As soon as Stephen Strasburg walked the first two batters of the game, I knew it was going to be a very short day on the mound for the young ace. Although he escaped the first inning unscathed, after a three-run bottom of the third and 67 total pitches in 106 degree heat, Strasburg succumbed to the brutal elements, leaving the game in the hands of Chien-Ming Wang, and that’s never a good thing. Trailing 3-2 at the time, by the time Wang left the game two innings later, it was 7-2 Atlanta and for all intents and purposes, the game was over.
Game ball(s): Mother Nature and the Atlanta Braves pitching staff. It was a matter of survival yesterday with such extreme temperatures and Atlanta’s staff did just enough to hold on to a 7-5 victory.
Goat(s): Mother Nature and Wang. Congrats Mother Nature! You are the first to take home both a game ball and a goat award from the same game. Guess that’s what happens when Al Gore and Tony Hayward are on the nominating committee. And Wang. What to do about you? I’m sure the Nationals had designs on trading you, but with a brutal 7+ ERA and 2+ WHIP, the only place you really deserve to be shipped to is Triple-A Syracuse. And with the returns of Henry Rodriguez and Drew Storen looming on the horizon, I wouldn’t be making dinner reservations too far out in DC if I were Wang.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Adam LaRoche. The notoriously streaky LaRoche had a woeful time at the plate in June, but with yesterday’s 2 for 3 effort, he is now 5 for 16 in his last 4 games with 2 home runs and 5 RBIs. Let’s hope this is a sign that a big July is in store.
Current Record: 44-32
So, WordPress was kind enough to inform me after last night’s post that the next musing would be number 100. Despite the fact that even Larry David is impressed, it is still even more humbling to learn on this momentous occasion that the Nationals have come bearing gifts:
Thank goodness. I would have hated to have to continue to waste so much of my rage on just the Nationals’ fifth starter when there are so many more things worthy of vitriol. But before I turn my guns, I can’t let this nugget from Adam Kilgore’s article go by without comment:
Wang will work closely with pitching coach Steve McCatty while pitching as a reliever. Wang has been rushing through his delivery, which causes his arm to drag behind his body and prevents him from getting his hand on top of the ball. The result is a fastball that lacks its trademark sink and instead moves wildly across the plate.
The glitch has made Wang ineffective.
Yeah. And McDonald’s poor customer service is because they rush through everything too. I’d be quite surprised if Wang is still hanging around the bullpen when H-Rod and Storen return from the disabled list.
To finish off this party in style, I have to say that amid all the furor over the Joel Peralta pine tar incident, and whether Davey Johnson broke another one of baseball’s unwritten rules or not by outing him,* something simple seems to have been lost. Shouldn’t Peralta have known that of all managers and all teams who might be aware of his shenanigans, it would be Davey and the Nationals? And perhaps with that light bulb flickering on, you’d lay off your cheating ways for a few games? I don’t know what does and does not go over well in major league clubhouses, but I do know that even Forrest Gump knows that stupid is as stupid does.
*A concept which I have to say is completely anathema to an auditor such as myself.
I had a cupcake today for lunch. On that thin, overly sugared basis, I’m playing nice and refraining yet again from posting my Chien-Ming Wang I told you so post. If it hadn’t been for the sprinkles on top, I would have been all over another poor start from Wang today (5 1/3 innings, 8 hits, 3 walks, 1 HBP, and 2 ER in a 3-1 loss to the Mets…and he was lucky to only allow two runs given the putridness of the first 4 numbers in that line) and how the Nationals voluntarily elected to downgrade when they swapped Wang for Ross Detwiler. But there were sprinkles and they were chocolate.
On another note, to put a bow on yesterday’s post, I realized after reading this piece from Matt Klaassen of FanGraphs that I gave short shrift to Ian Desmond’s big game Tuesday night, which in one sense, was one for the history books.
Funny (well, not haha funny) how a few days and the switch of one letter in a headline makes a world of difference. Riding high after sweeping the Braves over the weekend, it looked like the Nationals were poised to finish their nine-game road trip with a flourish. Instead, it finished with a whimper, being swept by the Marlins. I blame it on the giant flamingo hanging out in left field of Great Crayon Park.
|C. Wang (L, 1-1)||4.0||7||4||4||3||4||0||1.86||6.43|
Yeah, this has nothing to do with any game balls. And yeah, Ross did allow one of Wang’s runners to score. But let’s just say I’m warming up the I told you so post.
Goat(s): The offense, which did the impossible and made Heath Bar Bell look in top form. The Nats managed only seven runs over the three games, after scoring seven or more runs in each of the three games against the Braves. While the giant flamingo has his (her?) fingers all over the skid, that sort of offensive break down doesn’t help.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: He is not a Nat, but I have to give a shout-out to Giancarlo Stanton. Wow, can he hit a baseball. Living in Florida, I get to catch a lot of Marlins games so this isn’t the first time I’ve seen his power and laser show. Stanton probably already possesses the most raw power of any hitter in baseball. After his monster May, he is also batting over .300. If he finds a way to maintain the average, folks, we are looking at one of baseball’s elite players now.
