Monday Musings

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Michael A. Taylor’s two run home run was the deciding blow in Washington’s 6-5 victory over Philadelphia on May 14th.  The win gave the Nats a split of their day-night twin bill against the Phils, and moved Washington 7.5 games ahead in the National League East.

We’re not yet to Memorial Day, let alone to the Fourth of July or to the trade deadline, but forgive us if we’re thinking October already in the Nation’s Capital.

Washington’s fast start to the 2017 season has the Nats at 24-13, 7.5 games ahead of the slumping Mets in what has turned out to be, at least to date, a fairly non-competitive National League East.  And while it is never wise to count one’s chickens before they hatch, it is not going too far out on a limb to predict that there will be October baseball in Washington in 2017.

Since the 1995 season, four six teams besides the 2017 Nationals have finished play on May 15th with greater than a 7.5 game lead in their division.  Two of the teams (last year’s Cubs and the 2007 Red Sox) won the World Series, and the other two (the 2001 Mariners and the 1998 Braves were playoff squads).  The Mariners (116 wins), Braves (106) and the Cubs (103) cracked the century mark in victories, while the Red Sox won 96.

 

UP NEXT

Stephen Strasburg takes the mound for the Nats tomorrow against the Pirates in Pittsburgh.  The hard-throwing righthander is 3-2 with a 2.51 ERA in his career against the Buccos, and has fanned 60 batters in only 43 innings pitched.  The Pirates’ .532 OPS against Strasburg is the lowest of any National League opponent.

The Nats will be facing righthander Chad Kuhl, who is 1-3 with a 5.81 ERA on the year.  Opponents have put up a healthy 1.613 WHIP rate against Kuhl in his seven starts.

The Nats’ Bryce Harper is a home run threat wherever he plays but to date, he’s not been able to hit a long ball at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park. In 49 career at bats in Pittsburgh, Harper has hit .265 with three RBI but has yet to go deep.  Perhaps tomorrow will be the day the Nats’ rightfielder makes a splash in the Steel City!

 

 

Nationals by the Numbers- May 14th

Another dramatic Bryce Harper home run against the Phillies gave the Nats their second straight walk-off win in Washington’s 6-4 victory on May 13th at Nationals Park.

The latest “Nationals by the Numbers” highlights late inning heroics by members of the Nats’ powerful lineup and some positives coming out of what has been to date a much maligned Nats’ bullpen corps.

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Bryce Harper contributed to Washington’s game winning rally on Wednesday with a double to left field off of Baltimore’s Brad Brach.  Six of Harper’s nine doubles in the 2017 have been hit to the opposite field.

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In Washington’s comeback win over Baltimore on Wednesday May 10th, catcher Matt Wieters went 3 for 5 and drove in the winning runs against his former teammates.  The game was Wieters’ seventh multi-hit game of the 2017 season.  Only three catchers (the Giants’ Buster Posey with 11, Miami’s J. P. Realmuto with 10 and Brian McCann of Houston with 8) have more multi-hit games than Wieters.

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Wieters’ heroics on Wednesday might not have been possible without some assistance from Nats’ centerfielder Michael A. Taylor, whose eighth inning two run home run off of Baltimore’s Alec Asher drew Washington within two runs at 6-4.   Taylor’s laser blast came on the first pitch he saw from Asher, marking the ninth time in his 23 homers that he has gone deep on the first pitch of an at bat.  20 of Taylor’s home runs have come when he’s been ahead in the count.

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Nats’ reliever Shawn Kelley got the win in Saturday’s game, throwing one inning and fanning two batters in the process. Kelley now has 15 strikeouts in 11 innings pitched on the year for a 12.3 SO/9 ratio. That number almost equals his career best 12.4 mark set in 2016 when Kelley was the Nats’ primary set-up man.

