Monday, May 31, 2010

Ryans and Nyjers and Strasburgs: Oh my!

Happy Memorial Day to all of you out in Natstown, especially to the individuals and families that have dedicated their lives to protecting our wonderful country. It would be cliché to say this if it weren't so true, but every one of the 300 million of us owe you a debt of gratitude for your selflessness in service. Now I try to tackle the big news of the weekend without losing my cool (see disclaimer at bottom for an explanation).

My initial idea for today's post was going to be about how the Nats were seeing Roy Oswalt before the Nats offer some prospects (Chris Marrero and Chris Duncan, anyone?) and an obscene amount of guaranteed money for the Astros ace behind closed doors. Because let's face it, the Nats need starting pitching. But Oswalt got tossed in the 3rd inning for showing his displeasure for the home plate umpire's strike zone a bit too excessively. In fairness to Oswalt, it did appear that he was squeezed on a pitch to Adam Dunn, who rocked a 3 RBI double to right center later in the at-bat. He may have had a legitimate gripe. But after his short and unimpressive 4 run outing before the ejection, I was panicked thinking of a new blog post idea. But thanks to a 9 run 7th inning in a blowout and Mike Rizzo's Strasburgeriffic news, my job was pretty much done for me.

In the afternoon holiday game, the Nats simply exploded offensively, scoring 14 runs over the Astros, with 9 of them coming in the 7th inning. The Nats haven't scored that many runs in one inning since the team returned to the District. They did it on the efforts of Ryan Zimmerman and... Nyjer Morgan? What?

Coming into Memorial Day, Tony Plush (he earned the name back after this outing) was 2 out of his last 23. He acknowledged he was swinging a bat of ice and he needed to fix it. Everyone that watched him play saw his desperation to recover, which was making him even worse and more frustrated. A vicious cycle. So Jim Riggleman, like Nostradamus, said, Let's try Nyjer batting 2nd behind Guzzie. Well, it resulted in a 3 for 4 day, plus a walk, and 4 runs scored for Nyjer in that 2nd spot. This may be a fairly permanent change for the Nats in the coming weeks. Why change a good thing?

And then: Gentleman Zimm. Zimmerman had an OBP of 1.000 today. Basically, that pretty much sums up Zimm's night. 2 walks, plus 2 hits, including a big fly that landed him 3 of his 4 RBI. The stats speak more loudly than I can at the moment.

Then there's the news. STEPHEN STRASBURG WILL START JUNE 8TH! I would make that flash and blink and stuff, but I mean, every sports organization on the planet has already broken that story, so I won't beat it to death. But he probably is the best pitcher ever, right Curt Schilling? Of course, the game sold out in about an hour. Most of the tickets probably went to Phillies fans because of Stan Kasten. Or maybe not, I'm just speculating.

As a note of disclaimer: I'm fully aware that this post is unusually sarcastic, but my brain is still trying to process a Flyers loss, putting them down 2-0 in the series against the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals after an incredibly dominating 3rd period performance. The frustration is working its way out in rancorous form. I'll get back on the wagon tomorrow with a legit post along the lines of "Seriously, why isn't Cristian Guzman the Nats every day 2nd baseman? I mean... really?!" Until then...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Nats Take Game 1 from NL-leading Padres

Well, after a weird start to Game 1 against San Diego, John Lannan had a great outing for a 5-3 win. When Padres Manager Bud Black submitted his lineup card on Friday evening, he listed Adam Russell as the starting pitcher. The problem with that? Well Adam Russell had just been sent down to AAA Portland earlier in the day. It was Clayton Richard who was supposed to get the start. The Nats officially protested the game; the umpires accepted, which meant if the Nats had lost, the league would have reviewed the game.

It wasn't a problem though, largely because of a 7 inning outing for the Nats starter Lannan, now 2-2. It was the first time any Nats starter had gone 7 or more innings since May 9th. On Friday, Lannan got 12 ground ball outs on only 88 pitches and 1 earned run. Good old fashioned Lannan ball. The Nats are surely thrilled to have the old-school New Yorker back. The Nats are now 23-0 when leading after 8 innings. That's a stat that you like to see from your team. Here's the breakdown:

The offense was almost non-existent for either team until the top of the 4th when Josh Willingham crushed a 3-run homer to deep center field off Clayton Richard (the actual starter). In the top of the 7th, with Richard still pitching, Ian Desmond went deep to left for his 4th HR on the year. This put the Nats up 4-1, and the Nats never looked back... almost.

In the bottom of the 7th, the first base ump missed a call on what almost became a crucial play in the game. Adam Dunn clearly tagged out Oscar Salazar in a not-so-close play at first. The Nats should have had their first out there. That play translated into a run for San Diego, making the game 4-2.

In the 8th, Clippard came in and looked great. His fastball was dancing all over. The kid needed some time off, which he's gotten lately. Unfortunately, it's because the Nats haven't been winning as many games, but Clippard looks like he's gotten enough rest to be effective here for a bit.

The Nats got a 5th run in the 9th after Adam Dunn laced a double to right center that would have been a home run in basically any other ball park. Adam Kennedy came in to pinch run, got moved over to 3rd, and Ian Desmond laid down a beautiful bunt for hit on a squeeze to score Kennedy, making the lead 5-2. Here's where the game got stressful.

Good ol' Matty Capps came in to attempt a save and looked a bit rattled to start once again, like he did in his first blown save of the game. He let a guy on first to start, and then Desmond, after a great game offensively, had 1 official error early in the game, and a costly non-error error in the 9th going for a spectacular play that got no outs with 2 men on base. Capps then continuously pitched away to Jerry Hairston, Jr. and allowed a slow rolling single, and the bases were loaded with no outs.

After he was put in this situation, Capps started to get squeezed. No strikes anywhere. So then Capps was forced to throw it over the plate for an RBI single, making the game 5-3 with the bases still loaded. Then Capps had to face the very dangerous (and significantly thinner) Matt Stairs. After leaving pitch after pitch up in the zone, Capps throws a breaking ball down the middle of the plate that Stairs just looked at, probably in awe that he had the audacity to throw it, for the 1st out. Then Capps struck out Venable for the 2nd out. To end the game, David Eckstein grounded out to Zimm. A good old fashioned Capps style save. Which he apologized for at the end of the game saying, "I'm sorry to make it interesting." Class act.

One bad note for the game, Maxwell looked terrible once more. He was swinging at bad pitches and never really made solid contact. He was (one more time) sent down to AAA Syracuse to make room for a pitcher, J.D. Martin, who will start today against the Padres in place of the injured Scott Olsen.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Nats bullpen flounders, putting the them in familiar territory

Yesterday against the Giants, the Nats sort of were clicking on lots of cylinders. Stammen was pitching better than average, which he needed to even have a shot as staying in the rotation. The Nats jumped out to an early lead (3-1), which they have done a lot this year. When Stammen was all done, he was charged with 2 earned runs, plus 1 on an error, and put him in place for his 2nd win of the season. But the bullpen, and a weirdly-shaped and -marked ball park, saw to it that there was no such luck.

Sean Burnett came in and claimed his 2nd loss of the season, failing to record an out for the 3rd time this season. Big reason why: he's simply been terrible against lefties, which is not what you want to see from your lefty specialist pitcher. It's easy to see Doug Slaten squeeze into this role more and more in the coming weeks, because Burnett simply cannot get the job done. He is much better against righties, so he may become a righty specialist as a lefty. Here's some proof:
  • Against righties: .091 average with a .091 slugging. Burnett hasn't given up more than a single against any right he's faced. He has walked 5 righties though, in only 22 ABs.
  • Against lefties: .271 average with a .455 slugging (3 doubles and a home run). He's only walked one, but he's given up so many hits in those chances, his "efficiency" is a joke.
As a last note for the people at AT&T Park. Something needs to be done about your upper deck situation. I'm not sure that anyone will ever know if the ball Adam Dunn hit was a home run. If there was a widely available rule available, it would be different. But hitting a railing above the physical concrete would seem to be a home run. A yellow line needs to be added to the stadium. I know it's an eyesore to a very beautiful park, but otherwise there will be discrepancies on home runs that will cost teams a game.

