April 1, 2015

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Zimmermann strong again, Nats tie Cards

RYAN ZIMMERMAN LEAVES GAME AFTER DIVE, AWKWARD LEAP

Jordan Zimmermann allowed one earned run on four hits over six innings in his next-to-last start of spring training and the Washington Nationals added another tie to the ledger with a 1-1 finish against the St. Louis Cardinals at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida.

Following the game, Zimmermann told reporters in Florida “it’s not looking good” for the veteran righty to sign a contract extension before opening day, and he reiterated that he would not negotiate during the season, all but assuring that he will hit the open market as a free agent at the conclusion of the 2015 season. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats split split-squad games; Strasburg to miss start

STEPHEN STRASBURG SPRAINS ANKLE IN CONDITIONING DRILLS, WILL MISS START

The Atlanta Braves scored three runs in the fourth inning and two more in the seventh, enough to beat the Washington Nationals 5-2 at the Disney Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Most of the Nats regulars stayed back in Viera to host the Marlins. Dan Uggla homered and Jordan Zimmermann allowed one run over five innings to lead the Nats to a 4-2 win.

After the home game, manager Matt Williams announced that Stephen Strasburg sprained his left ankle during conditioning drills and will miss his next scheduled start, against the Tigers. A.J. Cole will be brought over from the minor league side to replace him. Williams indicated the sprain was not serious and Strasburg was seen walking through the clubhouse without a noticeable limp.

In the home game, Uggla — in his continuing bid to win playing time at second base and resurrect his career — went 2 for 3 with two RBIs and upped his spring training average to .333.

Zimmermann gave up eight hits and struck out four during his mound work, but the interesting part of his day came in a verbal exchange with opposing pitcher Henderson Alvarez. Zimmermann was grazed on the elbow in an early at bat. Later, he went down and in to Alvarez when the Marlins starter was trying to sacrifice. The two exchanged words as Alvarez headed to the dugout.

There was no altercation and cooler heads prevailed.

In the road game, the Braves got to Evan Meek in the fourth for three earned runs on four hits and a walk, though Meek did strike out two. Taylor Jordan pitched three strong innings to start, allowing just one hit and one walk, striking out one. Blake Treinen and Casey Janssen both three perfect innings of relief.

The Nats scored twice in the third. Jordan led off with a single and went to second on a Michael Taylor (2 for 3, double) line drive single to left. A wild pitch by Eric Stultz moved both runners up and Kevin Frandsen’s ground out brought in Jordan. Taylor scored on Mike Carp’s single to left, but Carp was thrown out in a rundown.

NATS NOTES:

  • Craig Stammen, Rich Hill and Aaron Barrett all pitched scoreless innings of relief in the home game.
  • Wilson Ramos was 1 for 3 with a two-run single in the home game immediately before Uggla’s homer.
  • Bryce Harper (0 for 2, walk, run) and Tony Gwynn Jr (1 for 4) both had outfield assists.
  • Gwynn and Ian Desmond (1 for 3) both stole bases.
  • Tyler Moore was 0 for 3 in the road game and struck out twice.

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats tame Tigers 9-2

The Washington Nationals roughed up David Price for four runs in two innings and beat the Detroit Tigers 9-2 on Wednesday in Viera, Florida.

Jordan Zimmermann went 2 2/3 innings, throwing 33 of his 47 pitches for strikes. He gave up one earned run on two hits, did not walk a batter and struck out four. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats 9, Braves 8

Tyler Moore continued his hot spring, going 2 for 3 with a triple and home run and five RBIs to pace the Washington Nationals over N.L. East foe Atlanta Braves 9-8 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Moore hit a two-run homer off Braves starter Alex Wood in the second inning with Dan Uggla (1 for 2, run, RBI) aboard. In the fifth, Moore tripled to center off former Nats farmhand Juan Jaime, plating Tony Gwynn Jr and Emmanuel Burris.

The Nats got their winning run in the seventh when Matt Skole scored on a wild pitch by Arodys Vizcaino.

Freddie Freeman homered for the Braves off Craig Stammen in the fifth.

Jordan Zimmermann started for the Nationals and pitched two scoreless innings. He allowed a bloop single and walked one with no strikeouts.

