Lack of clutch plays continue to plague Nationals

After enduring a tougher than anticipated extended West Coast road trip where the Nationals finished up 4-6 on the 10 game swing, coming home to the Eastern Time Zone and completing arguably the toughest part of their schedule for the season, this team is in need of a jolt of energy. Collectively, this team has not hit or fielded the way a playoff contender should and after the 1/3rd mark of the season, this must change and in a hurry.

@ San Francisco Giants – May 20th – 23

In quite possiibly the biggest litmus test of the young season, The Nats had to travel to the picturesque AT&T Park to face the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants shorthanded in the starting rotation as Ross Detweiler missed his scheduled start on Monday with back spasms.  That proved to be a bad omen as Left-handed reliever Zack Duke lasted just 3 1/3 innings in the spot start as the Nats were shut out for the 6th time this season, this time 8-0 . Duke allowed four runs and seven hits in his first start of the year. In Wednesday’s matchup, the team wasted another sterling effort from Stephen Strasburg, who has come out of the slight slump from earlier this year striking out seven and allowing only  five hits in 7 innings. He retired 14 of the final 15 batters — six on strikeouts — and never allowed a runner past first in his last five innings yet the bullpen blew the lead in the 9th as Raphael Soriano blew the save on a defensive gaffe by Bryce Harper let a catchable ball fall bracing for impact of the wall where he was no where near.  Call it being shell shocked from his horrific crash last week.  Yunesky Maya (who was finally designated for assignment by the team on Friday) ended the game by giving up a massive two run homer to Pablo Sandoval completing the Giant comeback, with the 4-2 win.  In the 3rd game of the series, Bryce Harper had his hand in all of the winning plays in a 2-1 victory in 10 innings.  He made the game saving diving grab in the 8th inning and had 2 huge hits including his 12th HR of the season and a 1 out double in the 10th while scoring the winning run on Ian Desmond’s RBI single.

Home vs Philadelphia Phillies  May 25-25

Finally home and able to sleep in the comforts of their respective beds, The archrival Philadelphia Phillies and their sickening fans invade Nats Park for a 3 game set.  In the 1st game Jordan Zimmermann continued what has become his breakout season with another sterling performance in becoming the 1st 8 game winner in the National League giving up only 2 runs which actually RAISED his ERA to 1.71 in a 5-2 win.  Raphael Soriano saved his 2nd consecutive game to give him 14 for the season.  In Saturday’s game, Dan Haren pitched well enough to win, but Drew Storen’s inconsistencies appeared again as he surrendered the losing runs in the 8th inning as Philly defeated the Nats by the count of 5-3.  Drew’s ineffectiveness is most certainly a mental block that he, as a young pitcher, must overcome for this team to really reach maximum effectiveness.

Player of the Week

Ryan Zimmerman – 6 Hits, 1 HR, 4 RBIs and NO ERRORS

 

Next Week’s Schedule

A weird schedule quirk as the Battle of the Beltway commences with 2 games at Nats Park then 2 games at Orioles Park at Camden Yards.  After those games, a 3 games set at the 1st place Atlanta Braves.

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For Nats, West Coast trip brings more injuries, more inconsistencies

Gotta be more careful Kid!

For a team that has been ridiculously bad offensively, winning 3 of the 1st 6 games of this 10 game West Coast swing would be deemed a success, but this isnt your normal team.  The Nats right now are in an offensive funk of epic proportions.  28th in the league Runs Scored, 29th in Batting average, 29th in Batting average and 28th in Slugging percentage.  The only teams that match this level of futility in the league are the 2 teams expected to lead the league in losses this season, the Miami Marlins and Houston Astros, YET as we stand, the Nats sit only 1.5 games out of 1st place behind the Atlanta Braves.  The only reason this is even possible is because the pitching staff has stepped up their collective games after a sluggish start to post a team wide 3.20 ERA (2nd in baseball) with 27 quality starts (3rd overall).  Eventually the bats should start to warm as soon as the weather, but this team cannot wait much longer.

May 13-15th @ the Los Angeles Dodgers

As good as the Nats starters have been collectively, we’ve had some bad luck (bad defense, untimely hitting) that has cost the team winnable games, the 1st game of the series wasnt the case as Jordan Zimmermann continued his stellar season pitching 7.2 innings only surrendering 2 runs which RAISED his ERA for the season to 1.69, as he defeated former ace Josh Beckett and the Dodgers 6-2.  Unfortunately, Bryce Harper was on the rough end of an awful crash running full speed into the right field wall which caused a gash that needed 11 stitches and knocked him out of the next 2 games with concussion-like symptoms although the team wouldn’t admit it.  That play will be on bloopers reels forever, sorry Bryce.  The next 2 games, the Dodgers unleashed their two big guns in defending Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw and 2013 Free Agent prize Zach Greinke, who both pitches exactly as you would think.  Kershaw scattered five hits, struck out 11 and pitched 8 2/3 innings in the Dodgers’ 2-0 victory on Tuesday and Greinke pitched 5 1/3 strong innings in his first start since April 11 after coming off the disabled list earlier on Wednesday as Dodgers beat the Nats 3-1 on Wednesday night for the Nats 2nd consecutive loss.  To compound the loss, Catcher Wilson Ramos aggravated the hamstring injury that placed him on the DL earlier this season which lead to his 2nd stint on the DL.

