Tuesday, December 14, 2010

WAIT!

Matt Stairs stole 2 bases last season? How the hell does that even happen, unless Hideo Nomo is pitching out of the wind-up?

Matt Stairs!!!!

YES!!!

Seriously, when Stairs played for the A's in 1998, he had the sweetest swing in baseball. Sharp, compact, balls just shot off his bat into the cavernous right-center alley in the Coliseum. However, with the body Matt Stairs was given (makes Tony Gwynn look svelte), there isn't much more to his game. He is also about 100 years old and unlikely to make the team, but a fun name to kick around training camp and see if he has another season of late inning at bats in the tank.

Monday, December 13, 2010

If Not Lee, Then Who?

OK, so what would the Nationals Opening Day rotation look like if the season started January 1st?

Well, Jordan Zimmermann is health, and we will assume the same for John Lannan and Jason Marquis. I though Marquis could be a mildly intriguing trade chip at the Winter Meetings if the Nats played up his second half numbers. However, Rizzo likes his groundballers and wasn't going to mail-in his first major signing as a failure.

1)
2) Zimmermann
3) Lannan
4) Marquis
5)

OK, so some in-house candidates to fill in that five-hole are Yunesky Maya, Luis Atilano, and Craig Stammen. I doubt JD Martin figures into the equation anymore, as the front office treated him as an afterthought despite league average numbers. The Pirates took Scott Olsen off the scrap heap, so that is one less headache. The Nats really do not have another farmhand ready to step in and contribute, so unless they bring back Hernandez for another dance (which wouldn't be the worst thing), these are the applicants.

Maya, despite the investment, projects more as a reliever in the long run. The Nats will try to recoup by giving him every opportunity to succeed, but until he moves into that 7th or 8th inning role, expect him to be plagued with inconsistency injuries, but the promise that if he puts it all together, he could be a good #2 or #3 starter.

Stammen seems to have accepted his fate as the team's new Jason Bergmann: too good to pitch in the minor leagues, but not good enough to be anything but the big club's emergency punching bag. He just cannot keep the plane of his fastball down long enough to string together a month of good starts. He also seems to be nibbling more and more and finding himself behind in counts, never good for a starting pitcher.

Atilano has a similar game to Stammen, but more options and fewer gopherballs. If he wins the job out of camp, good for him. If he gets it by default, uh oh.

The #1 guy is a little bit more tricky. There are no in-house candidate with elbows fully intact. Cliff Lee was a wet dream as the Yankees and Rangers have everything to lose by not acquiring his services. The Nats do not have the minor league depth to really go get Zack Grienke or Matt Garza, but they have inflated the market to force those two teams to extend or trade those players at or below market value. The Werth deal is terrible from a cost per win standpoint, but not so bad if they can land Garza or Grienke at sixty percent what Lee gets on the open market.

If the Nats want to roll the dice on other free-agent pitchers, Brandon Webb, Rich Harden and Ben Sheets are fascinating and volatile reclamation projects. Both Harden and Sheets were awful last season, and Webb has been shutdown so long Rizzo may be the only guy who still knows he is out there. Harden was destined to get destroyed in Arlington, and there is no way the Rangers will exercise his option. Sheets should have fared better in Oakland, but never turned the corner. Carl Pavano is slightly safer, but doesn't offer #1 potential. Brad Penny is probably out of gas, but somebody will kick the tires. Everybody else out there is #3 potential as well as quality, and probably not worth the 5 million it would take to sign them.

The conclusion? Much like the first base situation, only a few people in the front office are navigating the smoke and mirrors. 2011 is likely another rebuilding season, so they may not want invest in a one year deal for #1 money, but settling for a #3 like Jeff Francis. After watch Wang rehab all season, the Nats are likely staying off the reclamation projects, so expect a trade or a minor signing. 2011 is more about finding competent corner outfielders and growing the young talent up the middle. If it gets them to .500, good work.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Adam LaRoche Thoughts

Honestly, I don't remember much of Adam LaRoche hitting 32 bombs for the 2006 Braves, or much about the 2006 Braves at all. Tim Hudson had the worst season of his career, well, except for the time he blew out his elbow. Andruw Jones had emerged as a Hall of Famer... Chipper Jones hit the DL three times in what could have been an MVP caliber season... Brian McCann came out of nowhere as the next Johnny Bench... and Adam LaRoche hit 32 home runs.

He has since bounced around the league, a first base stop gap for flawed (or bad) teams. And maybe that is why the Nats didn't push for Dunn, didn't push for Pena. Maybe they don't want a flashy free agent first baseman. With all the chips they threw at Werth (my god), you would think they may want to more evenly distribute the wealth. But this looks more of getting a steady clubhouse guy who will sign for just under market value. LaRoche does that. He doesn't have the ceiling of some of the other guys on the market, but he certainly will not bottom out. Much like the Hammer, he puts up a consistent line.

The only problem is that there are other teams out there who will probably far over bid for his services (Baltimore?) and the Nats will have to move to Plan @.

I have seen LaRoche hit bombs in person, but cannot for the life of me get out the perception that he is a glorified #6 hitter.

Monday, December 6, 2010

7 and 126?

If those numbers sound familiar, you are not alone. Those are the exact terms to which Barry Zito agreed in 2007, mind you Zito was two years younger and not far removed from winning a Cy Young award. And the mockery both Zito and the Giants have taken for the deal has only been quelled by their overachieving bunch exorcising those demons and bringing home a world championship... it should be noted that they won that title without Zito on the roster.

Werth isn't a terrible player. Neither is Barry Zito. Werth was miscast as a future star before he was ready. Baseball is funny like that, as players drafted straight out high school with hype often disappear into the minor league abyss before reemerging as a completely different player. Werth showed his five-tool abilities in the Blue Jays system, but those teams were clinging to the notion that they were a couple breaks away from competing in the AL East. He was traded to the Dodgers and, for a number of reasons, never emerged as the top 100 prospect they thought they were acquiring. The offensive numbers are somewhat misleading, playing in the NL West, but after a few hundred at bats and no more options, the Dodgers let him go. The Phillies, having just dealt away Bobby Abreu and unconvinced Shane Victorino could be an everyday play, took a chance. Playing in a hitters' park, surrounded by Utley, Howard, and later Ibanez, Jayson Werth has crushed the ball.

Jayson Werth has been a 5-win player through his prime years and probably has 1-2 5 wins seasons in him, assuming his defensive dip last season was just noise. But over the next 7 seasons? It would be foolish to expect Werth to contribute more than 3 wins average per season over the next five, with increased risk of injury. A 7-year contract to a 29 year-old center fielder would be considered foolish, even to a team with the resources of the Yank/Sox. But a 31 year-old corner outfielder? Much like the contract Ryan Howard received, it isn't an albatross until the numbers drop.

I wasn't at the winter meetings, so I have no idea what the large market was for Werth's skill set. Carl Crawford is younger, facing stiffer competition, and probably should have driven the market. Overpaying for Werth now, unless it is a move to gain a competitive advantage acquiring Cliff Lee or Zack Grienke, is absolutely foolish with Crawford available to leverage. The Nats were not going to overpay for Dunn's skillset with the market flush with first basemen.

In closing, Jayson Werth is a very good player. He is not a GREAT player, though. At no time would he have been considered one of the three best players on his own team. The Nationals, however, have committed to him as such for the next seven seasons. It is a dangerous proposition and could be rationalized for a three to five year deal, but not seven... never seven. Just like Barry Zito was a very good pitcher, he was never GREAT.

* Some people may liken this more to Vernon Wells, but to me, this is the only Vernon Wells.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Adam Dunn Negotiating with the Tigers?

Bad loss for the Nats, great possibilities for Dunn though. The park effects will continue to dampen his power numbers, but not enough to decrease his overall value to an AL team. The Tigers fielding options at first base are not glorious, as Miguel Cabrera is crappy (as opposed to Dunn's extremely crappy), so he may get a chance to grab a glove a couple times a week. He would have better protection in the lineup with Cabrera and Ordonez playing the roles of Zimm and Hammer. The big difference would be having a true leadoff hitter in Austin Jackson, something the Nats had for only two months in 2009 when Nyjer Morgan was less crazy.

This is currently speculation but expect the stars and dollar signs to align in the nearer future. If not the Tigers, likely another AL team desperate for a bat.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

October Off, What is New in September

As the major league baseball season drags through September and the team which you are covering really isn't doing anything remarkable, it becomes difficult to stay motivated and get these random thoughts to text. Neither of my teams (Oakland, Washington) were a threat to do anything after September 1, and aside from Espinosa's hot start, it was a letdown. It would take something newsworthy to get rolling again with the playoffs dominating the headlines. I even considered adding in thoughts from other walks of life.

Then, as expected, Pat Listach was in the wind. Some experts thought he had a shot at the Cubs managerial job, and he interviewed around before settling in as Quade's lieutenant. It's still hard for me to envision Listach as a manager, since it seems like just yesterday he was taking home Rookie of the Year honors for Milwaukee... then again, at the time Milwaukee was still in the AL, so who knows anymore.

With Riggleman not a long term fix at manager for the Nats, Listach would have been a great fit for a maturing team looking to make the next step. It is unfortunate they couldn't find a way to promote him or keep him on staff, though there is always the chance he will still be looking for a top job when Riggleman runs his course. The Bobby Coxes only come around once a decade, so most teams are shedding managers within five seasons.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010

Gotta Love September

The Phillies and Marlins squared off with starting pitchers totaling one inning of major league experience... and given the same number of at bats as Nyjer Morgan (456), Danny Espinosa's rate stats would put him at 86 home runs and 285 RBIs. Nyjer Morgan has 0 and 23...

See, isn't hope great? They even won their 60th game today... no more number 1 picks.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fiiiiiight!!

Well, suddenly this story a now much more believable. Though, from witness accounts, the ball-throwing incident is likely false.