NATS NOTES:

  • Taylor Jordan followed Zimmermann in his first action since being shut down last season with elbow discomfort and subsequent bone chips surgery last October. He gave up three earned runs on four hits. He didn’t walk anyone and struck out one.
  • Stammen was hammered in his inning of work. The veteran reliever gave up a whopping five runs on eight hits.
  • NRI invitee Rich Hill struck out two in 1 1/3 innings.
  • Matt Grace, Even Meek and Manny Delcarmen all pitched a scoreless inning in relief.
  • In addition to Moore, Kevin Frandsen and Ian Desmond both had two-hit days. Skole was 1 for 2 with a double and two runs scored.
  • Sandy Leon was the DH and went 0 for 4.

Washington Nationals Spring Training Preview: The Starters

This week, District Sports Page will review the players currently on the Washington Nationals 40-man roster and their potential contributions to the Major League roster this season.

Monday: Catchers
Tuesday: Infielders
Wednesday: Outfielders
Thursday: Starters
Friday: Bullpen

Max Scherzer
2014 AL: 33 games, 220.1 IP, 18-5, 3.15 ERA, 1.175 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 (6.0 WAR) [Read more…]

Washington Nationals own historic rotation…for now

Once again, we’re in the difficult position of evaluating an off-season move without immediate data, and as far as the Clippard/Escobar trade can be the sort of dejecting move that leans on past data for pessimism, the aquisition of right hander Max Scherzer gives us the sort of situation to be optimistic about and to play with some numbers.

Adding perennial Cy Young candidate to the rotation, the Nationals a shot at a pitching rotation that could be favorably compared to the 1996 and 1997 Braves or the 2011 Phillies.

The Scherzer signing appears to be a massive one in more than just his contract. Scherzer’s 6.0 WAR ranked eighth last year in all of baseball, but his 723 strikeouts over the last three seasons lead the Majors over that period, and outstrip Clayton Kershaw’s 700 and Stephen Strasburg’s 630 by a fair margin.

On paper, the Nationals have now assembled a pitching rotation that joins the 1996 and 1997 Braves, and the 2011 Phillies in terms of quality. We could sit around and talk all day about which of those rotations were the best, but of those four, at least on paper based on this past year’s performance, the 2015 Nationals would likely stack up fourth. The problem here is that we’re getting into that dangerous “predicting the future” part of this job that really isn’t the sort of thing I’m known for doing with any accuracy.

However, we can look at some past data to see the regular season results. I want to focus on three post-strike/post-expansion teams: The 1996 and 1997 Braves, and the 2011 Phillies. I started these comparisons by looking at Cy Young Award Vote-getters, but I decided that data was too subjective, as it was looking for a single best player, and not a best rotation, and that lead me to the Pitching WAR scoreboard over at Baseball-Reference.com.

The 2011 Phillies put together one of the most remarkable pitching staffs we’ve seen in a generation, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels combining for 24.1 WAR that season. Halladay and Lee hardly walked anyone, and though Clayton Kershaw topped many individual categories, the Phillies’ 1-2-3 punch was substantial. Lee threw six complete game shutouts, and Halladay added eight complete games of his own. It’s hard to imagine a more dominant three-man combination.

When it comes to dominant rotations, though, you have to look at the 1990s Braves. The 1997 Braves combo of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Denny Neagle combined for 22.6 WAR, representing the second, fifth, eighth and ninth positions on the NL board for that season. The 1996 Braves combo of Smoltz, Maddux, Neagle and Glavine put up 26.2 WAR, representing second through fifth positions on the board.

Both of those are just absolutely staggering marks, and there’s a reason that Glavine and Maddux are in the Hall of Fame, and Smoltz was just selected.

I’m not saying that the 2015 Nationals are guaranteed be any of those three, but I am saying that this is their best chance at becoming something unique and wonderful for the fans to watch. I, for one, look forward to seeing how a starting rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister will handle a year together. There isn’t an “easy” day in there for the opponents.

Hell, there isn’t even a “just medium-hard” day in there.

