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State of the Nats: Harper set to return

Jun 30, 2014, 11:00 AM EST

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

Top storylines:

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

source:

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:

Road ahead

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)

  1. tcostant - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:12 AM

    On double headers:

    You know I always see comments saying there should be scheduled double headers. Just forget it. I when to a few in my youth, but that was when games went 2 to 2 1/2 each, but today that would would be a half day at the ballpark if you got there about an hour before first pitch and the the delay between games. No thanks!

    • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:06 PM

      Well, I was in Chicago for the double header and it was a BLAST! The first game started early (12:05) and there was NO traffic getting to the “remote” parking and the shuttle bus (FREE!). They were giving away American Doll Cubbie outfits to children under 12, so there were a lot of little girls at the game, so cute.

      After the first game I went outside and sat on the bench and had a nice chat with some Nats fans, waved and high-fived every other Nats fan (there were LOTS), had ice cream at McDonald’s with the fans I’d been talking with, bought a good (and cheap!) ticket from a Cubs fan who walked by, and then enjoyed the night cap. Drove home Sunday with no game to worry about, so it was perfect for me.

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:07 PM

        Oh, and took pictures of the Ernie Banks statue. II really enjoyed the double header, a full day of baseball, I was tired when I got to my motel, but it was a GOOD tired.

      • Brookstoor - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:25 PM

        Sounds like a good time NL and I do wish I could do that one day, both do both games of double header as well as see the Nats play an away game (somewhere other than Camden Yards). Nats fans are cropping up all over the place, too. We have a decent away presence I think.

      • nats106 - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:26 PM

        How appropriate to get you picture with Ernie Banks on the heels of a doubleheader. Let’s play 2!!

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:39 PM

        We went to our grandson’s first game at 9:00, came home watched the first Nats game, went back and caught the little guy’s 2nd game, stopped at a bar, had a beer and dinner, watched the Nats 2nd game until the rain delay, got home and watched the rest of the game.A good day in the life!

      • Section 222 - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:57 PM

        This is a very cool report. Sounds like you had a great time. My question is, would it have been as fun if we had been swept rather than doing the sweeping? :-)

  2. therealjohnc - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    The NL East standings are out of date; the Braves and Nats are tied in the loss column with the Braves having one extra W in hand for a 0.5 game lead.

  3. NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 11:55 AM

    Ha! So Span took a hit in the UZR rather than a hit in the face. I would too.

  4. natsbro - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    As it stands right now the Braves are second to last in the majors in runs scored, 26th in batting average, 27th in OBP and 21st in slugging.

    Pitching has kept them alive as they are 5th in the league in ERA, first in quality starts, 11th in WHIP and 14th in batting average against.

    A lot of those pitching stats were inflated from a terrific first month in which they boasted a team ERA of 2.60…I think over the last month they have come back to reality a little bit. Bottom line is in June they were 17-8, since then they are 27 – 29. They have been playing mediocre baseball (especially offensively) for over a month now. It’s time for the Nats to surge. It won’t be easy as the Braves have quite lackluster schedule up to and beyond the all star break. For example in their last 7 games they are 6 – 2 despite batting .217 as a team!! That can’t last for long..even when playing the bad teams. Harper needs to provide us with a boost to take back first and try and get some distance. Flat out in my opinon..the Bravos are just not that great of a team. It pisses me off we can’t get some consistency going and get some distance.

    Again the next few weeks will be big. Nats need to finish strong to the all star break.

  5. Eric - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:21 PM

    NL – if you want to post HTML tags, you have to encode the < and the > symbols using &lt; and &gt;

    • Eric - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:23 PM

      So, for instance, to show the bold tag, you’d enter &lt;b&gt;, which would display as <b>

      NOTE: to post the encoding syntax, you have to encode the ampersand, i.e., &amp;lt; ;)

    • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:24 PM

      OK, I will try that.

      &lt pre &t and &lt /pre &gt

      • NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:25 PM

        OK, I’m lost. That didn’t work. Trying again.

        <pre> </pre>

      • Eric - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:29 PM

        Yeah, no spaces required, leading to ultimate illegibility ;) .

