Getting to know the Nationals in the AFL: Tony Renda

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by Kyle Brostowitz 

The Arizona Fall League is known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Over the course of the fall season, we will give readers a chance to get to know the players representing the Nationals as members of the Mesa Solar Sox.

Renda_TonyFirst up is infielder Tony Renda (2nd round, 2012, Cal Berkeley).

Renda turned in his second straight All-Star-caliber minor league season in 2014, leading the Carolina League and ranking third among Nationals Farmhands with a .307 batting average. He added 21 doubles, four triples, 47 RBI, 43 walks, 19 stolen bases and 75 runs scored (4th in the Carolina League) en route to being named a Carolina League post-season All Star.

In 2013, Renda earned South Atlantic League All-Star honors, in addition to being named the inaugural recipient of the Nationals’ “Bob Boone Award.”

Renda is hitting .226 (12-for-53) with a .250 on-base percentage and a .321 slugging percentage. He’s clubbed three doubles, one triple, driven in seven runs, scored eight, walked twice and stolen one base in 56 plate appearances in the AFL. He was recently selected to the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game on Saturday, November 1st at 8 p.m. ET. The game will be nationally televised by MLB Network and online via MLB.com with Paul Severino (play-by-play), Joe Magrane (game analyst) and John Manuel (game analyst) on the call.

We recently caught up with Tony and asked him about his experience in the AFL.

How are things going so far?

It’s been a really good experience so far. We get to play against the best talent in the game of baseball. We face top-notch pitchers every day. It has been a challenge, but it’s been great. Together, we’re grinding every day, working hard and trying to stay consistent.

How does it feel to put on the Nationals uniform every day?

It’s awesome. We are all fired up to see those jerseys hanging in our lockers every day. It’s great, but the ultimate goal is to put that jersey on in DC. For right now it’ll do, but our mission isn’t over. We want to wear it in Nationals Park.

What have you/are you going to use the AFL to work on? What are your goals?

I am using the AFL to get ready for the next level and prepare me to make the jump to Double-A next year.  Getting to face top-notch pitching every day is going to prepare me for that. My swing was long when I got here, and you can’t be long vs. high velocity, which is pretty much every guy here.

You have to lay off the bad pitches and go after the good ones. I want to just stay consistent in my at-bats and approach and prepare myself the best I can to compete next year.

How have you been adjusting to the “pace of play” rules that are being implemented in the AFL?

I haven’t really had to adjust much. At first, you’re confused. ‘When does the clock start? When do I get into box? Oh no…the pitch clock is running down, c’mon throw the ball.’ Eventually I ignored it and didn’t end up changing anything. I never felt rushed. Eventually it was like, ‘There’s a clock, who cares.’ As a team, our pace of play is quick enough. Get the ball, get in the box, throw pitch. You learn to ignore it.

What has it been like getting to know your Mesa teammates/the other top prospects in the game?

It’s been awesome. We have a really good group of guys. Through our teammates, we get to learn about other organizations, about what they teach, what they stress, things like that. It has been fun getting to know new players and where they came from.

It’s funny. We’re on a team with players from the Oakland A’s and two players, Dakota Bacus and John Wooten came (to the Nationals) from the A’s via trade. I played with Bacus and Wooten in Potomac this year, so we have been trading stories about those guys. I remember some guys from playing against them in college. The baseball world is a small world, man. Everyone will eventually know everyone, somehow.

What have you done on your off days?

Relax. We stay in Scottsdale, and our complex is very nice. It has a pool so we’ve been laying by the pool a lot. We’ve golfed a little bit. Ask Derek Self about the last time he and I played golf. Crushed him.

Coming off Potomac’s championship season, to Instructional League and now to the AFL, have you been able to slow down and take in everything from this season, appreciate what you accomplished both individually and as a team?    

Not yet. I’m in season mode still. I haven’t had a chance to take a breath quite yet. I know I will appreciate it when we finish here and I can go home and relax. I’ll take about a week off and get back into offseason work and hit it pretty hard before Spring Training. I think it will hit me then.

Renda_Tony_actionWhat was your favorite moment from this year’s championship season?

Wow, there are too many to have just one. That whole championship series (has to be up there). We lost the first game, but it was nothing to us. We knew we had the team to win it. We came back out the next day and let them know we were here and weren’t going to roll over.

To win the next two, man, the feeling you get when the last out is recorded, it’s a hard feeling to explain. It’s so amazing. We’ve got a great Minor League system and the success that all the teams had has, and will continue to, paid off at the Major League level, I think. The feeling of champagne down your back never gets old.

There are so many talented players in the AFL, including fellow Nationals Farmhands. Do you pick the brains of other prospects on your team and from around the league?

A little bit. I’m not one to talk to people about their approach. I’m more of a watch, observe, see how you go about your business type of person. I think you can learn a lot by just observing.

Your Manager down there, Mike Mordecai, is a former big leaguer and World Champion. Like you, he played mainly infield over his 12-year career. What have you learned from him in your short time in the AFL?

Mordey has a lot of baseball knowledge. He sees things that others take for granted. He brings it to your attention and you’re like, ‘Hey you’re right, I should do that. You know what you’re talking about.’ Early in the Fall League, we went out to second base and worked on pivots and footwork. I really picked his brain on that. What he is teaching me adds to what I learn from (Nationals Infield Coordinator) Jeff Garber. I know that Garbs has us so locked in on the infield. He’s amazing. We have our routines and routes and he has us so well prepared to play. There isn’t really much that other people can give us, but Mordey is good at giving us little things that we can add on to what we already have learned from the coaches in our organization.

