Friday, April 30, 2010

Bob Uecker & Analyzing the Current Nats Starters

I'm going to start this blog with the sincere comment of the day. Bob Uecker is going in for heart surgery today to repair a damaged aeortic valve. This condition is serious and may require a follow up procedure. Uecker will miss at least 3 months, but probably more. My thoughts are with Bob Uecker and his family, including the Milwaukee Brewers family. Uecker has been the radio guy for the Brewers for 40 years this season, and is one of the broadcasting faces of baseball. Brewers games won't be the same without his play-by-play. I may just make a point of watching "Major League" this weekend.

Now, back to the Nats:

It recently came across the wires that the Nats are going to shuffle up their starters a bit to spread out our two lefties in the order. Previously, Olsen had been 5th in the rotation, and Lannan 1st. Making back to back lefties in the rotation. Now Olsen has switched with Stammen after the off-day to put some distance between them. So now the rotation officially is:
  1. John Lannan (LHP; 1-1; 5.53 ERA; 10 Ks)
  2. Luis Atilano (RHP; 2-0; 2.25 ERA; 2 Ks)
  3. Livan Hernandez (RHP; 3-1; 0.87 ERA; 10 Ks)
  4. Scott Olsen (LHP; 1-1; 6.14 ERA; 14 Ks)
  5. Craig Stammen (RHP; 1-0; 6.75 ERA; 9 Ks)
If you would have told me 30 days ago, as the team was leaving spring training, that this rotation would be producing the way that it has, I would have had some nasty words for you for getting my hopes up about the return of real baseball to DC. And I would have been eating my words.

My offensive and defensive rundown was extensive yesterday, so I won't be quite as extensive with these guys, because I've been talking about most of them (Atilano, Hernandez, Stammen) all season. So read ahead for my thoughts, including the first Stephen Strasburg mention of my blogging campaign.

You may look at the rotation, and say "whaaaat? Atilano is number 2 in the rotation? Why not Livan?" Well, the answer is simple, really. Atilano is a placeholder for Marquis while he's on the DL with "loose bodies" in his elbow. Although, if Atilano keeps pitching like this, who knows. The likelihood of that seems low, however. Other teams are starting to get more tape on Luis with every start, and at some point sooner than later, he's going to get blow up in a start. It's inevitable. It's a matter of how he recovers after that. Does he go back to hitting his spots are just throw meatballs down the middle? Time will tell.

Lannan is having a... well... a year. Some people out in the Natosphere are speculating that he's hurt because he's not pitching his best. Missing some spots, etc. The problem with a guy like Lannan is that he's a Greg Maddux style pitcher. You may say, "What the heck, Capitol Baseball guy, how is being like Maddux a bad thing?" Well, Maddux is obviously one of the best pitchers of this generation. A member of the horrifying Braves trio that was Maddux-Smoltz-Glavine in their prime. But Maddux was the best of the best location pitchers. He wasn't going to overpower you, but he was always going to hit his spots. When he didn't, he got lit up. And Lannan is missing spots, and giving up more solid hits than we, and the team, have come to expect from him. In my amateur opinion, John isn't hurt, he's just missing spots. Only time will prove me right or wrong.

Bringing up Garrett Mock was the wrong call by Rizzo and Co. on the Opening Day roster. Give them credit, however, because they fixed it quickly. Turns out that Mock may have been hurt as well. Which leads me to this point: come on, pitchers! Communicate with your trainers -- I'm looking at you Garrett, Jason Marquis, and Ross Detwiler. I know you're trying to make a mark on the team, but you'll make more of one when you finally pitch healthy, and you won't hurt the team nearly as much. Olsen should have been up all along; no reason a guy making $1 million for a 1 year deal should start in AAA. If you're gonna make the investment, give the guy the chance at least. They did, and it's been the right call so far.

Livan and Atilano have been covered extensively here in other blog posts, so I'll refer you to the archives to hear my thoughts on them.

Enjoy game one against the Marlins from Sun Life Stadium where Olsen will take on Ricky Nolasco. Should be another great early season game.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rest for the weary confident

Today is the Washington Nationals first day off in 15 days. Since their last day off, the club has gone 9-6. In this time, the Nats have gotten quality start after quality start from their pitchers, and as you will see in the right column of this blog, 5 of the 8 Silver Elvis Wig winners have been starting pitchers, including 2 for Livan Hernandez already and one for the rookie starter Luis Atilano (2-0 with a 2.25 ERA).