Because of a collapsing bullpen and a questionable home run call, the Nats are back in familiar place. Last place in the NL East and headed into a 3 game series against the best team in the NL West. Bad odds for a struggling team. The Nats need to get on a roll again, and fast.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Stammen Limps into Next Start

Craig Stammen and his less-than-stellar 5.96 ERA enter today's afternoon match up with the San Francisco Giants and Barry Zito. You may think, "oh, Barry Zito, he's not that good anymore." My response: think again.

In his first three years in San Francisco (2007-09), Zito's season ERA was over 4.00, and his record was below .500 all three years. This year, Zito is 6-2 with a cool 2.80 ERA with 37 strikeouts. Zito has pitched at least 5 innings in each game, but he's averaging almost 7 innings a game. As a lefty pitcher, Zito is pitching better against righties (.219) than lefties (.242), and he's only given up one home run all season. This 32 year old, 10-year veteran is having a career season like his early days in Oakland.

Stammen is a bit of a different case. He's struggling immensely. His last 2 decisions have been losses, and the team has lost 4 of his last 6 starts. In those 6 starts, he's averaging just around 5 2/3 innings per game, and he already has two starts this year where he didn't make it 5 innings. His ERA has hovered between 5.00 and 6.00 in his last 4 starts. It's easy to make excuses and call it an anomaly, but if we look at his starts last year, it obviously isn't.

Stammen ended 2009 with a 5.11 ERA in 19 starts and hovered around 5.00 all year. His ERA was never below 4.14 and even that was only for 1 game. Unfortunately, this track record isn't one conducive to a lot of success. Maybe Stammen figures it out, and maybe he doesn't. What is painfully obvious, however, is the Nats can't afford to have too many more starts with Craig Stammen on the rubber. With the Nats still competitive only 4 days from June, it's time for a shakeup. It's becoming clearer and clearer that Stammen should be replaced in the rotation when Strasburg comes up in about about 2 weeks.

Maybe he ends up in the bullpen and poor Justin Maxwell gets optioned to the minors yet again to make the roster space. Maybe he gets sent down to Syracuse or Harrisburg to figure his stuff out. Maybe none of these things happen, because I'm purely speculating. But one thing is for sure, the Nats need to act quickly to stop up this massive hole in the rotation before it's too late.

Nats Subdue The Freak

Tim Lincecum goes 4 2/3 innings, giving up 6 earned runs and 5 walks. It was an unpleasant display. The real problems started for Lincecum in the 5th.

Adam Kennedy stole his way around the bases after being walked in the 5th. Lincecum never looked to hold guys on base. Zimmerman stole a base as well after being walked.

Ian Desmond put the icing on the cake to The Freak's outing with 2 outs in the 5th. To take a term from Todd Wellenmeyer last night, Desmond had a "duck fart" single to right field that scored Zimm and Hammer, putting the Nats up 6-0. Lincecum got yanked here, and then Denny Bautista got them out of the jam after he threw a wild pitch that let Desmond get to 2nd.

Eventually the Nats added another run, and the Giants got 3, give the Nats a 7-3 victory and putting them at 24-23 on the year.

It was the kind of breakdown that you don't expect to see from the reigning 2 time NL Cy Young Award winner who is now 5-1 on the year. The likelihood of the Nats losing to a 5+ ERA guy like Wellenmeyer and losing to a less than 3 ERA guy like Lincecum were against the, but again, the team figured it out. This sort of success against a Cy Young winner may have been exactly what the Nats needed to get their stagnating offense a boost. In the 11 games prior to last night, the Nats had scored more than 5 runs only twice, one of them was in a 10-7 loss against the Mets.

On the other side, Atilano looked great until the 6th inning, where he looked like he almost gave up a bit. But never fear, Doug Slaten got them out of the inning. Storen gave up another run in his one inning appearance on a walk and a hit, but the run was not earned on an Ian Desmond error. Tyler Clippard had a great 2 inning outing to close the game where he gave up 1 hit and struck out two. He threw 19 pitches in 2 innings, and 14 of them were strikes.

The Nats looked great against a San Fran offense that has struggled all year. The Nats will try for the same results this afternoon at 3:45 in the east before they head down the coast to San Diego for a 3 game series against the NL West leading Padres.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Adam Dunn Talks Strasburg, Lincecum, Nyjer's Tantrum, and Golf

The Nats are obviously in San Francisco for the 2nd of 3 against the Giants, and the club gets to face reigning 2 time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. The Nats lost last night after Livan had a rough bottom of the 5th that started with a Todd Wellenmeyer "duck fart" single with 2 outs. I swear, that's what he called it. The Giants went on to sore 4 in the inning, and the Nats couldn't recover. It was Livan Hernandez's first loss of the year to someone that wasn't named Jimenez. Tonight, Luis Atilano gets to face the Cy Young winner Lincecum. Talk about a mismatch. Hey, even a blind squirrel gets a nut every once in a while.

Today on the Scott Van Pelt Show on ESPN Radio, Adam Dunn talked to Scott and Ryen about Lincecum, the Nats .500 record, last year's bullpen, Nyjer Morgan tantrum, free golf clubs, and yes, Stephen Strasburg.

When asked how he is going to go about facing Tim tonight, Adam responded simply, "Swing hard in case you hit it." Hopefully Adam heeds his own words and doesn't strike out looking more than once. I know, I'm being optimistic.

When asked about the Nats exciting .500 season this far, Adam responded, "It's where we thought we would be.... We're gonna score runs, we just gotta hold them under a touchdown." Maybe a bit of a jab there to the starting pitching that has floundered a bit lately? I support it. The only two guys that have held their weight (joke kinda intended her) have been Hernandez and, surprisingly John Lannan since his return. Of course Scott Olsen is on the list, but he's on the DL now, so I'm not including him. DL is a killer for starting pitchers all too often to be excited about Scott's return.

In what is a stupid journalistic question, co-host Ryen Russillo asked "Are you underrated or overrated as a player?" To which Dunn responded, "Oh overrated, no doubt." Love the sass on the WTF question. He was also asked about how much better this year's bullpen has been than last year. After giving due credit to the "7th, 8th, and 9th inning guys," Adam said what we all know, "That's [the bullpen] what killed us last year."

Of course the guys asked Dunn how much flack Nyjer Morgan got after his 5 year old poutfest in center field that caused an inside-the-park home run. Adam: "He's such an emotional guy and you don't wanna crush him... He takes the stuff personal, in a good way, I'm not trying to say he's sensitive.... He was on suicide watch that night man." Nyjer returned ready to play the next game, so maybe he needed the embarrassment that game.

On a cool note, Dunn got a free set of golf clubs from Callaway for hitting a 471 foot blast of a home run. Apparently, Adam plays golf and when asked how far his drive is, he said only about 280, to which he added, "I'm a finesse player, dude."

And of course, Stephen Strasburg.

SVP: "What's the first thing your gonna say to this young pitcher when he gets called up...?"

AD: "Just be as good as you're supposed to be.... No, I wouldn't tell him that.... He's a good kid. I learned a lot about him in spring; he's gonna handle this well. He is what he is. Really good."

On when he'll be coming up, he said, "I'm hearing next homestand, but I haven't got the official report." Well when you do Adam, let us all know, would you? I have about 41,888 friends that would like to be there for it.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bryce Harper's Great Game & A Look at Metal Bats

Bryce Harper is the Washington Nationals prospect for the #1 overall pick in the 2010 draft next month had one heck of a going away game. He is 17 years old. That’s right folks; he was born in 1992. All gasps aside, the Nats are looking to get the young guy on the team for many reasons, but the main one is his grotesque power. And he proved that in what is mostly likely his final game for the College of Southern Nevada. He hit 4 home runs for 10 RBI. The stat is astounding. But the stat alone begs a new question about metal bats. Should we eliminate them?

Through modern technology, companies can create lighter aluminum bats for faster bat speed, and therefore faster ball speed. Baseballs are optimized to come off of the bat at well more than 90 miles per hour. It is dangerous for everyone involved, but mostly the pitcher, who after his windup and follow through is often less than 55 feet from the plate. In 2003, Brandon Patch was pitching in an American Legion game and was hit directly in the head with a ball off of an aluminum bat. He was dead the same day. This alone should be enough reason to switch to wood bats. One death is too many.

