Tag Archives: Victor Robles

For Nationals it’s win now, or possibly lose two superstars

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The Nats already lost Harper, could Rendon be next star to go?

The Washington Nationals, who play host to the Phillies in a four-game series this week, have spent the better part of the last seven seasons dominating the National League East Division standings.

In 2012, the Nationals ended the Phillies five-year grip on the division by capturing the franchise’ first-ever NL East crown. Their direct predecessors, the Montreal Expos, were considered to have finished in first place back in 1994, but that was the strike-ended season that was never completed.
From 2012-18, the Nationals registered a winning season each year. They captured division titles four times in that span: 2012, 2014, and 2016-17. In each of the other three years, the Nats finished in second place.
The club was always in the hunt for a playoff berth until suddenly falling into a deep funk from June 10 through September 6. They struggled all summer at 32-46 during that stretch, falling from first place to finish 10 back of the Atlanta Braves in the east and nine games out of a Wildcard.
In the off-season, the Nationals lost the player who had arguably become the face of the franchise over those seven seasons. Bryce Harper left the team at age 26 to sign as a free agent with the rival Phillies.
The Nationals brain trust believed that it could cover for the loss of Harper. They had a pair of exciting young Dominican outfielders ready to make an impact on an everyday basis in now 20-year-old Juan Soto, who was the runner-up for the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year Award, and 22-year-old Victor Robles.
But when the season opened, things didn’t go as planned in our nation’s capital. Injuries and inconsistent play resulted in a horrendous first two months. The Nationals woke up on Friday, May 24 back home after getting swept in four games at Citi Field by the division-rival New York Mets. They were a disheartening 19-31, and were already 10 games off the pace in the NL East.
Since that time, the Nationals have begun to regain some of their lost mojo. They have fashioned a 14-7 record over the last three weeks, and though still 8.5 out in the division, the Nationals are now just six games behind the Phillies in the race for the final NL Wildcard spot. Of course, there are also five other teams ahead of them in chasing that spot.
If the Nationals cannot continue to win consistently and make a serious move up in the standings, that brain trust is going to have a couple of extremely difficult decisions to make a month from now as the August 1 MLB trade deadline approaches. Those decisions involved two key players, their third baseman and their top starting pitcher.
Third baseman Anthony Rendon has been, as Harper was before him, a career Nationals player. Like Harper, he was a first round draft pick, taken by Washington at sixth overall in the 2011 MLB Draft. That was right after the club had made Stephen Strasburg and Harper the top overall pick in the two previous drafts.
He turned 29-years-old at the start of this month, and is leading the team in virtually every offensive category. But also, like Harper last year, Rendon is about to become a free agent at the conclusion of this current season. Though both sides have said that they were willing to remain open to contract discussions as they season went along, there are no signs that the team is making any progress in getting him to agree to forego his first shot at free agency and re-up with a contract extension.
If you want to go ahead and agree that Nolan Arenado is the best third baseman in the NL today, then you had best understand that Rendon is clearly second in that ranking. If it weren’t for the Rockies outstanding third sacker, Rendon would certainly have a handful of Gold Glove Awards in his trophy case.
Arenado just signed a seven-year, $260 million deal with Colorado at age 28 years. Already making nearly $19 million for this 2019 season, Rendon is likely going to be looking for that same seven-year package for something at or above the $200 million total mark.
How Anthony Rendon ranks among NL 3rd basemen:

1st         On-Base Percentage (.415)
1st         Slugging Percentage (.660)
1st         OPS (1.075)
1st         WAR (3.1)
1st         wRC+ (169)
1st         wOBA (.435)
1st         OPS+ (70)
2nd       Batting Average (.321)

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While owner Ted Lerner and general manager Mike Rizzo contemplate how high they are willing to go on a Rendon deal, if he even wants to stay, that will not be the only contract consideration they will have on their minds as the trade deadline approaches.
Ace right-hander Max Scherzer, arguably the best right-handed starting pitcher in the game today and winner of three Cy Young Awards, can exercise his “10-and-5 rights” after this season. That would lock the Nationals into his contract, which call for him to be paid move than $42 million in each of the next two seasons as he turns ages 35 and 36 years of age.
Scherzer is having yet another great season this year. His 2.27 FIP mark is the best in baseball. His K/9 are actually up a tick, while his BB/9 are down. He has allowed just 87 hits over 99.1 innings across 15 starts with a phenomenal 136/20 K:BB.
So why would Washington even think of unloading Scherzer at the deadline this year? It would be the combination of those 10-and-5 rights, which would mean that he could veto any trade after this season, combined with his being owed $84 million for two more years as he continues to age.
If the Nationals are unable to climb back into the race in a serious way, they are at least going to have to entertain the idea of moving Scherzer and Rendon. Each player would bring back a substantial prospect package in trade with which Washington could continue to build a young foundation to battle in what looks like it will be a tough division during the 2020’s.
So, for the 2019 Washington Nationals, the time is now to keep winning, to keep digging their way out of that early hole. They have seven key games this week, four with the Phillies and three with the Braves. After that, the MLB schedule looks very weak for awhile.