Twenty-two games, or just over 1/10th of the way, into this marathon of a baseball season, your Washington Nationals are 12-10. The current starting rotation has a combined 4.31 ERA, and it is still dropping (Olsen cut his ERA nearly in half in his last outing, although it is still not quite in respectable territory at 6.14). Their combined on base percentage is .317, and that includes all bench players that have played for the Nats this season, excluding pitchers. While that's a bit lower than you'd like, it's not really representative of the quality of baseball this team is playing this season. Let's look at some on the field guys that have contributed most to the club this season. We'll save the pitchers for another off-day.
  • Ivan Rodriguez: Pudge has had one of the best years a 38 year old catcher who was, by all accounts, "past his prime" could ask for. He's still batting .400, has a .422 OBP, and is perhaps the main reason for the quality of this young (minus Livan) pitching staff.
  • Josh Willingham: The Hammer has worked on a lot of things this off-season, not the least of which are his defense and his batting eye. Willingham has moved himself into the territory of an above acceptable (assonance for the win!) left-fielder. He has a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage this season and even has a double play from left. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, he has started every single game this season. He has had a few circus catches: one against the Cubs and one against the Dodgers at home to basically save the game. As for his batting eye, his OBP is .446 while is batting average is only .286. The man his more accurate at calling balls and strikes than the computer-generated pitch track on MASN.
  • Ian Desmond: Ian is a marked fielding upgrade at shortstop from last season. He has 3 throwing errors in 86 opportunities, but all 3 of them were in the first series of the year when he was still working out his nerves. He has exponentially better range than Cristian Guzman had last year and has a gun for an arm. It's amazing to watch him play the position, and he gets better and more confident every single game. (See two diving plays against the Cubs that would have been double plays if it weren't for Guzman's inexperience at 2nd). He has a .710 OPS, and his hitting is getting better as the season goes on. He does need to work at taking more pitches by swinging less at first pitches. This will help get his OBP up from .310.
  • Nyjer Morgan: T. Plush has picked up where he left off from last year. He has moved back to sliding head first into 2nd base on steals and is already visibly more comfortable on the bases. His OBP is a solid .372 and has stolen 6 bases on 10 attempts. That percentage will get better as the season goes, as going back to head first slides will certainly increase his efficiency (as long as he doesn't end up hurt because of it). As always, it's just great to have a guy this fast in center field.
  • Willie Harris: Willie hasn't been the leading producer at the plate, no doubt about it. His BA is a measly .167, although he does have a passable .311 OBP. Willie's contribution is mostly in the field. He has saved games on multiple occasions with acrobatics on the field. And we're not talking situations where he misplayed the ball and then had to make it up with a crazy catch (see Marlon Byrd: April 28th game. Still a crazy catch by Byrd, however). Harris has caught some line drives that no human being should have been able to make a play on. This type of contribution is keeping the Nats in games late.
  • Alberto Gonzalez: Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, the Attorney General is hitting .300 with a .364 OBP after 30 at-bats. I swear, none of those stats were typos. He is hitting and getting on base far more than Adam Kennedy and has proven to be a perfect replacement for Zim while he recovers from his hamstring problems. He has made some routine plays at 3rd, but has also made some Zimmerman like throws and picked some line drives that could have easily been singles to the outfield. He's made a couple errors, but is still sporting a .926 fielding percentage. The AG is having a great year, and is a major reason that the Nats can still compete with injuries to Zimmerman and Harris.

This ballclub, because of the guys I just listed, plus the starting pitching, Clippard, and Capps, are 3rd in the NL East, one game out of 1st, and 3.5 ahead of the last place Braves. The great thing about this season's Nats is that you know they're going to compete in every game, and that, with this kind of start, it is almost impossible to have another 100 loss season. The pitching, fielding, and batting have all come together for perhaps the best season the Nats have had since their remarkable run in 2005. I'm excited to see how it turns out, so stick with me here on Capitol Baseball all season to see how it shakes out.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Oh, the bullpen: Game 22

Luis Atilano, now 2-0 in two CAREER MLB starts, had another strong start today, for the Nats 7th quality start in a row (Thanks Mark Zuckerman for the stat). He had a few hickups, but worked his way out of almost every single decision. However, the Nats bullpen once again give the team the shakes.

Brian Bruney enters the game and immediately puts 2 men on with no outs. Luckily, the Cubs continued to strand base runners, and Bruney got out of the inning unscathed. Tyler Clippard entered the game and, like Bruney, gave up a silly hit to Marlon Byrd on an 0-2 count w/ a fastball down the middle. He got himself out of that jam quickly, as a good set-up guy does.

Then it was Cappy time. Matt Capps entered the game and Desmond made a remarkable throw from short to get the (questionable) out. Then Capps K'd Lee. Then Ramirez popped out in foul territory to win the game. Capps is 10 for 10 in save opportunities and this ball club is 12-10, 2 game ABOVE .500, and has sole possession of 2nd place in the NL East. AHEAD of those damn Phillies. For the first time in a while, it feels good to be a Nats fan.

