Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sign Adam Dunn? Be Careful What You Wish For...

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

On Tuesday night, the Nationals gave out "Mr. Walkoff" t-shirts to celebrate Ryan Zimmerman's notorious ability to hit the game-winning walkoff home run. But Adam Dunn happily took the Mr. Walkoff title that night. Dunn destroyed a ball to right center field, guaranteeing that the team would have an above .500 record at home for 2010 (they currently stand 41-39 with one game left at home).

Dunn has the 2nd most home runs in baseball now with 38, 4 behind the NL leader Albert Pujols. So the wave of "Sign Adam Dunn" has swelled across NatsTown to a fever pitch. Maybe for good reason. Dunn has hit a ton of homers, has driven in 103 RBI and counting, has a .361 on-base %, and an outstanding .547 slugging %.

On the flip side, the only person in baseball with more strikeouts than Dunn (191) is Mark Reynolds (206). While his defensive errors are down, and he has a .990 fielding %, that doesn't account for the balls that trickle by him seemingly every week.

People always say that Adam Dunn is "going to hit around 40 home runs every year," and they're probably right. For the next year or two. But Adam Dunn will be 31 years old on Opening Day 2011. By all accounts, he's demanding a contract somewhere around 4 years and $60 million. By the time his contract is up, Dunn will be 35 years old, which is not really a prime age for a power hitter.

With Dunn's relatively low batting average and incredibly high strikeout rate, unless he can blast 40 home runs, he is simply not helping his team. This year, he's been a crucial aspect of the Nationals team, both in stats and intangible clubhouse persona. Part of me worries that the Nats could have "Alfonso Soriano Syndrome" with Dunn if they sign him to a huge contract as he passes his prime.

But frankly, unless you're going to pick up a guy like Jayson Werth, who would fill a huge offensive and defensive void in the outfield for the Nats next year, I think the team absolutely must re-sign Dunn. I don't think it should be a given based solely on this year's performance. However, if you're not going to replace him with another above average bat and and a higher quality fielder, I don't see the point in wading into the free agent market.

For the Nats to land a big name in the free agent market, the team is going to have to overpay significantly in order to get that talent to choose the Nats over the Phillies, the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Dodgers, etc. I'm not saying that the Nationals won't have to over pay for Adam Dunn, but at least you're over paying for a guy that you know works in your clubhouse and for your fans.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September 27, 2010: The Season's Low Point?

(Photo Courtesy Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Take the above image and try to find a Nationals fan. It's like playing "Where's Waldo?" Except Waldo is a Nationals fan. And there is no Waldo.

The picture pretty much summed up a rainy Monday night at Nationals Park. The rain only amplified the problem. The Phillies were playing for their 4th straight playoff appearance. The Nationals were playing for their 68th win, and absolutely nothing else. (The Phillies now only have 68 losses... adding significant insult to significant injury.) What incentive did Nats fans have to show up and sit through the rain?

Just as they did on Opening Day this season, there are plenty of people blaming outgoing Nationals President Stan Kasten for this influx of Phillies fans on Monday. You know who I'm blaming? The Washington Nationals. Mostly the players, not the front office. Let's face it: the Nats are terrible. They will once again have a top 10 pick in next year's amateur player draft. They once again have a staggering number of team errors and strikeouts. They once again have failed to keep star players that draw fans healthy (see: Strasburg, Zimmerman). They once again have failed to even flirt with .500 since before the All-Star break. Why should anyone waste their hard earned money to see a team like that play?

Well, long story short, the Phillies clinched the division. Roy Halladay (a.k.a. NL Cy Young, 2010) pitched another complete game; his 9th this season. This one was a shutout that only granted 2 Nationals players a hit: Wilson Ramos and Adam Dunn. The Phillies fans, as rude and obnoxious as ever, simply embarrassed Nationals players, Nationals fans, and the entire Nationals organization.

Monday night's 8-0 loss , although it was irrelevant to the season, was among the lowest points of 2010 for the Nationals franchise. Quite frankly, #1 is probably the day that Stephen Strasburg was shut down for good for the next 12 or so months. It doesn't get too much lower than that. But September 27, 2010 was pretty close. It was an insulting loss, in insulting fashion, amplified by insulting fans.

It's time to stop this 6:1 away-to-home fan ratio, and the only way to do that is by putting a competitive team on the field. Otherwise, teams with loyal, dedicated, and yes, annoying fans will forever outflank Nats fans to the ticket booth.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Who is this Sean Burnett guy?

