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Al Galdi’s #ChinMusic Blog: up-and-down Nats take three of four vs Miami, did Nats get jobbed in All-Star selections?, Orioles’ defensive decline and more

1. The Nationals winning three of four against Miami was nice, but a four-game sweep would have been much better.  The Nats entered this series reeling with 21 losses in 30 games and at 42-43 overall.  This series against the lowly Marlins marked the start of an 11-game stretch against bad teams to conclude the pre-All-Star-Break portion of the season.  The Nats now have a three-game series at Pittsburgh followed by a four-game series at the Mets.  The Nats, to me, need to go at least 5-2 over these next seven games to feel better about things going into the break.  An 8-3 run would be nice and shouldn’t be that big of an ask against the Marlins, Pirates and Mets.

2. Did this Nats series against Miami not perfectly capture the Nats’ Jekyll-And-Hyde offense?  It is either great or terrible this season, and we saw that on full display against the Marlins.  The Nats overcame a 9-0 fourth-inning deficit in the 14-12 win over the Marlins on Thursday night for the biggest come-from-behind win since the franchise moved to D.C. prior to the 2005 season.  The Nats in that game had 12 hits and eight walks (including three pinch walks) and went 6-for-11 with runners in scoring position.  Then came the 3-2 win over the Marlins on Friday night, during which the Nats had just eight hits, seven of which were singles.  Then came the Nats’ 18-4 win over the Marlins on Saturday night, as the Nats had 17 hits to go with four walks and went 8-for-10 with runners in scoring position.  But then came the 10-2 loss to the Marlins on Sunday afternoon, during which the Nats had just five hits, struck out 14 times and went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.  The Nats have scored 69 runs over the last 13 games.  49 of the 69 runs have come in just three games.

3. No Nats player better epitomizes the offense this season than Mark Reynolds: he’s either ice cold or white hot.  Reynolds was amazing over the four games against the Marlins, going 8-for-10 with three homers, two doubles, two walks, 11 RBI and six runs.  He was the starting first baseman in the 18-4 win over the Marlins on Saturday night and had 10 RBI, matching the single-game record for the franchise since it moved to D.C.  Reynolds had a first-pitch two-run homer in the bottom of the second, a one-out RBI double in the bottom of the fourth, a one-out two-run single in the Nats’ seven-run fifth, a two-out three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth and a two-out two-run single in the bottom of the seventh.  Reynolds in the 3-2 win over the Marlins on Friday night had a leadoff pinch walk-off homer to left field.  He in the 10-2 loss to the Marlins on Sunday afternoon had a double, a single and a walk as the starting third baseman and then actually recorded a groundout to end the top of the ninth as a pitcher in the blowout loss.  And Reynolds had a pinch walk in the Nats’ five-run sixth in the 14-12 win over the Marlins on Thursday night.  The Nats signed Reynolds to a minor-league deal this past April.  He was sensational initially for the Nats, then struggled big time and now has caught fire again.  And Reynolds is a guy who, when he catches fire, he is scorching.  Orioles fans remember his work over the 2011 and 2012 seasons, during which he combined for 60 homers and a 112 OPS+ for the O’s.  I’ll never forget the tear that Reynolds went on late in that Orioles playoff push in 2012: from Aug. 31 through Sept. 8 of that season, he hit nine homers in nine games, including seven homers against the Yankees.

4. Trea Turner got jobbed in not being named as a National League All-Star on Sunday evening for the 89th MLB All-Star Game at Nationals Park on July 17, although he is one of five candidates for the NL Final Vote.  I get that the NL has some quality shortstops this season in San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford and Colorado’s Trevor Story.  But Turner is having a better season that both of those guys are having, and The Burner continued to kill it as the Nats took three of four over Miami.  Turner went 6-for-13 with two homers and a walk over the first three games, during which he batted in the no. 1 spot, before going 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in the 10-2 loss to the Marlins on Sunday afternoon while batting in the no. 2 spot.  Turner was a monster in the 14-12 win over the Marlins on Thursday night: leadoff homer in the bottom of the fourth, a two-out grand slam on a 1-2 pitch in the Nats’ five-run sixth and a first-pitch two-out two-run single on a 1-2 pitch in the Nats’ four-run seventh.  Turner leads all NL shortstops with 100 hits, is second among qualified NL shortstops with a .355 on-base percentage and is tied for third in the majors with 22 stolen bases.  And then there is Turner’s defense; he entered Sunday with more Defensive Runs Saved this season (nine) than Crawford and Story have combined (seven).

