No, that’s not the title to the blog post announcing that I’m finally getting back to covering the National’s run towards the playoffs. And I really mean it this time. No, that’s what the Nats pulled off last night against the Miami Marlins, after a sloppy start put Washington behind the eight ball.
Trailing 6-4 with one out in the bottom of the eighth, thankfully, the Marlins continued their second-half spectacular implosion, with Mike Dunn botching Carlos Lee’s toss on Adam LaRoche’s sure ground-out. So, instead of two outs with no one on, Dunn proceeded to walk Jayson Werth to put two on with only one out, thus limiting the harm that came when newly-acquired Kurt Suzuki then struck out. Four consecutive hits, including home runs by Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper then totaled six unearned runs for Washington, flipping the scoreboard to a much more attractive 10-6 lead. Tyler Clippard would cough up a harmless run in the top of the ninth to secure the victory, and with it, the Nats were able to stretch their lead in the NL East over the Atlanta Braves to three games.
Game ball(s): LaRoche. Ho, hum. I guess Adam got bored with just hitting one home run a game, so he went all Doublemint on the Marlins. Last four games: 8 for 16, 4 home runs, 7 RBIs, and 6 runs scored. This is just what Adam does. He gets crazy hot for stretches. Good thing his current stretch has been the entire second half so far.
Goat(s): Dunn. I love when pitchers with a 1.63 WHIP come into a game. You bring the WHIP, you get the WHIP.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Espinosa. He is still only 25, which has its ups (three-run home run to push the Nats into the lead) and downs (two costly errors that led to three runs). I worry about how that will play come the playoffs, but then again, you could say that about a number of Nats come October. I’m sorry. I’m an auditor. I breathe and I worry.
Current Record: 64-43
When last we crossed paths, Wilson Ramos had just singled in the winning-run in the series opener against Filthadelphia late Friday night. It’s a shame nothing much of interest transpired over the next forty-eight hours. Oh, huh. You say all this happened:
Channeling my inner Larry King, a few quick comments about the weekend that was:
- First, as much as I love to rag on Werth, losing him for 12 weeks is only going to exacerbate the problem an already downtrodden lineup has scoring runs.
- Third, Mike Rizzo nailed it. Hamels had no business hitter Harper other than to be a punk. I know he wants a new contract from Filthadelphia, but I had no idea he wanted to fit in that badly with the Santa-pelters.
- I wonder if CNN wants me back. At least people watched Jack Hanna, his monkeys, and me. Who watches Piers Morgan? Oh, I hope he is not listening in on me.
- Second, that Bryce Harper kids is a keeper. Sweet stroke, tremendous hustle, cannon for an arm. I haven’t been this excited since I found a mini-toy microphone in my Cracker Jack box in 1966.
- Finally, as much as I love the guy, I can’t help but think that without an increased strikeout rate, Jordan Zimmermann is not poised to vault into elite status this year. Although his ground ball/fly ball ratio is over one for the first time in his career, his strikeout percentage is also down from 18.7% to 14.7%.
Good night from Tallahassee. Now here’s Anderson Cooper to keep them honest about how unwatchable he really is.
During the off-season, Nationals officials went to great lengths to try to encourage their fans to “Take Back the Park” from opposing team’s fans, specifically, the unwashed from Filthadelphia. I think we can say that after Washington’s 4-3 win tonight, the first salvo in the battle was landed by the Nats on the field, courtesy of Wilson Ramos and his game-winning pinch-hit single in the bottom of the eleventh. Boom!
Game ball(s): Several candidates for the award tonight. The bullpen, which turned in five scoreless innings. Jesus Flores, who came through in the bottom of the eighth with the game-tying double. And finally, his compatriot Ramos. It’s past 11, so let’s get crazy and give game balls to them all!
Goat(s): I have finally figured out why Jayson Werth sports the caveman beard: It’s his getaway disguise after he robbed the Nationals blind for $126 million last year. What gives him swag, as the kids say, is that he has the bananas to hang around the joint after the crime. Tonight he pulled a 0-5 with five runners left on base. Oh, to be a professional athlete.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Steve Lombardozzi, who scored the winning run after going 3 for 6 including the clutch two-out single to keep the bottom of the eleventh going.