If you use the 2014 numbers, Scherzer, Roark, Zimmermann, and Fister would have combined for 20.5 WAR, representing the fourth, seventh, eighth and 10th positions on the NL leader board for pitcher WAR. When you consider that Roark is likely the odd man out, the Nationals rotation combined for 15.2 WAR across the other four starters, which goes to 21.2 WAR when Scherzer gets figured in. For comparison’s sake, the reigning World Champion Giants’ rotation in 2014 ended up with about 8.8 WAR.

The biggest question become: What do you do when you have six pitchers for a five-man rotation? How does Tanner Roark handle a move to the long relief slot in the bullpen? Do you execute a trade for more offense now, and if so, whom?

Zimmermann’s name has been mentioned on the hot stove all winter long as a pending free agent at the end of the year. Over the weekend, media reports said the Nats would listen to offers for Strasburg. Roark has the most cost-certain number of years. Fister is an impending free agent himself. And even the almost-forgotten Gio Gonzalez was mentioned early in the offseason as a potential target for some teams.

These are all impossibly weird questions to consider for a team that was, five years ago, losing ninety to a hundred games a year.

The Nationals are a franchise that has now made the commitment to go for broke in the 2015 season, betting that a championship now — where none have existed in the District in almost twenty-five years — would be the sort of generational uplift that a newer team needs to make for an immensely profitable enterprise, and not just the sort that makes several million in profit. This is a commitment to winning a whole generation of young fans and commit them to a club for decades to come, and it’s the sort of thing that a baseball team needs more than ever right now in a football-heavy market in a time when baseball’s popularity has been on the wane.

The structure of Scherzer’s deal suggests that the Nationals are using this as an uplift contract — much as they did with Jayson Werth’s deal, which has largely proved worth its asking price — with some of the money deferred over the 2022-2028 timeframe. It’s impressive to think that my son, who is barely walking at this point, will be in high school before the deal is paid off, but that’s what has me thinking this deal was a statement to the rest of the players, the division foes, and the league. That statement is unequivocal at this point: this is the year the Nationals go the distance.

Is it enough? Can a team with dominant pitching and a good-if-not-world-class offense go on to win it all?

Suffice to say: this is rarified air, and the sort of thing that can get you deep into the playoffs. But none of those three previous teams won all the marbles. The 1997 Braves lost the NLCS to the Florida Marlins, a team with 10 fewer regular season wins. The 2011 Phillies didn’t make it past the Cardinals in the NLDS, who had 12 fewer regular season wins. The 1996 Braves lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Stellar pitching isn’t the entire playoff picture. They’re not going to win it all based on pitching alone, but without that pitching, this isn’t a team that gets anywhere close.

Report: Washington Nationals sign Max Scherzer

According to the Washington Post, the Washington Nationals have completed a deal with free agent starter Max Scherzer. While terms were not revealed, Scherzer rejected a $160 million dollar offer and reports earlier Sunday evening indicated the sides were contemplating a seven-year deal for $180 million.

Barring any other moves (which seems unlikely), the Nats rotation is, in a word, fearsome. Scherzer joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Tanner Roark in a deep, talented and expensive rotation.

Even before talk of Scherzer came to light Sunday, the Nats were rumored to be entertaining offers on Zimmermann and Ian Desmond, potential free agents at season’s end. It becomes likely, if not prohibitive, that one of the potential free agents (including Doug Fister and Denard Span), or another expensive player — such as Strasburg — could be moved for prospects or to bolster the roster.

Or, GM Mike Rizzo could very well keep everyone in an effort to capture the World Series for 89-year-old owner Ted Lerner, then deal with the repercussions following the season.

Scherzer, 30, was simply the top free agent on this year’s market and one of the top five pitchers of the past two seasons for the Detroit Tigers. He’s been an All-Star the past two seasons, Cy Young in ’13 and fifth in ballots last year. He’s 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA and 1.219 WHIP in his career, which obviously includes some difficult seasons early as he learned to command his precious fastball.

In ’13, Scherzer was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and last season went 18-5, 3.15. Scherzer has a lifetime K rate of 9.6 and BB rate of 2.8, and the past two seasons he’s been on the right side of both (above Ks, below BBs).

Additionally, moving back to the N.L. at this stage in his career should be a boon to his strikeout numbers.

