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Instant analysis: Nats 7, Astros 0

Apr 30, 2014, 11:14 PM EST


GAME IN A NUTSHELL: A tumultuous opening month for the Nationals ended with a couple of much-needed wins in a comfortable place. Taking advantage of Minute Maid Park’s quirky dimensions — not to mention the perpetually struggling Astros — the Nats followed up Tuesday night’s 1-run victory with a blowout in the finale of this brief, interleague series.

Everybody in the starting lineup except for rookie Steven Souza Jr. reached base safely. Denard Span got things going with his legs, tripling to deep right-center in the top of the third and coming all the way around to score when George Springer bobbled the ball. Anthony Rendon then took over from there. The Houston-area native left his family and friends in attendance dancing in the aisles after going 4-for-5 with two doubles and a homer to lead the balanced offensive attack.

Jordan Zimmermann got plenty of run support, not that he needed it. The right-hander cruised through 6 1/3 scoreless innings before turning things over to the Nationals bullpen. Aaron Barrett, Ross Detwiler and Ryan Mattheus finished things off, securing the Nats’ third shutout victory of the season and wrapping up April on a high note.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: How much was Rendon looking forward to his first games at Minute Maid Park as a big leaguer? Apparently a whole lot. The Houston-area native had played in the Astros’ stadium in high school and college, but this was different. And he made the most of the opportunity. Rendon went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a homer. He drove in three runs, giving him a team-high 20 overall. That’s the most RBI in Nationals history for March/April. Not bad for the second-year infielder.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Zimmermann took the mound for the bottom of the first and did exactly what a front-line starter is supposed to do against an inferior lineup. The right-hander went right after the Astros and made them try to beat him. His fastball had some extra life on it, and though he scattered seven hits and a walk, he never was in serious trouble. Houston didn’t have a single runner reach third base while Zimmermann was on the mound. Yes, it would have been nice if he had been able to complete seven or eight (or even nine) innings, but that’s a small nitpick on an otherwise strong night. For his efforts, Zimmermann was rewarded with his 45th career win, putting him alone atop the Nationals’ all-time leaderboard ahead of Livan Hernandez.

KEY STAT: At 16-12, the Nationals enter May on pace to win 92.5 games this season.

UP NEXT: The Nationals get another day off before opening a weekend series in Philadelphia. Friday night’s opener at Citizens Bank Park is a doozy, with Stephen Strasburg and Cliff Lee squaring off.

  1. Eric - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:15 PM


    To recap: my goals for April

    -Split with Cards
    -At least 3 games over .500 on 5/1


    • Eric - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:31 PM

      Er, my *hopes* for April. Heh

  2. Drew - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:18 PM

    With all of the adversity — 1-5 against the Braves, DL stints for Span, Fister, Ramos, Zimmerman and Harper — that 16-12 month and 92.5-win pace feel really good.

    Especially considering the Nats will soon start getting back four All-Star caliber players.

  3. David Proctor - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:18 PM

    16-12 without Fister or Ramos ever playing a game (I don’t count half a game for Ramos). With Ryan Zimmerman out for most of the month. With Bryce hot-and-cold-and-hurt. 5 games better than 2013. It could be a LOT worse.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:36 PM


  4. chiefwj - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:36 PM

    This may not come as a big surprise to anyone, but. through the first month of the season:

    Record in games with no errors: 10-2
    Games with one error: 5-4
    Games with two errors: 1-3
    Games with three errors: 0-3

  5. Hiram Hover - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:38 PM

    It’s not a novel thought, but I am really, really impressed with Rendon–so skilled, and so smart at the plate.

    • npb99 - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:49 PM

      Totally agree. He seems very good, especially for a young player, at adjusting to pitches. He never seems to be just hacking or flailing at pitches (which some players I’m fond of but frustrated with sometimes do).

    • veejh - May 1, 2014 at 3:58 AM

      Really really good. Really.