Nyjer Morgan was going to get hit. That was a given. It is unfortunate Chris Volstad had the control of Kirsty Alley and had also lit up Wil Nieves and Alberto Gonzalez. Nobody wants to see a guy get hurt by a pitch. Nyjer Morgan took it on the hip, then took second and third. How Volstad was allowed to continue after that is beyond reason. The Marlins are complaining about Nyjer "breaking code", as were the Marlins commentators, but their manager also refused to back down by sending the other catalyst out to start the sixth inning. And the "code" doesn't say anything about taking bases in the fourth inning... it's a gentleman's agreement not to run up the score once the game is decided. For a fringe player like Nyjer Morgan not to roll over, to try and get something started, would be encouraged by the Nats. And honestly, Morgan isn't getting paid to play baseball if he isn't stealing bases.

Hopefully he uses his time wisely, because given his mysterious DL trip in August and subsequent action, this marriage looks to be over. If the Nats had one remotely capable center fielder, he'd have been waived last month. The players still stick for him, which is better than how teammates of Milton Bradley or Carl Everett would react. Hell, they'll even stick up for Scott Olsen. But even players eventually tire of walking on eggshells around these characters and management will do something before it divides the clubhouse.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Just Because Dibble Isn't on the Air Doesn't Mean He Isn't Right

The last week has been unfortunate. What started out as sore flexor tendon (a bowling injury I rolled through last year) was reassessed and will require Tommy John surgery. What started out as an aggressive, somewhat misinformed pep talk digressed into "Suck it up, bitch!"

Yeah, Rob Dibble has been straddling the blade this month, first with the women, now with The Franchise. The former was Dibble's character coming through, and he was rightly raked over the coals for that. However, his initial response watching Strasburg was quite well informed from the perspective of the player. Pitchers are paid to pitch. Not throw side sessions and long toss. Pitchers will occasionally pitch through pain, because that is what they are paid to do. Pitchers will ultimately get seriously injured because the slightest mechanical flaw will cause the UCL to fray and unravel faster than a cheap sweater. This is inevitable. The superior pitching Strasburg's mechanics generate also make him extremely vulnerable to these injuries. The why was never in question, just the when.

Rob Dibble is paid to give his opinion as a former player. He is not a doctor. Stephen Strasburg is paid to pitch. He is not a doctor. Steve McCatty has been there and done that as a pitcher, and is a victim of some historical pitcher abuse. His experience may be of value, but is not a doctor and certainly couldn't adjust Strasburg's mechanics without risking additional injury. The point of Dibble's argument, pitch until you can't pitch anymore, is how players think. Whether or not that is a complete game shutout or getting chased in the third because the other team is taking batting practice is irrelevant. A player of Strasburg's caliber should be expected to get as many batters out during the duration of his contract. Coddling and babying that right arm may give Nationals management piece of mind that they did everything in their power to protect their investment, but it doesn't mean that it will get the most, or even best, production. Dibble's beef really isn't so much with Strasburg, who is following orders after the debacles with Scott Olsen, Jordan Zimmermann, and Craig Stammen last season. The elbow broke down anyways and everyone is devastated.

It is nobody's fault. He had never complained of elbow problems before, so it is not like the trainers could have diagnosed the problem Pre-cog style. Personally, I want Dibble back in the booth. Sure, he is a dick and runs the mouth a little much, but who can blame him. He is the color commentator for a team that lost 102 and 103 games in back to back seasons and is limping through another losing campaign. It is not easy provide daily feedback for a team with no history and a miniscule viewing base. Even George, the "Wil Nieves" guy, didn't renew his season tickets. He has little to work with in terms of product his "love him or hate him" personality is the only thing that gives the broadcast any flavor. And his player's reaction to Strasburg was not unexpected... ignorant and foolish, yes... wrong? Not in this context. The viral nature by which most people received it took it out of context and made it sound like he was calling the player out. Dibble, unlike everyone in America, doesn't want Strasburg on the mound, but needs him on the mound. And by enacting the players' mentality, pitchers pitch until they can't anymore, he was calling out management for using the "kid gloves" for far too long. If Strasburg ended up fine and making his next start, nobody would be talking about it anymore.

But this is all now days in the past. If MASN parts ways with him, that is between them and the team. It's probably a mistake, as nobody is really watching anyways, though Bob Carpenter will probably sleep better at night.

As for what to expect from Strasburg, I think his case is a little different than Jordan Zimmermann's, who has been a model Tommy John recovery patient. With his mechanics, it will take him longer to relearn the touch that makes him dominant. I believe Strasburg's situation is very similar to the process Francisco Liriano has endured in his recovery. Both have fierce fastballs and breaking stuff that is the product of violent mechanics. Liriano was hurt at the end of 2006 and rehabbed all 2007. The Twins let him spend most of 2008 in the minors, rebuilding strength. 2009, he spent almost the whole season with the major league club, and the AL took batting practice off of him. Many people saw the increased home run and walk rates and reduced strikeouts and assumed he was done. However, in 2010, he has been one of the most valuable pitchers in all of baseball.

Every pitcher is different, and given the success rate of the surgery these days, the Liriano example is only a cautionary tale to fans that it isn't an overnight process. Many experts didn't expect J Zimm back so soon, and his return gives everyone hope for 2012.

As for Dibble, I'm laying off... his job is hard enough without being under the microscope now.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Baseball is a Funny Game

2 weeks ago, Marquis was finished, Lannan was sputtering, and Olsen and Strasburg were supposed to roll off the DL and anchor the rotation.

Now Olsen is struggling, Strasburg is shut down, Lannan and Marquis turned the clock back to 2009 for a couple starts, and Jordan Zimmermann is rolling off the rehab assignment.

I guess that is why you can never have enough pitching.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Boy, That Escalated Quickly

First, great job by the front office getting players signed. Sure, everyone wishes that this process didn't drag out until the last minute, but that really does play to both sides best interests. The player gets the same money (possibly more) and doesn't accept the additional risk of pitching more innings after a full prep season. The team wins because a shortened negotiating window allows them to hold all the chips and make a convincing bid (Robbie Ray), unless the player REALLY wants to go back to school.

Speaking of escalating quickly, has anybody gone from "completely in control" to "Oh shit" as quickly as Scott Olsen tonight? Despite the start going down as a loss, it looks like Olsen, unlike Marquis, is probably back as healthy as he will be and snagged a rotation spot for the remainder of the year.

Paging Jordan Zimmermann...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tick... Tick... Tick...

Damn, I should never sleep next to my watch... that thing is loud!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Interchangeable Parts... or Not

See, this is what pisses me off the most.

I was up trying to take a dump or something in the 5th inning when Craig Stammen was due to hit. All he had done was come in with the bases loaded and nobody out and bail Marquis out. With the bullpen already stretched thin this week and Strasburg up tomorrow, one would think that Riggleman would try to get three innings from Stammen. Especially since Stammen is one of the few pitchers in the NL who can be trusted to swing a bat.

Instead, Riggleman through the white towel for Sunday as well and gave Justin Maxwell a charity swing. It is very difficult to watch uninformed decisions being made at the highest level. Anyone who has watched batting practice knows Stammen is a good all-around athlete with more than a little pop. Given a fair complement of plate appearances, he may not duplicate Zimmerman's numbers, but it is fairly safe to say the following this season:

Craig Stammen is a better hitter than Nyjer Morgan;
Craig Stammen is a better hitter than Wil Nieves;
Craig Stammen is a better hitter than Willie Harris;
Craig Stammen is a comparable, if not better hitter than both Pudge and Alberto Gonzalez;
and finally,
Craig Stammen is a much, much better hitter than Justin Maxwell.

Instead, since Riggleman thinks that his roster is full of interchangeable parts, where Willie Harris = Mike... err, Michael Morse, and John Lannan = Craig Stammen. He sees P and and thinks that designation defines the player's skill set more than the player himself. Just like the disaster sending Guzman out to right field, Riggleman saw that middle infielders like Morse and Desmond play acceptably out there and figured a "32" (I don't trust those birth certificates anymore) year old career shortstop would be just fine. Everyone who had ever watched Guzman play knew that even second or third would be a stretch for him, and the outfield, was, at best, a wild gamble. Justin Maxwell getting on base (walk) against an average pitcher is a stretch, but with Kennedy throwing strikes as well as he was last night, it was a wild gamble to think Maxwell would get on against him. Just frustrating as hell, and fortunately, I was reenacting Marquis' second inning in the bathroom when it happened, so I didn't have the chance to raise hell down in 116.

Oh yeah, about that Jason Marquis...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Disaster at Nats Park

But at least we were able to scoop up the soggy nachos using the fork sticking out of Jason Marquis' back.

Deception, or Lucky

John Lannan recorded a season high five strikeouts last night, rolling through the Arizona lineup like Halladay. Obviously he has to be doing something different, right?

I dropped in a few links below to the pitch f/x data of a couple of his previous starts to contrast to this one.

Arizona, Aug 13

Colorado, May 13

Chicago, April 26

And for good measure, his start against the Yankees last season.

One thing is for certain, by that Colorado start, the velocity on his fastball was down 2 mph. Another thing that makes Lannan unique is that he really uses the whole strike zone. He almost never throws to the same location twice. Is it by design or lack of control, hard to tell. The release point last season was much higher, but earlier this season he had drawn it. Most pitchers drop the arm slot to compensate for an injury, and he has, but the horizontal point of release is also in, meaning he was bending and dropping his elbow more.

The key to his success last night was the swinging strikes on the changeup. If he can maintain these mechanics, he is disguising his release point a little better than earlier in the year. The key is to keep the motion "over the top" so that the ball is hidden behind his head as long as possible, making it tougher for righties to pick up. When the elbow is bent, the ball is coming from off his ear, and it is much easier to see (ironically, his opponent last night, Joe Saunders, has had similar issues with his changeup). Whether or not this is something he and Tomlin worked on is unknown, but he is throwing the ball slightly different than he had earlier this season. The increased velocity (89 mph avg) leads me to believe the adjustment is working.

It is still too early to tell if John Lannan is back. That was the Diamondbacks, and they tend to get themselves out a lot. He has about eight to ten starts to resurrect his season and get back into the rotation for next.

