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The state of MLB last May 24, when the Nationals hit rock bottom

The state of MLB last May 24, when the Nationals hit rock bottom

May 24 is a date that will forever hold significance in Washington, D.C. Despite entering that day last season with a 19-31 record, the Nationals beat the Miami Marlins 12-10 to begin their improbable turnaround before claiming their first World Series title in franchise history.

And yet on that very day, no one knew it would be the start of something historic. Friday, May 24, 2019, was just an ordinary day with a full slate of baseball games being played. Players were signed, home runs were hit and nothing seemed to be too much out of the ordinary.

Knowing that things were far from ordinary that day, let’s take a look back at the state of baseball on May 24.

Standings

NL East

  1. Philadelphia Phillies (29-21)
  2. Atlanta Braves (28-23) / 1.5 GB
  3. New York Mets (24-25) / 4.5 GB
  4. Washington Nationals (19-31) / 10 GB
  5. Miami Marlins (16-31) / 11.5 GB

NL Central

  1. Chicago Cubs (29-19)
  2. Milwaukee Brewers (29-22) / 1.5 GB
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates (25-22) / 3.5 GB
  4. St. Louis Cardinals (25-24) / 4.5 GB
  5. Cincinnati Reds (22-27) / 7.5 GB

NL West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers (32-18)
  2. San Diego Padres (26-24) / 6 GB
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks (25-25) / 7 GB
  4. Colorado Rockies (22-26) / 9 GB
  5. San Francisco Giants (21-28) / 10.5 GB

AL East

  1. New York Yankees (32-17)
  2. Tampa Bay Rays (29-18) / 2 GB
  3. Boston Red Sox (27-23) / 5.5 GB
  4. Toronto Blue Jays (20-30) / 12.5 GB
  5. Baltimore Orioles (15-35) / 17.5 GB

AL Central

  1. Minnesota Twins (33-16)
  2. Cleveland Indians (25-24) / 8 GB
  3. Chicago White Sox (23-26) / 10 GB
  4. Detroit Tigers (18-30) / 14.5 GB
  5. Kansas City Royals (17-32) / 16 GB

AL West

  1. Houston Astros (33-18)
  2. Texas Rangers (24-23) / 7 GB
  3. Oakland A’s (26-25) / 7 GB
  4. Los Angeles Angels (22-27) / 10 GB
  5. Seattle Mariners (23-29) / 10.5 GB

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Major headlines

- The Blue Jays called up prospect Cavan Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, to make his MLB debut. Cavan joined Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the lineup to give Toronto the distinction of being the first team in MLB history to start a pair of teammates that were both sons of Hall of Famers.

- Giants center fielder Steven Duggar made the web gem of the day by securing a diving catch in the sixth inning of a game against the Diamondbacks despite his team trailing 11-2.

- Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich became the first player to reach 20 home runs. By doing so in just his 45th game of the season, he broke Prince Fielder’s team record set in 2007 for the fewest number of games needed to reach 20 homers. Yelich was the fastest of any player since Josh Hamilton did it in 44 games for the Rangers in 2012.

- Speaking of home runs, the Twins joined the 1999 Mariners to become only the second team in MLB history to hit at least 100 homers in their first 50 games. Minnesota would go on to lead the league in homers with 307, setting a new record for most home runs hit in a season

- The Mets gambled on a couple of veterans trying to dip into the fountain of youth, signing Matt Kemp and Ervin Santana to minor-league deals. Neither player would go on to suit up for New York in 2019.

- A’s designated hitter Khris Davis was placed on the 10-Day Injured List with a left hip/oblique contusion. Davis hurt his hip May 5 by running into a railing at PNC Park. He tried playing on it for a few weeks but ultimately needed some time off before he could play at full strength.

- It was Bartolo Colon’s birthday and he celebrated with one of the most elaborate baseball cakes that’s ever been made.

Where They Were: Nationals

Here is a list of what every player who appeared in a game for the Nationals last season was doing on May 24.

RP Austin Adams – After being traded to the Mariners on May 5, he was in Oakland but didn’t appear in the game for Seattle.

