Tag Archives: Bryce Harper

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2014 Washington Nationals: Denouement

Last month, the Washington Nationals of 2014 completed the 4th best season in DC baseball history, but a second division title — they ran away with the National League East still yielded a first round exit. In the NLDS, they faced the San Francisco Giants, winners of the play-in game and lowest seeded team in NL, but eventual world champions. Four games later, the Nats were eliminated, despite strong pitching. Some strange mental errors and an opportunistic Giants squad overtook the Nats for two reasons:

The Nats bats with four days off did not hit. Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper, the two youngest hitters on the team, were able to handle being pitched to low and a way. The rest of the lineup was largely helpless and the manager of the Nats, Matt Williams made no adjustments to the lineup, leaving Harper at 6th throughout the whole series. Questions about that decision-making as well as hitting coach Rick Shu are there to be asked.

Williams decision making has been fairly scrutinized. I don’t mind that he pulled Jordan Zimmermann in Game 2 with two outs in the ninth after yielding a walk. Facing Buster Posey for a fourth time with a tired arm wasn’t ideal. It just didn’t work out that Drew Storen did not get it done.

Game 4 proved to be much more baffling as Williams inserted Aaron Barrett into the 7th inning of an elimination game on the road instead of Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen. Stephen Strasburg, who had a decent Game 1 start, was also available, but my view is the best relievers available were the best choice. Williams never called for them and the Nats fell.

Was Williams management of the NLDS a fireable offense? Probably not, but I’m not saying I’d be disappointed; I could get used to spelling “Weird Wuss” with curly Ws, I think. His peers voted him NL Manager of the Year, perhaps in the way that I would suggest Hunter Strickland needs a larger stage, like closer on an NL East team. The Nats were not ready for playoff baseball, likely in part due to their success in the last month of season where the dominated weak NL East teams in the New York Mets and Miami Marlins. That schedule can’t be helped – it’s just the way it worked out. However, sticking to a lineup that wasn’t producing and sticking to bullpen roles rather than game situations is hardly unique to Williams.

Or maybe it was the red jerseys.

Now, let’s review the roster:

THE LINEUP

Denard Span‘s NLDS was a microcosm of the Nats year — when he hit, they tended to win. When he didn’t, they lost. 2014 was his most productive season, setting a modern DC hits record. Unfortunately, he only hit in game 3.

Anthony Rendon put up superstar numbers, led the NL in runs and played third base well. He also hit in the NLDS, going 7 for 20.

Adam LaRoche had a typical streaky season, but still played 140 games, had a .362 OBP, hit 26 homers and drove in 92 runs. He also hit a walk-off against the Arizona Diamonbacks in extra innings. He is done in D.C. as there will be no spot for him with Ryan Zimmerman headed to 1st.

Jayson Werth had another strong season at the plate (.292/.394/.455), but was useless in the NLDS. Really useless. His defense is starting to slip, so perhaps a move to left is in order. He also drives too fast.

Bryce Harper garnered more controversy than he deserved and miss significant chunks of time, but after he returned he was pretty much the same outstanding player he’s been his whole career. He also hit three homers in the NLDS. When he’s healthy he’s awesome.

Ryan Zimmerman
couldn’t stay healthy, first injuring his thumb and then tearing his hamstring. He’s done playing third base on a regular basis due to his arthritic shoulder and will probably move to first next season. He’s still a great hitter and not playing third may keep him in the lineup, though he got injured on the basepaths. He continues to be a consummate professional.

Ian Desmond strikes out a ton and tends to make more errors than he should, especially early in the season. He’s in a contract year and with no viable second baseman on the roster, he’ll probably be resigned and continue to put up 20-20 numbers for a few more seasons, but strike out a ton.

Wilson Ramos stared the season batting cleanup, couldn’t make it out of the first game without a trip the DL. He only played 88 games and runs very slowly. Aside from the WILLLLLL-SSSSSSON chant, a forgettable year in several respects. It’s still worth mentioning that the Nats traded Matt Capps for him.

Asdrubal Cabrera was solid at second base for the most part after being acquired from Cleveland for the stretch run and even had a decent NLDS compared to other Nats hitters (ejection notwithstanding) but is probably on his way out. A decent acquisition though, if only to keep Danny Espinosa out of the lineup.

