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Jul
05

Decision Day Is Rapidly Approaching For DC Teams

Two teams in Washington find themselves reaching a critical point toward the future of their organizations.

The Nationals are in the midst of a tough seven-game West Coast road trip, after having lost four straight home games to the Dodgers. And of course, they’re also riddled with injuries

As for the Wizards, the NBA Draft is drawing near, but they haven’t hired a new head coach yet. It’s tough to imagine they’ll let this drag out much longer, but it isn’t entirely clear what direction they’re leaning.

The National Disaster

Let’s start with some quick good news: Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner and Juan Soto were each named first-time All-Stars earlier this weekend. Max Scherzer was a noticeable omission, despite posting a 7-4 record, 2.10 ERA and 127 strikeouts through his first 16 starts of this season. Keep in mind there is a rule that grants every team in the league at least one All-Star, and the benefactors from that stipulation were disproportionally pitchers. Taking them (particularly German Marquez of the Rockies) out of the equation, Scherzer’s “snub” isn’t egregious, and he’ll certainly make his way onto the roster – as either an injury replacement or a substitute for someone who pitches the day before the All-Star break, which a couple guys always do.

Now for the on-field stuff: As discussed late last week, the injury rat – as Scherzer so eloquently described it – has struck the Nationals, and it feels like it’s still hiding somewhere in the attic. Schwarber and backup catcher Alex Avila were both placed on the 10-day Injured List, and Washington was forced to turn to Yadiel Hernandez, Tres Barrera and journeyman shortstop Alcides Escobar – who started in place of Trea Turner (finger) after being acquired from the Kansas City Royals and replacing Humberto Arteaga (designated for assignment) on the active roster.

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Jul
03

Injuries Highlight Nationals’ Depth, Roster Construction

Even with as well as June went for the Nationals, adversity was bound to strike them at some point.

It now has. The surprising aspect, however, is how quickly it came.

In addition to a quartet of high-leverage relief pitchers who are already on the Injured List, Trea Turner (finger) and Kyle Schwarber (hamstring) are currently day-to-day, and Jordy Mercer (quadriceps) will be sidelined for a longer period. Although injuries of such magnitude are difficult to withstand, they also raise questions about roster construction – specifically, whether the Nats have the right types of players on their team.

For most of this season, Washington has been carrying 14 pitchers (nine relievers) and 12 position players (four bench bats). That’s one more pitcher and one fewer hitter than most teams keep at a given time.

Although that probably seems negligible, it’s compounded by some other variables. For example, the Nationals also have two players (Josh Bell and Ryan Zimmerman) who can only play one position (first base), and obviously catchers are catchers. That leaves two bench players (Mercer and the fourth outfielder – a rotation of Andrew Stevenson, Yadiel Hernandez and Gerardo Parra) who can provide some degree of versatility, although Josh Harrison can also play in the outfield if needed.

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Jun
29

Schwarber, Starting Staff, And The Status Of The System

Not long ago, the Nationals’ offense was starving for production from anyone other than Trea Turner and Juan Soto. The pro-Max Scherzer trade crowd was also gaining some legitimacy, and even the minor league system was barely treading water – providing no contingency plans for big league ballplayers that seemed to keep getting injured.

The season was slowly slipping away from them.

But all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, Washington starting winning games left and right – 12 of their last 15, to be precise. In a lot of ways, it makes no sense, but in others, it’s exactly like it always goes: predictably unpredictable.

Clearly, the Nationals have transformed themselves into a different team recently. Is it sustainable, though?

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Jun
23

Max Scherzer Gives Joe Girardi The Treatment He Deserves

Tuesday night was a fun sports night.

Besides the Orioles blowing another decent pitching performance from Jorge Lopez, there was a lot going on that caught my attention, and all of these topics relate in some way to Washington D.C. sports teams: 

Girardi Makes A Mockery of Baseball, Gets Mocked by Scherzer

At first, all I saw was Nationals star Max Scherzer mocking the hell out of Phillies manager Joe Girardi, which would amuse me in any situation as it is.

But once I found it was after Girardi had Scherzer checked three times for banned sticky substances on the pitching mound, it was even better.

