Living in Tallahassee, Florida, one of the advantages of the wrap-around weekend series against the Marlins is that I can watch the Nats on my big screen tv rather than on my laptop through MLB tv. In addition to getting my brain to stop pleading for scissors listening to F.P., it carries the advantage of getting to hear an opponent’s perspective on your squad, what is working and what is not working. And last night, the Marlin’s announcers kept emphasizing the early dominance of both team’s pitchers, Gio Gonzalez and Mark Buerhle, and how quickly both worked their craft.
That narrative held up for the entire evening, but a couple of small-ball plays by the Marlins in both the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings allowed Miami to eke out a 2-1 victory. Gio pitched a good game, certainly good enough for a W, but then again, Buerhle was just that much better, and the Marlins got the clutch run-producing hits when necessary. As Davey Johnson said about the game, ”Old fashioned National League ball – they bunt the guy over and then their guys delivered a hit. That’s what wins ballgames.” Gotta love Davey. The only thing missing from that was an “I reckon”.
Game ball(s): Buerhle. While the Marlins have to be thrilled about what they have gotten from Buehrle so far after signing him in the off-season, if you had told them during Spring Training he would be the most valuable of their flashy signings, do you think they would have held their traditional fire sale before they won a championship?
Goat(s): The FSN broadcast. As nice as it was to watch the game from the comfort of my couch, for some God-awful reason, the Marlins broadcast kept featuring a “pool boy” contest for The Clevelander bar out beyond the left field fences. And you wonder why Miami fans are considered among the worst in all of sports?
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Jesus Flores. Yeah, he didn’t come up with a game-tying hit with Roger Bernandina on second in the top of the ninth, but he did go 2 for 3 and drove in the only run of the night for the Nationals. Plus, Jesus has been struggling at the dish, so it was nice to see him get his bat back on track, if only for a night.
Current Record: 50-35
Boy, yesterday was a roller coaster of a day for the Washington Nationals. Thankfully, the train road upwards for most of the day, with the Nationals taking game two of the series against the Rockies 4-1. The Nats were led to victory by the usual suspects: Gio Gonzalez, Ian Desmond, and the bullpen, with a nice assist from a Colorado team that found itself throwing around the ball in the bottom of the sixth.
Then after the game, it was announced that Bryce Harper would replace Giancarlo (say one more time, baby) Stanton in the All-Star game, becoming the youngest position player ever to make an All-Star team. The only plunge on the ride though was the news that Desmond would not be participating in the game, sitting out to rest a sore oblique. I can’t imagine how difficult a decision it was for him to elect to miss his first All-Star game. But I do love the message he sent by choosing to put his health and his team before personal accomplishments. Come the battles of September, I can’t help but think that his team-first mentality is going to do a lot for the Nationals.
Game ball(s): Desmond. For all the reasons elucidated above, and oh by the way, he hit another home run yesterday, his 16th on the season.
Goat(s): Colorado’s defense. I guess I see now why the Rockies have committed the third-most errors in baseball.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Yeah, and the kid made the All-Star game. I know the Harper-hype machine has a lot to do with it, but there is no doubting that he is playing at a high level, especially given his age. From day one, he has made the title of this award seem a bit silly and nothing so far indicates that this ride is going only where but up from here.
Current Record: 49-33
With the Nationals off tonight (there is no truth to the rumor that in a sweaty act of desperation, the Nats offered to play the Giants in San Francisco), I figured it was time for another edition of quick hits:
- First things first. Congratulations are in order for Washington’s All-Star game representatives, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Ian Desmond. It is only fitting that the Nationals landed two starting pitchers on the squad, given the dominance of their starting five through the first half of the season. And Desmond’s selection by manager Tony LaRussa was a very nice surprise. Given some of the putrid selections in both leagues, it was good to see a player not among the fan’s top eight shortstops get selected, as Desmond has been among the NL’s best shortstops.
- Now what to do about Bryce Harper being on the final five-man All-Star ballot? He says that he’d vote for Chipper Jones. For still basically being a kid, he is handling this moment with class. The most interesting thing about all of this is how MLB leaves so much about a glorified exhibition game they’ve made mean so much up to things like a fan vote. And that’s why, while I applaud the kid’s reverence, I actually think Chipper would be the last guy I would vote for. If possible home field advantage is on the line, unless 28 year-old Larry is walking through the tunnel, I would rather take a chance on the kid. Think about that while you go vote here.
- I am bit of a stathead so this was pleasing to my senses: Nationals second in SI.com/FanGraphs Power Poll.
- And a fond farewell to one of baseball’s greatest joys of the early and mid-2000’s, as Dontrelle Willis announced his retirement from baseball today. Living in Florida, I’ve gotten to see a lot of Marlins games on television. And there was a time when a Dontrelle Willis start was must-see tv, if only for the simple pleasure of watching the man smile on the mound. He truly loved what he was doing and while the last few years he has been a wild shell of himself, for a brief moment, he was one of baseball’s better starters.
