Scherzer Terrific, Lind the Hero as Nats Open Homestand with Win

Scherzer Terrific, Lind the Hero as Nats Open Homestand with Win

By Matthew Jacobson (@MJacobson12)

The Nationals came home after an impressive series win over the Chicago Cubs in which they used none of their “Big 3” starters (Scherzer and Strasburg were injured, while Gio Gonzalez was away on Paternity Leave) in what was likely a preview of the NLDS.  The Nats would come home to a team that would likely not be in the playoffs in the Florida Marlins, but has played the Nationals close lately, with the teams splitting their last 28 meetings 14 and 14.

In another odd occurrence, Marlins starter Chris O’Grady was pulled in the second inning, similar to Max Scherzer pulling himself in the second inning of a game against the Marlins (O’Grady happened to be starting that game as well).  He would be relieved by Odrisamer Despaigne.  Matt Wieters would continue his hot streak with an RBI single in the second inning, giving the Nats a 1-0 lead. Two innings later, Bryce Harper mashed a first-pitch curveball over the wall in right-center, extending the lead to 2-0. For Harper, it was his 29th home run of the season, and the 150th of his career.  In the fifth, Max Scherzer appeared to be cruising along, before a Tomas Telis double and Odrisamer Despaigne single cut the lead in half. Giancarlo Stanton would tie the game just an inning later with a monster shot to left field.

With Scherzer at 94 pitches, signs pointed to him being done after that sixth inning, but he returned for a seventh inning, and after walking Ichiro on 4 pitches, he told Mike Maddux that he would get the next out (he used some NSFW language, but the point was he was going to get his 21st out) and that he did. He struck out Dee Gordon swinging on three pitches, ending his day with a line of 7 innings pitched, 5 hits allowed, 2 earned runs allowed, 2 walks, and nine strikeouts. We are truly blessed to see Max Scherzer pitch here in DC.

Scherzer wanted the win, but the Nationals could not muster a run in the seventh inning, meaning he would be stuck with a no decision.  The Nationals struggles against the Miami bullpen continued, as they got just the two runs off Despaigne, and could not score against Drew Steckenrider or Junichi Tazawa.  Brandon Kintzler worked another scoreless inning in as many appearances with the Nationals, allowing just one walk in the top of the eighth inning.  In the bottom half, it was Wilmer Difo getting things started with a leadoff single. He moved to second on an Andrew Stevenson sacrifice bunt, and to third on a Brian Goodwin groundout.  This would set the stage for Adam Lind against lefthander Jarlin Garcia.  After falling behind 0-2, Lind knocked one right back up the middle, plating Difo, and giving the Nats a 3-2 lead that they would not relinquish.

One month ago, if you told me that the Nationals were winning by a run going into the ninth inning, I would respond by asking you how many runs the Nationals allowed in the 9th inning. But here we are, on August 8, and save situation leads going into the ninth inning are not only safe, but they are secure.  Sean Doolittle continued his perfect run in save situations, working around a leadoff single to retire the next three batters he faced.  A big thing that I had noticed last night was Doolittle’s somewhat struggle to throw first pitch strikes, and last night he threw strike one on the first pitch to all four Marlins he faced.

Kintzler, Madson, Doolittle.  Finally, the Nationals have that bridge from the starter to the closer that all great teams have.  Good on Mike Rizzo for addressing an obvious need, even if it may have taken until the trade deadline.

The Nats are back in action tonight at 7:05, looking to extend their 14 game lead in the NL East. AJ Cole takes the hill for the Nationals against Vance Worley.

Nats Drop 2 of 3 in Weekend Series with Rockies

Nats Drop 2 of 3 in Weekend Series with Rockies

By Matthew Jacobson

A tough series for the Nationals, as they lose 2 of the 3 games to a very good Colorado Rockies ballclub.  The Rockies came into Washington entrenched in one of the NL wild-card spots, chasing the MLB-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, who seem like they will not lose for the rest of the season.  They have one of the best lineups top-to-bottom in the major leagues, and the Nationals knew that especially with Stephen Strasburg’s injury, this would be a “show-me” series, especially for Erick Fedde, who would make his MLB debut in game two of the series.