Now about that Marquis guy starting tonight...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Lannan Owns the Backs

Going into the game, John Lannan owned a 0.47 career ERA against Arizona, despite a 11:3 BB:K ratio... the ERA went up, but the strikeout ratio improved, as he made his second solid start since returning from the AA abyss. I'll want to take a look at the pitch f/x before making any bold claims explaining his resurgence (other than Arizona s-s-sucks). From an eyeball perspective, his delivery looks more over the top, which is allowing him to hide the ball a little better.

Post 300

Is huge as Wil Nieves is doing EVERYTHING to help get Lannan back on track tonight. Career Bomb #4!

Friday, August 6, 2010

No Vacancies

Detwiler, Marquis, Zimmermann, Maya.

Who the heck ARE these guys? Well, we know who most of them are, as they have logged many quality innings on the DL. Going forward, these are the faces that will appear in the "Tomorrow's Starter" section of the Post, or the Interwebs, or whatever you read. Rounding it out, for the next forty innings of his career will be Strasburg.

So what does that mean for the other guys who have made almost all the starts for the Nationals this year? Most will be sent packing, whether by trade, non-tender, or outright release. The suspects.

Livan Hernandez, 22 starts: A sad case. It seems all Livo has ever wanted to do is pitch for the Expos and Nationals... everywhere else he lands, he struggles mightily. He has been the horse that has kept the rotation and bullpen from imploding, and he has finally learned to harness whatever his arm has left (to quote Harry Doyle, "KY ball to third..."). He has clearly earned consideration to fit into next season's rotation, but the Nats' surprising starting pitching depth has all but closed the book on his career, barring major injury. I'm sure he will surface some place next season, and he will take his lumps, but the only place he can succeed is with the Nats.

Craig Stammen, 19 starts: I almost feel like I should break this into two sections: Good Craig Stammen and Evil Craig Stammen. Good Craig Stammen is by no means an ace, but has shown that he can throw strikes, get ahead in the count, and bury pitches in the lower corners of the zone. He needs 90 pitches to work his 7 innings of 2 run, 8 hit, 1 walk ball. And he contributes at the plate and in the field, as well. Good Craig Stammen is the fourth or fifth starter on a good team. He may never be good enough to find a permanent home, but brings that "Jason Marquis" package with him. Evil Craig Stammen relies too much on a fastball he can't keep down, like an old man who just popped 9 Viagra. Evil Craig Stammen leaves the game after 73 pitches and 2 runners on down 5 runs. His bat doesn't matter because in his only plate appearance, Riggleman called for a sacrifice with one out, Wil Nieves on first, and Nyjer Morgan on deck. The problem is that there is no in between with Stammen; he either has it or he doesn't. And the Nats do not have the offensive firepower to overcome Evil Craig Stammen. Watching him for 19 starts last year and 19 starts this year, progress has clearly been made. Some people may indicate that the walks are up. This isn't a bad thing, as they are only up slightly, a product of working a slider into his arsenal. He can face batters a third time without them hitting just under .500 against him. With the right pitching coach, Stammen becomes the next Joel Piniero; with the Nats, he gets the AAAA label, someone who can't quite win at the highest level.

Luis Atilano, 16 starts: The data on Atilano is inconclusive. The Pitch f/x indicate that he is a better pitcher than Stammen, but the results state otherwise. Even aligning rookie seasons, Atilano clearly lacks an "out" pitch. Guys who have it may give up runs, sport the 5+ ERA, but the WHIP will be much lower, a product of teams capitalizing on mistakes. Atilano, like many Nats pitchers over the past two seasons, gets bled to death with singles and untimely walks. He does have his service time and options working in his favor, so he will get another season in Syracuse to learn the art of the strikeout, but that also works against him as to where he falls on the pecking order of spot starts and call-ups. The Nats haven't heard the last of Atilano, but to hear him in the near future means things have gone dreadfully wrong.

John Lannan, 15 starts: Every Nats fan refused to believe the statistics. They believed that John Lannan had an unnatural talent for drawing double plays and groundouts, working through the order three times with nary a strikeout. He was the peoples' hero, a soft-spoken affable guy. This season, all four wheels came off simultaneously. Nobody bothered to complain until late May, when the 20-15 mirage evaporated into the harsh urban reality that is baseball in southeast DC. A pitcher with a SO:BB ratio under 1.5 better have complete mastery of 4 pitches and have a great defense behind him (Jason Marquis). Most fail regardless, but a couple grind their way two a few respectable seasons and a major league career. A pitcher with a SO:BB ratio under 1.0 needs to be really good at selling cars or insurance. The excuses have ranged from injury to mechanical to confidence. There shouldn't be excuses. If there is a problem, then there is a plan to fix it. If it can't be fixed... And this is where Rizzo has to be careful. Lannan, like Daniel Cabrera, is a Jim Bowden guy. Jim Bowden bumped Lannan up to the big show ahead of schedule because he saw something in him, which was vindicated for 3 good seasons. Eventually, Rizzo is going to get sick of watching him loop waist-high 84 mph fastballs and five pitch walks and call for his dismissal. Whether he handles it like Cabrera and Milledge, or sends him out with honor will mean a lot to the fans who stood by the 102 and 103 loss teams. But if he CAN figure out the sink to his fastball, location of his slider, maybe he finds his way ahead of...

Scott Olsen, 10 starts: Talk about a guy who keeps shooting himself in the foot. Last year, he showed up injured, sucked, went on the DL, came back fresh but not 100%, pitched 3 good starts and went out for the season. This season he has avoided the sucking, but can't stay healthy. When he is healthy, he looks to be the strikeout pitcher the Nats sorely need, and a lefty to boot. But Scott Olsen, much like the Chevy Avalanche, is 76 inches of unfulfilled promise. The best scenario is that a team makes a waiver claim for him, and the Nats get a B or C prospect. More than likely, though, he will be non-tendered and the Nats will get nothing except 140 innings of replacement level pitching.

JD Martin, 9 starts: JD Martin has been the opposite end of the spectrum of the Atilano/Stammen phase. Martin looks awesome for four innings, walks a guy, gives up a single, then an error, then a long ball, and suddenly Batista is warming up with an out in the fifth. The numbers indicate that Martin should be pitching in the majors. The only number GMs are looking at is 28, the age he will be opening day next year. Rizzo isn't going to commit to a 28 year old with an injury history, especially not one giving up nearly 2 HR per 9. Martin, like Olsen, will likely be in a different organization at the start of camp.

Chien-Ming Wang, 0 starts: Not much to say about Wang, other than Rizzo took a gamble and Wang took the Nats money. The mysterious injury makes Jesus Flores look like Cal Ripken. At least we know what Flores has been doing, and know the extend to which he has and has not recovered. Wang, on the other hand, just throws. And someone will pay him again next year. I doubt it will be the Nats.

The pu-pu platter, 3 starts: Batista grabbed one in a spot start for Strasburg, and Chico grabbed another in the same situation for Lannan. Neither figure into next season's plans by no fault of their own. Batista is an expendable arm, and Chico is full recovered from surgery, but with the superior starting depth, really doesn't figure in to the top 10 even. Garrett Mock started the other game and was somehow diagnosed with a broken neck. The Nats seemed to be tiring of his reenactment of the first fifteen minutes of "The Fugitive" whenever he stepped on the mound, so he will likely fall into the "release" pile when he comes off the DL. Chuck James dominated both levels of minor league ball he played and may garner some consideration if he remains with the club. Shairon Martis, Erik Arnesen, and Jeff Mandel all pitched often at Syracuse, and none of them looked like they will ever make it beyond that level. Brad Meyers, Tom Millone, and Aaron Thompson still look at least one year away, maybe more.

The trick is getting teams interested in the players that do not fit into the plan. The best trading chip the Nats have this off-season is Marquis, he is signed for one more season, and has a history of being durable and bouncing back after a poor season. If the Nats think they are competing in the NL East next year (I hope not, but stranger things happen), maybe they hold on to him. If not, deal him for a corner outfielder or middle infielder. John Lannan and JD Martin are not at all appealing to a contender, so they will likely stay put. They can both provide replacement level performance if more than one of the designated five falter or gets traded.

The perception is that the Nats have too much starting pitching. That may be true, but it may also be true that they are tricking themselves into those infomercial "buy one get one free" deals. Two of crap is still crap... you just need more toilet paper to clean it up.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Vacation Leads to Purging

So I leave town for a week and the Nats fleece the Twins and Rangers for prospects, getting the heir to Pudge (likely) and ANYBODY for Guzman. What is great about the Capps deal is that his replacement is already on the roster, and the fail safe plan is already on the roster.

While most people were begging to move Dunn or Willingham because they would hopefully bring an A prospects, there are zero replacements for those guys on the 40-man right now. Capps is easily replaced by Storen and Clippard, and Guzman is replaced by Alberto Gonzalez for now, with Danny Espinosa possibly ready next June to 2012.

The purge may not be done, but unlike last season, when the market never quite opened for Nick Johnson, Rizzo didn't force the issue with Dunn. He made an A- and B trade to help make something out of another lost season. Getting the big score for Dunn is still a goal, and he may pass through waivers, as NL teams are not looking for his glove, but right now, I'd guess that the Nats are toying with the idea of resigning him.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sorry Excuses

For the second time in recent memory, the Nationals were shut out despite recording eleven or more hits. This is an extremely difficult thing to accomplish and requires a near "Perfect Storm" of ineptitude to occur. Or so I thought. The Nationals have mastered the techniques to be able to do this in more than one way, but there are some similarities.

First and foremost, extra-base hits are a rarity, if not extinct all together. Home runs obviously shelve the shutout, but lead-off doubles also greatly increase a team's chance of scoring. Next, players must find new and creative ways to run into outs on the base paths. Base running blunders are a Nats specialty, though they seem to be grounding into fewer double plays (actually, same pace as last year). And finally, hitters lose focus of the situation and fail to produce with runner in scoring position.

