Already feeling under the weather, after last night’s series opening loss to the Evil Empire (erm, New York Yankees), I figured it was worth a roll of the dice to wait to post something (good?) until after today’s matinee. Thank goodness I fought through a nearly five hour battle between the two first-place teams only to see the inevitable occur as soon as Brad Lidge took the mound.
Game ball(s): The Yankees should give it to home plate umpire Tim Timmons, who handed them the win after calling Tyler Moore out at home on a single by Adam LaRoche in the bottom of the eighth. Only one problem. Moore was obviously safe and it wasn’t a tough call to get right. But Timmy is an unaccountable baseball umpire. So nothing to see here, literally. Thus, instead of heading into the ninth up 4-3, the Nats would fight on just long enough to have Lidge do his bull in a china shop routine.
Goat(s): Just because I went all Ike Turner on Timmy doesn’t erase the fact that the Nationals didn’t help their cause. There was Ian Desmond’s error that gave the Yankees a key run early, though at least Desmond offset it with a game-tying blast in the eighth. And then there was the curious decision by Davey Johnson to have Jordan Zimmermann pitch to Eric Chavez with one on, two outs, and the pitcher Andy Petitte on-deck. That didn’t work out. And of course, the mere fact that Brad Lidge is on the team. I can only hope with H-Rod and Mattheus nearing their return, that won’t be the case for very long.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Jesus Flores. His broken-bat double to deep left in the bottom of the second which plated two Nats was a display of pure strength. And with Jordan Zimmermann not super sharp, several times he did a nice job of framing pitches including on a strikeout of Mark Teixeira with two on in the top of the third.
Current Record: 38-25
For eight innings, it looked like for all the world that Ian Desmond’s solo home run in the bottom of the sixth would prove to be all the runs the Nationals would need to beat the Marlins for a second straight day. Then Brad Lidge stormed into the game like your favorite wino uncle at Christmas. We know how that ends. And for Lidge, it was a swift surrendering of the Nats 2-0 lead on a two-run bomb to Logan Morrison, who then sent the first-ever home run trot tweet: Thx Brad for the lifeless hanging fastball!#washed up.
Thankfully, Lidge slinked off before the score turned upside down, setting up the Nationals to plate the winning run in the bottom of the tenth. Aided by a Gaby Sanchez throwing error that advanced Wilson Ramos to third on what should have been a double-play, Desmond then drove in Ramos with a sacrifice fly.
Game ball(s): Desmond. He has faded since his quick start, but he came through twice today in the clutch.
Goat(s): Lidge. I don’t want to beat a broken horse, but H-Rod is clearly the better option to close games at this point and with how tight Nationals games have been, the longer Lidge is in the mix for saves, the more at risk wins in some of those games will be in.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Stephen Strasburg, who was the phenom before there was a Bryce Harper. And he deserved better today than a no-decision, pitching six superb innings, allowing no runs and striking out six.
Current Record: 12-4
Well, if there is one thing you can say with certainty about the 2012 Nationals to start the season, they sure keep their fans on the edge of their seats for all nine innings. And tonight was no exception, with the Nats rallying for two runs in the bottom of the eighth to top the Astros 3-2. While I’m happy as Dick Clark at New Year’s about the amazing start to the season for Washington, the analytical auditor in me does want to throw this out: The probability that the Nats will continue to pitch this well and win so many games scoring so few runs is pretty low. The good thing about that worrywart statement is that Washington’s pitching is very good and the Nationals only need to just sprinkle in a run or two more a game to make their roaring start more sustainable.
Game ball(s): Jordan Zimmermann, who despite being dominant again (7 innings, 4 hits allowed, 3k’s no walks, and 1 ER), was denied a win again. The fantasy curse strikes again.
Goat(s): The Astros bullpen, who channeling their football brothers the Texans, fumbled away a nice start by Lucas Harrell.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Henry Rodriguez, who shut the door on his third save, posting a 1-2-3 inning with one strikeout. With the news that Brad Lidge is battling vertigo, we may be getting closer and closer to shifting the shared closer duties to a one-man H-Rod job.
Current Record: 10-3
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 last 20 hours or so have been good to the Nationals, as since the last time we put fingers to keyboard, Washington banked two nice wins over the Bernie Madoff Mets, taking the series 2-1. I was too tired after last night’s 6-2 victory to post a recap and work kept* me from watching this afternoon’s matinee. So let’s go straight to the awards section for both games:
Game Ball(s): Stephen Strasburg and Ross Detwiler, who delivered 6 and 5 shutout innings, respectively. You can nick pick the lengths of the starts, but the Nationals will be in a position to win a lot of games this season if they can get more performances like this.
Goat(s): The Mets bats, who without David Wright in the lineup, appeared lost and lifeless. Huh, a bit like the Mets finances. Huh.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Ian Desmond, who went 4-9 with 2 runs scored and solo home run over the 2 games, probably deserves a shout-out. So here you go. But with the potential loss of Drew Storen for a long stretch, what bears a lot of scrutiny is the development of Henry Rodriguez. I don’t know if Davey Johnson will go with him over Brad Lidge as the Nats closer, but there is no denying H-Rod has a lot of talent. His fastball touches triple-digits and his change-up comes in at 91. His change-up. But whether his pitches will cross the plate is about as predictable as what will come out of Ozzie Guillen’s mouth next, so a clean 2k, no walk 9th inning was nice to see in the box score today.
Current Record: 4-2
*By kept I actually mean ever so graciously took away my desire to watch
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