Finally, it's W, L, W, L, W, L, W, L, W, L, W, W. They broke the streak!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Game 21 = Defense and Umps

Because of the mid-game blog post, I'll make this post as brief as possible. Today's game was defense all the way (as it must be for a Cubs night game at Wrigley in April). Minus the one throwing error on the double play attempt by Cristian Guzman early in the game, the Nationals not only played flawless defense, they played exciting defense tonight.

When you have a guy like Livan Hernandez on the mount, you know that the defense behind him is going to have to play their best, because he pitches to contact. Well, the Nats did not disappoint. It started early with a diving play by Ian Desmond up the middle to prevent a Fukudome double, then an incredible catch by Alberto at 3rd on a Derek Lee line drive. Then there was another Ian Desmond pick and flip for the double play turn attempt. While it didn't work, on one of many questionable calls by the umps (see below), it was a show of why Desmond is going to be a quality shortstop for years to come. Finally, in the 6th, Willingham, who is much improved defensively, made an extended, leaping catch.

There were three very questionable ump calls on the night. Riggs came out to argue 2 of them.:
  • The double play early in the game off of the amazing Ian Desmond turn from short. (Riggs argued).
  • Justin Maxwell was called out stealing 2nd in the top of the 7th.
  • On the last out of the 7th inning, Gonzalez was called tagged out at first on an errant throw by Theriot. On the replay, he was clearly never tagged by Lee. Clear as day. (Riggs argued this as well).
  • A horrible missed strike in the bottom of the 8th with Clippard pitching to Marlon Byrd. This pitch was literally down the middle of the plate on the pitch track. Luckily, it didn't have any effect in the run column, and Tyler got out of the jam.
Luckily, the defense was so strong, that even some questionable calls couldn't take the win from the Nats, and they're once again, a game above .500, putting them as W, L, W, L, W, L, W, L, W, L, W over the last 11 games. Let's see if the team can get a second W in a row to get them 2 games above .500 in tomorrow's matinee at Wrigley to end the series.

MASN Fail + You heard it here first...

Well first, we'll start with the funny. While watching the Nats and the Cubs tonight, MASN had one of their inspirational commercials about the next series with the Marlins, and how the Josh Johnson/Pudge matchup will be epic. Well here was the ad, as shown. "Ivan Rodriquez" Someone should let them know that he spells his name "Rodriguez." Picture below taken with the phone and is courtesy of MASN. At least it's not as bad as the "Natinals" jerseys from last year. That was a Majestic jersey fail, though. Not a MASN fail.

In other news, on Pardon the Interruption today on ESPN, they discussed if the MLB should take action to help the Pirates out of this disastrous hole. Wilbon: No; Kornheiser: Yes. Well if you look back to the blog titled A Pitcher's Dual for One and An Epic Shutout for Another (rant included), on April 23rd, I make the same analysis after the 20-0 shellacking by none other than the Milwaukee Brewers, who have been destroying them all week. Kornheiser made some similar arguments to mine, and went a little further.

Now, I'm not saying that I am 100% convinced that MLB needs to take over the franchise, but it should be considered. It's not out of the question to put a guy into the GM spot to try to get this team out of the dredges and get them a winning season before they have 20 losing seasons in a row, because they're not far off from that milestone (17 at the end of last year). If you didn't read my analysis before, click the link above. It's the last few paragraphs.

Livan Hernandez Looks to Continue Domination

Well Livo is back and going for his 3rd win against Hi My Name is... Tom (Gorzelanny). While Gorzelanny is 0-2 and Hernandez is 2-1, it may not be as easy as it looks for the Nats. First, the Nats bats have cooled significantly in the last week or so. And not that they're not getting hits, but they're having trouble capitalizing off of their hits. Second, the Cubbies have gotten hot over the last week, even in the cold Chicago climes. In Gorzelanny's first three starts, his offense gave him almost no run support (although in his second start he left after taking a line drive to the shoulder). The Cubs offense may be ready to do just that.

Hernandez looks to come out and have basically the same type of outing he had last time out against the Rockies. Unfortunately, he pitched against Ubaldo Jimenez, who just came off of a no-no the start before. He was hot. Ideally in this start, he'd rather not give up 2 big flies to lose the game, but at Wrigley Field for a night game early in the season, home runs probably won't be a huge issue. We all saw the driving wind keep in at least 2 home runs last night. Hernandez will continue working to keep is ERA below 1.00, that's right: 1.00, after 4 starts.

The fact of the matter remains: Livan Hernandez looks as good as ever. He has given up 2 runs in 24 innings pitched. It doesn't get any better among starters in the league. He obviously can't keep this type of production going for the entire season, but the longer he can keep this going, the longer the Nats can stay viable until they get some injuries taken care of.

On the injury note, Pudge is back (woot!), but Zimm will remain out, and I would venture a guess he'll be out until the team goes to Florida. However, if the club loses tonight, don't be surprised if Riggs takes his chances on the day game being a bit warmer for Ryan's hurt hammy. The Attorney General gets the start tonight to give Adam Kennedy a night off, only his second of the season.