There will be plenty more written about this mega-deal, but the fallout — if there is any — will be fascinating to watch. Rizzo had some big decisions even before this happened, and they become even more intriguing.

It’s been no secret around Nats Park that Jordan Zimmermann would test the free agent waters when he became eligible. Scherzer could very well be Rizzo’s idea to replace the stoic right-hander.

There were plenty of rumors and suggestions by national media Sunday evening that Strasburg could be dangled as a trade target, as he’s due for free agency in the very near future.

Or, Rizzo (and potentially more likely, Scott Boras — Scherzer’s agent) got to the Lerners and said ‘You’ve got a chance here to win it all’ and convinced the wealthy but cautious family to go “all-in” and give themselves the best chance at a championship over the next couple of seasons.

Either way, a competitive and interesting team got more so on Sunday, when most of the country was watching the NFL Conference title games. What comes next could make for spectacular drama, adding to this fascinating and intriguing development.

Nats, Scherzer “close” according to sources

Late Sunday, the internet blew up. Yes, most of it nationally was centered around the Seattle Seahawks kind of ridiculous comeback against the Green Bay Packers. But locally in DC, it’s when first rumors, then unconfirmed sources, then actual reports surfaced: the Washington Nationals were indeed “in” on free agent starting pitcher Max Scherzer.

Scherzer, 30, is simply the top free agent on this year’s market. He’s been an All-Star the past two seasons, Cy Young in ’13 and fifth in ballots last year. He’s 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA and 1.219 WHIP in his career, which obviously includes some difficult seasons early as he learned to command his precious fastball.

In ’13, Scherzer was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and last season went 18-5, 3.15. Scherzer has a lifetime K rate of 9.6 and BB rate of 2.8, and the past two seasons he’s been on the right side of both (above Ks, below BBs).

If you’re going all-in on a guy that you think puts you over the top as a contender, there are none better available.

Of course, there are repercussions.

All winter long, Mike Rizzo’s been making moves that appeared to be stabilizing salary. He didn’t chase down a big bat to fill the second base hole, rather he traded one of the most reliable set-up men in the country for an average at-best shortstop (with a maturity history) to do so. He stayed out of the bidding when other big-name free agents came off the board.

In fact, everyone knows the Nats have some hard choices to make with Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Denard Span all free agents after the season is over, and with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper approaching that status more quickly than any of us would care to think about.

Adding Scherzer to the equation would change the calculus dramatically.

It would seem that by adding a pitcher for seven years at $180 million (the rumored offer at this point), the Nats are making the decision an offseason early, and that they’d allow all that money to come off the books.

There have been trade rumors flying around all winter regarding Desmond and Zimmermann, and if this deal goes through, we can expect those to intensify. Rizzo could use either/both to restock the system with close-to-MLB talent to fill the holes created when those players walk.

Or, Rizzo could stand pat with a rotation of Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister, move Tanner Roark into the bullpen, and try to win a World Series before the “group of four” go out as free agents.

By the time you read this Monday morning, we may already have an answer. But this will be fascinating to watch play out.

Washington Nationals NLDS Game 2 Review: Belt’s homer in 18th ends longest game in playoff history

Brandon Belt hit a solo home run in the top of the 18th inning off Tanner Roark and the San Francisco Giants beat the Washington Nationals 2-1 in the longest game by time — and tying the longest game by inning — in the history of Major League Baseball playoffs.

The official time of the game was 6:23.

The Nationals now trail in the series 2-0 and travel to San Francisco to face 18-game winner Madison Bumgarner. Doug Fister will oppose him in the Monday game.

Jordan Zimmermann and Tim Hudson were terrific in the first half of this same-game double-header, but neither factored in the decision, obviously. San Francisco won its 10th consecutive playoff game — a National League record — with eight of those wins coming on the road. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals vs San Francisco Giants NLDS Series Preview

After winning the NL East as well as owning the best record in the National League, the Washington Nationals welcome the San Francisco Giants, winners of the NL Wild Card Game, to Nationals Park on Friday afternoon to kickoff a best-of-five National League Division Series.

Teams

Washington Nationals (96-66, 1st in NL East vs San Francisco Giants (88-74, 2nd in NL West) [Read more…]

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