That’s what the Marlins broadcasters said at the end of this afternoon’s 4-1 victory over Miami, after Stephen Strasburg spun six strong shutout innings in leading the Nationals to a series victory. Oh, and because the swordfish, and not the diva marlin, is his favorite large saltwater fish, he threw in a two-run single for kicks and giggles. Keep rolling along!
Game ball(s): Strasburg. After his two-RBI single in the bottom of the second, Carlos Lee was overheard saying to Stephen at first, “.363. You’re batting .363? I tell all the ladies I weigh 363. Sigh.”
Goat(s): Ricky Nolasco. Stat-heads (and yes, I am oftentimes one) have said for years that Nolasco is a better pitcher than his numbers have shown. He has gotten unlucky, they say. Well, either God has a sick sense of humor, or it is just the case that Nolasco is just not that good of a pitcher. When reached for comment, God said, “Nolasco pitches. I laugh.”
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Drew Storen. With Tyler Clippard needing a day off after making appearances the last three days, Storen came in with a three-run lead and shut the door on his first save of the season. He hung a few pitches, but all in all, looked pretty good for only his ninth game of the season.
Current Record: 65-43
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
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
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.
Funny (well, not haha funny) how a few days and the switch of one letter in a headline makes a world of difference. Riding high after sweeping the Braves over the weekend, it looked like the Nationals were poised to finish their nine-game road trip with a flourish. Instead, it finished with a whimper, being swept by the Marlins. I blame it on the giant flamingo hanging out in left field of Great Crayon Park.
|C. Wang (L, 1-1)||4.0||7||4||4||3||4||0||1.86||6.43|
Yeah, this has nothing to do with any game balls. And yeah, Ross did allow one of Wang’s runners to score. But let’s just say I’m warming up the I told you so post.
Goat(s): The offense, which did the impossible and made Heath Bar Bell look in top form. The Nats managed only seven runs over the three games, after scoring seven or more runs in each of the three games against the Braves. While the giant flamingo has his (her?) fingers all over the skid, that sort of offensive break down doesn’t help.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: He is not a Nat, but I have to give a shout-out to Giancarlo Stanton. Wow, can he hit a baseball. Living in Florida, I get to catch a lot of Marlins games so this isn’t the first time I’ve seen his power and laser show. Stanton probably already possesses the most raw power of any hitter in baseball. After his monster May, he is also batting over .300. If he finds a way to maintain the average, folks, we are looking at one of baseball’s elite players now.
Current Record: 29-21
It is still nearly three hours to what should be the first pitch of the series finale between the Nats and Marlins, but the game has already been declared a washout. I guess the weather folks were serious about that 100% chance of rain in the DC area today.
With the Nationals scheduled to depart later today on a six-game road trip beginning in San Diego, the extra day off should have its benefits, allowing a hard-worked bullpen to rest while also allowing Ryan Zimmerman to perhaps only miss one game with his aching shoulder. Around here though, the work goes on, with the first-edition of postponement readings being rolled out for everyone’s Sunday leisurely perusal:
- Hats off to Philip Humber on his perfect game. It was great that FOX finally decided that baseball exists outside of the New York-Boston corridor, cutting away to Humber’s gem in the bottom of the ninth, though not before relegating it to a mini-picture in picture. Seriously. Anywho, Tom Verducci over at SI.com had a good piece describing exactly how much of a pitching era we are in, which Humber’s perfection is a symptom of. Humber perfect game testifies to pitcher’s era that’s not ending soon.
- After reading Verducci’s article, perhaps this work from Joe Lemire shouldn’t come as a surprise, though I would concur with Lemire that one shouldn’t draw too many conclusions based on such a small sample. Early results show rate of Three True Outcomes on record pace.
- And though it comes with perhaps the most generic headline in history, this commentary by ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian is still worth your time. Nationals have a quality pitching staff.
Ross Detwiler is tied for the second lowest paid player on the Nationals, bringing in $485,000/year. I know. Oliver Twist sends Detwiler $10 a month. But on a team with a nearly $81 million payroll, the value Detwiler is delivering to start the season is unmatched. After tonight’s sparkling 2-0 winning effort against the Marlins, Detwiler now sits at 2-0 with a .56 ERA (yep, .56) and is averaging close to a k/inning. In a word, he has been dominant.
Now, if the dreaded fantasy baseball curse hadn’t reared its ugly head again last night, the Nationals would be riding a five-game winning streak. Alas, I went with sound fantasy baseball tactics and started Bud Norris and lo and behold, won in fantasy but lost in real life.
Game ball(s): Detwiler. Though I have to say I’m not keen on pulling him after just six innings and 79 pitches. If you’ve got a pitcher on that sort of roll, why prematurely pull the plug? The broadcasters say the Nats are still in the process of building up Detwiler’s stamina, but call me crazy, how does throwing three less pitches this outing than last build up his stamina?
Goat(s): Hanley Ramirez. 0-4, 3 whiffs and 3 runners left stranded. I see for one night the fantasy/real life scripts have been flipped.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Rick Ankiel, who got three of Washington’s four hits, including the game-winning home run. That will work.
Current Record: 11-4
I’m sorry Ian Desmond. You are just an innocent pawn in the macabre scene that is unfolding for all of my fantasy baseball hitters. I’m sure this is of little solace, given your .217 batting average, but you are at least playing better than Hanley Ramirez, the cornerstone of my once glorious empire.