Current Record: 17-9
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
Twenty-two outs into last night’s game, it looked for all the world that the Nationals were barreling towards defeat, unable to do much of anything against Reds starter Bronson Arroyo. Seemingly wanting to flee Nationals Park like Bobby Petrino from a crash-scene, as quickly as each Nationals hitter came to the plate, he found himself slinking back to the dugout with haste. Then the genius of Dusty Baker struck.
Although Arroyo was only at 94 pitches, and had set down seven straight hitters, Dusty pulled him in favor of lefty Bill Bray with one out in the bottom of the eight. Now, I understand that the Nationals had sent up the left-handed hitting Chad Tracy to pinch-hit, so you might be inclined to say Dusty was just going by the book. Problem is (if you are a Reds fan), Dusty reads the Berenstain Bears Play Ball. As soon as Bray came into the game, Davey Johnson pulled Tracy back and replaced him with righty Xavier Nady, who promptly tied the game at 1-1 with a solo shot to left.
Four scoreless innings for both teams followed Nady’s heroics, which set the stage for Jayson Werth to drive in the winning run in the bottom of the 13th. It was interesting, no depressing, to read this morning that Werth’s walk-off hit was his first in a Nats uniform. Good for him. Last season was that rough.
Game ball(s): Werth. He was the only Nat with more than one hit and his second of the night drove in the game-winning run. That’s sort of important.
Goat(s): Thank you Dusty!
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Jordan Zimmermann. He was stellar for seven innings but walked away with a no-decision because Arroyo thoroughly stymied the Nationals for 7 and 1/3 innings. And he is on my fantasy team. Poor guy.
Current Record: 6-2
Then maybe I could have loaned her to the Nationals tonight to help them drive more of their 11 base runners in against Pelfrey. Boy, that preseason crack didn’t take but a week to come back to haunt me.
What makes tonight’s 4-3 loss to the Mets in the bottom of the ninth hurt the worst is that the Nationals had their chances. While somehow they managed 8 strikeouts against Pelfrey, which tied his career high, they also put 11 runners on base against him in just 5 2/3 innings. Unfortunately, they left 9 ducks on the pond for the game, with the once-again struggling Jayson Werth stranding 4 all by himself. I won’t even wait to the call-out section. I will do it now. Werth was a goat tonight.
Game ball(s): The Mets bullpen. 3 1/3 innings of shut-out ball in relief of Pelfrey allowed the Mets to finally make their move in the bottom of the ninth.
Goat(s): Henry Rodriguez. A walk, a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt, and then a hit allowed gave the game to the Mets.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Another nice night from LaRoche, who brought not only his bat, but his glove, making several nice picks at 1st.
Current Record: 2-2
Well, the so-so hitting caught up with the Nationals today, as they got shut down by Jeff Samardzija in a 4-3 loss to the Cubs. Displaying dominant stuff, Samardzija wisely took advantage of an impatient Nationals lineup that failed to do much of anything, getting a first pitch strike on 25 of 31 of the hitters he faced. The consequences were inevitable.
The Nationals did make it interesting in the bottom of the 9th after a two-out Starlin Castro error gave Washington a glimmer of hope. And Adam LaRoche promptly turned that into a burst of hope with a two-run bomb to right, bringing the Nats within one. However, it was too little, too late, as Carlos Marmol actually found a way to get an out, finishing off Xavier Nady and the Nationals.
As Washington heads off to New York for a 3-game series, hopefully, they can find their hitting stroke. Otherwise, I may have to start a “When Is Jayson Werth Going to Get a Hit?” watch.
Game ball(s): Samardzija. I guess since Touchdown Jesus hasn’t been performing many miracles on the football field lately, he decided to throw one to Samardzija on Easter. Isn’t that apropos?
Goat(s): Nationals hitters. They hit the switch too late in the game, managing only four hits.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Zimmermann. He was largely on his game today, but my prayers for the bats to get going a little earlier seem to have gone unheard. I hate Notre Dame. And I hate spelling Samardzija.