Arizona Fall League: Midseason update

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by Mike Feigen

With 19 of the Mesa Solar Sox’s 30 games complete in the Arizona Fall League season, each of the seven representatives of the Washington Nationals has thrown at least eight innings or come to the plate at least 25 times during the top prospect “finishing school.”

farm graphicAmong the standouts thus far are a pair of catchers with intriguing skill sets. Spencer Kieboom, the Nationals’ fifth-round selection in 2012 out of Clemson University, hit .309/.352/.500 with nine home runs for Single-A Hagerstown  in 2014, brandishing his credentials as one of the top offensive catchers in the organization. Meanwhile, 21-year-old backstop Pedro Severino — who has one of the top defensive reputations in the Minors — led the Potomac Nationals to a Carolina League title. He also blasted nine homers during the 2014 campaign.

Former third-round pick Tony Renda earned the club’s selection for the annual Fall Stars Game, which will be televised live on MLB Network on Saturday, Nov. 1 at 8 p.m. ET from Scottsdale, Arizona.

Here’s a rundown of how the Nationals’ prospects have done in the AFL to this point:

MATT GRACE | LHP | 6-4 210 | 12.14.88

8.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 8 SO, 3.38 ERA, 1.375 WHIP

After a bit of a slow start, Grace has turned in excellent numbers in his last four appearances for the Solar Sox. During that time he has fired 4.2 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits while striking out three. The big southpaw has found success against hitters from both sides of the plate, holding righties to just two hits in 13 at-bats.

NEIL HOLLAND | RHP | 6-0 190 | 8.14.88

8.0 IP, 13 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 4 BB, 4 SO, 10.13 ERA, 2.125 WHIP

Though Holland has struggled in the hitter-friendly Fall League, his excellent contributions over the course of the regular season earned him plaudits within the Nationals organization. The side-arm throwing right-hander was a midseason All-Star in the Double-A Eastern League and finished the season with a 0.59 ERA in his final nine appearances of the year.

SPENCER KIEBOOM | C | 6-0 220 | 3.16.91

.400/.440/.650 (8-for-20), 2 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 R, 3 BB in 25 PA

In limited playing time, the right-handed hitting Kieboom has flashed the type of offensive potential that makes him one of the Nationals’ top prospects. He has three multi-hit games in six starts behind the plate, and powered a three-run home run in the eighth inning on October 16 to clinch a 6-2 Mesa victory.

TONY RENDA | IF | 5-8 180 | 1.24.91

.226/.250/.321 (12-for-53), 3 2B, 1 3B, 7 RBI, 8 R, 2 BB, 1 SB in 56 PA

Renda is currently riding a nine-game hitting streak (12-for-37) after starting the AFL season 0-for-16 in his first five games. The former Cal-Berkeley standout received the Washington Nationals inaugural  “Bob Boone Award,” in 2013, which is given to the farmhand who best exhibits professionalism, leadership, loyalty, passion, selflessness, durability, determination, and work ethic required to play the game the “Nationals Way.”

FELIPE RIVERO | LHP | 6-2 196 | 7.5.91

13.0 IP, 17 H, 14 R, 13 ER, 7 BB, 8 SO, 9.00 ERA, 1.846 WHIP

Best known by Nationals fans as one of the players acquired in the deal that brought Jose Lobaton to Washington, Rivero has a live arm and the potential to develop into either a starter or reliever at the next level. In his four Fall League starts, Rivero has allowed no runs and one hit in the first inning of those contests.

DEREK SELF | RHP | 6-3 205 | 1.14.90

10.0 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO, 0.90 ERA, 1.100 WHIP

After splitting time between Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg in 2014, the right-handed reliever has continued his success in the Arizona Fall League. Since allowing a solo home run in his first appearance on October 7, Self has been lights out since, completing eight scoreless frames. The Kentucky native was the Nationals’ ninth-round pick in the 2012 draft.

PEDRO SEVERINO | C | 6-1 180 | 7.20.93

.280/.321/.360 (7-for-25), 1 3B, 3 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, in 28 PA

The aforementioned Severino, a highly-touted youngster out of the Dominican Republic, may be on the fast track to the Majors thanks to his elite glove work. He has also demonstrated improved bat control, including a four-hit game on October 22 during a rout of the Scottsdale Scorpions. The youngster won’t turn 22 until July, but could catch at the Double-A level in 2015.

For more information on the Arizona Fall League, stay tuned to Curly W Live or visit MLBFallBall.com.

Nationals Magazine: A Numbers Game

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A version of this story first appeared in the Washington Nationals’ 2014 Yearbook. Visit nationals.com/publications to find out how you can subscribe to all Nationals publications.

by Amanda Comak

The Nationals’ Baseball Research & Development department, utilizing the latest technology, statistics and advanced analysis, drives the organization to forge a new, smarter way forward. 

bbops guysLeaning on the dugout railing at Arizona’s Chase Field in mid-May, Phil Rizzo gazed at the Washington Nationals as they took batting practice. He talked ball with those nearest to him, sharing some of his observations about the team his son — Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo — had built, and the first six weeks of their season.

