Aug 11, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
Pennant race should heat up – Though it was technically an early-August series between the Nationals and Braves, this past weekend sure felt like the beginning of the pennant race. There are seven weeks left in the 2014 season, the Nats have 46 games remaining while the Braves have 45. By the end of the week we will be in the final quarter of the regular season schedule.
From here on out fans of both teams will be checking the standings on a nightly basis, as only 3 1/2 games separate the two. The Nationals are off on Monday while the Braves host the L.A. Dodgers in Atlanta. The Braves, in fact, have quite the difficult stretch up ahead.
They begin this week with four games against the Dodgers before the Oakland Athletics – owners of MLB’s best record – come to town for three games. The Braves then travel to 62-55 Pittsburgh for a series before going to 60-58 Cincinnati for four games. That’s 14 straight against teams with winning records. Considering the Braves are 22-23 vs. clubs who are above .500, it could present an opportunity for the Nats to create some distance. (The Nats are just 21-32 vs. winning teams, by the way).
The Nats play only six of their next 16 games against teams with winning records. For as bad as the Nationals have been when facing good teams, they have been excellent in taking care of lesser clubs. This year the Nats are 42-21 against teams below .500, the best mark in the National League. Only the L.A. Angels have been better among MLB teams at 36-12. The Braves, in case you were wondering, are 38-34 when playing losing clubs this season, good for 14th in the majors.
The Nationals and Braves will not see each other again for nearly a month when the Nats host Atlanta on Sept. 8. That will begin a stretch where the two teams play six of 10 games against each other.
Werth’s right shoulder – On Sunday we found out a little more about what Jayson Werth has been dealing with, as the veteran rightfielder was diagnosed with inflammation of the AC joint in his right shoulder. Werth talked about how much pain he is in and how he’s never had the injury before. He hopes it isn’t serious, but at this point it’s hard to tell exactly how it will affect him.
Even if Werth is hampered a little bit by his shoulder, it will hurt the Nationals. The 35-year-old is second on the team in games played (112), on-base percentage (.370) and OPS (.800), and ranks third in runs (63), doubles (27) and RBI (63).
Given Ryan Zimmerman is already out, the Nationals will need several players to step up and carry the load. Adam LaRoche, Denard Span and Anthony Rendon have been excellent in the month of August, that will have to continue. They could also use some improvement from Bryce Harper. The 21-year-old appeared to have a breakthrough last Thursday with a walk-off home run against the Mets. This weekend, however, he went 2-for-11 against the Braves.
The Nats have 46 games remaining, as I mentioned above. In 2012, Harper hit .312 with 12 home runs, 27 RBI, 37 runs and a .997 OPS in his final 46 games. Yea, that would do.
Michael Taylor’s debut – The Nationals made a surprising move this week in calling up top position player prospect, Michael Taylor, to take the roster spot of Steven Souza, Jr., who went down with a left shoulder contusion. Taylor was on track to get a call-up this September when rosters expand, but injuries to both Souza and Nate McLouth forced the Nationals’ hand. Taylor should debut sometime this week and could see some generous playing time with Werth battling injuries.
Taylor hasn’t even debuted yet, but it’s hard not to make too much of his presence on the roster. Taylor is the team’s center fielder of the future and could be showcasing his skills for an MLB job next season. If it weren’t for Denard Span’s surge over the last few months, Taylor would probably be making his case for the starting center fielder’s job. With Span playing so well, though, his team option of $9 million for 2015 looks more and more like a bargain. Span is having his best season since 2009, as his offense is finally catchup up to his defense. He’s currently batting .306 and is on pace for over 100 runs and 30 stolen bases.
Still, Taylor figures to be a big part of the Nationals’ future after a breakout season in the minor leagues. His combination of speed, power, defense and the ability to hit for average (.315 in the minors this season) is very rare. If developed right, Taylor could be a star. We should get our first glimpse of what he can do at the MLB level this week.
NL East Standings
Offensive game of the week: Adam LaRoche 8/6 vs. Mets – 2-for-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R
Pitching game of the week: Doug Fister 8/6 vs. Mets – 7.1 IP, 6 H, R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 SO, 101 pitches, 69 strikes.
Quote of the week:
Harper on allegations he tampered with the Braves’ logo before his at-bats in Atlanta:
That’s the last thing on my mind when I’m walking up to the plate. I really had no idea… I had no clue that I did anything. Seriously, that’s the last thing on my mind going to face [Aaron] Harang or [Craig] Kimbrel or somebody like that. I had no idea why that was such a big deal. Of course, that’s the last thing on my mind.
Tweet of the week:
Michael Taylor after joining the Nationals in Atlanta:
— Michael A Taylor (@Taylor_Michael3) August 10, 2014
MON – OFF
TUE – 7:10 p.m. at New York Mets (Fister)
WED – 7:10 p.m. at New York Mets (Zimmermann)
THU – 7:10 p.m. at New York Mets (Strasburg)
FRI – 7:05 p.m. vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (Roark)
SAT – 7:05 p.m. vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (Gonzalez)
SUN – 5:05 p.m. vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (Fister)
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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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