Seriously. I'm not sure where he came from, but he's absolutely been the Nationals most improved reliever in 2010. It's easy to say that Tyler Clippard has been the Nats best, what with his 11 wins and 2.77 ERA. But the fact of the matter is, we've seen this with Clippard before. His walks per 9 innings, strikeouts per 9 innings, and strikeout to walk ratio are all nearly identical between 2009 and 2010.

Sean Burnett, though, is a different story. His lowest ERA earned in any given season was 3.12 in 2009 when he split time between the Pirates and the Nationals. This season, his ERA currently stands at 2.26. But what really shows Burnett's improvements are some other stats.

In 2009, Burnett gave up almost 1 home run every 9 innings. This year, it's 0.5 per 9.
Last year, 4.4 walks per 9 innings. This year: 2.9.
Last year, 6.7 strikeouts per 9 innings. This year: 9.2.
Last, but certainly not least... last year, 1.54 strikeout to walk ratio. This year: 3.21.

Right handed batters are still hitting an outrageously low .189 against him. His WAR is 1.8, putting him almost in starter-value territory. His WAR is this high, even though he has a 1-7 record, because he has had immeasurable value to the Nationals this season.

These are remarkable improvements for a pitcher that was thrown out of Pittsburgh in favor of Joel Hanrahan. I'm certainly not knocking Joel, and I wish him success in his future, but it must have been insulting for Burnett. He came to DC to start this year with something to prove. And he's proved everything he's needed to this season. He's established himself as a crucial member of the 2011 Nationals bullpen.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturday Predictions: NL Edition

Happy Saturday everyone.  As the Nats' Yunesky Maya takes on the Braves' Derek Lowe, I thought today would be as good a time as any to make some end of season predictions.  As the Braves fight to stay alive in the playoff race, Capitol Baseball is going to tackle division winners, the wild card winner, and individual winners for the 2010 season in the National League.  We'll start with division predictions.

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies.  As much as it pains me to admit, the Phillies are just way, way too good.  They have Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels: among the best 1, 2, 3 pitchers in all of baseball.  Their position players are approaching healthy, and Brad Lidge looks like the Brad Lidge of old.  I don't see any way that the Phils don't claim the division in the next day or two.

NL Central: Cincinatti Reds.  This one is easy.  The Reds are in 1st by 6.5 games in the Central with just over a week left in the season.  They'll clinch very soon.

NL West: San Francisco Giants.  I had to weigh this one over and over and over again.  The Padres at one point this year were the best team in the National League.  Then they experienced a 10 game losing streak that destroyed their lead in the west.  And the Giants have looked nearly unbeatable over the last few weeks.  They are currently ahead of the Padres by 1/2 game, and I'm not saying the lead won't go back and forth a few times.  But that Giants rotation with the resurence of guys like Huff and Burrell, plus the addition of Buster Posey (more on him later), the Giants will winn the NL West this season.

NL Wild Card: San Diego Padres.  As an NL East guy (obviously), I would have liked to see Bobby Cox get the playoffs in his final season.  And the Braves looked like they were going to do just that.  They led the Phillies by 6.5 games at one point, but have completely disintegrated since then.  They got trounced by the Nationals on Friday night, and just one more loss with a Phillies win will eliminate them from the pennant contention.  I think the Padres still have enough confidence to pull out the Wild Card spot.

Here are my individual predictions:

NL MVP: Carlos Gonzalez.  I almost picked Pujols here, but if you look at CarGo, it's hard to not love his story and surge this year.  Yes, he plays in Coors Field, but numbers don't lie.  As of today, he's hitting .340, with .606 slugging %.  He leads the NL with 113 RBIk.  The only stat that he hasn't dominated is home runs, the stat that is helped most by playing at Coors.  He still has 33, landing him firmly in the top 5 in the NL in homers.  While it can certainly still be Pujols, because he is the best offensive player in baseball, I think the honors will go to Gonzalez this year.

NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay.  I don't think there's any question about this.  The Philies are going to win the NL East, he has 20 wins, his ERA is 3rd best in the NL.  Josh Johnson and Adam Wainwright have lower ERAs, and Wainwright is 20-11.  But Halladay is a primary reason that the Phillies are going to the playoffs, and the Cardinals aren't going to the playoffs.  So like it or not, fair or not, I think that eliminates Wainwright from the conversation.