    • unkyd59 - May 1, 2014 at 6:48 AM

      From my end of the thread comment, yesterday!
      “And it’s worth noting that Rendon continues to hover around .300, showing us professional AB after AB, doing a terrific Molitor impression… We’re in danger of taking him for granted! Is it too early to think about buying out his arb years, and the next 3-4 after that? I’d be tempted to try to lock him up for the next 7-8 years….”

  6. senators5 - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:56 PM

    Two years ago the clamor was foto bring Rendon to the “bigs.” All those who did so, can now say with full justification, “I told you so.” me, included. On the reverse side, T. Moore simply is NOT a MLB hitter and if they can’t convince Jr. to swing early in the count, he too will be AAA fodder for the rest of his career.

    • scmargenau - May 1, 2014 at 12:08 AM

      Moore’s a guy who needs to play daily, and at first. He bats 300 plus at first in mlb starts and 290ish in milb – I wish we could try him for a month to get a better sample. He presses cuz this is his shot. Can’t blame him. With zimm going to first…I just don’t see him playing much

      • coop202 - May 1, 2014 at 3:15 AM

        Don’t think I’ll ever buy Moore – he just doesn’t have ‘it’ . Needs defense at first like ALR to even be considered. I’ll say though, I played against Rendon in college – Iove his bat, but could easily be Ackley. Just hope he keeps it up.

      • Hiram Hover - May 1, 2014 at 9:00 AM

        I’m not convinced that TMo would perform better if he got more playing time, but it’s a catch 22 anyway–barring further injuries (knock wood!) he’s not going to get more playing time until/unless he performs better.

    • veejh - May 1, 2014 at 4:03 AM

      Plain and simple, some guys have it, some guys don’t. Rendon obviously has it. Moore, for me, the jury is still out. He had great ABs in 2012, and I kind of feel like his story parallels Espi’s in a way. With the right guidance/coach he could return to that prior form. Who knows, the potential is there, but can it be tapped?

    • Brookstoor - May 1, 2014 at 10:50 AM

      It wouldn’t be a NatsInsider thread without an “I told you so”! Well done on recognizing that a first round draft pick is good.

      • letswin3 - May 1, 2014 at 3:17 PM

        Touche, Bookie.

  7. laddieblahblah - May 1, 2014 at 5:32 AM

    The bench really produced last night.

    Frandsen 2 for 4, including 1 2b and a shot all the way to the RF track for one of his 2 outs. Solid D in LF. Bryce would have been happy with that.

    Leon on base 3 times, and hitting over .300 against lefties. Called a shutout behind the plate. For a fill-in, 3rd string guy, I’ll take that, any day. Good job.

    And Danny was also 2 for 4, with a HR, and solid D at 2nd. Good night taking over for Zim in the lineup. And it didn’t hurt the D, one bit, to have Rendon playing 3rd while Danny was at 2nd.

    TyMo still struggling at the plate, but was solid at 1b. One of the reasons the Nats played errorless ball was his play on that high throw, leaping to catch it and managing to land with his toe on the bag before the runner could reach 1b. No hits, but he did draw a walk. All of TyMo’s hits this year have come while he was playing 1b. He has no hits as either a pinch hitter or when playing LF, so far, this year. The Nats no longer need him to play LF, not with Frandsen, McClouth and Souza available.

    “Two years ago the clamor was foto bring Rendon to the ‘bigs.’ All those who did so, can now say with full justification, ‘I told you so.’ me, included.”

    Good call on Rendon. It was actually just a little over a year ago when I ranted and raved that Rendon should have come north as their best player at 2nd base, not Espinosa. The year before that be was injured and in the MiLs, but did recover in time to play for Matt in the AFL, where he was Matt’s best player.

    He is not only their best second baseman, and their best third baseman, he is already the best all-around player on the team, and he’s only going to get better as he adjusts to the strike zones of the ML umps – most of whom do not see the strike zone as well as he does – and continues to learn the ball movement, pitch selection, velocity, and other characteristics of the ML pitchers whom he is still learning to read. He should develop a base stealing game. He has the quickness to get a good jump, and the speed to beat the catcher’s throw, and he has 3 excellent tutors available on his own team – Werth, Desi and McClouth. I would also include Span, but he has an eerie tendency to get picked off.