Metal bats also affect player development. In a month’s time, Bryce Harper is not going to have the benefit of swinging a lighter, more responsive bat. He’ll be swinging the same bat as everyone else, putting him at a competitive disadvantage. I’m not saying the kid won’t figure it out, like other major league stars, but it is a learning curve on bat speed and sweet spots. Pitchers are also affected by the metal bats. They pitch to different parts of the plate, and the sweet spot is the entire bat. It’s a real problem all the way around.

Wooden bats have their own risks. Maple bats are known to explode when they’re broken. Shards of wood fire across the field, and too often into the stands. Eventually, a spectator who isn’t paying attention will be killed. Or maybe just one who doesn’t have enough time to react. After studies by the Baseball Research Center at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Jim Sherwood proved that maple has no performance advantage over ash bats, but ash bats simply crack. They don’t shatter. But even with the risks that maple bats hold, it’s less than those of metal bats.

It is time now for both the NCAA and for Major League Baseball to act to save lives. The NCAA needs to only use ash bats, and high schools and little leagues across the country need to follow suit. Major League Baseball needs to either prohibit maple bats or adjust weight and diameter requirements to be closer. No one should be allowed to have a 34 inch bat that weighs only 30 ounces. It’s a real addition to the problem.

If the NCAA makes these changes, you won’t see many (if any) more 4 home run games from guys like Bryce Harper. Nor will you see as many 25-11 stat lines like CSN had in their win. But we’ll have far fewer stories of people dying after being hit by a ball off of a baseball bat, and that should be the #1 priority.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

How Lannan Got His Groove Back

Today, John Lannan came back strong and looked healthy in a Washington Nationals 4-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles 2 games 1, and the Nats are now 23-22 on the season. Lannan was in line to get the win until Matt Capps got his first blown save of the season in the bottom of the 9th inning with 2 outs when the O's tied the game.

Lannan came into the game laboring in his last 4 starts, giving up a total of 15 runs. The Nats only won 1 of those 4 games in a 14-6 trouncing of the Rockies back on May 13th. Today's John Lannan looked like a completely different pitcher. He had a rough top of the first, giving up 2 hits to start the game. He then settled in, only allowing one of those runs to score on a sacrifice grounder to Guzman. Those were the only 2 hits that Lannan gave up in his 5 1/3 innings of work.

A two hit appearance that gets you one out into the 6th inning is nothing to scoff at for a guy that was hurt only a few starts ago. Additionally, his ratios are getting better. He had almost twice as many ground ball outs (which is Lannan's bread and butter) as he did fly ball outs. It's good to see Lannan back in Lannan-esque form.

Drew Storen came on and pitched 1 2/3 innings in relief of Lannan, and got his first career professional hit in his first career at bat in the majors OR minors on a line drive laced into left center. It was amazing, and the crowd gave him a great ovation after the hit. I hope he got the ball. This kid is a stud worth watching. Also, did you know that Drew Storen is a switch hitter? Wow.

After a solid 8th by Burnett and Clippard, Capps came into the game in search of his 17th save on the year. Instead, he got his first blown save all season. As disappointed as I was to see Capps blow the save, it's remarkable that it took 17 save attempts and 45 games to get his first blown save. Now, the club will have to see if he can rebound from the disappointment.

One person will make that rebound much, much easier. Josh Willingham worked some extra inning magic in the bottom of the 10th inning with a walk off home run against the O's sidewinder Cla Meredith. The Nats got to this point because of a great top of the 10th by Doug Slaten.

This Nationals team, as bloggers and team reporters have said time and time again, continues to display remarkable confidence on the field that no matter what curveball is thrown at them (cliché intended), they can and will rebound. I don't think that more than 1/4 of the way through the season anyone can say that this is a fluke anymore. The Nats are excited to be contending, and the results show. From Lannan's great rebound after some bad starts and an injury, to Drew Storen meeting and exceeding his expectations (which were already lofty), to the offense's ability to get clutch hits. Most notably Josh Willingham. The Nats are here to stay as a team hovering around .500 this year. It's going to be fun to watch the remaining 3/4 of the season.

Friday, May 21, 2010

This is (not) Birdland

Well, interleague play has begun in Major League Baseball. The Baltimore Orioles come to town to take on the Nats for a 3 game weekend series in this epic rivalry. HA! Ok, I almost kept a straight face there... It's fun to have a pretend-rival though, eh? God, do I hate Peter Angelos though.

I'll be attending the Sunday game, where the Nats have yet to release a starter. Which is curious, because that's Lannan's scheduled start day. Color me concerned.

When the National Anthem is performed at Nationals Park this 3 day weekend, Nats fans should expect a lot more "OH's" at the end of the Anthem, and a lot of Halloween colors in the crowd with the park right up I-95, but other than that, they certainly shouldn't expect much competition.

Baltimore comes to town with a 2009 Nats-like record of 13-29 (the Nats were 12-28 a year ago today) and are cruising along as the worst team in baseball so far this season. The Orioles have had almost incomprehensibly low attendance numbers, some games not even breaking 10,000, for what is among the most beautiful parks in all of baseball. The Nats need to take at least 2 of these games, if not all 3, because they're going on a very difficult road trip to the left coast to face two NL West contenders and some really great pitching.

Look no further than yesterday's Capitol Baseball post, where I talked about my concerns with Nyjer Morgan. Jim Riggleman obviously agreed, because Morgan has the day off today with Bernadina getting CF responsibilities and Willie Harris in the lead off spot. O's RHP David Hernandez will start with his 5.84 ERA and 0-5 record. Gross indeed. In his 7 appearances, Hernandez has failed to go longer than 6 innings and he gives up lots of walks in those short outings, averaging more than 3 a game.

The Nats will have no excuse for not handling the O's in every aspect of the game with Scott Olsen's 3.15 and 2-1 record on the mound. They need to get the momentum back, and they need to do it soon if they want to still be in any sort of contention when Jesus comes up in just two weeks. They can't afford another extended losing streak, or they will quickly find themselves disappointed, once again, at the All-Star break. If they can keep it going, we might start hearing much more 2005 Nats team talk, which would be a welcome change of pace for many Nats fans.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Who do we get today? Tony Plush or Nyjer Morgan.

Yesterday's two remarkable situations in the Nationals game both involved Nyjer Morgan:
  • The first inside-the-park home run at Nats Park

  • An unusual (and questionable) triple play

The inside-the-park home run was certainly a result of shotty fielding. When a player is at his home park, he should know how far he is from the wall at all times. Nyjer should have known that the hit by Angel Pagan wasn't going over the wall and relayed it in to keep Pagan to a triple. But he didn't.

This is only the most recent of mistakes by Nyjer in the field. He has overthrown cutoff men. He has as many errors this year (3) as he had all of last season with the Pirates and the Nats. That's tied for worst among enter fielders in the NL with Andrew McCutchen (PIT). He's also 25th out of 26 in fielding percentage among NL center fielders. Both dismal stats, indeed.

Then, there is the baserunning. And those of us that watch the team on a daily basis know, it's been pretty awful so far. Morgan started out hot, stealing his way from 1st to 2nd and then 2nd to 3rd in the same at bat. And then the other team figured him out. I don't know if they're reading signs or just know when he runs, but they know at least half the time.

In 16 attempts this year, Nyjer has only successfully stolen a base 8 times. That's a wasted baserunner more often than not. I know that Nyjer is probably the fastest guy the Nats have (maybe Bernadina?), but he hasn't figured out how to make that speed into smart decisionmaking. I'd like to say it looks like Riggleman has put up the stop sign for now, but Morgan has attempted stealing 4 times in the last 10 games, and was caught twice. These are not quality numbers for your fastest player.

His at bats have been so-so lately, but certainly better than his fielding and baserunning numbers. Morgan is swinging a bat of ice, batting just .162 in his last 10 games. Not exactly the numbers you're looking for from a leadoff guy. To give him his due credit, he has a respectable .351 OBP in that same 10 game span. So he's getting on base, but getting thrown out in too many chances to advance on his speed.

