Nationals report

Suzuki is Nats' latest catch

The Nationals have a pitching staff that does not hold runners on base well and a catcher who is underperforming at the plate. That combination wasn't working for general manager Mike Rizzo, who swung a trade with Oakland on Friday and picked up catcher Kurt Suzuki in return for catching prospect David Freitas.

It appears Suzuki will quickly supplant Jesus Flores, who took over the No. 1 job in May when Wilson Ramos tore his ACL. The 28-year-old has a strong reputation for handling a pitching staff and has thrown out 23 of the 60 runners who attempted to steal on him this season. That's good for 38 percent.

Considering Flores has an OPS of .576 right now, the Nats hope Suzuki at least can match that ugly number. But he struggled in Oakland this year, too, with a .536 OPS and just one home run in 262 at-bats. Rizzo suggested that splitting time may have hurt Suzuki, but that begs the question: Did he become a part-time player because he wasn't hitting, or did his bat slip because of reduced playing time? Washington's front office believes in a ballpark more friendly to hitters -- Oakland's is among the worst -- Suzuki's power numbers can improve.

- Brian McNally

MLB storylines

1 Staying Red hot » When it was announced in mid-July that former NL MVP Joey Votto was going to miss a substantial amount of time with a knee injury, the Reds' postseason chances seemed slim. But Cincinnati has responded by winning 15 of its first 18 games without Votto. The Reds' pitching staff has stepped up in Votto's absence. NL Cy Young front-runner Johnny Cueto has won his last five starts, improving to 14-5 this season with a 2.52 ERA, and Bronson Arroyo went 3-1 with a 2.64 ERA in July. The addition of reliever Jonathan Broxton should give their bullpen a boost, too.

2 That's offensive » In a key series for AL West supremacy, the Rangers and Angels combined to score 76 runs in four games. In the series finale Thursday night, the Rangers put newly acquired Ryan Dempster on the mound. The former Cubs right-hander entered the game with a 2.25 ERA -- having allowed seven earned runs in his previous seven starts. In his first start for the Rangers, Dempster allowed eight runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings -- and Texas still salvaged a 15-9 win to split. Meanwhile, the AL's best pitching team, the A's, are still hanging around.

3 Doing splits » What Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen did in July may have made the 25-year-old the front-runner to win NL MVP. In 92 at-bats last month, McCutchen had 41 hits (.446 batting average), seven home runs, 15 RBIs, a .510 on-base percentage and a 1.249 OPS. No surprise: He won the NL player of the month for July . McCutchen has the Pirates looking likely to end their 19-year streak of losing seasons. And more importantly, the Pirates, who is currently is in position for a wild-card spot, could make the postseason for the first time since 1992.

- Jeffrey Tomik

Who's hot?

1. Jason Vargas » In July, the Mariners left-hander went 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA in six starts.

2. Mike Trout » The Angels center fielder was named the AL rookie and player of the month for July.

3. Jason Kubel » Arizona's outfielder hit 11 home runs in 86 at-bats in July.

Who's not?

1. Johnny Damon » The 38-year-old was cut by the Indians after struggling through 64 games.

2. Adam Dunn » He's hitting homers, but he's also on pace to crush the record for strikeouts.

3. Ricky Romero » The Blue Jays left-hander went 0-6 with a 8.04 ERA in the month of July.

jtomik@washingtonexaminer.com, bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com