      • Eric - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:31 PM

        Oh, and don’t forget the semi colons at the end of the encoded tags (also known as HTML entities).

  6. Eric - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:29 PM

    Yeah, no spaces required, leading to ultimate illegibility ;).

  7. NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    OK, I looked at all the one-run losses. Six were lost by relievers, which means the game was tied at some point. Some were not what you think of as typical one-run losses, for example 4/19. That game was 3-0 and then 4-1 and the Nats got it to 4-3 by runs in the 8th and 9th innings.

    Two were 1-0 losses. Difficult to fault the pitching.

    Except for 4/11 (7-6), ALL the other twelve losses were seven or fewer runs scored altogether. Bottom line, to me, is the one-run losses are the fault of so many low-scoring games in the first place–namely, the offense.

    Date		Opp	W/L ▾	R	RA	Inn	Win	Loss	Save	D/N
    4/4		ATL	L	1	2		Avilan	Clippard	Kimbrel	D
    4/11	@	ATL	L-wo	6	7	10	Avilan	Blevins		N
    4/19		STL	L	3	4		Lynn	Zimmermann	Rosenthal	D
    4/24		SDP	L	3	4	12	Torres	Stammen	Street	N
    5/4	@	PHI	L	0	1		Hernandez	Gonzalez	Papelbon	D
    5/10	@	OAK	L-wo	3	4	10	Doolittle	Storen		N
    5/13	@	STL	L	0	1		Lynn	Zimmermann	Rosenthal	N
    5/19		CIN	L	3	4	15	Ondrusek	Detwiler		N
    5/21		CIN	L	1	2		Simon	Roark	Chapman	D
    5/23	@	PIT	L	3	4		Morton	Zimmermann	Grilli	N
    5/24	@	PIT	L	2	3		Hughes	Strasburg	Melancon	N
    5/26		MIA	L	2	3		Eovaldi	Roark	Cishek	D
    6/7	@	SDP	L-wo	3	4	11	Benoit	Stammen		N
    
  8. NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:46 PM

    Let me try that again.

    Date	 	Opp	R	RA	Inn	Win	Loss	Save	D/N
    4/4
     	ATL
    1	2	 	Avilan
    Clippard
    Kimbrel
    D
    4/11
    @	ATL
    6	7	10	Avilan
    Blevins
     	N
    4/19
     	STL
    3	4	 	Lynn
    Zimmermann
    Rosenthal
    D
    4/24
     	SDP
    3	4	12	Torres
    Stammen
    Street
    N
    5/4
    @	PHI
    0	1	 	Hernandez
    Gonzalez
    Papelbon
    D
    5/10
    @	OAK
    3	4	10	Doolittle
    Storen
     	N
    5/13
    @	STL
    0	1	 	Lynn
    Zimmermann
    Rosenthal
    N
    5/19
     	CIN
    3	4	15	Ondrusek
    Detwiler
     	N
    5/21
     	CIN
    1	2	 	Simon
    Roark
    Chapman
    D
    5/23
    @	PIT
    3	4	 	Morton
    Zimmermann
    Grilli
    N
    5/24
    @	PIT
    2	3	 	Hughes
    Strasburg
    Melancon
    N
    5/26
     	MIA
    2	3	 	Eovaldi
    Roark
    Cishek
    D
    6/7
    @	SDP
    3	4	11	Benoit
    Stammen
     	N
    
  9. Theophilus T.S. - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:46 PM

    Spent last week in Michigan, much of it (on the sunny days, anyway) wearing a white Curly W hat. The only comment it drew was “Go Badgers!,” from “an Auburn fan.” Nats fans may have penetrated Chi-town but not Michigan or Alabama (although I’m not sure much of anything could penetrate an Auburn alum).

  10. NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:46 PM

    Sorry about that. I used the command but it didn’t seem to work. Anyway, hope you get the idea.

  11. NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:51 PM

    All right, one more try, since hopefully everyone has moved onto the next post.