5. Bryce Harper was the lone Nats position player named to the National League All-Star team; good for him, although I didn’t think that he deserved it over, say, the Mets’ Brandon Nimmo or the Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber.  But Bryce is a star, the fans voted him in, the game is at Nationals Park…there certainly are bigger outrages in life.  Bryce continues to draw walks like a beast, as he totaled eight walks over the four games against Miami.  Bryce batted in the no. 4 spot in all four games, serving as the starting right fielder on Thursday night and Saturday night and the starting center fielder on Friday night and Sunday afternoon.  Bryce had two walks in each of the first two games, three singles and an intentional walk in Game 3 and three walks (one of which was intentional) in Game 4.  He went 3-for-10 with eight walks in the series, putting him with a slash line of .218/.374/.472.  His .846 OPS ranks seventh among NL outfielders.

6. Was Anthony Rendon another Nats snub regarding the National League All-Star team?  The problem is that third base is loaded in the NL.  The two third basemen who did make the team, Colorado’s Nolan Arenado and Cincinnati’s Eugenio Suarez, are having monster seasons, to say nothing of guys like the Cubs’ Kris Bryant and St. Louis’ Matt Carpenter.  So I can’t be outraged over Rendon, though the guy is having a good season and in fact leads all qualified Nats with an .858 OPS.  Rendon had a one-out full-count two-run double off being down in the count 1-2 in the Nats’ seven-run fifth in the 18-4 win over Miami on Saturday night and drew two walks in the 3-2 win over the Marlins on Friday night.

7. I was disappointed that Juan Soto did not make the National League Final Vote, although I get that it’s tough for a guy who has just 179 major-league plate appearances this season.  Still, that same guy has a .956 OPS over those 179 plate appearances, and he is a 19-year-old phenom in a sport desperate to draw a younger audience.  Soto remains the Nats’ every-day left fielder, batting in the no. 2 spot in each of the first three games in the series against Miami before moving to the no. 3 spot for Sunday afternoon’s 10-2 loss to the Marlins.  He went 4-for-15 with two doubles and four walks in the series.  Soto in the 14-12 win over the Marlins on Thursday night had a two-out first-pitch two-run double to center field in the Nats’ four-run fifth, a two-out RBI single through the left side of the infield in the Nats’ four-run seventh and a walk.  He in the 18-4 win over the Marlins on Saturday night had a one-out two-run double in the Nats’ five-run seventh and a single.

8. Boy is it nice for the Nats to have “Big City” Matt Adams back from his fractured left index finger suffered on June 15.  He went 7-for-15 with a double and a walk in the series against Miami.  Adams made his return in the 14-12 win over the Marlins on Thursday night and hit the ground running with a double and three singles as the starting first baseman batting in the no. 5 spot.  Adams in the 3-2 win over the Marlins on Friday night had a single as the starting first baseman batting in the no. 5 spot.  He in the 18-4 win over the Marlins on Saturday night had a one-out pinch single in the Nats’ five-run seventh.  And Adams had a single and a walk as the starting first baseman in the 10-2 loss to the Marlins on Sunday afternoon.  Big City has a .935 OPS over 187 plate appearances this season.

9. Daniel Murphy had an RBI single and an RBI sac fly in the Nats’ 10-2 loss to Miami on Sunday afternoon, but he otherwise continues to struggle.  Murphy went 1-for-7 with a walk in the series, not even starting Games 2 and 3.  Wilmer Difo was the starting second baseman in those games, providing a one-out full-count RBI single in the Nats’ two-run fourth and another single in the 3-2 win over the Marlins on Friday night and a single and a walk in the 18-4 win over the Marlins on Saturday night.  Murphy has a mere .495 OPS over 78 plate appearances in 22 games this season off the right-knee microfracture surgery last October.