If they can make up any further ground in these battles with the two clubs ahead of them in the NL East Division, and then do what they would be expected to do with the lesser opposition which the schedule presents over the following few weeks, Washington could end up forced to keep the band together for at least one more strong run this year.

Struggling Phillies open mid-June series with resurgent Nationals

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Many fans in both towns now conflicted over Werth and Harper

The struggling Philadelphia Phillies (39-32) continue with their road show, this time opening a four-game series with the rejuvenated Washington Nationals (33-38) on Monday night in our Nation’s Capital.

The Phillies are coming off a humbling Father’s Day experience in which they were dismantled by the division-leading Atlanta Braves in a 15-1 rout. They enter D.C. having now dropped five of their last seven games, and 10 of 16 going back to May 29.
After suffering through a horrendous 19-31 start that buried them in fourth place, 10 games out, the Nationals have begun to right their ship. The club has gone 14-7 since that point. Still in fourth place, but they are just six games behind the Phillies for the final NL Wildcard spot, and would love to cut into that deficit this week.
They enter the series fresh off their own 15-run experience. Only in their case, the Nats were the team scoring all the runs in a 15-5 win at home yesterday over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Nationals offensive attack ranks seventh in the National League in both runs scored and OPS, and they are third in stolen bases. On the mound their pitchers are tied for sixth in batting average against and seventh in OPS against, and the staff ranks first in strikeouts.
A big reason they are at the top of those strikeout rankings can be found in their starting rotation, and the Phillies will see the Nationals best this week. Washington will throw lefty Patrick Corbin in the opener, young Erick Fedde in the second game, and then finish up the series with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg for the final two games.
These two teams have already met three times this season. They split a two-gamer in Washington back in early April. The Nationals then took two of three in Philly a week later, but saw the Phillies take two of three at Citizens Bank Park in early May. They will meet yet again in a four-gamer right after the MLB All-Star break back in Philadelphia, but then do not see one another until the first day of Fall, on September 23.
Of course, there is added intensity when these two clubs meet, at least from the Washington fans perspective, with star right fielder Bryce Harper having left town. In eight games between the two clubs this year, Harper has slashed .321/.472/.643 with two homers, three doubles, eight walks, seven RBIs, and six runs scored.
Harper was the Nationals pick at first overall in the 2010 MLB Draft and played his first seven seasons with them, winning the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year Award and the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player Award, and making the NL All-Star squad six times.
A ball club that is much better than their record indicates, the Nats are looking at this as a big opportunity series. For the struggling, injury-depleted Phillies, this will mark another difficult challenge.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

TOP LINEUP THREATS

Anthony Rendon: The Nationals are in danger of losing their most impactful player for a second straight season. Rendon is a free agent after this year, and the 29-year-old third baseman doesn’t seem close to a deal. He leads the team in virtually every category, slashing .321/.415/.660 with 16 homers, 50 RBIs, 37 extra-base hits, and 52 runs scored. Those numbers are better across the board than anyone in the Phillies lineup.
Trea Turner: 26-year-old dynamic shortstop was hit on the hand while trying to bunt against the Phillies during the first week of play and missed nearly seven weeks. He started slowly after returning, but since May 28 has slashed .333/.392/.639 with three homers, 16 extra-base hits, nine RBIs, 16 runs scored, and five steals over 17 games. It’s no coincidence that the Nats have won 11 of those 17 games.
Juan Soto: The 20-year-old lefty-hitting outfielder was the runner-up for last year’s NL Rookie of the Year honors and much as with Turner, he has been hot over the last few weeks. Since May 24, Soto is slashing .329/.413/.519 with four homers, 11 RBIs, and 20 runs scored.
Adam Eaton: 30-year-old veteran now in his eighth big-league season, Eaton is hitting .280 and is tied for second on the club with 41 runs scored.
Victor Robles: If there is one player who the Nats would really like to see pick it up, Robles would be it. The 22-year-old center fielder is hitting just .234 and has only one home run in the last month after banging eight over the season’s first six weeks.
Matt Adams: The big lefty first baseman has been activated from the IL just in time to face four right-handed starters being thrown by the Phillies. Adams has nine homers and 27 RBIs in just 130 plate appearances, with eight of those longballs as well as five doubles coming off righties.
Kurt Suzuki: The Nationals split their catching duties in a fairly even platoon setup, but Suzuki is the power half. He has seven homers and 30 RBIs in just 137 plate appearances.
Brian Dozier: 32-year-old veteran second baseman was a former AL All-Star with the Minnesota Twins, for whom he played the first seven of his now eight-year career. He has 10 home runs and 10 doubles, remaining a dangerous, albeit streaky, hitter with the Nationals.

SPOTLIGHT PLAYER

Howie Kendrick: Not much was expected of Kendrick this season, who at age 35 (he turns 36 next month) is now in his 14th big-league season. Kendrick spent the first 11 years of his career in Los Angeles, nine with the Angels and then two with the Dodgers.
He was then traded in late July 2017 to the Phillies for a fringe prospect, seeing action in 24 games out in left field and another 10 at second base. Kendrick then became a free agent, signing with Washington.
When numerous injuries opened up some playing time earlier this season, Kendrick received increased opportunities and made the best of them. His 12 homers and 43 RBIs are second on the team, and he is slashing at the .333/.383/.602 mark. He also continues to provide value with his defensive versatility, playing in 19 games at first base and 14 each at second and third bases.
Kendrick, who has made $65 million over the course of his career but is now making “only” $4 million this year, will be a free agent once again after the season ends. This kind of production assures that someone will want him coming off their bench. Maybe even the Phillies.