    Date		Opp	R	RA	Inn	Win	Loss	Save	D/N
    4/4		ATL	1	2		Avilan	Clippard	Kimbrel	D
    4/11	@	ATL	6	7	10	Avilan	Blevins		N
    4/19		STL	3	4		Lynn	Zimmermann	Rosenthal	D
    4/24		SDP	3	4	12	Torres	Stammen	Street	N
    5/4	@	PHI	0	1		Hernandez	Gonzalez	Papelbon	D
    5/10	@	OAK	3	4	10	Doolittle	Storen		N
    5/13	@	STL	0	1		Lynn	Zimmermann	Rosenthal	N
    5/19		CIN	3	4	15	Ondrusek	Detwiler		N
    5/21		CIN	1	2		Simon	Roark	Chapman	D
    5/23	@	PIT	3	4		Morton	Zimmermann	Grilli	N
    5/24	@	PIT	2	3		Hughes	Strasburg	Melancon	N
    5/26		MIA	2	3		Eovaldi	Roark	Cishek	D
    6/7	@	SDP	3	4	11	Benoit	Stammen		N
    
    • Section 222 - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:00 PM

      Regardless of how the table prints, your original point is absolutely correct. Our hitters are at fault for those one run losses, not the pitchers. In the 13 one run losses, we scored 30 runs. That’s an average of 2.3 per game.

  12. NatsLady - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:52 PM

    Oh, well.

  13. masterfishkeeper - Jun 30, 2014 at 12:58 PM

    Kilgore suggests moving Werth to leadoff and Span to 8th.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/nationals-journal/wp/2014/06/30/what-should-the-nationals-lineup-look-like/

    • sjberke - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:11 PM

      IIRC, Werth made it clear that he HATED leading off in 2012 and never wanted to do it again (and you would think that if that were true, Kilgore ought to know it.). Are MW/Rizzo really going to make him?

      • masterfishkeeper - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:22 PM

        Funny, but my memory is that Werth suggested it in 2012. Maybe my memory is flawed. But this article says he accepted it “willingly.”

      • David Proctor - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:22 PM

        I’m pretty sure I read that it was Werth’s idea to bat leadoff in 2012 because he had no power thanks to the wrist. He didn’t want to do it last year because the power was back. But now the power is gone again. So would he be willing to bat leadoff? Not sure.

    • David Proctor - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:24 PM

      Interesting that he puts Rendon in the 3 hole. I love Rendon and he’s been our most consistent hitter all year, but is he ready for that?

    • Hiram Hover - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:45 PM

      Whether Werth is willing to move to #1 or not, I Kilgore’s reasoning doesn’t make much sense to me.

      During his slump over the last month, Werth’s OBP is .290. Over the same period, Span is at .310. And Span has 6 SBs to Werth’s 2.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:46 PM

        Oops – Werth’s OBP is .299 over the last month.

        (Caught that mistake just as I hit post)

  14. natsbro - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:12 PM

    Anthony Rendon this season:

    Innings 7 – 9: 96 PA, .311/.354/.578 3 HR, 3 triples, 9 double, 15 RBI’s, 16 runs

    Extra Innings: 10 PA, .333/.400/.667 1 HR, 3 RBI’s

    Gotta love this kid.

  15. wskyrnr21 - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:14 PM

    Lets hope the young boy learned how to run a ball out when he was away!

  16. ArVAFan - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:16 PM

    On the doubleheader Saturday. The Nats “official” field trip was in Chicago, so 70 or so of those Curly W fans were part of that group (although I agree there were lots more in town, including friends and family of the players such as Roark and Trienen). Our day started at 7 a.m. with breakfast with Aaron Barrett, yes, including autographs and photos. Then the tour of Wrigley, and the two games with a beer break in between in a fine neighborhood establishment.

    Yep, we spend an entire day and part of the night at the ballpark . . . but I have to say there are a lot worse ways to spend a Saturday. And two Wins, too!

  17. David Proctor - Jun 30, 2014 at 1:36 PM

    Fascinating article on Deadspin with leaks from the Astros front office. Apparently the Marlins were willing to trade Stanton last year to the Astros for some Houston’s top prospects. Here are the relevant bits to us:

    “[Nationals GM Mike] Rizzo called [Luhnow] to inquire on Harrell. JL told him we would still need a headliner like Giolito because we still value Harrell highly. Rizzo did not respond immediately.”

