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September 6, 2012

What You Need to Know

Thursday, September 6

by Daniel Rathman

The Wednesday Takeaway
It’s hard enough for a team to hit six home runs in a game once. Entering play on Wednesday, only four—the Rangers, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, and Nationals, who joined the club on Tuesday—had done it this season. But now, just a day later, the Nats have done it again.

Before yesterday’s 9-1 Washington victory over the Cubs, the last time a National League team hit six home runs in back-to-back games, Bill Clinton—who delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday—was finishing up his first term as President. That team was the 1996 Dodgers, and they were the first in major-league history.

Not to be outdone by their Southern California rivals, the Angels gave the Dodgers some company in 2003, sending 13 pelotas into the seats at Estadio Hiram Bithorn against the then-Expos in a Puerto Rico-based series during their penultimate season in Montreal. Thus, by victimizing the Cubs over the past two days, the now-Nationals have squared away one of their long-standing ills, becoming the first team in major-league history to both accomplish the feat and allow an opponent to pull it off against them.

Adam LaRoche led the way with a pair of home runs in Tuesday’s 11-5 win, and Ian Desmond, Jesus Flores, Tyler Moore, and Ryan Zimmerman rounded out the long-ball crew that night. Yesterday, Bryce Harper chipped in two of the six, with Roger Bernadina, LaRoche, Desmond, and Danny Espinosa accounting for the other four. I wrote about Harper’s resurgence last week; this time, I’ll focus on Desmond.

The 26-year-old shortstop offers a power-speed combination that is exceedingly rare at his position, and after going yard twice in the past two games, Desmond now has 21 homers to go with 16 steals on the season. Since 2000, only seven others— Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, and Asdrubal Cabrera—have reached those benchmarks while playing shortstop exclusively, and all of them played at least 151 games that season. Desmond missed 26 games while nursing a strained oblique, and he still has a month left to pad his stats.

More importantly for the Nationals, Desmond has picked up where he left off when he was placed on the disabled list on July 22. After taking a few games to regain his timing at the plate, Desmond has collected multiple hits in six of his last eight, going 13-for-33 (.394 average) since Aug. 29.

With 92 strikeouts and only 21 walks to his name in 2012, Desmond may never be a complete offensive player, but he has proven to be a dynamic one. His 824 OPS leads all everyday shortstops, with a position-best .502 slugging percentage compensating for Desmond’s ninth-ranked .322 OBP, and giving manager Davey Johnson a threat at a position where most teams sacrifice flashy hitters for quality fielders.

Speaking of the skipper, after marveling at his team’s power display, he said “I knew we had this in us … It’s not just one or two guys, it’s everybody.” For the NL-best, 84-52 Nationals, who have once again overtaken the 83-55 Reds for the senior circuit wins lead, it has been a team effort all season.

What to Watch for on Thursday

  • Jason Giambi hasn’t started a game in more than two months, but if manager Jim Tracy is ever going to write the 41-year-old into his lineup again, today might be the day. That’s because Giambi ranks second among active players (min. 15 plate appearances) with a 1.331 OPS in 26 trips to the plate against his former teammate, Tim Hudson, who is set to take the mound for the Braves this afternoon. No active player who has never played for a National League East team can claim career home runs off the sinker-balling Hudson than Giambi’s three. If he gets the nod at first base, Giambi will be asked to back Jhoulys Chacin, who has allowed just one run in each of his three starts since returning from the disabled list on Aug. 21 (12:10 p.m. ET).
  • The Orioles, who trail the Yankees by a game heading into the four-game series between the teams at Camden Yards, will activate Jason Hammel from the disabled list and throw the right-hander straight into the fire in a game-one battle with David Phelps. Hammel, out since July 13 while recovering from knee surgery, returns to a solid 3.54 ERA and 106-to-39 K:BB, but he has coughed up seven runs (six earned) to the Yankees in 11 innings of work over two starts. Make sure Alex Rodriguez is in your fantasy lineup tonight, as he’s 8-for-20 lifetime with four home runs off Hammel (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • Until this past weekend, Jordan Zimmermann had never been charged with more than six runs in a start. Well, there’s a first time for everything, and now—after a 3 2/3-inning, eight-run debacle versus the Cardinals on Saturday—the 26-year-old righty will try to pick up the pieces and beat the Cubs. Zimmermann’s ERA has climbed steadily over his past five starts, from 2.35 on Aug. 9 to 3.01, the highest it has been all season. After delivering a string of 11 quality starts that spanned from June 5 through July 28, Zimmermann has notched only one in his last six tries. With Stephen Strasburg’s shutdown only a week away, the Nationals need Zimmermann to regain his groove in today’s duel with Justin Germano (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • Throw this onto the ever-mounting pile of evidence that you can’t predict baseball: Luke Hochevar, whose career ERA is 5.30, has done his best work against one of the American League’s best hitting teams. In five career matchups with the Rangers, Hochevar has pitched 32 1/3 innings, compiling a 26-to-7 K:BB and a 2.78 ERA, his lowest mark versus any junior-circuit foe. Perhaps the biggest key to that success has been Hochevar’s ability to stymie Ian Kinsler, who is 0-for-11 in their past meetings. He’ll need to keep the catalyst off the basepaths again tonight, while locking horns with Texas starter Scott Feldman (8:10 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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