The Nats were an inside-out opposite field triple by Josh Willingham, the Nats probably would have just been shut out 27 straight innings by the Marlins. This is why they are absolutely terrified of moving Dunn or Willingham, and to a lesser extent, Guzman. They have a dreadful offense that relies on three hitters, two of which are having career years at age 30 and 31. As much experience as Desmond is gaining, who else is here to fill the other six spots in the field not named Zimmerman? And those paying attention know that Dunn and Willingham are already regressing to the mean as this season drags on.

If that Marlins series didn't serve as a wake up call, the front office probably doesn't have a plan that they are prepared to execute. Trading Dunn is the play. Getting two AA/AAA players that are still developing is the play. Allowing Dunn to leave and acquiring the draft picks is a shrewd move in one of the two scenarios. The first being if the Nats had a strong farm that was ready to graduate to the bigs. They do not. The other would be if they were completely resigned to not competing until 2013, when Zim, Zimm, Strasburg, Storen, etc, would be in free agent or larger arbitration years, and Harper, Marrero, Espinosa, Meyers are contributing. Judging by their free agent acquisitions, they are clearly on a year-to-year, maybe we can make a run at it if everything falls into place. That points to either having already locked up Dunn through 2012 (not the worst idea) or trading for chips that can contribute in 2011/2012.

The problem I see is that by jerking Dunn around like this, the Nats may get nothing out of the deal but his services for the next two months. They also further poison their brand by looking greedy and incompetent, and will struggle getting the free agents they need to make up for the barren farm system. Don't get me wrong, Rizzo get shafted more and more every day for Jim Bowden crapping on the franchise for all those years. At least we get to enjoy Strasburg...

And if I see Stammen get pinch hit for again by anybody except Mike Morse, I'm going to clock somebody. Do the managers and coaches even watch BP? If they did, they would know Stammen is a far better hitter than Kennedy, Harris, or the rest of the punch-and-judy crap on the bench.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Second Half Run

The Nats aren't buyers; they ought to be savvy sellers, understanding the value of a draft pick versus taking another team's castoff farmhands. So how does that translate into a "run"?

The Nats finished strong last season when September call-ups were given the chance to succeed without the pressure of being re-designated or planted on the bench (see Maxwell, Justin). The key is to determine which of these guys will be Nationals in 2012, not just the rest of the season. Desmond is off to a better start in July. Mike... er Michael Morse has hit when he has been in the lineup. Roger Bernadina's plate discipline improves each month. Justin Maxwell even has a cameo through Monday. So question now posed: none of these players are WORSE than Willie Harris, and given Nyjer Morgan's shenanigans this season, one could argue that Bernadina should be starting in centerfield everyday, regardless of age, service time, or trade value. Given the Nats lack of outfield prospects, these are their guys for now. If they choose to keep him, it should be Hammer, Bernadina, and Morse most nights with Maxwell spelling the three of them. If a sweet package can be had for the Hammer, it will be tough to turn down considering how barren the cupboard is, but Josh Willingham has been to valuable to give the Nick Johnson treatment. Work a small trade for Morgan to free up room on the 40-man for another outfielder who can obtained...

By trading Adam Dunn. Both Willingham and Dunn's value will never be higher, but Dunn's raw power numbers make him more appealing to other GMs. There are teams with logjams in the outfield, too many bats and not enough positions on the field, and Rizzo needs to exploit that. Get the outfield set now so they aren't still rebuilding when Strasburg is due to walk to New York. Also, feel free to shop around Guzman and Kennedy.

From a personality standpoint, it sucks to trade any of these guys; it isn't like dumping Milton Bradley on a team. These are character guys that the younger players do look up to, but that's the penalty for playing the Jim Bowden error. Freeing up the roster and putting these young players in a position succeed is important and it is what the organization should be focusing on... and with a little luck, maybe catch the nosediving Marlins.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lee to the Rangers... (trade watch)

Totally shooting down my idea of Nolan Ryan making a lunge for Dunn to fix their first base crisis. ESPN had reported before my Friday afternoon nap that Lee was becoming a Yankee, which made no sense at all, as the Yankees already have 5+ starting pitchers (what was their plan, have 6 starters? move AJ Burnett to long relief?), unless Vasquez was also on the move. Alas, the Rangers bolstered an "interesting" pitching staff with one of the best in the game. Given the shaky financial situation, the Rangers may be out of the trade market for a while, but they still have that gaping hole at first. With Jake Peavy's duct tape wearing off, the White Sox may be less inclined to run at Dunn before taking stock of their starting pitching. The Giants are fading fast, though the Rockies are currently leaning on Jason Giambi to carry the load while Todd Helton decomposes on the DL.

That would leave a small market for Dunn this season. Unless one of those teams is prepared to give up an MLB ready player, expect to see more bubbles on the basepaths.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Matt Capps: All-Star? Trade-bait?

Is Capps even the sixth best "closer" in the NL?

Heath Bell has more saves with better numbers in the WHIP and strikeout categories, plus a solid 1.72 ERA.

Jonathan Broxton waited until June 23rd to walk his 4th batter, at which point his ERA was 0.89.

Carlos Marmol has struck out an absurd 72 (seventy-two!) batters in 39 innings.

Billy Wagner has a WHIP under 1.00 and has given up 5 runs while recording 17 saves

Leo Nunez has been brilliant all-around.

That leaves Capps in the same category as Matt Lindstrom, K-Rod, Francisco Cordero, and Brian Wilson. If you were GM, would you select Capps given first pick of those guys? Which is why the Nats need to capitalize on the All-Star misconception and sell high.

Not That We Will Have to Worry Again in Our Lifetimes...

But Charlie Manuel should never be allowed to select an All-Star roster again. At least somebody else noticed.

The team representation factor does make it a more difficult task, but nobody is selecting Omar Infante over Ryan Zimmerman if they are trying to win the game. Tough break for Josh Willingham as well, clearly having the best season of his career and producing at a Pujolsian-level, squeezed out by Corey Hart's home run binge, Michael Bourn's mediocre bat and speed, and required roster fillers Marlon Byrd and Chris Young.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Deep to Center

And the Padres have been In-Zimm-inated.

Got lay some blame at the feet of Riggleman for that disastrous eighth inning. He should not have been pushing the pitches on a 95 degree night, especially against the heart of the order. Livan can work the Houdini act better than anyone, but even the sweaty Cuban is vulnerable to the elements.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Nationals Baseball

Where it was just suggested that Nyjer Morgan may want to adopt a new at bat song... Somethng from Jane's Addiction.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

For All the Hype...

Tim Hudson was the better pitcher last night. Both teams' defenses were doing the pitcher no favors, and while Strasburg's best produced those dramatic strikeouts, he also let a couple batters off the hook. Hudson's pitch count elevated early, but still cruised through seven and left for a pinch hitter with a comfortable lead.

More miserable decisions likely cost the Nats a run or two in the earlier innings, such as getting Pudge thrown out stealing, or sacrificing Desmond with a runner on second and Nyjer and Strasburg on deck. Heinous decisions, yes. Would they have changed the complexion of the game? Possibly, though I still think Hudson had the gear to get out of those jams regardless.

And Dibble does have the right to go nuclear on the state of the defense. These are more talented players executing at the same level as the fodder taking the field for 100 loss teams. How does Morgan go to third with one out. Jimmy Dugan would have him bawling in the dugout for that.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Nationals Baseball

Leadoff double... nothing. At least they weren't stupid enough to yank Strasburg after 70 pitches.

Hasn't been a good 2 hours for the team as a whole.

Nationals Baseball

During Strasburg's last 19 innings, the Nationals have scored 1 run.

That is some opponents' ERA.

Nationals Baseball

Where the opponent can commit three errors in five innings, yet zero runs score.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lannan Has Good AA Start

The open rotation spot is Tuesday, so it is impossible for him to fill it. With the team self-destructing, does it make sense to force him back into the rotation before the All-Star Break. Now that the Nats are well out of anything except the race for #1 again, it is probably time to take stock of who NEEDS to be in the rotation.

John Lannan probably NEEDS to be in the rotation if he is healthy the Nats expect him to be in the rotation next season. He can usually pitch 7 innings on an economy of pitches. The results aren't always pretty, but he can get the job done. There is growing concern that maybe the Nats should get what they can for Lannan before he regresses to the mean. That time would be now or never.

Livan Hernandez SHOULD be in the rotation, when used properly. Right now, he is not being used properly. One night after the starter was yanked after 4 plus innings, Hernandez was pulled after 92 pitches. WHY?? If Edwin Jackson can roll off 150 pitches in a start, Livan's decaying skill set should be used for at least 120, especially when the bullpen needs it. If Riggleman wants to coddle the position, then this is where Detwiler should be once he is healthy.

Stephen Strasburg. NEEDS... once again, pitch counts are bad. They give management an out. If a pitcher gets hurt on strict limits, "Oh, he would have gotten hurt anyway." Ignorance, damnit. Here is an example. Pitch counts are like miles on a car. Some people drive aggressively and erratically, don't get regular tuneups, and wonder why the head gasket and transmission are shot after 80K. Sure, some pitchers get into a jam. But when your pitcher has cruised through 6 innings on 95 pitches, 75 strikes... those are the easy miles. Yeah, Kerry Wood Kerry Wood Kerry Wood. Look at the game logs, watch the film... there was much more stress on Wood's arm.

Scott Olsen, once healthy, probably SHOULD be elsewhere. He must be a better clubhouse guy than his reputation, or Rizzo would have eaten that arbitration money. The guy can pitch, but unlike John Lannan, has never shown he can do it consistently for any period of time. Right now, Luis Atilano is holding down that spot.

The Nationals will have paid Jason Marquis nearly five million dollars to rehab this season... that's a lot of Flippin Pizza. Is Marquis tradebait? He SHOULD be. Unless he will be contributing to the education of these young pitchers... man, if JD Martin were only a little better. But salary aside, is Jason Marquis even better than JD Martin? With this defense, all bets are off.