At one point, Sam Mondry-Cohen, the Nationals’ Director of Baseball Research & Development, joined the small gathering.

Phil Rizzo, a baseball lifer who’s spent more of his 84 years evaluating ballplayers than he has doing pretty much anything else, lit up.

“This is the smartest guy around,” Rizzo said, smiling and reaching to throw an arm around Mondry-Cohen.

Much like his father, Mike Rizzo is a scout at his core. What his eyes tell him — what his experience tells him — will often be the trump card when he makes decisions to guide the organization, now and in the future.

But there is another side of that decision-making process and it involves more than just the eyes. The Nationals have taken a proactive approach to incorporating data analysis into their evaluations, and their three-man analyst team — led by Assistant GM & Director of Baseball Operations Adam Cromie, and filled out by Mondry-Cohen and Manager of Baseball Research & Development Michael Debartolo — plays an integral role in how the organization operates.

And as the scene between the elder Rizzo and the 26-year-old Mondry-Cohen so aptly illustrated, they’re also welcome additions at the table.

“Mike embraces what we do,” Cromie said. “He asks good questions and he puts us in a place where we’re central to a lot of the decisions (the team) makes. Other people in the organization see that and that helps lend us credibility.

“I think one of the things Mike really embraces about the way that we look at the game is that there’s a definitive line of reasoning with everything we do. We’re pointing to evidence, almost exclusively. I think there’s something, by nature, which lends credibility to that.”

●●

Cromie studied economics at Allegheny College, while playing Division III football, before pursuing his masters in Sports Management from the University of Massachusetts. He came to the Nationals after working for Baseball Info Solutions as a video scout and analyst, spending time employed by an agent, and interning for the Washington Wild Things in the Frontier League.

When he began working for the Nationals, there wasn’t much of an analytics department to speak of.

“(When I first got here) it was just Adam,” said Mondry-Cohen, who joined the Nationals as an intern while studying English at the University of Pennsylvania. “He was the only one whose job was really dedicated to working with data, whereas now I think that’s part of all three of our jobs, and the majority of my job and Mike (DeBartolo’s).”

The son of a high school math teacher, Mondry-Cohen had two main interests as a kid: baseball and numbers. Living what he calls “a very charmed baseball life,” Mondry-Cohen worked as a batboy in the visiting clubhouse in San Francisco and he’d see the teams that would come in to play the Giants up-close-and-personal.

“The way I followed the game was the numbers of the game,” Mondry-Cohen explained. “That kind of coincided with the explosion of baseball blogs and baseball research published online. I was just a big fan and that was the way I followed the game.”

With Mondry-Cohen aboard full-time upon his graduation, Cromie’s role expanded to encompass more than data analysis. Cromie is now involved in every player personnel move the team makes.

“When I first started, I was doing analysis and research,” Cromie said. “As we started to build tools and analytical systems, it started to give me time to do other things. Then I hired Sam, Sam hired Mike, and we’ve got a lot of consultants we work with now.”

In 2012, after four years at an investment consulting firm and in the midst of completing his MBA at Columbia University, DeBartolo joined the organization as an intern.

An economics major at Tufts University, DeBartolo grew up in baseball-mad Boston following the Red Sox — and noticing as their front office personnel began to shift.

“It was around the time that some executives with non-traditional backgrounds were getting into the game,” said DeBartolo, who was hired full-time by the Nationals in November of 2013. “And that was always kind of a dream of mine.”

DeBartolo’s addition gave the group yet another mind from which to draw, and to divide up a workload that has only continued to increase.

“I think the tasks that we do as an analytics group fall into three categories,” Cromie said. “There are broad strategic issues, ad-hoc projects and general research.

“We have a lot of input on the broad strategy we adopt as a team on almost every level: how do we want to spend resources? Where do we want to spend resources? I think a lot of that falls out of how competitive we think we are, and one of our strengths is being able to analyze that.”

●●

What separates the Nationals’ analytics team from, say, the fan who accesses advanced statistics in myriad places online, is the information they have to complement those numbers. In truth, it may actually be the other way around: the statistics complement the wealth of internal information the organization gathers.

“We’d call it a process-driven box score,” Cromie said.

Across the organization — including Minor League affiliates — the Nationals have installed tracking systems that measure everything from the traditional PITCHf/x information (utilized by live game trackers like MLB.com’s At-Bat app to plot balls and strikes) as well as a radar technology called TrackMan.

“That gives us data that’s not available in a box score,” Mondry-Cohen said. “Some of it a scout could pick up with a radar gun, like pitch velocity, but one thing they can’t get is the exit velocity of a hit ball. We know what some of the hardest-hit balls were, and whether or not they turned into hits.”

The technology goes deeper still.

At all levels of their system, including the Major Leagues, the Nationals can evaluate a pitcher’s release point in three dimensions throughout the game to note changes, like how the rotation of their pitches or velocity was affected when they altered their release point.

Used in conjunction with other internal information, like medical reports from the team’s training staff, the group can put together a far more accurate analysis of the data than someone operating off the numbers alone. That the Nationals have access to all of it exemplifies the organization’s interest in the information.

“It costs a lot to install these technologies at these affiliates,” Mondry-Cohen said. “And that’s not something we had five or six years ago. That’s something ownership has invested in. The only reason we have (a lot of these) measurements is because of the technology we’ve paid to install.”