Note about the lineups to end the post: Both Josh Willingham and Adam Dunn haven't had a day off all season. This is Game 21. At some point, Riggleman will be sure to look for a day off for both of them. However, don't look for it anytime soon as long as the Hammer is still on fire at the plate (1.000 OPS; with team leading 18 BBs) and while Dunn is finally swinging a decently hot bat.

1. Tony Plush, 8
2. Ian "We Need to Get This Guy a Nickname" Desmond, 6
3. Guzzie, 4
4. Big Donkey, 3
5. Hammer, 7
6. Pudge, 2
7. J. Max, 9
8. The Attorney General, 5
9. Livo "I Swear I'm 35" Hernandez, 1

Nats Pitching Lets Team Drop Back to .500

Well, here we go again. The Nats first game at Wrigley last night was a cold one. The wind chill at times was literally freezing. Unfortunately, while the Nats bats were hitting well considering the wind blowing straight in from the outfield, it wasn't enough to beat Carlos Marmol, Carlos Silva, and the Cubs. Why? Pitching.

Yet again, John Lannan, the "ace" of the Nationals pitching rotation had a rough start and got better with time. I like Johnny quite a bit, for his personality and his resiliance. And I'd much rather have the New York kid have a rough first inning or two and still make it through 6 innings than the alternative of a strong 1 2/3 and a complete and utter breakdown after that. That said, only giving up 3 runs in 6 innings isn't the worst outing in the world, although John give up 5 walks. The wind was whipping around out there, but 5 BBs is an unacceptably high number from your starting pitcher; or any pitcher for that matter.

The breakdown really happens with the bullpen, as has been the consistent problem with the Nats for a few years now. While the bullpen is stronger this year with Capps, Clippard, and (kind of) Burnett, Brian Bruney (1-1) has been a Nationals bullpen disaster. Bruney has appeared in 10 games, and has walked at least one batter in all but 3 of them. One of them was a walk off bases loaded walk to end the game last night. On 4 pitches.

The Washington Nationals are paying Bruney $1.5 MILLION this year to be the "primary set up guy," although it's pretty easy to see why Tyler Clippard has actually taken over that role with his bottom basement 0.61 ERA and 19 Ks in 14 innings pitched. Clippard has shown more consistency and stamina in all of his outings. Clippard's paycheck? Just over the league minimum at $401,000.

The 2010 Nationals have proven that they are able to compete with the best of the best, when we get some sort of pitching (i.e. more than 5 innings from a starter and a bullpen performance where the "set-up" guy doesn't walk in the winning run) so maybe it's about time for the Lerner's and Mike Rizzo to find a way to get some consistent arms out in the 'pen to get this team competitive sooner rather than later.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Nats Travel to Play Inside the Brick Walls of Ivy

I hope to have a funny, and hopefully inappropriate Harry Caray reference for the series soon, but until then, use this to hold you over (complete with Portuguese subtitles, thanks YouTube).

After the extremely disappointing base running and stealing display over the last few games, Jim Riggleman has decided to put some good speed on the bookends of the lineup for his Nats today in Game 20 and for the first in a 3 game series vs. the Cubbies:

1. Nyjer Morgan, 8
2. Adam Kennedy, 5
3. Cristian Guzman, 4
4. Adam Dunn, 3
5. Hammer, 7
6. Pudge, 2
7. Ian Desmond, 6
8. Willy Taveras, 9
9. John Lannan, 1

Lannan is coming in to try and get a win after two consecutive no decisions, and Pudge is trying to keep up the best batting average in all of baseball hitting at the bottom of the batting order. Meanwhile, Nyjer Morgan looks to stay cocky and keep trying to steal more bases. While that statement probably sounds smug and like I'm mad at T. Plush, that couldn't be further from the truth. Nyjer's sheer presence on-base messes with pitchers, and if he all of a sudden gets cold on base and stops even attempting a steal, he becomes far less effective. So I say, Run, Nyjer, Run.

Lannan is going to have to pitch better than the 2-0 Carlos Silva and his almost-as-good-as-Livan 0.95 ERA. But there is plenty left to be desired in the people surrounding the Cubs. While it's early in the season, the Nationals are tied for 2nd in the NL East with a 10-9 record, while the Cubs are in 2nd in the NL Central with a less happy 9-10 record. If the Nats can keep moving with this above .500 baseball throughout this brief roadtrip, it would be a huge win for the clubhouse and for the fans that pay close attention. As May arrives, summer will be knocking and the sports fans in DC will be less caught up in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Caps, and they will be more interested in the next sports season: baseball.

