8th 18-gamer: One goal achieved ahead of schedule, tougher challenges await

For previous 18 gamers, click here.

At the end of the 7th 18-game set, the Nats were 26 games over .500 and stood atop the NL East by 12 1/2 games. The division title seemed assured: the question was not if, but when. But few thought the big moment would occur in the next 18 games. After all, the magic number at that point was 24, and the Marlins had won 7 of their last 10 games.  Was it possible that the next 18-gamer would include this?

Well, yes.  (Sorry to spoil the suspense if you’ve been living on Mars for the last week.)

Even with Bryce still nursing his wounded knee, the team again went 12-6.  The 12th win was the clincher, in Game #143, and at the end of the set, the team stood at 88-56, 32 games over .500 and 20 games up in the East.   The eight 18 game sets so far have played out like this: 13-5, 10-8, 11-7, 9-9, 11-7, 10-8, 12-6, and 12-6.  When you combine that kind of consistency with a very weak division, you get to punch a ticket to the postseason on September 10. Continue reading

Posted in 18GameRecap, Analysis, Bullpen, Difo, Doolittle, Gio, Giolito, Harper, Jayson, Kelley, Lind, Murphy, OliverPerez, Prospects, Rendon, Roark, RyanZimmerman, Scherzer, Severino, Strasburg, Taylor, TMo, Turner, Uncategorized, VictorRobles, Werth | Leave a comment

Strasburg, Zimmerman, Lind, and “The Firm” even up the season with the Dodgers!

Photo by Marlene Koenig for TalkNats

The Washington Nationals won this game by a final score of 7-to-1 in a game that frustrated the Nationals for 5 1/2 innings as the Dodgers led 1-to-0. In the bottom of the 6th inning with men on 2nd and 1st — Ryan Zimmerman took a mistake pitch by reliever Ross Stripling over the wall for a 3-run home run. The Nationals added 4 more runs with 2 runs coming from an Adam Lind pinch-hit opposite field home run. Lind raised his RBI total to 50 which is incredible for a part-time player. Ryan Zimmerman’s 4 RBIs tonight raised his season’s total to 99.

The Nats starter, Stephen Strasburg, pitched great again tonight but was victimized by a ball that clanked off of the heal of Michael Taylor‘s glove and ruled a hit instead of an error which ended the 35 inning scoreless streak that Strasburg was accumulating. Strasburg lowered his ERA to 2.60 and he earned his 14th win on the season.

This win also evened the season series with the Dodgers at 3 games apiece. The entire season series was close on the final scoring except today and Friday’s game. The Nationals bullpen ran the table on the Dodgers this season going scoreless the entire season with a total of 20 2/3 innings of dominance. Continue reading

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Game #149 Strasburg and #Nats trying to salvage this one

Photo by Marlene Koenig for TalkNats

Both the Nationals and Dodgers could have set up their rotations differently with days-off. The Nationals even inserted A.J. Cole back in the rotation yesterday pushing back both Gio Gonzalez and Scherzer until after Monday’s day-off.

The Nationals are now listing Scherzer as the Tuesday starter and Gio Gonzalez on Wednesday giving him an extra 3 days. Gonzalez has not looked the same since he threw 121 pitches in an outing in August. The extra days off for Gio were hinted at earlier. Some pitchers are receiving extra rest and Max Scherzer wants to be “fatigued”? Go figure.

While the Nationals have dropped the first two games in this Dodgers series, it is not surprising given the pitching match-ups with the Dodgers pitching their #3 and #4 pitchers and the Nationals with their #7 and #8 pitchers if you consider Erick Fedde the #6 pitcher. So far, the Nationals bullpen in this season series against the Dodgers are now unscored upon in 17 2/3 innings. Continue reading

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“[Bryce] Harper is on the way.”- Dusty Baker

Watch Bryce. Watch Bryce run. Watch Bryce run fast.

That is video proof of a big milestone for Bryce Harper that he is running. Sure, he isn’t doing carioca ladder drills, but one step at a time. This is major progress from jogging without full body weight on the Alter-G treadmill machine. You have to walk before you can run.

Screengrab photo

Our sources also tell us that Bryce is taking indoor batting practice now with no restrictions. That is progress from tee work and soft toss swings from the past week. Continue reading

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The #Nats made a game of it and fall 3-2

The Nationals fell to the Dodgers by a final score of 3-to-2, but it was a battle until the end. The Dodgers had their #3 pitcher on the mound, Rich Hill, against minor leaguer call-up A.J. Cole. The Nationals had a chance to win the game in the 8th inning with speed on the bases with pinch-runner Rafael Bautista on 2nd base and Trea Turner on 1st base and Daniel Murphy up at-bat. Murphy hit a low liner to right-field off of lefty reliever Tony Watson and rightfielder Yasiel Puig dove forward to make the play and record the last out of the inning.