THE ROTATION

Stephen Strasburg tried to hard to make a slider work, but in an up and down season still tied for the NL lead in strikeouts, pitched 30 more innings and walked fewer. He gave up more hits, but locked in during the stretch. His postseason debut was okay, but poor defense helped lead to an early departure.

Doug Fister
got traded for Robbie Ray and hero to fans of a certain age Steve Lombardozi. Fister went 16-6 in 25 starts with only 24 walks and no stolen bases. He also won Game 3. Good trade Mike Rizzo.

Jordan Zimmermann had a very strong 2014, earning an All-Star bid, being arguably the Nats best pitcher and throwing the first no-hitter in D.C. since the Hoover administration. He had an unflappable demeanor and came within one out of a complete game shutout in Game 2, but he walked Joe Panik when umpire ___ squeezed the zone a bit and got lifted. So close…2015 will likely be his final year in D.C. as he is a free agent after the season and indications are he’s ready for a change of scenary.

Gio Gonzalez can be an outstanding pitcher when he’s trusting his curve ball. When he isn’t, he runs into trouble. Always known for a high pitch count, Gonzalez has had trouble in three starts over two postseasons and is prone to brutal fielding lapses. He’s signed the longest of anyone in the rotation.

Tanner Roark was the player the Nats got for the Cristain Guzman rental. If he never pitches another game, it was robbery. Thirty-one starts, 2.85 ERA, 15 wins. That’s after going 7-1 in 2013.

THE BULLPEN

Tyler Clippard, while pigeon-holed into the 8th inning with a lead spot, continued to be a reliable, durable reliever. He did not fare well when sent into close, but overall remained the most consistent fireman on the team AND WHY WOULDN’T YOU USE HIM IN AN ELIMINATION GAME, MATT WILLIAMS?

Drew Storen had a bounceback regular season that had him return to closing late, but that is overshadowed by his giving up the tying run in Game 1 and even giving up a run in Game 3. Seemingly, he’s next year’s closer though Clippard should get a shot.

Rafael Soriano had a strong first half as closer, but fell off the table and almost off the roster in the playoffs. He’s not coming back.

Aaron Barret – Joe West broke him. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. He shouldn’t have been brought in late in an elimination game.

Jerry Blevins was great against lefties. And only lefties. Why do I know this and #9 doesn’t?

Craig Stammen had some big long relief appearances and continiued to be solid.

Ross Detwiler did not make the playoff roster and did not have the faith of the management. It’s a far cry from 2012 when he made the best start of the playoffs that year. He’s headed out of town.

There is some discussion that next year will be a last shot with the current core as Zimmermann and Desmond are in the final years of their contracts. I expect Desmond will be signed and Zimmermann will follow the money to a city not too far from a rural area. Span’s option has got to be picked up because he provides value on the field or as a trade piece. Who plays second base is undetermined. Werth is showing his age in right and will be hard pressed to match those numbers again. Maybe switch him and Harper in the outfield. An extension for Fister wouldn’t upset me and I’m okay with dangling Gio out to other teams. THe NL East should be more challenging as the Marlins and Mets are showing signs of ascendency. The Phillies are not a factor and the Braves stayed in it longer than they really should have in 2014. More divisional competition may help the Nats out and keep them sharp too.

It’s been over two weeks since the season ended and I still miss it. We’ve got the hot stove, winter meetings and of course the court figths with the Baltimore Orioles ahead, but that’s just not the same being able to turn on Charlie & Dave and listen to a game 5 nights a week.

It’s 152 days until Opening Day.

HIGHLIGHTS

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NLDS Game 3: Nats 4 SF GIANTS 1

The 2014 Washington Nationals will play for at least one more night. They kept their season alive with a 4-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park, the first game decided by more than one run in the series.

Doug Fister saved the day, making this reaction (Red Porch Report) to his trade all the more funny. Seven innings of shutout baseball. His opposite number, Madison Bumgarner, made a strange decision on a Wilson Ramos two-strike bunt that led to two runs:

It was crazy to listen to on the radio (I was taking my oldest to a Cub Scouts meeting) and weirder to watch later. That’s two games in this series decided largely in part by poor fielding on bunts. Ramos advanced to second too.

Asdrubal Cabrera knocked Ramos in with a double too.

Bryce Harper had a big day in the field and at bat:

This was after the Natmosphere (including me) was convinced Harper was going to be benched yesterday.

Drew Storen couldn’t keep the shutout in the ninth, giving up a run, but still closed the game. Phew.

