It is just past 6:30pm on the east coast, the Nationals are up on the San Francisco Giants, and I may actually be awake to see the end. I guess G.K. Chesterton was right when he said that the most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen. Anyhoo, enough about my old-man struggles at the tender age of 33. Let’s roll out a Wednesday edition of quick hits:
- Sure, Madison Bumgarner throttled the Nats lineup last night, and Brandon Belt did most of the damage at the plate. But like Harry Reid, facts be damned. I knew given how well Washington has been playing, the Giants must have been cheating. And well, what do we have here: Giants OF Cabrera suspended for positive drug test. Amateur hour at the comedy club aside, this news shouldn’t really come as a complete shock to any baseball fan. The fact that Melky Cabrera, Melky Cabrera was being talked about as a possible National League MVP candidate, on the heels of last year’s breakout season that also came out of the blue, should have been so brazen a sign that even a Kardashian would have blushed using it. I guess it is just as true today as it has always been. If it is too good to be true, it probably is.
- I know. Just what you want to read more about. Stephen Strasburg and the great innings watch. Please God let me read more about what Kate Middleton (erm, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) wore to the closing ceremonies of the Olympics! Anything but Strasburg and pitch counts! But I must. From Will Carroll of SI.com, a writer I respect a lot for his coverage of medical issues, comes this great little blurb: Strasburg plan little better than educated guess. And again, the money quote:
All in all, lowered innings totals don’t automatically equal health, and similar pitchers have gone more innings without apparent issue. Without the benefit of data, the Nats (and the rest of these teams) are guessing. That’s not good enough.
Okay. I’m done with beating the supposed dying arm of Strasburg. Well, at least for tonight.
- Oh, and I just finished watching Felix Hernandez pitch a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Don’t worry, I’ve got the Nats on my computer. Back to King Felix. On days like today, he sure does wear that nickname well. However, is it just me, or do the Rays seem to get a no-hit every two months?
Okay Sean Burnett. Back-to-back hits allowed to the Giants in the bottom of the eighth. Interesting strategy to hold on to the Nats four-run lead. Like the Pence ground out. More conventional. I guess this is my sign to wrap this column up.
I guess Edwin Jackson caught wind of my post yesterday morning and just plain decided that he didn’t want any part of a plagiarist’s future book. Okay, probably not. But he was on his game last night, leading the Nationals to a 3-1 victory over the Orioles. Interesting tidbit I picked up reading various articles this morning: Three months into the season and Washington has yet to post a double-digit scoring effort. I imagine that’s why a 3-1 winning line score seems so familiar. Later today, Ross Detwiler will take the mound in an effort to take the weekend series. With Jake Arrieta and his 5.83 ERA taking the mound for the Orioles, perhaps we will see an end to that streak today???
Game ball(s): Jackson, Mike Gonzalez, Sean Burnett, and Tyler Clippard. The Nats are 3 1/2 games up in the NL East almost exclusively as a result of their brilliant pitching staff. Imagine if the team ever starts hitting? Cue John Lennon.
Goat(s): Jim Riggleman. One year ago yesterday, Riggleman abruptly resigned in the midst of a contract squabble with the team. I wonder if Jim is finding that he is able to stretch his dollars better with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos?
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Well, this is certainly interesting: Tyler Clippard to remain closer even when Drew Storen returns. It has been quite the changing narrative surrounding Clippard’s usage this season, starting with the team not wanting to pull him from his setup role when Storen went down during Spring Training to now not wanting to pull him as closer when Drew returns. Parsing Davey Johnson’s words though, he was careful to leave the door open for a swap, if Clippard were to slip up and Storen were to flash dominance in a setup role. For now, I can’t argue that isn’t the correct course of action. Drew is the Nationals’ long-term closer, but coming off of a bum elbow, there is no sense in rushing him back into ninth inning duties before he finds his groove, especially when Clippard has been outstanding himself.
Current Record: 41-28
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
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
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It may have taken
over five hours. And yeah, they had to endure two rain delays, including one
that dropped hail (yes, hail) on the field at Nationals Park. But it was all
worth it, as the Washington Nationals found their way into the victory column
for the first time this season, beating the Atlanta Braves 6-3 this afternoon.
Nationals today, it is refreshing to see a team that is much sounder on defense
(and capable of making more plays), and able to gut out tough innings with the
bullpen. After tying the Pirates (argh, we’re terrible) with the most errors in
baseball last season (an absurd 127), two consecutive error-free games to start
the season is a relative treat to watch.
One thing I’m
interested in going forward is how the Nationals will handle the ninth inning.
Today, manager Jim Riggleman went with the left-hander, Sean Burnett, to get
the last out in the bottom of the 8th (lefty Freddie Freeman was up) and to
close out the ninth. Drew Storen, the once, and still presumed future closer,
was used to get two outs in the eight, and in the process, managed to cough up
a home run to Alex Gonzalez. As I said in my season preview, it is critical for
the franchise’s future that the Nationals get Storen right and back to nailing
down games at the end. For now, it remains a work in progress.
So, first things
first: The Nationals go for the series win tomorrow!
Game 2 Natties
Game Ball: Rick Ankiel. We got the better of the 2
true outcomes today. And a tip of the cap to Jim Riggleman for calling a
suicide squeeze with Ankiel the at-bat after he hits a home run. Crafty call
leading to a nice insurance run.
Goat: Tommy Hanson, Braves. The young ace
didn’t locate his pitches well and the results showed. And yes, Chad Gaudin, I
took note that you somehow continue to be employed based on illusory stuff that
never translates to quality results (career ERA of 4.61/career xFIP of 4.64).
Nice first pitch home run surrendered to Dan Uggla.
Bryce Harper is a ways off: Tyler Clippard, throwing gas, getting 5
big outs in the middle innings.
Current Record: 1-1