Craig Stammen NEEDS to be given a shot to prove he isn't a AAAA pitcher. The bad starts are frequent enough to give pause, but whether or not he is taking his old spot back or Miguel Batista's, he needs to be learning a role with the big club or playing his way off the 40-man.

I think we NEED Wang... no questions asked. But since he seems indefinitely broken, let's scrap him.

Matt Chico is a useful minor league relief plan, and Jordan Zimmermann will be sorely needed come 2011. But you get the idea. 2010 is in the past. Figure out who will contribute in 2011 and focus in them. 76 wins is better than 72, but 76 wins again next season is not as good as 84.

So what will the rotation look like on August 1st? Your guess is as good as mine, but with a couple of expendable parts, maybe they can improve their holes at right field, second base, and, well, all of AAA. Dunn and Willingham are parts also, but let's face the facts that the offense goes nowhere without them.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dibble and Knight Square Off!

That got awkward fast.

"I'm not disagreeing because I'm a pitcher."

"You got your opinion I got mine."

"I don't care. I'm not disagreeing with you. I know I'm right as a hitter."

"I got a base hit in the World Series, jammed me as big as anything..."

"That's all right Ray, I got MVP in the playoffs by throwing strikes. So you got your opinion and I got mine."

Somewhere I heard Dibble say the Royals were the best hitting team in baseball; fortunately, he amended it to "slap hitting", which last I checked was a negative thing.

"You got it totally wrong, I didn't say he didn't do a great job."

Then both Holliday and Carpenter let out sighs of relief during the awkward pause following Ray deferring to Rob's superior arm, and Rob continued his Imperial Death stare. Good times had by all, and you can't find this kind of drama at the World Cup... oh wait, never mind.

I'll wait to look at the pitch f/x data, but Ray is probably right. College, AA, AAA, Strasburg can get away chunking 97-99 belt high with most guys swinging through it. The Pirates goofy bad lineup is more AAA, but most teams the Nats and Strasburg will face will have enough defensive minded hitters to make him work for strikeouts. He still got nine, and got the ones that mattered.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

AA vs. AAA

John Lannan finally received his exile from the Nationals starting rotation. While most deposed pitchers are relegated to AAA, Mike Rizzo chose an alternate path, sending Lannan back to AA Harrisburg.

Usually, when veteran players want to make a rehab assignment, they are sent to the nearest affiliate, often a A or AA club. This seems to be what the Nats are doing with Lannan. A demotion to AAA would have signaled that they didn't think he could get it done. The trip to AA states that they know he can get it done, now go back to the basics and prove it. The lack of premium talent in the Eastern League should help him rebuild his confidence. Right now, he is nibbling too much, falling behind, then chunking an 86 mph 3-1 fastball down the middle. Whether or not there is an underlying injury is aside from the simple fact that John Lannan does not strikeout enough batters to be a great pitcher. He can pitch well, hit spots, and funnel right-handed hitters straight to Zimmerman and Desmond for easy outs. His skill set isn't better than Craig Stammen; in truth, Stammen's ability to not walk batters may provide more upside.

Hopefully this is a short stint in Harrisburg. That would mean the elbow is sound and he has rediscovered the sink to his fastball. In the meantime, he gets to rehab with Ross Detwiler, consult with former coach Randy Tomlin, and work with another soft-tossing lefty trying to find his way back, Chuck James.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Revenge of Austin Kearns

Who would have thought that he would be the best hitter on ANY team, major league or AAA, this season?

May JD Martin exact his own revenge on the Indians organization.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

New Era

The only appropriate way to describe that is with the famous Onion headline, replacing a couple words.



Prior to the game, almost everybody was making prediction on what Stephen Strasburg's final line would be. I pulled this:

6 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 6 K, 92 pitches

Nobody called this:

7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 14 K, 94 pitches

It was a stunning spectacle. High fives were being thrown around, as were comparisons to all time greats. The game itself was like reliving Kerry Wood's 20 K game, right down to the knee-snapping slurve. Hitters looked foolish, and the man on the mound was always in control. Baseball Reference blog throws out the few other dominating debuts. I had totally forgotten about Tim Hudson bursting on the scene like this. Only the lost careers of JR Richard and Karl Spooner yielded more strikeouts. The most impressive part:

ZERO WALKS!

Truth be told, the Pirates have a young team. Here are two lists.

652, 86, 1300, 602, 606, 1000, 1431, 250. 5927

0, 148, 0, 2335, 519, 0, 1147, 52. 4201

The first list is the number of career major league at bats for the Pirates lineup last night, and the second is the career major league at bats for the Syracuse Chiefs. Your team is in trouble when Lastings Milledge is the grizzled vet.

Strasburg starts will be near, if not sellout the rest of the season. I'll be torn with him going up against the World Cup this month, but that was a very convincing argument.

Nobody has debuted like that before, and it is very possible that nobody will again.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Blogger Day Part 1

This should have been up first thing Monday, but blogger was down most of the day. Here is a recap of Blogger Day on the Dawn of Strasburg.

This past Saturday, the Nationals hosted “Blogger Day.” This year’s effort was spearheaded by Chad Kurz, Senior Manager of New Media. I’m not really sure what “new media” is, but apparently these ramblings are a part of it. Representatives of The Bombs, as well as about fifteen others, were allowed to take part in pregame interviews with Jim Riggleman, Josh Willingham, Drew Storen, and other members of the Nats organization. Following that, we were given a detailed tour of the stadium facilities and new amenities. Next, we were down on the field for batting practice before heading back up to the press box for dinner. The PNC Diamond Club hosts Inside Pitch Live, featuring a keynote speaker for every Saturday home game, and this week Stan Kasten took the mike. Finally, it was back to the press box to cover the game.

All in all, it was a pretty awesome time. I was running around trying to get pictures, audio, and video cut until nearly 4 am! I would love to cover these in more detail, get some pictures and quotes up, but I am about to run out the door for Strasburg. Here are some of the highlights.

Bill Simmons was correct. Press box food has to be the most fattening out there. Never mind the all-you-can-eat theme. The sandwich of the day was a third-pound bacon cheeseburger. I’m not so sure that’s considered a “sandwich, but I ate the hell out of it anyway. Simmons was quite wrong about his assessment of “Press Box hot.” Sure, our enclave was Miss Chatter and the 14 Dwarves, but the rest of the Nats media coverage was diverse enough to keep the pawing to a minimum. Bob Carpenter is everywhere before a game. You can’t miss the guy. He knows and talks to everybody! Dibble was off at his kid’s graduation, though something tells me the former Nasty Boy isn’t as personable.

Will finish this after Stasburgmania.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Game Diary, 6/5, vs Cincinnati

Blogger Day at the Park. Pictures and analysis to follow tomorrow.




7:05: And the first boo of the game goes to... Joe West! And they haven't played anything off his album yet.

7:08: E-5... let's hope this isn't a pattern.

7:12: Wait, Joey Votto is Canadian? This explains that whole anxiety thing last year. He responds by smacking a double down the line... Cabrera scores the unearned run.

7:17: Wil makes a nifty catch along the dugout rail, minimizing the damage. Atilano could be in for a long night if he can't keep the ball low.

7:21: Guzman hustles down the line, denying Cabrera of a great first out... these are the types of plays he HAS to make to stay in the lineup.

7:22: Plush pops up a bunt, nearly makes it a twin killing, then slams a couple water bottles in the dugout... not sure how to interpret this development.

7:27: Nats strand two as Hammer rips a full count fastball a little too deep to center. Listach held Guzman on Dunn's rip to the corner, despite a poor throw toward second by Jay Bruce. Could have been tied, but the Nats go conservative early.

7:34: Textbook 6T-3 double play turned by Desmond. The guy has range.

7:40: Bernadina wastes a lead off single by trying to steal against Hernandez, on a fastball, no less. Desmond singles on the next pitch.

7:43: Mike Leake went straight to the Reds after being drafted last season... he leads off this inning, batting .381. Now he is batting .409.

7:50: Wait... is Billy Hatcher the Reds' first base coach?

7:55: Flippin Pizza may be the new kid on the concourse, but Nyjer brings back Slice Down the Line for a standing double... he hasn't had many of those this season and seems to feed off his own success, and drown in failures.

7:57: Press box doesn't give the best view for ball/strike judgments.

7:59: Storms looming... stay tuned.

8:18: Back from the production room... Teddy did not win.

8:19: And Mike Leake is now hitting .435... the "hitting pitcher" philosophy is a debate for another time.

8:21: Leake scores on a meatball blistered by Cabrera. Atilano has escaped unscathed up until now, but Votto is likely to come up with a RISP.

8:25: Don't understand the pick off posturing... get the second out at the plate!

8:28: Clutch effort rebounding to retire Phillips weakly and Votto swinging.

8:30: Looks like they filled out to 28K or so. Even the Presidential (the seats, not the vodka) looks populated.

8:31: Ugh... Slappy with another weak infield ground out, followed by some good work by Votto on a foul pop. Very impatient right now, and actually surprised Atilano hit given the quick hook some of the pitchers have been shown

8:32: 5 pitch inning.

8:34: Of course Zim makes that play... of course.

8:36: Even at second base, it appears Guzman just doesn't move as well to his left as he does his right. There must be a stat for this.

8:41: Epic at bat here by Bruce... must be the tenth pitch.

8:42: A beauty to end the inning, strike out-throw out on the five hundredth pitch of the at bat. Great job by Wil sticking with the play despite nearly getting decapitated by the previous foul tip with the runner going.

8:45: And the last four batters have seen six pitches.

8:49: Willingham comes up to "Your Love"... good things can only follow.

8:50: Pat Listach gets an ovation for flashing some of his defensive prowess from days of yore.

8:53: Bernadina takes three straight borderline pitches... the box is in shock Joe West didn't ring him up just for the sake of ringing him up.

8:54: The sixth pitch destroys his bat, but Votto mishandles the ball as ash falls to the earth around him. Zim scores from second. This is Desmond's bread and butter... but he chases to out of the zone and grounds out weakly to third.

