team Mike Rizzo thought he put together at the start of the season.

Many have been trying to make the point that the Nats are in first place without all these starters on offense, so their re-joining the team will be better than any trade deadline acquisition — without giving up any prospects to do so.

But what are the Nats getting with these guys coming back to the lineup? Rendon is still young and should reasonably perform up to standards once he gets him MLB timing back. Span was performing admirably before his balky back required a now-lengthy stay on the DL. But Werth and Zimmerman have been accumulating injuries the past several seasons and there’s really no way to tell what they are going to provide to the offense until they are back in the lineup.

We can’t just assume they will both return to their pre-injury performance level. Werth’s age, and the nature of Zimmerman’s injury, really leave the door open to what level of play they’ll bring once they return to the field.

It’s one thing for a fan to look at the sheer number of players returning from the DL and assume things will be better once all these players are back in the lineup. And there’s no doubt Rendon and Span should provide a boost to the top of the order.

But counting on Werth and Zimmerman to provide pre-DL production is a risky move for anyone looking at the roster with an analytic approach.

 

Washington Nationals Game 93 Review: Taylor, Espinosa lead comeback over Mets

TAYLOR DRIVES IN THREE IN COMEBACK WIN OVER SECOND PLACE METS

Michael Taylor and Danny Espinosa delivered clutch hits in the eighth inning to trigger a three-run frame, helping the Washington Nationals to come from two runs down and beat the New York Mets 4-3 at Nationals Park, rescuing the rubber match of the three-game series.

The Nats (51-42) lead in the N.L. East returns to three games over the Mets. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 91 Review: Nats take advantage of unsharp Harvey

Matt Harvey had a very un-Matt Harvey-like start, Gio Gonzalez pitched six solid innings and the Washington Nationals took the first of a three-game series from its closest competitor, knocking off the New York Mets 7-2 at sweltering Nationals Park.

Gonzalez (W, 7-4) allowed two runs on six hits and three walks, striking out four. His only bad inning was the fourth, when — all with two outs — he loaded the bases and gave up a two-run single to Harvey. As anemic as the Mets offense has been these days, maybe they’ll consider giving Harvey at bats when he doesn’t pitch.

As for his work on the mound, Harvey hadn’t pitched in nine days due to the All-Star break and it showed. He walked four to go along with five hits over seven innings, striking out just three. He had men on base in just about every inning. He was taxed with providing innings for the beleaguered Mets staff, which suffered through an 18-inning affair on Sunday.

The Nats (50-41, +3 in NLE) had several hitting heroes. Danny Espinosa went 2 for 4 with two runs scored and ignited the offense with a bunt single off Harvey in the two-run first inning. Clint Robinson had a booming two-run double in the third and finished 2 for 4, and Ian Desmond got into the act, delivering a first-row two-run homer in the eighth off reliever Alex Torres.

NATS NEWS: The Nats sent struggling reliever Blake Treinen to Syracuse and recalled RHP Abel de los Santos from Harrisburg. de los Santos was acquired along with SS Chris Bostick from Texas in the Ross Detwiler trade. Detwiler was DFA’d by Texas last week and he signed with Atlanta.

 

Treinen sent to minors because team doesn’t know how to use him

The Washington Nationals sent struggling right-handed reliever Blake Treinen to AAA-Syracuse and recalled fellow righty Abel de los Santos from AA-Harrisburg to make his MLB debut. de los Santos was acquired (along with SS Chris Bostick) in the Ross Detwiler trade with the Texas Rangers. Detwiler, meanwhile, was DFA’d by the Rangers two weeks ago and has resurfaced with the Atlanta Braves.

But we digress.

The Nats are sending Treinen down to Triple-A with the hope that he can reduce his walks and figure out how to get lefties out. The big problem with that is his age. He’s 27, and whatever he is as a pitcher is pretty much cemented by now. Players in the physical prime of their careers are who they are. It’s up to the team to put him in positions to succeed, and the Nats — to this point in Treinen’s career — have been pretty poor at it.