    Luhnow must’ve been drunk if he thought he was getting Giolito for Harrell.

    “[Nats GM Mike] Rizzo reached out and expressed interest in Corporan. [Luhnow] indicated we would consider Nate Karns. [Mike Rizzo] said they would not do Karns.”

    Ended up dealing Karns anyway.

    • masterfishkeeper - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:39 PM

      I’d take Lobaton over Corporan.

  18. Joe Seamhead - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:22 PM

    I’m glad that Kilgore is NOT the Nats manager. Or GM, either…

    • Hiram Hover - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:43 PM

      +1.

      When MW says ridiculous things to explain his decisions (and he does, pretty often), it’s because he doesn’t want to tell the press his real reasons–he’s covering up, doesn’t want to trash his players in public, etc.

      When Kilgore gives similarly ridiculous explanations, he has no such excuse. So they’re just ridiculous.

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Jun 30, 2014 at 3:19 PM

        HA.. I mean, I guess the whole move Span to the bottom of the order thing, and let the pitcher bunt him.. works… But I don’t agree with it either…

  19. laddieblahblah - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:34 PM

    Welcome back, Bryce.

    I suspect his knee got a little better from that long layoff, as well as his thumb. He looks ready. The timing is perfect, too. Having Ramos and Harp come back at about the same time should jump-start the Nats offense. Be interesting to see how Matt juggles his lineup.

    I am sensing the changing of the guard at National’s Park. Hope to see Rendon and Harp hitting back-to-back, with Ramos and La Roche thrown in there to give the Nats a new look for the heart of their order, 2 through 5. Neither Ryan nor Werth is currently hitting well enough to rate a slot above the 6-hole.

    We’ll see. Matt must be delighted with the possibilities.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:43 PM

      Welcome back to you Laddie!

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:50 PM

        Thanks, Ghost. Let’s have a great 2nd half!

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:51 PM

        Cheers to that Laddie!

  20. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:46 PM

    The Nats lineup should be posted shortly. Who bats 8th is what I want to know.

    • adcwonk - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:48 PM

      My guess for 8th: Desi

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Jun 30, 2014 at 3:22 PM

        I hope not.. I don’t think Desi is disciplined enough to not swing at the junk that pitchers keep throwing him….

      • adcwonk - Jun 30, 2014 at 7:57 PM

        Well, he was put 7th. I was close! ;-)

  21. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:57 PM

    Braves face the Mets and don’t face David Wright or the Mets two best pitchers in Niese and Colon.

    They’ve been getting many teams and less than optimal times. The Phoolies didn’t put up much of a fight over the weekend.

    • adcwonk - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:59 PM

      We’re just going to have to whomp on the weaker teams more than the Braves will whomp on them.

    • Section 222 - Jun 30, 2014 at 2:59 PM

      Hopefully Wheeler will put up another gem. The Phillies were pathetic against them.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 30, 2014 at 3:03 PM

        Bad defense by the Phools and inept bullpen. I hope Wheeler has a gem to pitch tonight.

  22. David Proctor - Jun 30, 2014 at 3:05 PM

    Mark Zuckerman ‏@ZuckermanCSN 1m
    Zim made roughly 15-20 throws from 3B to 1B. Bounced one, one other pulled 1B off bag, others on target. Real strong throws from 3B to 2B.

  23. veejh - Jun 30, 2014 at 3:07 PM

    Holy cow. Had zero time for my Nats this past week. Feel like I haven’t seen a game in weeks (maybe a good thing). Anyways, looking forward to seeing Harper and a now finally complete team. I’m not worried about the offense one bit.

  24. Mrsb loves the Nats - Jun 30, 2014 at 3:20 PM

    Seems I missed a lot of good discussion today about the line up etc….

    My line up for today would be:

    Span
    Rendon
    Harper
    Adam
    Werth
    Zimm
    Desi
    Ramos
    Pitcher

    But I would also sit Werth and put Espi in there since its a lefty pitching and has good R numbers…

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