The task then falls to Cromie, Mondry-Cohen and DeBartolo to process the information and turn it into something the entire front office can understand and absorb.

●●

On any given game night, Cromie, Mondry-Cohen and DeBartolo will watch from one of three spots: the GM’s suite, the scout seats in the stands, or at their desks, which have televisions within view. How much they each watch varies.

“There was a time when I made an effort not to watch the games,” Cromie said. “I’ve really gotten away from that, largely because I think I’ve come around to the idea that a lot of the things we do can really inform the way you watch a game and make it more enjoyable.”

“For me, it’s very difficult to just watch the game,” DeBartolo said. “Every once in a while I find myself drifting into a fandom where I’m rooting for something to happen, but I think a lot of times we’re thinking through and watching closely the approach of a player, fielding position, all of the decision making that can happen. I think it’s less about a rooting sense and more a sense of evaluating.”

In Spring Training, the group had multiple meetings with Nationals Manager Matt Williams and his staff as they got to know one another and discuss philosophies. The exchange of ideas was another step.

“They’ve been extremely open,” Mondry-Cohen said of Williams and his staff. “They’ve wanted as much data as they can get and I think the things that they want are kind of allied with some of the things Mike (Rizzo) likes — predictive statistics, as opposed to history. They’re asking for more decision-making tools and we’re happy that they’re asking for it.”

“I think Matt views statistical analysis as a tool and as a new manager he wants every tool at his disposal that he can have,” DeBartolo added. “I have great respect for that, for being open-minded and trying to get every advantage he can have.”

The calendar dictates the more detailed work that the group does. In early May, they prepare for the MLB First-Year Player Draft. As the All-Star break approaches, they’re assessing the team’s strengths and weaknesses, and identifying potential trade partners in advance of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. As the calendar inches toward fall, their focus turns toward the postseason, then free agency and the rest of the offseason — working to hone their projections and convey them properly.

Regardless of the specifics, all of the data they’re gathering and digesting on a daily basis will be utilized.

And, in the process, they’re continuing to evolve an organization built on the bedrock of scouting and player development by augmenting and improving those evaluations. The Nationals are a scouting-first organization, and there is no desire to replace the boots-on-the-ground work of those trusted scouts.

The hope is the work Cromie, Mondry-Cohen and DeBartolo do will only serve to complement and support it.

“It’s not (Rizzo’s) forte, conducting data-based research,” Mondry-Cohen said. “He’s a scout — a great scout — and that’s where he came up. But even if it’s not his forte, I think it’s something he really has interest in. He definitely wants it to be a part of his process. I think we’ve grown together, but he’s always been interested. He’s such a baseball guy. We’re researching baseball.”

“It’s a two-way street,” Cromie added. “We’ve learned a lot from him, too.”

Adam LaRoche, Denard Span named Rawlings Gold Glove finalists

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by Amanda Comak

The finalists for the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards were announced Thursday afternoon by Rawlings Sports, and for the third consecutive year the Washington Nationals have two players among the honorees.

First baseman Adam LaRoche and center fielder Denard Span were named as finalists at their respective positions, but they’ll have to wait until Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. ET, to find out if either will take home the prize.

LaRoche, who won his first Gold Glove following the 2012 season, faces stiff competition in his quest for a second trophy: Adrian Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Colorado Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau.

While LaRoche continued to make many of the outstanding plays that have come to be expected from him over the years, where he shines perhaps even more is in making the fielders around him better. LaRoche’s consistency makes it easier for the fielders he works with everyday to excel. That was evident each day he was in the lineup for the Nationals this past season.

Span, a finalist for a Gold Glove in 2013 and certainly considered by his teammates as one of the finest defensive center fielders in the Major Leagues, is also joined by elite company. He’ll be up against New York Mets center fielder Juan Lagares and Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton for the 2014 honors.

An exceptional fielder, Span continued to make the extraordinary play seem routine this season, giving Nationals fans something to look forward to each night he patrolled center field.

Each manager and up to six coaches on each staff voted from a pool of qualified players in their league, and cannot vote for players on their own team. As in 2013, Rawlings also included a sabermetric component to the Rawlings Gold Glove Award selection process, as part of its recent collaboration with the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

The SABR Defensive Index accounted for approximately 25 percent of the overall selection total, with the managers and coaches’ vote continuing to carry the majority.

The winners of the 2014 Rawlings Gold Glove Awards will be announced Tuesday night, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2 in a special one-hour Baseball Tonight.

What to watch for: NLDS Game 4

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by Mike Feigen

San Francisco Giants lead Washington Nationals, 2-1

9:07 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1

The Scene

What a difference a day makes. After the Nationals fell behind two games to none at home, they forced their way back into the series with a 4-1 victory in Game 3. The key play of the game — and the Nationals hope the series — came on a bunt by catcher Wilson Ramos, which Giants’ starter Madison Bumgarner fired wide of third base, allowing Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper to score. Doug Fister threw seven shutout innings for the victory, while Harper added a solo homer deep over the right field wall in the ninth.

The Stakes

Despite losing some of its momentum, San Francisco still finds itself one win away from qualifying for the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Nationals one-game-at-a-time approach won’t allow them to look past Game 4, so both teams should come out with matching levels of intensity. Like Game 3, the Nats will be facing a pitcher in Ryan Vogelsong with an incredible run of postseason success, so they’ll need to continue to have the type of good at-bats they put together toward the end of Monday’s contest.

