Ryan Zimmerman strikeout

The Nats are on the brink, but let’s not blame the absence of Stephen Strasburg

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It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Nationals had the best record in baseball and the best rotation heading into the postseason. But now, after consecutive awful outings by the pitching staff, the Cards lead the Nats 2-1 in this best of five series. They lost 8-0 today.

Edwin Jackson was shaky out of the chute, and gave up four runs on eight hits. He settled down a bit, but as he made way for the bullpen, the fire began to rage again, and before it was all done the Cards had hung eight on the Nats. Pete Kozma’s three-run homer in the second was the big blow, but the Cardinals ended up needing only one run to secure the win.

The hittability of Nats pitchers led broadcasters Bob Costas and Jim Kaat to note the absence of Stephen Strasburg. And to note that his absence will turn into serious heat on Mike Rizzo and the Nats brass should Washington go on to lose this series.  I think they’re right about that.  And indeed, anyone who has read this blog over the past few months knows that I disagreed with the Nats shutting down Strasburg too. But let me say this: the way the Nats are losing this series shouldn’t bring any more heat on Rizzo for the Strasburg shutdown than he’s otherwise getting.

The Nats won Game 1 with Gio Gonzalez. They lost Games 2 and 3 due to poor outings from Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson. Guess what: barring a sweep, all three of those pitchers would have gotten starts in the NLDS. They needed Jackson and Zimmermann to pitch well even if Strasburg was there. They didn’t. The biggest difference will be seen in Game 4 when Ross Detwiler gets the nod, but his presence has yet to damage Washington’s chances.

Beyond the poor outings from Zimmermann and Jackson, the real culprit here has been the Nationals’ somnambulistic offense.  Washington was shut out today, leaving scads of runners on base — I counted 11. On Monday they were down 7-1 before the bats woke up. Even in the win on Saturday they scored only three. You can’t give up 22 runs in three games and expect good things, but you gotta score some runs yourself too, you know.

So no, I’m not changing my mind about the Stephen Strasburg shutdown. I still think it’s a bad call to willingly deprive yourself of your best pitcher entering a playoff series. And if the difference in this series ends up being one solid pitching performance, I’ll be willing to entertain the notion that Strasburg was as critical as people will soon be saying.  But, as it is right now, let’s not pretend that Stephen Strasburg’s absence is the difference here.  The Nats are in serious trouble, and it is because of a total team failure, not because of some front office decision.

Oh, it also has a lot to do with the fact that the Cardinals — who just so happen to be the defending World Series champions — are a good baseball team who have gotten strong performances from just about everyone. Let us not lose sight of that when everyone rushes to blame the outcome of this series on the absence of Stephen Strasburg.

And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - JULY 28:  
 Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim slides past catcher Sandy Leon #3 of the Boston Red Sox to score the tying run in the ninth inning after Leon jumped but couldn't reach the ball on a throwing error at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 28, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  The winning run also scored on the play as the Angels won 2-1.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Last night Hillary Clinton jabbed at Donald Trump by saying that “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” This means that no Phillies fan who followed me from 2009-2012 and no Royals fan who has followed me since 2014 can ever be president. Sad seeing y’all disqualify yourselves like that, but that’s just how it goes.

Anyway, here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rockies 2, Mets 1: Jeurys Familia saved 52 (regular season) games in a row before Wednesday night, now he’s blown two in a row. This one on a day when his manager said he wasn’t going to pitch but used him anyway, but I suppose stuff happens. So do errors by your first baseman and wild pitches in games that, because your offense could do nothing, you had no margin for error. For Colorado, credit Tyler Anderson for allowing only one run in six and four relievers for allowing bupkis to the Mets the rest of the way.

Angels 2, Red Sox 1: Speaking of bad defense from your first baseman, Hanley Ramirez sailed a throw home in the ninth inning which allowed both of the Angels runs to score in walkoff fashion. Assist to Brad Ziegler for loading the bases with one out beforehand, helping squander eight shutout innings from David Price. That’s four straight losses for the Sox. They’re just lucky that the Orioles have lost three in a row themselves.