10. Matt Wieters could return as early as Monday from the left-hamstring injury that required surgery and has had him out since May 10.  Will he be an offensive upgrade over Pedro Severino at catcher?  He has a mere .510 OPS this season, though he did smack a two-out three-run homer in the Nats’ seven-run fifth in the 18-4 win over the Marlins on Saturday night.  Interestingly, though, Dave Martinez was actually critical of Severino on Sunday for his bat flip that followed the homer.  Speaking of the Nats’ catcher situation, how about their trade target of the last few months, Miami’s J.T. Realmuto?  He went 8-for-17 with a homer over the four games at Nationals Park and was named to the National League All-Star team on Sunday with a .919 OPS on the season.

11. The Nats won three of four against Miami despite the starting pitching being really bad.

Tanner Roark in the 10-2 loss to the Marlins on Sunday afternoon struggled for the fifth time in six starts, giving up four runs in four innings on 10 hits, three walks and two hit-by-pitches versus five strikeouts.  He threw 102 pitches over the four innings.  There was an element of bad luck, as all 10 of the hits were singles in a game in which 20 of the Marlins’ 22 hits were singles.  But the bottom line is that Roark’s season continues to fall apart; his ERA for the season has gone from 3.17 to now 4.76 over his last nine games.  The Nats are not getting nearly enough length from starting pitchers not named Max Scherzer right now.

Speaking of Max, he in the 18-4 win over Miami on Saturday night was not at his best, but, of course, he didn’t have to be.  The same guy who saw the Nats get shut out in each of his three losses in June saw the Nats on Saturday night score 18 runs over his seven innings.  Max allowed four runs in his seven innings, giving up three homers, a triple, three singles and two walks.  Two of the homers came in back-to-back fashion with one out in the top of the fourth; the second one was by J.T. Realmuto on an 0-2 slider that was supposed to be out of the strike zone but wasn’t.  Max also had just three strikeouts, marking the second time in three starts that he didn’t rack up strikeouts as he normally does.  But also for Max on Saturday night was another hit; a leadoff single on a 1-2 pitch in the Nats’ seven-run fifth.

Gio Gonzalez struggled in some form for a fifth time in six starts in the 3-2 win over Miami on Friday night, allowing two runs in five innings on eight hits and four walks versus four strikeouts.  To Gio’s credit, he did only allow the two runs, as he gave up a one-out RBI double to Starlin Castro in the top of the third and a one-out bases-loaded walk to Martin Prado in the top of the fifth, which he began by allowing three consecutive singles, including a leadoff single to the Marlins’ starting pitcher, Dan Straily.  And that’s the problem with Gio right now – he’s putting way too many men on base.  Gio now has issued a jaw-dropping 13 walks in 10 innings over his last three starts, during which he also has given up 14 hits.  Gio’s WHIP for the season now is at 1.47, which would be his worst since 2009.  His BB/9 now is at 4.42, which also would be his worst since 2009.

Jeremy Hellickson was horrendous in the 14-12 win over Miami on Thursday night and has not looked good since returning from the 10-day disabled list.  Now, in fairness to him, he was dealing with illness, so whether he should have even made this start certainly can be called into question, as this may be an example of some bad decision making by Dave Martinez.  But still, Hellickson pitched, and he got rocked: nine runs (eight earned) in four innings.  He gave up six runs, all with two outs, in the top of the second, including a three-run homer by Martin Prado off the foul pole in left field for a 7-0 Marlins lead.  Hellickson tossed a scoreless third but then gave up a one-out two-run homer to the George Mason product, Justin Bour, in the top of the fourth for a 9-0 Marlins lead.  This outing was off Hellickson giving up three runs in 4 1/3 innings in the 3-2 loss at the Philadelphia on June 30 on a homer, a triple, three doubles, two singles and two walks.  Hellickson had not  pitched in a major-league game since June 3 due to a right-hamstring strain.  You can’t say that he has fallen off a cliff, but the fear obviously is that a guy who had been so good this season (2.28 ERA and 0.92 WHIP over nine starts) off having been so bad in four of the previous five seasons now is coming back down to earth.