NL Rookie of the Year: Buster Posey.  To me, there's no question about this.  I know that it's possible that Jaime Garcia or Jason Heyward have a better chance.  Garcia's 2.70 ERA and 13 wins his rookie year is remarkable.  Heyward's solid play in the outfield and pretty good .282 average and very good .398 on-base % place him high on the list.  But Buster Posey as the starting catcher for the San Francisco Giants.  Posey is hitting .320 and 16 home runs.  He spent a large part of the season waiting for Bengie Molina to move out of the way.  Once he did, he became the spark behind the Giants surge into 1st place in the NL West.  Without Posey behind the plate, I don't think there is any chance the Giants would be in the position that they are.  He deserves the award.

So there are my predictions.  I'm going to try to make some AL predictions within the next 48 hours, too.  I know I'll get one right, as the Twins have already clinched, but be sure to leave your comments, thoughts, and disagreements in the comments section.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Losing Confidence in Storen?

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

On Monday this week, I wrote about the Nats "closer" Drew Storen. I say "closer" because the Nats are still embracing the closer by committee situation with him and Sean Burnett. But in the non-save situation on Tuesday night, and a 5 run lead for the Nats, it was the perfect opportunity to give Storen some confidence.

Storen threw heat at times, nibbled at times, but for the most part, he attacked hitters as he should with a 5 run lead. He surrendered a home run to Astros third baseman Chris Johnson, but it was irrelevant. It was a solo shot. The Nats were still up by 4. Riggleman stuck with him.

Then, Storen flashed some leather on a nice defensive grab on a chopper back to the mound. There were 2 outs. And for some reason, instead of throwing nothing but bullets for strikes, he pitched around Jason Castro and walked him. Castro is barely hitting above .200.

While an inexcusable mistake by Storen, there was just 1 runner on base, with a 4 run lead still in tact with 2 outs. Riggs had other thoughts and he pulled Storen in favor of Sean Burnett. In his post game press conference, Riggleman said, "I felt like the best way to get that next out was to bring Burnett in.... I was a little more confident that [Burnett] coming in fresh there to face a guy off the bench, turning him around right handed, was a little more to our liking."

Sure, Sean Burnett has been incredible in the bullpen. And yes, he got the final out of the game on just 1 pitch when he came in. But did Jim Riggleman have such little confidence in Drew Storen that he decided to pull him with a 4 run lead? The tying run was still in the hole at that point.

As I said on Monday, the difference between being a closer and being a middle reliever is mental. Entirely mental. So what does it say when the manager says, "we're gonna go with someone else here, even though you got us 2 outs and we're up by 4"? To me it says, "we're not confident you can finish this game." I have a feeling that's what it says to Drew Storen, too.

Either way, the Nats got the Curly W, avoiding a 5 game losing streak. More importantly, the Nats cannot lose 100 games this season! Sound the alarms, tell your friends, kiss your spouse, "Yes We Did!" and all that. The Nats are a triple-digit loss team no more in 2010.

Now if they could just figure out who was going to close games for them, it'd be one more step in the right direction toward 100 wins instead.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

John Lannan: The Nationals New Stopper?

It feels like not long ago that bloggers across the Natosphere were writing off John Lannan.  As a matter of fact, it was this season.  Actually, it was just 3 months ago that Lannan was demoted to AA Harrisburg and struggled there for about a month.  But Lannan came back in August, and since then, he's been staggeringly impressive.

In June and July, the Nats stopper was Stephen Strasburg.  Unfortunately, his fate is yet to be determined following Tommy John surgery, but he will certainly not don a Nationals jersey for at least another 12 months, and probably not until 2012. 

Livan Hernandez had also filled that role early in the season, but since August 2nd, Livo is just 3-5.  In that same time period, he's given up 7 or more runs on 3 occasions. 

Jason Marquis has been... well... we'll go with inconsistent.  I feel like I'm understating it a bit here, but he's either given up nothing or given away the whole kit and kaboodle.  Twice this year he hasn't made it from the 1st inning....  Not the stuff of a stopper.

And then there's post All-Star Break John Lannan.  That version of Lannan is 6-2 since his return to the Nats on August 1st.  He's struck out out 3 or more batters in all of his outings in the second half.  His 2nd half ERA is just 3.07, and he's thrown 6.6 strikeouts every 9 innings.  Not to mention he's pitched well enough and deep enough into games to earn a decision in all but one start since his return.