Yesterday was not a particularly sterling day for the Nationals, as they got shut out 8-0 going for the sweep of the Marlins. So rather than punish myself recapping those good times, I figured new and more targeted ways to extract a pound of spirit from my soul: Analyze the woes of Ian Desmond.
Coming into today, Desmond sports a ritzy .217/.250/.633 line, which would be good if Blinky the Fish was playing shortstop for the Nationals. Hmmmm…given Desmond’s whiff rate, it is tempting to think of the upside possibilities emerging from a mutated third eye. Oh Jim, what’s the big deal? I bet before the Washington Post blew this out of proportion, you didn’t even know how many eyes a shortstop had.
Well then, back to Desmond and his two eyes shall we? Looking at the raw counting stats, it is not all bad for Desmond. Along with his .217 average, Desmond has 3 home runs, 12 RBIs, 16 runs scored and an impressive 10 stolen bases. But those numbers belie the poor play of Desmond, which is better illustrated by his awful triple slash line and the deeper numbers that tell the tale of Desmond’s struggles.
Looking beneath the surface at the indispensable FanGraphs website, it becomes quickly apparent why Desmond is struggling. His strikeout rate has soared from 20.8% last season to 27% this season while his walk rate has fallen from 4.9% to 4%. Desmond’s batting average on balls in play has also tumbled from .317 (a bit inflated last year) to .262 this season (a touch unlucky). The mix of more strikeouts, less walks, and less luck with balls falling for hits has wrecked his batting average and on base percentage.
The strange thing about Desmond is that he is actually making more contact this year (79.6% contact rate vs. 78.5%). He O-Swing %, which measures the percentage of pitches swung at outside the strike zone, has actually significantly improved as well, falling from 33.2% to 26.4%. So what’s plaguing Ian Desmond?
Interestingly, it appears the culprit is a combination of Desmond perhaps becoming too passive at the plate, as he is swinging at less pitches in the strike zone this season (60.1% as opposed to 66.5%), and he is simply hitting more fly balls (39.5% vs. 31.6%), which are less likely to fall for a hit. Given that Desmond’s isolated power is up this season (he already has three homers, six doubles and two triples), it is not shocking to learn that he may be trying to elevate the ball in an attempt to clear the fences. Unfortunately, this deal with the devil suggests that Desmond is not really getting unlucky with his batting average on balls in play, as one would expect that to dip with an increase in fly balls.
Going forward, it appears as though Desmond has to become more aggressive with pitches in the strike zone and find a way to cut back on the empty fly outs. The uptick in power is nice, but not at the expense of an atrocious batting average and on base percentage that swamp any benefits from the extra home run or two that may be gained. Barring those changes, he should schedule a tour of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.
Current Record: 16-18
Last evening, before the start of the Nationals series opener against the Florida Marlins, I happened to come across this nugget buried at the bottom of Jon Heyman’s latest column:
Perhaps the Nationals ought to consider locking up manager Jim
Riggleman. Washington has stayed afloat without its best pitcher
(Stephen Strasburg) or best position player (Ryan Zimmerman).
Kudos to Riggleman.
As if on cue, the Nationals then went and gutted out a 3-2 extra innings victory over the Marlins, despite whiffing an incredible 15 times.
I’m not going to pretend that it was all pretty to watch. It certainly wasn’t. But coming off a sweep at the hands of the Phillies, the Nationals needed a victory in the worse way, and got it thanks to a dominating relief effort from Tyler Clippard, yeoman’s work to plate the winning run in the top of the tenth, and a little Harry Houdini from Drew Storen and Sean Burnett to close out the game.
Lately, I have wondered how the Nationals can be expected to win games with an offense demonstrably missing its best piece (the Nationals are currently next to last in batting average in baseball, hitting only .226) and other critical pieces either struggling and/or hurt (LaRoche) or just plain struggling (Desmond and Espinosa). Well, we saw how last night, with a scrappy offensive effort and another superlative effort from the Nationals pitching staff.
As Riggleman said after the game, “We kept scratching and clawing.”
Game 32 Natties
Game ball(s): Tyler Clippard. Two innings. Six batters. Six strikeouts. Wow.
Goat(s): John Buck. The Marlins catcher missed a sign while on third in the bottom of the fifth on a non-bunt by Ricky Nolasco, resulting in Buck, and potentially the winning run, getting tagged out in a rundown.
Bryce Harper is a ways off: Jordan Zimmermann. Another sign of life from Zimmermann, whose six strikeouts represented a season high. Still waiting for a breakout performance, but maybe the increasing whiffs are a sign it is near.
Current Record: 15-17
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My apologies. I hope you will excuse
the lack of a post about last night’s Nationals game. It’s a long 1,000 mile
round trip to Miami and I was quite spent after my efforts to circumvent MLB
blackout rules. I may be in Tallahassee, but that shouldn’t dissuade me from
catching my favorite team at the local ballpark.
Anyhoos. The Nationals lost the series opener to the Marlins 3-2 in 10 innings,
with Drew Storen and the Nationals defense collapsing in concert in the final
frame. Perusing the listings for tonight, I see the game is on Fox Sports Net.
My $146 cable bill is finally paying off.
Game 4 Natties
Game Ball(s): Marlins bullpen. 4 and 1/3 scoreless
innings tends to keep you around long enough to win in extras.
Goat(s): MLB. Really? You fear attendance is
being held down at Marlins games because someone in Tallahassee can tune
in to the game on their computer?
Bryce Harper is a ways off: Ryan Zimmerman. On base 4 of 5 plate
appearances, score both runs and drive in yourself for one of them: Elite.
(I’ll overlook the error. For now.)