Category Archives: Nationals

Taking Stock of the Nats Coming Out of the Break

Following our first-half Winners & Losers, here’s Bryan Frantz with a look at this Nats’ season so far, and what lies ahead.

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Nats fans should be encouraged by the team’s showing, and Matt Williams has got to be pleased with the team’s 51-42 record. When you consider all of the factors — offensive stagnancy for stretches, so many impact players missing time with injury, Bryce Harper struggling with both of the aforementioned, Ian Desmond spending time atop the leaderboard for fielding errors, Ryan Zimmerman being unable to play the position he’s held for years, a consistent inability to beat the Braves (3-7 so far) — it’s easy to see how the Nationals could be sitting at 42-51 (or worse).

But thanks to a bounce-back year from Adam LaRoche, a breakout season from Anthony Rendon (who’s apparently not a baseball fan), Desmond regaining his fielding acumen and some flat-out dominant pitching, the Nats hold a slim lead for first in the NL East, third in the NL and seventh in MLB.

Let me throw some numbers at you to show how good this team’s pitching has been compared to the rest of MLB:

*lowest ERA
*fewest walks allowed
*second in HRs allowed
*best strikeout/walk ratio

The Nats don’t have any impressive stats to show off when it comes to team batting or fielding, though, unless they’re bragging about how good their record is despite those things.

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Tyler Clippard Earned It

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The news that the Nats will have an all-star after all, and that that all-star will be Tyler Clippard, is a little puzzling. Basically because Rafael Soriano is the closer, and he has a 0.97 ERA to boot.

Clippard’s ERA (2.03) isn’t quite there, but his other numbers are. He leads the pen in innings (40) and strikeouts (53), and he handles high-leverage eighth-inning situations. Plus, he’s been doing it for years.

This may be his best year, though. His FIP’s never been lower (2.49), and his Ks per nine innings have never been higher (11.9).

It’s Clippard’s second all-star selection. You could say he’s come a long way since Jim Bowden got him for nothing.

Nats 2014 First-Half Winners & Losers

It’s been some time! Let’s hand out midseason labels …

Jordan Zimmermann

Winners

Jordan Zimmermann — After winning 19 last year he’s clearly been the Nats’ best starter this year, which is not an easy thing to be.

Doug Fister — Even better than he was in Detroit.

Tanner Roark — A crash seems likely, but he’s been fantastic.

Adam LaRoche — My dad says LaRoche can’t hit,* which doesn’t speak highly for the Nats, because ALR leads them in OPS (.863). He’s actually posting a career-best OPS+, too (139). Must be the beard.

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Bryce Harper Has An Awesome A$AP Rocky Shirt

The first-place Nats won in 16 at Milwaukee last night on Ryan Zimmerman and the bullpen’s heroics, and Bryce Harper homered in a rehab start at Potomac, but this is what I choose to blog about:

If you can’t read it, Bryce’s t-shirt says, “I LOVE BAD PITCHES THAT’S MY XXXXX PROBLEM.” And if you don’t know what that’s a reference to, here’s A$SAP Rocky’s “F**kin’ Problems,” which is a jam:

And if it’s jams you want, here are my top three candidates for the 2014 Song of Summer, with a primary assist from Rubie Edmondson:

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Mike Morse Is Taking On A Two-Year-Old Debate

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After an injury-plagued 2013 that saw our old hero Mike Morse bottom out, he’s having a dream season, posting a .295/.351/.574 slash line for the league-leading Giants. Oh and he’s still not over the great Stephen Strasburg shutdown of 2012:

“A lot of people don’t realize you might only get one shot,” Morse says. “One shot. That could have been the only shot. I just wish we could have given it everything we had, but we didn’t.”

[...]

“It was such a weird feeling,” Morse says. “I kept watching Stras throwing bullpens, still running, still doing his thing. I thought, ‘Man, maybe he’s going to come out of the bullpen.’ Or in Game 5, the lights are going to turn off, the spotlight is going to come on, he’s going to run out.

“I remember talking to guys like Mark DeRosa, and they said, ‘This could be your one and only shot.’ It made sense what they were saying to me.”

The piece, reported and written by Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports, says the shutdown “still haunts several of [Morse's] former teammates today.” To which I’d say, get over it.

Washington didn’t lose because they didn’t have Strasburg; they lost because they choked in Game 5. Also relevant to the discussion: Strasburg has had good health and been one of baseball’s best pitchers ever since.