12. The bad starting pitching meant that Nats relievers were leaned on a lot in the series win over Miami.  They combined to allow nine runs in 16 innings.

The damage came in Games 1 and 4.  Kelvin Herrera gave up a three-run homer to the first batter he faced, Brian Anderson, in the top of the eighth in the 14-12 win over the Marlins on Thursday night.  Two of the runs were charged to Justin Miller, who began the inning by giving up a leadoff double to Starlin Castro and then a 10-pitch walk to Derek Dietrich off him having been down in the count 0-2.  And then in the 10-2 loss to the Marlins on Sunday afternoon, Miller gave up two runs in the top of the seventh on four consecutive singles to begin the inning and Ryan Madson gave up four runs in the top of the ninth on two doubles, two singles, two walks and a wild pitch.

Justin Miller, Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle combined for four scoreless innings in the 3-2 win over the Marlins on Friday night.

Shawn Kelley tossed two perfect innings in the 18-4 win over the Marlins on Saturday night.

13. The Orioles are a complete embarrassment.  They fell to a major-league-worst 24-65 – yes, 41 games below .500 – with Sunday afternoon’s 10-1 loss at Minnesota, completing a four-game sweep.  The worst part about all remains the complete lack of direction and total front-office uncertainty for a team that, remember, was trying to contend this season – what’s going on here is not a tank job like with what’s going on with, say, Kansas City, Miami or Cincinnati.

The O’s are atrocious offensively, have had bad starting pitching for years and possess a bullpen that’s overrated.  But maybe the most maddening problem in this nightmare of a season is their defense.  The O’s were a really good defensive team as recently as 2014.  That has completely fallen off over the last few years, and the defense has become amateur hour this season.

Take, for instance, some of what went down in the four-game sweep at the Twins.  Andrew Cashner committed a run-scoring error in failing to catch the ball while running to first base on a throw from Chris Davis off a grounder by the Twins’ no. 9 batter, Bobby Wilson, in the Twins’ two-run first in Thursday night’s 5-2 Orioles loss.  Also in that game was Adam Jones sure seeming to take his time in getting to the ball on Jake Cave’s two-out RBI double to the left-center field gap off Brad Brach (who struggled yet again) in the bottom of the eighth.  Cave killed the O’s in this series.  The guy made one terrific defensive play after another, including robbing Chris Davis of a potential home run to center field in the top of the fourth of that game on Thursday night and robbing Tim Beckham of a home run to center field on the first pitch of the 6-2 loss at the Twins on Friday night.

Speaking of that game and of Beckham, his struggles at third base continued on Friday night, as he committed a fielding error during the Twins’ three-run first, failing to catch a one-hop throw from left fielder Trey Mancini on Brian Dozier’s RBI single, allowing Eddie Rosario to score for a 2-0 Twins lead and allowing Dozier to advance to third.  But it’s not just errors on which Beckham’s defensive struggles this season have been apparent.  Go back to something like the Orioles’ 6-2 loss to the Angels on June 30.  Mychal Givens and Tanner Scott in that game combined to allow five runs in the top of the eighth.  That inning featured an RBI forceout that came on a bases-loaded grounder by Chris Young to Beckham at third base.  Beckham stepped on third for the forceout of Albert Pujols but then double-clutched made an errant throw to first base, pulling Chris Davis off the bag to prevent the double play for the third out.  The Angels scored four more runs in that inning thanks to that play, which doesn’t go down as an “error” but is a classic example of bad defense killing the O’s this season.

What has happened with the O’s at third base this season really is something.  I have said that Manny Machado’s move from third base, where he was really good, to shortstop has been to the detriment of the ballclub.  I stand by that, and I don’t know how you argue otherwise.  Do you know what Machado’s Defensive Runs Saved total was as of Sunday morning?  -19.  That’s terrible.  And he had a throwing error in that 10-1 loss at the Twins on Sunday afternoon.  Even if you don’t fully buy into the defensive metrics (and they are flawed), you can’t just ignore a number like -19 Defensive Runs Saved and say that Machado’s move to third hasn’t hurt the O’s, who, oh by the way, were dead last in the majors by miles with -83 Defensive Runs Saved through games on Saturday.

 

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