SCHEDULED STARTING PITCHERS

MONDAY – Patrick Corbin: 5-5 4.11 ERA, 1.219 WHIP, 75 hits over 85.1 IP across 14 starts with a 94/29 K:BB
TUESDAY – Erick Fedde: 1-1, 3.68 ERA, 1.255 WHIP, 32 hits over 36.2 IP across 10 games (5 starts) with a 21/14 K:BB
WEDNESDAY – Max Scherzer: 5-5, 2.81 ERA, 1.077 WHIP, 87 hits over 99.1 IP across 15 starts with a 136/20 K:BB
THURSDAY – Stephen Strasburg: 7-4, 3.75 ERA, 1.063 WHIP, 78 hits over 96 IP across 15 starts with a 115/24 K:BB

THE SKIPPER

A native New Yorker, Dave Martinez is in his second season at the helm in Washington after guiding the club to an 82-80 mark and a second place finish in the NL East Division a year ago.
Martinez played 16 seasons in Major League Baseball after being drafted in the third round back in 1983 by the Chicago Cubs. He played for nine different organizations, with his four years in Chicago and four with the old Montreal Expos, the Nationals predecessors, marking his longest stints.
He was under fire when the club got off to such a miserable start this year, but any talk of firing has been muted with this recent period of improved play and winning by the team.

THE BALLPARK

Nationals Park opened for the 2008 season and is known mostly as a fair ballpark for hitters and pitchers, ranking 11th in the current ESPN 2019 MLB Ballpark Factors list.
Dimensions are 337 and 335 down the left and right field lines respectively. Left-center is 377 feet out, right-center at 370 feet, and it will be 402 feet out to dead-center field.
Located along the Anacostia River in the Navy Yard section of D.C., it has a regular capacity of 41,339 but they have reached as many as 30,000 just nine times since Opening Day. One of those was for Harper’s first return back on April 2 with Scherzer on the mound when just under 36,000 showed up.
Back in 201o they added a ‘Ring of Honor’ to celebrate those from the old Washington Senators franchise, the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues who were based in town, as well as the Expos/Nationals players who have been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. A dozen-and-a-half players are currently honored, including Walter JohnsonHarmon KillebrewJosh Gibson, and Andre Dawson. Also honored there is former Phillies 2008 World Series hero Jayson Werth.
Since 2011, a submarine dive horn blares after each Nationals home run and victory in a nod to the park’s location in the Navy Yard neighborhood.
In the middle of the 4th inning at every game, fans are treated to the President’s Race. Runners wearing costumes topped by oversized heads of four U.S. Presidents engage in a foot race, often with comedic elements built into the contest. The four Presidents are George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson. Three other Presidents have also spent time as racers, but those original four remain today as the current lineup.

SERIES WEATHER REPORT

Game time for all four nights is scheduled for 7:05 PM EDT
This will be a very unsettled weather week in Washington. There is a 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms on Monday night, then an 80% chance on both Tuesday and Wednesday, dropping to 60% on Thursday. Temperatures will be in the upper-70’s to mid-80’s during games with high humidity and light winds all week. Any fans taking the ride down from Philly should be prepared for delays at the start of, or during, each of the four games, though all four should be played in the end.
Report using data from The Weather Channel

Defending NL East champion Braves stay right on Phillies heels in mid-May

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Ronald Acuna Jr and the Braves are defending NL East champs

One week ago today, the Philadelphia Phillies (27-19) were seven games over the .500 mark in first place in the National League East Division standings. They led the second place Atlanta Braves by three games, and were four up in the loss column over both Atlanta and the New York Mets.

Following a week in which they went 4-3, the Phillies are now eight over that .500 mark. But the Braves also fared well, cutting into that lead. Atlanta now trails by 2.5 games, three in the loss column. Meanwhile, the Mets have fallen six back in the loss column, with the Washington Nationals even further in the rear view mirror at eight games out.
After dropping three of four games to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Phillies rebounded to sweep out the Colorado Rockies in three games over the weekend at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies are now 4-3 during what was a tough 23-game stretch of their schedule.
Now comes the most difficult part of that rough stretch, with 13 of the next 16 games on the road. It all starts with a seven-game road trip this week. Four games at Wrigley Field against the NL Central Division-leading Chicago Cubs followed by a three-game series next weekend with the Brewers at Miller Park.
During this series against the Cubs, fans of the Phillies will experience a first. On Wednesday night, Chicago will send lefty Cole Hamels to the mound. It will mark the first-ever career start for Hamels against the team for whom he broke into the big-leagues, won 114 games over 10 seasons, and captured both the World Series and NLCS MVP awards during the 2008 postseason championship run.
As always, my NL East Beat report reveals how each of the Phillies divisional rivals fared over the course of the past week: games scores, pivotal performers, key injuries, and other important updates on each team are included.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST DIVISION STANDINGS

