July 31, 2015

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.

Washington Nationals Game 99 Review: Nats Squish Fish, Harper Homers Twice

HARPER HOMERS TWICE AS NATIONALS SURGE OVER MARLINS 7-2

Bryce Harper homered twice off Miami pitching, each time reaching the second deck at Marlins Park, as the Nationals experienced their first power surge in weeks. Michael A. Taylor added another long shot in the eighth. Doug Fister went six innings of sinker-ball excellence for the win, and Dylan Koehler was tagged for the loss. The Nationals will look for the series victory tomorrow with Max Scherzer on the mound.

The Marlins struck first on Wednesday night, a double off the bat of Ichiro Suzuki scoring Derek Dietrich, who was hit by a pitch. The Nationals responded in the top of the fourth with a Harper single, a Desmond triple, and a sacrifice fly from Michael A. Taylor. Taylor and Harper combined for six RBI on Wednesday night, going a collective 4-for-7 with three home runs.

Fister gave up a one-out single to Justin Bour ahead of an Ichiro Suzuki single up the middle. In trouble, Adeiny Hechavarria added to Fister’s woes with a single to left, scoring Bour. With a heads up play, Ian Desmond didn’t throw the cutoff home, but rather caught Ichiro in a rundown to end the inning.

With two outs in the fifth, the power explosion hit Miami. Singles from Yunel Escobar and Jayson Werth put Harper at the dish in a high leverage situation. He delivered. Harper hit a massive bomb to the second row of the upper deck in right field, easily a 450-foot shot.

Fister cruised through six innings, his sinker finally working. Fister got five ground ball outs on Wednesday, and four more strikouts, walking just one. Given his last starts where he struggled this was a substantial improvement.

The Nationals added a game to their lead in the NL East, as the Mets lost to the Padres.

HERO: Bryce Harper for his monster bombs at Marlins Park.

GOAT: No goats tonight! Here’s a cute ungulate.

NATS NOTES:

  • Every Nationals position player save Ryan Zimmerman had a hit tonight
  • The second of Harper’s home runs landed practically on the concourse in the upper deck.

NEXT UP: Rubber match is tomorrow, 12:10pm, Max Scherzer (10-8, 2.33) vs former National Dan Haren (7-6, 3.51)

Washington Nationals Game 98 Review: Marlins top Nationals 4-1

FERNANDEZ QUIETS NATS BATS, ZIMMERMANN VULNERABLE IN LOSS

The Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins dueled on Tuesday night in Miami, with the Nats falling 4-1. Jose Fernandez, recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2014, went six full, allowing one run on four hits, walking four, and striking out five. Jordan Zimmermann matched Fernandez for five innings, allowing one run on five hits, striking out two and walking none, but came apart in the sixth, surrendering three hits, two more runs, two walks (both intentional) and left the game after six.

The Nationals’ only run came on a sacrifice fly in the second. Wilson Ramos drove in Bryce Harper on a deep fly ball to right field, having advanced to third on Ryan Zimmerman’s double to the wall in left. That was all the Nationals could do off Fernandez, who was working the edges like a professional.

The Marlins answered in the fifth with a pair of singles from J.T. Realmuto and Ichiro Suzuki with one out. Adeiny Hechavarria popped the ball out to Bryce Harper, and that looked like all they would get on the night. The sixth inning told a very different story, unfortunately for the Nationals.

Dee Gordon (2-for-3 on the night) started things off with a long fly ball to the wall, a stand-up triple. On the next pitch, Martin Prado singled to left to score Gordon, making it 2-1. Christian Yelich singled to right, letting Prado advance to third without issue. With no one out, the Nationals opted to walk Derek Dietrich to set up the force at home. J.T. Realmuto would drive in Prado on a ground ball to Escobar that was just far enough in and slow enough to put Escobar’s only play at first, making it 3-1. Zimmermann would issue another intentional pass, this time to Ichiro Suzuki to load the bases with two out. Thankfully for the Nationals, Hechavarria would ground out to Ryan Zimmerman to end the inning with limited damages.

Sammy Solis was called on to pitch the seventh inning, and it did not go well for the young left hander. Cole Gillespie, entering the game as part of a double switch, immediately pounced on the rookie, raking it up the middle. Dee Gordon laid down a beautiful bunt to move him up, just barely out on a quick relay from Solis. The Nats would issue their third intentional walk of the night to noted Nat-killer Martin Prado,

Against Miami closer A.J. Ramos, the Nationals would put up some fight. Michael A. Taylor drew a one-out walk, followed by a pinch-hit double for Clint Robinson off the bench. A borderline walk to Anthony Rendon gave them the go-ahead run at the plate, but an unfortunate grounder from Yunel Escobar ended the game on a 6-4-3 double play without a run scoring.

HERO: Ryan Zimmerman got aboard three times in his return from the DL, going 2-for-3 with a walk.

