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A lost season: Nats eliminated from playoff contention


A lost season: Nats eliminated from playoff contention

For weeks, the Nationals knew this day would come. They knew their inevitable fate of being eliminated from the playoff race was going to happen, one way or another.

There were nights when it seemed like it was already over, then the window would open and a glimmer of light would shine through. There were many opportunities over the last few weeks to put pressure on the first place New York Mets. But each time the game of baseball reminded them that preseason expectations, no matter how valid in their reasoning, mean nothing when it's all said and done.

The Nationals season breathed its last breath on Saturday night. The fact they walked off the Phillies an hour later in the drizzling rain on South Capitol St. became an ironic afterthought. It was all over and it ended way earlier than anyone had planned.

"I never thought we'd end up here," Jayson Werth said. "Obviously, we've underachieved. We haven't played well. We've done a lot of things that got us here. But I would've never guessed that. I would've never thought we'd be sitting here having this conversation with seven or eight games left. Would've bet the other way."

Both the Mets and Nationals celebrated on Saturday night. The Mets had a champagne shower in the visitors clubhouse in Cincinnati. The Nats rushed the field in Washington to pour chocolate sauce and other liquids on Bryce Harper, who hit a walk-off double to seal the victory.

But the Nationals will have plenty to think about once the dust settles on this day. Chances to win a World Series do not come around often and with the way this roster was constructed - many players were retained who are set for free agency this winter - this was as good an opportunity as many members of the Nationals will ever get.

That fact is not lost on the Nationals, who know the team could be a much different group on Opening Day 2016.

"I think I said that in February that this could be the last run of this core group of guys. It's got a chance to be drastically different next year, so that's tough," Werth said. "This is my fifth year here. Played with these guys, get to know these guys, go to work with these guys every year. You're basically family."

"We had the pieces in place to have a special season. It didn't happen," Casey Janssen said. "It's kind of a season with a lot of what ifs. I think on a personal level, I underachieved a little bit. I think a lot of people would have a similar statement. We dealt with a lot of injuries, but the bottom line is we didn't get it done."

"Sometimes this game isn't fair," Stephen Strasburg said. "Every single one of these guys competed all year. We dealt with some adversity, but we battled through it. That's all you can do. It just didn't work out this year."

The reasons for why the Nationals will not be playing in the postseason are numerous. They had an inordinate amount of injuries in the first half of the season. Then, they got healthy and it took time for players like Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon to get their timing back at the plate. The indispensable Denard Span appeared in only 61 games before being lost for the year.

There were mistakes made by their manager Matt Williams that are well-documented. His use of the bullpen came into question on many nights and some could argue his steadfast approach of not looking at the big picture, not seeing bad losses for what they were, held him and his team back from learning from their missteps.

The rotation was nowhere near what it was supposed to be. The Nationals had the best starters ERA in 2014 and then signed former Cy Young-winner Max Scherzer. It was predicted to be a historically dominant group. But Strasburg was held back by injuries in the early months, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez were inconsistent, and Doug Fister had the worst season of his career. Even Scherzer failed on several occasions when they needed him.

The bullpen was the team's weakest link for much of the season. They couldn't overcome the departure of Tyler Clippard and the early loss of Craig Stammen. After trading for closer Jonathan Papelbon, Drew Storen - who had pitched at an All-Star level in the first half - became their biggest liability.

Young, promising arms came up only to show their inexperience. Guys like Aaron Barrett and Blake Treinen did not progress like the front office projected they would.

Janssen was signed to be the team's setup man, to bring a veteran presence to the back of the Nats' bullpen. He did not have the season he was supposed to have, either, and knows things could have been different if the bullpen was better as a collective group.

"I think any good team, it starts on the mound. It starts with starting pitching. And if the starters are working deep into games it gives the bullpen a little rest every once in a while. [After the All-Star break], we were in a lot of tight games. We were using a lot of guys every night. We started to struggle as a group and we couldn't stop the bad snowball. It just happened to be at a time in our season when were counted on greatly. At the end of the day, as a team you can look at everything, but I think for us as a bullpen we probably circle that time of the season where had we performed better we definitely wouldn't have been eliminated today. It might have changed things."