This, my friends, is the stuff of the Nationals best pitcher.  It's going to certainly generate an interesting debate in the offseason if Lannan can finish his last 3 starts of the season as strong as he's been lately.  The Nats have no clear Opening Day 2011 starter with Strasburg done.  Jordan Zimmermann has certainly not made a particularly strong case for himself.  Livan Hernandez's first half makes a case, but his second half may show that it was a fluke.

Like it or not, John Lannan has been the Nats strongest second half starter.  If he can finish strong, we'll see if the Nats decide to ride that into Opening Day 2011 for the third straight season.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Drew Storen: Closer of Now or of the Future?

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Surely there will be story after story about Drew Storen's blown save on Sunday against the Phillies.  In this save situation, Storen failed to record a single out, giving up 4 runs on 4 hits.  The last hit was a 2 run homer to Jayson Werth.  It was a walk off to end the game.  It was Storen's 2nd blown save in just 6 tries this year.  So what?

The fact of the matters is, Drew Storen is 23... and he just turned 23 in August.  He's also a rookie.  Prior to Sunday afternoon's breakdown, Storen hadn't given up a run in 6 appearances.  But one bad outing will get people talking: "What if Storen isn't the real deal?" or "What if he's too young? Can he handle the pressure?"

The job of closer is almost entirely a mental game.  There's no difference than a bullpen guy recording 3 outs in the 7th inning and a bullpen guy recording 3 outs in the 9th inning.  Except the guy in the 9th inning is given the title of "closer," he earns a special designation (the save) to be able to put a game away, and if he blows it... there's not minced words.  He gets a "blown save."  I think I'd rather just get a loss than a "blown save."  Anywho, the difference is... can a guy recover after blowing a save?  That is what makes the difference between a closer and a good middle reliever, after all.

Things to remember:

  • Once again, Drew Storen is 23, and a rookie.
  • Storen was facing one of the best offensive lineups in the National League.  A lineup that many call "an AL lineup in the NL" because one would struggle to find a single weak link in the 1-8 spots.
  • In the 9th, Storen faced Placido Polanco, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jayson Werth.  This is probably the best 2-5 in the NL.
  • Finally, Drew Storen is 23, and a rookie.

Drew Storen will have more games like this, but he will have many more where he sets the opposition down in order in the 9th inning, earning his save and his closer title.  In the mean time, look for Manager Jim Riggleman to stick with his rookie closer.  He knows he has some guys behind him that could fill the role, but in a lost season, you want to give your young guy every opportunity to prove that he has the "mental makeup" to save a baseball game.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ian Desmond: The Nationals Heart

With today's incredibly early Nats game at 12:10, I thought it'd be as good a time as any to talk about the Nationals shortstop, Ian Desmond.

Loyal Capitol Baseball readers are acutely aware that I did not hold back on my criticisms of the young Desmond early this season.  Some of those criticisms still stand.  He still had 33 errors on the year with a little less than 3 weeks left.  That's more than any other shortstop in baseball by 8, and more than any other position player in baseball.  Period. 

On the other side, Desmond has played in 133 games at shortstop this season, which is the 2nd most in the NL.  In those games, he has 199 putouts, which is the most of any NL shortstop.  So with the negatives come some real positives in the field: durability and real ability to generate outs.  Not to mention he's in the top 5 in range factor per 9 innings for NL shortstops.  All of this, as a rookie.

Offensively, Desmond has been clutch and has established himself as a leader.  When he is going well offensively, the team wins.  I know that seems intuitive, because the better a player hits, the more likely they are to win.  Chicken and the egg argument aside, the differences in Desmond's average are staggering.  When the Nats win, Desmond is hitting .358; when they lose, he hits just .231.  Since Manager Jim Riggleman has moved Desmond to 2nd in the batting horder, he's hitting .327.  His BABIP (batting average on balls in play for non-stat nerds) when batting 2nd is way up at .374.

There's no doubt that Desmond's offensive performance has skyrocketted and that his defense has improved.  After his ugly 4 strikeout appearance on Monday (and I mean, Derek Lowe struck out everyone that game), he went 2 for 4 on Tuesday with his 10th homerun.  He gets angry when he's not performing; he gets excited when he is.  He's the kind of young player, along with Danny Espinosa, Roger Bernadina, and Ryan Zimmerman, who can get this team going on the right track again.  He's proved that when he's playing well, he can provide a spark for the Nats.  And that's just what the Nats need right now.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jay Mariotti: Accused Abuser; Hypocrite

I know that this is a Washington Nationals blog and for the most part, I stick to that. But this story really gets under my skin, and so I thought I've done enough Nationals ranting about their abhorrent six-consecutive losses and lack of effort. I'm going on to a more general sports story today.