Brewers 6, Diamondbacks 4: Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and Jonathan Villar got the day off yesterday but it didn’t matter. The Brewers had Zach Davies going and, despite a first inning stumble, he was solid, allowing two earned runs while pitching into the seventh. For the Dbacks, Robbie Ray struck out 11 dudes in fewer than six innings but he ran out of gas and the pen couldn’t hold the Snakes’ early lead. There are rumors that Chip Hale is on thin ice as Arizona’s manager. Games like this can’t help his mood.

Twins 6, Orioles 2: A four-run seventh inning for the Twins broke a 2-2 tie. Max Kepler tied the game at 2 with a homer in the sixth and had two hits and two RBI in all. Eduardo Nunez went 0-for-4 and was traded to San Francisco after the game, which was a makeup from a postponed game from back in May. Life is the illusion of control over one’s plans and circumstances.

Phillies 7, Braves 5: Aaron Altherr went 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBI in his first game back after missing over 100 of ’em with a broken wrist. Maikel Franco and Tommy Jospeh homered too. Matt Wisler of the Braves gave up all three of those bombs because giving up bombs is what Matt Wisler does.

Cardinals 5, Marlins 4: Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three. His homer came off of Jose Fernandez, who was his childhood friend in Cuba. With friends like these . . . Fernandez was beat up pretty good — he also allowed a homer to Matt Holliday — and gave up five runs in five innings. Dee Gordon went 0-for-4 in his return from his drug suspension. Ichiro got a hit and is two shy of 3,000. In other news, a bunch of my friends were at this game because the SABR convention is going on down in Miami right now. During the game one of them tweeted that, in their opinion, the silly home run sculpture thing in the outfield at Marlins Park should light up when the visitors hit a homer too. This morning I woke up to a bunch of their tweets from karaoke bars in the middle of the night. One of them was doing “Piano Man.” another was doing “Walking in Memphis.” SABR convention attendees: wrong for baseball, wrong for America. Everyone knows that the best karaoke song is “Laid” by James. And that if you don’t do the high notes on the “. . . think you’re so pretty . . .” lines you shouldn’t even bother.

Rangers 3, Royals 2: Cole Hamels allowed two runs and six hits in eight innings, giving his stumbling club both innings and effectiveness just like an ace does. Lookin’ at you, Pete Mackanin. The Royals have lost seven of ten and sit in fourth place, nine games back in the AL Central.

Cubs 3, White Sox 1: Chris Sale came back and allowed two runs in six innings. This is frustrating in that if he pitched either way, way better or way, way worse, I could’ve shoehorned in a “shredded” descriptor about his performance. As it was, he and the Sox lost because John Lackey and the Cubs bullpen pitched better.

Nationals 4, Giants 2: The Nationals’ bullpen tried its hardest to blow this one, allowing the Giants to rally a bit in the ninth, but it wasn’t a big enough rally. Tanner Roark allowed one run over seven innings, striking out three and [all together now] helping his own cause by singling in a run in the Nats’ three-run second inning. The Nats won their 60th game. The Giants are stuck on 59. The Cubs have 61.

Giants acquire Eduardo Nunez from the Twins

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 07: Eduardo Nunez #9 of the Minnesota Twins throws for an out at first in the fourth inning during a game against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington on July 7, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)
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The Giants have acquired All-Star infielder Eduardo Nunez from the Twins in exchange for minor league pitcher Adalberto Mejia, the club announced on Thursday night.

Nunez, 29, went 0-for-4 in Thursday night’s game against the Orioles. He’s hitting .296/.325/.439 with 12 home runs, 47 RBI, 49 runs scored, and a league-best 26 stolen bases in 391 plate appearances this season. Nunez has played mostly at shortstop this season, but has also logged significant time at third base and a handful of games at second base, so he’ll give the Giants some versatility.

Nunez will likely play a lot of third base for the Giants as Matt Duffy is still sidelined with a strained left Achilles. He’s earning $1.475 million this season and will enter his third and final year of arbitration eligibility heading into 2017.

Mejia, 23, was considered the Giants’ seventh-best prospect by MLB Pipeline. He earned a promotion to Triple-A Sacramento last month after posting a 1.94 ERA with Double-A Richmond. In seven starts with Sacramento, he has a 4.20 ERA with a 43/11 K/BB ratio in 40 2/3 innings.

With a roster spot open, the Twins called up infield prospect Jorge Polanco from Triple-A Rochester, per MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger.