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Max Scherzer Gives Joe Girardi The Treatment He Deserves

Tuesday night was a fun sports night.

Besides the Orioles blowing another decent pitching performance from Jorge Lopez, there was a lot going on that caught my attention, and all of these topics relate in some way to Washington D.C. sports teams: 

Girardi Makes A Mockery of Baseball, Gets Mocked by Scherzer

At first, all I saw was Nationals star Max Scherzer mocking the hell out of Phillies manager Joe Girardi, which would amuse me in any situation as it is.

But once I found it was after Girardi had Scherzer checked three times for banned sticky substances on the pitching mound, it was even better.

Scherzer gave Girardi the treatment he deserved. If somebody accused me of cheating the game on three separate occasions, then I’d give them the death stare walking back to the mound as well. And for Girardi to take offense to it shows what kind of coward he is. If you’re going to wrongfully accuse someone three separate times of cheating, own it and sit down when you’re wrong.

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Have the Nationals Rediscovered the Magic?

After we’ve all experienced a global pandemic, this year is undeniably much different than 2019. However, things on the baseball diamond are beginning to look much like they did two years ago for the Washington Nationals.

Following a series-opening loss to the San Francisco Giants on June 11, the Nationals found themselves sitting nine games below .500. Stephen Strasburg was on the IL, Max Scherzer and Daniel Hudson had suffered injuries and were also heading to the IL, and the Nationals appeared to have a very difficult road ahead of them.

Miraculously, Washington won eight of its next 10 games, its starting rotation looked like one of the best in the league, and they began to add reinforcements to their roster.

Much like 2019, it’s difficult to understand exactly what sparked this turnaround, but with players suddenly firing on all cylinders, the future looks much brighter than it did less than two weeks ago.

The Pitchers Are Performing

Erick Fedde hasn’t allowed a run since Scherzer went down. In fact, dating back to mid-May, Fedde has thrown 20 consecutive scoreless innings. He’s lowered his ERA to 3.33, and it’s as low as 2.54 if you exclude his first start of the season.

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The Time is Now for Cade Cavalli, Nationals

There might not be a hotter prospect in professional baseball right now than right-handed pitcher Cade Cavalli, and it comes at a very opportune moment for himself and the Washington Nationals.

As everyone knows by now, the 22-year-old righty was Washington’s first round selection in the 2020 MLB Draft, and through seven starts in High-A Wilmington this year, he’s been nothing short of filthy.

Saturday, his dominance was on full display, as he tossed seven no-hit innings and struck out a whopping 15 batters. That outing dropped his ERA to 1.77 and his hits allowed per nine innings to just over five, while his strikeouts per nine innings rose to just below 16. For context, the highest season-season rate of Max Scherzer’s big league career is only 12.7.

Just over a week ago, in their most recent round of updates, Cavalli was upgraded to Baseball America’s No. 33 overall prospect – a leap of 49 spots since their preseason rankings. Following his most masterful performance yet on Saturday, he was named to MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Team of the Week and – more importantly – was promoted to Double-A Harrisburg.

While his promotion was certainly deserved based on his performance, it was also necessary for the immediate well being of the Nationals.

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Who Starts on Sunday, Sans Strasburg, For Nationals?

For the first time since Stephen Strasburg was placed back on the IL, the Nationals must turn to their No. 5 starting pitcher.

There’s just one problem: They don’t currently have a fifth starter on their active roster.

They’ll be forced to trot someone out to start Sunday’s game in Philadelphia, but who it will be remains a mystery. There was a thought that it could be Erick Fedde, who’s currently on the IL, but is in the midst of a rehab assignment. He was slated to start on Thursday and Friday for Wilmington (High-A), but both games were postponed due to rain. Rather than forgoing the rehab appearance, the Nationals chose to let him pitch today in the minor leagues, opting to allow someone else to get the Sunday big league start.