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Stephen Strasburg struck out nine Orioles’ batters on Wednesday night, giving him 31 career games at Nationals Park with nine or more strikeouts. In those 31 games, Strasburg has posted a 17-5 record with the Nats winning six of the nine contests where Strasburg did not figure in the decision.  The nine strikeout game was Strasburg’s first at home since July 21, 2016, when he lost a 6-3 decision to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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Reliever Matt Albers struck out all three batters he faced in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s win over Baltimore.  Albers’ effort marked the 32nd time in team history that a Nationals’ reliever has struck the side without allowing anyone to reach base.  Washington had only one such performance in 2016, and it came in a losing effort. On September 20th, Rafael Martin fanned all three Diamondbacks he faced in the ninth inning of Washington’s 14-4 loss at the hands of Arizona.  Drew Storen is far and away the Washington leader in this category with nine such games. Henry Rodriguez and Tyler Clippard tie for distant second with three games each.

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Harper’s walk-off two run homer against the Phillies on Saturday night was the fifth of his career, and the 33rd in Nationals’ history.   Six of those have come against Philadelphia, the most among any opponent.  Harper and Ryan Zimmerman (with 10) are the only Nationals with multiple walk-off home runs in their careers in Washington.

Nationals Notes- Tuesday May 9th

The annual contests between the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles are billed as the Battle of the Beltway, but the truth is the the battle has been somewhat one-sided.  Last night’s 6-4 Baltimore win gave the O’s a 37-24 record against their neighbors to the south.  The Nats have had a particularly hard time defeating the Orioles at Camden Yards, losing 14 of their last 19 games played in Charm City.

The Orioles blitzed Nats’ starter Gio Gonzalez with three home runs in a four run first inning to set the tone for their series opening win.  The game marked the 12th time Washington has allowed three or more home runs to an American League opponent.  The Nats are 1-11 in those games, with the only win coming on June 17, 2006 in an 11-9 comeback victory at RFK Stadium over the New York Yankees.

Nats’ left fielder Jayson Werth went 2 for 4 in last night’s game, giving him 10 hits in his last 18 at bats.  Werth has scored five runs, doubled twice, hit a pair of home runs and driven in three runs during the stretch.

Coming into last night’s game, Baltimore reliever Darren O’Day had not given up a run against Washington in 13 career innings pitched.  That changed in the top of the eighth inning when Bryce Harper hit a solo home run to left field off of O’Day.  The home run was the 14th of Harper’s career to left field and the first since June 21, 2016 when he homered to left off of Los Angeles’ Scott Kazmir at Dodger Stadium.  The blast was Harper’s 11th against American League opponents.

Nationals by the Numbers- May 6th

With 30 games down in the 2017 season, the Nationals sport a Major League best 21-9 record.  The Nats’ 6.5 game lead in the NL East is the biggest spread in any division and the 2017 Nationals may be the best squad we’ve seen in DC in a long time.  Here’s a look at a few notes coming out of the past week.

Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman came into the 2016 season with a .698 career OPS at Philadelphia’ Citizens Bank Park.  While his trips to to City of Brotherly Love largely frustrating in past years, that has changed for the player who has arguably been baseball’s best player in 2017.  In 18 at bats in Philadelphia this year, Zim has three homers, has driven in eight runs and has put up a Bonds-like 1.389 OPS.

The face of the Nats’ franchise is not the only Washington player enjoying his time at the Bank this year.  Red-hot Anthony Rendon has a .389 average, two homers and five RBI at Philadelphia this clear, and Jayson Werth has matched Rendon’s bating average and RBI totals while hitting one fewer home run.  Daniel Murphy has also been a force at the plate, hitting .476 in 21 at bats.

Washington’s 48 home runs on the season trails only the 50 hit by Milwaukee among National League teams.  Being among the league’s top long ball hitting teams has been a common occurrence for the Nats in recent years.  Since 2012, Washington has placed no lower than fourth in the league in home runs in any season.

On Thursday, Nats ace Max Scherzer allowed only two hits and one run to lead the Nats to a 4-2 win over Arizona.  The strong start coming on the heals of Scherzer’s giving up five runs against the Mets in his previous outing was nothing new.  In the 11 starts Scherzer has made for Washington following a game where he has given up five or more runs, Scherzer has posted a 1.74 ERA and has struck out 98 batters in 82.2 innings pitched.

This week has not been all about the stars for the Nats.  Washington also got wins from pitchers Jacob Turner and A.J. Cole, and saves from fireballing Enny Romero and strike-throwing Matt Albers to keep things going in the right direction.