In a conversation with my very good friend Craig at Jim Bowden's Segway, I complained about Nyjer's regular attempts to bunt for hits. I am regularly frustrated by his lack of willingness to swing the bat, while Craig supports the efforts if it will get Nyjer on base and turned into Tony Plush once again. What are your thoughts, blogosphere?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nats Thrilled for Return Home

The Washington Nationals are now 20-20. The Nats look to be on their way back down to earth, but let's examine the start of the coming homestand.

The Mets are coming to DC for the first time this year. They're in last place, but only a game behind the 3rd place Nats. Unfortunately, the Nats are coming off of a dreadful 5 game losing streak for a 3-6 road trip. Fortunately, 2 of those wins are against the Mets at Citi Field. The Nats have basically had the Mets number this year: the Nats are 4-2 against at Citi this season. The Nats are 11-8 at home on the season and are looking to monopolize on their success at home with a start from their newly found "ace" on short rest.

Livan Hernandez volunteered to pitch on short rest after the double header in Colorado, which the Nats were already considering according to Jim Riggleman. Livo is 4-2 on the year with his only to losses on days that he pitched against Ubaldo Jimenez, who is one of only 2 starters in the league with a better ERA than him. Livan has looked great in every outing thus far, averaging just over 7 innings per game and allowing only 9 runs all season with a 1.46 ERA. If the Nats are going to win today, it's going to have to be on a very solid start from Livan on only 3 days rest. Maybe it's asking too much from the 35 year old, but he says he's ready for it.

Facing Livan is R.A. Dickey, a Mets aquisition from the Twins who will be making his first start in the NL. He has a career 5.43 ERA and throws a lot of knuckleballs. The last time the Nats faced a knuckleballer, Charlie Haeger of the LA Dodgers, they lit him up for 4 runs in 5 1/3 innings. It might not be a great comparison, though, because Haeger was just put on the DL with an 0-4 record and an 8.49 ERA. That game was also Luis Atilano's first win, for those keeping track.

The Nats will try to get things back on the right track with this short 5 game road trip before they get back on the road for another 10 games mostly on the left coast with San Fran and San Diego for 3 each and then Houston for 4. By the end of this road trip, the Nats will have played only 24 games at home and 31 on the road, so this homestand is crucial for this team to get the momentum going.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Stammen Stalls in Recent Appearances

Craig Stammen made his 8th appearance of the year in the first in this short two game series against the St. Louis Cardinals in Missouri on Monday night. Stammen faced a Cardinals club that has be struggling to produce much significant offense of late. So much so, that Cards Manager Tony LaRussa had reigning NL MVP Albert Pujols switch positions with Matt Holiday to bat in the clean up spot for the first time in nearly 7 years (May 30, 2003). Matt Holiday was batting just below .300, so LaRussa made the switch to try to get Holiday some insurance behind him. Turns out Pujols is just as dangerous in the clean up spot, but I’m sure no one thought he wouldn't be. He ended up with 3 singles in their 6-2 victory over the Nationals.

The Nationals have now lost 4 in a row on this road trip as they freefall back to earth after winning 5 of 6 just over a week ago to shoot them 5 games above .500. The team is now only a game above .500 at 20-19 with an offense that has almost completely stalled, not including their 14-6 trouncing of the Rockies last Thursday. The Nats have actually failed to score more than 3 runs in any outing since that game.

Just to illustrate the example: Ivan Rodriguez, just a few weeks ago, was batting over .400 and was one of the most remarkable stories in baseball. Since he went 4 for 4 against the Mets on May 10th, he has just 2 hits in 21 at bats (.095 average), dropping his average 57 points.

Stammen (1-2) got another loss, which is turning out to be conducive to his appearances of late. He gave up 4 ugly runs in the top of the first inning, and then calmed down for some efficient innings, and eventually made it 6 innings. But the damage had been done. The Nats have lost 4 of Stammen’s last 5 starts, and his ERA is still a very hefty 5.86. In his last 4 starts, Craig has failed to make it through the 7th inning once, and has only thrown a pitch past the 6th inning in one of those appearances.

In Monday’s appearance, Stammen threw 96 pitches in only 6 innings; in his last outing against the Mets he threw 100 pitches in a meager 5 innings. In his last two outings, he has 6 walks and 6 strikeouts. That’s hardly the ratio you want to see from your starting pitcher.

Stammen looks to be the easy pick at this point as the pitcher who will be sent down once Strasburg is ready to come up in a few short weeks. The weeks can’t possibly be short enough for the Nats, though. A few more weeks of struggles like these, and the excitement about their contending for a .500 record will be long, long gone.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bye Bye Mile High, Hello Drew Storen, & Good Riddance Brian Bruney

Well, this blogger has been calling for the Nats to fire RHP Brian Bruney since I started the blog. The Nats listened. Brian Bruney has been designated-for-assignment, so he'll likely be a free agent before long. Listening to his own inner-brilliance, Mike Rizzo has promoted RHP phenom Drew Storen, likely a few weeks before his "Super Two" date. So the Nats may lose some cash on him in the long run, but this shows that the club is looking to keep winning now, rather than looking to the future. That's exciting for someone who rarely misses a game.

Unfortunately, the Nats set the wrong kind of record this past weekend from Denver, although it was going to happen eventually. The team lost their 3rd consecutive game for the first time... all season. That's right, before the 3 consecutive losses to the Rockies in Colorado this past weekend, the Nats had not lost more than 2 games in a row in 2010. The Nats record has just plummeted to 20-18 (he says with juuuust a hint of sarcasm). I am still in awe of the Nats club that can lose 3 in a row, still be 2 games above .500 and be 3rd in the NL East.

A few thoughts on Brian Bruney are bulleted below, and why the Nats bullpen will be significantly better without him:
  • He sucked a lot and here's the proof.
  • This season as a reliever, Bruney had a disgusting 7.64 ERA in 19 games. In those 19 games, he gave up 18 runs on 21 hits and 20 walks. In 17 2/3 innings, he put 41 players on base.
  • The Nats lost 12 of Bruney's 19 appearances. Although he didn't get many decisions, Bruney was often put in the game with the Nats down only a run or two, and put the game out of reach by giving up runs.
  • Only twice in May did the Nats get a win on a Bruney appearance. In the final one as a National, the Nats were up 14-6.
To the big story, though, is Drew Storen's promotion to the Nats nearly 3 weeks before Stephen "the Messiah" Strasburg. This is great for the team, for Drew, and for Jesus for a few reasons bulleted below:
  • Although Strasburg is the #1 prospect in the organization, Storen would certainly have been the #1 pitching prospect if it weren't for Baseball Jesus.
  • He has been the antithesis of Bruney in the minors by sporting a 1.08 ERA in 16 2/3 innings with 15 Ks.
  • Storen now gets the benefit of coming up early and getting the stories focused on him for a few weeks before Jesus takes over national baseball coverage. He earned this by signing literally the week the Nats drafted him. He deserves the spotlight becaues of talent, dedication, and loyalty.
  • Strasburg will be happy to see his very young quasi-mentor in the minors get some well-deserved praise I'm sure.
Drew Storen is supposed to be the closer of the future for the Nats, although Matt Capps has fulfilled this role well this year. If Storen meets expections and is as great as advertised, Matt Capps may join Cristian Guzman on the trading block in July. However, if the team is still competing and the rest of the bullpen continues to under-produce, Capps may stay to close while Storen shares setup responsibilities with Clippard. And if nothing else, Clippard can give his violent delivery a rest a little more often to put off his inevitable surgery in the next few years.

I know I'll be closely monitoring the game today for a possible Storen appearance with Craig Stammen on the mound, who hasn't made it into the 6th inning in 2 of his last 3 starts. You know that Riggs will get Storen in there if he can.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Game 35: Way Too Late

The Nats offense was ridiculous, generating 14 runs in 8 innings. The ump waved the game off at around 1:13 am eastern, and I'm too tired to say much more than that. But the team looked great, although Lannan lost it in the 5th. Zimmerman had 2 home runs and a career high 6 RBI. The Nats ultimately won 14-8 in 8 innings when it was called for awful weather.

