The last two days have been bummers Nats baseball-wise, so I thought I would share this awesome story. If you play fantasy baseball, it is a must-read. Heck, even if you don’t know the first thing about fantasy baseball, it is worth reading for all the laughs.
Courtesy of Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports comes the great story behind perhaps the greatest game-saving catch you will ever see. It’s okay. Watch the video first. It is that great of a catch.
So, MLB.com is migrating all of its blogs from Movable Type to WordPress starting tomorrow, with expected completion late Monday. Which means in layman’s terms, this blog and every MLB blog will be unavailable for the next four days. In order to tide you over, I humbly offer my suggestion for a new Washington Nationals team song:
OMG! Have you heard the latest? Leonardo DiCaprio and Bar Refaeli have called it quits! Those two vowel loving birds, I was sure they were going to make it. Well, at least the Nationals pulled one out in extras last night. Otherwise, I was sure this was going to be a LMN marathon evening. Sniff.
Putting aside the Kleenex for a moment, last night’s 7-3 win in 11 innings over the Braves was a wonderful testament to the resiliency of this year’s Nationals squad. Down two in the top of the ninth, facing flame throwing Craig Kimbrel, and the Nats string together two hits and a walk before Alex Cora’s single plated two, knotting the game up at three apiece.
Then, in the top of the eleventh, the Nationals put on an offensive burst that secured the victory, as Ian Desmond and Jason Werth’s bats both came alive with a two-run double and home run, respectively. Tonight, the Nationals go for the sweep with Jordan Zimmerman squaring off against Derek DUI Lowe. Let’s hope for a little pre-game we are being swept celebration from the Braves.
Game ball(s): Alex Cora. Pinch hit two-run single to tie the game up. Can’t ask anymore from the veteran “scrappy” slap hitter.
Goat(s): Kimbrel. With all due respect to Cora and his veteran scrappiness, you gave up the lead to Alex Cora. I don’t care what Fredi Gonzalez says. Your hold on the Braves closer job is tenuous.
Bryce Harper is a long ways off: Maybe not. Harper went 4 for 5 yesterday with a grand slam. He extend his hitting streak to 15 games and is now slashing a cool .396/.472/.712. It may be Single-A but Harper is going to be mega.
Current Record: 18-18. I shall refrain from celebration. That didn’t work out so well the last time.
I’m sorry Ian Desmond. You are just an innocent pawn in the macabre scene that is unfolding for all of my fantasy baseball hitters. I’m sure this is of little solace, given your .217 batting average, but you are at least playing better than Hanley Ramirez, the cornerstone of my once glorious empire.
Yesterday was not a particularly sterling day for the Nationals, as they got shut out 8-0 going for the sweep of the Marlins. So rather than punish myself recapping those good times, I figured new and more targeted ways to extract a pound of spirit from my soul: Analyze the woes of Ian Desmond.
Coming into today, Desmond sports a ritzy .217/.250/.633 line, which would be good if Blinky the Fish was playing shortstop for the Nationals. Hmmmm…given Desmond’s whiff rate, it is tempting to think of the upside possibilities emerging from a mutated third eye. Oh Jim, what’s the big deal? I bet before the Washington Post blew this out of proportion, you didn’t even know how many eyes a shortstop had.
Well then, back to Desmond and his two eyes shall we? Looking at the raw counting stats, it is not all bad for Desmond. Along with his .217 average, Desmond has 3 home runs, 12 RBIs, 16 runs scored and an impressive 10 stolen bases. But those numbers belie the poor play of Desmond, which is better illustrated by his awful triple slash line and the deeper numbers that tell the tale of Desmond’s struggles.
Looking beneath the surface at the indispensable FanGraphs website, it becomes quickly apparent why Desmond is struggling. His strikeout rate has soared from 20.8% last season to 27% this season while his walk rate has fallen from 4.9% to 4%. Desmond’s batting average on balls in play has also tumbled from .317 (a bit inflated last year) to .262 this season (a touch unlucky). The mix of more strikeouts, less walks, and less luck with balls falling for hits has wrecked his batting average and on base percentage.