 

Nationals by the Numbers- Sunday April 30th

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Ryan Zimmerman’s massive 455 blast wasn’t enough to keep the Nationals from falling 5-3 on Saturday to the rival New York Mets. The homer was Zimmerman’s 11th of the season and third in the two games in the series so far.

With April 2017 almost in the books, here’s this week’s version of Nationals by the Numbers.  We’re heavy on the offensive heroics this week following Washington’s bashing of the Colorado Rockies in their four game series in Denver.

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Nats’ veteran lefthander Gio Gonzalez will finish the month of April with a 3-0 mark. Gonzalez’s career winning percentage in April is .615, the third highest percentage in a month in his career.  The good news for fans hoping for continued success for the popular pitcher is that the upcoming month of May has historically been Gonzalez’s best month from a winning percentage perspective.  The Florida native has won 17 of his 25 starts in May to post a .680 mark.

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The Nationals put up double digit runs in three consecutive games in the Colorado series, scoring 15, 11 and 16 in the final games of the set.  This was only the third time in Nationals’ history where they’ve scored double digit runs in three consecutive games. The 2016 Nats did the trick by scoring 10 to beat Cincinnati on June 5th, and then going to Chicago to beat the White Sox by 10-5 and 11-4 scores on June 6th-7th.  Back in late June of 2012, the Nationals beat the Rockies at Colorado by 12-5 and 11-5 scores before losing 11-10 in the final game of the series.

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Trea Turner and Bryce Harper each had a four hit game in the series in Colorado, Turner’s coming on April 25th when he hit for the cycle and Harper’s coming one day later in Washington’s 11-4 rout of the Rockies.  Washington has had five four hit performances on the year, the most by a team in the Majors. Harper leads the way with three (giving him five in his career), with Turner and Daniel Murphy also part of the 2017 four hits in a game club.

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Anyone following the Nationals so far this year has noticed the team’s very proficient and explosive lineup.  Through 24 games, Washington’s 6.12 runs scored per game is far and away the top mark in the Major League’s (the New York Yankees with 5.64 runs per contest are next).

The Nationals also lead the Major Leagues in on base percentage at .359, batting average at .284, and OPS at .840.  They are third in walks with 96 and their 36 home runs trails only the 43 put up by the Milwaukee Brewers.

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Nats’ all-star righthander Stephen Strasburg had his 55th career game with at least seven innings pitched and three or fewer earned runs allowed on Saturday.  Unfortunately Strasburg’s solid effort was not rewarded with a win, as the Nats fell to Michael Conforto and the Mets by a 5-3 score.  The loss was only Strasburg’s seventh time in 41 decisions in the 55 contests.

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The only thing hotter than the unseasonably warm weather in Washington this weekend has been the bat of Ryan Zimmerman.  The Z man homered twice on Friday and hit a mammoth blast on Saturday against the Mets to give him 11 homers in April.  With one day to go in the month, Zimmerman has tied his career high for most homers in a month (he hit 11 in September 2013).  He stands two short of the Nationals’ record of 13, set by Bryce Harper in May 2015.

One interesting aspect of the Nats’ first baseman’s start to the year has been his ability to produce even when he is behind in the count. On 1-2 counts so far this season, Zimmerman has a Major League leading four home runs and has put up an All-Star level 1.125 OPS.

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Trea Turner and Daniel Murphy combined for 12 runs driven in during Washington’s 15-12 win at Colorado on April 25th, giving the middle infield combo the highest total of combined RBI by two players in Nationals’ history.  The dozen RBI topped the 10 runs driven in by Josh Willingham (with 8) and either Cristian Guzman or Adam Dunn (each had two RBI) in the Nats’ 14-6 win at Milwaukee on July 27, 2009.

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The news is not all good in the Nation’s Capital when discussing our boys in red and white.   Friday’s game saw Nats’ spark plug Adam Eaton lost for the season with a knee injury and Saturday’s second straight loss to the Mets featured two more home runs allowed by the Nationals’ bullpen.  Washington’s 15 home runs allowed by relievers so far this year is the second highest total in the National League, trailing only Philadelphia (19) and San Diego (16).  The Nats’ pen’s .855 OPS allowed is the second worst figure in the Major Leagues.

