Ugh. You usually can’t say that an umpire or set of umpires cost your team a game, because most of the time, so many other plays unaffected by a bad call or calls decide the outcome. And in today’s 8-5 setback to the Reds in 11 innings, it probably is the case that the criminal blindness of home plate umpire Laz Diaz in the top of the first didn’t cost the Nationals the victory. Despite his union-guaranteed incompetence, Washington did fight back after falling behind 4-0 to tie the game at 5-5 in the bottom of the seventh. But ultimately, the Nats couldn’t get over the hump, snapping their winning streak at five games.
What was most disappointing about Diaz’s work behind the plate was that he had not one opportunity to call a third strike correctly, which would have ended the top of the first with no Reds crossing home plate, but two such chances. And he blew them both. First, with two on and two out, replay clearly showed Ross Detwiler had struck out Jay Bruce. Laz Diaz, like Colonel Klink, apparently saw nothing. And then again, with the bases loaded, replay clearly showed that he had punched out Ryan Ludwick. This was apparent to all, except again, Colonel Klink. Ludwick promptly deposited the next pitch into the stands for a grand slam.
Game ball(s): Ludwick, who when handed a gift, turned it into a grand slam which staked the Reds to an early 4-0 lead.
Goat(s): Laz Diaz, whose atrocious strike zone contributed greatly to the Nats setback.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Can’t give it to Ian Desmond despite his nice day at the plate because of his critical first-inning error, so it goes to Adam LaRoche, who continued his hitting roll going 2/5 with two runs driven in.
Current Record: 7-3
As little fun as it was to realize checking the box score when I got home how close Brad Lidge came to blowing Washington’s home opener against the Reds, in that brief moment, a smile managed to cross my face. In that flash of panic, a thought came to me. I have absolutely no control over the travails of Brad Lidge and when and how often he will puts Nats victories in peril this season. But as someone who has to write a headline every day, his name is heaven sent.
Writing musings aside, I have to say that at this juncture, with Drew Storen undergoing “minor”* elbow surgery, I would go with Henry Rodriguez as the Nationals closer. I know. He is prone to walks like Michael Moore is prone to cupcakes. But not much more than Lidge, who owns a career 4.17 bb/9. Rodriguez? 5.6. Granted, 5.6 is higher by a decent margin. And there is some risk in that. But at this point in their two careers, H-Rod also possesses more dominant stuff, an repertoire led by a fastball that can hit triple-digits, a good slider, and an improving change-up that averages 92.5 mph per FanGraphs and actually has been his best pitch in the early going (3.8 pitch value** on FanGraphs).
Meanwhile, Lidge is handicapped by being basically a one-pitch pitcher. His fastball hasn’t been dominant or evenly terribly good in years, with its velocity dropping from an average 95.8 mph in 2007 to 89.9 mph this season. Not surprisingly, 2007 was the last time Lidge’s fastball had a positive pitch value according to FanGraphs. So Lidge calls more and more upon his slider to get hitters out. While his slider is still a dominant pitch (2.08 career pitch value), unless you are Mariano Rivera, you can’t consistently get outs in the ninth inning against major leaguers with just one pitch.
So, if I had to choose between two pitchers with a penchant for walks, I would cast my lot in with the chap with a deeper and better arsenal capable of stranding those runners on the base paths. And that would be H-Rod.
Game ball(s): Gio Gonzalez. His debut with the Nats was well, poor. But his home debut made up for the clunker, as he dominated over seven innings, allowing only two hits and striking out seven in the process.
Goat(s): I think I nailed Lidge sufficiently to the cross above.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Adam LaRoche, who once again delivered with two hits and two runs driven in.
Current Record: 5-2
*Show me a minor elbow surgery for a pitcher and I will show you a minor heart attack for a fat man.
**Pitch value is more of a descriptive statistic than a predictive one. It attempts to tell you what a pitcher’s best pitch is and the numbers I quote represent the number of runs saved over 100 pitches of the type mentioned. For more, read on here.