1B/OF Matt Adams – Batting fifth and playing first base, he went 2-for-5 with a home run in the Nationals’ 12-10 comeback win over the Marlins in D.C.

RP Kyle Barraclough – Despite an adventurous eighth inning, he was the pitcher of record for the Nationals in their win over the Marlins.

C Tres Barrera – He went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators, who went on to beat the Reading Fightin Phils at home 11-2.

RP Aaron Barrett – He was with AA-Harrisburg but didn’t appear in its game against Reading.

RP Michael Blazek – Playing for the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies, he pitched 1.2 scoreless innings in relief before the team beat the Tacoma Rainiers on the road 9-6.

RP James Bourque – After being called up to the majors for the first time only a day prior, he was in Miami but didn’t appear in the game for Washington.

INF Asdrúbal Cabrera – Playing for the Rangers, Cabrera went 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI as Texas beat the Angels in Anaheim 4-3.

SP Patrick Corbin – He was in D.C. for the game against the Marlins but didn’t appear in the contest for Washington.

INF Wilmer Difo – Sent down from the majors less than a week prior, he went 1-for-5 for AAA-Fresno in Tacoma.

RP Sean Doolittle – He allowed three hits, including a leadoff home run to Jorge Alfaro, but still managed to secure his ninth save of the season in the Nationals’ win over Miami.

2B Brian Dozier – Batting sixth and playing second base, he went 0-for-3 with two walks and a run scored in the Nationals’ win over Miami.

RF Adam Eaton – Batting second and playing right field, he went 1-for-4 with a walk, two runs scored and two RBIs in the Nationals’ win over Miami.

RP Roenis Elías – Playing for the Mariners, he was in Oakland but didn’t appear in the game for Seattle.

SP Erick Fedde – He was in D.C. for the game against the Marlins but didn’t appear in the contest for Washington.

C Yan Gomes – Batting eighth and playing catcher, he went 1-for-4 with a single and reached on an error in the Nationals’ win over Miami.

RP Matt Grace – He pitched around a two-out walk to toss a clean sixth inning in relief for the Nationals in their win over Miami.

RP Javy Guerra – After being claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays four days prior, he was in Miami but didn’t appear in the game for Washington.

SP Jeremy Hellickson – He was on the 10-Day Injured List with a shoulder strain that ultimately ended his season.

RP Daniel Hudson – Playing for the Blue Jays, he was tagged with the loss after allowing three runs (two earned) in Toronto’s 6-3 loss at home to the Padres.

RP Dan Jennings – He was a free agent after being released by the Nationals on May 22.

INF Howie Kendrick – Coming off the bench as a pinch hitter in the sixth, he went 0-for-1 with a strikeout in the Nationals’ win over Miami.

SS Carter Kieboom – He was in Tacoma but didn’t appear in the game for AAA-Fresno.

SP Kyle McGowin – He started for the Nationals that day, receiving a no-decision after going four innings and allowing five runs on six hits with a walk and two strikeouts in their win over Miami.

RP Justin Miller – He was on the 10-Day Injured List with a rotator cuff strain that ultimately ended his season.

1B Jake Noll – Playing for AAA-Fresno, he went 2-3 with a double, walk, two runs scored and two RBIs in the Grizzlies’ win over Tacoma.

OF Gerardo Parra – Coming off the bench as a pinch hitter in the seventh, he grounded into a double play in the Nationals’ win over Miami.

RP Tanner Rainey – Despite allowing the first two batters he faced to reach, he worked a scoreless seventh inning with two strikeouts in the Nationals’ win over Miami.

C Raudy Read – Playing for AAA-Fresno, he went 0-for-5 with an RBI in the Grizzlies’ win over Tacoma.

3B Anthony Rendon – Batting third and playing third base, he went 2-for-4 with a home run, double, walk, two runs scored and two RBIs in the Nationals’ win over Miami.

CF Victor Robles – Batting seventh and playing center field, he went 1-for-4 with a double, RBI and two runs scored in the Nationals’ win over Miami.

RP Fernando Rodney – Playing for the Athletics, he was on the active roster for the team’s home game against the Mariners but didn’t appear in the contest.

