And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights


Don’t you love the word “penultimate?” Me too!

Yankees 4, Red Sox 3: It took twelve innings, but Raul Ibanez’s heroics won the day. He homered off Boston closer/arsonist Andrew Bailey to bring the Yankees back from a 3-1 deficit in the ninth and then he singled in the improbably-in-the-game Frankie Cervelli to walk it off.

Orioles 1, Rays 0: Both the Orioles and the Rays seasons in a nutshell. The Rays got a fantastic performance from James Shields (CG, 2 H, 1 R, 15K), but no offense to speak of. The Orioles got a fantastic group effort from the pitchers and prevailed in a one-run game.  The O’s have to win again today and hope for a Yankees loss to force a one-game playoff for the AL East title tomorrow.

Athletics 3, Rangers 1: People took me to task on Twitter yesterday when I said that the Rangers had “collapsed.” I think they were right. It is the case that the Athletics have played out of their minds and that, overall, the Rangers have basically been the Rangers for the past month and change.  But it is true that they had a five game lead a little over a week ago. They’ve dropped four of five head-to-head to Oakland and are one more loss away from being in a wild card game in which they never figured on playing. Not a collapse, I’ll grant you, but definitely a butt-kicking.

Reds 3, Cardinals 1; Giants 4, Dodgers 3: Bye-bye Dodgers. It was a nice run, much of it made when they had nowhere close to the talent level your typical contender possesses, but it wasn’t meant to be. However, if all of those guys they acquired over the summer play at their established norms or even, shock, have a slightly better-than-normal year in the next couple, L.A. will be a force.

Royals 4, Tigers 2: Over the years there have a been a few guys I figured had a run at a triple crown in them. Don Mattingly, maybe, at least for a couple of years in the mid 80s. Gary Sheffield. Manny. Some freak of nature the Colorado Rockies signed and CoorsHabilitated.  Miguel Cabrera has had that look ever since he first joined the Marlins. A rare bird. A perfect hitter with a perfect blend of greatness and consistency. He went 2 for 3 with two RBI. Barring a Josh Hamilton explosion today, dude is actually gonna win the triple crown.

Pirates 5, Braves 1: In honor of the Braves losing out on the NL East, Fredi Gonzalez apparently went to the Home Depot parking lot and found several guys to play in last night’s game. I mean, I know “Jeff Baker” is a real major leaguer, but it could just as easily be the name of a drifter who found himself stuck in Pittsburgh while he tries to scrape a bit together to get him up to Buffalo, where he heard there might be some work. Not much, but honest pay and a chance to maybe make something out of this life and forget about the past, where everything went wrong no matter what he tried to do. But now, he supposes, he’ll play a little right field, a little second base. Play the man’s game until he can make it to a world where he isn’t always gettin’ played. [long, thoughtful drag on a cigarette  lonesome harmonica music].

Marlins 4, Mets 3: Adam Greenberg has seen four major league pitches in his life. A 92 mile per hour fastball to the head and three R.A. Dickey knuckleballs with which he could do absolutely nothing. Probably a good time to hop on the motivational speaking circuit, dude.  Seriously, though: how Marlins is it to give him his one shot only to make him do it against the nastiest starter in the NL this year?  What, they couldn’t work him in against Craig Kimbrel last week?

Nationals 4, Phillies 2: Adam LaRoche was the only everyday player to stay in for more than five innings. While he did so, he hit a homer and topped 100 RBI for the year. Some fans even chanted “MVP” for him. They probably believed it too. Nationals fans are just so damn cute. Two homers for Darin Ruf.

Blue Jays 4, Twins 3: I always wondered if it’s hard to concentrate on baseball while you’re busy making plans for hunting trips and beach weekends with your girlfriend during a game. Blue Jays managed it OK.

Indians 4, White Sox 3: Adam Dunn has no fear. With the season over for Chicago, he could have sat out these last two games and not challenged the single season strikeout record. Nope: he faced it. And whiffed twice, tying Mark Reynolds for the record at 223. Play tomorrow, Dunner. Take what is rightfully yours.

Astros 3, Cubs 0: Getting shut out by the same 3-0 score to the worst team in baseball at home has to be one of the more ignominious ends to a season in baseball history. Maybe some team in 1919 had half the roster die from Spanish Flu or something. That would be worse. I guess.

Brewers 4, Padres 3: Martin Maldonado hit a grand slam. If the Braves played a lineup of drifters, the Brewers played a lineup of orphans. Indeed, they used ten rookies in this game.

Diamondbacks 5, Rockies 3: Aaron Hill with the walkoff three-run homer. Arizona’s season isn’t ending in the most satisfying manner, but at least it’s ending with some excitement.

Mariners 6, Angels 1: Mike Trout’s 1 for 5 dropped him to .324, so that’s that as far as the batting title goes. In other news, Kyle Sager hit a home run. Every Mariner pitcher is desperately using that as evidence that, no, they don’t need to move the fences in at Safeco next year. “Please, dear God, don’t do this to us,” they’re saying.

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