Well, the so-so hitting caught up with the Nationals today, as they got shut down by Jeff Samardzija in a 4-3 loss to the Cubs. Displaying dominant stuff, Samardzija wisely took advantage of an impatient Nationals lineup that failed to do much of anything, getting a first pitch strike on 25 of 31 of the hitters he faced. The consequences were inevitable.
The Nationals did make it interesting in the bottom of the 9th after a two-out Starlin Castro error gave Washington a glimmer of hope. And Adam LaRoche promptly turned that into a burst of hope with a two-run bomb to right, bringing the Nats within one. However, it was too little, too late, as Carlos Marmol actually found a way to get an out, finishing off Xavier Nady and the Nationals.
As Washington heads off to New York for a 3-game series, hopefully, they can find their hitting stroke. Otherwise, I may have to start a “When Is Jayson Werth Going to Get a Hit?” watch.
Game ball(s): Samardzija. I guess since Touchdown Jesus hasn’t been performing many miracles on the football field lately, he decided to throw one to Samardzija on Easter. Isn’t that apropos?
Goat(s): Nationals hitters. They hit the switch too late in the game, managing only four hits.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Zimmermann. He was largely on his game today, but my prayers for the bats to get going a little earlier seem to have gone unheard. I hate Notre Dame. And I hate spelling Samardzija.
Current Record: 2-1
Although I was unsuccessful in convincing my boss that seeing the Nationals season opener was a legitimate medical emergency*, I did manage to get home just in time to see Kerry Wood walk the Nationals back into the game in the top of the 8th. After coming on for a dominant Ryan Dempster with one on and one out in the top of the 8th, Wood went all Wild Thing and walked three straight Nationals hitters, including Jason Werth, which tied the game at 1-1. Ian Desmond then capped off a nice day with the game-winning single in the top of the ninth, driving in Chad Tracy after his big two-out double.
*As outrageous requests are want to do, I nearly then had a real medical emergency after Ian Stewart crushed a triple to right in the bottom of the 9th off of Brad Lidge. On probably any other day in Chicago, it would have been gone. But thankfully, it seems with Rahm Emanuel, Dick Durbin, and David Axelrod in the crowd, the hot air was blowing in today.
Game ball(s): Can we give the season’s first game ball to an element of nature? Sure, why not? Congrats wind!
Goat(s): Wood. Bill Murray kept saying Wood was just building the drama. I didn’t realize it took that much balls to make a good drama.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Is it going to come to this Adam LaRoche? I’m going to be happy when Chad Tracy is subbed in for you?
Current Record: 1-0
In Part One of the season preview, we focused on the Nationals pitching staff, broke down their prospects for the coming season, and remarked on the now suspicious injury history of Carl Pavano (okay, we didn’t, but it certainly does deserve the people’s eyebrow). Today, we turn our punditry towards the Nationals lineup and bench, and then will make overly generic predictions for the season that in 400 years’ time, will also be seen to contain clues about the end of time.
SS Ian Desmond – I probably should check with the judge to see if I’m allowed to write anything about Ian after drafting him last year in fantasy baseball, but it goes without saying that Desmond is hardly the ideal lead-off man. He does possess a little pop and can steal 20 bags in a season, but whiffs way too much, doesn’t take a walk, and thus, doesn’t find his way to first and beyond too often (career .304 on-base percentage). I hate to say this, but if Desmond and Espinosa hit most or all of the season at the top of the lineup, the hopes for a good Nationals offense goes out the window.
2nd Danny Espinosa – Well, I drafted you this year, which probably means we won’t be speaking by mid-May. You are talented enough to make many things possible. You have some real thunder in your bat, and a 20-20 season wouldn’t surprise me in the least. But you strike out by the bushel, so a batting average above .250 may be asking too much.