The Nationals have eight games remaining on their schedule, eight meaningless games that include three at the New York Mets before they call it a year. Williams, for one, is not ready to reflect on what went wrong until the season is actually over.

"We got games to play. Can’t do that. We gotta to win tomorrow. I mean we’re here. We have to play games. We’ve got some remaining. We want to play well in those games. After the fact, we’ll have a chance to look back at it," he said.

Williams was asked if he addressed his team after the game, knowing their season was essentially over. He hadn't.

"I haven’t spoken to them yet. You’re going to have to ask them what they feel. I can tell you this, we’re trying to win and the game that we’re playing is most important."

Many Nats players were indeed asked how they felt and Harper, for one, has already come to terms with what will ultimately be looked at as a lost season.

"It’s just baseball. It’s just a game you play. There’s a lot of things in life that are bigger than just baseball. We’ll all come back in tomorrow and play this game," he said. "I think, the next couple days – the next week or so – a lot of these guys won’t be in this clubhouse anymore. So, we’re gonna try to enjoy this as a team and just really have some fun and play hard and see where we’re at."

All that is left to play for is pride and statistics. Then, on the night of Oct. 4 in New York, an offseason that could bring momentous change to the organization will finally begin.

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Around the NL East: Braves get a chance to pull ahead

Around the NL East: Braves get a chance to pull ahead

Unsurprisingly the Atlanta Braves fully surpassed the Washington Nationals as the frontrunners in the National League East.

Atlanta has gotten healthy and appears, whereas Washington continues to struggle to find offense and is continually on the mend.

Unlike the week prior, the NL East was above .500 due to the Miami Marlins performing quite well. While it should be no sign of a turnaround, Miami’s offense has some liftoff.

While we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and giving unneeded significance to a series in June, the Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies series at the end of this week is one to watch. Washington is on their worst stretch of games since the start of the season. Two of their top seven arms are on the DL, and they need some breaks to go their way. Philadelphia has been off-and-on for a month, and a series win over the Nats could give them the justification they need to battle for the NL East crown.

Atlanta Braves

Record: 42-29
Last 10: 6-4
Upcoming Series: @ Toronto Blue Jays (2), vs. Baltimore Orioles (3)

It should not be that noteworthy that the Braves jumped out to a lead in the East after their schedule this past week. Playing two of the bottom teams in the National League, the New York Mets and the San Diego Padres, Atlanta took care of business going 5-1 on the week.

Understanding it is against bottom half competition, their pitching was superb by some key starters in their rotation. Of course Mike Soroka finally came back from rehab with 6.1 innings of one-hit baseball, along with a brief break by Julio Tehran. Occupying the No. 5 spot in the rotation, Soroka will significantly bolster the bridge to Tehran, who struck out 11 Padres on Sunday.

For position players, Freddie Freeman hit three home runs this week despite seeing a 10-game hitting streak come to a close. They also still are waiting for their star left fielder Robert Acuna Jr. to get back. He was sent to the 10-day DL back on May 28.

A relatively easy June continues for the Braves with only Toronto and Baltimore on deck this week.

Washington Nationals

Record: 37-31
Last 10: 4-6
Upcoming Series: vs. New York Yankees (2), vs. Baltimore Orioles (3), vs. Philadelphia Phillies (3)

The best news for the Nationals after getting swept by the Blue Jays is honestly their young phenom Juan Soto. Hitting .312 in 77 at-bats, the outfield call-up has far exceeded expectations.

Almost singlehandedly, Soto gave them their lone victory of the week by hitting two dingers in Yankee Stadium. He brought home four of their five runs in a one-run win.

By all means he has earned his starting spot with the top club, alongside the now healthy Adam Eaton and Bryce Harper. However, where does Michael A. Taylor fit in? Tough decisions to be had in the Nats clubhouse.

An eight-game home stand is severely needed for a squad that had dropped six of their last eight and is now 3.5 games back in the division. Not to mention they are still without Stephen Strasburg, Jeremy Hellickson, and Brandon Kintzler.

