Monday, August 24, 2015

We Are All Phillies/Red Sox Fans This Week

Two series wins in a row. Of course, sweeps would be nice, but series wins are good nonetheless. If Jayson Werth doesn’t have concrete shoes/takes half decent routes to two fly balls, it could have been a sweep for the Nationals. But, after the Mets swept the Rockies in Denver, it leaves the Nationals 5 games out of first and 22.8% playoff odds via FanGraphs. The race isn’t over, but it’s getting late in the game to make a move.

It’s nice to see Danny Espinosa getting some consistent playing time even it comes on the heels of Yunel Escobar’s face plant into the stands. He’s gone hitless only once in the last 5 games he has started, chipping in three doubles, 5 RBI, and one stolen base. With Escobar out of the lineup, the Nationals lose his .300 batting average, but the drop off to Espinosa offensively isn’t so steep. Plus, shifting Rendon over to third base and dropping Espinosa in at second gives the infield defense a big boost.

Speaking of defense, we really can’t overlook Jayson Werth’s miscues in the outfield. In the loss against the Brewers on Friday, he started in on a ball just over his head and couldn’t recover. I’m sure I wasn’t the only Little Leaguer to be told to take a first step back on balls hit at you in the outfield. There’s really no excuse for that one. Later in the game, a double got hit off the wall in left center. FP and Bob Carpenter didn’t call him out on that, but I have to think a decent defender at least makes a play on the ball. Instead, Werth over-jogged where the ball landed and had to back track to get the ricochet. A decent route with a good break on the ball could have given Werth a chance to make a play on that ball. Those two plays weren’t technically the difference in the game, but had they been outs instead of extra base hits it’s hard to say where the game could have ended up. Now, Werth’s bat has started to pick up since moving into the leadoff position, failing to get on base only once in the last 6 games. However, the Nationals will have a tough decision facing them as Denard Span works his way back to the big league squad.

Span will step back into the leadoff role when he returns, meaning the Nationals will finally have a leadoff hitter with an OBP over .300. He will play centerfield, meaning Taylor is likely relegated to bench status. Except Taylor has been playing well and offers great defense in the outfield. I think Matt Williams needs to be willing to take a chance here and at least give Werth a couple days off each week and allow Taylor to start in left. Now, Taylor has a lot of swing and miss to his game, there is no doubt about that. But he has a lot of pop (see his nearly 500 foot homerun from the Rockies series) and with Taylor, Span, Harper in the outfield, you won’t see a lot of fly balls drop in for base hits. A run saved is a run scored as Ben Franklin would say.

Coming up this week for the Nationals, after a day off tonight, are the Padres. The Nationals again face the opponent’s top of the rotation starters as we get a Strasburg/Shields matchup followed by a Scherzer/Tyson Ross matchup and Gonzalez/Cashner game to close out the series. James Shields is still having an above average year, with an ERA just under 4 and a FIP just over 4. He has been prone to the dinger this year as he is allowing over one home run per nine innings pitched. Tyson Ross has been the Padres best pitcher this year, with a 3.32 ERA and 2.92 FIP. Finally, Andrew Cashner is also having a solid year with an ERA and FIP hovering around 4. One thing to keep an eye on, the Padres defense has been subpar at best this year, with a team DRS (Defense Runs Saved) of -10. While their pitchers have been able to hold their own, they have often been let down by their defense.

The week ends for the Nationals with a three game set against the Marlins. The Nationals don’t face much opposition from the Marlins pitching. With Jose Fernandez again on the DL (with a biceps injury), the Marlins rotation might strike some fear into the Little League World Series squads, but not a major league lineup. If you are looking for the Nationals to sweep, this would be the series to do it.

The Mets swept the Rockies over the weekend, with scores that more resembled football games than baseball games. As we only just saw, though, Coors Field does strange things to baseballs, so don’t get too worked up about the Mets dropping double digit runs in multiple games. In other news, the Mets get star third baseman David Wright back today. He had to overcome a scary back condition this year, so it’s hard to say what exactly he will look like upon returning to play. The Mets wrap up their road trip with 4 games at the Phillies starting tonight. They have already implemented their 6 man rotation this week, so keep an eye on the starters to see how they take to their new routine. That series is followed by three games in New York versus the reeling Red Sox. Neither the Phillies nor the Red Sox offer much in the way of starting pitching, but the Mets will have to face a couple of young guys fighting for jobs in 2016. Despite the recent offensive outburst in Colorado, I’m still not sold on the Mets ability to score runs on a consistent basis. That may change after this week, but they will have to prove it to me.

What’s a realistic expectation for the week? The Nationals can’t lose more than two games. Taking a 2-1 series win versus the Padres and a 3 game sweep of the Marlins would be a realistic goal. We have to hope that the Mets drop two or three games this week, allowing the Nationals to creep ever closer to the first place spot approaching the huge head to head series with the Mets in DC September 7-9.

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