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.
When is an 0-5 night a $126 million contract earning night? Last night, when Jason Werth hustled his way to second in the bottom of the tenth after Yuniesky Betancourt’s throw got past Prince Fielder, swiped third base without a throw, and came home on an infield bouncer by Adam LaRoche.
Putting aside the Brewers curious defensive decision to not cover third after Werth reached second, last night’s win is exactly the type of win that has been few and far between the past few seasons. A win when you are clearly not the better team, but you manage to pull one out anyways. Now granted, not every night will the beer capital denizens drink and play. And no, long term, Werth can’t earn his keep with just hustle alone. But for a team yearning to instill a culture of winning, watching one of your struggling stars hustle the team to victory can’t hurt.
Game 13 Natties
Game ball(s): Can it be anybody else but Werth?
Goat(s): Sean Burnett. Blown save number one on the season. With Storen pitching so well, I can’t help but think that soon, the Nationals will begin the transition back to the future.
Bryce Harper is a ways off: Wilson Ramos. Boy, can he hit. Everyday, that Matt Capps half-year rent and trade is looking better and better.
Current Record: 6-7
Hmmmm. So there is a God. I guess George Costanza was only half right.
Last night, the Matt Stairs hitting cleanup Nationals took down the mighty Phillies 7-4, powered by former Philly Jason Werth and up and coming catcher Wilson Ramos. I didn’t think more sarcasm was the key, but whose to argue? On to the Natties:
Game ball(s): Jason Werth and Wilson Ramos, who were a combined 4 for 6, with 4 runs scored, 3 runs batted in, a homer, a steal, and 2 walks, for kicks and giggles.
Goat(s): Ian Desmond not sniffing first base once again.
Bryce Harper is a ways off: Sean Burnett. It wasn’t quite as clean as his first two saves, but he got the job done.
Current Record: 5-5