And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights


Phillies 7, Brewers 6: It’s hard to imagine a more demoralizing series than the one the Brewers just experienced. In all three games they fell victim to last inning rallies. This one after their own rally brought them back from a 5-1 deficit, tied with a Ryan Braun homer in the eighth. Then they take the lead in the tenth, only to see K-Rod blow it. Again. Just brutal.

Athletics 16, Blue Jays 0: Disastrous by any measure for Toronto. They lost their catcher to a broken hand, their “ace” was tagged for eight runs in an inning and a third and they were shut the hell down by the A’s staff, who struck out 13 Blue Jays batters. It was the worst shutout loss in team history. On the bright side, it was the biggest shutout win in A’s history!

Padres 6, Giants 3: Two homers for Jesus Guzman. One for Chase Headley. Another craptacular outing for Tim Lincecum (4.2 IP, 7 H, 5 ER). I really won’t know what to think about the universe if Tim Lincecum doesn’t stop being awful soon. I already subscribe to a world view that it is arbitrary and uncaring and anything bad that happens is insignificant to most anyone other than the person who is affected because that’s just what life in a vast, empty inanimate void is all about.  But if we are deprived of awesome Tim Lincecum forever, I will believe that it has turned cruel.

Yankees 5, Mariners 2: The Yankees end a dreary west coast road trip with a win. Seattle scored both of their runs in the first inning and then didn’t get another hit until the ninth.

Braves 7, Marlins 1: It’s quite an accomplishment to walk seven times and steal seven bases and only score one run, but the Marlins figured out how. Plenty of good Marlins seats available for the rest of the season, guys.

Angels 11, Royals 6: Jered Weaver keeps on winning. That’s a win in his seventh straight start. He’s now 13-1 with a 2.26 ERA. He’s also on a contract paying him $59 million less than the one Cole Hamels just signed. Nice work, Angels.

Pirates 3, Cubs 2: I assume this was Ryan Dempster’s last start as a Cub. he ended it by destroying the Gatorade cooler in the dugout like he was friggin’ Carlos Zambrano or something. Stupid media’s fault.

White Sox 8, Twins 2: Dayan Viciedo homered and drove in four. White Sox sweep the Twins. Ron Gardenhire’s assessment of the series: “They whacked it, and they pounded us — scored a lot of runs, and we got dominated here.” Alrighty then.

Tigers 5, Indians 3: Remember when Derek Lowe was having a great season? Nah, me neither.

Rays 10, Orioles 1:  Ryan Roberts homered in his Tampa Bay debut and David Price won his MLB-leading 14th game. The nine-run spread is gonna lead to more “the myth of run differential!” stories, I guess.

Nationals 5, Mets 2: After Stephen Strasburg’s last start, Davey Johnson said he needed to attack the strike zone more. Mission accomplished: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 11K.

Cardinals 3, Dodgers 2: Hanley Ramirez tripled in his first at-bat with the Dodgers and later added an RBI single. But they lost in 12 innings. Former Dodger Rafael Furcal drove in the game-winner.

Rockies 4, Diamondbacks 2: Jeff Francis, who Colorado picked up off the scrap heap, continues to be their best starter. He allowed two runs in six innings and despite Colorado’s 75-pitch limit for starters, he threw 97 pitches. My official reaction to that.

Reds 5, Astros 3: The Astros are the Renaissance men of losing. They lose big or lose close. They sometimes lose late, sometimes early. Really, any look you want, they can give you. Here they lost when Drew Stubbs hit a a two-out, two-run double in the ninth. That’s seven straight wins for the Reds, all without Joey Votto.

Rangers 5, Red Sox 3: Josh Beckett hit Elvis Andrus in the seventh and then Andrus ended up scoring on a wild pitch. Which Bobby Valentine actually called “a damn shame” after the game. I like that a lot for some reason. Derek Holland cruised for most of the game, retiring 22 of 23 batters at one point.

2018 Preview: Washington Nationals

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Washington Nationals.

The Nationals stood tall in the NL East last season, winning 97 games and taking the division crown by 20 games over the second-place Marlins. While the Marlins got markedly worse, the Braves, Mets, and Phillies – winners of 72, 70, and 66 games, respectively – made some improvements and should be more competitive. Still, this is a division the Nationals are heavy favorites to win despite a relatively quiet offseason.

Max Scherzer, winner of back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards, leads the rotation. The right-hander had the best year of his career, going 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA and a 268/55 K/BB ratio over 200 2/3 innings. Scherzer is now 33 years old but has yet to show signs of slowing down. In fact, he’s gotten better over the last three years, improving his already stellar strikeout rate from 30.7 percent to 34.4 percent.

Stephen Strasburg will follow Scherzer in the rotation. He made 28 starts instead of 33 due to an elbow impingement, but otherwise had a terrific season. He went 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA and a 204/47 K/BB ratio in 175 1/3 innings. He finished third in Cy Young balloting. Strasburg’s chances of winning a Cy Young Award are sadly slim since he not only plays in the same league as Scherzer, but shares a team with him. And, of course, there’s four-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw on the Dodgers. Strasburg will settle for being an elite No. 2 starter.