I don't, and no one should, expect that any athletes be immune to reprehensible acts. Just as any person, athletes are not perfect. They are in the limelight, and have a tendency to make very public, very unfortunate life errors. I am not making any excuses for any of the despicable acts that any athletes commit, or that any other non-celebrities make. They're equally despicable.

What I do expect, however, is that those writers who expect more from athletes expect more from themselves. Which brings me to the true point of my article.

Anyone that watches ESPN when they get home from work around 5 pm, or when you're mentally checked out a little early from your long work day, has probably watched ESPN's talking head show "Around the Horn." One of that show's most frequent contributors is Jay Mariotti of AOL Fanhouse.

On August 21, 2010, Mariotti was arrested for a "domestic altercation" involving him and his girlfriend. He's facing up to 7 years in prison.

Why do I bring this up? Well because Jay Mariotti is one of those writers that have torn into athletes who have been accused of domestic violence. He's written this on multiple occasions. So while Mariotti was pontificating about how we should expect more from our athletes, he wasn't holding himself to the same standard.

Domestic abuse is a serious problem in the US and across the world. It's unacceptable under any circumstances. This kind of double standard is unacceptable in any arena, including sports media. Jay Mariotti should be ashamed.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Re-Signing Adam Kennedy

(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
Adam Kennedy was a seemingly valuable offseason aquisition for the Nationals for 2010. The team had a gaping hole at 2nd base that needed to be filled, and who better than an aging, past his prime, former ALCS MVP.
When the Nats signed him in the offseason, though, he was coming of a season in Oakland hitting .289 with a .348 OBP. He had above average range at 2nd base. His $1.25 million contract seemed like a great deal.
But now, Kennedy has hit just .248 in 2010, although he's only had sparce at best playing time. His option for 2010 is for $2 million, and there seems to be almost no chance that the Nationals pick that up. Especially with Danny Espinosa in the conversation.
Espinosa will almost certainly get the starting nod for next year, especially considering his performance since he was called up on September 1st. With Alberto Gonzalez performing well off the bench this year, he's probably earned the utility infielder role with the Nats in 2011. To further help his cause, he can play 2nd, 3rd, and shortstop with relative ease.
So all of that seems to leave Kennedy out in the cold, based on his money relative to performance this year. Maybe he'll land on a roster somewhere in the offseason, but it won't be for anywhere near $2 million.

Nationals: What Are They Playing For?

The Washington Nationals season comes to an end in just three short weeks.  It seems like just yesterday, Capitol Baseball was starting up Year One of this operation, and now the end of the season has almost arrived. (Yes, we will be back next year.  Yes, we will continue to post in the offseason.  Yes, we are going to go for bigger and better things next year, including some coverage from Viera in Spring 2011.)  Back to baseball.

This Monday morning, the Nationals stand at 60-83.  They were swept by the underrated Florida Marlins, but in ugly fashion.  They've lost their last 5 games.  They haven't looked like a team that's playing to win.  And to some extent, who can blame them?

The team has gone through some crazy stuff over the course of this season.:

  • They had the high of the Strasburg debut, only to discover the low of the Strasburg Tommy John surgery. 
  • They had the high of Adam Dunn's 3 home run game and eventual tie for the NL home run lead, only to still be wondering if he'll be the team's first baseman next year... or even if he's worth the money. 
  • They've seen glimpses of brilliance in Ian Desmond with his batting average soaring all the way to .289, only to be disgusted by even more fielding errors by the rookie shortstop.

So where does that leave the Nats with just 19 games left?  With 60 wins, it seems like the Nats have said "well, we won more than last year."  But for Jim Riggleman, for Mike Rizzo, and most importantly, for the fans, that's not enough. 

If the Nationals win just 3 more games, they will avoid triple digit losses for the first time since 2007.  A reasonable goal?  Sure.  A laudable goal?  No.  What the Nationals should strive for is to finish above .500 (10-9) between now and October 3rd.  If they do that, they will secure 70 wins.  A realistic finish for a team that started 20-15 and created lofty goals for the organization.

