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May
08

Soap Opera Appears To Be Continuing For MASN, FP

As the broadcasting soap opera continues involving whether F.P. Santangelo is in the booth from one night to the next, I have to confess a hunch I had last night.

UPDATE: My hunch was wrong. The Athletic is reporting the reason is because of a sexual misconduct allegation against FP. Here's the link to the story by Brittany Ghiroli.

Friday’s Yankees game was the first time the band was back together, as Bob Carpenter was doing play by play after over a week's vacation, FP was in the color commentator seat, and Dan Kolko was the sideline/dugout reporter. It all felt normal, as everyone was in the right seat, and the fact that the Nationals were simulating batting practice against Yankee pitchers just made for a nice, pleasant broadcast.

But there was a brief moment where I had to wonder. FP was launching into one of his typical stories, but started it with “now that Dan Kolko is a major league play-by-play man…” He and Carpenter typically have great chemistry to the point they can almost finish each other’s jokes, but in this case, Carpenter didn’t say a word. It’s like he wanted no part of this topic, and after a brief second of silence, they moved on to something else.

I don’t know what issues have kept FP off the broadcasts, and when I wrote this a week ago, my prime concern was that he might have had some health issue. The fact he was back and on the air earlier this week in the three-game series with the Braves kind of eliminated that concern, because he looked fine.

This would then sort of suggest if it’s not health, it’s an internal issue at MASN. After being admonished by one poster on a Washington Nationals Facebook Group for apparently not keeping up with prior posts on the subject, I went back and looked through earlier mentions.

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May
02

Yadiel Hernandez is Here to Stay for the Nationals

The Nationals have won four in a row, Jon Lester has returned to the field, and Max Scherzer had a vintage “Mad Max” complete game start on Sunday against the Florida Marlins.

None of those, however, are really the biggest story in Washington this week.

With Juan Soto on the shelf with an injured throwing shoulder, the bigger story may be that the Nats haven’t missed a beat with Yadiel Hernandez in his place. In fact, you could almost make the argument he's been the team’s best hitter over the past week.

The 33-year-old left-handed outfielder has been an afterthought for much of his baseball career. As recently as 2016, he was a relatively everyday Joe, swinging the bat in Cuba.

Hernandez signed a minor league contract with the Nats following the season. That’s not an incredibly uncommon path, except he was already in his late 20s and wasn’t viewed as much of a major league prospect.

He spent three years in the minor leagues – one plus a month in AA Harrisburg and nearly two in AAA Fresno – and batted .301 with a slugging percentage north of .500. After blasting 33 home runs in 2019, the organization had seen enough.

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May
01

Jon Lester's Debut Was Worth The Wait For Nationals

Ever since Stephen Strasburg was sent to the IL with right shoulder inflammation, the Washington Nationals have been making ends meet with four starting pitchers.

That's no longer the case, as Jon Lester made his regular-season debut Friday night for the Nats, a 2-1 extra innings win over the Marlins.

No one will confuse Lester for Strasburg, but the 37-year-old left-hander has seen plenty of success in the big leagues, including an 18-win season as recently as 2018. He’s also a five-time All Star and three-time World Series champion, and he threw a no-hitter for the Red Sox in 2008.

There are tons of accolades, but what can Lester still bring to the table for Washington in 2021?

Admittedly, his two most recent seasons weren’t pretty. In 43 starts since the beginning of 2019, he posted an ERA of 4.64. Granted, he won more games than he lost over that span, but the Nats would still prefer for him to be more productive than that.

As a rule, Lester typically relies on a four-seam fastball and cutter around 30 percent of the time, complimented by a sinker, curveball and changeup. All three offspeed pitches are effective, giving him the type of arsenal that many of Washington’s other starters don’t have.

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Apr
28

Josh Bell Isn’t Doing So Swell At The Plate For The Nats

When the Nationals traded two mid-level minor league prospects to Pittsburgh for Josh Bell over the winter, they assumed they were getting the high-upside power-hitting first baseman that they’ve been lacking for a number of years.

Instead, they’ve been stuck with one of the least productive hitters in the majors to start this season. In fact, his tailspin has risen to the point of him getting demoted from third or fourth in the lineup consistently to the No. 6 slot on Wednesday night.

How has the former top prospect gone from an MVP frontrunner to a liability at the plate in only two years, and what will it take for things to turn around for the 28-year-old slugger?

The Overarching Analytics

Two years ago, Josh Bell was among the best hitters in the National League. He hit for a career best .277 average, reached base in nearly 37 percent of his plate appearances, and recorded a whopping .569 slugging percentage with 37 home runs and 116 RBIs.

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Apr
26

Could Nationals Be Saying Goodbye To Max Scherzer Soon?