I know the Boston Red Sox are not the same team this season as in recent seasons, but I didn’t realize they already felt after Friday night that the only chance for a win was to try and prevent the Nationals team bus from making it to the park in time. Alas, for Red Sox Nation, for a second straight game, the Nationals did arrive in time, and unfortunately for them, Gio Gonzalez stepped off the bus, much like Stephen Strasburg did less than 24 hours before him.
It’s funny how more than two months removed from looking at the team before the start of the season, with a myriad of injuries dotting the landscape, shocking demotions and promotions, the formula for a contending season hasn’t changed: Outstanding pitching backed by solid defense and enough offense to limit the heart-wrenching 2-1 losses. Washington has largely delivered on that formula to date, riding it to the top of the NL East standings and wins in the first two games in Boston. Now if only MLB had an innings jump feature like 9 Innings Pro Baseball 2011 on my iPad, the team could already be sitting in the World Series…
Game ball(s): Strasburg and Gonzalez. If anyone can think of a better one-two punch in baseball right now, drop me a note in the comments section.
Goat(s): Me. This is more about what is probably going to happen later today than what has transpired the first two days in Beantown. I’m starting Jordan Zimmermann in my fantasy league today. I’m sorry.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Bryce Harper, for his monster debut at Fenway Friday night, and Tyler Clippard, for bringing stable dominance to the back-end of Washington’s bullpen.
Current Record: 34-23
For those daredevils who occasionally cross-over into the real world, May was a bear of a month. The Dow was down more than six percent and the Nasdaq nearly seven percent. And the unemployment picture got uglier as it seems five trillion in faux money doesn’t take you as far as it once did. However, at least one wild-eyed entrepreneur in Miami was doing his part to reduce the unemployment rolls, and they still played baseball, though it would be just my luck that the year the Nationals contend, Nanny Bloomberg would try to ban them from winning because that would be a lot of joy.
On to May’s MESPY (Matt’s Excellence in Self-Promotion Yada Yada) Awards, while there is still time:
AL MVP: Josh Hamilton. Two months doesn’t make for a full season of health, but Hamilton is the first back-to-back MESPY award winner after posting another monster month in May (alliteration!), leading all players in baseball with a 2.1 WAR (Wins Above Replacement).
AL CY Young: Justin Verlander. The fact that Verlander only went 3-2 during May is further evidence that wins are one of the most meaningless measures (alliteration!) of a pitcher’s success. His 2.10 FIP in May actually indicates that he may have gotten a tad unlucky during the month (2.66 ERA). Reserve CY has to go to Chris Sale of the White Sox, who if Robin Ventura hadn’t apparently suffered brain damage from the Nolan Ryan beat down, would have been the American League’s best starter in May.
AL Rookie of the Month: Mike Trout. Lost amid all the Bryce Harper chatter (heretic!), Trout has been baseball’s best rookie (traitor!).
NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton. He just went back to Giancarlo because all of the home run calls sound better to the ladies.
NY CY Young: Gio Gonzalez. I knew Gio had been the good dirty during May, but I didn’t realize he was Pig Pen good. All Gio did was go 5-0, lead the NL with a 12.66 K/9, and post a tidy 2.25 ERA. I would be remiss not to give a Reserve CY to James McDonald of the Pirates. You may not realize McDonald was second among starters in May with a 1.6 WAR, but that’s because no one watches the Pirates play, not even their moms. Sigh.
NL Rookie of the Month: Bryce Harper. Lance Lynn edged Harper out in WAR, but for a contending team desperate for offense, Harper has been invaluable. And I have a hunch that everyone else is just keeping the seat warm for the season-end award.
Nationals’ MVP & CY Young: Gio. Just goes to show you how much pitching has fueled the team’s early-season success with Gio taking home both awards one month after Stephen Strasburg accomplished the same feat. During May, Gio posted a 1.2 WAR, with our reserve winner Ian Desmond the only player really coming close to contributing the same value to the team, with a 0.9 WAR.
Nationals’ Rookie of the Month: Harper. Thanks guys for making the end of this write-up so easy!
And that’s all folks!
Considering the number of hits this blog gets a day, I’m pretty confident that Gio Gonzalez isn’t among one of the regular readers. Sad emoticon. But by all appearances, he is pitching like a man possessed to prove that this schlub is as adept at making baseball predictions as Marion Barry is at making racial amends.
Gio was simply dominant again last night, allowing only one hit and striking out ten over seven innings, leading the Nationals to a 7-2 win over the Braves and the series sweep. I will say it now: There has not been a better pitcher in the National League through the first two months of the season than Gio, and I daresay that there has not been a better pitcher in all of baseball. Will it continue?