    The Nats used to have trouble hitting lefties. No more. Rendon is hitting over .500 against lefties, so far, this year. Frandsen hits lefties much better than righties, as does Leon.

    Cole and the Phils will give them a chance to do it, again, Friday night, but with Lobaton probably getting the call over Leon. No problem. Lobaton has been one of the best, if not the very best, of all the bench players, so far.

    The Braves have started to come back to planet Earth.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 1, 2014 at 8:09 AM

      Great analysis and Rendon I’m convinced loves the mano y nano fight with 2 strikes.

      The reason I think so many discarded Rendon as an elite player was their eye test that by stature and physique he doesn’t look like much of a specimen. He’s not big, looks like he carries a few extra LBs and doesn’t have Popeye arms but he has the eyes and wrists and mechanics of a batting champ.

      Rendon showed that gap power once again. 3 XBH and superb defense.

    • adcwonk - May 1, 2014 at 8:52 AM

      Good call on Rendon. It was actually just a little over a year ago when I ranted and raved that Rendon should have come north as their best player at 2nd base, not Espinosa.

      Let’s be fair. The only pushback against that was a legitimate fear that it was too fast and too early for him.

      Consider: at the time he was only 21 and had played a grand total of 43 games in the minors, not a single one at 2d base — and his highest level was AA, where he played only 21 games and batted .162. (Compared to, say, Harper, who had played 134 games when he came up).

      Furthermore, he _did_ come up later in April, played 8 games, batted .240, striking out 7 times, and committed three errors at his natural position of 3b. (Then got sent back down and came up for good in June).

      We all knew (or assumed) he’d be great (that’s why he was drafted 6th overall, despite missing almost his entire last year in college due to injury — otherwise he might have been drafted 1st or 2d) — but rushing a 21 year old usually backfires.

    • tcostant - May 1, 2014 at 9:42 AM

      Great points on Leon, he also called Roark shutout.

  8. natsjackinfl - May 1, 2014 at 7:30 AM

    And some poster actually accused Matt of being borderline negligent for this lineup. More like the poster was negligent in their comment, as usual.

    I just love watching Rendon at the plate. I think I prefer him in the 2 hole for now and maybe even later when the health returns to the lineup. Putting him and Werth back to back should generate some rather high pitch counts early in the game.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 1, 2014 at 8:15 AM

      JZim vs Oberholtzer. I was ok if Walters played 3rd and Espi at SS and Rendon at 2nd.

      That looked like a split squad and JZim would take care of business.

      The people complaining about LaRoche sitting was the real head scratcher.

      Cosart is the only player they have who could start on the Nats and I’m not exaggerating. Altuve would backup Rendon.

    • lplipty - May 1, 2014 at 8:48 AM

      Its time to move Span to 8th!!!!

  9. heybudbuddy - May 1, 2014 at 7:59 AM

    Man, I feel for Bo Porter. Not that excited about the wins, there is no nice way to put it, that pitching staff is just bad. Still, over .500 with all the dings and what not, I’ll take it. JZIMM deserved a win, now the winningest ever for the new Washington baseball club.

    • adcwonk - May 1, 2014 at 8:55 AM

      Double that. I feel bad for Bo, too.

      You think their pitching staff is bad? Well, yes, it is — it’s second to last in the AL in ERA.

      But don’t forget their hitting! A team BA of .210, and dead last in all of MLB! — and that’s with the benefit of a DH!

  10. Bill C-H - May 1, 2014 at 8:13 AM

    Please Mark, Adam, Everyone – No more Harper stories until he produces consistently. Rendon, Zimmermann, Gio, et al are much more interesting and productive.