Treinen has pitched to a 4.39 ERA and 1.561 WHIP this season, getting hit at an overall clip at .276/.363/.378 in 180 plate appearances against. That’s solidly mediocre taken at first blush. He’s given up two home runs and 21 walks in 41 innings pitched. The first number (HR) is very, very good. The second number, not so much.

It’s when we dig deeper that we see the problem in his utilization.

Treinen has been exceptional (and I don’t use that word lightly) against right handed batters, limiting those hitters to a .205/.300/.244 slash line. Look again: the type of batter most prevalent in baseball slugs .244 against Treinen this season. For his career, righties hit .223/.303/.251, so this year’s no fluke. If you’ve got a right-handed batter up in a high leverage situation, you want Treinen to face him.

ON THE OTHER HAND (see what I did there?):

In his career, Treinen allows lefties to hit .341/.396/.466 against him in a statistically equal number of plate appearances as righties (202 career PAs against righties/192 PAs against lefties). That’s “Barry Bonds in the prime of his career” numbers. His numbers this year are even worse at .346/.427/.513, meaning with scouting other teams have figured him out. His BABiP to lefties this season is .413. That’s no joke. He ain’t fooling anyone.

If I can look up these numbers, you can bet the Nats can too.

What if boils down to is this: Treinen has a big league arm, and can get right-handed batters out with the best of any short relievers. What he can’t do is get lefties out. At all. The Nats can send Treinen down to Syracuse and wait for him to figure it out (he won’t, and likely waste any remaining value to his career) or they can admit what he is and utilize him at the big league level in situations that will put him in a position to succeed.

The question is thus: Can the Nats afford to carry a ROOGY (Right-handed One Out Guy) in the current iteration of the bullpen? Now, there are more right-handed batters than left, so he’s more useful than that.

But in no way should he be sent into a one-run game with the reasonable expectation that he’d face very good left-handed hitting batters in two of the first four batters he’d face, exactly what he was tasked with in Sunday’s ninth inning debacle.

That’s not putting the player into a position he can succeed. That’s dooming him to utter failure. And it’s not the player’s fault.

Washington Nationals Game 90 Review: Scherzer outdueled by Greinke

On a sweltering day in the nation’s capital in a battle of National League All-Star pitchers, Zack Greinke bettered Max Scherzer — just barely — and the Los Angeles Dodgers tacked on some late runs to beat the Washington Nationals 5-0 on “Star Wars Day” at Nationals Park.

Overall, the Nats were outhit 15-5. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 88 Review: Suspended!

The Washington Nationals have played in several strange games this season, but perhaps none as strange as Friday night — a game that ended up not even played to completion.

Due to continued power failures in a bank of lights on the third base side of the field, the opening game of a three-game set with the Los Angeles Dodgers was suspended in the fifth inning with the Nats leading 3-2. The game will be finished Saturday before the regularly scheduled afternoon game.

The Nats reached Dodgers starter Mike Bolsinger in the third inning. Yunel Escobar reached on a double to the left field corner and went to third on Danny Espinosa’s bunt single. Bolsinger fell hard on his left knee fielding the bunt, but after a visit by the trainer, he stayed in. Bryce Harper grounded to second to force Espinosa, but Escobar carried home the first run of the game. Clint Robinson then drew a walk, but Bolsinger escaped further damage by getting Wilson Ramos to ground out to end the rally.

The lead was short lived. Jordan Zimmermann grazed Justin Turner leading off the top of the fourth, and Adrian Gonzalez followed with a mammoth homer to the upper tank  in right.

Then things got weird. With one out in the bottom of the fourth, a bank of lights on the third base side of Nats Park went out — and stayed out for an hour and ten minutes. It took 10 more minutes before play resumed, and they managed to get the bottom of the fourth and top of the fifth in before the same bank of lights went back out.

Tanner Roark came on for Zimmermann in the fifth, who gave up two earned runs on three hits and a walk, striking out three in his shortened appearance.

After a second delay, Roark doubled and then scored on an Escobar home run, before the lights went out for good, causing the suspension of the game — and some unhappy Nats fans that sat around through the delays.

 

 

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