For every player who’s doing something you can’t bring yourself to believe, there comes a point when he does it for so long that you have to get out of your own way, hold your nose and take the plunge.
Actually, no. There never comes a point when you have to do that. In fact, it’s generally unwise given the capricious nature of this game and how quickly a seemingly good thing can go wrong.
But there comes a point when it’s near impossible to resist, and we may be about there with Clay Buchholz.
He threw a one-run complete game Thursday. San Diego or not, that’s impressive, especially given that it was his 11th start in 12 allowing three runs or fewer and his 10th in 12 allowing two runs or fewer. He has done it with a modest strikeout rate, which itself seems too good to be true given his swinging strike rate. He hasn’t gotten an inordinate number of ground balls or induced a bunch of weak contact.
So what gives?
Look, the correction will come. Given enough time, the math always works out — unless of course a skill change interrupts it, which happens sometimes, but more often for younger players than 34-year-old journeymen who have little reason to suspect anything is wrong. But the correction may not be as severe as we’ve long feared. Buchholz’s BABIP, while low, isn’t outrageous, and he has a FIP in the mid-threes. He hasn’t hurt himself with walks and has been able to depend on his cutter (the one pitch that actually has gotten some whiffs) like he did in his prime. He’s not as good as he’s been, but he may not be any worse than, say, Mike Leake.
I don’t know that he needs to be added in more than the 63 percent of leagues where he’s already owned, especially with a one-start week against the Angels coming up, but he should be among your streaming considerations going forward.
Relief pitcher, you may have noticed, is kind of a mess right now, with more than half the league’s closer roles up in the air. We know who’s getting saves for the Nationals, though, because they’ve lost so many closer options that there’s basically no one left, and Koda Glover did in fact record his first save Thursday. He may get only a couple weeks on he job, so you shouldn’t be adding him over, say, Will Smith or Jose Leclerc. But in leagues where saves are scarce, he offers a chance at a few more.
With two more hits and another stolen base Thursday, Mallex Smith is now batting .370 (17 for 46) with nine steals in August, walking nearly twice as often as he has struck out to earn him the leadoff spot in the Rays lineup. Take it back even further, to the start of July, and he’s the 12th-best outfielder in Head-to-Head points leagues. So if you think he’s just a steals specialist for Rotisserie leagues, you are sorely mistaken.
I’ve been so busy touting Tyler O’Neill and his monster power potential that I’ve overlooked the other rookie in the Cardinals outfield, the one who’s more likely to play every day because of his elite defense. With another home run Thursday, Harrison Bader is now on what would be a 22-homer, 29-steal pace over 600 at-bats. The batting average is a little too good to be true, judging by the BABIP, but he could be what we hoped we were getting from Kevin Kiermaier at the start of the year.
David Dahl, who already lost all of last season to a rib injury, lost all of June and July this year to a fractured foot and looked terrible upon his return to Triple-A. So it’s surprising he got the call in the first place and doubly surprising he has started 8 of the past 10 games for the Rockies. But he had his best game back in the bigs Thursday, collecting a home run and a stolen base, and that’s the kind of potential he brings with the added advantage of playing half his games at Coors Field.
You see those season-long numbers for Logan Forsythe? Pretty awful, right? Well, since joining the Twins, he had gone 17 for 44 (.386) with two doubles, and that was before he went 5 for 5 with two more doubles Thursday against the Tigers. He was never right with the Dodgers, which he blames on sporadic playing time, but was a solid contributor in the two years prior for the Rays (which is how they were able to trade him for a top pitching prospect in the first place). He makes consistent contact and has a perfectly viable batted-ball profile, so here’s betting his five percent ownership will jump to about 25 by next week.
ST. LOUIS — So much of the Washington Nationals’ recent history has been darker than expected, full of underperformance, injuries and the disappointment that accompanies them. But quietly, and admittedly rather subtly, one of their season-long weaknesses has looked stronger lately.
Catcher Matt Wieters is hitting much better than he has at almost any time as a National, and he entered Tuesday’s game with a .281 average over his past two weeks. That number will not blow anyone away, nor does it put him in the top of major league catchers in that span. But it represented marked improvement for a man whose average has hovered around .200 for most of this season. Tuesday night, he doubled and singled home the Nationals’ first run.