  11. Ghost of Steve M. - May 1, 2014 at 8:23 AM

    Souza had nothing to show for his game last night. He sizzles a liner to SS that was caught and K’d twice where the ump expanded the K zone. While Souza’s stats don’t look good, I really like this kid.

    • letswin3 - May 1, 2014 at 3:25 PM

      Took the words right outa my mouth. We have to find a spot for him when he starts putting it all together … which might be sooner than we think. He does need to think more about showing disrespect for ball/strike calls until he has quite a few more AB’s. I’m not saying that’s the way it should be, I’m saying that’s the way it is.

  12. heybudbuddy - May 1, 2014 at 8:47 AM

    Gotta love Rendon, but don’t jinx the guy. He looks like he’s not even aware that he’s playing plus plus baseball at the highest level. Looks like he’s just have a great time out there.

  13. thelatencn - May 1, 2014 at 9:09 AM

    Question for the experts on this blog: to what extent does the success of our backup players (Espinosa, Lobaton/Leon, Frandsen) mitigate the extent to which we will be better when we get the regulars back? When one calculates WAR in the real world, it depends on who the R is, doesn’t it?

    (I’m not counting Roark, who presumably would have been in the rotation even if Mr. Fr, had been healthy from the get-go. Fr. will replace TJ, which should be a big upgrade.)

    • Hiram Hover - May 1, 2014 at 9:18 AM

      it depends on who the R is, doesn’t it

      In a word, no.

      “Replacement” in “wins above replacement” means what you could get out of the average joe you picked up off the waiver wire or called up from AAA. That is the zero or starting point for WAR calculations.

      The average everyday MLB player–who is better than that AAA call up/waiver wire guy, which is why he’s an everyday MLB player–should put up around 2 WAR on the season.

      • thelatencn - May 1, 2014 at 9:37 AM

        I understand that, but what I’m saying is that in the real world, where the R is a real person and not a statistical abstract, the actual number of wins you get when a given regular is replaced by a given substitute depends on how that substitute performs. In other words, how many more wins would we have right now if our infield through April had been Zim, Desi, Rendon, ALR instead of Rendon, Desi, Espinosa, ALR? The actual idfference is that Zims defense at 3rd has been replaced by Rendon’s, Rendon’s at 2nd by Espinosa’s, and Zim’s bat has been repalced by Espinosa’s. How many more wins would we have if that had not happened? If the answer is close to zero, how can we say we’ll be better when Zim comes back?

      • Hiram Hover - May 1, 2014 at 9:57 AM

        Ah, I see.

        The main change in the IF has been subbing Espi’s offense for Zim’s and his 2B defense for Rendon’s, and Rendon’s 3B defense for Zim’s. While Espi has been playing well and producing at the plate, he’s still no Zim. Espi’s slash line this season is .288/.341/.488 vs Zim’s 364/.405/.636, so there was clearly some loss there. Defense is trickier to quantify, but as much as much as many of us cringe at Zim’s, the metrics (UZR and DRS) like his defense at 3B better than Rendon’s this season, and so if you’re using the typical formulas, there’s a loss there as well.

        Beyond those kinds of quibbles, there are too many other moving parts and assumptions to make any definite calculations. For example–if Zim were healthy, he might have been DHing or relieving ALR at 1B last night.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - May 1, 2014 at 10:08 AM

        The other factor is who else gets replaced; they’ll have Espinosa, instead of Walters or Souza or whoever gets sent down, coming off the bench, in that case, which is also an improvement to figure in.

  14. Doc - May 1, 2014 at 9:10 AM

    As I mentioned previously, a great future discussion for Nats’ fans will be who was the better draft pick, Harps or ARen.

    Currently, Harper gets the headlines and Rendon gets the hits—and RBIs. A two-hole hitter, for most of April, leading the team ( and close to being a league leader) in RBIs!!!

    • adcwonk - May 1, 2014 at 9:30 AM

      Even more fun — if 10 years from now, both are still on the Nats, and both are considered certain future HoF’ers.

      (A fan can dream, right?)





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