May 16-18 @ The San Diego Padres

Going into this series in San Diego, the Nats had a 2 game losing streak, these are the exact types of scenarios where your ace is supposed to step on the mound and be great and end the streak.  But with Stephen Strasburg in his longest losing streak since Little League and an offense that is sputtering besides a couple of guys, nothing is guaranteed.  Luckily for us, Strasburg was outstanding in his return to his hometown in front of about 50 family members and friends, he lasted a career-high eight innings to snap a seven-start winless streak, and Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche homered to spearhead a 6-2 victory against San Diego on Thursday night.  In Bryce’s 1st game since the Wall Incident, he absolutely demolished a pitch to dead center-field that traveled an estimated 435ft.  In Friday’s matchup, Chad Tracy slammed a game-winning home run in the 10th inning to give the Nats  a 6-5 victory .Tracy’s heroics at Petco Park negated a blown save by Nationals closer Rafael Soriano, who gave up two runs with two outs in the ninth. It made a quality start from Gio Gonzalez, and a two-home-run night from first baseman Adam LaRoche stand up, and reclaim a victory that seemed so certain early on.  An error by Jordan Zimmermann in the 8th inning was ultimately the margin of victory in an outright pitchers duel with 31 year old journeyman Eric Stultz who earned the victory with a 2-1 win.

Next Week:

The Nats conclude the road trip with 3 games vs the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants then return home for a 3 gamer vs the hated Philadelphia Phillies

Player of the Week

Adam LaRoche – .308 avg, 4 HRs 9 RBIs with 8 total hits.  He finally has gotten out of the early season slump that plagued him.  Now if we can get the rest of the offense to trend the same way.

A winning streak then a headscratching loss highlights the Nats week

 

“Untuck Em!”

 

If you were to go into this week under .500,   in 3rd place in the division and not really clicking on any cylinders on the field THEN you go out and win 5 in a row, 7 of 8 but lose Saturday’s game, to only place 1 game behind the 1st place Atlanta Braves, most fans would take that right?  But when that one loss brings up all of the losing characteristics that have plagued the team this season such as ANOTHER throwing error by Ryan Zimmermann (which of course lead to the losing runs), Stephen Strasburg  collapsing after that said error (again), and just not enough offense to compete, you have a fan base thats slightly concerned.

The week started off with 2nd year power bat, Tyler Moore shaking off a poor start to his season with a 3 Run HR in the 8th inning as the Nats defeated the Pirates in Pittsburgh by the score of 6-2.  Danny Espinosa homered and drove in three runs and Gio Gonzalez (3-2) won for just the third time in seven starts after winning 21 games last season.  The team had a day off on Monday in preparation for a 2 game Interleague set vs Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers. Luckily for the Nats, they would not face the two best pitchers on their rotation in former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander and the undefeated Max Scherzer.  Tuesday’s game would be cancelled by rain which pushed the matchup of Jordan Zimmermann and Nats killer Anibal Sanchez ,  who was 8-0 with a 1.97 ERA in 19 starts against the Nationals while with the Marlins, to Wednesday.  Zimmermann continued his Cy Young pace after pitching 17 shutout innings in his prior two starts, the right-hander allowed one run in seven innings in a 3-1 win .  Bryce Harper connected with his team leading 10th HR of the season. In the finale on Thursday, Dan Haren nearly squandered a four-run lead as Washington’s three relievers had identical lines, each giving up a hit and striking out a batter in an inning in a 5-4 triumph, the teams 4th in a row.  Adam LaRoche seems to have worked his way out of his April slump with 2 hits for his 1st back to back multi-hit games of the year. LaRoche has eight hits in his last 14 at-bats, raising his average from .129 through May 1 to .196.  Rapael Soriano sewed up his 12th save in 13 chances.