There's been a lot of concern about the low attendance considering the Nats' relative competence thus far in 2010. As I said, the Caps have taken over this city, and until they are knocked out or win Lord Stanley's Cup, the sports fans of this city will be caught up in that story. And once the NFL draft coverage is clubbed to death (I mean, it is the NFL, so give ESPN another 6 weeks or so to cover the draft stories), baseball will be the only sport people care about. If the Nationals are still flirting with .500 around that time, expect people to take notice. Fans and national media alike.

The Silver Elvis Wig Awards

I have a long post below about the Nats 1-0 win over the Dodgers yesterday. Please give it a read.

However, in other news, I have decided to log the Silver Elvis Wig winners for the season on the column to the right. (Thanks to Craig for the idea. I'll link to his blog once he decides to start one here soon. Thats right, Craig. SOON!)

For those of you that don't know, Adam Dunn decided that at all of the Nats home wins this season, that game's MVP would wear a silver Elvis wig, that Nyjer Morgan picked up at a costume store, in front of the media. As the season progresses, the count will go from a game-by-game basis to a tally once some people start to rack up some Wig-wins.

Olsen, Clip, Capps & A Real Baseball Team (Game 19)

Sorry for the delay in post. I had a busy weekend of family and friends. Capitol Baseball did get to go to the Nats/Dodgers game on Sunday where the Nats got a good old 1-0 victory. When Scott Olsen entered the game, he got himself into an immediate jam and loaded the bases at the top of the first. After that, it was smooth sailing for Scotty (alliteration win).

Olsen threw 8 strikeouts, on lots of curve balls that made the Dodgers hitters look silly at times, in his 7 inning shutout win. The Nationals slim 1-0 victory did not come easy. Although Olsen pitched one of his best games in more than a season, two simply outstanding outfield catches may have saved the game. The Hammer had an amazing catch that saved what easily could have been an inside the park home run by the speedy Rafael Furcal if Willingham had missed that catch. Then Justin Maxwell, in his new found defensive prowess this season, had another huge catch, perhaps even more remarkable than Willingham's. James Loney was already on 2nd base and J. Max saved a guaranteed RBI and another runner in scoring position, which would have resulted in Capps' first blown save of the season.

Clippard looked as good as ever. He didn't disappoint in his outing, with a solid 1,2,3 inning in the 8th and adding a strikeout to his tally for 19 on the year. Hitters just can't seem to figure him out.

While Capitol Baseball was hoping to see that crazy Capps knuckleball that Adam Dunn spoke of on Friday night, it wasn't necessary. Matt pitched his brand of nervous closer baseball, see how many solid drives you could have with runners in scoring position without blowing the game. Well, Cappy didn't blow the game, he got the save (8 for 8 on the year), and the Nats got the win on 1 run in the 1st inning.

This early in the game offense that the Nationals have established has been simply fantastic. Exciting to watch. It's not always a come back win, and with the quality of our bullpen, Clippard and Capps in particular, even if the club is ahead by only 1 run, there is a sense in the stands that the team can hold the lead and get the win. That's what happens when your Washington Nationals are 10-9 and tied for 2nd place in the NL East with the Marlins and the Mets.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

T. Plush's Moment of Greed Costs Nats the Win (Game 18)

In today's overcast game, Craig Stammen was a star. After he gave up a 2-run home run to Casey Blake, Stammen relaxed and turned into a machine. He had commanding breaking pitches, and his fastball locations were sublime. His ERA was above 8 and it dropped below 7. He helped himself out of a few jams with 2 double plays. All very exciting stats. Until he gave up yet another home run to Casey Blake in the top of the 7th. This home run should only have tied the game. If it wasn't for another major mental mistake by the Nats.

Last night, I wrote about Willie Harris' big mistake in what was one of the weirdest baseball plays that I had ever seen. Well today's big faux pas wasn't weird as much as it was stupid. First, let me talk up our offensive minded pitchers, because they deserve it. The Washington Nationals' starters do not just go up to the plate to take 3 strikes and sit back down. They take big hacks out there, and it is yielding results. Livan Hernandez was already one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball. Atilano made Haeger work last night. And Stammen nearly killed Kershaw this afternoon. Stammen hit a solid grounder up the middle in the first that went of of Kershaw's foot, had a shot to left for a double, and a grounder up the middle in his final at bat that resulted in the game tying RBI. That put Stammen on 2nd with 2 outs and Nyjer Morgan up to bat. And that's when it got ugly.

Morgan crushed the ball to left center over the left fielder's head. A guaranteed run, right? So you would think. Stammen was trotting home, and Nyjer gets greedy and goes for yet another triple. He got thrown out trying to get there before the slow running Stammen could make it home. It took the lead out of the Nats hands, and the Dodgers hit a homer in the top of the 7th to regain the lead. This type of error is inexcusable. Nyjer Morgan is one of the fastest players in baseball, and the Nats are one of the fastest teams in baseball. But if Nyjer Morgan would have been standing on 2nd, with a 3-2 lead with the young slugger Ian Desmond up to bat, their attempted rally in the 7th wouldn't have been as crucial.