Don’t worry the All-Star break, which will be in their home yard, is right around the corner.

Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 37-32
Last 10: 5-5
Upcoming Series: vs. St. Louis Cardinals (3), @ Washington Nationals (3)

Two series wins over the Colorado Rockies and in Milwaukee was a good pick-me-up for the young Philadelphia squad.

Unlike the week prior, there are finally some runners getting on base. None more than Rhys Hoskins who had eight hits (three of them long balls), and four walks in the past six games. They’ve even got some lively play from shortstop Scott Kingery, batting .333 in the past week.

Still their starters have to give them more consistency to give them a chance in the NL East. That includes Jake Arrieta (5-5) who consistently cannot make it to the sixth inning. He’s given up a combined 13 runs in only 14.2 innings pitched in his last three starts.

A chance for them to really pull their worth and possibly leapfrog the Nationals this week.

New York Mets

Record: 30-38
Last 10: 3-7
Upcoming Series: @ Colorado Rockies (4), vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (3)

All of the New York Mets ‘stars’ are still on the disabled list. All two of them.

Noah Syndergaard and Yoenis Cespedes were anticipated to come back this past week, but neither got the nod from Mickey Callaway.

With a solid uptick in production by Jose Reyes, who still has a .165 average on the year, there is some hope with the production from their infield.

Miami Marlins

Record: 28-44
Last 10: 6-4
Upcoming Series: @ San Francisco Giants (3), @ Colorado Rockies (3)

Twice this week Miami had a chance to get their first sweep over an opponent this year. Sure one team was the Baltimore Orioles, but the other was the San Francisco Giants.

It wasn’t necessarily because of dominant pitching either. Their lineup pieced together some timely hits, including three triples from center fielder Lewis Brinson and three home runs by J.T. Realmuto.

Speaking of pitching though, closer Kyle Barraclough saw four appearances without allowing a run, garnering three saves. If his team can get him more opportunities he could be up there with Kenley Jansen and Sean Dolittle as one of the top closers in the NL.


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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 12

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 12

We're just a couple of weeks away from the midway point of the 2018 Major League Baseball season, which means many casual fantasy baseball players have collectively turned their attention to the gridiron. This is good news for those of you still interested, because outside of the truly competitive leagues, it's about to get much easier to navigate the waiver wire and make winning trades.

That said, we'll still be here all season long, providing advice for anyone looking to gain a competitive edge in their fantasy leagues. There's a lot to digest in the upcoming week, as many teams (including the Washington Nationals) will play a full seven game slate. It's an especially great time for stars in baseball, as a whopping six players are on pace to record seasons with 8.7 Wins Above Replacement or higher, but there's still plenty of great options beyond the obvious guys.

NOTE: Don’t expect to see guys like Bryce Harper or Trea Turner mentioned too often. They are clear must-starts every week. Don’t overthink it.

Week 12 (6/18-6/24)

One Nationals pitcher to start: Max Scherzer

We won't often include a guy on the level of Mad Max in our recommendations, but consider this a statement against the other pitchers. With Stephen Strasburg on the DL, Gio Gonzalez is really the only other startable option in the rotation, and while he's a fine play against the Orioles, he's not a sure thing. Scherzer is the best pitcher in baseball, so when in doubt, it's easy to fall back on his name. For now, feel free to use Gonzalez if needed, but the only clear, recommendable one this week is Scherzer.

One Nationals position player to start: Adam Eaton, OF

Consider this your reminder to not get cute and just start Adam Eaton whenever he's healthy. When he can manage to avoid time on the disabled list, he's consistenly been one of the best players in Washington, and an absolute must-start in fantasy. Yes, he's hitting "just" .286 in five games since returning from the DL, but there's no reason to believe he won't bounce back to one of the top hitters in the National League once he gets back in the swing of things. As long as he's hitting at the top of the Washington lineup, he'll be one of the top run producers in baseball.

