Jun 30, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Harper’s return - It’s been over two months since Bryce Harper last took the field with the Nationals, but his long recovery from a torn ligament in his left thumb is just about over. Barring something unforeseen, Harper is expected to be in the Nats’ lineup to face the Colorado Rockies on Monday night. Harper made five rehab appearances split between Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg, and went 9-for-14 with four home runs, 11 RBI and nine runs scored. He hit three homers in Saturday’s game alone, perhaps cementing the fact he is ready to join the Nats after missing 57 games.
Harper coming back will have a few different effects on the Nationals. For one, he’ll return to the team right before they begin the second half of the season and could provide a spark on offense. The 21-year-old is still coming into his own as a professional, but one thing we have learned over the last three seasons is that when he is swinging a hot bat, it’s not easy to slow him down regardless of the competition. In 2013 he was hitting .478 at the end of spring training and carried that over into an MVP-like first month of the season. It would not be surprising to see him come back with a bang, looking more like the Harper of April 2013 than the one we have seen since.
Harper’s return will also make for some tough decisions for Matt Williams. Does he sit Danny Espinosa? What about Denard Span? Can Ryan Zimmerman hold his own at third base? There is no easy solution to the Nationals lineup and it will be interesting to see how Williams handles things moving forward.
Rockies in town - The Rockies have been a bit of a disaster this month with a 8-19 record in June. They were once 22-14 this year and looking like one of baseball’s surprise teams, but their pitching staff has since held them back. The Rockies, in fact, have the worst team ERA (4.92) this season, including the worst mark for starters (5.22) and the 27th ranked bullpen (4.49). The Nationals are quite the opposite with the best ERA for a team (3.07), the sixth best rotation ERA (3.37) and the second best mark for a bullpen (2.49).
That would seem to predict some wins for the Nationals, but while the Rockies have been bad at preventing runs, they’ve been one of the best teams in the majors at producing them. The Rockies place second in runs scored this year, and first in both team batting average and OPS. The Rockies are batting an incredible .285 as a team. They also have a .794 OPS collectively. The average would be second on the Nationals and the OPS would be third-best.
Lately the Rockies have been doing it without Carlos Gonzalez – who is sidelined after having a tumor removed from his left index finger – but still have plenty of firepower. Of course, there is Troy Tulowitzki who was arguably the first half MVP. Tulo leads the majors with a .353 average, 1.062 OPS, and .445 on-base percentage. He’s also hit 18 home runs, posted 46 RBI and leads baseball with 63 runs scored.
Helping out Tulowitzki has been a trio of surprise contributors for the Rockies, all three left-handed bats. Justin Morneau, most notably, has been playing at an All-Star level for the first time since 2009. The former AL MVP is batting .307 with 13 home runs and 58 RBI in 77 games. Then there is Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson, two relative unknowns who have exploded this season. Blackmon, 27, is hitting .297 with 12 home runs, 46 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 80 games. Dickerson, 25, is batting .343, holds a 1.026 OPS, and has ten home runs.
The Nationals will pitch Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Doug Fister in their three games vs. Colorado. We’ll see what they have against one of the game’s best lineups.
Who will be the Nats’ All-Star(s)? - The rosters for the 2014 MLB All-Star Game will be announced this coming weekend on July 5-6 (MLB.com is set to reveal more info this week). Currently the Nationals do not have any players even close to being voted in as starters. Currently a half-game out of first, surely the Nationals will get a few players on the team, but who will they be? You could make the case for Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon among their position players. Ian Desmond is hitting just .232, but he has still been among the best shortstops in the game. He was also one of last year’s biggest snubs, if that means anything to the coaching staff.
As far as pitchers go, the Nationals could get a few on the NL roster. Zimmermann, Fister and Tanner Roark have all pitched at an All-Star level and have helped carry the Nats to this point.
Given they have so many options, it’s unlikely the Nationals will get a relief pitcher into the game. But, if Mike Matheny wants one, he has plenty to choose from. Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Aaron Barrett have all been among the NL’s best relievers this season. Rafael Soriano has also been excellent, but he ranks seventh among NL closers in saves.
NL East Standings
Offensive game of the week: Anthony Rendon 6/28 vs. Cubs – 3-for-4, 2 R, 2B, 3B, RBI
Pitching game of the week: Gio Gonzalez 6/28 vs. Cubs – 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 SO, 99 pitches, 62 strikes.
Quote of the week:
Denard Span on losing a flyball in the fog at Wrigley Field:
I didn’t even know it was coming at me, to be honest with you. I didn’t know where it was. I finally figured that the ball was coming towards me, because everybody was looking at me and pointing in my direction. But it is scary, because … once I figured out the ball was coming towards me, I didn’t want to look up. Because the last thing I wanted was to let a ball hit me in my pretty face.
Tweet of the week:
— Bryce Harper (@Bharper3407) June 29, 2014
MON – 7:05 p.m. vs. Colorado Rockies (Zimmermann)
TUE – 7:05 p.m. vs. Colorado Rockies (Strasburg)
WED – 6:05 p.m. vs. Colorado Rockies (Fister)
THU – OFF
FRI – 11:05 a.m. vs Chicago Cubs (Roark)
SAT – 4:05 p.m. vs Chicago Cubs (Gonzalez)
SUN – 1:35 p.m. vs Chicago Cubs (Zimmermann)
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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