However, in the bottom of the 7th, a sustained rally is killed by Desmond trying to run home on a ground ball to 3rd base. The inning goes from 1 out with runners on 1st and 3rd to 2 outs with runners in 1st and 2nd. Then, Willie Harris grounds out to 2nd and ends the inning. If the Washington Nationals are going to become the better team that they have shown they can be, they absolutely must stop making these stupid errors.

Then, the game went for another 7 innings. That's right, a 14 inning affair. The Nats go down 4-3, due mostly to the running disaster by Nyjer Morgan in the 6th and a questionable call by the home plate umpire in the bottom of the 14th where it appeared that Pudge scored. But when your team makes that many running errors in one game, you're not likely to get the benefit of the doubt.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Matt Capps' Knuckleball

Adam Dunn revealed after Friday night's game that Matt Capps has a great knuckleball, and he took some BP against him before facing the Dodgers' knuckler Charlie Haeger. The result: 2 HR and 3 RBI. Let me just ask, who wouldn't LOVE to see Matt Capps in the game, up by 2 runs, bottom 9, 0-1 pitch, and serve up a floating knuckleball?

Jim Bowden's Leather Pants & Carpenter's Jinx (Game 17)

Well, he did it again. I kid, I don't truly believe in the "jinx" concept. But, why tempt fate? You don't say "no-hitter" during a no-hitter. You never, ever do it. I'm looking at YOU Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. This time around, our buddy Bob Carpenter (who I do genuinely like, I'm just on a mini rant) decided to say "The Washington Nationals are in their 5th error free game." The next inning: error. The inning after that: error. Then, an error in the 7th. Baseball commentators now don't have the same respect for the unwritten rules of announcing that guys like Harry Kalas and the always under-the-influence Harry Caray. On a much funnier note, Carpenter caught former Nats infielder Ronnie Belliard singing to his bat in the clubhouse. Hearing Bob sing "I love you" was just priceless.

Now, to the actual game...
(As an aside, Jim Bowden should take a celebratory lap around XM Headquarters on his segway with the success of Atilano, Dunn, and Clippard this evening. Thanks to @AdamKilgoreWP on the Twitter for the inspiration.)

Luis Atilano looked good. Period. 6 IP, 1 run on 5 hits and 2 errors behind him. He also had a strikeout and ended with an 1.50 ERA in his first ever MLB game. He threw an incredible number of first pitch strikes, got a lot of ground ball outs, and got out of the few jams he got in with negligible damage. He even swung a good bat, making the opposing pitcher, Haeger, throw a lot more pitches than you'd generally like to throw to the opposing pitcher. This is exactly what you want to see from the guy who's probably going to be replacing your $7.5 million starter for at least a few weeks. My hat is off to Luis.

Adam Dunn's freezing cold HR streak is over, for his 2nd and 3rd home runs of the year. His first hit the TOP deck in right field. That, my friends, is a blast. His second (thank you, Jerry Crawford for the 2nd RBI on that homer) was a high drive to the Scoreboard Pavilion. His batting average is still a cool .204, but his on-base percentage is a sexy .386.

In one of the most bizarre baseball plays Capitol Baseball has ever seen, Willie Harris gets the epic fail of the evening. In the bottom of the 8th inning, with the bases loaded and 1 out, Willie Harris goes up hacking on a 3-0 pitch from a guy who couldn't hit the strike zone if it was the size of a blimp. He runs to first, and reaches safely on a fielder's choice force out at home. He then decides to walk off of the field of play, and into the dugout, violation of Rule 7.08 Subsec. J, and is called out. I don't have any idea what was going through Willie Harris' head, maybe he thought there were 3 outs? Maybe he thought... I don't even know. But it was boneheaded, and he certainly won't be getting the Silver Elvis wig this fortnight.

Finally, the quick rundown of other notables from Game 17:
  • Tony Plush has twice as many triples (4) on the year as doubles (2), and one of each of those tonight. That's just... wow. The man is a sports car with legs.
  • Tyler Clippard has turned into "Set-up Man Extraordinaire." He's the Nats wins leader (3-0), meaning he keeps the team in games to allow for big comebacks; he's appeared in 8 games, pitched 13 2/3 innings, has 2 holds, and 18 Ks. He's become the true rock of the bullpen early on.
  • Pudge left the game early with lower back tightness. Hopefully it's nothing, otherwise, the Nats going to be really hurting behind the plate.

Stay tuned this weekend for the first post with images from Capitol Baseball's seats in Section 409.

Atila-no the Hun

Luis Atilano looks to command the mound tonight in his MLB debut like Attila led the Hunnic Empire in 440 AD: with brute force.

