Case of the Mondays: Nats Clinch, Who’s Next?

Are you new here? Then pull up a seat at the bar and join us for our weekly Case of the Mondays, a six-pack of all the talking points from the weekend in baseball.

First! Nats Postseason Bound Again

After taking care of business yesterday against the Phillies to finish the week with a 6-1 record, the Nationals gathered around the screens in the locker room to watch the end of the Braves-Marlins game. Even a few fans stuck around Nationals Park, where they had the game on the jumbotron. When Lane Adams sent a ball over the center field fence to give the Braves the walk-off win, it was party time; the Nationals were officially the 2017 NL East champs, making them the first team to clinch a postseason berth this year. It’s their fourth trip to the postseason in the last six years.

The division may not have given the Nats much trouble, but the road has been anything but easy. Nearly every star on the team has spent at least a few weeks on the DL. Newly-acquired centerfielder Adam Eaton is done for the season after tearing his ACL in April. Trea Turner is finally back after missing multiple months with a wrist injury. Bryce Harper is still on the shelf with a bruised knee suffered from sliding on a wet base. Washington has had to rely on journeymen like Adam Lind and Howie Kendrick to keep the Nats afloat.

And float they have. The offense has slowed down since their torrid start in April, but they’re still third in all of baseball in runs scored. They’re also third in batting average, and second in slugging percentage. Better still has been the performance of the starting rotation, who lead the majors with a 3.45 ERA. The addition of Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, and new closer Sean Doolittle has built the bullpen into an effective late-game squad to complement the strong starters.

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The Nationals will look to get healthy before October, and might even challenge the sputtering Dodgers for home-field in the National League. The real questions start in the postseason: after coming up short numerous times in recent years, will Washington finally make it out of the National League?

#WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWIndians

Last night the Indians road back-to-back home runs by Roberto Perez and Francisco Lindor to their EIGHTEENTH straight win, a 3-2 victory over the Orioles. Soak that in for a moment; that’s over two weeks since they last walked off the field the worse team. As my colleague Brett pointed out Saturday night, the Indians’ win streak is now old enough to vote, buy a pack of cigarettes, and enlist in the army. It’s tied for the fourth-longest streak in baseball since the dead ball era, and the longest since the Moneyball Athletics won 20 in a row in 2002.

The streak has a good chance to continue too. The Tigers’ pitching roster, owners of a shiny 5.23 staff ERA, aren’t strong candidates to slow down the Indians offense, especially with the Indians playing at home. Should the Indians sweep Detroit, they’ll have the chance to go for history at home against the Kansas City Royals over the weekend.

Pick whatever adjective you want to describe what the Indians have done here: historic, magnificent, awesome–all of them fit the bill. I wrote on Friday that September success is no guarantor of postseason success, so don’t automatically drop the Indians into the World Series just yet. Still, it’s hard not to like the Tribe as the calendar moves closer to October.

Central Powers

Worst hangover ever? For Cubs fans, it’s sure feeling that way. The team has all the talent in the world, but the Cubs are struggling to put distance between themselves and their division rivals. Both the Brewers and the Cardinals are just two games back after the Brewers swept the Cubs this weekend.

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Looking at the NL Central standings like…

It’s hard to pin the problems in Wrigleyville on just one facet of the team. The offense and pitching are both solid, but unspectacular. The defense hasn’t made the plays it made last season. It seems that one day the offense can’t back up a great start, and the next they score eight runs only to give up ten.

With only Addison Russell on the DL, the talent is there. Joe Maddon and the team leaders need to buckle down and push forward to secure their place in October. A three-game series against the Mets offers a chance to bank a few wins before hosting the Cardinals over the weekend.

Speaking of those Cardinals…

Use the Force, Luke

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The former Florida State Seminoles’ standout has had a breakout year for the Cardinals.

One of the top youngsters to watch this September is the Cardinals young right-hander Luke Weaver. He had a rough go of it in his first taste of Major League action last year, pitching to a 5.78 ERA over 8 starts, but he’s returned this year with a vengeance.

Weaver made a few appearances out of the bullpen in early July, but he’s really shined since promotion to the starting rotation later that month. He currently holds a 5-1 record with a 2.16 ERA and a K-rate above 30%. In his last four starts spanning 25.1 innings, Weaver has only allowed 4 earned runs; the Cardinals won each of those starts.

The Cardinals are coming up on the Cubs in the NL Central; if they want to have any hope of catching the defending World Series champs, they’ll need Weaver to keep pitching at a high level.

All Rise, Again

We’ll take a break from watching Giancarlo bash home runs this week (news flash: he’s up to 54) to check in on his competition. Aaron Judge might be well behind Stanton in the home run total, but compare Judge’s to other rookie campaigns. The only rookie who’s hit more homers than the Judge is Mark McGwire, who belted 49 in his rookie season. Judge has already surpassed Hall of Famers like Mike Piazza (35 in his rookie year), Ted Williams (31), and Joe DiMaggio (29), not to mention sure-fire Hall of Famer Albert Pujols (37 bombs in his rookie season).

All seasons need to be placed in context; that’s why OPS+ is such a useful stat. Sure, Judge’s mark this season might not be quite as impressive considering the rate of home runs this season. But are you really gonna try telling him that?

Yup. The Judge rests his case.

Time to Panic?

Talk about stumbling towards September. The Dodgers are winless in their last ten games, and have lost fifteen of their last sixteen.

The 2017 Dodgers are the first team since the 1991 New York Mets to both win and lose ten straight games in a single season.

The short answer to the simple question “what’s gone wrong” is, well, everything. Their pitching staff has given up 66 runs over the last ten games: good for a 6.60 ERA. Meanwhile the offense has scored just one run or fewer in five of those games. The normally sure-handed infield has struggled to make plays to back up their pitchers.

A midweek series against the lowly Giants gives the Dodgers a chance to turn it around before a big weekend tilt against the Nationals, who are challenging the Dodgers for home field.

No World Series champion has ever had a ten-game losing streak during the regular season. If the Dodgers can recapture the spunk of early August, they just might be the first; if they can’t, they might be looking at an early postseason exit.

The Next Round

Monday, September 11: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians. Watch the Tribe go for their 19th-straight win against the Tigers, who are in town for a three-game series. The Indians will have Carrasco, Kluber, and Clevinger on the bump with the streak on the line.

Midweek: Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks. The Rockies look to keep pace with the D-backs in the wildcard race. Arizona swept the Rockies at Coors Field in the last series between the two teams, but the Rockies are hot after going 6-1 over the past week. And Nolan Arenado’s pumped:

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Weekend: There are two great matchups in the National League this weekend, both with playoff implications. After clinching the NL East, the Nationals have their sights set on home field as they host the league-leading Dodgers. In the NL Central, the Cardinals travel north to take on the Cubs as they look to challenge for the division title.

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