RP Trevor Rosenthal – He was on the 10-Day Injured List with a viral infection.

SP Joe Ross – He pitched in relief for McGowin, allowing three runs on two hits and a walk in the fifth inning of the Nationals’ win over Miami.

INF Adrian Sanchez – In his first game back with AA-Harrisburg after a stint in the majors, he went 3-for-5 with a double, two RBIs and a run scored in the Senators’ win over Reading.

SP Aníbal Sánchez – He was on the 10-Day Injured List with a left hamstring strain.

SP Max Scherzer – He was in D.C. for the game against the Marlins but didn’t appear in the contest for Washington.

RP Tony Sipp – He gave up a leadoff double to Curtis Granderson in the eighth inning before being pulled for Kyle Barraclough in the Nationals’ win over Miami.

LF Juan Soto – Batting fourth and playing left field, he went 3-for-4 with a home run, walk, 3 RBIs and two runs scored in the Nationals’ win over Miami.

OF Andrew Stevenson – Playing for AAA-Fresno, he went 1-for-4 with a triple, walk, two RBIs and a run scored in the Grizzlies’ win over Tacoma.

SP Stephen Strasburg – He was in D.C. for the game against the Marlins but didn’t appear in the contest for Washington.

RP Hunter Strickland – He was on the 60-Day Injured List with a right lat strain.

RP Wander Suero – He was in D.C. for the game against the Marlins but didn’t appear in the contest for Washington.

C Kurt Suzuki – He was in D.C. for the game against the Marlins but didn’t appear in the contest for Washington.

OF Michael Taylor – Coming off the bench as a pinch hitter in the fourth, he hit a double but was stranded at third in the Nationals’ win over Miami.

SS Trea Turner – Batting leadoff and playing shortstop, he went 2-for-5 with a double, RBI and run scored in the Nationals’ win over Miami.

RP Jonny Venters – He was a free agent after being released by the Braves on May 18. (Washington signed him May 29.)

SP Austin Voth – He was in Tacoma but didn’t appear in the game for AAA-Fresno.

RP Austen Williams – He was on the 10-Day Injured List with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder that ultimately ended his season.

1B Ryan Zimmerman – He was on the 10-Day Injured List with plantar fasciitis.

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Changes still happening midway through Nationals ‘Summer Camp’

Changes still happening midway through Nationals ‘Summer Camp’

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are shifting to night-time work to replicate what may be coming in just more than a week. Opening Day is creeping, the league is still dealing with stumbling blocks and the defending World Series champions are short key players.

Everyone in the league has dealt with a coronavirus-related setback since “Summer Camp” began July 3. Testing results lagged. Asymptomatic players have tested positive. Large groups -- like the swath of Nationals players from Latin America and the entire Astros pitching staff -- have needed to enter quarantine. Those setbacks can be worked around during practices. Massive problems will exist if they occur in the middle of the season.

A variety of small things are being dealt with while the larger issues are managed. Players are testing masks in the field. They are adjusting to not having protein bars around, not spitting, carrying around their own bag of baseballs. These items are small, and tedious, and resonate as less-than-minor problems in the middle of a pandemic. But, they are part of the new baseball process.
 
“Um … I think it’s terrible,” first baseman Eric Thames said of the day-to-day with the new protocols. “Not so much the practices, but just, like, the rules we have to follow. We can’t eat protein bars on the bench. We can’t celebrate with our teammates. Even on a ground ball, usually you throw the ball around the infield, but you can’t have more than two guys touch a ball.

“So rules like that are annoying. But you have to do it to keep everybody safe and be able to play in a few weeks.”

One celebration in play: the helmet tap. Jake Noll executed it over the weekend after hitting a home run. He and his teammate botched it at first, almost appearing to have forgotten that was the new plan, before clanging the top of their helmets together with extended arms.

Ghost around-the-horn sessions are in play, too. Following a strikeout, the entire infield goes through the process while the catcher throws the ball lightly back to the pitcher. If the ball is coming out of play -- which is often -- the infield will execute a real around-the-horn session.