Atilano was drafted in 2003 by the Atlanta Braves , and has remained in the NL East ever since. Despite his propensity for injuries, the Braves before and the Nationals now, see major upside in this starting righty. And his start of the season in Syracuse, it's easy to see why. Atilano's 2-0 with an outstanding 1.64 ERA. Two runs in two starts ain't half bad, either.

That said, why am I not excited? I'll tell you why. It's Luis Atilano. He has looked great in the 'Cuse this year thus far, and was 2-0 in AAA last year, too. But we've seen time and time again that minor league success simply doesn't always translate to major league success. Now let me be clear, I am not saying that Atilano will be bad. It just is hard to gauge how good this kid guy will be until we see what he looks like against Manny Ramirez, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp, not the minor league's equivalent of Pete Orr. I'm excited for his outing, and you should be, too. Let's just be happy it's not the "hi I'm not hurt, oh actually, nevermind, I have loose bodies in my elbows" Jason Marquis.

UPDATE: Here's today's lineup. I hope that the Nats can get some offense from it to help out in Atilano's debut.

1. Tony Plush, 8
2. Adam Kennedy, 4
3. Cristian Guzman, 6
4. Adam Dunn, 3
5. Josh Willingham, 7
6. Pudge, 2
7. Willie Harris, 5
8. J. Max, 9
9. Luis Atilano, 1

A Pitcher's Dual for One and An Epic Shutout for Another (rant included)

Yesterday did not disappoint for those who were looking for that pitcher's dual between Livan and Ubaldo. The Nationals (now 8-8; 4th in NL East) lost the game 2-0, and once again were unable to make the surge to 2 games over .500. With the loss last night, the Nats were hit with their first loss of the season when the starting pitcher pitched more than 5 innings (Hernandez went 8). That said, that means they're still 7-1 when the starter goes more than 5, so I'll take those odds.

As for the overall game and the starters, the Rockies never got a sustained rally in this last game of the series. Livan gave up two big flies to Miguel Olivo and the hot-hitting Ian Stewart, but there were no strong back-to-back hit RBI situations. Hernandez actually only gave up 2 hits other than the home runs. In any other game with this year's Nats offense, that would have been enough. It just so happens that Ubaldo Jimenez was on the mound for the other guys, and he looked remarkable once again.

Hernandez (with a still incredible 0.75 ERA) more than exceeded my expectations in a follow up to 2 spectacular games; he had as many K's as Jimenez did (5), and had more in last nights game than in his two other starts combined (4). But Jimenez, now 4-0 on the year and tied for the best in the NL with Roy Halladay, got the results. 7 1/3 innings of shutout, 5-hit baseball in the outing immediately after his no-hitter against Atlanta. My hat is off to Jimenez, who is now, statistically, among the best pitchers in baseball.

In other remarkable baseball news, the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 20-0 in their day game yesterday at PNC Park. Yes, that's right: 20-0. This is the 5th largest shut out margin since 1900 and the worst loss in the Pirates 124 year history. This game was total annihilation by a Brewers team that lost its series with the Washington Nationals. While everyone has a bad day (see first inning of Nats/Brewers game on April 18), this is just the continuation of a depressing streak for the Pittsburgh faithful. It was bad enough that it has been 17, count em, 17 seasons since the Bucs have had a winning season. Now you have to add this to the pitiful display.

These stories of baseball incompetence have to make you wonder if at some point the league needs to intervene to correct the gross mismanagement of that ball club. Sorry Brewers fans, but the destruction of the Pirates last night had less to do with your talent, and more to do with the Pirates status as the bottom-feeders of the league for almost two decades.

Come back later tonight for a preview of Luis Atilano's MLB debut and game one of the Dodgers series with Nats tonight. As always, comments below are welcome!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rockies at Nats: The Young and the Workhorse

This afternoon, the Washington Nationals will take on the Colorado Rockies for their 9th day game of the season at 4:35 pm. For your useless information, the Nats are 6-3 in day games, and 2 of those 3 losses were against the defending NL Champion Philadelphia Phillies; the 3rd loss was Jason Marquis' disastrous 7 earned run with no-recorded outs appearance against the Brewers.

1. Nyjer Morgan, 8
2. Cristian Guzman, 9
3. Willie Harris, 7
4. Adam Dunn, 3
5. Pudge Rodriguez, 2
6. Adam Kennedy, 4
7. Ian Desmond, 6
8. The Attorney General (Gonzalez), 5
9. Livo, 1

Above is the Zimmerman-less line up for today, but you should really keep your eyes in tight on today's game for one reason: pitching.
  • Nationals SP: Livan Hernandez -- 0.00 ERA in 2 winning starts, allowing only 9 hits in 16 innings, and including a complete game, 4-hit shut out.
  • Rockies SP: Ubaldo Jimenez -- 1.29 ERA in 3 winning starts. His most recent? A no-hitter against the Braves on April 17th and the first in the 17 year history of the Colorado Rockies.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention, Jimenez is 26 years old. Livo? "35." And I use that age loosely.