Nationals’ Tuesday Tidbits- April 25th

Jose Lobaton, Charlie Blackmon

Colorado Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon, right, follows the flight of his two-run home run with Washington Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton in the seventh inning of a baseball game Monday, April 24, 2017, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

This week’s Tuesday Tidbits focuses on potential bullpen woes, hot starts by two Nationals’ stalwarts and other items of note as we move closer to the end of the 2017 season’s first month.

CRAZY 8’s

The Nats dropped the first game of their four game set with Colorado last evening by an 8-4 score.  Of all non-NL East opponents, the Rockies have the most games against Washington with eight or more runs scored with 18 in the Nats’ 12 plus years in the Major Leagues.    The St. Louis Cardinals are next with 13 such games, followed by the Cincinnati Reds (11), Los Angeles Dodgers (10), Milwaukee Brewers (10) and San Francisco Giants (10).

THE MAX FACTOR

Sunday’s victory by Max Scherzer made the Nats’ ace 3-0 on the year and gave him his 37th win in Nationals’ uniform. His win total trails only the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta (with 43) among Major League pitchers in wins since the start of the 2015 season.   Scherzer has allowed only 15 hits in 27.2 innings pitched on the year, has struck out 33 batters and has posted an impressive 1.95 ERA.

THE SLAM STORY

Daniel Murphy’s grand slam on Sunday against the Mets not only continued his torment of his former team, it gave the Nationals 10 grand slams since the start of the 2016 season.  That mark is the highest in the Major Leagues.  Colorado and Los Angeles are next with eight each, with the New York Mets checking in with seven.

The Nationals are not only good at hitting grand slams, they’re good at preventing them as well.  Washington and the New York Yankees lead the Majors with only one grand slam allowed since the start of the 2016 campaign.  St. Louis’ Stephen Piscotty did the honors against Scherzer and the Nats in Washington on May 27, 2016 as the Cardinals won 6-2.

RED HOT RYAN

Nats’ first baseman Ryan Zimmerman is known as a somewhat streaky hitter, and it is clear that he’s at the top of his game so far in 2017. Zimmerman’s home run in last night’s loss at Colorado was his seventh of the month, equaling the seven round trippers he hit in May 2016.  Zimmerman’s best month ever for home runs was September of 2013 when he clubbed 11.

PEN PROBLEMS

While many of us probably think that the national media’s obsession with the Nationals’ bullpen’s purported issues is somewhat overblown, there’s no denying that the 2017 bullpen group is off to a less than solid start.  Almost across the board, the group’s admittedly early results in key categories is mostly below that of their counterparts in previous Nationals’ seasons since 2012:

YEAR                      ERA            WHIP                 SO/9               OPP OPS

2017                         5.54            1.442                   8.5                   .830

2016                         3.37            1.187                    8.8                  .673

2015                         3.46            1.223                    8.1                  .674

2014                          3.00            1.202                    8.2                 .640

2013                         3.56              1.232                   8.2                 .674

 

LIGHT THE CANDLES

Happy birthday to former Nationals Garret Mock and Danny Espinosa.

Mock, who turns 34 today, was 4-13 in three seasons with Washington after coming to the Nats from Arizona in a 2006 trade that sent Livan Hernandez to the Diamondbacks.

Espinosa, who turns 30 today,  hit 92 homers, drove in 285 runs and played top level defense at both second base and shortstop during his tenure in Washington.  The hard swinging switch-hitter has 29 strikeouts in 77 at bats so far in Los Angeles, but he has shown a flair for the dramatic while playing in his home state. All three of Espinosa’s home runs this year have come in the ninth inning, including a clutch three run shot on April 4th that gave Los Angeles a 7-6 comeback win at Oakland

 

Nationals by the Numbers- April 23, 2017

Gio Gonzalez won again at Citi Field against the Mets on Saturday, moving his all-time record at the Mets’ home to 8-1 as the Nationals won their sixth game in a row. (PHOTO- Anthony Grupposo, USA Today Sports).

Our first edition of Nationals by the Numbers for the 2017 season features notes on the Nats’ dominance of former tormentors within their division, long balls hit with the bases full and the consistently good efforts Washington gets from its starting pitching staff.