Scherzer gave Girardi the treatment he deserved. If somebody accused me of cheating the game on three separate occasions, then I’d give them the death stare walking back to the mound as well. And for Girardi to take offense to it shows what kind of coward he is. If you’re going to wrongfully accuse someone three separate times of cheating, own it and sit down when you’re wrong.

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Jun
21

Have the Nationals Rediscovered the Magic?

After we’ve all experienced a global pandemic, this year is undeniably much different than 2019. However, things on the baseball diamond are beginning to look much like they did two years ago for the Washington Nationals.

Following a series-opening loss to the San Francisco Giants on June 11, the Nationals found themselves sitting nine games below .500. Stephen Strasburg was on the IL, Max Scherzer and Daniel Hudson had suffered injuries and were also heading to the IL, and the Nationals appeared to have a very difficult road ahead of them.

Miraculously, Washington won eight of its next 10 games, its starting rotation looked like one of the best in the league, and they began to add reinforcements to their roster.

Much like 2019, it’s difficult to understand exactly what sparked this turnaround, but with players suddenly firing on all cylinders, the future looks much brighter than it did less than two weeks ago.

The Pitchers Are Performing

Erick Fedde hasn’t allowed a run since Scherzer went down. In fact, dating back to mid-May, Fedde has thrown 20 consecutive scoreless innings. He’s lowered his ERA to 3.33, and it’s as low as 2.54 if you exclude his first start of the season.

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Jun
15

The Time is Now for Cade Cavalli, Nationals

There might not be a hotter prospect in professional baseball right now than right-handed pitcher Cade Cavalli, and it comes at a very opportune moment for himself and the Washington Nationals.

As everyone knows by now, the 22-year-old righty was Washington’s first round selection in the 2020 MLB Draft, and through seven starts in High-A Wilmington this year, he’s been nothing short of filthy.

Saturday, his dominance was on full display, as he tossed seven no-hit innings and struck out a whopping 15 batters. That outing dropped his ERA to 1.77 and his hits allowed per nine innings to just over five, while his strikeouts per nine innings rose to just below 16. For context, the highest season-season rate of Max Scherzer’s big league career is only 12.7.

Just over a week ago, in their most recent round of updates, Cavalli was upgraded to Baseball America’s No. 33 overall prospect – a leap of 49 spots since their preseason rankings. Following his most masterful performance yet on Saturday, he was named to MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Team of the Week and – more importantly – was promoted to Double-A Harrisburg.

While his promotion was certainly deserved based on his performance, it was also necessary for the immediate well being of the Nationals.

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Jun
05

Who Starts on Sunday, Sans Strasburg, For Nationals?

For the first time since Stephen Strasburg was placed back on the IL, the Nationals must turn to their No. 5 starting pitcher.

There’s just one problem: They don’t currently have a fifth starter on their active roster.

They’ll be forced to trot someone out to start Sunday’s game in Philadelphia, but who it will be remains a mystery. There was a thought that it could be Erick Fedde, who’s currently on the IL, but is in the midst of a rehab assignment. He was slated to start on Thursday and Friday for Wilmington (High-A), but both games were postponed due to rain. Rather than forgoing the rehab appearance, the Nationals chose to let him pitch today in the minor leagues, opting to allow someone else to get the Sunday big league start.

This won’t be an easy decision. There aren’t any great options, and it’s difficult to even narrow the field down to two or three pitchers. There are men on the big league roster who have starting experience and could each pitch multiple innings, there are arms – albeit uninspiring ones – in AAA who could be recalled in a pinch, or the Nats could call up someone lower in the minor league system that’s been pitching better this season.

Here’s who Dave Martinez and the Nationals will be choosing between ahead of Sunday’s 1:05 p.m. game in Philadelphia:

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May
30

Martinez Showing More Flexibility In Roster; Is It Working?

Aside from moving a few players up and down his lineup, manager Dave Martinez had kept his roster and everyday players rather consistent throughout this season.

But that’s changed recently.

In fairness, his hand has been partially forced due to Victor Robles’ injury. But he’s also shown more flexibility with his catchers over the last handful of games, so let's take a look at where the roster stands after today's sweep by Milwaukee. 