3rd Ryan Zimmerman – I fear he won’t age well, but for now, Zimm is the Nat’s franchise player. He is capable of a .300/30/100 (the latter of which he will probably will be denied because of the lack of base runners) season, all the while bringing gold glove defense to the hot corner every day. I think Baseball Prospectus may have been stretching it just a bit when it said to look to Zimm for a dark horse MVP candidate, but not by that much.
RF Jayson Werth – The good thing is that Werth probably can’t play much worse than last year. I suspect he is due for a decent rebound. Then again, I didn’t think Dana Stubblefield could make a sumo wrestler jealous and he did. That’s life as a Washington sports fan. I actually think it would be best if manager Davey Johnson moved Werth and his career .360 on-base percentage up to the #2 hole, which would work the opponent’s pitchers a bit more and increase the odds that Zimm hits with someone on base. That still wouldn’t solve lead-off, but you have to start somewhere.
LF Michael Morse – The breakout slugger from last season hasn’t done much of anything this Spring, hampered by a right lat strain that has lingered to the point of landing him on the 15-day DL to start the season. I think he got a touch lucky with his batting average last year, but the power is legit. Hopefully, his body holds up because it is bat that makes his butchery in the outfield (-7.9 UZR in 2011) tolerable.
1B Adam LaRoche – Oy. I’m not sure I like the addition of last year’s season-ending shoulder surgery to an already slow and elongated swing susceptible to long periods of wind-only production. Oh, and his shoulder has hurt him throwing during Spring Training. Hopefully, he hasn’t lost his ability to pick it at first, because that may be the only thing keeping him from the scrap heap.
C Wilson Ramos – Wilson’s emergence last year probably contributed to the Nationals willingness to give up Derek Norris as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade. Can’t say I disagree with at least that part of the trade, because a prospect is only good to you playing in the big leagues or as trade bait. And with Ramos in DC, the former wasn’t going to happen. Ramos has a nice bat capable of a solid average (think .270ish) and good power for a catcher (think optimistically 18 home runs or so), all the while playing solid defense. He’s the Ron Popeil of catchers. Set him and forget him.
CF Rick Ankiel/Roger Bernandina – Bleh. Honestly, it won’t be until Bryce Harper is promoted from Triple A that the Nationals will have the hope of fielding a legitimate center fielder. And of course, Harper offers more than just legitimacy beyond 2012 – true star potential. Until then, the combination of Ankiel (who will start the season on the 15 day DL with a tight left quad) and Bernandina will offer up only average defense and below average hitting. Bleh.
Having a deep and flexible bench is always a critical ingredient to a playoff-caliber team, and with a couple of injuries to start the season, it won’t take too terribly long to figure out how good the Nationals bench will be. Right now, it looks like Washington will initially carry backup catcher Jesus Flores, infielders Chad Tracy and Steve Lombardozzi, outfielder Brett Carroll, and jacks of all trades, Xavier Nady and Mark DeRosa, the latter who should see most of the starts in place of the injured Morse. At first blush, Washington appears to have a flexible but not necessarily overly talented bench. Finding a decent left-handed bat (Tracy isn’t it) and keeping DeRosa healthy should be the Nats top bench priorities.
The end is nigh! Oh, right, about the upcoming season. As it stands now, the NL East, while seemingly stacked, also has its vulnerabilities. The Phillies lineup is banged up and will actually be fairly pedestrian when it is all said and done. The Braves didn’t do much to improve a middling lineup and will rely too much on young starters that will end up taxing their good, but overworked bullpen. And the Marlins* rotation and bullpen beyond Heath Bell have a lot of question marks. So, do all these weaknesses crack open the door to a Nationals playoff appearance?
My heart says yes but my mind still can’t get all the way there. Stupid brain keeps asking questions like who in the heck is going to be on base when Zimm comes up to bat? Will the holes in the Nationals defense (Morse, Desmond, CF) cost them one too many wins? And the answers, to the extent they exist, are not satisfying enough to make me believe the Nationals will get all the way there. They will get close. Oh so close. But they will fall just short – 87 W, 75 L, 3rd place in the NL East.