A great turnaround for the Nats after the 18-inning game that was longer than a flight from San Francisco to Dulles on Saturday night. Tonight’s game is at 9:07 p.m. on FOX Sports 1, 106.7 FM/1500 AM and of course, MLB Audio.

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Game 1 NLDS: SF Giants 3 Nats 2

San Francisco Giants 3 WASHINGTON NATIONALS 2

I blame the red jerseys. It’s the playoff opener, wear the home whites!

A few mental mistakes too, like trying to get the lead runner on Jake Peavy’s bunt. Peavy pitched better than Stephen Strasburg, who wasn’t lights out, but didn’t lose the game for the Nats either.

There isn’t an embedded video of the game recap, so we’ll just have to post the highlight:



Bryce Harper
hit that home run farther than any other in his career. Sadly, it wasn’t one batter earlier in the previous inning when the bases were loaded. Ian Desmond struck out. He did it again in the 8th.

Harper also had the Nats first hit.

I listened most of the game and watched the last few innings after I got home from work.

Adam Kilgore had a good gamer in The Post:

Thomas Boswell’s column wasn’t good.

I said Nats in 4 and that’s already the best case scenario. Game 2 is at 5:37 p.m. on FOX Sports 1 or 106.7 FM/1500 AM. Jordan Zimmermann vs. Nats-biller, Tim Hudson.

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Nats: MASN, Werth, Harper, the dearly departed centerfield bat

No, I don’t blog much about the Washington Nationals anymore. I will let you figure out why.

When I last checked in on the MASN dispute, I noted that “I am uncharacteristically happy about this news, I’m so used to it being bad for the Nats. However, it could still blow up because Selig’s track record is coddling Angelos and to a lesser extent the Orioles.”

According to the most recent report from The Post the Orioles owe Nationals $55 million-$60 million in fees from MASN, MLB panel ruled. The Nats “big victory” over the forces of evil was about half of what they had sought out, so the of course Peter Angelos and the Baltimore Orioles are still refusing to pay up, hence the dispute. In the end this whole saga will probably end with a whimper and not a bang. The hopes of the Nats being released from the corrupt bargain of outgoing MLB commissioner Bud Selig’s coddling of his friend Angelos seems to be a false one, a figurative towering fly ball caught just before the warning track.

By the way, since the Nats and Orioles are entitled to the same amount of money, Angelos want to keep it low so he can pocket more for himself. He’s even hurting the Orioles with this bargain. Also, the MASN camp is leaking more stuff to DC media. The Nats tend to keep tight-lipped which is letting others set the agenda.

Over at The Fingerman, Eric Fingerhut wonders why The Post, the most serious outlet left (cough, The Wash. Times, CSN) hasn’t dedicated more resources to this issue. I wonder too, particularly in light of some topics that are covered ad nausem. Not enough interest? Fear of offending Baltimore fan? Lack of interest in Nats fans? Are they Orioles fans themselves? It’s no secret that several people in the DC sports MCM are Baltimore fanboys. It isn’t even necessarily that they are covering for their favorite baseball team, just that they don’t recognize the problems that were foisted upon Nats fans by the cowardice and villainy of Angelos and the Orioles with Bud Selig’s support.

The biggest winner of course in all of this is probably Ted Leonsis whose Capitals and Wizards won’t be on CSN Mid-Atlantic forever. Without his teams, there is little point to having CSN Mid-Atlantic, so that channel’s willingness to make a sweet offer is high. MASN may also want to get Leonsis on board too as it could crush CSN Mid-Atlantic and monopolize all . For all of Leonsis talk of Monumental Network, getting a favorable deal with an existing RSN may be his ultimate goal.


Elsewhere in the world of Nats baseball, Jayson Werth was driving way too fast and is a danger to himself and others. We know this because natsenquirer.com scooped everybody else on it. It seems like the next story the MSM breaks on the Nats will be the first.


Matt Williams hasn’t upset me lately with a acute bad decision, but batting Bryce Harper sixth remains to be baffling. Speaking of Harper, good job by DC Sports Bog pointing out that the Braves reaction to walking through a letter in the dirt is…hypocritical. Oh and because it was awesome and I don’t tire of it, here’s Harper’s walkoff last week:

Oh and former Montreal writer — he’s not a bust, he’s recovering from thumb surgery.