The Defense

Aside from an occasional day off for rest, Robles has been Martinez’s everyday centerfielder for the last three seasons, and he’s never wavered from that belief. Aside from aging veterans like Howie Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman, that’s been Davey’s mentality with all of his starters throughout his tenure in Washington.

With Robles on the IL due to a sprained ankle, however, Davey has been forced to adjust. He only has one other player on his roster with any legitimate capability of playing centerfield, no outfielders (aside from Robles) who hit right-handed, and no true outfield depth in the minor leagues.

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May
24

I'd Be Willing To Bet Juan Soto Will Never Do THAT Again

A few items from the weekend…

There’s never been much doubt about Juan Soto’s greatness as a baseball player, but yesterday he did something that I found impressive and further convinced me he will one day finish his career – barring injury – as one of the best of all time.

I’m not talking about the boneheaded play he made, standing at home plate staring up at a towering foul ball he had just hit as if it were a UFO getting ready to land on South Capital Street. He thought it was going to end up in the stands, and when the wind blew it back into the field of play, the surprised Soto then took off for first, was thrown out, and a run that would have scored had he run from the first second he made contact, ended up not being added to the Nats run total.

But while social media was blistering him for his mistake (I even said it was a Bryce Harper moment on Twitter), I couldn’t help but notice Soto’s reaction to the play. No coach could have beat up on Soto more than Soto was beating himself up. He was angry and disappointed with himself, and it was not a simple “well, crap” kind of moment. It went on for a while, and a coach stopped and told him to let it go and make it a learning experience.

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May
20

Strasburg Re-Enters Rotation, Fedde Exits – Or Does He?

Stephen Strasburg will finally return from the IL tomorrow.

We’ve long assumed that once that happened, Erick Fedde would be removed from the rotation, and at the moment he will be, since he was placed on the IL Wednesday.

But does that mean his role in the starting rotation is gone?

Fedde has seemingly been destined for the bullpen for the last two years, but there’s always been something – usually an injury to someone above him – that’s kept him in the rotation. He’s been viewed as a sufficient Band-Aid, but one who had a 50-50 chance to pan out long term, despite being a former first-round draft selection.

This year has been different, though. Sure, an injury and an illness are what’s given him the initial opportunity, but he’s done something with it this time.

His ERA, which sits at 4.35 through eight starts, is very similar to where it’s been for the past few seasons. The difference, however, is his dominance from hitter to hitter. The batting average he has surrendered (.217) is 52 points lower than his career average, and his strikeout rate has nearly doubled compared to 2019 and 2020.

Fedde has generally been decent in terms of run prevention, but he often left everyone sitting on the edge of their seats, waiting for an implosion. That fear for the worst has virtually disappeared this season.

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May
16

It Wasn't Just A Good Weekend. It Was A Great Weekend.

As sports weekends go in the Nation's Capital, local teams may have just finished a rare great one.

Think about it. The Capitals won an opening-round Stanley Cup playoff game. The Wizards rallied to win and clinch an 8th-seed in the NBA playoffs. The Nationals won a series on the road. Plus the Mystics opened their season, DC United took to the pitch, and even the Washington Football Team and Hokies down in Blacksburg had an eventful last few days.

Not  bad. Not bad at all. Here are the details:

Capitals Win A Postseason Thriller

Caps fans had their hearts in their throats early when starting goaltender Vitek Vanecek left in the first quarter due to injury, leaving the game in Craig Anderson’s hands. Anderson only had two starts this season, his last win was in May of 2017, and while they said he was 39, it was just barely. He'll be 40 this week. So on top of concerns for injuries to TJ Oshie and the return of Alexander Ovechkin from injury, Caps fans had plenty to worry about.

But soon after realizing Anderson was even on the team, Caps fans realized they were seeing a calm, experienced goaltender who kept the Boston Bruins in check. Tom Wilson scored the game’s opening goal, showing he can score AND fight, then Jake DeBrusk responded – which was also the play on which Vanecek left with an injury. The call-and-respond action continued in the second period, when Brendan Dillon and Nick Ritchie traded goals, and the teams held each other scoreless throughout the rest of regulation.

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