Results tagged ‘ Bryce Harper ’

Improbabilities and Impossibilities

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by Noah Frank

“We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.” – Vince Lombardi

It is not impossible for the Nationals to make it to the postseason this year. The strange twists and turns of this season have left them looking up a steep hill, at tall odds stacked heavily against them. And while not impossible, the chance of them crashing the party remains highly improbable. Which is to say that they will need a number of improbabilities to swing their way, in succession, to defy those odds.

They got off to a good start on Tuesday.

Facing the prospects of a crushing loss in the opening game of the twinbill against the Braves, the Nationals did something no team has done in Craig Kimbrel’s 225 career appearances, scoring the three runs they needed to erase a two-run deficit to walk off with a 6-5 win. The Baseball Reference win probability chart had the Nats at eight percent to win in such a scenario entering the bottom of the ninth.

Leverage

The comeback was made even more amazing, and the result even more unlikely than the probabilities suggest, considering that Washington had yet to score against the Atlanta closer his 10 prior appearances against them this season. He had converted 37 straight save opportunities, a string that was going to end as soon as the ball left Denard Span’s bat, as his one-out grounder was going to be deep enough to score the tying run. But as Andrelton Simmons – the highest-rated defensive shortstop in baseball – pulled his glove up, the ball skipping untouched through his legs, the Nationals found themselves celebrating an even more unbelievable victory.

Denard Span keyed another improbable Nationals victory.

Denard Span keyed another improbable Nationals victory in game one.

The long odds didn’t end in game one, though. After Tanner Roark, perhaps the unlikeliest figure in this late season charge, delivered seven scoreless frames in the nightcap, Washington clung to a 1-0 lead heading to the bottom of the eighth. The Braves turned to Jordan Walden, who had allowed just one run in eight prior appearances against the Nats, coming on a solo shot by Ryan Zimmerman. The Z-Man took an encore roundtripper to double the lead, then Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche combined to plate two more runs as the Nationals put the game away.

Against the two relievers who had dominated them the most this season, the Nationals suddenly broke through for three runs apiece. Coming in, Walden and Kimbrel had combined to go 2-0 with a 0.50 ERA (1 ER/18.0 IP), four walks, 22 strikeouts and a perfect 7-for-7 in save chances in the season series. On Tuesday, they were 0-1 with a 22.50 ERA (5 ER/2.0 IP), with two walks, no strikeouts and a blown save.

While Washington has no realistic chance to catch Atlanta in the division, the two wins ensured the Braves could not clinch the NL East in Washington this week. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds have continued to win in Houston, lowering the Nationals postseason chances to 3.3 percent, according to Baseball Prospectus, heading into play on Wednesday. However, the Pittsburgh Pirates have lost two straight, bringing them back into the picture as well. In order to tie the Reds or Pirates and force a one-game playoff to get to the Wild Card game, the Nationals would need to play out their remaining games with one of the following combinations from their opponents:

Improbabilities

While it seems unlikely that teams like Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, clubs which have played well all season, will collapse entirely, any of the top three combinations seem possible. Yes, it would require the Nationals to keep playing at the same rate they have over their last 12 games (in which they are 11-1) against stronger competition, including three games in St. Louis.

These are not probable outcomes. But, then again, after what happened on Tuesday at Nationals Park, we know that improbable does not equal impossible.

Highlights: 9.13.13

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9.13.13 – Nationals 6, Phillies 1

Stat of the Game: Ryan Zimmerman hit his team-leading 24th home run, his ninth in his last 11 games.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Denard Span extended his hitting streak to 24 games with a sixth-inning single.

It Was Over When: Wilson Ramos‘ bases-loaded, infield single in the fifth inning scored Jayson Werth from third and Bryce Harper all the way from second.

Bryce Harper: To the Last Man

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The videos below are supplemental bonus footage of some of Bryce Harper‘s season highlights, featured in the To the Last Man cover article in Issue 12 of Inside Pitch. For the full story, be sure to pick up a copy this homestand at the the ballpark.

7.1.13 vs. Milwaukee Brewers: The Triumphant Return

In the first at-bat of his first game back off the disabled list, Harper hit the second pitch he saw over the left-field wall for a home run, bringing Nationals Park to its feet, demanding a curtain call.

 7.25.13 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates: The Walk-Off

After opening the game with a terrific diving catch in left, Harper saved the day by blasting his first Major League walk-off home run to snap Washington’s losing streak and beat the Pirates.

