Last summer, I got back in the habit of reading for pleasure every day. I called it “Maddie’s Summer Book Club of One”, and we had a splendid time. This summer, MSBCOO (the name is still being workshopped) is back for the second time, but unlike last year, we have a theme. This summer, I’m going to read as many baseball books as I can. This means fiction about or including lots of baseball, player biographies, historical nonfiction, and books about strategy and the intricacies of gameplay.
The Nats’ bullpen has been in flux for most of the season, what with injuries and inconsistency. It’s been better of late, but the reality is that the Nationals are going to have to make some changes if they want a rock-solid, scary bullpen, and especially if they want a chance at making a deep run into the playoffs. Last year, their bullpen was their biggest weakness, and they don’t want that to happen again this year. At the deadline, they’re likely going to have to make a move to shore up that bullpen. My proposed solution: bring Craig Stammen back to the Nationals.
Okay, sorry. Now that I’ve gotten my Uncle Buck/bug-gnat-Nats reference out of the way, let’s talk about the squad’s injury issues and how they’re countering them.
Jeremy Hellickson began his tenure as a Washington National as a relative afterthought: a low-risk insurance policy for a franchise with little pitching depth, someone that could be counted on to at least throw strikes in Triple-A and in the Majors if injuries were to occur. Flash forward to mid-April, when A.J. Cole finally lost his ninth life as a Nats prospect and was demoted from the fifth starter role (and traded a week later) in favor of the 31-year old veteran Hellickson. Not much is generally expected from the number 5 guy in a rotation besides staying giving his club some quality innings so as not to destroy the bullpen.
Yet here we stand halfway through May with Hellickson having started six games and the numbers are astounding. 2.20 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 5.2 K/BB ratio, and while he only has one decision (a win), the Nats are 4-2 in his starts. Save perhaps the otherworldly Houston Astros, no team in baseball has been as pleased with their fifth starter as Washington. But is it sustainable to any extent? Let’s look at the underlying numbers.
Michael A. Taylor is one of the more polarizing Washington Nationals. Since his first sustained big league action in 2015, he’d graded as a slightly above average position player who’d combine out-of-body athletic moments with liver-soaking runs of failure.
Then, in 2017, he took a huge step forward. He slashed .271/.320/.486 on his way to a 105 wRC+ and 3.2 Fangraphs WAR, which would have 10th among centerfielders had he logged enough plate appearances to qualify. He even played his typically strong defense.
He hasn’t hit this year (a subject that deserves 800 words all its own), but his glove has been fine. Better than fine, actually: the word I’m looking for is elite.
Continue Reading Michael A. Taylor Is The Best Defensive Outfielder In Baseball — Right Now
This time last year, Nationals fans were watching implosion after implosion after implosion coming from the bullpen—leading to the worst reliever ERA in the majors. Mike Rizzo, doing what he does best, went out and formed The Law Firm of Kintzler, Madson, and Doolittle. The second half of 2017, the Nats bullpen was one of the better in the majors. After the season, he also convinced Brandon Kintzler to eschew more high-profile closer roles, and return to DC for a chance at a title. How much better has 2018 been?
“You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.” -Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
Last weekend, Bryce Harper’s legacy as a Washington National was further cemented, as the Nationals Dream Foundation dedicated Bryce Harper Field in Northwest DC, at the Takoma Community Center. The city was able to open the field with a donation from the Nationals Dream Foundation and Harper himself. The Nationals Dream Foundation plans to donate a field to the community every year, and so far they’ve made good on that promise, with Bryce Harper Field joining Ryan Zimmerman and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez Field.
The Nationals could potentially lose a franchise mainstay this coming offseason. A player who has brought magic to Nats fans, one whose arrival signified a turning point from mediocrity to excellence. A player who has had frustrating moments that make you scratch your head, but also moments of brilliance that make your jaw drop.
No, I’m not talking about Bryce Harper. I’m talking about Gio Gonzalez.
It feels like each starter should have at least two more wins on their record, and for some of them perhaps one less loss or two. The starting pitching has been absolutely phenomenal, though their win-loss records are not as pristine as they could be for one primary reason: the offense isn’t scoring enough runs for them.