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Braves-Nats series preview

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Braves-Nats series preview

Braves @ Nationals
50-41 2nd in NL East 53-37 1st in NL East

The Rundown
Friday, July 20-Sunday, July 22
Series 31
Season Series Record vs. Braves: Nationals lead 6-2
Pitching Probables
Friday, July 20 7:05 pm
Tommy Hanson (10-5, 4.02 ERA) @ Stephen Strasburg (10-4, 2.66 ERA)

Saturday, July 21 1:05 pm 7:05 pm
1:05: Ben Sheets (1-0, 0.00 ERA) @ Edwin Jackson (5-5, 3.89 ERA)

7:05: Randall Delgado (4-9, 4.52 ERA) @ John Lannan (2012 debut)
denotes left handed pitcher

Sunday, July 22 1:35 pm
Jair Jurrjens (3-3, 6.20) @ Ross Detwiler (4-3, 3.15 ERA)
denotes left handed pitcher

Whos Hot & Whos Not
Braves
Hot: 1B Freddie Freeman - .417 AVG, 3HR, 8 RBI in 10-game hit streak
Not: 2B Dan Uggla .095 AVG, 16 K in 42 AB in July

Nationals
Hot: 3B Ryan Zimmerman .400 AVG, 4 HR, 6 RBI in last 10 games
Not: C Jesus Flores .147 AVG, 7 K, 3 GIDP in July

A Series Look
While its still only July, this series ranks as the biggest of the year to date for both clubs. The Braves and Nationals are two of the top teams in the National League, separated in division positions by just 3.5 games. A Braves series sweep would vault Atlanta into first place in the NL East. Luckily for the Nationals, Washington has fared well against Atlanta with a 6-2 advantage this season.

Braves 2B Dan Uggla has struggled mightily recently, but loves facing tonights starter Stephen Strasburg (.538 AVG, 2 HR, 8 RBI). While Strasburg hasnt fared as well against the Braves this season (2-1, 4.20 ERA) as he does against most of his competition, odds are he gives Washington a strong start if the weather cooperates. His counterpart - Tommy Hanson - hasnt been himself this season, but is probably the best of the bunch that the Braves are throwing on the mound this weekend.

In tomorrows doubleheader, John Lannan will make his 2012 MLB debut. The 5 million left-handed starter went from starting two Opening Days in years past to riding busses in AAA this season. Lannan, though, has been very good in his career against Atlanta (8-5, 3.25 ERA, personal best vs. opponent 60 k) and could be the guy the Nats turn to whenif they shut down Strasburg.
As mentioned earlier, while there are two months and some change left to play, this series could have huge implications going forward. The cellar dweller Phillies and struggling Marlins trail in double digits in games back. The Mets have been reeling. At this very moment, it looks like the NL East race could come down to just the Nats and Braves this summer.

While most of the Nationals players will tell you its just another series, deep down they know whats on the line and they know that they could really extend their 1st place lead with a series win.

Nats fans, who have suffered through 100 loss seasons in the past, finally get to experience a series like this one. And if you still dont believe that Washington has arrived on the map, todays poll on MLB Networks The Rundown flashed results of their Friday poll that said the Braves-Nationals weekend series was the most intriguing one (winning over the likes of White Sox-Tigers and Rangers-Angels).

Prediction: Series split 2-2

News and Notes>Trade winds: Despite comments from manager Davey Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo, I still see the Nats in the market for a starting pitcher (Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster, Francisco Liriano, James Shields, etc) and a catcher (Ramon Hernandez) before the trade deadline is over. I do think they have cooled on the idea of adding additional OF help, though.

>MASH update: Jayson Werth (wrist) was supposed to start his rehab assignment tonight for APotomac, but with the inclement weather, he will not appear in the line-up There is an outside chance that UTIL Chad Tracy (groin) could re-join the team in New York on Monday.