But what the team must do over the next three weeks, most importantly, is to create a culture of winning in the clubhouse.  Most of the players on the field this weekend for the 5-game losing streak (Zimmerman, Desmond, Espinosa, Bernadina, Ramos, and countless pitchers) will be on the 25-man roster come April 2011.  If these young men start to believe that the team will continuously give up at the end of the year, it's going to be difficult for the organization to turn that mindset around in future years.

The team needs to win for the mindset of the rookies, for the young players, for the future of the young talent. The Nats need some big wins for the rest of the year, not for this season, but for the years to come.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Where Are They Now?: Shawn Hill

(AP Photo/Hannah Foslien)

Many long-term Nationals fans know the story of Shawn Hill: the highly rated Expos/Nationals pitching prospect. It's a name that frustrates most of those fans, like John Patterson. Pitchers with potential that just couldn't stay healthy.

Hill's story starts when he was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 6th round of the 2000 amateur player draft. Hill made his debut for the Expos on June 29, 2004 for the Expos, but he never made it out of the season. He had to have Tommy John surgery to repair a damaged elbow. He didn't appear in a uniform again until 2006.

After Hill rehabbed and rejoined the majors in '06, he was still pitching for the same franchise, but in a different city. Montreal had moved to DC, and Hill was now a Nationals starter. A fresh start for him in a career that had been derailed by injury. That year, Hill never pitched less than 5 innings, but didn't start a game after June 28th of that year. More nagging elbow injuries.

He came back again in 2007, but made just 16 starts. On May 11th, Hill pitched a no-hitter through 5 innings, but pulled himself with shoulder soreness, which turned out to be a partially torn labrum. He returned in August and pitched for the rest of the season, but was less than stellar. He did end the season with an impressive 3.42 ERA over his 16 starts. He fought shoulder and forearm pain all season.

In 2008, it was more of the same for Hill. He had bone spurs removed from the same elbow and made just 12 starts. The Nationals cut ties with him that season. In June 2009, Hill had his 2nd Tommy John surgery. He was just 28 years old.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, after a very short, very unsuccessful stint with the San Diego Padres in 2009, Shawn Hill is making his 2010 debut with the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night. Hill, who was born in Mississauga, Ontairo, a suburb of Toronto, will be close to family for yet another attempted restart of his career. A career that is officially on life support. In the Jays AAA Las Vegas affiliate this season, Hill went 6-2 with a 1.61 ERA in 11 starts.

The Blue Jays, and first-year GM Alex Anthopoulos, are taking a significant chance on the eternally injured starter. Maybe this is the year for Hill, after so many surgeries, so many rehabs, so many frustrated off-seasons. On Thursday night against the Seattle Mariners, the Jays, The Hills, and the Nationals front office that let him go a few years ago will surely find out.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Maya Debut

Yunesky Maya made his MLB debut for the Nationals on Tuesday night at Nationals Park.  He faced Dillon Gee, who was also making his MLB debut for the Mets.  That doesn't happen often.  But the Nats Cuban, Maya, didn't look nearly as sharp as Gee.  Not many would.

Dillon Gee spent most of his season in the Mets AAA affiliate in Buffalo, where he posted a 13-8 record and a fairly high 4.96 ERA.  Not the kind of numbers you expect from a pitcher that carried a no-hitter into the 6th inning on Tuesday.  But that's exactly what Gee did.  It was finally broken up by none other than Willie Harris, who hit a home run to break it up in his first at-bat of the game.  Gee ended the game with a 1.29 ERA after pitching 7 full innings.

For the Nats, Yunesky Maya didn't look sharp in his first two innings.  His fastball looked stagnant, and every time the Mets made contact, they hit it hard.  In the first inning, Maya gave up 2 singles and then a 3 run home run to Mets rookie 1B Ike Davis.  In the 2nd inning, he gave up an RBI hit to the man of the game, Mets pitcher Dillon Gee.  After that, Maya settled down.  He located his breaking pitches for strikes, overcoming his less than stellar fastball.  In his remaining 3 innings, Maya didn't give up a hit. 

All in all, I'd say Maya's first MLB debut wasn't any less than what could be expected.  He was pitching in a stadium he'd never thrown in before, in a country he's been in for barely a month.  His breaking pitches looked solid, and he was able to adjust when the Mets figured him out.  The rest of the season will show what Maya really has in terms of "stuff," but he's well on his way to showing that he can adjust when the going gets tough.  And that's what being a major league starter is all about.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My Love Affair with Danny Espinosa

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Danny Espinosa's mark in the major leagues certainly couldn't have been anticipated.  While he had an incredible minor league season, no one could predict what was coming in his first 5 major league games.