Washington Lineup

CF Denard Span

3B Anthony Rendon

RF Jayson Werth

1B Adam LaRoche

SS Ian Desmond

LF Bryce Harper

C Wilson Ramos

2B Asdrubal Cabrera

LHP Gio Gonzalez

San Francisco Lineup

CF Gregor Blanco

2B Joe Panik

C Buster Posey

RF Hunter Pence

3B Pablo Sandoval

1B Brandon Belt

SS Brandon Crawford

LF Juan Perez

RHP Ryan Vogelsong

The Starters

Gio Gonzalez earns his third career postseason start Tuesday night, following his starts in Game 1 and Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals. Gonzalez allowed just six hits in 10 innings over those two starts, but walked 11 against just 10 strikeouts. The good news for Nats fans is the talented left-hander has exhibited an excellent level of control in 2014, posting a career-best 2.9-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate — including a 6.2-to-1 rate in the month of September.

Right-hander Ryan Vogelsong has put up Fister-like numbers in the postseason, going 3-0 with a 1.09 in four career starts. However, he has not been nearly as good since the Giants’ 2012 World Series run, going 12-19 with a 4.62 ERA over 51 starts in the past two seasons. He allowed four runs or more in four of his five September starts, including losses to NL West foes Colorado, Arizona and San Diego (twice).

The Offenses

The Nationals put up four runs in the final three innings of Monday’s win, more than the three runs they pushed across in the series’ first 33 frames. They will look to keep the momentum going in Game 4, using the same lineup that appeared to finally wake up with several hard hit balls late in Game 3. They have shown success against Vogelsong in 2013, scoring six runs on nine hits against him on June 9 and another three runs on four hits and four walks on August 24.

Suddenly, the Giants are the club trying to find themselves at the plate, as they’ve scored just six runs in the series. Manager Bruce Bochy has shuffled his lineup for the first time since postseason play began, swapping Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval in the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the order and inserting right-handed hitting left fielder Juan Perez into the No. 8 spot. Leadoff hitter Gregor Blanco has batted just 1-for-14 (.071) with one walk in the series.

The Best of the Rest

The Nationals again will rely on right-handed Ryan Zimmerman and lefty Nate Schierholtz as their primary bats off the bench. Each has a hit in the series, and the duo provides Matt Williams with matchup problems for the Giants. With Perez moving into the starting lineup, regular left fielder Travis Ishikawa (2-for-10) should be the primary bat off the bench in the late innings.

After Fister’s gem, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen each pitched one inning in Game 3, with Storen surrendering a run prior to recording the final out. With the day off Sunday, the entire ‘pen should be available, including Tanner Roark and perhaps Stephen Strasburg. The Giants also have a stable of arms at their disposal, though long man Yusmeiro Petit may not yet be available after his six-inning performance in Game 2.

What to watch for: NLDS Game 3

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by Mike Feigen

San Francisco Giants lead Washington Nationals, 2-0

5:07 p.m. ET, MLB Network

The Scene

The city of San Francisco takes center stage as the series shifts to the Bay Area, with the Giants looking to finish off the Nationals and advance to the National League Championship Series. The AT&T Park crowd has yet to see their hometown team this postseason, but the Giants do own a five-game home postseason winning streak dating back to Game 2 of the 2012 NLCS. The Nationals won 3-of-4 games in San Francisco this year, including a 2-1 victory by Doug Fister over Madison Bumgarner on June 10 in front of a sellout crowd, so they won’t be intimidated by the atmosphere.

The Stakes

Trailing 2-0 in the series, the Nationals know they must win Game 3 to extend their season at least one more day. Having to accomplish that against Bumgarner presents a daunting challenge, but they have had success against top pitchers all season and have won three games in a row several times.

A little more than five weeks ago, the Nationals were swept by the Philadelphia Phillies and saw their lead in the NL East cut to just six games over the Atlanta Braves. A trip to face Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners was on tap after a west coast off day, with Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers on the horizon just after that. The Nationals shocked the baseball community that day with four home runs off King Felix, carrying their long ball power to a series win over Seattle and another over Los Angeles. The power surge pushed the Nats to a 21-9 finish, setting up home field advantage in the NL postseason.

It isn’t likely that Bumgarner will surrender four homers on Monday night, but a big performance at the plate could send Washington into a similar trajectory.

Washington Lineup

CF Denard Span

3B Anthony Rendon

RF Jayson Werth

1B Adam LaRoche

SS Ian Desmond

LF Bryce Harper

C Wilson Ramos

2B Asdrubal Cabrera

RHP Doug Fister

San Francisco Lineup

CF Gregor Blanco

2B Joe Panik

C Buster Posey

3B Pablo Sandoval

RF Hunter Pence

1B Brandon Belt

SS Brandon Crawford

LF Travis Ishikawa

LHP Madison Bumgarner

The Starters

The Nationals will send Doug Fister (16-6, 2.41 ERA) to the mound to try to stave off elimination, a familiar position for the 6-foot-8 right-hander. Fister won Game 5 of the 2011 ALDS at Yankee Stadium in his first postseason start, and just last year helped the Tigers avoid a series loss to the Oakland Athletics in Game 4 of the ALDS. He later won Game 4 of the 2013 ALCS against the Boston Red Sox, the final game the Tigers would win in that series.

