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!


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


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


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.

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.

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.