1. This was a costly weekend for the Nationals. Their three-game sweep at Toronto combined with Atlanta winning three of four over San Diego left the Nats 3.5 games behind the National League East-leading Braves and just a half game ahead of Philadelphia for third, as the Phillies won two of three at NL Central-leading Milwaukee. But the other way in which the Nats’ three-game sweep at the Blue Jays was costly was in suffering another key injury. “Big City” Matt Adams left Friday night’s 6-5 loss at Toronto in the third inning after a pitch hit his left index finger on a bunt attempt in the top of the second and did not play the rest of the series. Adams easily has been the Nats’ most pleasant offensive surprise this season, having a posted a .926 OPS over 171 plate appearances and having played a ton with Ryan Zimmerman having not played since May 9 due t a right oblique strain. And Adams has done what he has done under the terms of a mere one-year, $4 million contract.
A consequence of the Adams injury was Daniel Murphy having to play the field sooner than he was supposed to. Murphy had an RBI single in the top of the eighth as the Nats’ DH in the 6-5 loss at Toronto on Friday night but then was the Nats’ starting first baseman in the final two games of the three-game sweep due to the Adams injured left index finger. Murphy went 0-for-4 in the 2-0 loss on Saturday but did have a one-out RBI single in the top of the third of the 8-6 loss on Sunday afternoon off having been down in the count 1-2.
2. What is up with Bryce Harper? He went 1-for-12 with one walk versus six strikeouts on the series, dropping his batting average for the season to .217 and his OPS for the season to .834 off it having been at 1.073 off his two-homer performance in the 7-3 win over Philadelphia on May 4 – that’s a 239-point decline.
Bryce did have a single, a walk and a stolen base as the starting center fielder in the 6-5 loss at the Blue Jays on Friday night. But he then went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts as the starting right fielder in the 2-0 loss at the Blue Jays on Saturday, including striking out looking with Trea Turner on second and two outs in the top of the sixth and then striking out looking with Turner on first and two outs in the top of the eighth. This game was brutal offensively for the Nats, as they had just three hits and three walks in getting dominated by Marco Estrada (6 2/3 scoreless innings), who was actually taken by the Nats in the sixth round of the 2005 draft and pitched for the team a bit at the major-league level in 2008 and 2009. And Bryce went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts as the Nats’ DH in the 8-6 loss at the Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon, including getting down 0-2 and then flying out with the bases loaded with the game tied at six to end the top of the eighth.
I tweeted on Friday and talked on Chin Music with Al Galdi on Saturday about how the Nats should seriously consider throwing their $300+ million this offseason not at Bryce but at the Orioles’ Manny Machado. A big part of this is the Nats being loaded with outfielders. But another big part of this is the extent to which Machado simply has been better and actually more durable than Bryce. Bryce’s 2015 is better than any season that Machado has had. But Machado’s 2013, 2016 and 2018 seasons all blow away/are blowing away Bryce’s. Compare each guy’s slash line right now. Bryce’s is .217/.355/.479. Machado’s is .310/.377/.567.
3. Anthony Rendon had one of his better offensive series of the season in the three-game sweep at Toronto, going 5-for-11 with two walks. He in the 6-5 loss at the Blue Jays on Friday night had a double, a two-out full-count RBI single in the top of the first and another single. Rendon had two walks in the 2-0 loss at the Blue Jays on Saturday and a double and a single in the 8-6 loss at the Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon. Rendon has been pretty good this season (.787 OPS) but has yet to truly catch fire as we know he can.
4. Michael A. Taylor had three singles and went 4-for-4 on stolen bases in the Nats’ 8-6 loss at Toronto on Sunday afternoon. For all that has been made of the Nats’ being bad on the base paths this season (and, yes, ya hated seeing Wilmer Difo get tagged out at third on Adam Eaton’s two-out pinch game-tying RBI double in the top of the sixth on Sunday, during which Daniel Murphy got thrown out at second on his one-out RBI single in the top of the third), Taylor and Trea Turner are a combined 41-for-46 (89.13 percent) on stolen bases this season. That’s phenomenal. Taylor also had two singles in the 2-0 loss at the Blue Jays on Saturday.
5. Your Juan Soto update: he was the starting left fielder in all three games of the Nats’ three-game sweep at Toronto. He had a double in the 6-5 loss at the Blue Jays on Friday night and a single in the 8-6 loss at the Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon but also went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the 2-0 loss at the Blue Jays on Saturday, including striking out against ex-Nat Tyler Clippard to end the game.