This won’t be an easy decision. There aren’t any great options, and it’s difficult to even narrow the field down to two or three pitchers. There are men on the big league roster who have starting experience and could each pitch multiple innings, there are arms – albeit uninspiring ones – in AAA who could be recalled in a pinch, or the Nats could call up someone lower in the minor league system that’s been pitching better this season.

Here’s who Dave Martinez and the Nationals will be choosing between ahead of Sunday’s 1:05 p.m. game in Philadelphia:

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Martinez Showing More Flexibility In Roster; Is It Working?

Aside from moving a few players up and down his lineup, manager Dave Martinez had kept his roster and everyday players rather consistent throughout this season.

But that’s changed recently.

In fairness, his hand has been partially forced due to Victor Robles’ injury. But he’s also shown more flexibility with his catchers over the last handful of games, so let's take a look at where the roster stands after today's sweep by Milwaukee. 

The Defense

Aside from an occasional day off for rest, Robles has been Martinez’s everyday centerfielder for the last three seasons, and he’s never wavered from that belief. Aside from aging veterans like Howie Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman, that’s been Davey’s mentality with all of his starters throughout his tenure in Washington.

With Robles on the IL due to a sprained ankle, however, Davey has been forced to adjust. He only has one other player on his roster with any legitimate capability of playing centerfield, no outfielders (aside from Robles) who hit right-handed, and no true outfield depth in the minor leagues.

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I'd Be Willing To Bet Juan Soto Will Never Do THAT Again

A few items from the weekend…

There’s never been much doubt about Juan Soto’s greatness as a baseball player, but yesterday he did something that I found impressive and further convinced me he will one day finish his career – barring injury – as one of the best of all time.

I’m not talking about the boneheaded play he made, standing at home plate staring up at a towering foul ball he had just hit as if it were a UFO getting ready to land on South Capital Street. He thought it was going to end up in the stands, and when the wind blew it back into the field of play, the surprised Soto then took off for first, was thrown out, and a run that would have scored had he run from the first second he made contact, ended up not being added to the Nats run total.

But while social media was blistering him for his mistake (I even said it was a Bryce Harper moment on Twitter), I couldn’t help but notice Soto’s reaction to the play. No coach could have beat up on Soto more than Soto was beating himself up. He was angry and disappointed with himself, and it was not a simple “well, crap” kind of moment. It went on for a while, and a coach stopped and told him to let it go and make it a learning experience.

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Strasburg Re-Enters Rotation, Fedde Exits – Or Does He?

Stephen Strasburg will finally return from the IL tomorrow.

We’ve long assumed that once that happened, Erick Fedde would be removed from the rotation, and at the moment he will be, since he was placed on the IL Wednesday.

But does that mean his role in the starting rotation is gone?

Fedde has seemingly been destined for the bullpen for the last two years, but there’s always been something – usually an injury to someone above him – that’s kept him in the rotation. He’s been viewed as a sufficient Band-Aid, but one who had a 50-50 chance to pan out long term, despite being a former first-round draft selection.

This year has been different, though. Sure, an injury and an illness are what’s given him the initial opportunity, but he’s done something with it this time.

His ERA, which sits at 4.35 through eight starts, is very similar to where it’s been for the past few seasons. The difference, however, is his dominance from hitter to hitter. The batting average he has surrendered (.217) is 52 points lower than his career average, and his strikeout rate has nearly doubled compared to 2019 and 2020.

Fedde has generally been decent in terms of run prevention, but he often left everyone sitting on the edge of their seats, waiting for an implosion. That fear for the worst has virtually disappeared this season.

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It Wasn't Just A Good Weekend. It Was A Great Weekend.

As sports weekends go in the Nation's Capital, local teams may have just finished a rare great one.

Think about it. The Capitals won an opening-round Stanley Cup playoff game. The Wizards rallied to win and clinch an 8th-seed in the NBA playoffs. The Nationals won a series on the road. Plus the Mystics opened their season, DC United took to the pitch, and even the Washington Football Team and Hokies down in Blacksburg had an eventful last few days.

