April 28, 2015

Washington Nationals Game 18 Review: Nats bats silent, get clobbered by Marlins 8-0

Box Score

Thus far in the 2015 season, the Washington Nationals have made a habit of squandering good starting pitching with lackluster offense and spotty relief pitching.

On Saturday in cavernous Marlins Park, the equation stood, as Stephen Strasburg turned in a performance that should have been enough to be competitive, yet the offense remained moribund, looking completely inept against journeyman Tom Koehler, reliever Rafael Martin got clobbered, and the Nats lost 8-0, their fourth loss in a row. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 13 Review: Strasburg crushes Phillies, Span returns.

In a baker’s dozen of games so far, the Washington Nationals have given their fans plenty of reasons to be concerned about their viability as a team able to go the distance this season. Sunday’s victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-1, showed no signs of concern whatsoever. Stephen Strasburg was as dominant as ever, and the top half of the lineup went 6 for 18 with four walks.

The Nationals looked closer to their ideal lineup on Sunday, starting Denard Span, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, and Ryan Zimmerman, in that order, for the first time this season. In the fifth inning, the five of them created a two-out three-run rally that put the home squad on top for good on Sunday.

Denard Span, fresh off the disabled list after abdominal surgery in March, started things off with a two-out single, followed by and Ian Desmond double, scoring Span from first. Jayson Werth sent one back up the middle for a second single, scoring Desmond, followed by an intentional walk to Bryce Harper. Ryan Zimmerman laced a double down the right field line to score Werth, and nearly score Harper. Bob Henley held back Harper to avoid a tight play at the plate, and that’s as far as he’d go, as Wilson Ramos would ground out to Freddy Galvis.

Stephen Strasburg went 7.1 IP, giving up a run on five hits, just two walks and seven strikeouts for his first win of the year. Through 4 2/3 innings, the Phillies were hitless against Strasburg, and his changeup and curve were being used to devastating effect. Matt Thornton got let Strasburg off the hook in the eighth, and Drew Storen assembled a five-batter ninth to finish it out.

The Nats face a tough foe in the Cardinals starting on Tuesday, but could return to .500 with a win on Tuesday.

HERO: No one is happier to have Denard Span back than Ryan Zimmerman. Zim got the two-run double in the fifth to put the game out of reach for the Phillies.

GOAT: Today’s game had no goat. Here’s a goat gif.

NATS NOTES:

Ian Desmond continues his offensive reign of terror. Since Friday night, he is 8 for 13 (3 for 4, 3 for 5, 2 for 4) with four runs scored.

Drew Storen notched his fourth save on Sunday, but gave up two hits and made things a little more exciting than Nats fans might have liked. Thankfully, longstanding Nats fans were brought up on Chad Cordero cardiac saves.

UP NEXT: The Nationals are off on Monday. Tuesday, the Cardinals come to town for a three-game set. Lance Lynn (1-1 1.64) vs Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 5.11) at 7:05pm.

Washington Nationals Game 3 Review: “Dark Knight” makes gloomy day for Nats

It was billed as a pitcher’s duel, with Stephen Strasburg hosting Matt Harvey in his return from Tommy John surgery in the third game of the season. Unfortunately for the Washington Nationals, only one of the pitchers really lived up to his end of the bargain.

Strasburg gave up six runs — but just three earned — over 5 1/3 while Harvey, who has “Dark Knight of Gotham” carved in the knob of his bats, was masterful, striking out nine in six innings and the New York Mets took the rubber match of the three-game series, 6-3, before an announced 25,327 at Nationals Park. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats roughed up by Mets

The New York Mets victimized two different Washington Nationals starters on Saturday, roughing up Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark for nine runs combined to beat the Nats 10-2 in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Strasburg got through the first three innings unscathed, then ran into trouble in the fourth. With one out, No. 8 hitter Ruben Tejada doubled to left. Strasburg struck out opposite starter Jacob deGrom, but then walked Juan Legares. On a 1-2 count, Curtis Granderson clubbed a three-run shot to right, his third of the spring.