Even his outs look better, more line drives to the outfield than he hit early in the season and more deep fly balls than hapless ground balls. Wieters’s offensive decline was sharp and unrelenting after an all-star season with the Baltimore Orioles in 2016 and through two sluggish offensive seasons in Washington. He hit .308 in 2014, and his average has plummeted regularly each year. This stretch is one of the first times Wieters has looked comfortable on both sides of the plate as a National, the first time since the first week of this season he is contributing regularly.
“It’s more visual and mental than swing-wise. Just trying to see the ball a little bit earlier and pick up release point better than I was earlier in the year,” Wieters said. “I think that’s the thing we forget about as we go through all this trying to get the swing right. We do a lot of work on it so it can be the reactionary thing. But right now it feels more reactionary than thinking about the swing, and it’s just trying to see the ball as early as possible.”
Wieters said he also has allowed himself more leeway in the box when it comes to pitch selection. If he doesn’t see the pitch as well as he would like, he no longer tries to pull a quick trigger at the last minute. He lets the pitch go. Even with two strikes, Wieters explained, if he doesn’t see the pitch well he won’t swing. He also is focusing on his focus, being more conscious with when he dials in his eyes on the ball and how diligently he studies the pitcher from the dugout.
The result has been better contact. His ground ball rate has plummeted and is currently 10 percentage points lower than his full-season average. Forty-eight percent of the contact he is making in August has qualified as hard by FanGraphs’ metrics, a dozen percentage points higher than his full-season average. Those differences qualify as substantial.
Seeing the ball “is something you kind of always know is important, but being stupid baseball players, the athlete perfectionist, you want to keep making swing changes,” Wieters said. “You have to be able to revert to ‘Okay, how did I play this game before?’ It was a lot more natural.”
The Nationals still rank last in the majors in catcher production this season, with an OPS 65 points lower than the nearest National League team. They considered dealing some of their most prized prospects to acquire J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins, a comment on both his status as an elite player at a scarce position and on their relative lack of production. Almost since Wieters signed with Washington two years ago, rumors swirled about the Nationals chasing other catchers to complement or even replace him. The Nationals targeted Wilson Ramos at one point before his injury. Realmuto has intrigued them for months, if not years.
“My goal is always going to be, if I’m in the lineup, if I’m not in the lineup, I’m going to try to help us win the game,” Wieters said. “Whatever that looks like, whatever team I’m on, that’s what I’m going to do. … It’s something I’ve had to learn over my career, that the personal goals get pushed aside, and it’s all team.”
Wieters’s contract expires after this season, and though the Nationals like his ability to manage their pitching staff, they seem unlikely to bring him back as an everyday option, if at all. Their minor league system lacks exciting prospects. Pedro Severino struggled offensively in regular big league duty. Spencer Kieboom is a reliable backup, but was never considered an everyday-type offensive performer. Raudy Read, who was suspended 80 games this year for using performance-enhancing drugs, is hitting .319 for Class AA Harrisburg and could be a potential option for the future.
But for now, as they make their last-gasp effort to climb back into the National League East race, Wieters is their best option, and he is finally finding some rhythm.
Miller took a comebacker off his leg Monday night and his status for Tuesday is uncertain, Dan Kolko of MASN Sports reports.
This is poor timing for Miller, as the ninth inning just opened up again in Washington with Ryan Madson (back) landing on the DL. That said, Miller would not have been a lock for the job even if he were completely healthy. While the 31-year-old has posted an impressive 23.3 percent K-BB rate, he’s also struggled with the long ball (two homers in his last two appearances, 1.73 HR/9 for the season). Koda Glover, meanwhile, has made just three appearances with the major-league team this year, but he throws harder than Miller and spent time in the closer role with the Nationals last season.
Credit him for his honesty, but comments like that give people reasons to say the first-year skipper isn’t up to the task of leading a contender.
I couldn’t help but think back to last October, when Nationals general manager made yet another managerial change. A few days after losing a gut-punch of an NLDS in five games, the Nationals fired then-manager Dusty Baker by phone. Why?
“They just told me they wanted to go in a different direction, that was it,” Baker told USA Today. “I’m surprised and disappointed.”
The move didn’t seem to surprise anyone outside of Baker. This has been the MO of the Nationals front office, headed up by general manager Mike Rizzo and surely there are hands from the Lerner family ownership group involved here.