Current Record: 2-1
Although I was unsuccessful in convincing my boss that seeing the Nationals season opener was a legitimate medical emergency*, I did manage to get home just in time to see Kerry Wood walk the Nationals back into the game in the top of the 8th. After coming on for a dominant Ryan Dempster with one on and one out in the top of the 8th, Wood went all Wild Thing and walked three straight Nationals hitters, including Jason Werth, which tied the game at 1-1. Ian Desmond then capped off a nice day with the game-winning single in the top of the ninth, driving in Chad Tracy after his big two-out double.
*As outrageous requests are want to do, I nearly then had a real medical emergency after Ian Stewart crushed a triple to right in the bottom of the 9th off of Brad Lidge. On probably any other day in Chicago, it would have been gone. But thankfully, it seems with Rahm Emanuel, Dick Durbin, and David Axelrod in the crowd, the hot air was blowing in today.
Game ball(s): Can we give the season’s first game ball to an element of nature? Sure, why not? Congrats wind!
Goat(s): Wood. Bill Murray kept saying Wood was just building the drama. I didn’t realize it took that much balls to make a good drama.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Is it going to come to this Adam LaRoche? I’m going to be happy when Chad Tracy is subbed in for you?
Current Record: 1-0
In Part One of the season preview, we focused on the Nationals pitching staff, broke down their prospects for the coming season, and remarked on the now suspicious injury history of Carl Pavano (okay, we didn’t, but it certainly does deserve the people’s eyebrow). Today, we turn our punditry towards the Nationals lineup and bench, and then will make overly generic predictions for the season that in 400 years’ time, will also be seen to contain clues about the end of time.
SS Ian Desmond – I probably should check with the judge to see if I’m allowed to write anything about Ian after drafting him last year in fantasy baseball, but it goes without saying that Desmond is hardly the ideal lead-off man. He does possess a little pop and can steal 20 bags in a season, but whiffs way too much, doesn’t take a walk, and thus, doesn’t find his way to first and beyond too often (career .304 on-base percentage). I hate to say this, but if Desmond and Espinosa hit most or all of the season at the top of the lineup, the hopes for a good Nationals offense goes out the window.
2nd Danny Espinosa – Well, I drafted you this year, which probably means we won’t be speaking by mid-May. You are talented enough to make many things possible. You have some real thunder in your bat, and a 20-20 season wouldn’t surprise me in the least. But you strike out by the bushel, so a batting average above .250 may be asking too much.
3rd Ryan Zimmerman – I fear he won’t age well, but for now, Zimm is the Nat’s franchise player. He is capable of a .300/30/100 (the latter of which he will probably will be denied because of the lack of base runners) season, all the while bringing gold glove defense to the hot corner every day. I think Baseball Prospectus may have been stretching it just a bit when it said to look to Zimm for a dark horse MVP candidate, but not by that much.
RF Jayson Werth – The good thing is that Werth probably can’t play much worse than last year. I suspect he is due for a decent rebound. Then again, I didn’t think Dana Stubblefield could make a sumo wrestler jealous and he did. That’s life as a Washington sports fan. I actually think it would be best if manager Davey Johnson moved Werth and his career .360 on-base percentage up to the #2 hole, which would work the opponent’s pitchers a bit more and increase the odds that Zimm hits with someone on base. That still wouldn’t solve lead-off, but you have to start somewhere.
LF Michael Morse – The breakout slugger from last season hasn’t done much of anything this Spring, hampered by a right lat strain that has lingered to the point of landing him on the 15-day DL to start the season. I think he got a touch lucky with his batting average last year, but the power is legit. Hopefully, his body holds up because it is bat that makes his butchery in the outfield (-7.9 UZR in 2011) tolerable.
1B Adam LaRoche – Oy. I’m not sure I like the addition of last year’s season-ending shoulder surgery to an already slow and elongated swing susceptible to long periods of wind-only production. Oh, and his shoulder has hurt him throwing during Spring Training. Hopefully, he hasn’t lost his ability to pick it at first, because that may be the only thing keeping him from the scrap heap.