Yo no digo nada.
Game ball(s): Gio. For a nice little look at Gio’s success so far, take a gander at this article courtesy of FanGraphs.
Goat(s): The injury bug, which may have taken down Jesus Flores. The team is saying it is just a tight hamstring and he may not miss any action. I’ve watched baseball long enough to know that this means he is just as likely to miss two weeks. Shakes fist in frustration.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Boy, the title of this award is looking sillier and sillier each day. All Harper did last night was go 2 for 4, extend his hit streak to seven games and toss in his second home run in as many games.
Current Record: 29-18
It is cliché to say that a win is a win. Except, as with all clichés, it’s true and for good reason after last night the Nationals tried to close out the series opener against Filthadelphia Charlie Sheen style. Winning! Just barely.
Game ball(s): Gio Gonzalez and Ian Desmond. Gio shut out the Phillies for six innings, mowing down nine in the process. And Ian supplied all the offense the Nats would need with his solo home run in the top of the second and RBI single in the top of the fourth. I’m proud to say that at the first quarter poll of the season, both players are making a mockery of some of my preseason concerns regarding them. Keep poking me like the Snuggle Bear boys!
Goat(s): Henry Rodriguez. I’ve been a supporter of the wild flamethrower since the beginning, but it has become apparent that his inability to throw strikes is a real impediment to H-Rod effectively closing out games. It’s a shame because he has an electric arm, but a team wishing to contend simply can’t have him taking the mound in the ninth unless he has a better clue where the ball will go leaving his hand.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Sean Burnett. Craig Stammen was rock-solid again for two innings, but after H-Rod made a mess of the bottom of the ninth, Burnett stepped in and closed off the wound before it become fatal.
Current Record: 25-17
Finally. That’s what Jordan Zimmermann had to be thinking this evening after the Nationals tacked on four runs in the top of the seventh to open Washington’s lead over the San Diego Padres to 6-1. After only getting two runs of support during the 21 innings of his first three starts, Zimm was hanging on to a slim lead after spinning another great outing, six innings of one-run, six strikeout ball. And when you are still looking for your first win of the season after that run of bad luck, you have to guess he was thinking, “Is this when the cards are going to come crashing down?”
Thankfully, Washington’s bats came alive, banging out 11 hits in total, which were more than enough to help lead the Nationals to a 7-2 win. So the series opener saw Gio Gonzalez and the pitching staff dominant. And game two saw both Zimm and the hitters bring their “A” game. What combination will the Nats bring to the series finale tomorrow? Let’s hope the latter, which is a sure-fire prescription for posting more curly w’s in the standings column.
Game ball(s): Zimmermann. There is no truth to the rumor that Zimm was on the verge of sending a sympathy card to Erik Bedard if things didn’t go better today.
Goat(s): Petco Park. I’m a big fan of pitching and defense but Petco Park takes a pitcher’s park to the extreme, and not in a good way.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: With 70 plate appearances under his belt at Triple-A Syracuse, I figured it was about time to check in on Bryce Harper and see how he is faring against his highest level of competition yet. So far, it looks like we can shelve any talk of Harper coming up this year and turning in a Rookie of the Year campaign. Harper is batting just .234, with a weak .300 on-base-percentage. He is also not flashing much power, tallying only one home run and slugging a meager .375. On the upside, he has gotten the opportunity to play a majority of games in centerfield, laying the groundwork for a possible short-term future there in the big leagues. While all this may seem like bad news, it cannot be said enough: Harper is just 19. 19. He still has a world of talent and a world of time on his side.
Current Record: 14-4
Well, it appears early on that the Nationals are really going to test the notion that pitching and defense wins ball games. Tonight, Gio Gonzalez once again delivered for the Nats, throttling the Astros for seven innings, and then Brad Lidge hung on for the 1-0 victory. Washington hasn’t seen this sort of frugality since GSA’s mind-reader gave management a heads-up that Vegas hot tubs were due for a mutant strain of mycobacteria.
Game ball(s): Gonzalez. He was dominant for a second straight outing, displaying tremendous control of his wicked curveball. It amounted to seven innings of two-hit ball, with eight k’s and two walks.
Goat(s): Although he wasn’t charged with an error, JD Martinez completely misplayed a pop-up to left field that dropped in, giving Adam LaRoche the game-winning RBI. Not to get up on a soap box, but it has long bothered me that fielders can avoid being charged with an error merely by failing to make contact with a ball they are attempting to catch. I know it would invite a lot of judgment calls, but it just seems absurd that it almost pays to be so incompetent as to not even been in a position to field a ball.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Jayson Werth, who continues to surge, going 2 for 3, scoring the only run of the game.
Current Record: 9-3
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.