EAST DIVISION

    <th aria-label="Win-Loss %" class=" poptip hide_non_quals center" data-filter="1" data-name="Win-Loss %" data-stat="win_loss_perc" data-tip="Win-Loss Percentage
    W / (W + L)
    For players, leaders need one decision for every ten team games.
    For managers, minimum to qualify for leading is 320 games.” scope=”col” style=”background-color: #dadcde; border-color: rgb(116, 118, 120) rgb(170, 170, 170); border-image: initial; border-style: solid; border-width: 1px; float: none !important; margin: 0px; opacity: initial; padding: 0px 12.375px; text-align: center;”>W-L%

    <th aria-label="Games Back" class=" poptip sort_default_asc center" data-stat="games_back" data-tip="Games Back of Division/League Leader
    Computed as games over .500 of leader (W-L) minus games over .500 of team divided by two.
    Typically computed at the end of play for a particular day.
    Blank for 1st game of DH.” scope=”col” style=”background-color: #dadcde; border-color: rgb(116, 118, 120) rgb(116, 118, 120) rgb(116, 118, 120) rgb(170, 170, 170); border-image: initial; border-style: solid; border-width: 1px; float: none !important; margin: 0px; opacity: initial; padding: 0px 12.375px; text-align: center;”>GB

    East Division
    Team W L
    Philadelphia Phillies 27 19 .587
    Atlanta Braves 25 22 .532 2.5
    New York Mets 20 25 .444 6.5
    Washington Nationals 19 27 .413 8.0
    Miami Marlins 13 31 .295 13.0


    ATLANTA BRAVES (4 – 2)

    Summary: The Braves lost their first and last games this past week, but took four in a row in between. They captured two of three from the Brewers over the weekend, the same club that had just left Philly after winning three of four.
    Veteran first baseman Freddie Freeman paces the Braves offense, slashing .318/.408/.581 with a team-high 11 home runs and 24 extra-base hits. Ronald Acuna Jr. last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, is slashing .281/.372/.480 and is second on the club with nine long balls. He and Freeman are tied with shortstop Dansby Swanson for the team lead with 29 RBIs apiece.
    The Braves offensive attack has been very similar to the Phillies. Double-digits one game, struggling to score in the next. Atlanta has scored two more runs, but has also played one more game. But their attack has been more dynamic, with an OPS at .783 ranking 3rd in the National League. Compare that to the Phillies .739 mark, which is ranked just 8th of the 15 teams.
    Rookie right-hander Mike Soroka has been excellent in the rotation: 4-1, 0.98 ERA, 1.009 WHIP, 23 hits allowed over 36.2 IP with a 34/14 K:BB. The 21-year-old has a streak of four consecutive Quality Starts going on at the moment. 25-year-old lefty Max Fried is 6-2 with a 2.86 ERA, 1.132 WHIP and a 46/11 K:BB while allowing 46 hits over 50.1 innings.
    Key injuries: Starting center fielder Ender Inciarte is on the 10-day IL with back spasms. He could return this coming weekend, and will be evaluated later in the week. Righty reliever Darren O’Day has resumed throwing after suffering forearm tightness, but has no timetable.
    Upcoming: The Braves also go on the road for seven games this week. They begin with four at beautiful AT&T Park against the host San Francisco Giants, who at 20-25 are in last place in the NL West Division. Atlanta then travels to Saint Louis to take on the slumping Cardinals, losers of 13 of their last 17, for three games next weekend.

    MIAMI MARLINS (3 – 2)

    Summary: The Marlins enjoyed their first winning week of the season thanks to a sweep this weekend of the visiting New York Mets at Marlins Park. Still, the Fish are buried in last place in the NL East standings. Their 13-31 record is the worst in all of Major League Baseball.
    Former Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro has just one home run in his last 13 games, yet his half-dozen long balls continues to lead the Marlins. Alfaro is also on top of the Miami leader board with 13 RBIs. Veteran first baseman Neil Walker has 10 extra-base hits, second on the club, and his .293/.374/.431 slash line make him the closest thing the Marlins have to a consistent threat.
    Lefty starter Caleb Smith continues to turn in an All-Star caliber campaign. The 27-year-old southpaw is 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 0.917 WHIP. He has allowed just 30 hits over 48 innings across eight starts with a 64/14 K:BB ratio. Smith struck out eight and allowed just four hits in his most recent outing vs Tampa Bay last Sunday. But lasting just 5.1 innings in that start snapped a six-game official Quality Start streak.
    Key injuries: Alfaro suffered a left calf strain in Saturday’s game and was held out of the Sunday lineup. He is considered day-to-day. Righty reliever Drew Steckinrider suffered flexor strain in his right forearm. He hopes to rest it and return after the MLB All-Star Game break in mid-July.
    Upcoming: Following an off-day on Monday, the Marlins will travel to Detroit for a three-game Interleague series with the host Tigers at Comerica Park. Then it will be a four-game wraparound series with the Washington Nationals from Friday through next Monday at Nationals Park.