8.23.13 at Kansas City: The Comeback

After falling into a 6-0 hole through two innings, the Nationals roared back for their biggest comeback win of the season, thanks in large part to Harper’s team-high three RBI. In the ninth, his sprawling catch helped preserve the one-run win.

 

IP12_Harper_Medium

What to Watch for: 8.30.13

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New York Mets (60-72) vs. Washington Nationals (68-65)

RHP Dillon Gee (9-9, 3.69) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (15-7, 3.32) 

Often in baseball, we talk about the intangible benefits of veterans in the clubhouse. They seem to have an effect on the team dynamic by their mere presence, leading by example, letting their play speak for itself.

It’s less often we hear about the tangible benefits of veteran leaders. Sure, they’re frequently the ones making an impact in the box score night in and night out, but their role as teachers for the less experienced players can be easy to overlook.

Yet, if it weren’t for one of those moments of tangible leadership, the Nationals might have had a more difficult time dispatching the Marlins, 9-0, on Thursday night.

On paper, pitcher Gio Gonzalez’s seven shutout innings look about as solid as a manager can hope for from his starter. For the first two innings, though, Miami appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough, as Gonzalez walked three and gave up two hits, striking out just one batter. While he managed to strand three runners in scoring position over the first two frames, his pitch count rose to 43, not a good sign with a depleted Nationals bullpen that threw seven innings Wednesday due to the rain.

Cue that veteran guidance. Dripping with sweat after the two long frames, Gonzalez retreated to the clubhouse and found closer Rafael Soriano waiting for him. The 12-year veteran had noticed something off with Gonzalez’s delivery and had some words of wisdom for the Nationals starter.

“After the second inning, I came up here to change my shirt, and I had Soriano standing right in the entrance telling me, ‘Stay back, your arm is dropping way too low and you are trying to rush,’” Gonzalez recalled. “That meant a lot, especially when he is out there watching.”

Gonzalez made the adjustment. Over his next five innings of work, he gave up just one more hit and struck out seven Miami batters on just 65 pitches. Nationals Manager Davey Johnson flirted with the idea of sending him back out for the eighth, before handing the ball over to Tanner Roark. The rookie reliever made quick work of the eighth and ninth innings, needing just 13 pitches, 12 of which were strikes.

The Nats offense helped alleviate any lingering pressure, with Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond each launching multi-run homers over the left field fence. If the Nationals are to make a run at a National League Wild Card spot, offensive performances like those that have marked their current hot streak will be crucial. But so, too, will the small adjustments like Gonzalez’s, and the veterans that spot the need for them.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Bryce Harper LF

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Wilson Ramos C

8. Anthony Rendon 2B

9. Jordan Zimmermann RHP

D.C.’S HIT MAN SOON TO BE EXPOSED

Jayson Werth’s .329 batting average would rank a close second in the National League and trail only Yadier Molina (.333) with enough plate appearances to qualify. Werth’s 411 plate appearances to date are only one shy of the 412 presently required (133 games x 3.1 plate appearances per game) to qualify for the NL batting title. The outfielder is batting a Major League Baseball-best .389 dating to July 1.

18 AND UP CLUB

The Nationals are the lone National League club to feature four players with 18 or more home runs. The team’s long balls have been fairly evenly distributed, however, as each of the top four power players in Washington are within just three dingers of one other:

Jayson Werth – 21

Ian Desmond – 20

Bryce Harper – 19

Adam LaRoche – 18

AUGUST HEAT

After struggling offensively for portions of the 2013 season, the Nationals rank third in the NL in runs per game in the month of August. Washington has scored 123 runs in 25 games this month (4.92 per game). Among Senior Circuit entries, only St. Louis (5.19 runs in 27 August contests) and Arizona (5.04 in 25 games) have scored more often per contest than the Nationals this month.

Highlights: 8.29.13

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8.29.13 – Nationals 9, Marlins 0

Stat of the Game: The Nationals swatted three home runs – by Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond – en route to the rout.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Gio Gonzalez allowed just three hits over seven scoreless frames, striking out eight.

It Was Over When: Werth’s team-leading 21st blast, a three-run shot, landed about 20 rows deep in left field.