This is simply one of the best pitching duals that the NL can offer right now. Livan has proven to be a machine for every ball club he's played for, not only as an innings-eating pitcher, but as one hell of a hitting pitcher (the man has a .227 batting average, which is certainly nothing to scoff at over a 14 year major league career). He'll certainly have his bad outings, but who doesn't?

Jimenez is the cornerstone of the Rockies rotation. In his 3 wins, Jimenez has 20 Ks, compared with Livo's 4. The pitching styles couldn't possibly contrast more.
  • Fastballs: Jimenez is the proverbial hard-thrower, with fastballs well into the upper-90s, sometimes reaching 100 mph. Hernandez throws mid-80s fastballs, and mid-80s is often generous.
  • Breaking pitches: Jimenez breaking pitches will make your head spin, usually coming in at the speed of Livo's fastballs and moving all over the zone. Hernandez's change up and curveball are about the speed of a little league fastball, upper-60s to lower 70s.
If Jimenez is going to pitch well, he's going to have to strike out a lot of guys. He averages around 7 Ks per game. This helps him get out of a jam, as he can sometimes get wild with his pitches.

If Livan is going to pitch well, he's going for the exact opposite result. He has to keep his walks low, because he's not often going to get a K to get him out of trouble. He's a ground ball/fly ball pitcher, and he's embraced that status.

I can't wait to watch this game, to see if the Nats can finally break the barrier and get 2 whole games above .500, rather than the game they're playing now going above, even, above, even. I look forward to your comments below!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Washington Nationals, a .500 ball club?

For the first time in nearly 5 seasons, the Washington Nationals are a consistent .500 baseball team. With their win tonight against the Colorado Rockies, the Nats succeeded in yet another comeback win with a decent outing by the starter, John Lannan (4 ER on 11 hits in 6 innings). While this isn't the best line in the world, it helped lead the Nats to another Curly W and push them a game above .500 (8-7). While Tyler Clippard (3-0) got the win for his 2 innings of scoreless, one-hit work, the Nationals have been a remarkable 8-0 when starters have gone 5 innings or more and 0-7 when the starter has failed to go 5 innings. An accident? I think not.

The Washington Nationals made huge strides in the off season to become a better all-around ball club. Here are just a few:
  • Livan Hernandez: a machine in his own right, after two starts, an ERA of 0.00. One of them a complete game shut out. Statistically it doesn't get better in the NL right now for a starter.
  • Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez: The "what the hell were you thinking" signing of the off-season. Everyone thought Pudge was washed up. Well, tell that to him, he's shown new life in 2010.
  • Jason Marquis: I'm sure I wasn't the only one who was relieved to see Marquis put on the DL tonight. He was a great off-season acquisition. An All-Star pitcher, Marquis has had a rough start to 2010, but his move to the DL may show that he's been pitching hurt, and he can recover. If that's how he was pitching healthy, we'd be in real trouble. Once he comes back, he'll have to show he's worth the $7.5 million the Nats are paying him. If he doesn't, he's going to get kicked to the curb, and fast, once Stephen "Jesus" Strasburg gets called up.
  • Matt Capps: The interesting closer selection that everyone ragged on for being too fat for a closer is now 7 for 7 in save opportunities.
Mike Rizzo and company knew what their weaknesses were, and went to fill the gaps as best they could. The Nats are now above .500 for the first time since late 2005 and for the first time since their move to Nationals Park. Yet, this team is still only drawing crowds of BARELY over 11,000. In a 41,888 seat stadium, it's hard hard to imagine that number being far above the season tickets sold. A sad display, indeed.

Here's hoping that this team can keep winning so the Nats can experience what the Washington Capitals have experienced in the last few seasons. The Caps went from filling half the seats at the Verizon Center to a sell out every game and a real following in the city. Maybe a winning season is just what the Nats need to get some butts in the seats and some excitement about baseball in DC for the first time since 2005.

The start of something good.

Well hey there, and thanks for taking a look at my first blog post. I'll spend most of this post trying to explain what you can expect when you come here. The way I figure it, I don't think I should waste your time if I'm never going to talk about anything that you care about. I plan to keep the blog mostly sports related: Washington Nationals for baseball, Philadelphia Flyers for hockey, and Washington Redskins when they do something stupid, which is a lot. I will definitely talk about other teams and sports topics of the day. If you like what I'm talking about, feel free to follow me. I'd appreciate it.

I'm going to leave the comment section wide open, for your constructive criticism and input. I'm a junior blogger, so appreciate comments, and I'm sure comments will fuel new blog posts.

And to conclude, I have to do what I'll try to make a tradition... the "what I'm watching tonight" section.

What I'm Watching Tonight: Californication (just started, and it's great), the Nats and the Rockies, and the Caps and the Habs.

My next post will be more substantive, thanks for reading.