Anyway. I still like Morse quite a bit and wish him all the best in San Francisco. I just wish he’d quit bringing up old shit.

Okay, The Nats Can Stop Getting Hurt Now

A list of injuries the Nats have suffered in this still-young season:

*Doug Fister, strained lat — Hasn’t pitched. Slated for a Single-A rehab start today.

*Wilson Ramos, broken hand — Played one game. Should be back around June 1.

*Ryan Zimmerman, broken thumb — Played 10 games. Should be back late May.

*Denard Span, concussion — Missed a week. Has an even worse than usual .293 OBP since.

That’s the No. 4 starter/big offseason acquisition, catcher/Opening Day cleanup hitter, third baseman/face of the franchise and centerfielder/leadoff hitter. Ouch.

And now this is happening:

Though the full extent of his left thumb injury remains unclear, the Nationals placed Bryce Harper on the 15-day disabled list with a thumb sprain after he visited a hand specialist and received an MRI on Saturday.

Oh, Bryce. He who missed 30-plus games last year may miss another 30 with this. Or not, but still. Hold me, Ray.

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The Nats have persevered so far, going 14-11. That’s a 90-win pace. If the season ended today, they’d be a Wild Card team.

With Fister out, the Tanner Roark-Taylor Jordan debate has been settled. With Ramos out, new guy Jose Labaton has established himself behind the plate. With Zim out, Anthony Rendon moved to third and Danny Espinosa reemerged at second. And with Span out, well, the team doesn’t lose that much, really.

Maybe, in the long run, all this struggle makes them stronger. Hard to see a silver lining in Harper going down, though.

He was replaced in the lineup yesterday by 31-year-old utility man Kevin Frandsen. Someone named Steven Souza Jr. replaces him on the roster.

Nats Save The Day From Going Full D.C. Sports

Please welcome back guest contributor Bryan Frantz to Mr. Irrelevant.

This was not a good day for D.C. sports. The Wizards lost to the Bobcats and put a serious damper on their chances of playing anybody but the Pacers or Heat in the playoffs, and the Capitals were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. It was almost a truly, one-for-the-ages miserable day when the Nationals got very close to losing a heartbreaker to the Marlins, but the local baseball team managed to put together something close to a miracle and salvage hope for the city’s sports teams.

The Nats game was eerily similar to the Wiz game. Both teams were playing at home. Both opponents have recently been somewhat of a laughingstock. Both games saw the home team face a large deficit early — Wiz were down 20 in the first half, Nats were down five after two innings. Both teams mounted an improbable comeback to take the lead. Both teams then watched that lead disappear.

After that, the two took opposite paths. The basketball game went to overtime, where the Wizards put up, somewhat incredibly, one point. Home team loses 94-88. The Caps were on the brink of being eliminated from the playoffs, a reality that was solidified a few minutes later when the Red Wings and Blue Jackets both earned points in their games.

Meanwhile, in the baseball game, Bryce Harper pulled himself out of his season-opening slump with a three-run monster of a home run that capped off a 10-pitch AB. Shortly thereafter, the Nats picked up a few more runs that put them in the lead, 6-5. But, because this is D.C., the home team had to make the game as difficult on itself as possible. Newly designated RP Ross Detwiler came on in the seventh to give up a leadoff solo shot to bring the game back to a tie, then Tyler Clippard gave up two walks and a double in the eighth to put the Nats behind again.

After the Wiz had just watched their impressive rally end in disappointment, the Nats seemed destined for a similar fate. But they’re the Nats. They certainly have had their share of “D.C. moments,” but they’ve had some success over recent years. (You could argue the Caps had more, but I would counter that the Nats have compiled more talent and have more promise, while the Caps just have Alex Ovechkin.)

And so Jayson Werth, as he’s done before, came up huge for the Nats. Down 7-6 in the bottom of the eighth, they had the bases loaded with one out and Werth at the plate. You know what’s coming. He crushed a fastball into the left field dugout of Nats Park to put the Nats ahead for good.

Werth, Harper, Anthony Rendon and the rest of the Natss managed to salvage what was almost a heartbreaking day for D.C. sports with a thrilling victory, against a division rival, no less. Once again, they’re providing Washington sports fans hope and entertainment for the months leading up to football season. Now, about football season …

Wilson Ramos Hurt His Hand, Which Doesn’t Hurt That Bad

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Nats starting catcher and Opening Day cleanup hitter Wilson Ramos reportedly fractured his left hand today on a foul tip, which is a very Wilson Ramos thing to do. (He’s only played more than 78 games in a season just once.)