The club is 20-15 on the season for 1st in the NL Wild Card (just kidding, kinda). They're in sole possession of 2nd place in the NL East, 1 game back from Philly and 2 games ahead of the 3rd place Mets. This season just keeps getting better. A fair night to you all. Capitol Baseball will be in Pennsylvania for the long weekend Fri-Sun. I won't get much opportunity to watch anything but PA or NY sports, so the posts will be few and far between. I'll be watching the Flyers Game 7 on Friday evening, and you should too. There isn't much better than the hockey playoffs. Have a great weekend all.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Selig's Outrageous Phillies Mistake

This story came out today, and to me, it is simply outrageous.

The Philadelphia Phillies were scheduled to play the Toronto Blue Jays in inter-league play from June 25-27th in Toronto. It was going to be an exciting homecoming for Roy Halladay to the team where he really started his career. The G20 summit was, in an unfortunate coincidence, scheduled for that weekend in Toronto. The G20 generally draws a lot of protesters and, in the interested of player safety, Bud Selig and the MLB decided that the game needed to be moved from Toronto. A respectable move, because player safety is crucial. But the league decided to move it to Philadelphia. Please...

Moving this 3 game series to Philadelphia gives the Phillies, defending NL Champions two years in a row, 84 home games to everyone else in the NL East's 81 home games. The best team in the NL for 2 consecutive years does not need this kind of help. What is preventing MLB from moving this game to, I don't know, ANY other ballpark in the country? Why not Olympic Stadium in Montreal? At least then it's still in Canada!

This, of course, would happen in a year where the Washington Nationals start to compete as a real baseball team. They're putting up fights against the NL East teams and has taken at least one series from every team in the division except for the Phils. This just gives an incomprehensible advantage to the team in the NL that needs it least of all. And quite frankly, if the Washington Nationals got this advantage, I'd be just as outraged. It's just not right.

So Bud, you said in a statement, "After reviewing all of the options with the parties and taking all of the security considerations into account, it was determined that the best course of action is to play the series in Philadelphia. I appreciate the cooperation of the Blue Jays, the Phillies and all of the parties who have helped resolve this challenging situation." While you're conceding that the Jays will bat last and that there will be a DH, you obviously didn't consult any owners or GMs of the NL East teams. These inter-league games are basically irrelevant to both of these teams, meanwhile the rest of the NL East is getting screwed with their pants on.

Time for the league to man up, admit this is unfair, and move the game to a neutral site.

The Inevitable Happens: Nats Lose Heartbreaker 8-6

Last night's game was bound to happen. At the time, I was a bit too frustrated to objectively blog about it, so I've put it off until this morning.

Scott Olsen looked great again last night, although his outing was shorter than you'd like to see from your starter when your bullpen hasn't been great (minus Clippard and Capps who both needed a day off). Well that day off didn't come for Clipp, or Bruney, or Walker, or Batista, or Slaten. The Nats used 5 relievers in 3 2/3 innings that give up 6 runs and cost the Nationals the game.

It wasn't all bad, so let's go there first. The offense looked dominant again. In the top of the first inning, Adam Dunn hit a 3 run home run (Guzman and Zimmerman scored) for his 7th on the year. In the 5th, Ivan Rodriguez got yet another RBI hit to score Guzman and Zimmerman again. The next batter, Ian Desmond, scored Willingham on a single and before you knew it, the Nats were up 6-1 in the 5th and looked to be well on their way win #19 on the year and 2 games up on the Mets. Then... the bullpen happened.

Tyler Walker, the new #39, came in with 1 out in the 6th and got the next two batters, although he let the runner on third come home, but that earned run went to Olsen. It was not 6-2 going into the 7th. And then Doug Slaten came in for the 7th, gave up a hit and a walk, but got out of the inning with no more runs on the board. The Nats were rolling and looked to have it locked up. And then, as it has happened too often this year, Brian Bruney came in to just ruin the game.

Bruney entered the game in the top of the 8th inning, and in yet another outing failed to retire a batter. Bruney threw 7 pitches to 3 batters, and all of them got on base. Two solid hits by Jason Bay and David Wright, and a throwing error charged to Desmond on an Ike Davis ground ball. That scored Jason Bay. And that was it for Bruney. He failed to retire a single batter and for the 4th time in his last 6 outings, he gave up at least 1 run. This is not the job of someone you're paying $1.5 million to be the "set up guy." Then it was Clippard's turn to try and save the day.

Clippard came in inheriting runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs. Clipp struck out Jeff Francoeur and looked to be on his way. Instead, on the next batter he left a pitch over the plate for the new-found power hitter Rod Barajas who crushed one to deep left that hit off the wall for a double. It scored both runners on base, so Clippard let his 10th inherited runner score in 16 opportunities. Not the best situation for your #1 set up man to be in. Alex Cora then hit a bunt single moving Barajas to 3rd, Angel Pagan then singled to right, scoring Barajas and blowing his 5th save on the season.

Just to remind you, if you've already forgotten, the Nats entered the 8th up 6-2! It was now 7-6 and the Nats were losing. An epic bullpen meltdown, made possible by none other than the Brian -Gas Can- Bruney. Clippard then gave up another double, scoring Pagan and putting him in line for his first loss of the year. Miguel Batista came in to relieve Clippard (yes, this was the 3rd reliever on the inning, with only 1 out). He immediately intentionally walked Reyes to get the double play in order. Fine and good. Except, then he walked the next batter, Jason Bay, with the bases loaded. That's right, walked in the run. He then struck out David Wright and got Ike Davis to fly out, ending the painful 8th.

There would be no offensive heroics this time. The Nats (Rodriguez, Willingham, Desmond) went in order in the 9th to end the game and move back into a tie for 2nd in the NL East with the Mets.

Today's afternoon game to end the series at Citi Field will really show if the Nats are able to come back from such a meltdown. I know I've used meltdown twice in this post, I simply can't think of another word to describe last night's game. Craig Stammen will try to reverse the momentum of the 8th inning to move the Nats toward another win.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sean Burnett Not Meeting Expectations

The Nats picked up Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan from the Pittsburgh Pirates last year for Lastings Millidge and Joel Hanrahan. I have no idea how the Pirates would consider this a fair trade (it's a joke), but none the less, the Nats certainly benefitied from the transaction.

T. Plush has been a stand out, both offensively and defensively. A marked improvement over Lastings Millidge in every aspect of the game. To his credit, Sean Burnett isn't the worst option. Certainly better on average than Hanrahan or the left handed equivalent from last year Ron Villone. However, his numbers aren't quite doing it this year.

Burnett has appeared in 15 games this season. In 8 of his first 12 appearances, the Nats ended up losing the game. In his most recent 3 appearances, Burnett failed to record an out in 2 of them, on the other appearance he recorded an out, but gave up a run and a walk. Burnett is supposed to be a situational lefty pitcher to come in and get out lefty batters and maybe one more. The problem is: he's not so good at you know... getting out the lefty batters...

It's hard to say the Nats couldn't see this coming though. Burnett has a 4.37 ERA this year. At the end of last year, it was 4.70. Hopefully he can figure it out, but the Nats may want to look for a lefty specialist out there somewhere if he can't.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Game 32 vs. the Mets

After a rough 1st, Atilano looked good through his 5 1/3 innings and got his 3rd win on the year to put the Nats at 18-14 and 1.5 games out of first place as the Phillies are playing in Colorado tonight and this blogger isn't staying up to wait.

Yet again, Ivan Rodriguez had a great, great night. He went 4 for 4 with an RBI single to put the Nats up 3-1 in the 8th, which ended up being the game winning hit. Pudge is now hitting .393 on the year. Wow.

Tyler Walker changed his number to 39, and it worked. Walked had solid outing to eat up an inning plus. Burnett had a bad outing again, and it was brief again. More on Sean Burnett's disappointing season in my next post. And then, there was Brian Bruney. Ugh. This guy hurts my life expectancy every time he comes in to pitch. Bruney is 18 BB on 14 Ks in 15 2/3 innings this season. That sucks. There's no way around it. He had an ugly wild pitch a mile over Pudge's head putting both runners that he inherited in scoring position with 2 outs. He got out of the jam. He's gotten better results in recent outings, although he's looked just as bad.

