about last night as a fan of Washington-area sports teams, if you were so inclined. The only thing missing was the girlfriend walking out, saying how like your truck, you are too old and broken down for her anymore.
As it was, the following was plenty enough:
- Despite one of Edwin Jackson’s best efforts on the mound all season, the Nationals were shut out 2-0 by the Bernie Madoff Mets.
- Edwin and the Nats were done in by the .219 hitting Ike Davis, who launched a two-run home run in the top of the seventh to supply all the runs the Madoff Mets would need. Sure, Davis has been playing better since the All-Star break, but still, a real kick in the teeth.
- The atrocious Mets bullpen, headlined by Frank Francisco, he of the 6.06! ERA and 1.78! WHIP, actually locked down Jonathon Nieses’s shutout. I guess that’s why they are the Amazin’ Mets!
- The Washington Redskins lost more than just the second game of the preseason to the Chicago Bears, also losing starting linebacker and pass rushing extraordinaire Brian Orakpo and starting safety Brandon Meriweather to injuries. This is when I pause for six hours to pray at my private Redskins good karma altar.
- And come to think of it, the Redskins defense looked like an old and broken down truck which Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall walked out and over on.
Game ball(s): Niese. Credit where credit is due. The Nationals had precious few opportunities to plate runs last night and when they did, Niese flipped on the dominant switch.
Goat(s): Whoever in the Redskins front office or on their coaching staff that thought Cedric Griffin could still cover. Brandon Marshall was probably having warm flashbacks to his final days in Denver, when he last had so much fun working someone over.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Jackson. I feel like I’ve said this a number of times about Edwin this season, but he deserved a better fate than for a L to be hung around his neck.
Current Record: 74-46
At first, I thought it was a bit strange that I was enjoying my two for one Egg McMuffins at the start of a Nationals game. Now that I’ve woken up from a post-game nap and it is still not even 5 o’clock, all I have to say is God bless 11am starts and God bless America!
Twenty minutes into today’s game against the San Francisco Giants, while I was still flying high on the cheesy goodness of the Egg McMuffins, I wasn’t feeling as high on the Nats chances as they quickly fell behind 3-0 in the top of the first. But then the bombs started flying out of Nationals Park and Edwin Jackson settled down, and the Nats roared to a 9-4 victory. Now, the only thing left to settle on this glorious day is whether I can double-down on the nap. Dare I?
Game ball(s): Ryan Zimmerman. Leaving everyone to wonder why he didn’t take the cortisone shot on Opening Day, Ryan went 2 for 5 with a homer and 3 RBIs and his third inning double missed being a home run by this much (imagine really tiny font).
Goat(s): Madison Bumgarner and I. After Bumgarner’s dominant one-hit shutout last time out, I have to confess that for a moment I thought he was in line for an easy win for my fantasy team. The shower cannot be hot enough!
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Bryce Harper. Now that baseball has taken care of Chipper Jones, it is time to re-double the efforts to send Bryce to Kansas City. You can help send the kid to the All-Star game by voting here.
Current Record: 47-32
I guess Edwin Jackson caught wind of my post yesterday morning and just plain decided that he didn’t want any part of a plagiarist’s future book. Okay, probably not. But he was on his game last night, leading the Nationals to a 3-1 victory over the Orioles. Interesting tidbit I picked up reading various articles this morning: Three months into the season and Washington has yet to post a double-digit scoring effort. I imagine that’s why a 3-1 winning line score seems so familiar. Later today, Ross Detwiler will take the mound in an effort to take the weekend series. With Jake Arrieta and his 5.83 ERA taking the mound for the Orioles, perhaps we will see an end to that streak today???
Game ball(s): Jackson, Mike Gonzalez, Sean Burnett, and Tyler Clippard. The Nats are 3 1/2 games up in the NL East almost exclusively as a result of their brilliant pitching staff. Imagine if the team ever starts hitting? Cue John Lennon.
Goat(s): Jim Riggleman. One year ago yesterday, Riggleman abruptly resigned in the midst of a contract squabble with the team. I wonder if Jim is finding that he is able to stretch his dollars better with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos?
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Well, this is certainly interesting: Tyler Clippard to remain closer even when Drew Storen returns. It has been quite the changing narrative surrounding Clippard’s usage this season, starting with the team not wanting to pull him from his setup role when Storen went down during Spring Training to now not wanting to pull him as closer when Drew returns. Parsing Davey Johnson’s words though, he was careful to leave the door open for a swap, if Clippard were to slip up and Storen were to flash dominance in a setup role. For now, I can’t argue that isn’t the correct course of action. Drew is the Nationals’ long-term closer, but coming off of a bum elbow, there is no sense in rushing him back into ninth inning duties before he finds his groove, especially when Clippard has been outstanding himself.