The strange thing about Desmond is that he is actually making more contact this year (79.6% contact rate vs. 78.5%). He O-Swing %, which measures the percentage of pitches swung at outside the strike zone, has actually significantly improved as well, falling from 33.2% to 26.4%. So what’s plaguing Ian Desmond?
Interestingly, it appears the culprit is a combination of Desmond perhaps becoming too passive at the plate, as he is swinging at less pitches in the strike zone this season (60.1% as opposed to 66.5%), and he is simply hitting more fly balls (39.5% vs. 31.6%), which are less likely to fall for a hit. Given that Desmond’s isolated power is up this season (he already has three homers, six doubles and two triples), it is not shocking to learn that he may be trying to elevate the ball in an attempt to clear the fences. Unfortunately, this deal with the devil suggests that Desmond is not really getting unlucky with his batting average on balls in play, as one would expect that to dip with an increase in fly balls.
Going forward, it appears as though Desmond has to become more aggressive with pitches in the strike zone and find a way to cut back on the empty fly outs. The uptick in power is nice, but not at the expense of an atrocious batting average and on base percentage that swamp any benefits from the extra home run or two that may be gained. Barring those changes, he should schedule a tour of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.
Current Record: 16-18
Last evening, before the start of the Nationals series opener against the Florida Marlins, I happened to come across this nugget buried at the bottom of Jon Heyman’s latest column:
Perhaps the Nationals ought to consider locking up manager Jim
Riggleman. Washington has stayed afloat without its best pitcher
(Stephen Strasburg) or best position player (Ryan Zimmerman).
Kudos to Riggleman.
As if on cue, the Nationals then went and gutted out a 3-2 extra innings victory over the Marlins, despite whiffing an incredible 15 times.
I’m not going to pretend that it was all pretty to watch. It certainly wasn’t. But coming off a sweep at the hands of the Phillies, the Nationals needed a victory in the worse way, and got it thanks to a dominating relief effort from Tyler Clippard, yeoman’s work to plate the winning run in the top of the tenth, and a little Harry Houdini from Drew Storen and Sean Burnett to close out the game.
Lately, I have wondered how the Nationals can be expected to win games with an offense demonstrably missing its best piece (the Nationals are currently next to last in batting average in baseball, hitting only .226) and other critical pieces either struggling and/or hurt (LaRoche) or just plain struggling (Desmond and Espinosa). Well, we saw how last night, with a scrappy offensive effort and another superlative effort from the Nationals pitching staff.
As Riggleman said after the game, “We kept scratching and clawing.”
Game 32 Natties
Game ball(s): Tyler Clippard. Two innings. Six batters. Six strikeouts. Wow.
Goat(s): John Buck. The Marlins catcher missed a sign while on third in the bottom of the fifth on a non-bunt by Ricky Nolasco, resulting in Buck, and potentially the winning run, getting tagged out in a rundown.
Bryce Harper is a ways off: Jordan Zimmermann. Another sign of life from Zimmermann, whose six strikeouts represented a season high. Still waiting for a breakout performance, but maybe the increasing whiffs are a sign it is near.
Current Record: 15-17
You would think taking 3 of 4 from the defending World Champs would be something to celebrate. And indeed it is. But the momentous news of the take down of Osama Bin Laden Sunday night should remind everyone of the context in which baseball victories stand. Sure, seeing Tom Gorzelanny pitch like Sandy Koufax is a treat. Yet the truly amazing and heroic performances are the ones that are undertaken every day, by unknown rough men standing ready on our behalf. And because of those men, in more ways than one, the past few days have been a National(s) victory for all.
Game 28 Natties:
Game ball(s): Gorzelanny. He has always had the stuff. Once and a while he can harness it and last night is the result you get when he does, especially facing a reeling Giants squad.
Goat(s): The Giants offense. To say it disappeared over the four game series is like saying Jimmy Hoffa merely took a long lunch.
Bryce Harper is a long ways off: Drew Storen closing out another win, making it clear to all that he has retaken the throne of Nationals closer of the here and tomorrow.
Current Record: 14-14. Back to .500 baby!