T. Plush had a great delayed steal in the top of the 9th. After Kennedy K'd and Zimm was walked intentionally, Taveras came in and hit a solid grounder up the middle that Alex Cora played brilliantly on a diving stop and a flip to 2nd to end the inning.

Miguel Batista came in to save the game, because the perfect save man Matt Capps needed a day off desperately. In the last 5 days, Capps has thrown 4 innings. He's been working hard. Back to Batista, he got a ground out to start the inning, then Angel Pagan (who?) hit a home run to deep center. Batista struck Castillo out looking and then gave up a single up the middle to Alex Cora, who was replacing the ejected Jose Reyes. Then he had to face Jason Bay who struck out swinging for Batista's 40th save on his career and first as a Nat.

Clippard's Remarkable 6-0 Start

Many people who watch and follow the Nats are saying some great things about Tyler Clippard. I am too. Tyler has 29 strikeouts in 16 appearances with a very, very cool 0.76 ERA. The only three pitchers in baseball who have 6 wins? Ubaldo Jimenez, Roy Halladay, and Tyler Clippard. Clippard is the only one of those three that hasn't lost a game yet, and he's the only reliever. The kid has been on fire this season and has helped the team hold on to quite a few wins, and as I said, he hasn't lost a single game, yet.

Tyler Clippard is the real deal set up man, at least until Drew Storen is brought up in the summer and maybe even after Storen comes up. Between the two of them, they'll give each other days off, and will create opportunities for Clippard to maybe do some middle relief when our starters eventually stop going 6 and 7 innings in every game (remarkable, by the way).

But eventually, Clippard's tactics are going to catch up with him. Tyler Clippard has blown 4 saves in his 6 wins. What does that mean? It means that in his 6 wins, he has given up the lead in a save situation 4 times, and his offense has come back to give the Nats the win. With this type of statistic, all of the credit has to go to the Nats' bats. They are coming back at the end of games when all hope seems to be lost with scrappy wins. Clippard got rescued from two blown saves this weekend alone, both of them on Josh Willingham clutch home runs.

At some point, the offense won't be able to produce that miraculous game winning home run for Clippard. So, hopefully he can figure it out before he starts to accumulate any losses. This season, Clippard has looked good in almost every appearance. He just has to get out the kinks of when he inherits another pitcher's runners. After all, that's what a good reliever and set up man does.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Game 31: Nats take the Marlins and the series

The Nationals took the series from the Marlins today to go 17-14 for a 2nd place tie in the NL East with the Mets. The Nats travel to New York tonight for the start of a 9 game road trip. The Nats will take on those very Mets in 3 game series starting on Monday. That will tell a lot about where this early part of the season is going for the Nats, so watch closely.

Let's go a little with today's game against the Marlins. The Nats took an early lead, as they have done so often this season, in the 2nd inning with a sacrifice double play (weird to think of that, but it's possible) that scored Nyjer Morgan. They got another run in the 3rd with an Adam Dunn RBI single through the shift that scored Adam Kennedy from 2nd. Then Livan Hernandez, who had yet another simply amazing outing, gave up a solo home run to who else, but Hanley Ramirez. That was the only run that Livan gave up all day, bringing his ERA allll the way up to... 1.04. Wow. That's 2nd in the NL only to Ubaldo Jimenez. After 7 innings of 1 run, 5 hit ball, Livan called it a day after 110 pitches, 75 of them for strikes. Time to Clipp and Save, right? Well... maybe not so easy.

Tyler Clippard entered the game after Sean Burnett gave up a single in the top of the 8th. Then Clippard immediately gave up a single to Wes Helms and walked Hanley Ramirez to load the bases. With no outs. Clippard has gotten himself into this spot one too many times this year (see tomorrow morning's post for more on this), and his offense has bailed him out every, single time. Clippard ended up giving up a sac fly that tied the game 2-2 before he got himself out of the jam. But the Hammer was out to save the day.

Willingham came up in the bottom of the inning with 1 out and crushed a home run to left field into the wind, eventually giving the Nats the 3-2 win. Capps came in and had a painless 1, 2, 3 inning and got his MLB leading 13th save of the year, and the Nats moved to 3 games over .500 for the 2nd time this year. It was a great (although cold and windy) day for baseball in the city, and the team went 4-2 on the homestand. They hope to do the same thing on the road trip, but it will be difficult with a 3 game series with Mets (who are playing very good baseball right now), a 4 game series with the Rockies, and a 2 game series against the Cardinals. If the Nats can come out on top here, it's really going to speak volumes about where the club is going this season.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Matt Chico, J. Max, and Game 30 with Florida

Just a few days ago, Nationals Journal posted an article about how Matt Chico had a long way back to the majors, how he had so many guys in front of him in the depth chart. I joked with a fellow co-worker the day that it came out that Lannan wouldn't make his next start that maybe Chico would get the start. We both had a good laugh about it.... Well, we probably shouldn't have been laughing.

Chico will get his first start in the majors today in 24 months against the Florida Marlins. No, that's not a typo. Two solid years, or at least it would have been on May 21st. In that time, he's had a ligament replaced in his elbow, gotten two years older, and has become sort of a running joke among die hard Nats observers. He barely looked passable this spring, resulting in his being sent to AA Harrisburg in April. But now he gets his shot. His last full season in DC, his rookie year, he was 7-9 with a 4.63 ERA. Now, you have to remember, at that time, the Nationals were a terrible ball club. There was no offense to speak of and Chico was a rookie. Maybe this is the opportunity Matt needs to figure himself out. But if I actually believed it, I wouldn't have laughed audibly when I heard he was starting today. Prove me wrong, Matt. Capitol Baseball will be there with my younger sister, so I'll be sure to snap pics of this momentous (hilarious?) moment in the Nats 2010 season.

Meanwhile, Justin Maxwell has been sent down to Syracuse yet again to create roster space for Chico, since Lannan won't be put on the DL. This has to be frustrating for the young Maxwell, who has been shipped around the farm and majors all year. Maxwell is batting below .200 although his OBP is aroun .350, the Nats are only playing him against lefties, and it should be quite a while before the Nats face another lefty as Mark Zuckerman reports. Until next time Justin.

The Nats today look to avoid another loss to the Marlins which would put them back down to .500 on the season and would create a guarantee for another series loss to the team. The Nats need a win today to keep their winning record that is getting fans to the park and not suffer another loss to an NL East team early on. To do that, Matt Chico is going to have to seriously outperform expectations. Until the post game recap, enjoy this beautiful Saturday in DC.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Scott Olsen is Back

Well this post is about game 28 and the Nats win over the Atlanta Braves, but it's really about Scott Olsen. Before today's near no-hitter, Olsen was 2-1 with a 4.36 ERA. The Nats won in 3 of Olsen's first 4 appearances (his first start was a no decision against Philly). But Olsen's defense was behind him tonight, especially Ian Desmond who made a basket catch and a diving grab for a 6-3 put out, and though he didn't get the decision, he contributed to another Nats win and the Nats are now 4 for 4 when Olsen goes 5 or more innings.

Olsen had 8 Ks on 97 pitches and only one walk in 7 1/3 innings. Finally in the 8th, after striking out Matt Diaz, Scott gave up a line drive hit to the left to David Ross. Did Olsen then look dejected or angry? No way. He gave a smile, looked at Ian Desmond and said, "c'mon, 2 more." He wanted to keep going and get out of the inning. 17,000+ fans at Nationals Park gave Scott the standing ovation, and it was well deserved.

Since his last bad outing against Colorado on April 20th where Olsen only made it 2 innings, he has seen his ERA go from 11.74 to 3.54 in just 3 starts since then. He has been remarkably effective in his last 3 games: 20 strikeouts, only 5 walks, and 2 runs; both of them earned today after Tyler Clippard's below average relief appearance. Before those 2 runs, Tyler went 20 innings without allowing a single run. That's just the beginning of his improvements.