Madison Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98 ERA) is also no stranger to postseason success, including his two World Series victories — including a 2-0 win over Fister and the Tigers in the 2012 Fall Classic — and a dominant, shutout performance in the 2014 Wild Card Game win over the Pittsburgh Pirates just five days ago. The big lefty, still just 25 years old, struck out 219 batters and walked just 43 in 217.1 innings of work this season, the best strikeout rate and lowest walk rate of his big-league career.

The Offenses

After scoring just three runs in 27 innings at Nationals Park in Games 1 and 2, Washington has no choice but to execute better against a difficult pitcher in a road environment. While that seems like a tall task, the Nationals have proven time and again they’ve got the talent and fortitude to score runs in bunches, beating the likes of Hernandez (2.14 ERA), Johnny Cueto (2.25 ERA) and Bumgarner already this season. Matt Williams will stick with the same lineup that got the Nationals to this point, a group that finished strong throughout the final two months of the season.

Like the Nationals, the Giants didn’t score many runs in the first two games of the series, putting just five total runs on the board. They will also stick with the same lineup in Game 3, hoping the continuity of the same order will provide them a series sweep. After Jordan Zimmermann retired 20 straight beginning in the third inning of Game 2, San Francisco scratched out the tying run in the ninth when Joe Panik drew a two-out walk, Buster Posey ripped a single to center and Pablo Sandoval doubled home Panik on a slicing liner down the left field line.

The Best of the Rest

The Nationals have put together quality at-bats off the bench, with top right-handed option Ryan Zimmerman going 1-for-2 with a pair of well-hit balls and lefty Nate Schierholtz going 1-for-1 with a double and an intentional walk. The Giants’ young bench has gone 0-for-8 with one walk so far in the series, with reserve outfielder Juan Perez seeing action in left field throughout extra innings on Saturday night.

In the bullpen, the Nationals have shown remarkable success from the left side against the predominantly left-handed hitting Giants, with Jerry Blevins and Matt Thornton dominating the competition in the first two games of the series. San Francisco’s bullpen was nearly flawless in Game 2, combining with right-hander Tim Hudson to set the Washington lineup down in 15 consecutive innings in the 2-1, 18-inning contest.

Nothing But Comebacks

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by Mike Feigen

When the Nationals take on the San Francisco Giants in Game 3 of the NLDS Monday evening, they’ll face an uphill battle that will test their resolve as a team. The good news is they’ve already won three straight games against the Giants this year, including a head-to-head victory by Doug Fister over Madison Bumgarner at San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

Should they rally and move on to the NLCS, they also won’t be the first team to battle back from down 2-0 in a five-game series. In fact, there have been eight teams in MLB history to trail 2-0 in a best-of-five series and come back to win. Those eight are:

1981 Dodgers (NLDS)

1982 Brewers (ALCS)

1984 Padres (NLCS)

1995 Mariners (ALDS)

1999 Red Sox (ALDS)

2001 Yankees (ALDS)

2003 Red Sox (ALDS)

2012 Giants (NLDS)

Among those eight, five played in the World Series that season, with the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers and 2012 San Francisco Giants each winning it all.

The Dodgers, led by excellent starting pitching, went all the way after scoring just one total run in their first two games of the NLDS against the Houston Astros, including an extra-inning loss in Game 2 that ended on a home run. They battled back and won Game 5 at home against Astros’ starter Nolan Ryan, then went on to knock off the Montreal Expos in the NLCS and the New York Yankees in the Fall Classic.

San Francisco, also led by great starting pitching, lost its first two games at home to the Cincinnati Reds in the 2012 NLDS, scoring just two total runs, then won three straight in Cincinnati when the bats got hot. The Giants kept the magic alive, beating the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS after trailing, 3-1, and eventually swept the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

In 1995, the Seattle Mariners lost Game 1 against the New York Yankees, then lost in 15 innings in Game 2 on a home run. That game coincidentally included a Yankee RBI double to tie the game with two outs and Seattle one out away from winning, with the go-ahead runner getting thrown out at the plate on a relay from the left fielder to shortstop to catcher. The Mariners eventually won the series on a walk-off in Game 5.

The 2001 New York Yankees followed the exact first-round path the Nats are aiming for. They lost the first two games at home to the Wild Card Oakland Athletics, scoring three total runs. Facing elimination, they traveled across the country to face a Bay Area team featuring a tough left-handed pitcher, Barry Zito. In the seventh inning, clinging to a 1-0 lead, Derek Jeter’s famous “flip” play saved the season, and the Yankees won the game, took Game 4 the next night, then traveled back to New York and won Game 5. They made it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series, where they lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks — a team featuring cleanup hitter Matt Williams.

What to watch for: NLDS Game 2

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by Mike Feigen

San Francisco Giants lead Washington Nationals, 1-0

5:37 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1

zimmermann-IG-sizeThe Scene

After dropping Game 1 to the Giants, 3-2, the Nationals will look to build on the late-game energy that saw them reach base safely seven times in the sixth through eighth innings on Friday — including monster home runs by No. 6 hitter Bryce Harper and No. 8 man Asdrubal Cabrera. Meanwhile, the Giants hope to receive another strong start from a veteran right-hander, as Tim Hudson takes the hill for the 11th time in his postseason career.