The rest of the rotation features Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, and A.J. Cole. Gonzalez was excellent last season, finishing with a 2.96 ERA and a 188/79 K/BB ratio in 201 innings. It wasn’t a flawless season as his walk rate at 9.6 percent rose to its highest point since 2011 and his fastball velocity dipped just below 90 MPH on average. And his strikeout rate, while solid, isn’t indicative of a sub-3.00 ERA. Gonzalez benefited from a .258 BABIP and a high strand rate at 81.6 percent, both factors that are likely to regress to the mean in 2018. Roark struggled to a 4.67 ERA based on a horrible strand rate at 66.3 percent, which is likely to regress in the other direction. Cole impressed across eight starts and three relief appearances, posting a 3.81 ERA in 52 innings. His control will be an issue – he walked 27 – but if he can master that, the Nationals will have a scary starting rotation.

In the bullpen, Sean Doolittle will get the lion’s share of save opportunities. The lefty spent his 2017 with the Athletics and then the Nationals following a trade, enjoying great results with both teams. Combined, he accrued 24 saves with a 2.81 ERA and a 62/10 K/BB ratio in 51 1/3 innings. Doolittle has been slowed by injuries in recent years, so that remains a concern going forward for the Nationals, but when he’s on the field, he’s a dominant closer.

The gap to Doolittle will be bridged by veteran Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler. Madson, 37, continues to impress as he ages. Between the A’s and Nats last year, the right-hander posted a 1.83 ERA with a 67/9 K/BB ratio in 59 innings. Kintzler, between the Twins and Nats last season, finished with a 3.03 ERA and a 39/16 K/BB ratio in 71 1/3 innings. Kintzler hasn’t been missing many bats lately but has still been finding success inducing ground balls. Behind Madson and Kintzler, the Nationals will call on Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley, Enny Romero, and a rotating cast of characters including Matt Grace and Sammy Solis.

Offensively, it’s hard to start anywhere but with Bryce Harper in right field. The 2015 NL MVP was limited to 111 games last season due to a knee injury suffered when he slipped on a wet first base bag. He was on his way to, potentially, another MVP award, as he finished the year batting .319/.413/.595 with 28 home runs and 87 RBI in 492 PA. The 25-year-old is in his final year of club control and is expected to test free agency after the season. He’ll be hoping to lead the Nats to a World Series beforehand.

Michael Taylor will handle center field. The speedster swiped 17 bases while hitting .271/.320/.486 with 19 home runs and 53 RBI in 432 PA last season. Taylor is also outstanding defensively, giving the Nationals nothing to worry about at this position.

Adam Eaton will finally return and handle left field. The 29-year-old played only 23 games last year after suffering a torn ACL and meniscus. He has been eased back into action this spring but is expected to be fully ready by the start of the regular season. When healthy, he provides speed and defense while hitting for a high average. In 2016 with the White Sox, he stole 14 bases while hitting 29 doubles, nine triples, and 14 home runs in 706 plate appearances.

Moving to the infield, MVP candidate Anthony Rendon will handle third base. Rendon was one of the best players in baseball last season, accruing 6.0 Wins Above Replacement according to Baseball Reference. He batted .301/.403/.533 with 25 home runs and 100 RBI while playing terrific defense. It was certainly a career year for the 27-year-old, but it wouldn’t be unrealistic to expect similar production in 2018.

Trea Turner will stand to Rendon’s left at shortstop. He put up average offensive numbers but stole 46 bases in 54 opportunities. Turner can also play in the outfield or at second base in a pinch. He’s only 24 years old, so there’s plenty of room for growth. He has the skillset of someone who could develop into an MVP candidate.

Daniel Murphy was expected to reprise his role at second base for the Nationals, but he still hasn’t gotten back to 100 percent after undergoing a debridement and microfracture surgery on his right knee last November. He has been limited to batting practice and fielding grounders hit directly at him. The Nationals hope he’ll be ready at some point in April. For now, veteran Howie Kendrick will handle second base. Kendrick, 34, had an excellent 2017 campaign, batting .315/.368/.475 across 91 games with the Phillies and Nationals. The Nats are certainly glad they signed him to a two-year, $7 million contract in January.

First base belongs to 33-year-old Ryan Zimmerman. After a forgettable 2016 season, Zimmerman made some adjustments – and was healthier – to lead him to one hell of a bounce-back year. His OPS in 2016 was .642; in 2017, it was .930. He made a more concerted effort to put the ball in the air, resulting in 36 home runs and a .573 slugging percentage. It seems like a reasonable assumption that Zimmerman can repeat those results. Needless to say, the key to another big season for him is staying healthy.

Matt Wieters, coming off of a down year, will be the regular catcher once again. In 123 games last season, Wieters hit .225/.288/.344, easily the worst offensive performance of his career. He still played good defense and handled the pitching staff with aplomb, so it’s a position at which the Nationals can accept subpar offense. He’ll likely be backed up by Miguel Montero with Pedro Severino waiting in the wings.

FanGraphs (89) and PECOTA (88) are both projecting fewer than 90 wins for the Nationals. I’m usually one not to stray too much from the projections, but that feels light to me. The Nationals won 97 games last year and the club is arguably better, getting Eaton back. Murphy probably won’t be out for too long and a lot of the outstanding performers from 2017 should be expected to be excellent again in 2018. I’m straying from the projections here.

Prediction: 96-66, first place in NL East