In seven years with the Nationals, Max Scherzer has consistently been one of the hardest working, most dominant starting pitchers in Major League Baseball, which you'd think would ensure he'd be a Nat the rest of his career.

That's not, however, necessarily true.

Scherzer’s status as a potential trade chip has been one of the hottest topics amongst the national media recently, and it reached a climax during Saturday’s broadcast against the Mets on Fox Sports 1.

Nothing Ken Rosenthal said is incorrect. He even qualified his stance by stating that the Nationals are striving to be playoff contenders and are unlikely to fall far enough out of the picture to strongly consider trading Scherzer. Still, it’s a very possible – and reasonable – outcome at this year’s Trade Deadline.

What This Discussion is Really About

There’s been an outcry amongst the fanbase that the Nationals would never trade away one of their biggest stars if they’re trying – and have a realistic chance – to make the playoffs. That statement in itself is absolutely true, and completely in line with their past tendencies. If they’re still within five (maybe even ten) games of a playoff spot by deadline day, they won’t entertain the idea of a trade.

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Apr
25

Results Were Mixed, But Bats Went Cold For Nats This Week

Although it’s early in the season, the Nationals arguably needed a big week to solidify themselves as playoff contenders.

Instead, the Nats split their six games, taking two out of three from the Cardinals before losing a weekend series to the Mets.

All told, it was essentially the type of week you’d expect from the Nationals when Juan Soto isn’t in the lineup. The pitching staff held its own – which hasn’t always been the case this year – but the lineup didn’t perform as you’d prefer it to.

The only true blip on the mound was from Joe Ross Monday, although he rebounded with six strong innings on Saturday – and was the subject of my most recent article. Aside from that, the worst game in that area was a six-run performance Friday – and half of that came against the bullpen, after Erick Fedde had left the game.

Patrick Corbin tossed six shutout innings Tuesday, although his Sunday outing was less stellar. Nonetheless, the improvement is encouraging and much-needed. Max Scherzer threw a six-inning dandy of his own Wednesday, holding the Cardinals without a run and striking out nine batters.

The issue was the offense. The Nats averaged (just over) five hits per game against the Cardinals, even though they managed to win two of those games. They also went the final 37 innings of the week without hitting a home run, during which they only had four extra-base hits (all doubles). Sunday’s defeat was also the fifth time they’ve been shut out and seventh time they’ve been held to one run or fewer, both of which lead the big leagues.

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Apr
24

It’s Time For Nats To Take Training Wheels Off Joe Ross

Stephen Strasburg is sidelined with shoulder inflammation, Jon Lester has yet to make his debut this season, and Patrick Corbin has not pitched up to his contract so far this year.

Dave Martinez needs someone other than Max Scherzer to pitch late into games and give his team a chance to win.

So why is he so hesitant to give Joe Ross more freedom, instead of treating him like a typical No. 4 or 5 starter?

It’s a tendency Martinez has had throughout his tenure in Washington, and at times, it has been warranted. But not in the case of Ross in 2021.

Joe Ross has looked like a borderline ace starting pitcher three times this season. He should not be absolved of the 10-run outing he had against the Cardinals on Monday, but he’s held his opposition to one run and 11 hits in the other 17 innings he’s thrown. Even his walk rate – which had hovered near five per nine innings in 2019 – has been nearly trimmed in half.

So far this season, he’s pitched between 85–91 pitches three times (he went shorter in his season debut). Keeping in mind that he didn’t play last season, he averaged 86 pitches per start in 2019, never throwing 100 pitches in a game. In fact, he hasn’t reached triple digits since undergoing Tommy John surgery midseason of 2017.

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Jan
27

You (Can't Be Let) Go, Dan Kolko

When it comes to making decisions about broadcast announcers for professional sports teams in the Washington area, it would seem the majority of owners of these teams are absolutely clueless.

They just don’t understand the bond fans end up having with these announcers. They are the voice you heard that told you everything would be all right when the team was going through a tough streak. They are the voices you rejoice with when the team has a huge win.

They are part of the experience, and to many, part of the family when they turn on the television and watch a game. You can't help but notice when the games are on network television, as it just seems strange without the locals. Those national guys don’t know what the local guys know, they act like they’ve discovered the theory of relativity when someone passes on a tidbit of information on the team, and they quickly become annoying.

Despite this bond, Washington owners seem to view them as interchangeable parts that no one will notice. What the Wizards did in jettisoning long-time announcers Steve Buckhantz and Phil Chenier was awful. Because of their consistent mediocrity, I had lost interest in the Wizards and the NBA, but still watched for years because Buck and Phil were like a comfortable old sweatshirt. They weren’t going to lie to you, but they weren’t going to be blatant homers. They understood the high points and heartbreak of previous season, and sometimes said things just as you were thinking the same.