8:58: 2-1 in the seventh... in other words, Nationals Baseball!

8:58: Absolutely stunned Atilano is still in the game. 107 pitches and counting... Leake on deck.

9:02: Hernandez down again. 78 strikes on 112 pitches. Huge effort from the rookie. And he retire Leake on a well struck to second. Arguably one of the three best starting performances this year, Livo's shutout and Olsen's near no-no withstanding. (Final count- 114 pitches, 80 strikes)

9:05: One of the dugout dancing girls just bitch-slapped another... highlight of the night.

9:07: Attendance listed at 23K... I was a little off.

9:07: I know Willie was brought in to face the righty, but Morse was crushing the ball in BP. Doesn't that play into the decision making?

9:10: Errant throw between innings clocked a fan in the first row... medical staff on the scene.

9:12: Cabrera absolutely crushes a ball to left-center, second hanger he has seen tonight.

9:14: Long conference to get Burnett warm to face Votto.

9:16: More posturing toward the runner at second. Are the Reds known for stealing third?

9:18: Phillips puts a two-strike pitch up the middle... not Walker's finest hour.

9:20: Burnett comes out of the pen to Whitesnake. Last season, "Here I Go Again" would be taken in completely different context regarding the bullpen.

9:23: Phillips dead to rights at third base trying to take two on the wild pitch, but Desmond called for baseline interference? I didn't see any contact or attempt to impede the runner... Riggleman gets tossed arguing the play. Votto completes the disaster by drawing a full count walk from 0-2.

9:28: Desmond comes home instead of turning two. With Scott Rolen hitting and Phillips on third, the play was to concede the run and turn two. Phillips destroys Nieves at the plate with a forearm shimmy and he loses the ball. Phillips shows everyone up after the play and will likely see a ball in the back tomorrow.

9:31: Single, 5-1. Not a storybook finish right now, as the error count is at three again.

9:41: Old-ass Arthur Rhodes in to work Morgan and Dunn around Zimmerman... 0.39 ERA on the season.

9:44: Predictably, the inning starts K-BB. It's up to Dunn to extend this one.... not even close on the slider, though. 1-2.

9:46: GIDP... no chance to be saved by the Hammer.

9:48: Is there any excuse for this game to be pushing three hours?

9:51: Slick move from Billy Hatcher, dissing the kids fighting over the foul ball and flipping it elsewhere.

9:53: Zim sticks with it and makes a good throw... nice to see his focus late in a mostly over game.

9:54: And there is the plunking!! Apparently Joe West did see Phillips trash talking and knew it was coming, because the ejection was immediate. He has now tossed 4 Nats in two games... what are the chances Wil moves for a pitchout on a fastball down the middle?

9:56: Slaten in to face Votto... I think the Nats are getting ready for tomorrow, as the bullpen is getting thin.

9:57: "And Miguel Batista was ejected from the game... for those who didn't notice." The Nats won't be supporting Joe West's upcoming tour.

10:01: Always a fielding adventure with Adam Dunn.

10:09: Two-out single by Desmond. No pitch hitter for Nieves, which is a little short-sighted. Kennedy should hit for him, then Morse for the pitcher. A rally is unlikely, but much less likely with Nieves taking cuts. I know they don't want Burke to get into the game, but how likely was that scenario?

10:11: Strikeout, game over. Three games this week of three errors. Apparently they do come in threes.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Nationals Baseball

Where errors, much like celebrity deaths, come in threes.

(cue eerie music)

Quick Thoughts on Replay and "The Imperfect"

I say quick thoughts because this is far from polished...

Instant replay is not good for sports. While it is great for correcting mistakes made and errors in human judgment, it takes away from the essence of the game. Most sports are played solely for the players involved; sure, winning feels better than losing, but at the end of the day most people aren't worried about the standings in their beer league. Professional sports are played for two entities: the players and the fans. Winning is certainly more important, but in the end, it is not the most important for those two parties. Players get paid, fans usually get to see an enjoyable game.* Players who win less may get paid less, but major league players are not starving. Fans prefer rooting for a team that is competitive, but Nats Park was not empty last year. Winning is much more important to managers and owners, who are evaluated on those criteria. A winning team is more profitable than a losing team. Blown calls happen all game long, and players shake them off. It is up to us to shake them off as fans and media as well. Would your kids' Little League game be more enjoyable if it were umpired by a machine? Of course not!

The only reason we want Instant Replay is because we have it. Every play is dissected on the Jumbotron and in the booth prior to the next one. Fans of Walter Johnson's Senators weren't sitting in their seats wondering, "I wish there were seven cameras following every play so we could prove the first base umpire blew that call." They just hoped that the next one would go in their favor, because, well, shit happens.

So even if there were infallible machines umpiring the Galarraga game, would he have grabbed a piece of history? Probably not, though the home plate umpire was pretty consistent, Galarraga got a couple gifts to work ahead in the count. Had the play happened in the third inning, is this even a story? Probably not. The irony of this story is that the blown call didn't even cost the Tigers the game. Correctly determining the winner has driven the demand for replay up until now. Bud Selig, in his attempt to diffuse the situation, probably should not have concluded that the game would have ended differently with replay, and should not have initially left the door open that the call could be overturned after the fact. That could totally turn the state of Missouri upside-down. Even in his carefully crafted statement, Selig mentions all the sources with which he plans to consult regarding Instant Replay, but the two he ignores: the players and the fans.


* Does not apply to Jim Bowden products

Thursday, June 3, 2010

This is What You Signed on for...

So the 14 errors are 5 more than any one else in baseball. This was a given going into spring training: Ian Desmond was going to make A LOT of errors, and both the coaches and most of the media agreed that it was worth overlooking for the long-term benefits of the team. That was March 2nd.

Roll around to June 2nd, and the Nats clinging to respectability. Ian Desmond MIGHT have contributed to the team losing with a hat trick of misfortune in the field, though scoring all of one run may have played an equally important role. Desmond himself had the only extra base hit after the first inning. Before continuing the E-6 jokes, here are couple of things to put into perspective. Thus far this season, Desmond has been worth about 1 win above replacement (0.9), while the man he replaced, Cristian Guzman, has put up 0.6 with a similar number of plate appearances. Based on the UZR, Desmond has made a play on over 84% of the the balls hit into his zone in 2010, as opposed to 78.5% for Guzman in 2009 (or 77% this season). Finally, remember Ryan Zimmerman was among the league leaders in errors at third base last season, but because he gets to so many more balls than other players, it is written off as an acceptable work hazard.

As rookie, Ian Desmond's production puts him in the middle of the pack amongst major league shortstops. He will improve on a daily basis and the errors should be ignored; this team wasn't expected to be in a wild card race and shouldn't start changing plans because they are flirting with .500 in June. Keep Desmond on the diamond, and Casey at the Bat.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Pardon Me, While I Waste Your Time


Former Ohio State standout Johnny Utah commutes between surf vacations.



This man knows what he is talking about.

Capps Cracks Again

It wasn't a rally squandered, but more of a quick reality check; the best way to help a closer out is to give him more than one run to protect. Every closer looks like Mo Rivera with a three run lead. Trust me, Mark Davis is not walking through the door. And most non-Hall-of-Fame closers will drop five or so games a year, and most of the time it is a one run lead and one of two pitches get away. The only alarming stat is that he hadn't cracked before despite a WHIP around 1.50. The regression is strong with this one, methinks.

Monday, May 31, 2010

189 Hours to Strasburg

Capps Gifted and Robbed... a Team With an Identity Crisis

It all balances out.

Friday night, Matt Capps was set a standard "free save" situation, bases empty to start the ninth, three run lead. He then proceeded to let four straight reach, cutting the lead to two with the bases loaded an nobody out. The Nats win probability had dropped from 95% to 50% in a matter of seconds. All seemed lost.

Matt Capps pulled a Maverick and "re-engaged" striking out two straight. A couple of the borderline calls went his way. Then, with the strike out eliminated in the form of David Eckstein, he forced the chop out to end the game. Bases loaded nobody out is almost a certain run, as few pitchers can force the 1-2-3 double play. Mat Capps took advantage of a couple of weaker hitters and a friendly strike zone and saved the day.

Sunday afternoon, he was not as fortunate. A good fastball looked to get the hometown call and extended the at bat one pitch too many. Close games, by design, will break pretty close to 50/50 over an extended sample. The best way to win baseball games is to either score a lot of runs, or give up very few runs. The Nats currently do neither of these things. They tend to play to the style of their opponent. They will chase Philly in bunches, then play small ball against the Padres. It is an interesting dynamic, but not one that will likely produce prolonged success.

So what is the Nats scheme?

Rizzo has built a staff of a bunch contact pitchers, but aside from Zimmerman and Desmond, the defense isn't above average. Riggleman wants to run, but none of his fast guys can seem to get on base. They have the reputation of being a strong offense, but from an advanced standpoint, the team relies on timely hittling from the likes of Roger Bernadina and Wil Nieves to scrap out 4-3 wins. Strasburg shows up next week, but what does he change? Sure, he'll get the strikeouts, but the well hit balls will fall and runs will still score... this isn't AA. In the end, this team really needs to find long term solutions in right field and at catcher. Jesus Flores isn't walking through that door, and Justin Maxwell may be finished as a DFA yo-yo.

In other words, Rizzo needs to stop posturing with this whole "contender" status and find a prospect with what little bait is on the line. I want to keep the Hammer more than any one of the ten readers of this blog, but what choice does the organization have?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cy Young Front Runners Go Head-to-Head!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Seriously, you could not have convinced anyone that Livan Hernandez and Cy Young would be mentioned in the same sentence, except in the case of "That Livan Hernandez, he's no Cy Young."* Yet here are Jon Garland and Hernandez squaring off in an important rubber match. Go figure.

* Special thanks to Scott Hastings

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dunn-Zimm Switcheroo

If you hadn't noticed yet, Riggleman has taken the liberty of flopping Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn in the lineup based on righty-lefty matchup. What does this accomplish?

