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Five Takeaways From The Nationals Taking Two Of Three Against Milwaukee
by Al Galdi
Jul 21, 2014 -- 3:39pm
Bryce Harper

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Game 1: 4-2 loss on Friday night (July 18)

Game 2: 8-3 win on Saturday night (July 19)

Game 3: 5-4 win on Sunday afternoon (July 20)

1. The offense was great

The Nats batted .327 (35-for-107) in the series, including 8-for-30 with runners in scoring position.

Center fielder Denard Span went 7-for-13 with a walk in the series.

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman went 6-for-12 with five RBI in the series.

Left fielder Bryce Harper, debuting a new stance (less bend in his knees, hands held lower and relaxed left elbow so it pointed at the ground behind him), went 5-for-10 with two walks in the series.

Right fielder Jayson Werth had a walk-off double in Game 3 and went 5-for-12 with a walk in the series.

2. Werth’s walk-off double highlighted more than just himself

Second baseman/third baseman Anthony Rendon scored from first on Werth’s walk-off double in Game 3, calling to attention an underrated positive for the Nats this season.  They exited this series second in the National League (behind the Brewers) with an extra-bases-taken percentage (XBT%) of 45 according to BaseballReference.com (http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/NL/2014-baserunning-batting.shtml).  

XBT% is the percentage of the time a runner advanced more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double when possible.  XBT% is another way of measuring base-running in addition to stolen-base percentage, a category, by the way, in which the Nats exited this series first in the N.L. (50-for-59 or 85 percent).

3. We got good, mediocre and bad outings when it came to the starting pitching

Stephen Strasburg had a prototypical Strasburg outing in Game 1: a lot to like statistically (nine strikeouts in seven innings, just four hits and one walk allowed) but ultimately just enough bad to lose (four runs, made up of a solo homer in the first, a solo homer in the second and a two-out two-run single in the third).

Tanner Roark was terrific in Game 2, allowing one run in seven innings.

Gio Gonzalez struggled in Game 3, lasting just 3 1/3 innings and giving up three runs on four hits and three walks versus five strikeouts on 88 pitches.  Gonzalez was dealing with some unique circumstances, as he 1) was coming off the All-Star break and 2) had his start pushed back one day after flight issues caused a delay in his return to D.C.   

4. The bullpen continued to excel with the exception of two outings

Closer Rafael Soriano had a rare off game this season, giving up a run on two singles and a walk in the top of the ninth of Game 3 for his third blown save.  But also in that game were Craig Stammen, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard combining for six strikeouts in 4 2/3 scoreless innings.

Jerry Blevins gave up a two-run homer to right fielder Ryan Braun in the top of the eighth on Game 2.

5. On the road again

Next up for the Nats is a nine-game road trip that is comprised of three three-game series at three teams (Colorado, Cincinnati and Miami) in three different divisions.

The Nats this season are a respectable 23-23 on the road versus 30-20 at home.

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Five Takeaways From The Orioles Losing Two Of Three At Oakland
by Al Galdi
Jul 21, 2014 -- 3:38pm

Game 1: 5-4 loss on Friday night (July 18)

Game 2: 8-4 win on Saturday afternoon (July 19)

Game 3: 10-2 loss on Sunday afternoon (July 20)

1. The starting pitching was good in Game 1 but bad in Games 2 and 3

Chris Tillman allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings in Game 1, recording six strikeouts versus four hits, a walk and a wild pitch.

Wei-Yin Chen allowed three runs in five innings in Game 2, failing to last at least seven innings for the 16th time in 19 starts this season.

Kevin Gausman allowed five runs in four innings in Game 3, giving up nine hits, two walks and a wild pitch versus six strikeouts.

2. The offense was good until Game 3

The O’s batted .290 (20-for-69) over Games 1 and 2 but totaled just three hits in Game 3, which saw Sonny Gray allow two runs in 6 2/3 innings and record eight strikeouts.

DH Nelson Cruz went 1-for-13 in the series.