One Nationals pitcher to sit: Erick Fedde

We likely would have advised against starting Fedde regardless of matchup, given his relative struggles in his two starts with the Nats this season. He's got a nice 9:2 strikeout-to-walk rate, but the ERA sits at an unsightly 5.91. What makes matters worse is the matchup; Fedde is once again slated to face the vaunted New York Yankees lineup. In New York, he allowed two home runs in just five innings, and while Nats park isn't the hitter's haven that Yankee Stadium is, the sluggers in their lineup make for a daunting matchup in any city.

Fedde probably isn't owned in most leagues, and there's no reason for that to change, even with his spot in the rotation likely secure as long as Strasburg isn't throwing.. 

One Nationals player to sit: Daniel Murphy, 2B

Nats fans were understandably rejoicing when Daniel Murphy returned to the lineup last week. It's always fun when one of your stars is back on the field after missing so much time. Still, like most players who haven't face in-game pitching in several months, Murphy has been slow to re-adjust at the plate. He's recorded just two hits in 15 at-bats, has only walked once, and has yet to notch an extra-base hit of any kind. His OPS is below-.200, and while no one should expect that to last, there's no need to rush him back into your lineups either.

It would be pretty tempting to slot Murphy into your 2B or middle infield spot now that he's healthy, since you likely drafted him to be one of your studs, but given his lengthy absence, the nature of his original injury, and his slow start since returning, it's probably a good idea to leave him on your bench for a week or two. Once he starts driving the ball again, he can start to return value for you, but there's no reason to let him drag you down in the meantime.

Any 2-start pitchers for the Nationals this week?

Given that the rotation is currently in a state of flux, we can't confidently say any starter will get two starts. Fedde looks like the most likely candidate, but as we outlined above, he's still a pitcher you want to avoid for now.

Any 2-start pitchers worth streaming around MLB this week?

One of my favorite sleepers this week is Domingo German. One of the most surprising stats in all of baseball right now is that among starting pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched, German has the second best swinging strike rate, behind only Max Scherzer. Swinging strike rate is a great stat to use when projecting future strikeout potential, and German's 15.9% is mighty impressive. German has a start at home against the Mariners and on the road against the Rays, so while it's not a cakewalk week, it's not especially daunting either. As an added bonus for those in points leagues, German is RP-eligible, giving you some extra roster flexibility.

The walks are a little high (21 in 53.3 innings) which has let to an elevated WHIP and ERA, but it's a good rule of thumb to follow the strikeouts when identifiying quality fantasy pitchers, and considering most of the two-start guys this week are obvious studs who are certainly already owned in your league, German is the exact type of option you should be looking to stream.

One player you might not realize you should pick up: John Hicks, C/1B (Tigers) 

This is a sneaky move, the kind that could easily get overlooked in most fantasy leagues but could provide a great return on investment. With Miguel Cabrera's unfortunate season-ending biceps injury providing an opening in the everyday lineup in Detroit, Hicks (who is catcher elgibile) will be taking most of the team's at-bats at first base going forward. While he's probably not worth rostering as a first baseman in most leagues, catcher is a notorious black hole in fantasy baseball in recent years, and this season might be the wost yet.

Hicks will maintain catcher eligibility all season long, yet he'll play the far less demanding first base every day, giving him less wear and tear on his legs, less concern with running the pitching staff, and most importantly, regular at-bats in a surprisingly not-atrocious lineup. Hicks isn't the type of guy you'd refer to as a league-winner prior to Opening Day, but he could make a real impact on a championship roster in the second half of the season.

One player you might not realize you should drop: Jake Junis, SP (Royals) 

Junis isn't the type of pitcher that I'd classify as a must-drop, but you shouldn't hesitate to move on if there's a clear better option on the waiver wire. Junis started the season strong and looked like a legitimate breakout player, but he's allowed six earned runs in each of his last two starts. A poor two-start stretch isn't the end of the world, which is why I'm not suggest that everyone jump ship regardless of team context. That said, he doesn't have the pedigree of a top pitching prospect, and he plays for one of the five worst teams in baseball, meaning you can't expect many wins even when Junis is throwing well.

At the very least, you prbably should leave Junis on the bench for the time being, and again, if there's an option you've been eyeing on the waiver wire, now is the time to strike. Don't feel bad if that means leaving Junis behind to free up a roster spot for your team.


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