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Since 2011, Nationals’ wins at Citi Field in Queens, New York have been as common as jets flying over the stadium or Mets’ fans venting their displeasure with boos.

The Nats have won 43 of the 60 games (.716 winning percentage) played at New York since 2011.  Yesterday’s winning pitcher Gio Gonzalez is 8-1 lifetime at Citi Field, and teammate Stephen Strasburg has won five of his six decisions at the park.  Both Anthony Rendon (.889 OPS) and Bryce Harper (.880) have excelled against Mets’ pitching, and Daniel Murphy’s work against his former teammates has caused angst among his one-time supporters.

Despite their overall dominance on the road against the Mets, the Nationals have not swept a series in New York since August 12-14, 2014.  Washington will look to change that behind ace Max Scherzer this evening.

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Their divisional opponents in the Big Apple are not the only former bully who the Nats have turned the tables on.  Since June 21, 2014, Washington has won 49 of the 62 games it has played against the Atlanta Braves.   Washington’s 14 runs scored against Atlanta on April 19th is the most the Nationals have scored at Atlanta, beating the mark of 13 runs set in the Nats’ amazing comeback 13-12 win over the Braves on April 28, 2015.

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Washington is 12-5 through 17 games in the 2017 campaign, one game behind the team’s best mark through 17 games in its 13 years in DC.   The 2012 and 2016 teams, which both won National League East titles and had 98 and 95 wins respectively, were 13-4 at the 17 game mark.

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Ryan Zimmerman has started the 2017 season looking like he did in his All-Star years, and he showed that form to the fans at Sun Trust Park in Washington’s 14-4 win on Wednesday.  Zimmerman hit the sixth grand slam home run of his career in the rout, the first since he cleared the bases with a home run against San Diego on August 25, 2015 in Washington.  Bryce Harper also hit a slam in the game, a year after his last four run round tripper on April 19, 2016 at Miami.

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Bryce Harper’s no doubt home run to right-center in the first inning of Friday night against talented Matt Harvey of the Mets was the ninth of Harper’s career at Citi Field. That total trails only the 66 the Nats’ right fielder has hit at home at the 12 he has blasted at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park.  With two grand slams already, a talented and powerful lineup and 145 games left to play, the Nationals may have a shot at besting the 2009 squad’s Nats’ record of eight in a season.

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Gio Gonzalez’s 6.1 innings pitched with only one run allowed marked the 12th time in 17 games that the Nationals’ starting pitchers have pitched at least six innings with two or fewer earned runs allowed.  The Nats’ sole lefty starter leads the way with four such efforts, followed by Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer with three each and Tanner Roark with two.

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It only took fire-balling lefty reliever Enny Romero 15 pitches to record five straight outs in the Nats’ 3-1 win at New York on Saturday.  Included in that effort was a three pitch (all fastballs), see you later strikeout of the good-hitting Asdrubal Cabrera in which Romero’s velocity approached triple digits.

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Trea Turner scored his first run of the season in yesterday’s 3-1 victory at New York.  The game continued a trend where good things seem to happen to the Nats when the speedy Turner rounds the bases.  In the 44 games in which Turner has scored at least one run as a National, Washington has won 30 of them.

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Following Sunday’s prime-time match-up with the Mets, the Nationals head west to Coors Field to take on the Colorado Rockies in a four game series.   Superstar Nolan Arenado has been excellent so far in 2017 (.328, six homers, 12 RBI, 1.087 OPS) and Mark Reyonlds has shown that Ryan Zimmerman isn’t the only former UVA player with a hot bat (.339, five homers 16 RBI) so far, but the real story of the Rockies’ hot start has been their pitching.

A major part of that effort has been the job done by the back end of the Colorado bullpen. Former Kansas City closer Greg Holland has converted all nine of his save attempts this year, and Holland, Adam Ottavino and lefty Mike Dunn have combined to struck out 33 batters in 25 innings pitched this year.

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Stephen Strasburg’s win over the Braves on Thursday gave him 71 victories in his career, the most for any Nationals’ pitcher since baseball returned to Washington in 2005.  The recent victory game Strasburg one more curly W than former teammates Livan Hernandez and Jordan Zimmermann.