>Welcome Back: I thought RHP Drew Storen (elbow) looked decent in his 2012 MLB debut. He faced a talented chunk of Mets hitters, retiring all three. His velocity will get better, but I liked what I saw out of his new and improved sinker SS Ian Desmond (oblique) will make his return to the Nats starting line-up after missing four straight starts.

Down on the Farm
>AAASyracuse: OF Corey Brown hit his 21st home run of the season yesterday. He is batting .300 with 57 RBI. A September call-up is most likely in his future, unless the club dangles him as trade bait OF Eury Perez was promoted from AAHarrisburg last night. Perez, a speedy CF, is viewed as the Nationals 5th best prospect (according to MLB.coms Jonathan Mayo). Perez was hitting .300 with 26 stolen bases this season in AA.
>AAHarrisburg: Staying on the topic of promotions, 2011 draft pick Brian Goodwin was bumped all the way from AHagerstown to AAHarrisburg. Goodwin was hitting at a .324 clip, 9 homers, 38 RBI and 15 stolen bases. Its not the first time a Nats top position prospect skipped APotomac. He now joins fellow Top 10 prospect Destin Hood and William & Mary product Chris Rahl in the Senators outfield.

>A (Advanced)Potomac: As predicted last week, 2011 1st round pick SP Alex Meyer was promoted. He will start tonights game in Potomac, leaving behind a 7-4 record with a 3.10 ERA and SAL leading 107 K in Hagerstown 3B Steven Souza is returning to Potomac as a reward after hitting .290 with 17 HR and 72 RBI for AHagerstown In case you missed it, earlier this week the P-Nats unveiled plans for a 6,000-7,000 seat, state of the art stadium that would be built in time for the 2014 season. For more, view this report: http:www2.insidenova.comsports2012jul1713new-stadium-share-location-comm...

>AHagerstown: Nats top 20 prospect SP Taylor Jordan has rejoined the Suns after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Jordan has the ceiling of a 4-5 starter.

>A (Short Season)Auburn: 2012 3rd round pick SP Brett Mooneyham has yet to give up a run in 8.2 IP.
>RookieGCL and DSL Nationals: 2011 1st round pick 3B Anthony Rendon is rehabbing for the clubs rookie league team. Rendon, playing in his second game today, went 1-for-4 with a double and 2 RBI.

Q&A Corner
This weeks guest is Brian Oliver, Owner of Nationals Farm Authority. (For more go to NatsFarm.com)
CSN:The MLB trade deadline is really inching closer now and despite the Nationals having one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball, they appear to be in the market for another starting pitcher. Of the names rumored to be available, which ones intrigue you the most?

NFA: The name that intrigues me the most is Francisco Liriano. The lefthander is a free agent at the end of the season but there is something that appeals to me about taking a flier on a trade and then extending him. A change of scenery and a move to the NL could add depth to an already deep rotation. Another less discussed name is Brandon McCarthy (currently on the DL with Oakland). He'd cost less in prospects than Liriano and provide rotation depth

CSN:Are there any other areas of need, where you think this team should improve in? I get an inkling Washington is searching for a catcher - Ramon Hernandez, perhaps?
NFA:Catching is an interesting choice. I believe a catcher would be an area where they can help this year. I have concerns about how long it's going to take to get Ramos back and how effective he is going to be after the injury. Ramon Hernandez should come cheaply if Colorado really is looking to shed payroll (he's owed 3.2M in 2013).

CSN:Tis the season for minor league promotions! Which ones that have already happened (or will happen soon), should get Nats fans excited the most?
NFA:Two of them from the 2011 draft. First, RHP Alex Meyer was promoted from Hagerstown to Potomac and makes his first start tonight and OF Brian Goodwin jumped from Hagerstown to Harrisburg (skipping Potomac).

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5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals made the first major trade of the season this evening. 

Midway through their Monday night game against the Yankees, the team announced that they had completed a trade for Royals' relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera:

Herrera's a major acquisition for the Nationals, as the pitcher is in the middle of a career year. He's currently pitched 25 innings so far, posting a 1.05 FIP, 2.62 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. His 2.1 percent walk rate this season is a career low. 

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