Not  bad. Not bad at all. Here are the details:

Capitals Win A Postseason Thriller

Caps fans had their hearts in their throats early when starting goaltender Vitek Vanecek left in the first quarter due to injury, leaving the game in Craig Anderson’s hands. Anderson only had two starts this season, his last win was in May of 2017, and while they said he was 39, it was just barely. He'll be 40 this week. So on top of concerns for injuries to TJ Oshie and the return of Alexander Ovechkin from injury, Caps fans had plenty to worry about.

But soon after realizing Anderson was even on the team, Caps fans realized they were seeing a calm, experienced goaltender who kept the Boston Bruins in check. Tom Wilson scored the game’s opening goal, showing he can score AND fight, then Jake DeBrusk responded – which was also the play on which Vanecek left with an injury. The call-and-respond action continued in the second period, when Brendan Dillon and Nick Ritchie traded goals, and the teams held each other scoreless throughout the rest of regulation.

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Is It Just Me, Or Is Anyone Else Worried About FP?

Perhaps I’m making something out of nothing, but the way MASN handled its broadcasters this weekend for the Washington Nationals games sure seems odd.

The games are normally done by Bob Carpenter on play-by-play and F.P. Santangelo doing color commentary. A little over a week ago, it was announced Carpenter would take a few days off and that Dan Kolko would step in and be Carpenter’s replacement doing play-by-play. Santangelo would continue in his role doing commentary, and the two did the two-game series with Toronto.

Friday, however, when a new series started with the Florida Marlins, it was Kolko on play-by-play and former Nationals outfielder Justin Maxwell doing commentary. That struck me as immediately odd because usually when a play-by-play guy takes a break, you want and need the commentary guy there to give some continuity to the booth. Putting two new guys together is almost unheard of. Many times they move the color guy over to play-by-play and bring in a former player to do commentary temporarily.

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Nats Questions Have Been Answered, But Not Favorably

It’s time to face reality.

The season is a long way from being complete, but at this point in time, the Nationals don’t look as good this year as we hoped they would. Entering the season, their roster seemed to have an NL East championship ceiling with plenty of talent spread across the team, including players who had succeeded in high-intensity moments in the past.

But the pieces have not fit together so far this year. Sluggers have not hit well, the batting order continues to not make sense on a day-to-day basis, and the team has repeatedly struggled at the beginning of games and faltered in key situations.

One great way to assess how this year has gone thus far, relative to expectations, is by looking back at many of the questions people – myself included – had about the Nationals entering the regular season. 

Why Sign Both Bell and Schwarber?

This lineup needed to add some power. Anthony Rendon had left a glaring void that wasn’t filled following the World Series, players like Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera were also gone, and Victor Robles regressed in 2020. None of that was arguable, but the way the team addressed it was strange.

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Late-Inning Doozies Against Yanks Raise Concerns For Nats

When they write the book on this past week for the Nationals, it will probably be titled "long fly balls and bullpen calls."

Weaknesses in those areas proved to be the undoing of the Nationals, as a stellar outing by Max Scherzer and improvements from the likes of Victor Robles and Patrick Corbin were wasted. Both teams – particularly the Yankees – are built upon those two topics, and the Nats were unable to match them.

The bullpen wasn’t all bad, except for two pitchers. However, that duo, along with the offense, was largely responsible for Washington’s 1-5 week.

The Bats Have Been Flat

The offense remained quiet for most of the week, which has been consistent all season. The Nationals have only scored more than three runs in one of their last seven games – and even in their 11-run outburst on Friday, they only had three runs through the first seven innings.

This really stems from a larger issue. While Washington is No. 6 in baseball – and first in the NL – in batting average, the Nationals are also No. 19 in slugging percentage, No. 23 in at bats per home run, and subsequently fourth from the bottom in runs scored per game. 

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