The Nationals offense was delivered Anthony Rendon on a solo home run and a Trea Turner RISP single. Howie Kendrick went 0-for-4 in the game and left 3 runners on base. Honorable mention to Adam Lind who entered in the 8th inning as a pinch-hitter with Wilmer Difo on 1st base and shot a grounder past Corey Seager which was ruled an error by the hometown official scorer — it sure looked like a clean single getting under Seager’s backhand stab. The Nats were only credited with 4 hits and two were from Anthony Rendon and the other two were from Trea Turner and a pinch-hit single from Wilmer Difo. The Nats went down quickly in the 9th to closer Kenley Jansen 1-2-3 on groundouts by Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon and a Jayson Werth pop-up to end the game.

The Nationals bullpen had 4.0 innings of shutout baseball today, and what was impressive was how easy they made it look. Oliver Perez took over from starter A.J. Cole and inherited two runners with no outs and got 3 straight outs facing two right-handed pinch-hitters to start his outing. Perez has now allowed just 5 of 31 inherited runners to score this season. 16.1% is good for 7th in MLB and 3rd in the NL. He has been asked many times to fix some difficult situations and came through again.

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Game #148 AJ Cole gets the start; Rich Hill for the Dodgers

To think, today’s Dodgers’ starter, Rich Hill, was a member of the 2015 Syracuse Chiefs, and the Nats cut him loose. Hill has reinvented himself as one of the nastiest pitchers in baseball with a spinning hook that just baffles batters badly when he is on point. Hill’s ERA is at 3.67 this season and has been inconsistent, and who can forget that 9-inning no-hitter he lost in the 10th inning on a walk-off in Pittsburgh. His K/9 is at 10.7 this season and the key for batters is not helping Hill by swinging at balls out of the zone.

A.J. Cole is a dozen years younger than the 37-year-old Hill and coincidentally they were teammates on that 2015 Syracuse Chiefs team. Cole has one job this afternoon for the Nats, and that is to pitch better than Rich Hill. It’s a tall order, but Cole has shown the ability to pitch well during his first 4 innings of work.

The Nationals offensive production from the veterans has been slumping of late with players like Rendon, Kendrick, and Werth all hitting below their season averages. Daniel Murphy is batting .333 this month but what is troubling is that he has had 4 games in the first half of September where he has struck out 2 or more times and that just isn’t the Daniel Murphy we know. He has been particularly struggling with lefty pitchers — but again, overall he is hitting fine. Unfortunately for Matt Wieters, he can’t buy a hit and has been playing with a sore back. In the 2nd half of this season, Wieters is batting .197. For full-time catchers, he is the lowest rated (h/t Wadlez) by FanGraph’s WAR at a -0.2 and for catchers with at least 250 at-bats, Wieters is the second worst in all of baseball. Continue reading

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This game was over early as EJax gives up 7 over 2 1/3; #Nats bullpen throws shutout over 6 2/3

The starters celebrate with Ace of Spades champagne. L to R, Jackson, Scherzer, Strasburg, Cole, Ross, Gonzalez, Roark, Fedde

Unfortunately, Edwin Jackson is a shadow of what he was when he joined the Nationals during the 3rd week of July. Jackson’s ERA  jumped nearly a full point to  4.96, and he lasted only 2 1/3 innings tonight after he only went 3 1/3 in his previous start. In Jackson’s last 17 1/3 innings, he has given up 20 runs of which 18 were earned runs. Part of the problem tonight was Jayson Werth lost a flyball in the twilight sky and 5 runs scored after that. The Nationals ended up losing 7-to-0, and the Nationals offense had some chances with runners in scoring position but couldn’t muster one clutch hit or even a productive out when Ryan Zimmerman was on 3rd base early in the game with one out.

If you are looking for a silver lining, the Nationals bullpen threw 6 2/3 innings of shutout baseball after taking over for Jackson. In fact the Nationals did this without pitching Matt Albers or Brandon Kintzler or Ryan Madson or Sean Doolittle. Continue reading

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Game #147 Dusty Baker goes with his #1 lineup tonight against the Dodgers with EJax on the mound

Without Bryce Harper available, the Nationals seem to be playing short-handed even with an outfield of Jayson Werth, Michael Taylor and Howie Kendrick. Dusty Baker has inserted back the ailing Daniel Murphy with the rest of the infield starters plus Matt Wieters who has been dealing with a balky back.  Edwin Jackson is the starting pitcher tonight, and he has unfortunately fallen back to earth. Jackson’s ERA has skyrocketed to 4.14 and he lasted only 3 1/3 innings in his last start surrendering 5 runs which also is the amount of runs he gave up in his previous start. In Jackson’s last 15 innings he has given up 13 runs of which 11 were earned runs. The Nationals need EJax to pitch better than that tonight against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers will pitch lefty Alex Wood who has been scuffling himself. He has given up 12 runs over his last 16 innings.

The Nationals and Dodgers will conclude their regular-season series this weekend in D.C., which is their first meeting since early June which matched up well in terms of pitching, and the Nats at least had Bryce Harper playing . That series also featured an epic battle between Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg who were locked in a pitcher’s duel.