    NEW YORK METS (1 – 5)

    Summary: It all began so well for the Metropolitans. After winning their first game of the week, they had fought back to the .500 mark and were in second place. But then, disaster struck. A losing streak that has now reached five games, with the last three against the Marlins, the worst team in baseball.
    The Mets were shutout by Miami over the final two games and have now gone scoreless in 19 straight innings. Their offensive attack has generated more than four runs just five times over the last 18 games. To put that into perspective, the Phillies mercurial offense has done it twice as much over their own most recent 18 contests.
    First baseman Pete Alonso, who began the season on fire and was the leading NL Rookie of the Year candidate over the first five weeks, has fallen flat. The 24-year-old is slashing just .167/.239/.452 over his last dozen games.
    Their big off-season trade acquisition, veteran second baseman Robinson Cano, is slashing just .196/.237/.268 over his last 14 games. The now 36-year-old Cano is owed $96 million over the next four seasons – after this one is finished. Ouch.
    On the mound, starters Noah SyndergaardJacob deGrom and Steven Matz have all enjoyed solid seasons, as has new closer Edwin Diaz. But the overall staff ERA and BAA are both just 12th of the 15 National League ball clubs.
    Key injuries: Starting right fielder Michael Conforto suffered a concussion and will be out until at least the weekend. Veteran Jason Vargas, who has pitched poorly out of the fifth starter role, suffered left hamstring tightness. He is beginning a minor league rehab assignment. Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and infielder Jed Lowrie both continue out with no timetable. Lefty reliever Luis Avilan has soreness in his left elbow and hopes to try throwing again soon.
    Upcoming: Mickey Callaway is just 97-110 over parts of two seasons. He had best start getting it turned around during a seven-game homestand this week, or could find himself at the top of the managerial on-the-chopping-block lists. The Mets host the Nationals for four, then welcome in the Tigers for a three-game Interleague weekend series.

    WASHINGTON NATIONALS (3 – 3)

    Summary: Continuing an extremely disappointing and injury-riddled start to their season, the Nationals only tread water with a .500 week that kept them eight games below that break-even mark on the season. Washington has now fallen a full eight games back in the standings.
    22-year-old center fielder Victor Robles has been a bit of a disappointment. Robles is tied for the team lead with eight homers, leads the club with eight steals, and is second with 30 runs scored and 16 extra-base hits. But he is also slashing at just the .241/.297/.451 mark.
    Their other young phenom outfielder, 20-year-old Juan Soto, is hitting just .246 on the season. Last year’s NL Rookie of the Year runner-up does lead the Nats with 27 RBIs, however.
    In a dozen games since returning from a stay on the Injured List, third baseman Anthony Rendon has slashed .289/.373/.556 with 10 runs scored, eight RBIs, and eight extra-base hits. He continues to be the most consistent Nationals offensive threat. He also remains unsigned beyond this season, a situation that could become more interesting should the team stay out of the race, he stay healthy, and the season drag along with him remaining unsigned.
    Shortstop Trea Turner missed 40 games after breaking his finger on a poor bunt attempt against the Phillies during just the fourth game of the season. He returned this past week, and the speedster’s presence in the lineup should help rejuvenate the Nationals attack. Washington is just ninth in both runs scored and OPS in the NL this season.
    Key injuries: First basemen Matt Adams and Ryan Zimmerman remain out. Adams could begin taking swings this week after missing time with a left shoulder strain. Zimmerman is suffering from plantar fasciitis and hopes to begin running soon. The club’s fourth starter, Anibal Sanchez, was pitching terribly before hitting the IL with a left hamstring strain. He has no timetable. Relievers Trevor RosenthalJustin Miller and Koda Glover are all on the IL. Rosenthal could return soon.
    Upcoming: The Nationals begin a key 10-game stretch within the division on Monday. They visit Citi Field to take on the Mets in four games to open the week. Then it’s back home for four with the Miami Marlins in a wraparound series from Friday-Monday. Next Tuesday and Wednesday they will visit Atlanta.

    National League East report: 3/28 – 3/31

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    Freddie Freeman and Atlanta start defence of their NL East crown

    I’ll be providing a weekly update scheduled to release every Monday during the regular season, highlighting the happenings within the National League East Division.

    The Philadelphia Phillies swept the defending division champion Atlanta Braves in the 2019 season-opening series for both teams over this past week at Citizens Bank Park.
    I will be presenting those game and series results, but also will be letting you know how each of the Phillies division rivals fared in the prior week of play while supplying important updates for each club.
    The NL East beat reports will also include top producers for each team in the division, interesting statistics, the upcoming schedules, and the ramifications on both the divisional and National League Wildcard playoff races as the season unfolds.
    ATLANTA BRAVES