A three game set vs the Chicago Cubs would bring back former Nats star Alfonso Soriano, who in his 1 season here in DC holds almost all single season batting records including HRs, Slugging Percentage and Extra Base Hits.  The one player on the roster that will probably be the guy to eventually bring down all of those records, Bryce Harper, did not play in Friday’s or Saturday’s game because of an ingrown toe nail (ouch!!!).  Also sitting out would be Jayson Werth, who has been hampered with a hamstring and would eventually be placed on the Disabled List on Saturday.  Neither of those players would be missed a bunch on Friday as Ian Desmond continued his torrid ways with 3 hits including a 2-run HR and a RBI double. Danny Espinosa and Kurt Suzuki each drove in a pair of runs with a double, helping Washington beat the Chicago Cubs 7-3 for its seventh victory in the past eight games.  Ross Detweiler wasnt his sharpest, but did enough to earn his second win of the season.
Saturday’s aformentioned game continued a bad streak (Strasburg’s losing streak, now at 5), ended the team’s 5 game streak (longest of the season) with a disheartening 8-2 loss.  Ian Desmond had 3 hits again as he has developed into one of the games best shortstops and a keeper for this franchise for years to come.  We are seeing a true leader blossoming on and off the field before our very eyes.

 

Player of the Week:

Ian Desmond – 8 hits in 5 games which included 2 doubles, 2 HRs and 6 RBI’s. He also added a Stolen Base as well.

 

Next Week’s Schedule:

The Nats embark on their 1st extended West Coast road trip as they land in Los Angeles on Monday for a 3 game set, then on to San Diego for 4 gamer which concludes on Sunday

 

Another uneven week for the Nationals

Sheer domination…

 

 

After a down month for the Nationals, they hope to go into May with their heads clear and focused, yet with injuries and a team still searching how to do the little things that it takes to win games on a consistent basis, they divulge into May playing average baseball, and for a team with above-average talent, you would hope that this would be some sort of wake-up call for more inspired play.  Heading into the 4 game series with the Braves, Ace Stephen Strasburg was hoping to end a personal 4 losing streak but that didnt happen as he pitched 6 innings only giving up 2 runs but also showed that there could be some arm issues as he exited the game. Tyler Clippard again showed this pitching staff’s inability to walking the opening batter as he allowed a sacrifice fly to Atlanta Shortstop Andrelton Simmons in the 8th which became the lead run in a 3-2 victory for the Braves, their 7th straight vs the Nats dating back to last season.  The next game, Braves’ veteran starter Tim Hudson pitched 7 innings of sterling baseball giving up only 1 run on 3 hits, befuddling the Nats batters as Gio Gonzalez only lasted 4 innings in possibly his worst start of the season (7 hits, 5 runs, 4 walks).  That win was Hudson’s 200th career victory, joining Andy Pettite and Roy Halladay as the only other current pitchers who could say the same.  The losing streak would finally end at 9 games in the 3rd game as Jordan Zimmermann again pitched a masterpiece with a 2-hit, zero run effort along with Ian Desmond’s 2 run blast in the 4th sparked the 2-0 victory.  Rafael Soriano pitched the 9th inning for his 8th save in 9 opportunities.  In the last game of the set, Dan Haren’s sterling effort (8 sharp innings with only 1 run given up) and the bat of Denard Span (2 hits, 2RBIs and 1 RS) were key to the Nats salvaging a much needed split of the series by the score of 3-1.  Rafael Soriano again comes in for the 9th inning to notch his 9th save.

On to Pittsburgh and the picturesque PNC Ballpark for a 4 game set vs the improved Pirates.  Ross Detweiler would be the starting pitcher in the opening game vs the rejuvenated former Yankee AJ Burnett.  Ross pitched a solid game but was outmatched and outclassed by the veteran Burnett who mowed down 9 Nats batters in 7 shutout innings and Minor League call-up Jordy Mercer hit a tiebreaking home run to lead the Pirates to a 3-1 victory over the Nats.  Detweiler’s record drops to 1-3 but he deserves to have a much better record than it shows.  Saturdays’ matinee was one of the most entertaining games of the season, reminicent of how the Nats won a bunch of early games in 2012, as Ryan Zimmerman, making his return off the disabled list, completed a double steal in the 9th inning and scored on a Tyler Moore sacrifice fly in a 5-4 win.  This game was the 1st start for Strasburg after the elbow tightness so everyone’s eyes we focused on the young phenom.  He started off slow (as has been his detriment this season so far) but showed some of the grit and determination we’ve all grown accustomed to with 8 Ks’ in 7 strong innings.  Tyler Clippard picked up his 2nd win.

 

Player of the Week:

Jordan Zimmerman – 1 start 8 innings pitched, 2 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 8 Ks….he has BY FAR been the most consistent member of this rotation

 

Next Week:

After finishing up in Pittsburgh on Monday, they boys return home for a 2 game set against AL MVP/Triple Crown Winner Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and the 1st place Detroit Tigers for a 2 game set. After that, the Chicago Cubs make their 1st appearance in Nats Park this season for a 3 game set.