David Wright then followed with his fourth of March, an opposite-field homer to right.

Strasburg’s final line: four innings, four earned runs on four hits and two walks with two strikeouts.

The Mets got two in the sixth. Jerry Blevins allowed a one-out double to lefty Lucas Duda and Roark was summonsed. He promptly gave up a single to Michael Cuddyer, which plated Duda. Wilmer Flores followed with a double to bring in pinch-runner Cesar Puello.

Roark’s forgettable outing continued in the seventh. Minor leaguer Johnny Monell homered to lead off but Roark looked to right things by retiring the next two batters. Unfortrunately, Dan Uggla’s error on Daniel Muno’s grounder opened the floodgates.

Duda homered with Muno aboard on a 2-2 pitch, and after Puello reached on an infield single, Roark’s day was over. Matt Reynolds greeted reliever Rafael Martin with a double to center to complete the four-run frame.

Meanwhile, the Nats offense was limited to a very long, very loud Bryce Harper home run in the sixth, and Clint RObinson’s RBI single in the ninth.

NATS NOTES:

  • In the battle for the final spots on the roster, Uggla was 0 for 3 with the big error, Robinson was 2 for 4 with an RBI and Ian Stewart was hitless in three at bats. Tyler Moore, who is out of options, went 1 for 4 with a run.
  • Danny Espinosa played shortstop on the road trip and was 1 for 3.
  • After their outings, both Blevins and Roark are sporting ERAs over 9.00.
  • Ryan Zimmerman is scheduled to take a few days off after banging his left shoulder diving for a ball on Friday. Manager Matt Williams told reporters in Florida that no tests were needed “as of right now”.
  • Williams also announced the rest of the Nats season-opening rotation. Max Scherzer, as previously announced, will start opening day, followed by Jordan Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister.

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: Strasburg sharp as Nats top Tigers

Stephen Strasburg looked to be in mid-season form and the Washington Nationals survived a blow-up by Jerry Blevins late in the game to beat Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers 6-4 in Lakeland, Florida.

Strasburg was exceptionally sharp in his second official start of the spring — through he did make an appearance in a simulated game — baffling the Tigers hitters and broadcasters alike with his breaking stuff. Strasburg went four innings, striking out five and allowing just three hits and no walks. He threw 61 pitches, 44 for strikes. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Spring Training: 4-run sixth help Nats top Cards

The Washington Nationals upped their Grapefruit League record to 3-0, using a four-run sixth inning to top the St. Louis Cardinals 6-5 on Saturday in Viera.

Wilson Ramos led off the frame with a ground ball single and was replaced by pinch-runner Dan Butler. Michael Taylor followed with a line-drive single to left and Butler moved up 90 feet. After Cutter Dykstra was called out on strikes, Rafael Bautista’s line-drive single loaded the bases. Derrick Robinson struck out swinging, but Matt Skole followed with a single to center that plated Butler and Taylor, with Bautista going to third and Skole going to second on the throw.

Second base prospect Wilmer Difo then singled to right to score both Bautista and Skole.

The Nats picked up another run in the seventh when Dykstra’s triple scored Taylor, who reached on a fielder’s choice.

Stephen Strasburg started for the Nats and wasn’t particularly sharp. He went 1 2/3 innings and allowed two earned runs on three hits and two walks, striking out two. No. 2 prospect A.J. Cole followed and went 2 1/3 innings, allowing two runs — one earned — on two hits.

NATS NOTES:

  • Ryan Zimmerman joined Difo as Nats with two hits. Zimmerman was 2 for 3 but did not factor in any scoring.
  • Anthony Rendon was 0 for 3 and still looking for his first hit of the spring.
  • Bryce Harper was 1 for 2 before giving way to Clint Robinson.
  • Jerry Blevins, Casey Janssen and Felipe Rivero all pitched scoreless innings in relief.
  • Danny Espinosa, Rendon and Difo all made errors.

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.

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