1) Out of the 3rd spot, the like-handed batter is more likely to see pitches over the plate to keep from walking the easier out with the hitter-favored matchup on deck.

2) Balls up over the plate greatly reduce the potential for ground balls and inning-killing double plays.

3) Both hitters' on-base percentage increases.

Ironically, the player who benefits the most from this are not Dunn or Zimmerman. It is Josh Willingham. He has more runners on base when he comes up, during which the pitcher is less effective from the stretch. Willingham is equally effective against both righties and lefties, and therefore gives the opposing pitcher little room for error facing the 3-4-5 stretch of the lineup.

I will give credit to Riggleman for finding a way to maximize production from a very thin lineup. With Nyjer Morgan struggling, Pudge injured, and the middle infielders still trying to find their individual ways (none are terrible, they all possess some shortcomings, though), that 3-4-5 really has to carry the load.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Livan on the Edge

2 outs, bottom of the 5th, Hernandez gives up a single to pitcher Todd Wellemeyer. This isn't as big a crime as walking the pitcher, but Wellemeyer is hardly Babe Ruth; he has zero extra base hits in his career. With a slow runner on first, Hernandez should be able to work out of this jam, correct? It came unraveled in a hurry, and before long, the Giants had almost batted around. These things can happen, and it wasn't like the Nats were out of the game. He will probably have more innings like this as the summer progresses, and his ERA will climb back toward that 3.75 mark.

The distressing part is this: 75, 88, 82, 64, 91, 94, 94, 96, 106, 93, 100, 91, 100, 82...

That 106 is Scott Olsen's last good start before the injury. The bullpen gets burned up quickly because they are going to it 15-20 pitches earlier than most teams. Clippard has earned most of those decisions by coming in during the sixth and seventh innings of close games.

Now I am one who believes pitch count has less to do with injury than overall fatigue... a 150 minute, 9 inning, 135 pitch cruise control game does less damage than a 30 minute, 32 pitch inning out of the stretch. If the coach's judgment is that is pitcher is fatigued after 5 innings and 75 pitches, then that's the move he should make. But at some point, the Nationals have to extend these pitchers and build their game stamina, or Clippard, Storen, and Capps are going to follow the long list of relievers cooked in DC.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Injuries Piling Up

This is where the Nationals are exposed, when one or two injuries can really hamstring them. Olsen's absence can be manipulated via travel days, and the Nats may not even need the fifth starter until June 4th.

The literal back-breaker may be Pudge, if he is out more than a couple weeks. He calls a far superior game to the three catchers who took turns last year, and is an above-replacement hitter. The time off may actually be beneficial to him, as his performance at the plate was starting to swoon. He cannot be expected to catch more than 4 times a week without showing the wear and tear of having been in the bigs since 1991.

Wil is a serviceable backup, but should be trusted for more than two starts per week without stalling the lineup. Remember, with the pitcher's spot, Nyjer, and Guzman, the Nats have four batters in a row good for not much more than singles. Not having a viable offensive catching option in the system is disappointing and something the organization really must have planned for, but where is that plan now?

What Would it Take to Get Roy Oswalt?

Besides money, that is.

The Houston Astros are currently looking down the barrel of a 100 loss season, with many to follow if certain adjustments are not made to how they manage their organization. Their farm system is Soviet Safeway and most of the starting lineup just got their AARP memberships. What the Astros do have are several valuable veterans that can be used as bargaining chips. However, the current economic climate, paired with sabrmetric advances in win valuation, has most teams shying away from taking on salary.

Roy Oswalt wants out. He is a high energy pitcher with a middle infielder's build. So far his body has held up well, despite pitching events outside the MLB season, as well a couple post-season runs. He is 16th amongst active pitchers in innings pitched, and knows his window is closing. He is pitching his ass off right now, trying to make himself as desirable as possible. At a prorated 16 million per year, a four-win pitcher is a fair value, if he is still a four-win pitcher, of course.

The Astros are not the Pirates or Twins: they want and need more than salary relief. They want a prospect. They covet a name, some one to prove that the team is moving in the right direction. The Tigers made the money deal of the off-season, getting major-league ready Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer for a couple of expensive players that didn't figure into their long-term plans. The problem the Nats have is that they are not in a much better situation than the Astros... if they were, this discussion would not be occurring. The Nats farm system is really just "The Holy Trinity" (Strasburg, Storen, and Norris), followed by a bunch of guys that are not remotely close to sure things...

The Astros may be able to talk themselves into Danny Espinosa, given that their current shortstop solution hasn't been much of a hitter at any level. However, the Nats probably aren't giving up Espinosa, who should be ready to step in once Desmond is arbitration-eligible. The ingredients just are not here to facilitate a trade to Washington. Besides, is Rizzo really looking to go on a brazen spending spree with Bryce Harper looming on the horizon?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Inside the Park Homeruns and More

The Nats were drowning in quicksand. Quicksand, as you may remember from the Reeves epic "The Replacements" is when a team continues to self-destruct at the slightest hint of adversity. The team was, and still is, teetering on the bring of becoming quickly irrelevant and forgotten. Players had come into this season expecting to win, and were granted with a brief taste of success. Of course, the Nationals are not a deep talented team equipped to remain in the Wild Card hunt all year. However, as a professional athlete in any sport, the paramount goal is to win the competition, leave it all on the field.

The 2008 and 2009 Washington Nationals knew out of the gate that they sucked... the players themselves couldn't pinpoint why they sucked, and nobody wanted to buy into Manny Acta's philosophies, so nobody improved. This season, the character issues improved, and despite a slow start, the Nats won a few games and found themselves promoted from laughingstock to darkhorse. With the change in expectations will also come a sense of urgency.

There are a few ways to look at Nyjer Morgan's recent adventures. First, he is not hitting well, and therefore not on base as often. Not being on base as often has pressed him into stealing a high percentage of the time, thereby tipping his hand on opportunities. Nyjer Morgan has not been contributing much from an offensive standpoint. Morgan has, until recently, been a reliable, rangy outfielder. However, with both pitching and offense struggling for a team losing a grip on its position in the standings, Tony Plush tightened up and tried to make plays that weren't quite there. And while spiking the glove in frustration is unprofessional, it exemplifies that he knew how important making that catch was. Nobody is "showing up" their teammates here, and Nyjer Morgan is more embarrassed than he would have been had the ball careened off his head for a home run. Had he turned and picked up the ball and tossed it in, it is likely that neither run would have scored on the play. Benching isn't the answer here...

But they need to stay focused. Ryan Zimmerman had great all around game, except for a heinous baserunning blunder that created a double play and allowed the O's to walk Willingham with Guzman on second. I get frustrated when our co-ed rec softball team makes these mental mistakes. The worst thing you can do on offense is make an out. Outs are precious commodities, and at that point in the 8th inning, Zim needs to know that they only have a few left. With the lead, he needs to run a little more defensively, and hopefully the next guy plates him. Yes, Zimmerman has probably been stranded at 3rd base a high percentage of the time than anyone in the league (seriously, I think I may find a way to look this up), but trying to score from first on a line drive from center only works if you don't sprint past Guzman on second.

Fortunately, none of this mularkey amounted to much, as Walker, Burnett, Clippard, and Capps were lights out in the rain, retiring eleven of the twelve batters faced. Clippard and Burnett have been relegated to "second-banana" status with the arrival of Drew Storen, but proved today that it does take 25 working parts to win ballgames consistently.

The Nationals escaped the quicksand this time, and now everyone holds their breath for the arrival of the US Air shuttle from Syracuse, the cargo of which is the future of the franchise.


* Keanu Reeves, American Visionary, Time Traveler, Failed and Redeemed Quarterback, Space Contortionist, and Eff-Bee-Eye Agent

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

BOMBS AWAY!!

Off Chris Carpenter, no less. Considering Lannan gave up the hanging meatball to Felipe Lopez, of all people, I'd consider this the Twilight Zone.

Time to wake up and start retiring some hitters, Clip.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Guts

Rizzo pulled the trigger on the experiment gone awry and committed to the future, firing Brian Bruney after an embarrassing six weeks. Last season they rode the mountain of suck named Daniel Cabrera just as long, so it is refreshing to see management objectively evaluating their decisions and making a move.

What is really shocking is that they felt so strongly about Bruney's stink bomb that they dismissed him in the middle of the road trip, promoting Storen a week or so sooner than originally anticipated.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Lannan Not Getting It Done

After watching the bullpen implode in the Big Apple Tuesday, I expected the Nats to finally reel into that tell-tale tailspin that better reflects the team they were instead of the the team to which they are aspiring. A four game, forty run sweep in Denver would not have been out of the question. Instead, the Nats put my forecast to shame by drubbing the Rocks 14-6. Big night for most of the hitters in the steady, cold drizzle.

Not such a big night for John Lannan. His K:BB ratio now stands at 0.59. Hitters will only be fooled by the Houdini routine so many times before batting practice commences. Whether or not he is pushing back a more serious injury aside, the numbers are unacceptable. If he needs a stint on the DL, the Nats need to take charge and not let this unravel the way they let Olsen, Stammen, Marquis, and oh yeah, that other Zimmermann, all fight through until major damage was done.

Strasburg can be activated in 3 weeks. Chico was not a disaster in spot duty. JD Martin could be a #4 or 5 guy in a lot of rotations. Chuck James could even come in and put out 5 innings. No reason to set another pitcher back till August or worse.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Horrifying Ignorant Statement of the Evening

"Brad Hawpe is a good right fielder."

Ummmm, yeah, and Hitler was a Hitlerific dictator.

Tuesday Game Diary

Hadn't had a chance to either write, nor sit down and watch much baseball period, so I decided to do a running diary. I will try to collect some thoughts over the next few days and weigh in on the team's mirage second place standing.

7:12: Ugh... there is a instance for the head-first slide into first base, but that is not it. The only way Plush beats that is if the ball is dropped, and that only adds the injury risk.

7:13: Nice walk by Guzman... and the announcers are all over it. May 11th and that is #4 on the year.

7:15: Heady baserunning by Guzman, runners on the corners, 1 out.