6. Pedro Severino had a two-out RBI single in the top of the second of the Nats’ 6-5 loss at Toronto on Friday night and drew a four-pitch walk in the top of the eighth in the 8-6 loss at the Blue on Sunday afternoon, but he overall has struggled offensively (.551 OPS). Nats catchers as a whole have been terrible offensively again this season, ranking dead last in the National League in OPS at .578. With that in mind, it was hard to ignore what was happening at Oriole Park at Camden Yards during the Nats’ 2-0 loss at the Blue Jays on Saturday. Miami catcher J.T. Realmuto, who the Nats pursued this past offseason, had a two-run homer, a solo homer and an RBI single off Alex Cobb in a 5-4 Marlins win at the O’s. Realmuto has an .895 OPS this season. The Marlins wanted Juan Soto or Victor Robles for Realmuto this past offseason. No way would I do that. That said, ya gotta wonder what Mike Rizzo might be willing to give up for Realmuto if Severino’s struggles continue.
7. Tanner Roark had his worst start of the season in the 8-6 loss at Toronto on Sunday afternoon, allowing four runs in four innings on eight hits, two walks and a hit-by-pitch. He gave up a two-out first-pitch solo homer to Randal Grichuk on a rocket to left field in the bottom of the second, allowed five consecutive batters to reach base with two outs in the Blue Jays’ two-run third (including giving up a first-pitch RBI double to Kevin Pillar and a bases-loaded walk to Grichuk) and gave up a two-out RBI single to Kendrys Morales on an 0-2 pitch in the bottom of the fourth.
8. Max Scherzer was a hard-luck loser in a 2-0 game for a second straight start in the 2-0 loss at Toronto on Saturday. He allowed two runs in six innings on 10 strikeouts versus four hits, a walk and a hit-by-pitch. The lone major booboo was giving up a one-out two-run homer to Devon Travis in the bottom of the fifth. Otherwise, Max was really good yet again, throwing 75 of his 108 pitches for strikes. Max now is 0-2 over his last two starts despite having allowed just four runs in 13 innings with 19 strikeouts versus eight hits and four walks. One more time, this is why you should almost never pay attention to pitchers’ won-loss records.
9. Gio Gonzalez’s two worst starts this season now have been his last two starts, although there was certainly some bad luck involved in what went down in his latest outing. He in the 6-5 loss at Toronto on Friday night allowed five runs in six innings on two homers, four doubles, three singles and two walks versus just three strikeouts. Gio threw just 57 of his 104 pitches for strikes. It’s funny, because five of Gio’s first six innings were scoreless innings. But he allowed three runs in the bottom of the third on a first-pitch two-run homer to Devon Travis and a two-out solo homer to Yangervis Solarte. And Gio was charged with two runs in the bottom of the seventh, which he began by giving up a single to Travis and a full-count ground-rule double to Teoscar Hernandez, though that hit was the result of a fly ball that Adam Eaton lost in right field, and then Justin Miller allowed an RBI sac fly to Justin Smoak and then a one-out two-run homer to Solarte. Gio now has allowed nine runs in 9 1/3 innings on 15 hits and six walks over his last two starts.
10. The Nats’ resurgent bullpen struggled in the three-game sweep at Toronto, giving up five runs in eight innings.
Did the Justin Miller carriage just turn back into a pumpkin? He entered the series having tossed 10 2/3 scoreless innings on 21 strikeouts versus no walks. But Miller in Friday night’s 6-5 loss at the Blue Jays gave up a tie-breaking RBI sac fly to the first batter he faced, Justin Smoak, in the bottom of the seventh and then allowed the big blow to the next batter: a one-out two-run homer by Yangervis Solarte on a 3-1 pitch. And Miller in Sunday afternoon’s 8-6 loss at the Blue Jays allowed a tie-breaking run in the bottom of the seventh on a leadoff single by Kevin Pillar and a one-out RBI single by Randal Grichuk despite him having been down in the count 1-2.
Ryan Madson had not allowed a home run since June 4, 2017, when he gave up a homer, believe it or not, to the Nats’ Ryan Zimmerman. And so it made perfect sense that Madson gave up back-to-back homers in the bottom of the eighth in the 8-6 loss at the Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon: a one-out solo homer by Teoscar Hernandez followed by a home run by Yangervis Solarte.
Shawn Kelley tossed a perfect eighth inning in the 6-5 loss at the Blue Jays on Friday night but gave up a one-out solo homer to Randal Grichuk on a blast to left field in the bottom of the fifth in the 8-6 loss at the Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon.
Wander Suero tossed two scoreless innings in the 2-0 loss at the Blue Jays on Saturday.
11. Things keep going from horrendous to even more horrendous for the Orioles. The man who has been easily the team’s best reliever this season, Richard Bleier, now is done for the season, as he confirmed to reporters prior to Saturday’s 5-4 loss to Miami that he will undergo surgery to repair a Grade 3 tear in his left lat. Bleier has a 1.93 ERA over 32 2/3 innings this season. He as of Sunday morning was actually tied with Dylan Bundy for best bWAR among Orioles pitchers this season at 1.7. And his injury does more than just make a terrible Orioles team even worse. Bleier was a definite trade chip for the O’s once they finally start unloading. The O’s dealing him this season now is out the window.