In 2011, the Nationals were turning things around. They would go 80-81 that season after three straight last-place finishes. Things were starting to turn. Also in 2011, Jim Riggleman stepped down after Rizzo refused to pick up his 2012 option. The Nats had won 11 of their last 12 at the time.
That actually turned out to be good for the Nationals, as they ended up with Davey Johnson. Still, it seems to fit a pattern at this point. After Johnson retired, Rizzo hired Matt Williams, who had one good year but lost the locker room in Year 2. After firing Williams, Rizzo was set to hire Bud Black, but would only offer a one-year deal. Baker was his fallback guy.
Still, it looked like Rizzo had finally gotten this one right. The Nationals won 192 regular-season games in Baker’s two seasons and took the NL East two straight years for the first time in club history. They were bounced in the NLDS in five games by the Cubs, but let’s review that series.
First of all, a Max Scherzer injury prevented him from starting until Game 3. If that didn’t happen, it was likely the Nationals would have lined up Scherzer for Games 1 and 4 and then Stephen Strasburg for Games 2 and 5. Apparently the eye wash that was firing Baker was more important to Rizzo than that context. Or this context:
In that crazy Game 5 loss to the Cubs, Javier Baez struck out in a play that would have ended the inning. Only the pitch got away from catcher Matt Wieters and Baez’s follow through ended up hitting Wieters. By rule, Baez should have been called out. Instead, the umpiring crew missed the call and that allowed the Cubs to score two more runs. The Cubs won by one.
So I’ll ask again: Did the Nationals really need to fire Dusty Baker?
Two prongs here bother me.
Baker seems to have far more stigma surrounding him than any other manager in history. Things happen to him and it’s immediately “LOL Dusty!” when other guys might get a pass. In 22 years as a manager, Baker has gone to the playoffs nine times with four different teams. He was fired by the Reds after going to the playoffs in three of his last four seasons. He was fired by the Nationals after going to the playoffs twice. Yes, that’s five out of his last six teams that have been in the postseason and he’s been canned twice. Ridiculous. This isn’t 2003 anymore. Also, this isn’t a “hindsight is 20/20” situation. I wrote a lot more words on this topic last October when the Nationals fired Baker.
The Nationals have had six different managers since the beginning of 2011, despite being one of the most successful teams in baseball in that stretch. This isn’t counting the swing-and-miss with Black, either. Yes, that’s only applicable in the regular season, but smart baseball people should know the postseason can be a crapshoot. I mean, Ned Yost won a World Series. You’re telling me you’d take him over Dusty? Please.
And now, here we are with easily the most disappointing team in baseball. It’s a veteran team that has won together being led by a first-year manager who at times appears in over his head. I’m not saying this all the fault of Martinez. After all, he’s not the one who ditched two quality bullpen arms and tried to replace them with what’s left of Greg Holland.
I’m just saying that Mike Rizzo’s track record with managers looks pretty awful and Dusty Baker deserved/deserves a lot better.
If former FBI agent Peter Strzok had any money problems, the #resistance has almost certainly helped solve them.
Strzok was fired from the bureau Friday, after the FBI’s inspector general found he had sent text messages to FBI lawyer Lisa Page that revealed antipathy toward President Trump. Strzok’s lawyer announced the dismissal Monday, and by midday Tuesday, a GoFundMe online fundraiser had already rounded up more than $290,000 to cover Strzok’s “hefty — and growing — legal costs and his lost income.”
The fundraiser, set up by the “friends of special agent Peter Strzok,” characterizes Strzok’s firing as “highly politicized,” saying “he needs your help” to overcome the difficulties of his dismissal, though it’s unclear exactly what legal costs have been incurred. Strzok tweeted his thanks for the “extraordinary outpouring of support” from “thousands of fellow everyday citizens.” Those everyday citizens poured more than 7,000 donations into Strzok’s legal fund, with many donors contributing between $5 and $25.
Strzok, as a 22-year veteran of the bureau, was likely making a six-figure salary. But the GoFundMe notes that he’s “not a wealthy lobbyist and he’s not interested in using his notoriety for personal gain,” so he apparently doesn’t have the “deep pockets” he’ll need to defend himself. His pockets have certainly been deepened now — the fundraiser already exceeded its original goal of $150,000, and is well on its way to surpassing the new $350,000 goal. Summer Meza