In game 1, the Nationals were held in check by German Marquez, who had a perfect game through the fourth inning, and would only allow two earned runs while walking none and striking out 10. Tanner Roark allowed 4 runs in 5 innings, all of which were earned. He walked 4 and struck out 8.  This interrupts an impressive run of form for the Nats’ righty, who had strung together 3 very successful outings before the first game of this series. Both Nats’ runs came from Wilmer Difo, who knocked home two runs (including newly acquired Howie Kendrick). Pat Neshek (making his Rockies’ debut) and Greg Holland held the Nats off the board, and shut down a 4-2 Rockies win.

Game two would be the slugfest that most expected coming into this series. Wilmer Difo continued his impressive month of July, despite constant criticism from one particular media outlet with a rocket of a home run. Ryan Zimmerman tied the game with a 3-run homer into the Nats bullpen, becoming the all-time home run leader in the history of DC baseball. Zim would hit another home run later in the game, but major league debutant Erick Fedde would struggle against a tough Rockie lineup, failing to really get that third strike against guys like DJ LeMahieu, Charlie Blackmon, and MVP candidate Nolan Arenado.  Fedde, while many will see the results and say that his debut was a disappointment, was widely viewed by many as not ready for the big leagues, and a desperation move for the Nats with the injury to Strasburg.  Fedde is a top prospect for a reason, and the foundation is there. Give him time, Nats fans. The Nats staged a comeback effort in the bottom of the ninth, but it was too little, too late, as the Rockies secured the series win with a 10-6 victory.

Game three came just a few hours after game two, and was more like the first game in that it was not a crazy run-scoring slugfest. All the runs were scored in the fifth inning, with the Rockies striking first on a single into right field (credit Brian Goodwin with an outfield assist, throwing out a potential second run at the plate). In the bottom half of the inning, a 2-run homer from Adam Lind, and a solo homer from Brian Goodwin provided the Nats with all the offense they needed.  Edwin Jackson earned his second win with the Nationals in another impressive outing, going 7 innings allowing just four hits and one run. He struck out 6 and walked two.This was the perfect scenario for the Nats, who had used quite a few pitchers in that first game. Jackson went seven, and they used the bridge of Madson and Doolittle to close out a 2-run win, which had been so rare before the acquisition of the two formers A’s.

As of right now, the Nationals have not made a move at the trade deadline with just about a half hour to go. Howie Kendrick was acquired before the start of the Rockies series, and had himself an impressive series, tallying a couple hits.  Brad Hand is still on the Nats’ radar after missing out on Justin Wilson, who was acquired by the Cubs along with C Alex Avila in exchange for top prospect Jeimer Candelario.  The Nats have made it known that they will not move their top prospects, which is smart, but if a deal comes around, expect Mike Rizzo to pounce. Still some time before the deadline passes.

The Nats are in Miami tonight for the start of a series with the Marlins. Gio Gonzalez gets the start in his hometown against Jose Urena. First pitch will be at 7:05.

 

Nationals’ Offense goes Bananas en route to Series win

Nationals’ Offense goes Bananas en route to Series win

By Matthew Jacobson (@MJacobson12)

Coming into the 8th inning of the first game of the series, the Nationals had scored one run in 16 innings of baseball against the Milwaukee Brewers.  After dropping 7 runs in a huge 8th inning that night, it seemed as though the National offense had once again found its groove.  Despite this, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the absolute madness that occurred during the third inning of yesterday’s game.

Max Scherzer battled through an excellent at-bat, drawing a 7-pitch walk. Brian Goodwin continued his hot streak, smacking a two run home run to right-center field.  Wilmer Difo followed that up with a home run, as did Bryce Harper, as did Ryan Zimmerman.  Yes, you’re reading that correctly; 4 consecutive Nationals hit home runs. And that wouldn’t be the end of it. After a Daniel Murphy flyout (which received sarcastic boos from the Nationals Park crowd), Anthony Rendon would go yard, meaning the Nationals had hit 5 home runs in a stretch of 6 at bats, something that had almost never been done before.  Jose Lobaton added an RBI double, and after the third inning, the Nationals led 9-0, and would not look back.

