I saw Joe Posnanski mention this in a tweet:
Nationals under Dusty Baker in 2017: 97-65
Nationals under Dave Martinez total: 96-100
That was published before the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Washington Nationals 6-0 on Tuesday with a six-run seventh inning and five scoreless innings of relief from Freddy Peralta, dropping the Nationals to 14-21 on the season and marking the first time they've been seven games under .500 since Sept. 19, 2011.
The big hit was Lorenzo Cain's two-out, bases-clearing double off a tiring Stephen Strasburg that made it 3-0. With Strasburg clearly laboring after a hit batter and two base hits and the resulting turn of events, the blame game turned more to manager Dave Martinez than Strasburg's failure to escape the jam. While Martinez's reluctance to turn to his bullpen was understandable, considering the way the pen has pitched most of the season, Strasburg was clearly pitching on fumes. That's not post-double reaction. I saw tweets in real time wondering why Martinez left Strasburg in to face Eric Thames (he did strike him out) and Cain before those at-bats unfolded.
The Nationals have now lost six consecutive series -- to the Brewers, Phillies, Cardinals, Padres, Rockies and Marlins. Given the disappointing start and the disappointing 2018 season, it seems fair to suggest that Martinez Watch has begun. If the Nationals don't turn it around soon, don't be surprised if he's the first manager fired in 2019.
Mike Rizzo hired Martinez to replace Baker because Baker couldn't get the team past the first round of the playoffs (and to get a younger manager more in tune with the changing analytics of the modern game). But can Martinez even get the Nationals to the playoffs?
Yes, injuries have played a big part in the slow start, with Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Adams currently on the IL and Anthony Rendon just back from it. The front office didn't help Martinez by building a questionable bullpen, and the Brian Dozier and Anibal Sanchez signings have not worked out yet.
The Nationals also do dumb things such as calling up Carter Kieboom to play shortstop. I get that he was off to a hot start at Fresno and he is a good prospect, but I saw him play a couple games in spring training on TV, and it was pretty clear that this kid was in no way ready to play shortstop in the majors. Kieboom, predictably, was a disaster in the field, with minus-6 defensive runs saved in just 10 games, including four errors (a couple of which were critical, run-causing miscues). Oh, he also hit .128. He was overmatched. After a two-out error led to an unearned run in Monday's loss, the Nationals sent him back to Fresno. He never should have been up this soon in the first place.
So that's on the front office. Some of the other stuff is on Martinez. From what I've seen from Nationals fans on Twitter, they are not impressed with his year-plus on the job. Mostly, of course, it's on the players. But you can't fire them.
Bryant's big bash: Kris Bryant has three walk-off hits in his career, and all three have been home runs. His three-run homer on Tuesday gave the Cubs a 5-2 win over the Marlins on a cold, winter-like night at Wrigley. Is it really May 7?
The winning rally started courtesy of a leadoff walk and a hit by pitch. Boy, are the Marlins terrible. I loved Bryant's postgame comment:
Kris Bryant after hitting a walk-off, three-run homer to beat the Marlins at Wrigley Field: "Who wants to come sit through a 3-and-a-half-hour baseball game when it's 35 degrees out? Cubs fans. That's who."— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) May 8, 2019
Bryant has homered in three straight games, and the Cubs' offense continues to roll, averaging 7.0 runs per game in this 8-1 stretch.
Royals slam Astros: The Royals hit two grand slams in a game for just the second time in franchise history in a 12-2 win over the Astros. Ryan O'Hearn hit the first, and Whit Merrifield hit the second:
Merrifield went 4-for-5 and is hitting .299/.351/.545. In fact, the first five hitters in the Royals' lineup are slugging at least .500. The bottom half of the lineup hasn't been so good, but the Royals are 10th in the majors in slugging percentage, a surprising number for a team that was going to be about speed and defense. Kauffman Stadium has never been a home run park, so the current .439 slugging percentage would be a team record; the current mark is .436 by the 1977 team. One difference: That team won 102 games and the AL West title.
By the way, there have been 10 grand slams the past three days. If that seems like a lot of grand slams, it is. That's a record for a three-day span. Before this month, the record was nine, done twice: May 19-21, 2000, and June 2-4, 2017. The grand slams the past three days were hit by O'Hearn, Merrifield, Bryce Harper (see below), Xander Bogaerts, Kris Bryant, Alex Bregman, Tommy Pham, Jonathan Villar and Jay Bruce. And expand it by another day, and the 12 hit over the last four days is also a record (the old one was also nine).
Ohtani makes season debut: Last year's rookie sensation returned to action in his DH-only role for 2019, batting third behind Mike Trout in the Angels' lineup. He went 0-for-4 with a walk, two strikeouts, an RBI chopper to first base and a medium-hard liner to third base. The two strikeouts and groundout came against lefty Daniel Norris, and the lineout came against a right-hander. Ohtani had a huge platoon split last season -- 1.043 OPS against righties versus .654 against lefties -- so it's not a big surprise that he struggled against Norris in his first game back, especially since his rehab action included only simulated games against minor league pitchers and not live games in the minors.
Still, it's good to have one of 2018's most entertaining players back on the field, even in a hitter-only role. I heard an interesting debate on the radio earlier in the day, with the host suggesting that the Angels are making a mistake by letting Ohtani play at all while he rehabs from Tommy John surgery, that their sole focus should be getting him ready to pitch on Opening Day in 2020.
I disagree with that argument. First, based on what he did at the plate last season, Ohtani can help the club in 2019. The Angels are 16-19, and while they project as long shots to make the playoffs, it's too early to not give the postseason your best shot. Second, the risk of an injury that would somehow push back the timetable for Opening Day next season is minimal. Finally, and maybe most importantly, the Angels were able to sign Ohtani in the first place by promising him a chance to be a two-way player. He isn't just a pitcher. So they're letting him play, and they should.
It's a Bryce Harper sighting: Harper entered Tuesday's game with just one home run and a .125 batting average in his previous 14 games and two home runs and a .187 average in 24 games. Hey, it's a $330 million spotlight, so even mini-slumps are going to be heavily dissected. Given that stretch, his first grand slam with the Phillies had to feel extra good:
The other good news for the Phillies in the 11-1 victory was that Aaron Nola spun his third straight quality start (giving up one run in each outing). The first two came against the Marlins and Tigers, two of the worst offenses in the majors, so this one against the Cardinals was a better indication that Nola is back on track.
Twins pitch a shutout; Indians get shut out: It's looking more and more like the window for the Twins is opening this year. On Opening Day, FanGraphs made the Indians heavy favorites in the AL Central, with 88.6 percent odds to win the division (with the Twins at 11.1 percent). Just 34 games into the season, the odds have drastically changed:
Twins: 52.7 percent
Indians: 47.0 percent
The Twins are averaging 5.2 runs per game and the Indians 3.5. Jose Ramirez went 0-for-2 with two walks. At what point is it time to start wondering if his slump is something more?