3. Center fielder Adam Jones had an interesting series

The good: he had a three-run homer, a two-run single, a walk and two stolen bases and finished with two runs in Game 2.

The bad: he went a combined 0-for-7 in Games 1 and 3 and committed a major gaffe in Game 3, thinking his catch of a fly out in the bottom of third came with two outs and not one.  DH Yoenis Cespedes jogged home from third for about the easiest run scored on an RBI sac fly that you’ll ever see.

4. Three outings marred the bullpen

Closer Zach Britton suffered his third blown save of the season in Game 1, allowing three runs without recording an out.  He gave up two singles and then a walk-off three-run homer to third baseman Josh Donaldson.  Britton did strike out the only batter he faced for a save in Game 2, which he entered with men on first and third and two outs.

T.J. McFarland and Ryan Webb combined to allow five runs (four earned) in 1 2/3 innings on six hits and a walk in Game 3.

5. Get used to this

This series marked the start of a 10-game trip at the three best teams in the American League West (A’s, Angels and Seattle) and the start of a 16-game stretch against those three teams.

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Four Areas In Which The Nationals Can Be Better After The All-Star Break
by Al Galdi
Jul 17, 2014 -- 3:02pm
Washington Nationals

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

As I chronicled earlier this week, there are many reasons why the Nats are entering the post-All-Star-Break portion of the season as arguably the best team in the National League.  But there still are areas in which major improvement is possible.  Here are four:

1. Outfielder Bryce Harper

He’s the lone Nats regular who has provided below league-average production (-0.2 Baseball Reference oWAR; 90 OPS+).  Missing 59 games with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb obviously didn’t help, but other Nats who have missed significant time (third baseman/left fielder Ryan Zimmerman, catcher Wilson Ramos) have above-average offensive numbers.  Harper’s capable of much better than what we’ve seen so far this season.

2. The bench

Second baseman/shortstop Danny Espinosa, outfielder Nate McLouth, infielder/outfielder Kevin Frandsen and catcher Jose Lobaton all have received significant playing time due to the Nats dealing with so many injuries and yet have combined for -0.8 Baseball Reference oWAR.  

Espinosa remains a defensive standout but has 97 strikeouts versus 16 walks.

McLouth received starter’s money (two-year deal reportedly worth $10.75 million) but has an OPS+ of just 59 (100 is average).

3. Games against Atlanta

This is obvious but a must-mention.  The Nats lost seven of their first eight games against the Braves this season before winning the final two games of a four-game series at Nationals Park in late June.  The Nats are 9-24 against the Braves starting with a loss on August 22, 2012.

4. Two relievers

Yes, the bullpen has been the Nats’ biggest strength, but that doesn’t mean that everyone in it has been great.  Jerry Blevins (4.73 ERA) and Ross Detwiler (1.41 WHIP) are two guys who have underperformed, though Blevins’ 2.80 FIP suggests that he has pitched better than his ERA indicates.  The decline of Detwiler, who was the sixth overall pick of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft but was the first man removed from the competition for the last rotation spot during spring training, has been drastic.

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Five Reasons Why The Nats Lead The N.L. East At The All-Star Break
by Al Galdi
Jul 14, 2014 -- 6:16pm

For all of the moaning and groaning done regarding the Nats, they find themselves at the All-Star break precisely where many expected: atop the National League East as arguably the best team in the N.L.  The Nats are one percentage point ahead of Atlanta for first in the N.L. East and have by far the best run differential in the N.L. (+61; the next best is the Dodgers’ +50).  Here are five reasons why:

1. Getting healthier

Every team deals with injury, but the Nats have shouldered a particularly heavy load so far this season.  Outfielder Bryce Harper (57 games missed), catcher Wilson Ramos (46 games missed), third baseman/left fielder Ryan Zimmerman (44 games missed), first baseman Adam LaRoche (14 games missed), center fielder Denard Span (seven games missed), reserve Scott Hairston (26 games missed) and starting pitchers Doug Fister (34 games missed) and Gio Gonzalez (27 games missed) all have been out for significant time.  

