Well, I guess you can scratch Nats’ team psychologist from my possible future careers list. Back to the beans counting man! Despite my early morning wishful thinking, the Nationals didn’t muster an offensive breakout in their 2-1 loss to the Orioles earlier today. Now the question becomes what happens the next two games in the thin air of Colorado when an immovable object (Washington’s offense) meets an unstoppable force (Coors Field, which has yielded the most runs in baseball).
Game ball(s): Matt Wieters. Color me surprised to learn Wieters was born in Goose Creek, South Carolina. His name just sounds so German, so hardworking. Was auch immer! Unfortunately, Wieters was quite industrious today, hitting the game-winning two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth and then gunning down Ian Desmond attempting to steal second in the top of the ninth to end the game.
Goat(s): The truth. As noted by weezie in the comments section, it really isn’t shocking that the truth is quite slippery in DC. Now suddenly, after receiving a cortisone shot, Ryan Zimmerman is back to feeling great, a day after he was going to have to shut it down for two weeks. Tomorrow is certain to bring news that Zimm’s shoulder has fallen off and the team’s strategy to move Wang to the bullpen to preserve his shoulder for a transplant has paid off.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Ross Detwiler. It is just so nice to know that the team is back to not giving away every fifth game. Happy emoticon!
Current Record: 41-29
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
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.
Davey Johnson called it right last night when he said the Nationals 7-6 win over the Mets in 12 innings wasn’t a well-played game. My eyes admittedly drifted as the bullpen cost Jordan Zimmermann a win after another well-pitched game (fantasy curse!). But despite the optics, to both teams credit, they kept fighting back each time it looked like the game was in the bag for one of them. Much to the delight of Nats fans, it was Bryce Harper who struck the final blow of the back and forth struggle, with a walk-off single in the bottom of the twelfth.
Game ball(s): Harper. What is even more impressive than his first career walk-off hit is the kid’s dissatisfaction at going 2 for 7 and striking out twice. It reinforces what Mets catcher Josh Thole said about Harper when he said that Harper cares about the little things, like making outs via the strikeout. His God-given 5-tool talent is what gives Harper a shot at greatness. The fact that he cares about the little things is what will make him great.
Goat(s): I should probably get on the bullpen but I’m still trying to understand Davey’s quick hook (again) with Jordan. I know he got touched up some in the top of the sixth but up until then he was cruising and was only at 81 pitches when he was yanked. Sure, all 3 batters he was to face in the top of the seventh were lefties, but to needlessly call upon your relief staff because you are concerned Zimm can’t handle the trio of Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis (.160 BA!!!), and Josh Thole seems to show you lack confidence when you shouldn’t. And moves like that do have repercussions when a pen gets unnecessarily extended (see 8th inning).
Bryce Harper is still only 19: The very clutch Ian Desmond, who drove in the game-tying run in the 8th, 10th, and 12th innings.
Current Record: 31-22
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!
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
I’m old enough to not remember the last time the Nationals beat Roy Halladay but I am still young and internet savvy enough to find out that it was under the Expos banner in 2002 when the franchise did. Ten years and a foreign country apart. That is long ago, eh?
But the drought is no more, after last night’s 5-2 victory in Filthadelphia. The Nationals, led by Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond, climbed all over Doc early, giving Jordan Zimmermann precious runs that were being to feel to him as scarce as soap in the city that never washes. Coupled with Atlanta’s loss to the Reds, the Nats are now back in first, a slim 1/2 game lead to their name.
Game ball(s): Harper. Read after the game that he had watched video on Halladay from the past three years which had him zeroing in on the curve ball he laced for a two-run triple during his second at-bat. Talented and prepared. Giddyup!
Goat(s): Me, for benching Zimm in my fantasy league. I await the tomatoes with great shame.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: I don’t know who this power-crazed Ian Desmond is but I’m getting a little weak in the knees all the same.
Current Record: 26-17