The Stakes

The Nationals’ mission in Game 2 is clear: find a way to even the series at 1-1 before departing for San Francisco to face ace left-hander Madison Bumgarner. The only two teams in MLB history to fall behind 0-2 at home before winning a five-game series are the 2001 Yankees (with an assist from the famous Derek Jeter “flip” play) and the 2012 Giants (winning three straight at Cincinnati and eventually claiming the World Series title).

San Francisco Lineup

CF Gregor Blanco

2B Joe Panik

C Buster Posey

3B Pablo Sandoval

RF Hunter Pence

1B Brandon Belt

SS Brandon Crawford

LF Travis Ishikawa

RHP Tim Hudson

Washington Lineup

CF Denard Span

3B Anthony Rendon

RF Jayson Werth

1B Adam LaRoche

SS Ian Desmond

LF Bryce Harper

C Wilson Ramos

2B Asdrubal Cabrera

RHP Jordan Zimmermann

The Starters

One of two diametrically opposing trends has a chance to change course when 39-year-old right-hander Tim Hudson takes the mound for the Giants on Saturday evening at Nationals Park. He could either put an end to his personal postseason misery, which has seen his teams go 2-8 in his 10 appearances (plus zero NLDS series wins), or his spell over the Nationals (18-5, 2.35 ERA lifetime) could be broken. Unlike Game 1 starter Jake Peavy, who came into the series red hot, Hudson stumbled down the stretch, going 0-5 with an 8.72 ERA in five September starts.

Jordan Zimmermann resides on the other end of the spectrum, after posting a 4-0 record with a 1.32 ERA in five September outings including a no-hitter on the final day of the regular season. The Nationals are a remarkable 11-0 in Zimmermann’s last 11 starts since the beginning of August, providing the right-hander with an average of 5.4 runs of support. The last time the Auburndale, Wisc. native took the hill in October, he struck out the side in an electric relief appearance against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS.

The Offenses

The Giants scratched out eight hits — all singles — against Game 1 starter Stephen Strasburg, and will look to do more of the same against Zimmermann. Second baseman Joe Panik, first baseman Brandon Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford continued their success after the Wild Card round, collecting multi-hit games, while each of the other five starting position players added at least one hit as well. San Francisco Manager Bruce Bochy is sticking with the same lineup for the third straight postseason game, after his club collected 23 hits and a pair of wins in its first two October contests.

Matt Williams also penciled in the same starting eight as Game 1 in front of Zimmermann, but will look for a few members of the lineup to find their stride at the plate. Leadoff man Denard Span and shortstop Ian Desmond were both saddled with 0-for-4  afternoons on Friday, but Span hasn’t gone multiple games without a hit since August and Desmond is a .288 (15-for-52) hitter against Hudson. Right fielder Jayson Werth, after drawing two walks and seeing a remarkable 27 pitches in four plate appearances in Game 1, could be poised for a particularly big game. Werth has worn out Hudson during his career, batting .386/.449/.750 (1.199 OPS) with four doubles, four homers and 12 runs batted in against the righty.

The Best of the Rest

The San Francisco bullpen was tested in Game 1, and came through with the win despite mixed results. Lefties Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt each fell behind in the count in their one-batter assignments, with Lopez eventually walking Adam LaRoche and Affeldt recovering from down 3-0 to retire Span. Flame-throwing righty Hunter Strickland recorded the biggest out of the game with a bases-loaded strikeout of Desmond in the sixth, but served up the long balls to Harper and Cabrera the following inning. Sergio Romo worked around a pair of hits in the eighth, while closer Santiago Casilla retired the side in order in the ninth. The Giants’ bench, without Angel Pagan and Michael Morse for the series, went 0-for-2.

Left-handed batter Nate Schierholtz passed his first October test with flying colors, as he led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a double to right field in a pinch-hitting spot. Later, Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa were unable to replicate that success, but still provide Williams with quality depth at the plate, on the bases and in the field. Southpaws Jerry Blevins and Matt Thornton were excellent in their innings out of the bullpen, and while Craig Stammen allowed a run on a tough-luck triple and a run-scoring single off his glove, he should continue to be a solid option out of the bullpen. Tyler Clippard fired a nine-pitch top of the ninth in his inning of work, while closer Drew Storen still awaits his first appearance of the series.

Nationals announce 2014 NLDS Roster

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals announced their 25-man roster for the 2014 National League Division Series on Friday morning, in advance of their 3:07 p.m. game vs. the San Francisco Giants.

The Nationals’ roster will be comprised of 12 pitchers (three left-handed, nine right-handed) and 13 position players (two catchers, seven infielders, four outfielders).