Max Scherzer has certainly had better starts this season, considering the different stratosphere he’s been pitching on, but still, a 6-inning, 1-run performance from anyone in the major league is something anyone will take.  Scherzer struck out 9, compared with just two walks.  Enny Romero, Matt Grace, and Matt Albers would get the final 9 outs of the game, holding the Brewers to just two runs.  Considering how this series had started, with the Nationals unable to get hits through the first 16 innings of the series, as well as the Brewers rocking Edwin Jackson in game one, this outburst was not only historic, but needed.

The Nationals would tack on another 6 runs in the game outside of that historic third inning in an almost as historic fourth inning, which included a home run from Jose Lobaton, another run-scoring hit from Bryce Harper, and a second home run from Ryan Zimmerman.  The Nationals would bat around in both the third and fourth innings, scoring all of their 15 runs, and mashing seven home runs.  They won this series scoring 23 runs in 10 innings, delivering a huge blow to a Brewer team who are now playing catch-up with the defending champion Chicago Cubs for the NL Central.

Words cannot describe the sheer magnitiude of the Nats’ offensive explosion yesterday.  They scored more runs than recorded outs in the third and fourth innings.  They batted around both times.  Multiple players had multiple home runs.  All the while Max Scherzer bounced back from one of the worst outings of his career to shut down a lineup that had done damage to the Nationals all series. I found myself at a loss for words several times during those third and fourth innings, often resorting to the patented FP Santangelo “are you kidding me?” It is simply astonishing what the Nationals did between the eighth inning of last night’s game and fifth inning of this afternoon’s contest.  Not only did they turn both games on their heads, they turned the entire series its head, taking 2 of 3 from a playoff contending team for the second straight series.

The Nats begin a weekend series against the Colorado Rockies tonight.  It’ll be Tanner Roark looking to continue his impressive run of form against a dangerous Colorado lineup.  German Marquez will look for his 9th win of the season for the Rockies.

Jackson Struggles as Nats Get Blanked by Brewers

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By Michael Marzzacco

Edwin Jackson had a forgettable outing on Tuesday night and the Nationals offense failed to get an answer as the Brewers took the three-game series opener 8-0 at Nationals Park. Jackson’s loss evened his record at 1-1 on the season as he went five innings allowing seven runs on seven hits. Three of those runs were earned. Jackson could only strike out three batters and finished his outing throwing 112 pitches.

Continue reading “Jackson Struggles as Nats Get Blanked by Brewers”

Bullpen Stellar as Nats win Game 6-2, Series 2-1

Bullpen Stellar as Nats win Game 6-2, Series 2-1

By Matthew Jacobson (@MJacobson12)

When Stephen Strasburg exited the game after the second inning with what was then an undisclosed injury, it looked like a classic case of a game the Nationals are just bound to lose.  Given the reliance on the starting rotation this season, as well as the lack of confidence in a historically bad bullpen, this appeared to be a doomsday situation, despite the fact that the Nationals had already built a 4-run cushion off all-star starter Robbie Ray in the first inning.

Brian Goodwin led off the game with a monster home run over the 25-foot high line that’s painted onto the batter’s eye in dead center field, giving the Nationals a 1-0 lead. Wilmer Difo and Bryce Harper both singled (Harper extended his hitting streak to 16 games). Ryan Zimmerman would bring Difo home on a sacrifice fly before Anthony Rendon brought Harper home on an RBI single up the middle.  The Nats’ hot start meant that before Robbie Ray recorded an out, they had scored two runs, and him getting that first out meant another run scored.  Jose Lobaton would knock in another RBI with a single, and the Nationals appeared to be in cruise control up 4 runs with an ace starter on the hill.