But the Nats became an increasingly healthy team in June, during which Zimmerman (June 3), Ramos (June 26) and Harper (June 30) came back.  And the results picked up.  The Nats are 24-14 since Zimmerman (.783 OPS) returned.  

2. The bullpen has been excellent

Nats relievers are second in the N.L. with a 2.67 ERA and third in the N.L. with a 1.18 WHIP.  

34-year-old closer Rafael Soriano, coming off a season in which he had a career-worst six blown saves, has been outstanding (0.97 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 22-for-24 on saves).  

Tyler Clippard, off a rough start to his season (5.40 ERA over his first seven appearances) has a 2.03 ERA and team-best 11.92 K/9 and was the lone active Nat on the N.L. All-Star team.  

Drew Storen, off a nightmarish 2013, has a 1.20 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.  

Rookie Aaron Barrett (2.64 ERA, 10.57 K/9) has been a pleasant surprise.

Bullpens are year-to-year entities, but this so far has been a season in which the Nats’ pen is dominant.

3. The rotation has settled into what we thought it would be

Nats starters got off to an underwhelming start, thanks largely to a peculiar trend of allowing first-inning runs and the absence of Fister (who didn’t make his Nats and season debut until May 9 due to a right lat strain).  But Nats starters at the All-Star break are second in the N.L. with a 3.28 ERA and third in the N.L. with a 1.20 WHIP.  

Stephen Strasburg leads the N.L. with 149 strikeouts and leads the Nats in quality starts (14), xFIP (2.48) and Fangraphs WAR (2.9).  

Fister (2.90 ERA over 12 starts) and Zimmermann (2.8 Fangraphs WAR) have been good as well.

But the biggest surprise has been Tanner Roark, who leads all qualified Nats pitchers in ERA (3.01), WHIP (1.13, good for ninth in the N.L.) and Baseball Reference WAR (2.3).  He was very good in his time with the Nats in 2013 (250 ERA+ over 14 games (including five starts)), but that the success has continued to this extent this season is remarkable.  Not bad for a guy who was a 28th-round selection in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft and was acquired from Texas in the Cristian Guzman trade in June 2010.

4. Four offensive standouts

Third baseman Anthony Rendon leads all qualified Nats in slugging percentage (.490), batting average (.287) and Baseball Reference oWAR (2.9).  Perhaps most impressive: eight of his 13 home runs have been either game-tying or go-ahead homers. 

First baseman Adam LaRoche leads all qualified Nats in OPS (.840) and on-base percentage (.383).  This from a guy in his age-34 season and coming off a 2013 in which his OPS declined by 118 points.  All of a sudden, his inevitable departure from the team after this season (there's a $15 million mutual option in his contract for 2015) doesn’t seem quite so inevitable.  

Right fielder Jayson Werth is second among qualified Nats in on-base percentage (.366) and Baseball Reference oWAR (2.3).  He slumped in June (.590 OPS) but has been on fire in July (1.465 OPS, 19 RBI in 11 games).  

Shortstop Ian Desmond has a bad on-base percentage (.294; the major-league average for shortstops so far this season is .308), but he leads the Nats in homers (16) and RBI (57).

5. Better defense

The Nats' defense, a major problem early in the season, has progessed to where most of us expected it would be.  According to FanGraphs, the Nats' defense cost them 14 runs over the first 37 games but then prevented 32 runs over the next 56 games.  Overall, the Nats are tied for sixth in the majors with 18 defensive-runs saved.

A specific aspect of the defense that warrants mentioning is the defense of the running game.  The Nats struggled mightily the last few seasons in this department, finishing 29th out of 30 major-league teams in opponents’ stolen-base percentage in 2012 and last in MLB in 2013.  But the Nats lead the majors in opponents’ stolen-base percentage so far this season (.566), as Nats catchers are 23-for-53 on runners trying to steal.  That’s even more impressive when you consider that Ramos has played in just 37 games due to a broken left hamate bone suffered on Opening Day and a right hamstring strain.