    Last week: 0-3
    The defending NL East Division champion Braves came to Citizens Bank Park with a number of questions regarding their pitching staff. Those questions found few answers as the Phillies pounded the staff for eight homers en route to scoring 23 runs over three Atlanta losses.
    By far the biggest offensive producer for the Braves was veteran first baseman Freddie Freeman. He slashed an unreal .600/.692/.800 with two doubles and two RBI. 22-year-old second baseman Ozzie Albies had three hits and two walks. Shortstop Dansby Swanson had Atlanta’s lone home run and scored three times.
    On the mound, starter Julio Teheran went five solid innings on Opening Day, allowing three runs on four hits. He struck out seven and walked two. He surrendered a home run to Andrew McCutchen on his first pitch of the season, but left with Atlanta trailing just 3-1.
    The Phillies whooped up on the Atlanta bullpen, thrashing eight relievers for 13 earned runs and 10 hits including five homers over 11.1 innings.
    Key injuries: Starting pitchers Mike Foltynewicz (elbow) and Kevin Gausman (shoulder) and lefty reliever A.J. Minter (shoulder) each began the year on the IL. The Braves hope to get all three back soon.
    Upcoming: The Braves host both the Marlins and Chicago Cubs for three games each this week at SunTrust Park.
    MIAMI MARLINS

    Last week: 2-2
    The Fish, universally picked to finish in the cellar of this talented division, opened their season with a four-game split against the Colorado Rockies of the NL West. After dropping the first two games to the Rox, the Marlins battled back to take the last two by 7-3 and 3-0 scores.
    Former Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro, dealt away as part of the deal to acquire J.T. Realmuto, homered on Opening Day for the Marlins. Shortstop JT Riddle banged a pair of homers during the series. 38-year-old, 16-year big-league veteran outfielder Curtis Granderson played the middle two games of the set, producing a pair of hits including a home run while driving in three runs.
    23-year-old Sandy Alcantara, obtained as part of the Miami rebuilding program in the Marcell Ozuna deal with Saint Louis in December 2017, went eight strong innings on Sunday. The right-hander allowed just four hits while walking no one and striking out six batters. Second-year starter Trevor Richards gave Miami six strong innings in one of the losses. New closer Sergio Romo was clobbered on Friday but rebounded with strong efforts on the weekend, including nailing down his first Save on Sunday.
    Key injuries: Starting pitcher Jose Urena was nailed on the knee by a comebacker on Opening Day. He is expected to make his next start this week against the Mets.
    Upcoming: The Marlins stay at home to start the week with three in South Florida against the division-rival Mets before heading up to Atlanta for a three-game set next weekend against the Braves.
    NEW YORK METS

    Last week: 2-1
    The Mets took the first two games of their season-opening intra-divisional series at Washington. Then they rallied from down 5-2 to tie the Nationals in Sunday’s series finale, only to get walked-off by a Trea Turner home run.
    Robinson Cano drilled a home run among four hits in his NL debut series. Rookie phenom first baseman Pete Alonso had six hits in his big-league debut including three doubles with three RBI. Super-utility man Jeff McNeil started twice in left field and once at third base, contributing four hits including a double and triple. Wilson Ramos, who briefly caught for the Phillies last season, had four hits while scoring three times and driving in three runs.
    On the hill the Mets received a strong Opening Day outing from Jacob deGrom, who allowed five hits while walking one and striking out 10 batters over six innings to gain a victory. Noah Syndergaard struck out seven and walked no one over six innings but was touched for four earned runs and seven hits in his first start. New closer Edwin Diaz registered his first two Saves for New York, striking out one batter over 1.1 perfect frames.
    Key injuries: Veteran outfielder Yoenis Cespedes (heel surgery) remains on the IL with no timetable for his return. It is possible that the 34-year-old could miss the entire season after appearing in just 38 games a year ago. Infielders Jed Lowrie (knee) and Todd Frazier (oblique) and catcher Travis d’Arnaud (elbow) each have no firm timetable but could all return at some point later in April.
    Upcoming: The Mets will be in Miami to open the week, then head home to the Big Apple for their home opener on Thursday against Washington. Following an off-day on Friday those same two clubs will battle twice more next weekend.
    WASHINGTON NATIONALS

    Last week: 1-2
    The Nats are considered the favorites by many to win their fifth NL East crown in eight years in what is expected to be a four-team battle royale. They began their season by dropping two of three to the Mets at home, avoiding a sweep thanks to that Turner walk-off bomb in Sunday’s finale.
    Turner produced five hits during the series including a pair of homers. He scored four times, drove in four runs, and also stole four bases. Still considered a rookie, Victor Robles produced five hits including three doubles and a home run, scoring three times. Anthony Rendon and Adam Eaton each had four hits and a pair of runs scored.
    On the mound, three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who finished runner-up for those honors a year ago, was brilliant in his season debut. The 34-year-old, 12-year veteran allowed two hits and walked three while striking out a dozen over eight innings on Opening Day. Unfortunately he lost when the club got shut down by deGrom, last year’s Cy Young winner. Both veteran Stephen Strasburg and newcomer Patrick Corbin provided six innings in their respective outings. The Nationals bullpen was roughed up by the Mets, allowing 16 hits and 10 earned runs over 7.1 innings.
    Key injuries: Veteran utility man Howie Kendrick (hamstring) and young outfielder Michael Taylor (knee) are each working their way back. Taylor seems ahead of Kendrick, but no firm timetable on either.
    Upcoming: If you’ve been living in a cave without access to media over the last few days you may not be aware that Bryce Harper is returning to where it all began. The Nationals host the Phillies on Tuesday and Wednesday, with Scherzer getting the nod for the Nats in the opener. It should be quite a scene. Washington then ends the week traveling up to New York for the home-opening series for the Mets.
    Originally published at Phillies Nation as Matt Veasey’s NL East beat

    2019 MLB preview and predictions

    Embed from Getty Images

    Paul Goldschmidt powers up the Saint Louis Cardinals for 2019

     

    With the 2019 Grapefruit and Cactus League schedules drawing to a close this week, all eyes are now squarely focused on Opening Day. All 30 teams in Major League Baseball will be playing in the regular season on Thursday.