Here is the Nationals’ full roster:

Pitchers

LHP Jerry Blevins
LHP Gio Gonzalez
LHP Matt Thornton

RHP Aaron Barrett
RHP Tyler Clippard
RHP Doug Fister
RHP Tanner Roark
RHP Rafael Soriano
RHP Craig Stammen
RHP Drew Storen
RHP Stephen Strasburg
RHP Jordan Zimmermann

Catchers

C Jose Lobaton
C Wilson Ramos

Infielders

INF Asdrubal Cabrera (S)
SS Ian Desmond
INF Danny Espinosa (S)
INF Kevin Frandsen
1B Adam LaRoche (L)
INF Anthony Rendon
INF Ryan Zimmerman

Outfielders

OF Bryce Harper (L)
OF Nate Schierholtz (L)
OF Denard Span (L)
OF Jayson Werth

What to watch for: NL Wild Card Game

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by Mike Feigen

1000x790_bumgarner_volquez_woyetmcb_wki2e2c9The Scene

Pittsburgh’s PNC Park will be the first ballpark to host two one-game Wild Card contests, after the Pirates cruised past the Cincinnati Reds a season ago, 6-2. Despite its cozy confines, Pirates fans turned up the volume a season ago and leaned on their proximity to the field of play, particularly in left field. Pittsburgh fans mercilessly taunted Reds hurler Johnny Cueto, who served up four runs on eight hits — including a pair of homers — in just 3.1 innings of work.

The Stakes

The winner will travel to Washington to face the Nationals this Friday, opening the best-of-five National League Division Series in the Nation’s Capital. Should the Pirates win, Game 1 will begin at 12:07 p.m. ET, but should the Giants prevail, first pitch will be at 3:07 p.m. local time at Nationals Park.

San Francisco Lineup

CF Gregor Blanco

2B Joe Panik

C Buster Posey

3B Pablo Sandoval

RF Hunter Pence

1B Brandon Belt

SS Brandon Crawford

LF Travis Ishikawa

LHP Madison Bumgarner

 

Pittsburgh Lineup

3B Josh Harrison

SS Jordy Mercer

CF Andrew McCutchen

C Russell Martin

LF Starling Marte

2B Neil Walker

1B Gaby Sanchez

RF Travis Snider

RHP Edinson Volquez

 

The Starters

San Francisco will turn to its ace, 25-year-old southpaw Madison Bumgarner, in this do-or-die contest. Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98) is no stranger to postseason baseball, with dominant performances in the Giants’ 2010 and 2012 World Series victories. He’s had mixed results against the Pirates, however, including a loss on July 28 of this year in which he was touched up for five runs in the first 1.1 innings of the game. Bumgarner is dominant against left-handed hitters, allowing a .539 OPS and just five walks all season, but is mortal against righties, allowing a .684 OPS — including 20 home runs.

Edinson Volquez (13-7, 3.04) will take the hill for the Pirates. A 31-year-old journeyman who has pitched for the Reds, Padres, Dodgers and Pirates since 2011, Volquez is the Pirates’ No. 3 starter behind left-hander Francisco Liriano and righty Gerrit Cole. However, in their attempt to claim the NL Central crown, manager Clint Hurdle elected to throw his aces over the weekend, putting his faith in Volquez. The right-hander posted a career-low strikeout rate, walked more than three batters per nine innings, and relied on a .263 batting average on balls in play, so he’ll have to maintain his good luck to prevail Wednesday night.

The Offenses

At the plate, the Pirates likely have the better offense at this point in the season. Defending 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen leads a talented group that includes breakout performer Josh Harrison, power-speed threat Starling Marte and team leader Russell Martin. And while Martin’s two-homer performance in last year’s Wild Card stole the show last year, McCutchen remains the club’s biggest star. The center fielder hit .314/.410/.542 with 38 doubles, six triples, 25 home runs and 18 stolen bases in 2014, with his .410 on-base percentage leading all of Major League Baseball.

The Giants will attempt to match the Pittsburgh firepower with a former MVP of its own, as Buster Posey leads an attack that has been slowed by injuries in the second half of the season. Posey, the 2012 NL MVP Award winner, batted .311/.364/.490 this season, while All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence boasted a .777 OPS and 106 runs scored in 2014. San Francisco will miss the services of leadoff man and center fielder Angel Pagan, who recently underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back, as well as former National Michael Morse, who will also miss the Wild Card Game due to injury.

The Best of the Rest

Because of the injuries to Morse and Pagan, the Giants will enter Wednesday night’s contest with plenty of question marks. Joaquin Arias, Gary Brown, Matt Duffy, Adam Duvall, Juan Perez, Guillermo Quiroz and Adam Susac comprise a bench that isn’t likely to strike fear into opposing pitchers, but could find themselves in key situations depending on how manager Bruce Bochy handles his substitutions. In the Pirates’ dugout, infielder Clint Barmes, first baseman Ike Davis and outfielders Gregory Polanco and Jose Tabata have more pedigree than the San Francisco reserves, but Davis and Polanco are liabilities against left-handers and may not see the batter’s box unless Bumgarner is out of the game.

Should the game rest on the success of the bullpens, both teams ranked in the top 10 in the league in bullpen ERA and each can match up with talented lefties and righties. The Giants feature veteran southpaws Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, along with righties Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla. The Pirates are led by closer Mark Melancon (33 saves, 1.90 ERA) and lefty set-up man Tony Watson (10 wins, 34 holds, 1.63 ERA), two of the best in the business.

The Edge

If last night’s American League Wild Card Game (won 9-8 by Kansas City in 12 innings) is any indication, anything is possible. San Francisco will rely on Bumgarner to carry them through, while Pittsburgh will look to run up the score against a team that may not be able to match them blow for blow. Playing at home is always nice to have in a winner-take-all contest, and by virtue of their 4-2 head-to-head record against the Giants this season, the Pirates won the right to host Wednesday night’s game — and therefore hold the very slightest of advantages.

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