*The Bernie Madoff Mets have Mike Pelfrey in their rotation. Your kid sister could hit .250 against him. They aren’t competing for a playoff spot.
My apologies for the dust that has been collecting around here this week. Things have been on the crazy side, so much so that if I had written about the Nationals on either Thursday or Friday, I would have been able to stick with my original title: No Runs For You. Fortunately, the Nationals ran into the Orioles pitching staff last night.
After being shut out both games by the Bernie Madoff Mets, the reeling Nationals offense found Lance Armstrong life last night, putting up two touchdowns and a field goal on the Orioles. Sure, Jason Marquis was far from sharp in his four innings. But once again the Nationals bullpen was strong, and well quite frankly, pitching hasn’t been the problem with the Nationals this season. It has been their offense, and more aptly, the lack of one. So the 17 run outburst was a welcome sight, even if Adam LaRoche managed somehow to artfully post another 0-fer.
Game ball(s): When you put up 17, it is hard to choose just one player. But two home runs and four driven in will clinch it for Werth.
Goat(s): The Orioles pitching staff. Giving up 17 runs to the Nationals these days is like getting lapped in the pool by the fat kid. Oh excuse me, the food secure kid.
Bryce Harper is a long ways off: How could I not give a shout out to the latest Nationals fan, my new pup, Cooley : )
Current Record: 21-23
I guess on a day in which Helicopter Ben Bernanke dropped by Nationals Park, it was only fitting that bad news dropped for the Nationals like the US dollar.
The Nationals day started off with, if you will pardon the terrible expression, a real kick to the stomach with news that third baseman Ryan Zimmerman will miss six weeks after undergoing abdominal surgery to repair a tear. Out since April 10th with what was first diagnosed as an abdominal strain, without Zimmerman, the anemic Nats lineup figures to post many more punchless nights like last night’s two hit, one run breakout against a wild Jonathan Sanchez and the Giants.
To illustrate the bareness of the Nationals lineup, despite a total of nine walks, three hit batters, and a wild pitch, the Giants held the Nationals to just one run. Heck, the Giants pitching staff was so generous that they allowed the Nationals to load the bases three times, but still the Nats scored only once and stranded a total of 12 runners on base. According to the AP article I read this morning, STATS LLC reports that the Giants are the first team since 1955 to put 12 or more runners on base via the walk or hit batter yet yield two or fewer runs. Awesome.
Still, the Nationals had a chance to win the game. Tied 1-1 in the top of the seventh, manager Jim Riggleman made the self-admitted inexplicable decision to have starter John Lannan to first walk righty Eli Whiteside to load the bases and then allowed Lannan to face pinch-hitter Aubrey Huff, who he promptly walked to allow the winning run to score. All the while, Tyler Clippard stood waiting and ready in the bullpen. After the game, Riggleman acknowledged what every sentient Nationals fan was thinking: should have brought in Clippard to face Whiteside.
Alas, he didn’t and the Nationals coughed away a game the Giants were trying in every which way to give them.
Game 26 Natties:
Game ball(s): Ben Bernanke. Nice to see him reinvest some of the Fed’s printed money into the local economy.
Goat(s): There were plenty of worthy candidates but Adam LaRoche takes it home. 0-4, stranding eight runners on base, including with a strikeout with the bases loaded to end the game. I know he is traditionally a slow starter, but I have a hunch his shoulder is bothering his bat a lot more than anyone is letting on.
Bryce Harper is a long ways off: Henry Rodriguez. Finally, the young fireballer made his Nationals debut and what a debut it was. A perfect top of the ninth with two punch outs, while hitting a 100mph on the radar gun. He may not always know where it is going to go, but neither does Chad Gaudin and at least Rodriguez has upside.
Current Record: 12-14