Current Record: 41-28
In the titanic struggle for the title of Nationals’ most unlucky pitcher, a dominant outing from Orioles’ starter Jason Hammel buoyed by timely slick defense and another woeful offensive performance vaulted Jordan Zimmermann back into the lead over his rival Edwin Jackson last night. If the rest of the season plays out in this fashion, I’m wouldn’t be half surprised if Doris Kearns Goodwin writes about this modern-day incarnation of a team of rivals. Put a stove top hat on Strasburg and he is the spittin’ image of Lincoln. And best of all, Doris could, ahem, borrow without attribution, all of this! Anywho, on to the awards for last night’s 3-1 loss:
Game ball(s): Hammel. He has been the O’s Robin to Adam Jones, their Batman. It’s a shame that Sidney Ponson doesn’t pitch for them anymore. Then they would have the Penguin too.
Goat(s): Ryan Zimmerman. While I’d like to think he just screws Jordan over because his momma wouldn’t give him the extra n, we may be at the point where parking him for a few weeks to get healthy is the only thing that is going to ignite his anemic bat.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Ryan Mattheus. It has been good to see him back in form off of the DL, making his fourth consecutive scoreless appearance last night. The bullpen is getting healthy. Let’s hope the rest of the Baltimore series we see the arms in action with a lead.
Current Record: 40-28
On a night where both the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles were struggling to score much in the way of runs in their interleague opener, you could just sense that it was going to be just one hit, one moment that would decide the game’s outcome. And while my naturally defeatist senses were correct that the turn would not be in the National’s favor, it was ever so slightly off in its count. There were two game-deciding moments which came back to back.
In the top of the eleventh, with Ryan Mattheus facing Nick Markakis, on a 1-2 count, it looked like Mattheus punched out Markakis on a nice fastball. Regrettably, the umpire didn’t see it the same way and without fail, on the next pitch, Nick the Stick launched a solo home run to propel the Orioles to a 2-1 lead. With the Nationals offense, Game Over.
Game ball(s): Markakis. He’s half-Greek and half-German and unfortunately for the Nats, the German in him showed up last night.
Goat(s): The Nationals in the bottom of the eleventh. Get a man on to start the inning and promptly ground into a double play. Get lucky with Bernadina reaching on a wild-pitch after striking out, follow it up with a hit to put him in scoring position, only to ground out to end the game. What a frustrating end to a frustrating night at the dish for Washington.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Edwin Jackson, who deserved better than another no-decision. While I fully support a gridlocked Washington, I guess I should clarify that I don’t want the federal government making anymore disastrous decisions, not the Nationals.
Current Record: 23-16
Well, you can say that the Nationals are pitching fairly well of late. How well you ask? In the last five games, including today’s 4-1 victory over the Reds, Washington has allowed just six runs, which translates to just 1.2 runs/game. Short of surrounding your pitchers with the Bad News Bears, you are going to win a lot of games pitching that well. And today, Edwin Jackson became the latest Nat to throttle the opposition, pitching a complete game, striking out nine and allowing just one run on two hits. Oh, and the normally inefficient Jackson did it throwing only 92 pitches, 67 for strikes.
Tomorrow, the Nationals go for the four-game series sweep over the Reds, with Ross Detwiler, the pitcher who started this great run, taking the hill against Mike Leake. Let’s hope we can send the Commies back to Cincinnati in utter humiliation.
Game ball(s): Jackson. He was dominant and efficient, which was just gravy, allowing the Nats bullpen to rest after last night’s 13-inning affair.
Goat(s): Reds hitters, who continued to struggle in the series, only mustering two hits and one run for the game.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Jesus Flores. You can’t ask more from your backup catcher than to receive a gem like Jackson’s and go 3-3 with a walk and run driven in.
Current Record: 7-2
Last season, the nation’s capital nearly saw something happen it hasn’t witnessed in a long time – someone breakeven. That someone, or something, was the Washington Nationals, who by finishing 3rd in the standings posted their best finish ever in the National League East Division at 80-81 (one rain-postponed game against the Dodgers was never made up). Not since their 81-81 inaugural season in 2005 have the Nationals come so close to a .500 finish, and last year they had Livan Hernandez soaking up 20 percent of the starts. Thus, it was no surprise this off-season that GM Mike Rizzo’s major initiative was to upgrade the starting rotation, while shoring up one of baseball’s best bullpens.