Strasburg, despite not allowing any runs, struggled with his command in both innings that he pitched.  It took him over 50 pitches to record 6 outs, including a second inning where he walked two batters with two outs, and was one called strike away from having the bases loaded with two outs.  Stras appeared uncomfortable, and while his stuff looked normal, and there was no noticeable dip in his velocity (both good signs that the injury, which the Nationals called “tightness” and Dusty Baker called “an inability to get loose”, is not serious), his command faltered, hence the 50 pitches needed to get through two innings.  As mentioned earlier, despite the 4-run lead, I’d be willing to bet that no Nats fan felt comfortable after that second inning, knowing that the bullpen would need to record 21 outs to win the game.

But, low and behold, the bullpen delivered what I believe will be its best performance of the season.  Matt Grace began the relief of Stephen Strasburg, and before getting into some trouble in the fifth inning (where he was charged with both runs that scored), he did a great job to lessen the strain that Strasburg’s injury would cause the bullpen, even going into today’s off-day.  Joe Blanton, who has been maybe the worst reliever for the Nats this season, got Grace off the hook, retiring both batters he faced in the fifth inning, and really squashing the D-Backs’ hopes of a comeback.

After Blanton, Enny Romero recorded 5 outs in the sixth and seventh innings, allowing two hits and walking one batter, but he did not allow a run and also struck out two batters, earning his ninth hold of the season.  Romero was used in higher-leverage situations before the acquisition of Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, and struggled, as he did not appear ready for these situations.  However, going forward, Romero could be perfect for the sixth/seventh inning bridge to Madson/Doolittle, as lefties that throw as hard as he does are hard to come by.

Romero was relieved by Matt Albers, who if not for Ryan Zimmerman, might be the frontrunner for comeback player of the year.  Albers has been spectacular for the Nats this season, even closing a few games before the reinforcements arrived.  Albers got 4 outs, 3 via the strikeout, and did not allow a run (this was a common theme for the bullpen, and a welcome theme if you ask any Nats fan).  Sean Doolittle surrendered a leadoff walk for the third consecutive time with the Nats, but that would be all, and the Nats held on for a 6-2 win behind a gutsy outing from the bullpen.

This needs to be a turning point for a historically bad bullpen, especially if more reinforcements are to come either via trade or promotion.  Getting 21 outs for any bullpen is a tall task, and even taller for one that has received national notoriety for how terrible it has been.  Good on this group of guys for going out and showing that they can get outs, they can win games, and they are improving.

After dropping the series opener to Arizona, the Nats won two straight to win the series, and finish this road trip at 7-2.  They have a well-deserved day off today, and will begin a 3-game series with the struggling Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday.

Roark, Harper Lead the Way for Nats in 4-3 Win

Roark, Harper Lead the Way for Nats in 4-3 Win

By Matthew Jacobson

A night after being walked off in Arizona, the Nationals played one of their most complete games of the season and evened the three-game series at a game apiece. Tanner Roark was outstanding, throwing seven innings while allowing just three hits and two earned runs.  He struck out 11, and walked only one.  Roark, who had struggled at points of this season, needed this start as a bounceback, and he bounced back almost as good as you could have hoped.  Nationals fans are hoping that Roark can continue this form for the rest of the season.

Bryce Harper extended his hit streak to 15 games, including a moonshot home run off of debutant Anthony Banda that was estimated at over 460 feet (Statcast did not have the home run, as it was hit too hard and too far, but Yahoo Sports estimated the ball traveled nearly 470 feet).  During his 15 game hitting streak, Harper is hitting .474 with 7 home runs, 15 RBI, and 22 runs scored. I take back everything I said about Anthony Rendon being the NL MVP. Let’s be real; It’s Bryce Harper.

Roark’s strong start meant the Nationals could go straight to their newly-acquired bridge of Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. Madson came on in the eighth and locked it down, allowing just one hit and no runs.  Doolittle got himself into a little more trouble, walking a man, and allowing a run to score on a Paul Goldschmidt pinch-hit sacrifice fly, but he too got his job done, closing out another curly W.  These two acquisitions are looking better and better by the game, and so long as they keep doing their jobs (not blowing leads), the Nationals’ bullpen is lightyears ahead of where it was at the beginning of the season.