But then the Wizards decided to make a change for change’s sake. Buck and Phil wanted to be back, but the team went younger and cheaper. My old friends were gone, replaced by two strangers.

I haven’t watched the Wizards since.

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Apr
19

It’s Early, But It's Feeling Like Déjà Vu All Over Again

You may have to get down on your knees and put your ear to the ground to hear it.

But it’s there. A slight, gentle tremor among Washington Nationals fans. A buzz of concern about manager Davey Martinez.

It’s not said aloud because it’s early. Plus he was the manager during the miraculous run to the World Series in 2019. To speak ill of his managing skills would be disrespectful of that.

But it’s there.

Martinez is a loveable guy that everyone would like as a friend and a neighbor. In 2018 he went 82-80, and many of us scratched our heads at times as to how a team that went 97-65 the previous year barely had a winning record with essentially the same amount of talent. The roster changed as it does every year, but you swapped Jayson Werth for Juan Soto, and the team still had Bryce Harper.

Then 2019 came and the same baffling bullpen decisions caused the team to start off 19-31 in the first 50 games. The rumbling about Davey grew louder until the team rallied around him and they somehow made the playoffs. He used starters out of the bullpen at key moments and everyone from superstars to role players came up with timely hits at the right moment. It was one of Washington Sports’ greatest moments as they brought home a World Series.

Last year was an asterisk. The team got off to a slow start, missed the playoffs, and with the COVID pandemic, how could you possibly evaluate the season fairly? If it were a round of golf, it was a mulligan. The 2021 season would be a more reasonable opportunity to tell.

After yesterday’s loss to Arizona, the team is now 5-8. The last two years the team started 19-31. For you math scholars out there, 19 out of 50 is a winning percentage of .38. Winning 5 out of 13 calculates to a winning percentage of .384615. Take that percentage, multiply it times 50 games and round it to the nearest whole number and you get….19-31.

As Yogi Berra once said, it’s looking like Déjà vu all over again.

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Apr
18

Injuries Have Become A Pattern for Nats' Pitching Staff

Since 2019, Dave Martinez’s motto has been “Go 1–0 today.”

The events of this week – and subsequent news this weekend – make a case for the alternative. The Nationals split their most recent four-game series with the Diamondbacks, but that’s of relatively minimal importance right now.

On Saturday, left-handed reliever Luis Avilan was confirmed to have suffered a UCL tear, as a result of back-to-back extended outings on Wednesday and Thursday. Then on Sunday, right-handers Stephen Strasburg (shoulder) and Wander Suero (oblique) were also placed on the 10-day IL.

The Nationals promoted Paolo Espino, who made Strasburg’s previously-scheduled Sunday start, and relievers Kyle McGowin and Ryne Harper to fill those three voids. All three have Major League experience, but none of them are difference makers, nor do they come with much apparent upside.

The Strasburg Situation

I noted in my recap from earlier this week that Strasburg had a rough outing in his last start Tuesday, and that the Nationals took exception to camera shots of the dugout that the Cardinals had access to. However, the team glossed over the fact that Strasburg wasn’t himself physically in that start.

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Apr
17

No Offense, But Nationals Offense Right Now Stinks

Dave Martinez has reached a crossroad.

Most people – myself included – will normally cite his mismanagement of the bullpen when it comes to criticism of the Nats' manager. But his construction of the batting order this season has also seemed rather archaic at times.

Davey doesn’t like to experiment with his lineup unless he has to. The Nationals are 12thin the majors in OPS, but they’re 28th in runs scored per game. If that doesn’t suggest a lineup change is necessary, nothing will.

The old school of thought in baseball was to hit your quickest player leadoff, a good hitter with speed second, your best overall hitter third, the hitter with the most pure power fourth, your next best “RBI guy” fifth, and the rest of your batters in order of ability after that.

Times have changed. There’s data suggesting that the No. 2 hitter across the MLB typically steps up to the plate in the most high-pressure situations, and that the importance of including speed at the top of the lineup is of diminishing importance. That doesn’t even factor in separating same-sided hitters, or who’s most comfortable hitting in each given spot in the lineup.

Davey deserves credit for trying Juan Soto in the No. 2 hole recently. Using Adam Eaton there in the past was often crippling. But there’s still more work to be done.

I’d start at the heart of the lineup. Since Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber’s regular-season debuts – and even during Spring Training – they’ve been hitting directly behind Soto. In some ways, that makes sense, but it’s also not quite ideal. Soto and Schwarber are both left-handed hitters, and Bell is a switch hitter, meaning he’ll normally hit from the left side – since most pitchers are right-handed. Particularly late in games, that gives opposing managers a strategic advantage. If they bring in a left-handed reliever to face them, the production of the trio will become much more limited than they’re otherwise capable of.

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