If you recall the June 5th to 7th series in Los Angeles this season, Gio Gonzalez won the first game 4-to-2, and Max Scherzer won the second game 2-to-1. The third game featured Kershaw and Strasburg who were tangled in a 2-to-1 game with the Nats behind. The Nats had plenty of chances to win that game.  Trea Turner led off the 8th with a triple and the Nats did not score him as he was stranded at 3rd base. Strasburg only gave up one earned run in that game and he had to work harder in that game due to a fielding error that gave 3 free bases away by Michael Taylor and a very costly passed ball on a strikeout that led to the winning run which was botched by catcher Jose Lobaton who then also couldn’t block a pitch in the dirt for a wild pitch. Those games had a playoff atmosphere.

The Nats won’t face either Kershaw or Yu Darvish in this series, and the Dodgers won’t see Max Scherzer or Gio Gonzalez. The last time the Nationals saw the Dodgers in Washington, D.C. was the 5th game of the 2016 NLDS.

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Does Victor Robles have a real shot at making the NLDS roster?

Photo by Marlene Koenig for TalkNats

You can only carry 25 players on your post-season roster. That is a rule. No expanded rosters in the post-season like managers have now.  Last year in the NLDS, Dusty Baker went with an ill-advised 6 man bench and a 7 man bullpen, and we hope he does not do that again as the tried and true method is an 8 man bullpen and the normal 5 man bench.

Victor Robles was added to the Nats roster this month and made his debut as the youngest player in baseball at 20-years-111-days-old and he has started just 2 games in his Major League Baseball career, and the sample size gives you a glimpse. It reminds you of love at first sight and thinking that could be your future spouse, but like with top prospects, you must let it play out and get to know each other for a while as it’s easy to fall in love and most times it fizzles out over time. Now some would say we fell in love with Victor Robles years ago — yes, that is true. A baseball marriage is usually only 7 years unless you marry a Ryan Zimmerman. The divorces are usually painful. But some of the marriages are like a honeymoon most everyday.

JD comments: “I think the idea of putting Robles in the lineup for now and the playoffs is all of the sudden very enticing. I am not talking about a bench spot. I am talking every day lineup…I think VR is better than MAT now. He is better than Werth too but I don’t think they are benching Jayson in his last month here.”

There are those that think you go with potential even though Robles only has played all of 2 MLB games. We have seen the hit and speed tool, and any scout who has followed him knows he is a 4 1/2 tool player as the power tool is just a matter of time.

Let’s talk about speed and how speed has once again changed the game of baseball so much so that the Royals used that tool as a secret weapon in the 2014 and 2015 post-season. The Royals carried Jarrod Dyson mostly as a pinch-runner and defensive specialist as the last man on their bench as well as Mondesi. Speed kills as we like to say. Trea Turner is one of the fastest men in baseball. We usually judge baseball speed on the 2×90 foot race aka the 60 yard dash or the equivalent of running from home to 2nd base.

“I’m always thinking third base unless [the 3rd base] coach stops me,” Victor Robles said.

Trea ran a 6.3 in High School as we know from this interview with his High School coach Larry Greenstein.  6.2 is considered world class speed and a 6.3 is about the best you will find in baseball since these aren’t Olympic sprinters and Bullet Bob Hayes and Skeets Nehemiah don’t play baseball. That extra 10th of a second either way makes a difference. Most players are lucky if they are 6.5 to 6.7. The Perfect Game scouting now measures their players at showcase events and they recorded Carlos Williams at 6.18. Williams went undrafted this year out of University of Memphis because he couldn’t hit and you can’t steal first, but you might want an “80 tool” runner on your post-season bench because Victor Robles has 80 speed. His scouting report says 65-70 but sorry, that’s 80 speed which is the best of the best.

Here is what Victor Robles did on his triple on speed.  He ran last night the fastest recorded time ever for a Nats player on a triple eclipsing times from Trea Turner and Ben RevereContinue reading

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Nats win this one behind Roark, Robles and Running

Photo by Marlene Koenig for TalkNats

This game was delayed by rain and started a half hour late. Tanner Roark had a no-hitter into the 5th inning and hit the wall in the 6th inning giving up a 2-run home run to Ozzie Albies. Luckily Roark departed with his 3-2 lead and handed the game over to “The Firm” to close it out. Matt Albers, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle combined for a 3 inning shutout. Doolittle completed his 18th save for the Nationals who won their 89th game tonight.

The speed game was definitely a factor in this game with Trea Turner and Victor Robles and a clutch hit from Adrian Sanchez. Jayson Werth, Adam Lind and Victor Robles each had 2 hits apiece in the game and others could have been part of the multi-hit parade but the Braves robbed a few hits in this one.

Robles knocked in the 2nd run of the game with a triple then scored the 3rd run of the game on a groundout and later had an infield hit and scored on an Adrian Sanchez 2-RBI double. Continue reading

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