Current Record: 29-21
I could probably write a bit about the grove Washington’s offense has found in Atlanta and how it led to yesterday’s 8-4 win. Or maybe I could speculate endlessly about Stephen Strasburg’s battle against the sticky Atlanta heat. Or I could just let you watch Bryce Harper’s opposite-field shot off of Atlanta reliever Jonny Venters, whose early career dominance has been highlighted by holding 236 lefties to a cumulative .186 batting average and just three home runs. I like tv:
Game ball(s): National’s hitters. With every starter but Tyler Moore getting a hit and the Nats scoring seven or more runs for consecutive games for the first time this season, the offense is beginning to roll. What was most impressive yesterday were that 8 of the team’s 12 hits went for extra bases which bodes well for more future crooked innings.
Goat(s): Davey Johnson, who predictably took less than 24 hours to announce that Chien-Ming Wang would replace Ross Detwiler in the rotation. Hard to argue with the manager of a 28-18 team, but if you asked my parents, you would know why I’m just going to say that I hope it is the right move.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Tom Gorzelanny, who played long-man hero out of the bullpen yesterday, tossing three innings of scoreless relief. After another short outing by Stephen Strasburg, Gorzelanny nearly got a four-inning save and would have if not for Davey’s quick hook after the first hitter reached base in the bottom of ninth.
Current Record: 28-18
Last night, the Nationals continued their excellent start to their road trip, moving to 3-1 after taking down the Atlanta Braves 7-4. Still, for the first of eighteen games against a Braves squad that is still only two games back, and with every team in the NL East within four games, you would hardly think the win would bring potentially big news. But with starter Ross Detwiler struggling to throw strikes after being staked to a four-run lead in the top of the first, manager Davey Johnson pulled the plug after only 4 1/3 innings and 100 labored pitches. And in came Chien-Ming Wang, who tossed three innings in relief for the victory, allowing three hits and one run on a Jason Heyward solo shot in the bottom of the eighth. Naturally, after the game Davey was asked about whether he was considering swapping Detwiler for Wang. He cryptically replied, “Yes and no.”
Hmmmm. Not a surprising answer for a DC man, and I’m actually kind of glad he also said he didn’t want to make any sort of decision in the heat of the moment, because despite Detwiler’s recent struggles, I still think he is the better pitcher than Wang. Now, being the better pitcher doesn’t mean he is the best option to take the ball every fifth day. Ross has yet to go more than 6 1/3 innings in any of his 9 starts so far, which puts additional strain on a bumped and bruised bullpen. And his May has been ugly: 5.74 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and just one win. But I don’t think he is as bad as those numbers indicate (his May FIP is 3.69, which points to a lower ERA once his absurdly low strand percentage (59.1%) normalizes). Then again, he isn’t the sub-2 ERA pitcher of April either. He is somewhere in between, which his current 3.88 ERA correctly reflects. The journey there though has just been of two extremes, which makes this moment so stark for a potential change.
Wang’s career ERA (4.15) and FIP (4.05) seem to point to a solid innings-eating pitcher whose success has been based on getting a lot of ground balls (59.4% career) which just also happened to translate to a bushel of wins with the high-scoring Yankees. But wins are often not reflective of a pitcher’s underlying skills, and Wang’s skills don’t appear to be quite as good as Detwiler’s. However, three key questions must be answered before I would finalize the Detwiler-Wang question:
- Would Wang address one of Detwiler’s weaknesses, his inability to pitch deep into games?
- Does Wang’s injury history and concerns about getting his shoulder properly warmed-up out of the bullpen dictate that he pitch as a starter?
- Do the Nationals need to feature Wang as a starter if they want to use him as a trade chip?
The answer to the second question is only known by National’s management, coaches, doctors, and Wang himself. I’m going to speculate that if they really thought putting him in the bullpen could place him at greater risk of getting hurt, we would have never seen him last night. Then again, teams across MLB over and over have shown a tremendous ineptness in keeping pitchers healthy, so take my speculation for what it is worth. Similarly, I’m not plugged into front-office thinking across baseball, so it is hard to say what value Wang carries and whether two months of starting would be enough to land another piece for the Nats (catcher???). My hunch (I’m throwing darts everywhere baby!) is that teams would need to see Wang start and prove that he is healthy before they would give up even a marginal player. But the again, if the market for Wang isn’t going to yield you much in the way of talent that will improve your club, then I’m of the notion that you can never have enough starting pitching.
As for the first question, Wang hasn’t pitched seven or more innings since 2008, which appears to make largely moot any advantage Wang would have over Detwiler going deeper into games. Granted, Wang has been injured for large stretches since 2008. However, his bum shoulder and middling skills don’t scream out for an absolute need to make the swap.
And that’s what I can’t help but take away from looking at the potential change. Detwiler is the better pitcher with better skills whose chief weakness would not be remedied by Wang. Ross is not leaps and bounds better, but I think he is still deserving of holding down the 5th spot. Now watch Davey announce the move later today. 🙂
Game ball(s): Ian Desmond and Rick Ankiel, whose single and triple helped fuel the Nationals four-run first inning which was a breath of fresh air for a team that usually starts slow.
Goat(s): Detwiler. I just spilled a lot of ink defending you so it pains me that you couldn’t do more last night to pitch aggressively.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Consider this the column’s third game ball, as Ryan Zimmerman’s three-run double came at just the right time to pad the National’s dwindling lead.
Current Record: 27-18