What to Watch for: 8.28.13

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Miami Marlins (49-81) vs. Washington Nationals (66-65)

RHP Henderson Alvarez (2-3, 3.86) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (6-9, 3.00) 

A two-run burst in the first inning was enough for the Nationals to secure a victory in last night’s series opener with the Marlins. Stephen Strasburg takes the mound tonight, as the Washington looks for its seventh win in its last eight contests. Strasburg is 3-1 with a 0.73 ERA in five home starts this season against National League East rivals, while Washington is 4-0 at home this season against the Fish.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Bryce Harper LF

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Wilson Ramos C

8. Steve Lombardozzi 2B

9. Stephen Strasburg RHP

MOVE OVER CHUCK

With Tuesday’s 2-1 home win, Davey Johnson earned his 1,352th career victory and moved into a tie for 28th place on the all-time managerial win list with Chuck Tanner. Wilbert Robinson ranks 27th on the same list with 1,397 career managerial wins. Tanner (1,352-1,381, .495) managed the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves for 19 seasons and is best remembered for piloting the 1979 Pirates’ World Championship campaign.

ATTENTION: SPAN

Denard Span has hit safely in a season-high 10 straight games at a .395 clip (17-for-43) with three walks, a double, two triples, a homer, five runs scored and four RBI. This is the fifth double-digit hit streak of Span’s career. He hit safely in a career-best 12 consecutive games while with the Twins from April 18-May 1, 2012. Bryce Harper is 15-for-37 (.405) with six walks, five doubles, a homer, seven runs scored and six RBI during his current nine-game hit streak. Harper has yet to register a double-digit hit streak at a big leaguer.

DOWN ON THE FARM

The .554 winning percentage (404-325) posted by the Nationals Minor League system ranks third among Major League Baseball’s 30 franchises behind only San Francisco (.574) and Houston (.573). The Nationals system has registered a winning record in each of the last five seasons (2008-12), but has never finished among the top five.

What to Watch for: 8.27.13

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Miami Marlins (49-80) vs. Washington Nationals (65-65)

RHP Nathan Eovaldi (2-4, 3.82) vs. RHP Ross Ohlendorf (2-0, 2.58)

With a successful 6-4 road trip behind them, the Nationals begin a six-game homestand tonight with the first of three against Miami, whom they swept at home to open the season. Washington has won 11 of its last 16 games, and looks to continue its winning ways with its next 19 contests coming against the Marlins (49-80), New York Mets (58-71) and Philadelphia Phillies (60-71).

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Bryce Harper LF

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Wilson Ramos C

8. Anthony Rendon 2B

9. Ross Ohlendorf RHP

AUGUST HEAT

After struggling offensively for much of 2013, the Nationals rank third in the National League in runs per game in the month of August. Washington has scored 108 runs in 22 games this month (4.9 per game). Only the St. Louis Cardinals (5.4 runs in 25 August contests) and Arizona Diamondbacks (5.0 in 23 games) have scored more profusely than the Nationals this month. 

GOING STREAKING

With Sunday’s four-hit effort at Kauffman Stadium, Denard Span has hit safely in nine straight games, at a .400 clip (16-for-40) with two walks, a double, two triples, a homer, five runs and four RBI. Span is in search of his first double-digit hit streak as a member of the Nationals. Meanwhile, Bryce Harper is 13-for-33 (.394) with six walks, five doubles, a homer, six runs scored and six RBI during his current eight-game hit streak. Harper has yet to register a double-digit hit streak at a big leaguer.

GOOD WOOD

The Nationals are 5-1 and have scored at least four runs in each of their last six games, during which they are batting .314 (72-for-229) with 28 walks, 14 doubles, two triples, and nine home runs, all of which have yielded a .387 on-base percentage, a .511 slugging percentage and an .898 OPS. Washington has also gone (.316, 18-for-57) with runners in scoring position in the same six-game span.

Not A Minor Accomplishment

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The Washington Nationals farm system hasn’t so much met expectations in 2013 as it’s surpassed every one.

Ranked the No. 13 farm system overall in the preseason by Baseball America, the Nationals have surged to the third-best organizational record at 403-322 (.558) overall, trailing only Houston (.572) and San Francisco (.564). Three of Washington’s seven affiliates are playoff-bound, with a fourth in a close division race.

None of this is entirely unexpected either. Under the guidance of President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, the Nats have gone from the Minor League cellar six years ago to a brief stint at No. 1 in last year’s Baseball America preseason rankings. Not to mention that this farm system has cultivated such talent as Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. In fact, 11 players on Washington’s active roster have come through its Minor League system.