GOAT: Sammy Solis for his lamentable 7th inning performance.

NATS NOTES:

  • Tonight marks the first game since May 15th that seven of the Nationals “expected” starters appeared in the starting lineup. They have yet to have all eight expected position starters this season.
  • Jayson Werth was 1-for-4 with a single in his return from a broken wrist.

NEXT UP: Doug Fister vs. Tom Kohler at 7:10pm tomorrow 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.

 

Washington Nationals Series Preview: Miami Marlins

The Washington Nationals look to bounce back from a rough series in Pittsburgh as they continue their 10-game road trip with three in Miami.

The Nats (52-45) lost three out of four in Pittsburgh, but face a free-falling team in the Marlins (41-58). Jayson Werth will reportedly rejoin the lineup on Tuesday, as the Nationals enter the series holding a two-game lead in the National League East, with a matchup in New York against the second-place Mets looming this weekend, with newly-acquired reliever Tyler Clippard available in the Mets pen.

The Last Time…

The last time the Nationals and Marlins faced off was in early May. The Nationals took two out of three from Miami in Washington, as the teams came into that series separated by just a half-game in the standings. (The Nationals are now 12 games in front of Miami.) The Marlins swept a three game series in April in Miami.

In The Other Dugout

The good news: The Nationals will not have to face Giancarlo Stanton in this series. Stanton will begin hitting a ball off a tee as he comes back from a wrist injury, but is not expected to rejoin the Marlins anytime soon. Dee Gordon, on the other hand, may be back from the DL during the series — he suffered a thumb injury just before the All-Star break.

The bad news: The Marlins’ young ace Jose Fernandez has been stellar since coming back from Tommy John surgery, and the Nationals will face him in the series opener on Tuesday night.

Matchup To Watch

If Werth returns for the series, his timing couldn’t be much better — he is hitting .346 combined against Tom Koehler and Dan Haren, Wednesday and Thursday’s Marlins starters. He has two homers against Koehler and one against Haren. He’s only 1 for 8 against Jose Fernandez…but that one hit is also a home run.

For the Marlins, Martin Prado is a combined 15-for-33 against Jordan Zimmermann and Max Scherzer.

Probables

Tuesday, 7:10pm: Jordan Zimmermann (8-5, 3.30 ERA) vs. Jose Fernandez (3-0, 2.77 ERA)

Wednesday, 7:10pm: Doug Fister (3-6, 4.50 ERA) vs. Tom Koehler (8-6, 3.16 ERA)

Thursday, 12:10pm: Max Scherzer (10-8, 2.33 ERA) vs. Dan Haren (7-6, 3.51 ERA)

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 97 Review: Pirates Top Nationals 3-1

GERRIT COLE QUIETS NATS OFFENSE, PIRATES GET TO ROSS

The Nationals hit the board first in the third inning, with Michael A. Taylor stroking a perfect pitch from Gerrit Cole. Taylor took a 1-0 fastball deep into the right field bleachers to continue his excellent road trip.

The Pirates would respond immediately, putting a single by Chris Stewart, a sacrifice by Gerrit Cole, and a Gregory Polanco RBI-single together for their first run. While Stewart is not the fleetest of feet, the throw from Taylor in center was a little off-line, not that it mattered much with Ramos unable to make a play on the ball.

Joe Ross hit Starling Marte to follow up the scoring play, resulting in a warning for the benches from home plate umpire Chris Conroy. Cole had drilled Yunel Escobar in the second inning as he worked the inside half of the plate. Andrew McCutchen followed that with a single up the middle, good enough to score Polanco from second, making a 2-1 lead for the Pirates.

Neil Walker added his second home run of the series in the fourth inning, taking a 2-0 sinker to deep center field and making it 3-0. Ross calmed down at that point, retiring the next nine hitters in order, his slider finally locating with devastating effect. Ross ended his day at 6 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 7 K, 1 BB. The rookie continues to put forth strong effort in spot start situations.

Gerrit Cole was nigh unstoppable for the Pirates on Sunday, holding the Nationals to their single run through 7.2 IP, throwing 103 pitches, and notching 8 Ks and surrendering just 6H. In the 8th, he was lifted after giving up singles to pinch-hitter Anthony Rendon and 2B Danny Espinosa, as Tony Watson was called in to face Bryce Harper in a very high leverage situation. Harper pulled the ball hard to the first base side, and defensive replacement Sean Rodriguez made a nice dive-and-pick to his right to retire the side with no damage done.

Casey Janssen threw a scoreless eighth for the Nationals, continuing his excelent performance of late. In the ninth, the Nationals sent Yunel Escobar, Clint Robinson and Ian Desmond to the dish to face Mark Melancon. Escobar popped out on the first pitch, Robinson struck out, and Desmond grounded out.