7:16: Pop fly to right... and it's a home run! Killer instinct from Dunn, sitting fastball all the way on 3-0, and that is now the score.

7:20: Though it was a ball, great first pitch from Olsen. Nice downward plane, low and away.

7:23: Olsen getting in the umps ear after a great first inning... this guy is never satisfied.

7:29: Never a fan of the sac bunt with an out. Especially when the next batter has the hitting skill set of Nyjer Morgan.

7:32: Yes! Dibble is talking about Pushing Tin.

7:32: Great at bat from Morgan.

7:34: Another walk from Guzman.... Holy Crap!

7:37: Disappointing at bat from Zimmerman, not sure what seemed off. He hit the crap out of the ball.

7:43: Ouch... rocket off Olsen's ankle... can't imagine that will not affect him.

7:45: Great work turning two.

8:02: Another timely double play to get out of the inning. Olsen has kept the ball low and gotten out when he needed them.

8:08: Another base hit for Taveras... it must be Opposite Day or something.

8:22: Just when it looks like Olsen is going to crack, he gets a much needed strikeout of an overmatched Ike Davis.

8:23: No, the Rays did not break any unwritten rules during the perfect game... this is a bs media controversy. The game was in the 5th inning. If it's the 7th inning, maybe we have an argument.

8:25: And Olsen rolls on, turning the double play himself to get out of the inning, punching out Francouer as well. Still a long way to go, but clearly the Mets offense is a little stale.

8:30: 3-0 to Zimmerman... Dunn will likely be Niese's last hitter, barring a double play.

8:31: Righty in the Mets pen.

8:33: Adam Dunn can be downright frustrating to watch... what percentage of his K's are inverted?

8:37: Pudge delivers, buying Olsen and and the bullpen an extra inning or two. With a large lead, Riggleman has the option to extend Olsen to 110+ pitches, or roll out a low-leverage guy and rest Burnett, Clippard, and Capps. Olsen is hot, so it wouldn't be a bad idea to ride the hot arm... it won't stay hot forever.

8:40: Good point... on-base percentage, or the ability to not make outs, is the best weapon a batter can have. Sure, the home run is more demoralizing, and fans like the ball in play, but walks are free bases, no chance be thrown out.

8:45: Safety squeeze? That is actually Dibble's mistress on the side.

8:48: Somebody get Acosta a map to the strike zone!

8:49: Bases left loaded again... never sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. The fact they were loaded is always a good sign.

8:50: The Mercury chick... still hot after all this time.

8:53: Absolutely a terrible mental error by Nyjer Morgan. Never want to give the opponent momentum like that. Up 6-1, everyone has to maintain focus.

8:58: Bases Loaded, 1 out, Glee starting in 90 seconds... CRAP! Olsen will prevail. Keep the ball low.

10:01: It is official. The Brian Bruney era can end now... now fingers pointed, no questions asked. There wasn't a sure thing in the Rule 5 draft, so the trade wasn't a complete disaster. However, time is up. Bruney is completely unable to pitch at the major league level. Time to cut ties and move on with someone else.

10:09: I was going to try and coin the name Brian "low-leverage" Bruney, but let's face it: Bruney will not be on the roster June 1st... he may not even be on the roster May 15th.

10:12: Clippard again inherited runners and let them in, but this the first time he looked rattled. Hopefully regression to the mean is a little more kind.

10:18: Batista throws more gasoline on the fire... this looks more like 2009. Somehow Riggleman took a 6-1 lead and burned nearly everyone in the pen... not sure how that is even possible, but at least lessons can be derived from this disaster.

10:24: And the bottom of the 8th just entered its 30th minute, so I surrender. The early removal of Olsen (82 pitches) extended the game for the Mets and Bruney was called into action. Either Olsen finishes the sixth or Walker returns for the seventh... at least the umpires didn't botch the replay.

10:32: Not expecting a win anymore... but hoping the bats don't roll over and play dead. Scott Olsen didn't have his best stuff, and the Braves were probably right saying he didn't have "no-hit" stuff last week, but he pitched well enough to let the bats determine the team's fate.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Pleasant Surprises, and a Couple Unpleasant Ones

Aside from the record, the Nats continue to exceed expectations despite not being all that much better a team from last summer. But of course, for every champion, there has to be, well, not a champion.

Champion
Matt Capps, Closer: Matt Capps has gotten it done every which way but lose this year, which considering that he has saved 11 of the 14 Nats wins without blowing one (and one was a complete game from Livan). That warrants some sort of accolade. He has flashed the ability to strike out the side, as well as the ability to get out of jams. He has charged in to retire more than three outs, and his best outing was in a losing effort against the Dodgers. Sure, he has posted an unsustainable strand rate (96.4%), which has neutralized those uncharacteristic walks. Gravity will likely catch up to him, and the ERA will settle in around 3, but there is no question who comes out of the pen when the game is on the line.

Not-So
Cristian Guzman, Nomad: Guzman has never been able to grasp the concept of the walk, and since his career was reborn following having missed all of 2006, he has desperately approached each at bat like he was sitting on 2,999 hits. The result this season has been an OBP under .300. Match that with below average defense all over the diamond, and you have a player incapable of contributing at the major league level. The only thing keeping him in the lineup has been the injury to Zimmerman and the fact that Adam Kennedy has been no better.

Later, how Ian Desmond projections continue to be spot on, and why.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Winning April

It is official. Matt Capps slammed the door on the Cubs again to seal a better than .500 record in April. I'll admit that I did not believe this team was ready to win more than 8 games this month before struggling to 72-74 wins. That may still be where they are headed, but at least they will be competitive still when the young blood is transfused into the rotation and bullpen next month.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

RIP: Philadelphia Phillies 2001-2011

Normally, I would spend today catching up on the recent winning homestand, lambasting Brian Bruney, and pointing out the similarities and slim differences between Tim Hudson and Craig Stammen. Hell, if the Nats could regularly win 60% of their home games, I'd probably be out of a blog. The Bombs got on the Nats wagon at Rock Bottom (the existential pinnacle of failure, not the brewery) and are prepared to drive it as far as the Elvis quaff will allow.

Instead, we will look ahead, as that is what the Phillies apparently believe they are doing by investing 125 million more dollars into the limited skill set that is Ryan Howard. I understand the Phillies trying to keep their nucleus intact to make runs at another title, but after drawing the line at Cliff Lee, they dive into the abyss for fewer wins at first base?

The Phillies have had a great run, especially since 2007. The smart play going forward would have been to keep Lee, get maximum return for Jayson Werth or Raul Ibanez at the deadline, and drive the harder bargain with Howard, regardless of where Pujols sets the bar. However, they are still very capable of being one of the three best teams in the NL, and the fans would burn the city if they rebuilt for 2011 and 2012 while 2010 was well within grasp.

Instead, they look to be keeping their aging core onward past their 35th birthdays, hoping their jacks hold up against the monster hand the AL East is holding. They can't budget with the Yankees and Sox, so they have to build in cycles, and this generation has come to pass, one title one runner-up. Committing to Howard through 2017 is crazier than blocking him with an aging Jim Thome.

I mention this because the Nationals will be dealing with a VERY similar situation negotiating with Adam Dunn. The hard bargain will be to keep him down to two to three years, with nothing escalating much past 12 million per season. Dunn has never won anything in his major league career, but is a good clubhouse guy and took a career-altering position change in stride. The Nats do not want to Zito their budget with an aging slugger with no position.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Offense Can't Plate the Runs Again

Scoring runs is a talent and the Nationals as whole are not good at it.

On the bright side, they won their ninth game on April 23rd. In 2009, it took until May 7th to get that ninth win.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Everybody Looks Better When They Aren't Facing the Phillies

Except Jason Marquis, who hasn't quite identified the difference between the strike zone and the end zone.

More on Craig Stammen's recovery tomorrow.

Friday, April 16, 2010

"Did Somebody Call for Me?"

And most skeptics thought we should be trading this guy.

What happens if I need to hang something?

I'll Take AAA Lineups for 500, Alex... Looks Like a Daily Double!

The Nats top 4 much of the night looked like this:
Nyjer Morgan
Willie Harris
Cristian Guzman
Alberto Gonzalez

Yet 9 innings later, the Nationals walk away with a 5-3 victory. The game ball tonight goes to our boy Wil, despite his inability to catch any of the Brewers' base stealers tonight. Slappy got it started with a slap to the gap and scoring later, then tacked on the insurance run with a poke to left. Everything you could want from the backup backstop. Adam Kennedy did spark the comeback, and Josh Willingham continues to do his best Ted Williams, but John Lannan finally got comfortable and pounded the bottom of the strike zone, recording 16 ground balls to just 3 balls, mixing in 5 strike outs just to keep the fielders fresh.

A good way to start the home stand.

Phillies Baseball

It's a wonder the Nats can win any games up there, what with all the vomiting going on.

Improvement in the Win Column, Though Not Much Else

The Nats embarrassed everybody last season by starting 0-7, and then staggering to 4-15 before winning the last game against Philly (a rare gem tossed by Olsen). Given that ALL of these games were against rivals from the NL East, it was immediately clear who the worst team in the division would be. Going into their July 4th games against the Braves, their record against divisional opponents stood at 6-31.

6 and 31!!!!

The Nats also closed out a less-than-stellar 2008 campaign by 11 of their final 14 to the NL East.

So what does starting 4-5 mean? It means that the baseball gods really are not punishing the Nats anymore. Their Pythagorean numbers suggest they are still playing sub-.400 baseball, but it is way early. Last year, they blew all the close games... this season they pretend they are before making an Indiana Jones escape with the win. And Ryan Zimmerman had been in hiding for a couple games until blasting out of the dugout last night. At 4-5 it isn't as clear who the worst team in the division is... though if I were betting with Phil Mickelson's money, I'd say the Nats.

A ten game homestand against non-NL East teams will be a welcome change, even if it is against playoff caliber teams. It will give the Nats a chance to better figure out who they are, and more importantly, who the hell their pitchers are.