C Wilson Ramos – Wilson’s emergence last year probably contributed to the Nationals willingness to give up Derek Norris as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade. Can’t say I disagree with at least that part of the trade, because a prospect is only good to you playing in the big leagues or as trade bait. And with Ramos in DC, the former wasn’t going to happen. Ramos has a nice bat capable of a solid average (think .270ish) and good power for a catcher (think optimistically 18 home runs or so), all the while playing solid defense. He’s the Ron Popeil of catchers. Set him and forget him.
CF Rick Ankiel/Roger Bernandina – Bleh. Honestly, it won’t be until Bryce Harper is promoted from Triple A that the Nationals will have the hope of fielding a legitimate center fielder. And of course, Harper offers more than just legitimacy beyond 2012 – true star potential. Until then, the combination of Ankiel (who will start the season on the 15 day DL with a tight left quad) and Bernandina will offer up only average defense and below average hitting. Bleh.
Having a deep and flexible bench is always a critical ingredient to a playoff-caliber team, and with a couple of injuries to start the season, it won’t take too terribly long to figure out how good the Nationals bench will be. Right now, it looks like Washington will initially carry backup catcher Jesus Flores, infielders Chad Tracy and Steve Lombardozzi, outfielder Brett Carroll, and jacks of all trades, Xavier Nady and Mark DeRosa, the latter who should see most of the starts in place of the injured Morse. At first blush, Washington appears to have a flexible but not necessarily overly talented bench. Finding a decent left-handed bat (Tracy isn’t it) and keeping DeRosa healthy should be the Nats top bench priorities.
The end is nigh! Oh, right, about the upcoming season. As it stands now, the NL East, while seemingly stacked, also has its vulnerabilities. The Phillies lineup is banged up and will actually be fairly pedestrian when it is all said and done. The Braves didn’t do much to improve a middling lineup and will rely too much on young starters that will end up taxing their good, but overworked bullpen. And the Marlins* rotation and bullpen beyond Heath Bell have a lot of question marks. So, do all these weaknesses crack open the door to a Nationals playoff appearance?
My heart says yes but my mind still can’t get all the way there. Stupid brain keeps asking questions like who in the heck is going to be on base when Zimm comes up to bat? Will the holes in the Nationals defense (Morse, Desmond, CF) cost them one too many wins? And the answers, to the extent they exist, are not satisfying enough to make me believe the Nationals will get all the way there. They will get close. Oh so close. But they will fall just short – 87 W, 75 L, 3rd place in the NL East.
*The Bernie Madoff Mets have Mike Pelfrey in their rotation. Your kid sister could hit .250 against him. They aren’t competing for a playoff spot.
OMG! Have you heard the latest? Leonardo DiCaprio and Bar Refaeli have called it quits! Those two vowel loving birds, I was sure they were going to make it. Well, at least the Nationals pulled one out in extras last night. Otherwise, I was sure this was going to be a LMN marathon evening. Sniff.
Putting aside the Kleenex for a moment, last night’s 7-3 win in 11 innings over the Braves was a wonderful testament to the resiliency of this year’s Nationals squad. Down two in the top of the ninth, facing flame throwing Craig Kimbrel, and the Nats string together two hits and a walk before Alex Cora’s single plated two, knotting the game up at three apiece.
Then, in the top of the eleventh, the Nationals put on an offensive burst that secured the victory, as Ian Desmond and Jason Werth’s bats both came alive with a two-run double and home run, respectively. Tonight, the Nationals go for the sweep with Jordan Zimmerman squaring off against Derek DUI Lowe. Let’s hope for a little pre-game we are being swept celebration from the Braves.
Game ball(s): Alex Cora. Pinch hit two-run single to tie the game up. Can’t ask anymore from the veteran “scrappy” slap hitter.
Goat(s): Kimbrel. With all due respect to Cora and his veteran scrappiness, you gave up the lead to Alex Cora. I don’t care what Fredi Gonzalez says. Your hold on the Braves closer job is tenuous.
Bryce Harper is a long ways off: Maybe not. Harper went 4 for 5 yesterday with a grand slam. He extend his hitting streak to 15 games and is now slashing a cool .396/.472/.712. It may be Single-A but Harper is going to be mega.
Current Record: 18-18. I shall refrain from celebration. That didn’t work out so well the last time.