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Ross continues to impress, but Mets showing their worth

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Ross continues to impress, but Mets showing their worth

For the second straight night, the Nationals fell to the division rival New York Mets by just one run thanks to mistakes made late in the game by their bullpen. This time it was Mets first baseman Lucas Duda who had the big swing and Nats reliever Matt Thornton who gave up the decisive score.

The Nationals now lead by just one game in the NL East and that advantage could disappear on Sunday when the Mets will aim for the series sweep. Jordan Zimmermann (8-6, 3.36) and Noah Syndergaard (5-5, 2.70) will be the starters in what is about as big a game as you will see in early August.

The season series between the Nats and Mets is now deadlocked at six games apiece. Thanks to their 3-2 win on Saturday, New York now holds a 33-32 lead in runs overall. Six of the 12 games they have played were decided by one run and another was decided by two runs. So far this season, the Nats and Mets have proven to be quite the even matchup.

It is, of course, important to note all the injuries the Nationals have endured this season. They have yet to field their full regular lineup once this season. But they are very close to being healthy now, at least on offense, and here the Mets have won two straight to begin this series.

After Sunday's series finale, the two teams will play six more times this season. Included in those plans is a three-game series in New York to finish the regular season schedule. With the way these teams are going, there's a good chance there will be plenty on the line for that weekend.

Ross has another impressive outing

Each baseball season has its fair share of surprises, and the 2015 Nationals have had plenty. In terms of positive developments, the emergence of rookie starter Joe Ross has to rank up there with the most positive of them.

When he debuted on June 6, few even within the organization knew what he was capable of. Many just noticed how he was the first teammate Bryce Harper had played with at the major league level that was younger than him. In the time since, however, Ross has proven his worth as an important part of the Nationals' future.

Ross dazzled once again on Saturday night in his sixth career start. He allowed only two runs - both on Duda solo homers - on four hits and one walk.

Through six MLB outings, Ross has five quality starts. He has yet to allow more than three runs in a game or more than one walk in 6 1/3 innings.

The consistency Ross has shown so far is remarkable. In each of his outings he has struck out at least four batters with one walk or less. He is the first pitcher since at least 1914 (as far back as Baseball Reference's play index goes) to began his career like that.

Back to the quality starts. Ross has five of them in six outings. For a comparison, it took Max Scherzer 12 career starts to get five and Gio Gonzalez needed 20. Stephen Strasburg has just two quality starts in 13 outings this season.

After Saturday's start, Ross now has a 10.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio with 40 Ks so far to just four walks. He has the best SO/BB ratio among rookie starters this season by a longshot and the best of any rookie pitcher through six starts since at least 1901. Coincidentally, Scherzer (2008), Strasburg (2010) and Tanner Roark (2013) all led their respective rookie classes in the category.

I've been asked several times in recent weeks about the future of Ross in the Nationals' organization both on Twitter and on the radio. After his first few outings and especially in early July, the thought of 'selling high' and trading him at some point seemed reasonable. But with the way he has pitched this season not only in the majors, but in each of his minor league stops, it's becoming clear that Ross will end up being a big part of their 2016 plans.

Jordan Zimmermann and Fister are both impending free agents and the likelihood they will keep both, if either of them, seems low. Many expect Lucas Giolito to be ready to make the Opening Day roster next spring, but he will almost certainly be on an innings limit in 2016, given he is still recently removed from Tommy John surgery. It is unlikely the Nats will allow him to pitch beyond 160 innings or so next season.

Ross is the more likely candidate to step right in if Fister and/or Zimmermann leave and become a mainstay in their rotation. And with what he's shown so far, the Nationals could have a potential star in the waiting.

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2019 MLB Postseason Predictions: Where the Nationals stand

2019 MLB Postseason Predictions: Where the Nationals stand

A week after the Midsummer Classic, the Nationals' comeback June looks less and less like a fluke as Washington continues its push to the postseason and the NL East Wild Card race.

In the 2019 MLB Postseason fight, the Dodgers (62-33) of the NL West are predicted to finish the regular season as the top team in the league, while each wild card race remains fairly close. Right now, the NL Central Cubs (50-43) and NL East Braves (57-37) round out the current National League leaders, while the Nationals (49-43) and Phillies (48-45) are the two wild card teams. 

Washington, 1.5 games ahead in the wild card race, revived its playoff chances after a slow start to the season. The Nationals' comeback June propelled them back into a wild card position. But the NL wild card race is far from set, as the Brewers (48-46) are 0.5 games back from the Phillies (and the Cardinals (46-45) are 1.0 games behind). 