In the spring, Olsen was throwing his fastball in the 80s with little to no movement. Now, his fastball is hitting 92 consistently, they're dancing around. His change up is making other hitters look silly. It's exciting to watch the young lefty get back to his old ways. Looks like, as usual, Mike Rizzo knew what he was doing when he brought back the not-completely-healthy Olsen before spring training.

The game ended in the bottom of the 9th after a very patient at bat by Adam Kennedy, who drew a walk. Then Gentleman Zimm came up and faced Peter Moylan. Remember him, Nats fans? Rewind to Nats Park, March 30, 2008. Ryan Zimmerman drills a walk off home run to the Red Porch to win the first ever game at Nats Park against... the Braves peter Moylan. Back to tonight, Zimmerman crushed a double off of the right field wall, advancing Adam Kennedy to 3rd, with no outs. Moylan intentionally walked pinch-hitter Cristian Guzman to bring up the Georgia Peach Willie Harris. Harris had a great at bat and a game winning, walk off single past the 2nd baseman Martin Prado.

The Nats are now 15-13 for 2nd place in the NL East. The team has won 5 series this season, but the Marlins are coming to town, who the Nats lost 2 of 3 against just last weekend. Hopefully they can flip it in the upcoming series. Until then, congrats to Scott Olsen on a great outing and a near historic night.

Game 27: Frustration and a Riggleman Error

Sorry for the extended delay between this post and last night's game. This blogger was coming off of a bad day at work, followed by a Philadelphia Flyers loss to put them down 3-0 to the Bruins, and a Nats near comeback win, with eventual disappointing loss to the Braves. I was in no place to blog without anger and rants. Let's go for it now, however.

The Luis Atilano and the Nats took on Tommy Hanson and the Braves for the 2nd of 3 in this series. I predicted weeks ago that Atilano would eventually have a disappointing night, because he's 24 years old and has only had 3 MLB starts. Well that night was last night. He threw 98 pitches in 5 1/3 innings, but he never got into a groove. He got out of a brief jam in the first, but after that he gave up runs in the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th innings, and put 2 men on in the 6th before getting yanked by Manager Jim Riggleman. Sean Burnett replaced him and, to no real fault of his own with 2 men on with only 1 out and facing the top of the order, gave up an RBI hit and a sacrifice grounder to short stop. But when he left, the score was 4-4 and although those two runners on base were credited to Atilano, giving him 6 earned runs on the night, the Nats saved him in the 8th.

In the 8th, Desmond singled on an error and then Bernadina crushed a double for a runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out for pinch hitter Josh Willingham. The Hammer singled to left field and scored both Ian and Bernie to tie the game. In comes Matt Capps in the 9th for an inning, right? Wrong. In comes Matt Capps for an inning in the 9th, and then back for the 10th. This is where I question the Manager.

Jim Riggleman has done a brilliant job managing this club this year. He's always innings ahead of the game in his decisions and double switches, he uses his bench, and doesn't overuse his bullpen beyond what he needs to do. I understand bringing Capps in in the 9th to try and hold onto the game, although I think he would have been more useful once the club got a lead, because that's... his job. But I digress, Riggleman made a mistake last night. He doesn't make many, but this was a big, fat, massive one.

Riggs brought in his closer to pitch 2 innings, which is 1 inning beyond what Capps should have pitched in this situation. Cappy was 11 for 11 in saves this season and just came of receiving the Delivery Man of the Month for April. Now, Capps has a 1 in the L column, and for a closer, his mentality to pitching could now change. He's no longer perfect, and that tends to affect closers in a very negative way. This club hasn't had a real closer since Cordero in 2007, and you can't take advantage of when when you get him. So Riggs, you've been a great manager all year, but you've made your first mistake. Learn from it, and don't make it again.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Nats take first against Braves

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Cliff Owen

In last night's fantastic game between the Nationals and the Braves, there were a lot of contributors. So many, in fact, that MASN didn't show the Silver Elvis Wig winner last night. Any help from the blogosphere?

Well the Cuban Jedi Knight himself, Livan Hernandez, didn't have his best stuff or anywhere close this best outing of the year, but he got the win nonetheless. He threw 41 pitches in the first inning and 123 in only 5 1/3 innings (his shortest outing of the season by almost 2 full innings). As a matter of fact, in Livan's two shortest outings before this one (both 7 innings), he threw only 88 and 99 pitches. But somehow the offense and defense of the club stepped up, putting Livan at 4-1 for the year with a 0.99 ERA in 5 starts. Here is a great article on Livan and the Nats from Doug Glanville of from before last night's start.

Now let's talk about the defense, because wow. Zimmerman looked great, but come on. He's Ryan Zimmerman. He ALWAYS looks great on defense. He started the 5-4-3 game ending double play to give Matt Capps his 11th save of the year in 11 tries and continues his great run after winning the MLB Delivery Man of the Month for April. (And helping me stay in first in my fantasy league.) Adam Kennedy also had a great pick at first on that double play on a terrible throw from the AG (both of those players were defensive subs by Riggleman at the end).

The real story is Roger Bernadina. Roger dropped a routine fly ball in the first that turned into an unearned run that put the Braves up 1-0. But in the top of the third, with the Nats up 2-1 after a homer by the Hammer and an RBI single by Desmond, Bernadina went after a line drive to right by Troy Glaus with Chipper at 3rd base and 2 outs. Roger went completely horizontal, dove fully extended, to make the most remarkable catch I have seen all year (and it WAS SportsCenter's top play last night).

Photo Credit: Nats320 (What a great picture grab. Thanks!)

Then the bats caught fire once again. Last night featured home runs for Willingham to left, Desmond to center, and Dunn to right... WAY into right. Second deck scoreboard pavilion deep. The offense looked to be firing on all cylinders throughout the game. Desmond had an RBI single to give the Nats the lead in the 2nd, and the team never fell behind again. This team is resilient and so much fun to watch this season at 14-12 and in 3rd place in the East. The Nats will go for yet another series victory tonight with a win against the Braves. If they can win tonight or tomorrow, it would be their 5th series win of the year.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Game 26 vs. Atlanta and Strassy

Welcome back to this very long session of consecutive games. Tonight the Nats will take on the Braves in DC for their first meeting of the season. The Jedi Master (Happy Star Wars Day) Livan Hernandez will take on Sith Lord Kenshin Kawakami. Here are the matchups:
  • Hernandez: 3-1; 0.87 ERA; 10 K. Livan hasn't gone less than 7 innings in any of his 4 starts this year. He also has one complete game shut out this year, which was the only time that he threw more than 100 pitches. The pinnacle of effective.
  • Kawakami: 0-4; 5.48 ERA; 10 K. He hasn't gone longer than 6 innings all year even though he averages 88 pitches a game (with as many as 103). Kawakami is much less effective this year than he was last year, but last year's record was still a dismal 7-12.
After a day off yesterday, the Nats starters should all be in today and, against this year's Kawakami, shouldn't have any trouble with the bats, which the team needs. The Nats offense has gotten cold, lately, with only 4 regular players with averages above .270 (Rodriguez, Guzman, Zimmerman, and Morgan. And Rodriguez and Zimm were both out with injuries, Zimm for a lot of days).

The Braves are coming of 9 losses in the last 12 games, although they just came off of a sweep of the disappointing 8-17 Houston Astros in Atlanta. But in their last road trip, the Braves were 0-7, and looked simply dreadful. They're hoping that they can break that streak of away losses and get a win in DC. However, if Livan looks anything like he has so far this year, they may easily be looking at 8 straight away losses. The Nats are going to have to get their bats of their shoulders, though.

Today's Lineup
  1. T. Plush, 8
  2. Guzzie, 4
  3. Zimm, 5
  4. Freddie Physical, 3
  5. Hammer, 7
  6. Pudge, 2
  7. Roger Bernadina (Bernie from here on out), 9
  8. Ian Desmond (Hee-Sop according to Nyjer), 6
  9. Livo, 1
In Jesus-related news, Stephen Strasburg has been promoted to AAA Syracuse, putting him on pace for a June 6th start in DC the last weekend game in DC for almost two weeks. Buy your tickets now to see Jesus-burg in action! Except don't buy them just to see Stephen, because rain could totally screw you. Buy them to see baseball. That's what it's all about, after all.