Michael Taylor’s debut was what’s wonderful about baseball. Maybe the Nats will be okay when Werth is suspended for few games next year for reckless driving.


Theory on Stephen Strasburg: he felt he was getting squeezed on the strikezone by the umps, so he starting throwing his fastball over the plate more. Decreased velocity made it more hittable.


miss you bat

The windows-less building behind centerfield that was torn down had few months of glory, specifically, the mural of a bat. It’s going if not gone by now

The mural made the backdrop of Nationals Park much more interesting and let’s face it, a good backdrop is 50% of what makes a ballpark.

More later, maybe even a Nats vs. Pirates Q&A.

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I remembered to submit my DC-IBWA 2014 Nats predictions

Every year, the DC Internet Baseball Writers Association sends out questionaires for the Natmosphere about the state of the Washington Nationals. Some years I get to them, some years I don’t. This year, I got to it. Fire away:

1) Who will lead the Nats in home runs in 2014? – Bryce Harper
2) Who will lead the Nats in RBI? – Bryce Harper
3) Who will lead the Nats in stolen bases? – Denard Span
4) Who will lead the staff in wins? – Stephen Strasburg
5) How many games will Ryan Zimmerman play first base? – 11
6) Who starts more games: Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf? – Taylor Roark
7) Who will get more at bats for the Nats this season: Danny Espinosa or Jamey Carroll? – Danny Espinosa
8) Which minor leaguer are you most interested in keeping tabs on this season? – Lucas Giolito
9) Who will reach majors first: Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole, Lucas Giolito or Matt Purke? – Matt Purke
10) How many all-stars will the Nats have? Who? – 3 – Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Wilson Ramos
11) Total wins and what place in the division? 92, 1st

Essay: What should be the single most important development for the Nats this season?

The Nationals single biggest development should be playing smarter. The talent is there, as we saw in 2012, but last season they had a tendency towards defensive lapses that extended innings and wore down pitchers. Another part of playing smarter is not playing with serious injuries. Harper played hurt for the bulk of the season and Espinosa played his way out of the majors. In the outfield at least, an improved bench should make it easier for manager Matt Williams to give Jayson Werth, Span and Harper some days off with Nate McLouth as the fourth outfielder, so nagging injuries may bee mitigated somewhat. In the infield, Espinosa is a big question mark as the utility man coming off of injuries to both arms.

Strasburg also faces a big year at the top of the rotation after an “off” year in 2013. A recent Post article suggests he had an epiphany about his approach. Strasburg has always come off as intelligent, but very sensitive at the same time. If he has overcome his perfectionist tendencies and self-flagellation, he could dominate with more regularity. Simply put, a focused Strasburg, more comfortable with being an ace and all that entails could be devastating to NL hitters.

Lastly, I believe that Williams approach to defense and hiring of a “defensive coordinator” could help address defensive lapses. Not necessarily because shifts in and of themselves can anticipate where batted balls are going, but also keeping the fielders a little more focused. The question will be whether this will help overcome the learning curve that Williams will face as a rookie manager. Thus far, the tone he is setting for the team is refreshing after Davey Johnson’s casual approach in 2013.

I’ll be surprised if the Nats win 98 games like they did in 2012 — I think that was the peak year in the regular season at least, but I don’t see the Braves winning 96 again either. I believe the Braves will challenge to for the NL East title and probably make the play-in game. After that, it’s all about matchups in the playoffs, so, who knows?

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wall-dunk-over-g-man-screengrab

Wizards: John Wall becomes latest DC #1 overall to win an All-Star competition

In keeping with D.C. sports tradition, one-time #1 overall pick John Wall (2010) of the Washington Wizards won an All-Star skills competition (The Post). Wall’s dunk over Wiz mascot G-Man sealed the deal for the East and the Wizards guard.

If there is one thing DC’s #1 overall picks know how to do, it’s perform well in All-Star skills competitions. Five (!) years ago, Alex Ovechkin (#1 overall, 2005) won the Breakaway Competition at the All-Star Game.

Last summer, Bryce Harper (#1 overall, 2010) came in second in the Home Run Derby: Bryce Harper hits 24 in Home Run Derby for 2nd place.


Best viewed on mute

You move, Stephen Strasburg (#1 overall, 2009)

This is fun, but what I’d really like to see is one all of these All-Stars get past the second round of the playoffs.