 Here are the MLB playoff standings if the season ended Monday:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Division Leaders
Houston Astros (West)
New York Yankees (East)
Minnesota Twins (Central)

Wild Card
Tampa Bay Rays (55-40, +1.5 Wild Card Games Behind)
Oakland A's (53-41, - WCGB)

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Division Leaders
Chicago Cubs (Central)
Los Angeles Dodgers (West)
Atlanta Braves (East)

Wild Card
Washington Nationals (49-43, +1.5 WCGB)
Philadelphia Phillies (48-45, - WCGB)

2019 MLB POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS
(As of July 15)

All three projections for the playoffs have the Dodgers finishing at the top of the league, though Baseball Reference has Los Angeles winning a whopping 110 games––at least seven more wins than either FiveThirtyEight or FanGraphs projects. 

Baseball Reference predicts the Nationals and Diamondbacks will be the NL Wild Cards, with the Athletics and the Rays as the AL Wild Cards. FanGraphs also has the Nationals making the playoffs as a wild card, while FiveThirtyEight lists the Nationals as having a 56% chance of making the playoffs at all. 

FanGraphs is the only site that lists the Nationals' chance at winning the World Series as above 2.5% (5.8%), while it also gives Washington an 82% shot at making the playoffs overall (and a 63.7% chance to win the wild card). 

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Nationals face dilemma as Sean Doolittle's usage mounts, velocity drops

Nationals face dilemma as Sean Doolittle's usage mounts, velocity drops

Davey Martinez had no hesitation in his answer or decision on Friday in Philadelphia. First game out of the break, facing a team right next to the Nationals in the standings, a 4-0 lead. Closer Sean Doolittle was coming in to end it, though it was a non-save situation and he is being used at an extreme level.

“Here’s my thoughts: It took me about three seconds,” Martinez said Friday. “Playing at Citizens [Bank] Park. Four runs. That ain’t much here. Those guys can hit. Doolittle’s coming in the game. It’s a big moment. And, he’s my guy. To me, that game right there, it’s huge coming off a four-day break.”

So, Doolittle made his 40th appearance of the season. Saturday brought his 41st appearance. He did not pitch Sunday, a day game after a late night.

Trends are emerging through his high usage rate. Doolittle’s velocity is down for the fourth consecutive season. The dip is slight year over year, from 93.9 mph average fastball velocity to 93.6. His velocity was distinctly down in Philadelphia over the weekend despite four days off. Doolittle threw 12 fastballs Friday, 10 of which were slower than his average fastball velocity this season. He threw 19 fastballs Saturday; 13 were below his average velocity (two others matched it). 

“I’m not exactly sure why it’s down,” Doolittle said Saturday. “I know from past experience, not to panic if I see the 91, 92. I feel pretty good -- everybody gets a little tired around this point of the season, but if I stay in my mechanics and don’t try to overthrow, I can still get that life and deception on my fastball. I can still, like [Saturday], I can still navigate innings and get guys out. These last two nights I’ve been really pleased with how I’ve been able to manage my energy level without maybe my best fastball.”

He is on pace for a career-high 72 appearances and 1,214 pitches. The latter would exceed his career mark of 1,019 by almost 200 pitches. One of the most telling numbers around Doolittle is his games finished vs. saves. He leads the league with 37 games finished but has just 20 saves, which is tied for fourth with three others. National League saves leader Kirby Yates has finished 35 games, but has 30 saves. Kenley Jansen: 33 games finished, 23 saves. Will Smith: 35 games finished, 23 saves. No other closer has appeared in more non-save situations.

Doolittle’s velocity also dropped earlier in the season before a mechanical adjustment kicked it back up to the 94- and 95-mph range for a spell. He did turn loose a 95-mph fastball Saturday. He half-joked about it.

“See it’s in there,” Doolittle said. “I just got to pick and choose, I guess, when to use it.”

His manager is using a more straight-ahead approach. Doolittle is out there, so he is using him. A lot.

And all this is more for recognition of the situation as opposed to blame assessment, When the bullpen was at its worst, Doolittle was summoned at times because his teammates were in the process of blowing a game or couldn’t be trusted in the first place. The Nationals were also rapidly losing ground, so Martinez had to be sure he was sure whenever possible. But, also, there have been times when Doolittle’s appearance in a non-save situation appeared unnecessary.

Piled together, the Nationals have an ongoing conundrum: they need to manage Doolittle’s appearances while in the middle of a push up the standings and without a definitive backup. Fernando Rodney has helped. An acquisition before the trade deadline could help further. And the coming week we’ll clarify if two games in Philadelphia were a blip or more foreboding.

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