In 2 hours and 18 minutes, the Nationals dropped the series finale 3-1

HERO: Michael A. Taylor had the Nats’ only run, and had several stellar catches to bolster the defense.

GOAT: Wilson Ramos, for lackluster defense at the plate.

NATS NOTES:

  • The Nationals are off on Monday, resuming play in Miami Tuesday
  • In two innings, the Nats bullpen shut down the Pirates entirely.

NEXT UP: Jordan Zimmermann vs. Jose Fernandez, 7:10pm Tuesday July 28th in Miami

Washington Nationals Game 96 Review: Nats Bats Crack in Pittsburgh

OFFENSE STRONG AS NATIONALS TOP PIRATES

The Washington Nationals broke a short skid against the Pirates on Saturday night, picking up a 9-3 victory against the Wild Card leaders. Gio Gonzalez cruised through 5 innings, scattering 5 hits and not issuing a single walk. A.J. Burnett proved too wild for the Pirates’ own good, hitting two in a crucial fourth inning failure, and throwing a wild pitch in the second that would score Ian Desmond.

The Nationals were due a night where things went their way, after a pair of hard luck losses in the Pittsburgh series. They got it Saturday night, as bounces went their way, and as the defense behind Gio Gonzalez was solid enough to keep the crafty lefty in business. Gio would go 5+ innings before departing after a wild bottom of the sixth.

Working with a 5-0 lead, the particulars of which we will get to in a moment, Gio’s day ended poorly. A single by Pedro Alvarez, followed up by a fielding error by Clint Robinson on a ball put in play by Gregory Polanco put Gio at a disadvantage. The Pirates would capitalize on singles from Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen, driving Gio from the game.

With no out, and two men on, Aaron Barrett was summoned from the pen to douse the nascent fire. Barrett got an easy double play off Aramis Ramirez, before walking Jung Ho Kang and giving up a single – and Gio’s third charged run – off the bat of Paul Cervelli. Manager Matt Williams saw enough, and got Barrett before things got worse. Felipe Rivero finished the job Barrett could not, and with four pitches got Neil Walker to pop up to right.

The Nationals would strike back in the top of the seventh, putting two back up on the board. A double from Yunel Escobar off the left field wall, followed by an Ian Desmond homer off a Deolis Guerra changeup clocked at 81mph.

The Nationals’ offense quieted the Pittsburgh crowd early, with a run on a Burnett wild pitch in the second for a 1-0 lead. In the fourth, Burnett would give up a double to Escobar, then hit Clint Robinson and Jose Lobaton with curve balls at their feet to load the bases. Burnett would get a key strikeout of Matt den Dekker to bring up pitcher Gio Gonzalez to the dish.

This is where things started to really go the Nationals’ way. Gio hit a comebacker to Burnett, who couldn’t react fast enough, and the ball rolled away into no-man’s-land, scoring Escobar. Michael A. Taylor drove the ball through the left side of the email, and Bob Henley sent both Clint Robinson (who scored), and Jose Lobaton (who didn’t), but the damage was done.

Matt den Dekker would add one more to the tally in the fifth on a pair of singles, and a pair of sacrifices, with Anthony Rendon – in his first game off the disabled list – getting the RBI for den Dekker’s run. That would end Burnett’s night at 5.2 IP, 11H, 5ER and 8K.

After the Pirates’ rally in the sixth, the Nationals would add four more runs on monster home runs from Ian Desmond and Michael A. Taylor, both with no-doubter shots into left field at PNC Park. Desmond’s hot streak is music to Nats’ fans ears, who had started to wonder if it would ever come. With the Nationals’ roster decimated by injuries to other starters, the Half Street Regulars might not be the team you were dreaming of in February, but they are the team with three games up on the Mets and now 8 games over .500.

It’s hard to think that this season has been a disappointment, but when the expectations were so high coming into Spring Training, this season has been a challenge for the Nationals. While Jayson Werth, Stephen Strasburg, and Ryan Zimmerman are all returning in the near term, there’s still a lot of baseball to play this season. Getting Desmond back from a season-long slump around the same time might be the catalyst this team has needed to get back on 90-win pace.

HERO: Let’s give this one to Ian Desmond, who is just having a stellar week. He’s 10-for-19 this week, with 4 HR, 7 RBI, and 4 BB. His night was pretty stellar. Good to see Desmond finally getting hit.

GOAT: No goats tonight. Well, except these adorable fainting goats.

NATS NOTES:

  • Ian Desmond is a pretty strong player of the week candidate for the NL right now.
  • Anthony Rendon returned to the lineup tonight, with Abel de los Santos optioned back to AA. His 0-4 was, at least productive, with a sacrifice fly in the fifth.
  • Michael A. Taylor had his first four-hit game of the season tonight.

NEXT UP: The series finale is tomorrow at 1:35pm, Joe Ross (2-2, 2.70) vs Gerrit Cole (13-4, 2.31).

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