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State of the Nats: Pennant race set to heat up

Aug 11, 2014, 1:00 PM EST

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

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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 shoulderOn 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:

Road ahead

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)

  1. David Proctor - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:06 PM

    Boswell with a very fair take on Strasburg:

    “He’s the same pitcher he’s been ever since he came back from TJ surgery. His fastball has never been the same. It’s fast, but straight — good enough, but not special, especially when he lacks command within the strike zone.

    If Strasburg had had the same elbow injury one year earlier — when he was in college — and come back exactly as he has, he probably wouldn’t have been drafted 1/1 and the mega hype (and the 14K debut) wouldn’t have been as great. WEe’d look at him as a very good 32-26, 3.19 ERA pitcher (in his 88 post-TJ starts) who is easily thrown off his game by imperfections around him — but still improving.

    And we’d notice that he’ll probably be the N.L. strikeout king this year.

    A LOT of talented young pitchers are criticized (justly) early in theeir careers as they learn to maximize their talent — like Bert Blyleven who was also rushed to the majors and was a near-.500 drive-everybody-crazy high-K semi-disappointment kind of Big Talent until he was older than Strasburg is now. He was durable, he improved steadily and he’s in Cooperstown.

    Will Strasburg be durable? Could the arm-injury naysayers be wrong. Well, he’s 26 and past the “magic” age of 25 where you say, “Maybe this arm is fully developed will last a while.”

    Mark Prior, often cited as a Strasburg comparable, only started 106 games in his whole career and none at all after he was 25. Knock on wood, maybe that’s the good news about Strasburg. (Kerry Wood made it to 26, still power pitching, then broke down, so Stras isn’t out of the woods.)”

    • veejh - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:17 PM

      Pretty much spot on. I wont be mad if he we don’t sign him unless he shows significant improvement over the next few years.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:48 PM

      A 3.19 ERA starter with his repertoire and K/9 is still very good and some teams don’t possess 1 pitcher better. The problem is consistency and you have to dig deeper for the reasons.

      His 4-seam command lacks consistency and the movement isn’t there on the 4-seam which makes it very hittable when the location is missed. Strasburg abandoned his 2-seamer as well as his slider. He’s only a 3 pitch guy now and not creating enough deception when his curveball isn’t biting.

      My suggestion to Stras is dial down the velo on the 4-seamer in all counts and dial it up in 2 strike counts. That was something Verlander made a living off early in his career.

      Strasburg needs to do some soul searching in the off-season and needs that slider added back. He’s not what Rizzo signed on for with the #1 overall pick.

      • Eric - Aug 11, 2014 at 2:06 PM

        That slider got crushed, no? Maybe he can tweak it to be trickier, but I’d vote for 2 seam or maybe a cutter instead; that would effectively get the speed variance in the heater that you recommend for his 4-seamer, but would also introduce some movement. The 2-seamer might also add to GBs and reduce FBs, which would go nicely with all those Ks.

        4-seam, 2 seam and/or cutter, curve, and change up sounds good to me. I think the slider would be largely redundant with the swing-and-miss aspect of his curve and change up.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 11, 2014 at 2:10 PM

        Strasburg’s 2-seamer wasn’t a true sinker and was never good. The slider needs work.

        He needs another pitch or has to improve what he has. His four seamer plays well off a good slider.

      • Eric - Aug 11, 2014 at 2:24 PM

        Well, admittedly, the finer points of sequencing are beyond my knowledge. I guess I just feel Stras’ biggest weakness is the ability to induce weak contact when needed. I think a 2-seamer would be a better tool to develop for days when the opponent is being aggressive and sending them deep.

        Also, that BOC article NL posted the other day suggested that it’s very difficult for pitchers to maintain both a good slider and a good curve without winding up with just a slurve at the end of the day.

        In any case, it seems he hasn’t developed either to an extent that will work in the MLB, but I agree with you it would help immensely if he had one more pitch.

      • coop202 - Aug 11, 2014 at 2:42 PM

        Also in board with nats lady – losing yesterday wasn’t a disaster, 2/3 hurts but not a disaster, strasburg’s start… Well I was having ejax flashbacks

  2. Smyrcok - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:14 PM

    Some shake ups that need to happen to get this team back on track: More Fister, Roark, and Zimmermann. We’re going to a three man rotation with Strasburg and Gio both taking low leverage mop up duties. Might have to work LaRoche into the rotation too, he says he can touch 90. I guess Stras can pinch hit if he can return to his silver slugger form. Gio could play some games at first so at least he wouldn’t have to move very far to cover the bag. Move Harper back to catcher so he is closer to the opposing team’s sacred letter for easier desecration.