    How will superstars such as Bryce Harper with the Philadelphia Phillies, Manny Machado with the San Diego Padres, and Paul Goldschmidt with the Saint Louis Cardinals fare in their new homes? Which teams will become surprise contenders? Which major injuries will derail a team’s postseason hopes?
    Each new MLB campaign comes with its own unique storylines. This year will be no different. Over the coming six months there will be excitement, drama, heartbreak, and controversy as each club plays out its 162-game schedule.
    For years now I’ve been looking into my own personal crystal ball to make predictions for MLB’s division winners and individual award winners as well as my picks for the postseason.
    A year ago in my 2018 MLB Preview and Predictions piece, I got four of the six divisions correct. I missed out on the Milwaukee Brewers edging my Chicago Cubs pick for the NL Central, as well as the Atlanta Braves, who I had for third place in the NL East.
    My NL Wildcards were those Brewers and the Colorado Rockies. So the Braves were the only NL playoff team that I missed. In the AL, I had the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels as those Wildcard teams. Right divison, wrong team, as the Oakland Athletics actually captured an AL Wildcard spot instead of those Halos.
    For the Fall Classic, I predicted that the defending champion Houston Astros would repeat by downing the Cubs in five games in a match-up between the two previous World Series titlists.
    Those Cubs would end up losing a thrilling 2-1 NL Wildcard Game to the Rockies at Wrigley Field. The Astros returned to the ALCS, but were eliminated in five games by the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
    Since I am writing for a Phillies-centric site, a bit of a disclaimer: this piece is not Phillies-centric. There will be plenty of times here at Phillies Nation where we cover the wider story of Major League Baseball. As for our favorite home nine, well, you are going to have to look elsewhere if you want to find a “homer” World Series prediction. At least this year.
    Now time to reveal my predictions for the upcoming 2019 season. As always, I would love to hear your own picks in the comments section or on social media. Play ball!