Lucas Giolito, Washington's top pick in 2012, was recently promoted to Short-Season Auburn.

Lucas Giolito, Washington’s top pick in 2012, was recently promoted to Short-Season Auburn.

Perhaps most remarkable has been the Gulf Coast League Nationals, which have notched the most impressive mark in all of professional baseball. Since the season began on June 21, the Rookie-level entry has gone 48-9 (.842), better than even the tremendous run by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who posted a 47-12 (.797) record in the same span. The GCL Nationals lead their division by 24.0 games, have 13 more wins than the next best team in the league, and clinched their playoff spot long ago.

Obviously, such a run requires more than just luck. The GCL Nationals are tops in the league in most meaningful statistical categories. Their 2.49 team ERA and .279 team batting average pace the field, while their 5.52 runs per game is more than six-tenths of a run better than the next closest total. They boast the league’s leader and runner-up in ERA among qualifiers, 21-year-old righty Wander Suero (8-1, 1.65) and 20-year-old southpaw Hector Silvestre (7-0, 1.82). Righty Lucas Giolito, the Nationals’ No. 2 prospect, drafted 16th overall out of high school in 2012, has returned from Tommy John surgery and was recently promoted to Short-Season Auburn in the New York-Penn League after notching a 2.78 ERA and 25 strikeouts over 22.2 innings in the Gulf Coast League.

Like the GCL Nats, the High-A Potomac Nationals have put up ridiculous numbers in the Carolina League. Potomac is 81-51 overall, having already locked up a playoff spot by winning the Northern Division’s first-half championship with a 42-27 record. They’re currently 7.5 games up on Lynchburg in the second half, and will earn home-field advantage in all three Carolina League Division Series contests if they secure the second half title as well.

Walters has shown great pop for a middle infielder, sitting on the brink of a 30-home run season.

Zach Walters has shown great pop for a middle infielder, sitting on the brink of a 30-home run season.

Cutter Dykstra has helped pace Potomac on its most recent tear. During the P-Nats recent 10-game winning streak (August 10-20), the infielder racked up a .316/.447/.421 line. He also reached base in a league-best 29 games, putting together an 18-game hitting streak in the process. Meanwhile, right-hander Blake Schwartz is 11-4 with a 2.56 ERA and leads the league with a 1.03 WHIP.

The Low-A Hagerstown Suns (77-53) are also headed to the postseason, while the Double-A Harrisburg Senators (72-63) are a half-game up in their Eastern League division, where the top two teams reach the playoffs. The Suns are pacing the South Atlantic League with 5.03 runs per game, benefitting from a fairly balanced lineup. They’ve also recently added 2013 draft pick Jake Johansen, who was 1-1 with a 1.06 ERA and a 9.4 K/9 rate with Auburn. The Senators, meanwhile, boast a pitching staff that leads the league with a 3.46 ERA. Nationals third-rated prospect A.J. Cole — who earned the save in the 2013 Futures Game — is sitting at 3-2 with a 2.58 ERA since being promoted in late July.

Though the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs have posted just a 65-72 record, they have their bright spots as well in prospects like Jeff Kobernus and Zach Walters. Kobernus served a brief stint in the big leagues and earned International League Player of the Week honors for the week of August 12-18. He leads the team and is second among Nationals farmhands with a .324 batting average. Walters, meanwhile, has slugged 29 home runs, 10 more than the next closest total in the organization. The infielder has posted a .531 slugging percentage on the season, especially impressive from the shortstop position.

Highlights: 8.24.13

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8.24.13 – Nationals 7, Royals 2

Stat of the Game: Jordan Zimmermann earned his National League-leading 15th win of the season, matching the total accrued by Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Tyler Moore had yet another multi-hit game, his fifth straight since being recalled from Triple-A Syracuse.

It Was Over When: Fernando Abad struck out David Lough with the bases loaded to end the bottom of the 8th inning.

Highlights: 8.23.13

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8.23.13 – Nationals 11, Royals 10

Stat of the Game: The Nationals rallied from a 6-0 deficit, their largest comeback win of the season.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Tyler Moore continued his hot hitting, collecting three of the Nationals 13 hits. He has multi-hit games in each of his four games since being recalled from Triple-A Syracuse.

It Was Over When: Moore caught a short fly ball to left field for the final out, giving the Nationals their fourth consecutive win.

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