Okay. Maybe it was just four days. But the tried and true formula for the National’s first-half success emerged from its respite in all its glory in last night’s 5-1 victory over the Miami Marlins. Outstanding starting pitching. Check. Great bullpen work.* Check. An increasingly productive and deepening offense. Check. After six shutout innings, Jordan Zimmermann notched another win last night, leveling his record at 6-6 and the Nats are now 16 games (16!) over .500. After Jordan amazingly carried around a losing record for the first three months of the season, things have gotten so copacetic in the clubhouse that even Ryan Zimmerman is going nuts in support of Jordan. I told you Ryan that the missing n wasn’t worth it.
Game ball(s): The Zimmerman(n)s. Jordan has surrendered just three runs in his last four starts, and Ryan’s 3-4 night, with a home run and two RBIs, is just the start he needed to get off to after the All-Star break.
Goat(s): Henry Rodriguez. This was the * above. I was Henry’s Craig Buchanan in the early part of the season. But after a strong April, things have veered quite a ways off course for H-Rod. Stop me if you have heard this lament about a pitcher with an electric arm before, but if only he could learn to throw just a few more strikes.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Lucas Giolito. Whew. It came down to the wire, but the Nats signed their first-round pick. Now back to the candle lighting for his elbow…
Current Record: 50-34
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
Well, after serving the past few days as Exhibit 2,563,862,914 in the “There really is no cure for the common cold” case, I see I come back to a Nats’ baseball landscape pockmarked the last three days with all sorts of explosions and implosions. First, let’s start with the good. Scratch that. The great.
Bryce Harper went and crushed his first ball out of the park last night. Lookie below.
Oh, and because everyone in Washington does things in excess, he went and did it again today. Finally, profligacy in DC I can support!
But then there has been the little matter of an imploding pitching staff. While I love the guy’s arm, I can’t say that I’m totally shocked by Henry Rodriguez’s trip to the wild side. The nation’s capital knows the deal. Like electing Marion Barry as your mayor, you know at some point when the lights come on, there is going to be some crazy stuff going down. Stephen Strasburg’s struggles today though? Man, that’s just crazy talk.
Game ball(s): Harper. Did you watch the kid’s home run? Yeah, he is going to be special.
Goat(s): Strasburg. Against the Padres of all teams? I almost hope you have a raging gambling problem that explains this afternoon’s clunker.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Sean Burnett. Haven’t said much about Sean this season, because quite frankly, he hasn’t been used a whole heck of a lot. But even with sporadic use, he is once again proving to be quite the valuable commodity out of the bullpen, no more importantly than last night when he bailed out H-Rod to preserve the victory.
Current Record: 22-14
Gotta shoot straight with you. After Adam LaRoche’s two-run home run in the top of the ninth put the Nationals back on top of the Pirates 4-3, of all the ways I could envision the Nats losing, Rod Barajas hitting a home run was not one of them. Perhaps it was his .133 batting average coming into the game. Or that he hadn’t launched a home run yet on the season and was slugging a robust .183. Alas, on a night in baseball which saw plenty of big flies (Wow, Josh Hamilton!), Washington was not immune to the bug, with the last one of the three surrendered on the night proving to be fatal.
Game ball(s): Rod Barajas. Rod Barajas. I had to say it twice because like Halley’s Comet, this moment only comes along so often.
Goat(s): H-Rod. It was only a matter of time before he gave up his first home run, but it would have better computed if it had come at the hands of someone who was slugging more than their weight.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Welcome back Adam! How we missed your bat 🙂
Current Record: 18-11
I can’t begin to describe to you how badly I wanted Matt Kemp in fantasy baseball last year. Think how much a Spaniard desires a job, alas with the same results. No Kemp and a putrid year from Hanley Ramirez translated to the first season in a long, long time without a championship. Flash forward to last night, bottom of the tenth, and the curse of Kemp struck again, this time in real life, as his walk-off home run downed the Nationals 4-3.
Am I bitter? Well, to put it in perspective, Kemp only ruined a sterling start from Stephen Strasburg (7 innings, 5 hits and 1 ER allowed, with 9 k’s), sabotaged a storybook debut by Bryce Harper (1 for 3 with a RBI sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth that put the Nats in position for the win), and destroyed my glorious dynasty in fantasy baseball. Yeah, I’m a bit bitter.
Of course, there was more to Washington’s loss last night than just Kemp, but I’m inclined to close strong on my anti-Kemp rant. I find it incredible that he has managed to post 11 home runs in the month of April so far, when for a good swath of it, Juan Rivera has been hitting clean-up behind him. Juan Rivera. He was last any good when your house actually had value. Kemp may be the best player in baseball right now, but I have a humble suggestion for all the genius managers in MLB: Pitch-around.
Game ball(s): Kemp. I wish he would start dating Rihanna again.
Goat(s): Henry Rodriguez. Like I alluded to above, the loss was attributable to more than just Kemp. H-Rod was staked to a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, but couldn’t close out the win.
Bryce Harper is here: Still working on a new name for this category, but that’s no excuse for not handing out the award. And it is only fitting that it goes to Harper, who more than held his own in his debut, stroking a double to the center field wall in the top of the seventh and then producing the then tie-breaking sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth.
Current Record: 14-7
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.