    • adcwonk - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:18 PM

      Brilliant diagnosis! 😉

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:27 PM

        Funny stuff but yesterday showed that maybe the Nats need a long reliever back here as Gio and Strasburg are taxing this bullpen.

        We are 20 days to roster expansion but can’t wait for another long reliever on September 1st.

        I think Hairston needs a 15 day DL and add Taylor Hill or another starter to fill the void.

        Disasters like yesterday can’t happen again.

      • NatsLady - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:38 PM

        I’m failing to see yesterday as a “disaster.” They didn’t hit against a tough lefty who was “on” his game. Werth, who might have been able to hit him, walked three times. Gio didn’t pitch a shutout, but overall the pitchers only gave up three runs. We were in Atlanta’s house, where they play good ball. We started our No. 4 guy, and used two middle relievers, who combined to allow ONE run.

        Most of the bullpen rested. Harper didn’t go crazy and provoke a plunking and a return plunking so we’re looking at suspensions. No one got injured, and presumably Werth didn’t aggravate his injury by walking three times and catching a couple balls (only one a tough chance). It was the last game of a LONG stretch without off-days, the day after an extra inning game that didn’t end until 2;30 a.m.

        A disaster is Stras giving up seven earned before you can blink–and the Nats almost recovered from it. A disaster is blowing a six-run lead (or a 3.5 lead in the Division). And even those are recoverable unless it’s September 30.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:56 PM

        The disaster is 2 out of the last 3 days MW had to use the bullpen early and often.

        We have debated ad nauseum the viewpoints on the 4th inning hook so no need to revisit but I suggest adding Taylor Hill or another starter to eat some innings if needed this week. Treinen isn’t available per the 10 day rule yet.

      • NatsLady - Aug 11, 2014 at 2:20 PM

        @Ghost: agree on the bullpen. See my game post for stats on its usage over the last week. It’s been a lot, and they’ve been good.

      • coop202 - Aug 11, 2014 at 2:41 PM

        I’m confused… Weren’t you two calling for early access to the BP yesterday? If I’m following your logic the root concern would be the starters force your BP, but you’re looking at two guys that will probably end the season with sub 4 eras (not exactly aces, but if they fall as your 4-5 guys this year it’s not going to sink the nats).

        Tanner scares me because he’s a risk in terms of usage history, although the standard lines for him go out the window it seems. Bigger issue is no decent obp guys on the bench (and not so stellar in the starting lineup). If anything this last week highlights offensive issues with zim out of the lineup

  3. masterfishkeeper - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:15 PM

    Doggone it. Mattingly has decided to go with a six pitcher rotation, temporarily, so the Braves will miss both Kershaw and Greinke in a four game series.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:19 PM

      Yah, can you believe that. Nats can’t seem to miss the hot pitchers on the opposition staff.

    • adcwonk - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:21 PM

      As I wrote in last thread: last week the Braves faced them both -and- King Felix. And, of course, lost all three.

      Braves schedule still harder than ours. (Perhaps they will face Cueto next week?)

      • coop202 - Aug 11, 2014 at 2:33 PM

        We luck out with de grom, so there’s that

      • Eric - Aug 11, 2014 at 2:35 PM

        We didn’t last week…but we beat them that day, so no matter 😉.

  4. veejh - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:20 PM

    Harper is full of s*** about the A scrape, btw. Just own it.

    • adcwonk - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:25 PM

      Ehhh. It might be one of those “mandatory denials”. No biggie.

      • Smyrcok - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:30 PM

        If he truly was “trolling” then a denial is part of that, no? That could even be the pay off part of it.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:32 PM

        Wood threw a bogus up and in fastball in the 2nd inning. Didn’t get a peep about it from the ESPN boys. Glad nothing escalated but I guess without Sherriff Tom McCann there’s not the same BS retribution as prior.

        I also think Bryce should have owned up and left it at that. Personally, I loved it. Bryce moved up a notch with me. The Braves are such a POS fanbase.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 11, 2014 at 2:07 PM

        DC Sports Bog has Ervin Santana doing a desecration of the W on the back of the mound.

        By the 6th inning it was a big unrecognizable smudge.

      • Eric - Aug 11, 2014 at 2:16 PM

        “DC Sports Bog has Ervin Santana doing a desecration of the W on the back of the mound.
        By the 6th inning it was a big unrecognizable smudge.”

        Well now isn’t that something? I now think there was team knowledge of this, and that Harper’s denial is brilliant. The Santana revelation puts the entire Braves fan base on the spot.

        Someone said yesterday, “vengeance is a dish best served cold.” Well played, Nats, well played.