While the consensus is that the Nationals lineup has holes, especially an inability to get men on base (more on that tomorrow), many pundits are still predicting that the Nationals will contend for a playoff spot on the basis of a retooled rotation and strong bullpen. Let’s breakdown the pitching staff and whether it is truly playoff-caliber.
Stephen Strasburg – After making only 5 September starts post-Tommy John surgery, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding how Strasburg 2.0 will fare. Does his velocity reportedly being down a tick matter? How quickly will he recover his pin point control, which usually is a short-term casualty of the surgery? And will he recover his ability to induce ground balls at close to a 50 percent clip (it was near 40 percent last season, albeit in a very small sample). Despite these unknowns, the safe money is still on a sub-3 ERA, even with several bumps along the way.
Jordan Zimmermann – The second member of Washington’s Tommy John club, it is not unreasonable to think that Zimmermann may be the best pitcher on the staff this year. He possesses four plus or near-plus pitches and impeccable control; if he can just bump up the strikeout rate a tad, there doesn’t appear to be much between Zimmermann and elite status.
Gio Gonzalez – While I suspect that the Nationals overpaid for Gio, I think a move to the National League will help to continue to mask some of his warts (cough, walks way too many, cough). And while undoubtedly he represents an upgrade, I expect Gio’s ERA to be closer to 3.8 than 3 this year, which will leave many more sharing my suspicions at the end of the season.
Edwin Jackson – He looks almost every part the front-line ace he was supposed to blossom into all those years ago in LA. But he has settled into who he is, which is a strong #4, decent #3 starter, who eats innings with the promise of a sub-3 ERA but rarely the results because he is a bit too hittable and a bit too generous with the free passes. However, since the Nationals are slotting him in as their fourth starter, at $10 million this season, DC has seen plenty greater wastes of money.
John Lannan/Chien-Ming Wang – The final spot in the rotation ostensibly belongs to Wang, but since Wang’s constitution is about as strong as Carl Pavano’s manhood (I keep my promises), Lannan will start the season in his place. Both are about as exciting as a bologna sandwich, but since two sandwiches are better than one, the only way you can hate on this combo for less than a combined 12 wins is if you hate America.
Drew Storen – There is little doubt that Storen is an elite closer. Drew’s slider makes right-handed hitters buckle and cry like John Kruk ordering cake. But his tender elbow makes me worry that the Washington Tommy John Club Card is going to get another hole punched. And if that happens, the status of the bullpen’s excellence will come very much into question.
Tyler Clippard – At some point, probably this season, Clippard is due for a bit of regression. He’s good, but not quite sub-2 ERA good. Plus, he’s been ridden more than Seattle Slew the past 2 years, which makes me worry (hey, I’m an auditor) about his ability to remain on the mound and effective, which is so vital to the Nationals season this year.
The Rest – One of the best things about the Nationals pitching staff this year is the depth of their bullpen. With the addition of Brad Lidge joining the likes of Sean Burnett, Henry Rodriguez, and Ross Detwiler, the Nationals have a very strong mix of righties and lefties, short and long-men who can bring a lot of peace to a manager’s mind. And there is even bigger upside if we all just close our eyes and click our heels three times…
If (and it is a big one) Rodriguez could ever find a bit more control, he and his triple-digit heat would quickly vault to near-elite status. If Burnett can bump his k rate back up close to 1K/IP, the Nationals could well lock down left-hander batters. And if Detwiler can continue to claw his way back to his first-round draft promise, the Nats would possess the league’s best swing-man and an obvious upgrade to the bologna sandwich combo.
While expecting all or even one of these wishes to come true is foolish, even without the leaps, it is fair to expect this bullpen to be one of the reasons the Nationals have a decent shot at a playoff spot.
To realistically compete for the NL East crown or a wild-card spot, the Nationals will have to make at least an 8 win improvement on last season. And despite all the preseason optimism, that’s not going to be easy. The good thing is that the pitching staff appears to be talented enough, and perhaps more importantly, deep enough, to carry out their end of the bargain. I’m realistic enough to expect that at least one of the arms the Nationals will be counting on will not nearly live up to expectations (Storen and his sore elbow and Gio and his penchant for free passes come to mind). However, strictly on the basis of the pitching staff, the Nationals do appear poised to make a run at the playoffs. Will the rest of the team make that run a successful one? Find out tomorrow as we preview the hitters and make a final prediction for the season.