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Five Takeaways From The Nationals Taking Two Of Three At National League-Leading Milwaukee
by Al Galdi
Jun 26, 2014 -- 7:13am
Washington Nationals vs Milwaukee Brewers

Washington Nationals' Kevin Frandsen can't handle the throw as Milwaukee Brewers' Scooter Gennett slides safely into second after hitting an RBI single and advancing on a fielder's choice during the sixth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Game 1: 3-0 win on Monday night (June 23)

Game 2: 4-2 16-inning win on Tuesday night (June 24)

Game 3: 9-2 loss on Wednesday afternoon (June 25)

1. The starting pitching was good in Games 1 and 2

Gio Gonzalez tossed six scoreless innings in Game 1, recording five strikeouts in a much-needed quality start.  He entered the game with a 4.85 ERA and having allowed four runs in five innings in his previous start, which marked his return from the 15-day disabled list.  

Jordan Zimmermann allowed two runs in six innings in Game 2, recording nine strikeouts.  He has a 1.18 ERA this month off posting a 5.06 ERA in May.

2. A disturbing trend continued in Game 3

Stephen Strasburg got bombed in Game 3: seven runs in 4 2/3 innings on eight hits (including a grand slam and a solo homer) and three walks.  The start was Strasburg’s worst of the season and came a day after a bullpen-taxing 16-inning win that begged for the next day’s starter to eat as many innings as possible.    

Strasburg isn't having a bad season (he leads the National League with 123 strikeouts) and statistically was the Nats' best starter last season.  But a pattern in which he doesn't handle difficult circumstances well has developed:
     •    Then-manager Davey Johnson in Sept. 2012 shut down Strasburg earlier than anticipated because, according to Johnson, the shutdown was impacting Strasburg mentally: "If you're not there 100 percent mentally - he's a gifted athlete, his velocity can still be there - but I don't see the crispness.  I don't see the ball jumping out of his hand.  I'm a firm believer that this game's 90 to 95 percent mental, and he's only human.  I don't know how anybody can be totally mentally concentrating on the job at hand with the media hype to this thing, and I think we'd be risking more by sending him out."  Strasburg got pounded in two of his last three starts in 2012.
     •    10 of the 53 runs allowed by Strasburg this season have been unearned.  On the one hand, he's been the victim of bad defense at times.  On the other hand, he hasn't responded well to defensive mistakes.

     •    Game 3 of this series at the Brewers was very disappointing.  Are you entitled to the occasional bad start?  Absolutely.  But it's difficult to ignore the timing of this one and not wonder if Strasburg was affected by the knowledge that a lengthy outing was needed.

3. The bullpen was terrific until Game 3

Nats relievers combined for three scoreless innings in Game 1 and an astounding 10 scoreless innings in Game 2, which included Ross Detwiler tossing four scoreless innings.  But with the bullpen overcooked, Game 3’s relief work fell on Taylor Hill, a sixth-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft who was brought up from Triple-A Syracuse earlier on Wednesday and made his major-league debut: two runs in 3 1/3 innings on five hits, a walk and a hit-by-pitch.

4. The offense continued to struggle

The Nats batted .165 (20-for-121) in the series, including 4-for-26 with runners in scoring position.    

Center fielder Denard Span went 1-for-14 with a walk and a stolen base in the series.

Second baseman Danny Espinosa went 0-for-11 with six strikeouts in Games 1 and 2 and did not play in Game 3.

Catcher Jose Lobaton went 0-for-10 in Games 1 and 2 and did not play in Game 3.

The Nats exited this series 13th out of 15 National League teams in OPS in June (.639).

An offensive bright spot in the series was shortstop Ian Desmond, who went 6-for-15 with three stolen bases off going 2-for-16 with 10 strikeouts in the four-game series against Atlanta.