12. We had breaking Orioles news on Friday night, as MLB insider Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the O’s had interviewed former Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti for an executive position and that the O’s also were believed to be interviewing others. The Orioles’ current executive vice president of baseball operations, Dan Duquette, told BaltimoreBaseball.com on Saturday, “My understanding is it’s not true.”
Look, Duquette is as good as gone, that has been abundantly clear for a while. He wanted to leave the O’s after the 2014 season but was denied permission by Peter Angelos. That combined with Duquette’s lukewarm-at-best relationship with Buck Showalter, the Orioles’ farm system especially from a pitching standpoint having continued to be woeful under Duquette’s watch and a number of bad trades and free-agent signings by Duquette in recent years have had the writing on the wall for his departure for a while.
Duquette ultimately will have a very mixed legacy with the O’s; we can talk about that another time. My immediate reaction, though, to the O’s having interviewed Colletti was that while Ned is certainly competent, I would much rather the O’s hire the next big thing as opposed to a previously good thing to run their front office. The undeniable trend in baseball is teams hiring sabermetrically-inclined driven guys in their 30s and even 20s for high-profile front-office positions. Think Philadelphia Phillies vice president and general manager Matt Klentak. Think Milwaukee Brewers GM David Stearns. Think Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi. These are young or relatively young guys who are bright, innovative and progressive. That’s what the O’s desperately need.
13. Whoever is the next guy running the Orioles, please oh pretty please can that guy get the team off its fixation – heck, obsession – with the Rule 5 draft?
The Rule 5 draft takes place each December on the last day of the MLB Winter Meetings. Teams can select players from other teams’ minor-league systems via inverse order of the previous year’s standings. The players eligible for the Rule 5 draft are those players not on their teams’ 40-man rosters and those players who have spent four or five years in the minors, depending on whether the players were signed after or before the age of 19.
The O’s, for a variety of reasons, have made a number of picks in Rule 5 drafts during the Dan Duquette Era. A big part of this is because Peter Angelos inexplicably has refused to spend legitimate money on international prospects; this is one of the biggest reasons for why the O’s are where they are. But another part of the Orioles’ incessant usage of the Rule 5 draft is that their farm system has become an embarrassment, especially from a pitching standpoint. And that’s on Duquette.
There’s a significant catch to taking a player in the Rule 5 draft. A team that selects a player in the Rule 5 Draft pays $50,000 to the team from which he was selected. But that’s not the significant catch. The significant catch is that the receiving team must then keep the player on the major-league 25-man roster for the entirety of the next season, and the selected player must remain active (not on the disabled list) for a minimum of 90 days. If the player does not remain on the major-league 25-man roster, he is offered back to the team from which he was selected for $25,000. If his original team declines, the receiving team may waive the player.
And so because the O’s have been so insistent on using the Rule 5 draft as a tool for roster construction, they have been saddled with multiple players on 25-man rosters in recent years who were albatrosses. Jason Garcia in 2015. Anthony Santander in 2017 and 2018. And how about this year? The O’s had not one, not two, but three pitchers from the Rule 5 draft in spring training in Pedro Araujo, Nestor Cortes Jr. and Jose Mesa Jr. Mesa was designated for assignment on March 21. But Araujo and Cortes made the team. What happened? Cortes was atrocious in 4 2/3 innings over four games (10 hits, including two homers, and four walks) and was DFAd on April 10. Araujo has a 7.71 ERA over 28 innings, during which he has allowed a jaw-dropping nine home runs. He was placed on the 10-day disabled list on June 11 with a right-elbow sprain. The Araujo situation has been so bad that MASN’s Gary Thorne and Mike Bordick sounded off on the absurdity of Araujo being on the team on June 10 during a 13-3 loss at Toronto, a game in which he gave up four runs on two homers, a double, a single and two walks in one official inning of work while throwing just 13 of 31 pitches for strikes.
If you’re wondering, “Well, haven’t the O’s hit on some Rule 5 picks over the years?”, the answer is, “Not enough to where the fixation with the draft is worth it.” Ryan Flaherty, T.J. McFarland and Joey Rickard. Those are the closest things to “hits” in the Rule 5 draft for the O’s during the Duquette Era, and I wouldn’t even qualify McFarland and Rickard as “hits.” I have gotten a kick out of some, including some in the Orioles’ fan-boy media, defending the team’s love affair with the Rule 5 draft. These people always go back to Flaherty. OK, great, you got a versatile utility guy for six seasons, though he was all glove and no bat. How the heck does that make all of these other picks and wasted roster spots worth it?
It seems as if Duquette is as good as gone after this season if not sooner. Buck may be too. Each guy is in the final season of a contract extension signed in Jan 2013. Whoever is the next guy running baseball operations for the O’s, the reliance on the Rule 5 draft and the propping up of it as some ultra-valuable means of acquiring talent has got to stop. There is zero replacement for quality drafting and player development. The O’s under Duquette (and Buck) have failed miserably in those areas, which makes the team’s playoff appearances in 2012, 2014 and 2016 all the more impressive.