The Nats go for the series win in the rubber match this afternoon at 4:10 PM. Stephen Strasburg faces former National Robbie Ray, who’s very quietly having an incredibly impressive season.  The Nats look to win this series heading into the off day tomorrow, and then head home from this long, successful road trip to begin another series against a potential playoff team in the Milwaukee Brewers.

Early Runs Prove Costly for Nationals in 6-5 Loss to Arizona

Early Runs Prove Costly for Nationals in 6-5 Loss to Arizona

By Matthew Jacobson (@MJacobson12)

For the first time this season, Max Scherzer looked pedestrian in his start.  Scherzer allowed three consecutive home runs to begin the night, putting the Nationals in an early 3-0 hole.  The D-Backs would extend their lead to 4-0 in the first inning, and eventually to 5-0 in the bottom of the second inning.  Jake Lamb, who has quietly had an excellent season for the Diamondbacks, had 2 RBIs in his first two trips to the plate.  Scherzer would battle back and get through 5 innings, including three scoreless before coming out of the game, but this kind of struggle against a playoff team (which Arizona currently is) is not what you want to see from your ace.

The Nationals would not lay down and die however, and good on the team for battling back. They chipped away at a 5 run deficit after two innings beginning with Daniel Murphy doubling home a run in the top of the fourth.  Brian Goodwin’s productive out in the top of the fifth brought home Matt Wieters, making the game a save situation.  Ryan Raburn brought home Wilmer Difo later that same inning, making it a 2-run game.  Contributions from guys Like Goodwin, Raburn, and Difo whilst Jayson Werth, Trea Turner, and Michael Taylor have missed time have been crucial for the Nationals maintaining as big a lead in the division as they have.Difo, as a matter of fact, would drive home the Nationals’ next two runs (in the sixth and eighth innings respectively) to tie the game.

The much-maligned bullpen, who have rightly been maligned for how terrible they’ve been, held the fort as the Nationals began their comeback effort.  Joe Blanton recorded an out in the sixth.  Matt Grace would get the next 5 outs in the sixth and seventh.  New acquisition Ryan Madson got in some hot water, allowing a hit and a walk, but got the three outs he needed to get in the bottom of the eighth inning.  From here, however, is where it all went downhill.

A.J. Pollock led off the bottom of the ninth with a triple, putting the winning run at third base with nobody out in the ninth.  Dusty Baker decided to intentionally walk the bases loaded, with the meat of the D-Backs order (Lamb, Goldschmidt) due up, creating force plays at every base.  Gregor Blanco would fly out to left field before Brandon Drury singled into right field, bringing home Pollock, and winning the game for the D-Backs.

Personally, I don’t hate the decision to walk Lamb and Goldschmidt as much as some other fans may, and frankly I believe it was absolutely the right call.  Lamb had driven in 2 runs off of Max Scherzer earlier in the game, and any fly ball to the outfield would have ended the game, especially with Pollock’s speed.  Dusty made the D-Backs’ non-stars beat them in the ninth, and fortunately for Arizona, Brandon Drury did just that.  It’s never ideal to allow a leadoff triple in any scenario, let alone when the next Arizona would be the game winner.

Obviously this being a Nationals-centric blog, we try to put a positive spin on every game, be it a win or a loss, but there really is a lot of positives to take from this game.  While Max Scherzer did struggle, the bullpen picked it up, throwing three big scoreless innings which allowed the National offense to come back and tie the game. The ending was unfortunate, but for as often as Enny Romero has pitched this year, it’s understandable that he will struggle sometimes, and really only gave up the one big hit in the ninth.  Nats fans may be disappointed with the result, but this is just game one of the series, and the comeback, as well as Joe Blanton and Matt Grace locking it down against a dangerous Arizona are good signs for this ballclub.

The Nats look to get back on track tonight at 8:10 this evening in Arizona. It’ll be Tanner Roark for the Nats going against Major League Debutant Anthony Banda.