Maybe this blog writer will take a trip up to see Strasburg in his start against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (formerly Red Barons) on May 27th. His family does live there after all.... If he can get off from his day job, this is possible.

Monday, May 3, 2010

So, what's up with Lannan?

Alright, so this morning, you'll inevitably read a lot about how John Lannan has completely lost his effectiveness and his stuff, that he's not going to get it back, that he's washed up and his pitching style has caught up to him. Some people may believe this, some people may just want to use Lannan as a scape goat after an ugly 9-3 loss, some people may be struggling for a story on a rainy off-day in Washington, DC. I'm going to take the sabermetrics of Lannan's decline and say to everyone, I think you're wrong.

I'm not going to make a prediction that Lannan will have a huge comeback next week and his ERA will plummet and his ground ball rate will get better, and it will be a happily ever after story. Because I'm not convinced that is possible because of what we've seen from John so far in 2010. He's looked uncomfortable, missing spots from Nieves all season, and leaving balls up in the zone (which he has never done in his career). If I were only looking at sabermetric stats, and articles like this one on FanGraphs, I would think this was by far John Lannan's worst statistical year ever. Well, let's cut to the basics and look at some more conventional stats.

For the sake of argument, I'm going to take look at Lannan's two full seasons (2008, 2009), not his partial 2007 season. Let's look at ERA first:
  • 2008: 3.91
  • 2009: 3.88
  • Current 2010: 6.34
Yes, this is much higher this year. I concede the point that Lannan is giving up more earned runs this year, on average, than he did in the previous two. But remember, this is after 4 starts. Not an end of the year stat. Let's breakdown a few other bits:
  • HR/9: 2008: 1.1; 2009: 1.0; 2010: 1.1
  • BB/9: 2008: 3.6; 2009: 3.0; 2010: 5.0
  • SO/9: 2008: 5.8; 2009: 3.9; 2010: 3.3
As we can see, Lannan's home runs given up has stayed about the same, while his walks have increased dramatically, and his strikeouts have decreased marginally. You can easily argue that 2009 was, statiscally, John Lannan's best year of his career. (Again, we're comparing to FOUR starts in 2010.) Coming into this year as the "established ace" of the rotation, the rest of the MLB may have simply figured Lannan out. But I think the better argument is that he's beating himself on the mount.

Watching Lannan last season, it was fun to watch him pitch to contact with ground ball after ground ball. Unfortunately, our defense was so bad, it's remarkable that he ended up as good as he did. This year, we have put a competent defense behind him, and Lannan can't seem to get it over the plate. And when he does, he's throwing meatballs up in the zone. (See: H. Ramirez home run and C. Ross double off the wall yesterday against the Marlins.)

The fact remains, this Nationals team is still building, and Lannan was supposed to be one of the consistent staples. He hasn't been, and so he's getting the blame. Maybe deservedly so, maybe not. But let me say one more time, Lannan has still pitched in just 4 games. This is a ridiculously small body of work, considering Lannan probably has somewhere around 150 more innings to pitch this season if his career holds true. He hasn't been hurt in two seasons, after all. Scott Olsen's stats didn't look much better after his first two starts stat-wise (although he had more Ks). But he's worked himself out.

Like I said, I'm not going to make the "bold prediction" and say that John Lannan will come back next time against the Marlins this weekend and pitch 9 innings of shut out ball. That would be stupid (though not impossible). But I am saying that we haven't seen the best of John Lannan this year, and I am confident in his next 15 starts, he will get better, not worse. This team has a the kind of drive this season that we haven't seen in the District in quite some time (see 2009 Redskins; 2010 playoff Caps; and 2010 Wizards). The Nationals want to win, and they want it bad. They finally got a taste of what it was like early this season, and they liked it far too much to let it go. John Lannan is no exception.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Game 25: And We're Back

After a productive weekend enjoying friends and family, Capitol Baseball is back! Just in time to briefly sum up the weekend's series against the Marlins and for a Nats off day to travel home from their 6 game road trip.

I'm starting out with a summary focused on Ryan Zimmerman, because, well, wow. He came back for the Florida series, and while I had lots of great things to say about the defensive replacements AG and Willie Harris last week, Zimm proved why there is just no one who can replace him this weekend.

On Friday evening, I was the party pooper who insisted on watching most of the game while at a friends. Luckily, no one seemed to mind that I was distracted by baseball for 3 of the 5 hours that I was out. In this game, the Nationals won 7-1 for the 3rd win in a row and put them 3, yes THREE, games over .500. In his return, Ryan went 3 for 4 with 2 home runs and a double. Welcome back, Zimm! Scott Olsen got another win to put him at 2-1 and his ERA came all the way down to 4.35, a very respectable number for a starter. Especially since it was almost 12.00 after his first outing. He went 6 scoreless innings in the victory. And then, there was Saturday's game...

On Saturday, it was the same 7-1 score, but the Nats were on the losing end of this one. Stammen pitched only 4 innings, which for this team this season, that almost certainly means a loss. But Zimmerman still looked great going 2 for 4 with a double and two great defensive plays. This knocked the Nats back down to 13-11 and back to 3rd in the NL East.

In Sunday's game 25, the Nats, as they so often do, jumped out to an early lead. It makes the game exciting to watch and makes it easier on the pitchers. However, then Lannan has yet another break down on the mound in the 3rd inning. The Marlins scored 4 runs, 3 of them on a Hanley Ramirez home run to deep center. Lannan seemed to have trouble controlling and locating his pitches, with many of his pitches ending up in the zone. If you follow Lannan, you know that's disaster for him. He never recovered, and neither did his bullpen. Brian Bruney had another simply awful outing and the Nats lost 9-3.

The team has come back down to earth with two losses in a row, but are still 13-12 and are coming home for a 6 game homestand. But it'll be another 19 days before the Nats get another day off when the return to action on Tuesday. That's a long stretch, and hopefully the Clippard and Capps can hold up the bullpen for most of the time until then.

Finally, there are lots of guys in AAA and AA who are more than capable of eating some innings from the pen that would be much more effective than Brian Bruney has been since he joined the team. I know the Nats are paying him, $1.5 million this year, but at some point you have to cut your losses. I've been hard on Bruney this year, and will continue to be. I'll be happy to admit I'm wrong if he ends up figuring himself out. Until then, give English or another guy a shot to see what he can do.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

My First Stephen Strasburg Mention and a weekend off

You may wonder why I haven't talked about Stephen until now when I've been posting for almost two weeks. Well, I'm a realist. And Strasburg is a minor league, AA pitcher as of today. Although, his last AA start may be Sunday before the quick move up the northeast to Syracuse. I don't write about any other minor leaguers in this blog, so I haven't written about him. It's that simple. If you want to hear about minor leaguers, check out the Nationals Farm Authority for great info.

However, now that I went over the rotation on Friday it's about time for him to come up, because one of those 5 guys are going to be replaced in a little over a month. It doesn't take a betting man to realize that the odds-on guy is Atilano. Luis has been great in 2 starts, but that's 2 CAREER major league starts. Really the only other financially logical replacement would be Stammen, as these are the only two starters who make below the $500,000 mark on the rotation. But who knows. A month is a long time, and injuries will inevitably happen. Maybe I'm wrong, Lannan is actually hurt and goes down in the next month or so. Then, problem solved and the 21 year old Strasburg goes from college student to ace in a little over a year. Weirder things have happened.

One this is certain, somewhere around the first week of June, Nationals Park is going to see a major spike in ESPN and MLB Network coverage.

Quick note about the blog: the future Mrs. Capitol Baseball and I have tickets to a show on Saturday night, I have a Sunday morning football game to play in, and my parents will be stopping by on Sunday afternoon, so the posting may be light this weekend. Expect me to resume in full force on Monday, however, for the Nats... next off day. Damn. Well, I'll try to provide some new insight on something neat in baseball on Monday. Maybe even analysis of the weekend's games. Until then, happy beautiful weekend wherever you're reading from!