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Pitchers are coming into their regular entrance music: ‘Seven Nation Army’ for Stephen Strasburg, ‘Still D.R.E’ for Max Scherzer, the profanity-laced, heavily-edited ‘Who am I’ for Javy Guerra. Music is briefly played between innings. A giant clock is all the scoreboard shows.

What is much harder to track remains significantly more problematic. When players go home, the expectation is they will remain there. They are part of the honor system. The outcome of the season may be dependent on how well they participate.

“None of us want to get it,” Stephen Strasburg said. “Naturally, we want to avoid large crowds and being in situations that might get us exposed to it. I’m sure if you ask a lot of guys around here, when it’s the middle of the season, it’s like clockwork. You go home when you’re done, and you come back the next day. It’s not like you’re spending a lot of time doing things out around town.

“It’s a crazy time right now, and if we can go out there, provide some relief for the fans, something fun for them to watch on TV, that’s the big purpose here.”

More than a week of workouts are over. Just more than a week remains before games begin to count in this 60-game experiment. Fits and starts seem inevitable throughout the season. New ways to celebrate are coming into place, old ways to act are being pushed out. And whether it can all be held together for months remains in doubt.

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Nationals’ Plan A is for their starters to be ramped up by Opening Day

Nationals’ Plan A is for their starters to be ramped up by Opening Day

After overcoming a 19-31 start to last season, the Nationals have fielded questions all offseason asking how they plan to get off to a good start in order to avoid needing another midseason turnaround. Though there is likely no singular answer to those questions, there is one aspect of their roster that could give them an advantage in the first few weeks of the season.

As a franchise that’s been repeatedly self-described by general manager Mike Rizzo as a “pitching-first organization,” the Nationals’ success in 2020 will largely hinge on the health and effectiveness of their starting rotation. For some teams, such a reliance on starters could spell trouble when pitchers only have a few weeks of training camp to get ready for Opening Day.

But Nationals manager Davey Martinez put together a training program in March for his starting pitchers to follow at home while the season was on hold. Now, with just 11 days to go before the Nationals open the season against the New York Yankees on June 23, Martinez is pleased with how far along his starters are in their process of building up their arms for the start of the 60-game campaign.

“I’m very encouraged that they followed what we put together for them during the off time,” Martinez said Sunday. “They came in prepared to go and they came in in good shape and it makes things a lot easier when nobody put on 15, 20 pounds. They were all in good shape so they’ve looked good so far.”

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The Nationals’ rotation is already approaching pitch counts it wouldn’t normally see until midway through spring training. Max Scherzer threw 48 pitches in his first sim game last week. Stephen Strasburg tossed 52 on Friday while Patrick Corbin pushed his pitch count up to 43 on Saturday in his first taste of facing live hitters. Even Aníbal Sánchez, the oldest of them all, has already had two outings with over 60 pitches since returning to Nationals Park.

If their top four arms are all prepared to throw 100+ pitches by the start of the season, the Nationals would be in a much better spot than other teams that are bracing for an uptick in bullpen usage while their pitchers use their first few starts to get back up to full strength.

In a normal year, most starters don’t even typically reach an average of 100 pitches per start. Only 10 qualified starters did it last season and three played for Washington: Scherzer (102.6), Strasburg (102.5) and Corbin (100). That advantage was already important in a 162-game season. When applied to a 60-game slate, it becomes all the more vital.

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“Just [trying] to continue to try and build up and ramp this up as best we can and obviously things are different for everybody so we’re just trying to make sure we’re ready to go once the games that count start,” Corbin said Sunday.

While Martinez doesn’t rule out the idea of pulling pitchers earlier than they might like early on, he also said that such a task is easier said than done when dealing with the personalities of some of his top arms.

“We’re going to have to see where these guys end up at the end of camp,” Martinez said. “I know 60 games ain’t 162 games but…our guys, they’re very intense. It’s going to be hard to take Max out of a game after the fifth inning when he’s doing well but there might have to come a time where we have to do that just for longevity. But these guys, for me, if they keep doing what they’re doing, they’re going to be ready to go out the chute.”

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