We don’t know how serious it is or how long he’ll be out, but here’s a quick crack at what it could mean:

*In 231 career games with the Nats, Ramos’ Baseball Reference WAR is 4.9. It’s 5.3 on Fangraphs.

*Assuming Ramos misses two months or about 40 games, that’s a dropoff of about 0.9 WAR, so long as we also assume his replacement plays at replacement level.

*The replacement is Jose Lobaton, who posted a 1.5/1.4 WAR last season in 100 games with Tampa.

Meaning, while it stinks to lose Ramos at all, this shouldn’t hurt the Nats too bad. Maybe a game or less in the standings. And oh yeah, they won in 10 today.

Also, I know very little about WAR specifically and fancy stats in general. We may be doomed.

Three Reasons The Nats Will Be Better In 2014

Please welcome back guest contributor Bryan Frantz to Mr. Irrelevant. Here he is on your 2014 Washington Nationals.

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It says a lot about the Nats’ expectations that an 86-win 2013 season was considered a bitter disappointment. Going into this season, the song remains the same: They’re projected to go to the playoffs, Bryce Harper is an MVP candidate and the starting rotation is spoiled with Cy Young candidates.

The optimism is slightly different in 2014, though: bottom-of-the-roster holes have been filled, a new manager takes over the talented team and the glaring injury problems seem to be resolved (knock on wood).

Without further ado, here are three reasons the Nats are poised to win at least 90 games this season. Tomorrow, we’ll list why they won’t.

1. New Additions

One of the biggest problems last season was bench support. GM Mike Rizzo addressed that by adding outfielder Nate McLouth and catcher Jose Lobaton, both of whom provide depth at positions where the team had significant injury problems. McLouth will back up Harper and Jayson Werth, who missed a combined 77 games. Lobaton, a switch-hitter acquired from the Rays, will back up Wilson Ramos, who has only played in 80 or more games once in four seasons.

The most significant addition comes in the form of Doug Fister. Fister, acquired in an early winter deal with the Tigers, takes over the No. 4 spot, left vacant by the departure of the wildly inconsistent Dan Haren.

Fister brings playoff experience and reliability, as well as consistency. Last season, he finished with a 3.67 ERA and, in 32 starts, lasted at least six innings 27 times. Conversely, Haren finished last season with a 4.67 ERA and pitched six or more innings just 18 times.

Fister would be a No. 2 on most teams and has the potential to make the Nationals’ rotation the best in the MLB. He does start the season on the DL, though.

2. Pitching Changes

Rizzo and new manager Matt Williams have made a few other changes to the pitching staff, moving Ross Detwiler to the bullpen and adding lefty reliever Jerry Blevins. The Detwiler move leaves the No. 5 spot available, and righties Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan are the frontrunners. The Blevins move gives the bullpen its only left-hander other than Detwiler.

Roark, 27, made his major league debut last year and put up a 7-1 record with a 1.51 ERA. Jordan, 25, also made his debut last season, going 1-3 with a 3.66 ERA. Both have looked solid this spring and could provide an upgrade to the back of the rotation, which was unreliable last season.

Blevins has been solid for Oakland the past two seasons, and he’s been sharp this spring. He should help upgrade a bullpen that was inconsistent last season after a strong 2012.

3. Improving Young Core

Strasburg, 25, and Harper, 21, are the present and the future of the Nats. Despite notable improvement last year, they still suffered hiccups.

Strasburg’s win-loss record was unimpressive, though that can be attributed to a lack of run support. Harper was on an absolute tear until he literally hit a wall, then his season fell back to normal human level.

Spring has brought Nats fans a Strasburg slider and bulkier Harper, showing the work they put in during their longer-than-expected offseasons. All indications are they’ll be better than ever in 2014.

Jayson Werth ‘Could Do Algorithms’

Via Kilgore:

“Just because you can do something else doesn’t mean you can hit. If you can hit, you can do anything. Because it’s the hardest thing to do. There’s nothing harder. I can bake a cake. I could figure out a way to do algorithms. But a guy that knows how to do algorithms could never hit. It’s literally the hardest thing to do. If you can do the hardest thing, you can do anything else.”

Whoa.

GIF via The Big Lead

(GIF taken with love from FTW.)