        Speaking of Santana, what on earth was up with Santana making eyes and whispering sweet nothings to Span the first time he got on base Friday night?

        “Didn’t get a peep about it from the ESPN boys.”

        That’s because they were too busy going on and on about why Harper is such a “lightening rod” during that AB to notice. Then they just wouldn’t stop talking in general. I don’t think they stopped to breathe until the 8th inning.

      • Candide - Aug 11, 2014 at 4:10 PM

        Per Ghost and Eric’s comments:

      • adcwonk - Aug 11, 2014 at 5:00 PM

        Right. And he might deny it, too.

        Fun and games, my friends. All part of a good rivalry!

        I’m loving it.

        (Compare to: 100-loss seasons and everything’s irrelevant)

      • natsfan1a - Aug 11, 2014 at 6:21 PM

        Santana did what? Gasp (pearl clutch)! Fetch me my smelling salts (fanning self), dear, I do believe I’m about to faint. Oh, my stars.

        Yeah, whatever.

  5. Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 11, 2014 at 2:32 PM

    “NatsLady on August 11, 2014 at 2:20 pm
    @Ghost: agree on the bullpen. See my game post for stats on its usage over the last week. It’s been a lot, and they’ve been good”

    Everyone stepped up except Storen. Props to Stammen. Just when I declared him a liability he snaps back as an asset much the way Detwiler has. Blevins pitched well but was used beyond his LOOGY value and got hit with that dreaded earned run. Soriano and Clip were brilliant. New guy Thornton has been fun to watch.

  6. NatsLady - Aug 11, 2014 at 2:46 PM

    Nats Stats for Week 19

  7. kirbs3256 - Aug 11, 2014 at 2:50 PM

    I personally would like to see the money earmarked for SS go to Zim’nn and Fister. If Fister wants any parts of sticking around.

    • coop202 - Aug 11, 2014 at 2:55 PM

      I think ss never had money earmarked- if he proved himself bear ace level he would be way to rich for us given our minors system. I believe Harper has a good amount in the future bank from us.

    • Eric - Aug 11, 2014 at 2:56 PM

      Why wouldn’t he? 11-3 on a team in first place? Sounds fun if you ask me!

      • Smyrcok - Aug 11, 2014 at 3:07 PM

        Fister seems to fit in really well with the guys on the team. Listening to post game quotes from other players, sounds like they love him. Of course we win most of those games so there’s a lot of nice things to say. Extend the man, please!

      • TimDz - Aug 11, 2014 at 3:18 PM

        Fister is a west coast guy and I believe part of the reasoning for Detroit trading him was the fear they would ultimately lose him for a compensation pick..

        That said, I would love to see them extend Fister….

  8. natsguy - Aug 11, 2014 at 3:23 PM

    Rizzo tried to extend him after the trade and he wasn’t interested. Maybe things will change after this year. It is a real pleasure to watch this guy play baseball the way it should be played. Tanner Roark has picked the right person to mentor him. Those 2 and Dennard Span are my favorite players on this team.

    • nats128 - Aug 11, 2014 at 3:46 PM

      Fister could have wanted to try out his new team before commiting to a long term relationship. I would like the core moving forward of Fister, JZ, and Fanner Roark along with AJ Cole and Giolito.

      While Gio is signed long-term, something isnt right with him.

  9. stoatva - Aug 11, 2014 at 3:54 PM

    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.

    A win is a win is a win. Got to keep taking those home series and not imploding on the road.

    • veejh - Aug 11, 2014 at 4:07 PM

      We’re also pretty bad against teams above .500. Anyone got our record, it’s pretty bad?

      • David Proctor - Aug 11, 2014 at 4:18 PM

        It’s distorted by our record against the Braves and Cardinals though. We’re 3-1 against the Giants, 4-2 against the Brewers, 2-1 against the Dodgers. It’s really just those two teams who give us trouble.

        Though we were swept in Oakland.

      • veejh - Aug 11, 2014 at 4:29 PM

        Orioles got our #, too.

      • therealjohnc - Aug 12, 2014 at 12:34 PM

        All of these totals are pretty much SSS. But my general rule of thumb for interpreting results, based on various comment threads, is that if the Nats’ record against a team is poor (Braves, Cardinals, Orioles) it is indicative of a major systemic problem with the players/team/coaches/organization. If the Nats’ record against a team is good (Brewers, Dodgers, Giants) then it is a fluke that can be ignored when constructing a narrative.

  10. tcostant - Aug 11, 2014 at 3:57 PM

    For us baseball fans, this must have been the best vacation ever:

    This is required reading for all.





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