RELATED

Hope for DC sports from…Secaucus?June 7, 2010

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Bryce Harper's Bitchin' Camaro - used with permission of Forgeline

Bryce Harper’s Bitchin’ Camaro and other NatsFest notes

Bryce Harper’s Bitchin’ Camaro – used with permission of Forgeline
Third year Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper just got a customized 1969 Camaro. I don’t normally post that sort of thing, but I’m making the exception because when a player for a team I like gives me a chance to reference the Dead Milkmen, I do that every time. The same can’t be said for other blogs.

Perhaps I’m a bigger Dead Milkmen fan than most, but isn’t Bitchin’ Camaro shared cultural capital?


Might be a few naughty words in there

Lots of Harper coverage came out of NatsFest, including references to Babe Ruth instead of Mickey Mantle.

Pretty funny, Harper.

Even the Ombudsman, a soulless Phillies fan, has to appreciate this:

Then there were seperate ESPN ads featuring Harper and Strasburg:

Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Tyler Clippard
Photo by Scott Abelman used under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license

NatsFest had 8,400 fans apparently. There was apparently a Wheel of Fortune Game played amongst some players and Let Teddy Win’s Harper photo went viral.

If there was an after-party like last year’s with Charlie Slowes, it’s been kept on the DL. Or maybe it was on the DL and didn’t happen. Don’t know, but that would have been the part most worthy of attention.

Oh and LIVAN! was back and is probably headed to spring training. Are his possible legal troubles over?

Opening Day is 62 days away…

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Nats still a lock to miss even play-in game

That .700 streak was fun, but season died in July

The Washington Nationals, losers of 3 out of 4, are not making the playoffs or even the play-in game (officially the Wild Card, but let’s be realistic here, it’s a play-in game and should occur in Dayton, Ohio, just like college basketball) despite that recent 14-5 run. They stand 7 ½ back of the Cincinnati Reds for the second spot. There just isn’t time. Nor, it seems, is there enough hitting or health.

Bryce Harper’s playing on a bad hip. Davey Johnson doesn’t know what’s going on (Federal Baseball). Adam LaRoche is terrible. Dan Haren is Dan Haren again. Thomas Boswell is moving on.

Last week, implausible scenarios were abound in the Natmosphere and the MSM. The “easy” schedule ahead isn’t that easy with so little hitting.

The season was over a month ago. There is no way to climb out.

Like I said a few weeks ago, enjoy what you can out of this lost season. Jayson Werth is playing better than ever in D.C. (The Post). It isn’t in vain, but it isn’t in pursuit of something bigger and that’s unfortunate.

Ten home games remain — four on weekends, two on Fridays. Go out and take one in. You’ll miss them when they are gone for the winter.

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So, I guess Bryce Harper has “heart” maybe not much else

But you got to have heart. That’s the biggest thing right now. You got to play with heart. – Bryce Harper

Indeed

“We just need to be a family again,” Harper said. “That’s the biggest thing. It all starts with having good camaraderie in the clubhouse. Having an upbeat clubhouse every single day. Having an upbeat manager and staff, every single day, no matter what. We could be 10 games out, but we got two more months. We got two more months of baseball, and if we play like we’re capable of playing, we will win this. We will do it. I know that for a fact, because we have a great team and a great organization. And we have guys on this team that are unbelievable. We just need to keep going, keep grinding, and do the things we need to do.”

Bryce Harper wants Nationals to show ‘heart’ and ‘play like a family’The Post

The season is already dead, but I like his spirit, I guess.

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For posterity, Ryan Zimmerman’s walk off

I was on vacation, off the grid, etc. last week, so I missed Ryan Zimmerman‘s latest walk-off home run, to beat the New York Mets, his first since 2011. I was getting concerned — he was overdue.

Zimmerman earned the nickname Mr. Walkoff on Opening Night 2008 when he christened Nationals Park and I came up the the nickname on the spot. Friday night’s was his 9th game winning home run of his career. The all-time record is 12 with has tied the all-time record for walk-off home runs with Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson and Jim Thome all sharing the record. Zimmerman is 28 years old. Zimmerman has also beaten every NL East team via walkoff now.

The day before, Bryce Harper hit his first walkoff homer to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates:

I can’t say I was surprised to return to BeltwayLand to see the Nats under .500. While I was out, Rick Eckstein got fired, Drew Storen got demoted and Steve McCatty was hospitalized. It is probably for the best I was out to sea for the week.

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