    2019 NATIONAL LEAGUE AWARD WINNERS

    MOST VALUABLE PLAYERPaul Goldschmidt, Saint Louis
    Contenders: Bryce Harper PHI, Nolan Arenado COL, Christian Yelich MIL, Ronald Acuna ATL, Cody Bellinger LAD
    CY YOUNG AWARDStephen Strasburg, Washington
    Contenders: Max Scherzer WAS, Noah Syndergaard NYM, Jack Flaherty STL, Aaron Nola PHI, Patrick Corbin WAS
    ROOKIE OF THE YEARVictor Robles, Washington
    Contenders: Alex Reyes STL, Fernando Tatis Jr. SD, Nick Senzel CIN, Luis Urias SD, Chris Paddack SD
    MANAGER OF THE YEARDave Martinez, Washington
    Contenders: Joe Maddon CHC, Dave Roberts LAD, Dave Martinez WAS, Gabe Kapler PHI
    COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEARCorey Seager, Los Angeles
    Contenders: Yu Darvish CHI, Alex Reyes STL, Josh Donaldson ATL, Andrew Miller STL
    2019 AMERICAN LEAGUE AWARD WINNERS
    MOST VALUABLE PLAYERCarlos Correa, Houston
    Contenders: Giancarlo Stanton NYY, Mike Trout LAA, Mookie Betts BOS, Alex Bregman HOU, Francisco Lindor CLE
    CY YOUNG AWARDChris Sale, Boston
    Contenders: Gerrit Cole HOU, Blake Snell TB, Justin Verlander HOU, Trevor Bauer CLE, James Paxton NYY
    ROOKIE OF THE YEAREloy Jimenez, Chicago
    Contenders: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.TOR, Josh James HOU, Danny Jansen TOR, Yusei KikuchiSEA
    MANAGER OF THE YEARBrad Ausmus, Los Angeles
    Contenders: Aaron Boone NYY, A.J. Hinch HOU, Bob Melvin OAK, Kevin Cash TB, Alex CoraBOS, Terry Francona, CLE
    COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEARByron Buxton, Minnesota
    Contenders: Gary Sanchez NYY, Miguel Cabrera DET, Aaron Sanchez TOR, Jonathan Schoop MIN
    2019 MLB DIVISIONAL & WILDCARD PREDICTIONS
    NATIONAL LEAGUE
    NL EAST: Washington, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York, Miami
    Since their franchise moved to Washington, the Phillies and Nationals have never been involved in a genuine NL East campaign where both were contenders. That changes this year and likely for years to come, and the Harper move adds a next level of spice to the budding arch-rivalry. But the Braves also have a lot of good young talent. I’ve been referring to the Mets as the “Mess” for years. Something always seems to go wrong, and until they prove it on the field, I’ll say the same this year. The Marlins are simply a rebuilding non-factor for the most part. This should prove to be a division where key injuries go a long way towards deciding things each year for awhile.
    NL CENTRAL: Saint Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh
    A contending Cardinals team is nearly as certain as death and taxes. The arch-rival Cubs and defending division champ Brew Crew should each again be strong. This looks a bit like the NL East to me, a real three-team dog fight that may only be settled by key injuries and big September head-to-head battles. The Reds are better, but not good enough. The Bucs also have talent, just not enough to keep up with the leaders here. This could well be baseball’s “black and blue” division in 2019, with no truly easy divisional opponents.
    NL WEST: Los Angeles, Colorado, San Diego, Arizona, San Francisco
    The Dodgers have won six straight divisional crowns and eight of the last 11 in the west. You want to be the best? Gotta beat the best. The Rockies are talented and the Padres are coming, but Los Angeles still looks to me like they have enough of everything – assuming health of their key performers. The Dbacks and Giants may need to start more seriously thinking about major rebuilding plans or face years of non-contention here.
    NL WILDCARDS: Philadelphia, Chicago – welcome back to the MLB postseason, Phillies Nation! Oh, and how would you like to try an Aaron Nola – Cole Hamels winner-take-all pitching match-up on for size?
    AMERICAN LEAGUE
    AL EAST: Boston, New York, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Baltimore
    The Bosox and Yankees could each well win 100 games again this year. Last year, Boston’s 108 victories gave them an eight-game cushion on their arch-rivals. I think it will be much closer this time around. The Rays almost always put up more of a fight than anyone believes, so much so that we now expect it. The Jays have possibilities down the road, but not in 2019. If you are looking for a current sad-sack story in the AL, well, there should prove to be plenty of seats available all summer at gorgeous Camden Yards in Baltimore. It’s worth the ride, Philly.
    AL CENTRAL: Cleveland, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City
    I truly believe that they are no longer at the level of the American League’s ‘Big Three’ ball clubs. But something tells me that Terry Francona is once again going to get the most out of his team. The Twins have been the fashionable pick as a surprise American League contender. If that turns out true, I believe it will have to be for a Wildcard berth. The Chisox have a ton of serious young talent coming, but it may take another couple of years to pull it all together. I just don’t see any scenario where either the Tigers or Royals contend here for the next few years.
    AL WEST: Houston, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, Texas
    The Astros won the first World Series in franchise history two years ago, were good enough to win it last year, and remain one of the favorites in 2019. Everyone else here is fighting for Wildcard relevance. With Mike Trout locked up for the rest of his career, look for the Angels to do everything in their power to start putting more pieces in place around him to truly contend. The A’s over-achieved last year. I don’t believe in them doing it again at that level. And there is just not enough talent in either Seattle or Texas for a playoff push, and may not be for a few years to come.
    AL WILDCARDS: New York, Los Angeles
    2019 MLB PLAYOFFS & WORLD SERIES
    Two years ago, I predicted that the Washington Nationals would finally end years of postseason frustration and capture the first-ever World Series title in franchise history, defeating the Boston Red Sox in seven games. It didn’t happen as the Nats were edged out by the Cubs in a five-game NLDS.
    Now with Harper gone to the division-rival Phillies, some might think that the Nationals best chances to win are over. Not so. There is plenty of talent and veteran leadership remaining in the nation’s capital. What was already the best starting rotation in the NL may have gotten better and deeper. And the Nats will replace Harper with the dynamic Robles, my NL Rookie of the Year choice.
    I’m going to pick Washington to finally win a playoff series. It will be the first since the move to D.C. from Montreal, and only the second in franchise history. Not only that, but the Nats take it a step further, finally pushing their way into the Fall Classic behind strong pitching and a versatile lineup.
    After the Phillies and Aaron Nola win the NL Wildcard Game over the Cubs the local crew is dispatched in an emotional NLDS by the Nationals. The Cardinals knock the Dodgers off the National League perch. And then the Nats take out Saint Louis in the NLCS.
    The American League should once again be dominated by a Big Three made up of the defending world champion Boston Red Sox, their arch-rivals the New York Yankees, and the 2017 champion Houston Astros.
    I’ll be stunned if the American League pennant winner does not come from one of those three ball clubs. Honestly, I cannot pick between those three. The Yanks overpower Mike Trout and the Angels in the AL Wildcard Game, then dispatch the Astros in an ALDS. The rival Bosox take out the Indians in the other ALDS, setting up a classic rivalry ALCS.
    Picking a winner in a Yankees-Red Sox series is always a tricky proposition. But repeating is very difficult, and something is telling me that the Yanks, who have not been back to the World Series since their 2009 win a decade ago over the Phillies, are ready to power their way back to the Fall Classic.
    And then, much to the chagrin of Harper and the Phillies, I am going to predict that the Washington Nationals erase their name from the list of seven MLB teams to never win a World Series. Call it Washington in six games over the Bronx Bombers.
    And there we have it, my 2019 Major League Baseball preview and predictions. Feel free to leave your own picks in the comments section, and let’s get ready to play ball.
    Originally published at Phillies Nation as Matt Veasey’s 2019 Major League Baseball preview and predictions