The Cubs return home after what at first appears to be a disappointing series win in Kansas City. You really wanted a sweep, and losing the last one in such silly and belching-like fashion is something of a kick to the solar plexus. But it only looks bad when combined with the split with the Padres before, as 4-3 against two of the worst teams in MLB would definitely not get a "satisfactory" on the report card.
But, with the Padres taking two of three from the Brewers yesterday, the Cubs haven't really lost anything, and in fact gained a game on their division lead. Sure, you don't want to cling to or win a division simply because everyone else fell down faster than you did. But considering the Cubs are still missing their closer, their #2 starter, their best player, and have a raft of youngsters still figuring it out, the Padres hilarious win yesterday should at least put the nerves at ease.
According to some, the Cubs being a "litmus test" today, as they will see the Nationals, Brewers, and Pirates for the next nine. And sure, two games with the Brewers in August is a thing. But the Nats and Bucs are barely .500 teams. If this is the litmus the NL can offer, then it needs to deepen the water.
For the 16th time in the past month or so it seems, the Nats are hoping that they've turned a corner and are finally going to resemble the team they were supposed to be. They took two of three from the Braves at home after taking three of four from the Reds, and for them this constitutes a hot streak. They're still 5.5 games behind the Phillies and 4.5 behind the Braves, and are four games behind the Dodgers for what would be the second coin-flip spot. There's work to be done and not a lot of racetrack left.
What we do know about the Nationals, or are gleaning, is that there might have been a reason Dave Martinez took so long to get a manager's job. He was Joe Maddon's right-hand man for so long it seemed odd that he didn't get job after job. Usually when you're the guy next to the guy considered one of the best in the game, your number gets called.
Well, the Nats have been a mess for most of the season. They've had players fighting with each other, whispers of a clubhouse out of Mean Girls, and pretty much everyone not named "Scherzer" underperforming, and basically being miserable. Martinez's "Leader Of Men" meter needs some boosting, it appears.
Still, the Nationals shouldn't really be where they are. They're in the top half in offense in terms of OBP, wOBA, and wRC+ as a team. Same goes for their starters' and pen's ERA and FIP. They've been terrible in one-run games (11-18), which could just be luck, with some fishy managing thrown in if you want to argue that. They're six games behind where their run difference says they should be, and if they get any kind of correction to that they'll at least be heard from in the NL East.
Perhaps the pressure of "THIS IS IT FOR US" has gotten to them, as with Harper possibly exiting stage right after the season one wonders if this is the end of their window. Still, Juan Soto might extend it, as at 19 he's been worth 2.8 fWAR in just 69 games. Rendon-Harper-Soto is a pretty meaty middle of the order, and will have to be negotiated this weekend.
Friday: 1:20 pm - NBCSN
Saturday: 3:05pm - ABC 7
Sunday: 7:05pm - ESPN (god help us)
All games can be heard on 670 The Score
Note: This was Wednesday's, and expect Zobrist to come in for most likely Almora with Happ in center, as they will face Hellickson, a right-hander, to start the series.
Jeremy Hellickson: In 2018, he has relied primarily on his Curve using a Knuckle Curve grip (77mph), Change (82mph) and Sinker (90mph), also mixing in a Fourseam Fastball (90mph) and Cutter (88mph).
His curve results in many more groundballs compared to other pitchers' curves and has a sharp downward bite. His change has slightly below average velo. His sinker is basically never swung at and missed compared to other pitchers' sinkers, results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers' sinkers and has slightly below average velo. His fourseam fastball has below average velo and has slight armside run. His cutter explodes on the hitter, is basically never swung at and missed compared to other pitchers' cutters, has little cutting action and results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers' cutters.
Notes: It only feels like Hellickson has been around forever. This is his ninth season, and his finest in a few. He's walking a career-low which is the key to his success. He's also getting the most grounders in his career. Most of that can be traced to doubling the usage of his curve.
Tanner Roark: In 2018, he has relied primarily on his Sinker using a Two-seam Fastball grip (92mph), also mixing in a Fourseam Fastball (92mph), Curve (75mph), Change (84mph) and Slider (85mph). He also rarely throws a Cutter (90mph).
His sinker has little sinking action compared to a true sinker. His fourseam fastball has essentially average velo and has slightly less natural movement than typical. His curvehas an exceptional bite, has slight glove-side movement and has slightly below average velo. His change has a lot of backspin and has slight armside fade. His slider has less than expected depth and results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers' sliders. His cutter generates fewer whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers' cutters, has good "rise", results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers' cutters and has slightly above average velo.
Notes: By this point you know the deal with Roark, and the way he mispronounces his last name. He's going to pump fastballs into the zone, and occasionally feature a curve. He doesn't do anything particularly well except get out there every fifth day, which in baseball terms makes him a "gamer." How have the Nats not moved on from this guy yet?
Max Scherzer: In 2018, he has relied primarily on his Fourseam Fastball (95mph), also mixing in a Change (84mph), Slider (86mph), Cutter (89mph) and Curve (79mph).
His fourseam fastball generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers' fourseamers, has some natural sinking action, has slight armside run and has slightly above average velo. His change dives down out of the zone and has slight armside fade. His slider generates a high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers' sliders and results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers' sliders. His cutter is an extreme flyball pitch compared to other pitchers' cutters and has some natural sink. His curve generates fewer whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers' curves and has little depth.
Notes: Not like you need to know much more. Only Jacob deGrom has been better. Scherzer is matching his career-high strikeout rate from last year, is walking hitters slightly less, and barely anyone can hit him hard. deGrom is going to take his Cy Young, but he's going to take it not have Scherzer give it to him. Scherzer is replacing his slider with more of a cutter this year, which is also nasty. Good luck. Maybe get the first two of this series would be a good idea.