Desmond and Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez got into a benches-clearing argument in the bottom of the eighth of Game 3.  Gomez, who earlier in the inning was hit by a pitch from Hill, slid hard into second baseman Kevin Frandsen on an inning-ending double play.  Desmond took exception: “I just told him I didn’t agree with the way he slid into second base with a seven-run lead.  I’ve defended that guy in a lot of clubhouse arguments.  I respect the way he plays the game, but I got no respect for that.  If he thinks he got drilled on purpose by our pitcher making his major-league debut, to take it out on a guy who has grinded his butt off to make a major-league career in Kevin Frandsen, what if he potentially ends his career right there?”

5. The Game 2 win was a memorable one

Among the many things that stood out:
     •    The game lasted five hours, 22 minutes, ending at 1:34 a.m.

     •    Left fielder Ryan Zimmerman blasted a go-ahead two-run homer in the top of the 16th and then made a diving-forward catch for the first out in the bottom of the 16th

     •    Span and right fielder Jayson Werth made impressive catches for the final two outs in the bottom of the 14th

     •    Third baseman Anthony Rendon hit a game-tying two-run homer in the top of the eighth, his seventh game-tying or go-ahead homer this season

     •    Nats relievers, as mentioned earlier, combined for 10 scoreless innings

     •    Manager Matt Williams said after the game that he would have used first baseman Adam LaRoche as a pitcher in the 17th inning

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Five Takeaways From The Orioles Taking Two Of Three Against The White Sox
by Al Galdi
Jun 26, 2014 -- 6:55am

Game 1: 6-4 win on Monday night (June 23)

Game 2: 4-2 loss on Tuesday night (June 24)

Game 3: 5-4 12-inning win on Wednesday night (June 25)

1. The offense was terrific

The O's batted .321 (36-for-112) in the series.

The O's blasted five homers and exited this series with a major-league-best 35 homers in June.
     •    Center fielder Adam Jones hit a two-run homer in Game 1 and went 5-for-13 in the series

     •    Chris Davis blasted a pinch walk-off three-run homer in Game 1 for the Orioles’ first pinch walk-off homer since Larry Sheets’ in August 1988.  Davis entered Game 1 mired in a 2-for-18 slump.  

     •    DH Nelson Cruz blasted a game-tying grand slam in the eighth inning of Game 3 and went 4-for-14 in the series

The O's did go just 5-for-27 with runners in scoring position in the series.

2. The starting pitching was bad

Wei-Yin Chen allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings in Game 1, giving up six hits and two walks.  He has a 3.84 ERA over 15 starts but has lasted seven innings or more just three times this season.  

Miguel Gonzalez allowed three runs in five innings in Game 2, giving up nine hits and three walks.  He now has a 4.48 ERA over 13 games (12 starts) this season.

Ubaldo Jimenez allowed four runs in 6 1/3 innings in Game 3, giving up eight hits and two walks versus six strikeouts.  He now has a 4.70 ERA and 1.56 WHIP over 16 starts this season off signing the richest contract ever given by the O’s to a free-agent pitcher (four-year deal worth a reported $50 million) this past February 19.

3. The bullpen was very good

Orioles relievers combined to allow two runs (one earned) in 13 innings in the series, including six strikeouts in 5 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 3.

4. Lady Luck back with the Birds?

The Game 3 victory improved the O’s this season to 6-3 in extra-inning games and 14-11 in one-run games.  The O’s were 20-31 in one-run games in 2013 off going an MLB-best 16-2 in extra-inning games and an MLB-best 29-9 in one-run games in 2012.  Records in one-run games have been researched quite a bit, and the prevailing belief is that luck plays a sizable role.  So far the O’s have enjoyed more good luck than bad luck in one-run games this season.

5. Guess what still hasn’t been decided?

Third baseman Manny Machado went 4-for-12 with a walk in the series and finally had his appeal for his five-game suspension for intentionally throwing his bat on June 8 against Oakland heard on Wednesday.  The suspension was handed down by MLB on June 10; that the appeal wasn’t heard until June 25 is comical, especially considering that Machado was able to play in every game during a 13-game stretch against the American League East this month.  I don’t blame Machado and the O’s; they’re only taking advantage of existing rules in appealing what was a light penalty.  MLB needs to do a better job of expediting these hearings and making sure suspensions are served in a timely manner.

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