Espinosa has made an incredible run to make it to the majors in 2010. He was just drafted in 2008 and signed at the deadline in August.  Espinosa started in AA Harrisburg and worked his way up to AAA Syracuse in the same season.  As MLB's extended roster day came on September 1st, Espinosa was immediately promoted.  Yes, that's two levels in just one season.  And yes, he made an astonishingly quick impact.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Danny Espinosa is the first player in major league history to have "at least two home runs and six RBI in one of his first five MLB games."  One of those home runs just happen to be a Grand Slam. 

His first week in the majors has been nothing short of Strasmas-sy.  The hype is there, and people are ready to see Espinosa (23 years old) and Desmond (24 years old) shore up the Nationals middle of the infield for many years.  For those wondering, Desmond is now hitting a cool .289 on the year.  He's hitting .346 since the All Star break.  Unfortunately, Desmond is battling a problem with his left hamstring, but hopefully he'll return soon.  Espinosa... hitting a clearly unsustainable .563 in his 16 at bats.

In the meantime, though, Espinosa will surely get lots of opportunities to play at shortstop to show everyone what he was capable of.  One thing is for sure.  Even with Desmond's 31 errors this year, if he and Espinosa can hit anywhere near .300 on the season in future years, fielding errors will be quickly forgotten.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Suspensions Levied

Well, looks like some of my predictions were really far off base.'s Bill Ladson is reporting that Nyjer Morgan's hearing, scheduled for Tuesday, will be pushed back to Friday.'s Jon Heyman reporting the following suspensions:
  • Nyjer Morgan: 8 games (plus the 7 from the Philly incident). The report cited 3 separate incidents. (Presumably Brawl, taunting the Marlins fans, Cardinals catcher collision)
  • Chris Volstad: 6 games. A little surprised that's just one start for him after plunking 3 Nationals, accidentially or not for the first two, and missing Morgan on his 4th attempt.
  • Alex Sanabia: 5 games
  • Gaby Sanchez: 3 games
  • Doug Slaten: 3 games
  • Pat Listach: 3 games
No word on either managers yet. One has to assume that suspensions would be levied there, too. I'll update this post with more information as I discover it.

Suspension Predictions and Strasburg Surgery Day

It is a fateful day for NatsTown for several reasons today. First, it's Strasburg Tommy John surgery day. Good luck to Stephen in a long, stressful recovery. We all look forward to seeing you again soon... ish.

Also today, MLB is expected to lay down the suspensions for Wednesday's ugly Nationals/Marlins brawl. While I have no insight into the inner workings of the MLB disciplinary office, I thought I would take the time to predict some of the suspensions that would be handed down in bullet points, so here we go:
  • Nyjer Morgan - Season - He's already facing a 7 game suspension for an incident in Philadelphia. The league says they won't weigh other incidents when considering Nyjer's discipline. That can't possibly be true. Nyjer has shown signs of disregard for the safety of other players and fans. He taunted fans on the way off the field after the brawl. The league is fed up with Nyjer Morgan stories in the playoff hunt, and they want it over with.
  • Chris Volstad - 10 games - Volstad threw at Nyjer twice in one game. MLB doesn't look upon that kind of thing kindly, even if it may have been warranted. It's equivalent to two of Volstad's starts.
  • Gaby Sanchez - 5 games - By now, everyone has seen Sanchez, a rookie, absolutely wreck Nyjer after he jumped and punched Volstad. Sanchez was the 3rd guy into the battle, and with the severity of the clotheslined hit, I think he'll get a work week off.
  • Doug Slaten - 1 game - Slaten hit Gaby Sanchez to retaliate for his hit on Nyjer. You have to imagine that he gets some time to think about what he's done. No more than a game or two, though.
  • Edwin Rodriguez - 1 game - Pitchers don't usually throw at guys without some encouragement from the manager. Volstad threw at Nyjer twice, so it will be a game off for Rodriguez. Maybe two.
  • Jim Riggleman - 1 game - Same as Rodriguez, since Doug Slaten hit Sanchez.
  • Pat Listach - 1 game - This is a stretch, and I'm not sure that he will actually get suspended, but I think with the image of Listach on top of Chris Volstad at the bottom of the pile is pretty damning. You never want to see a coach IN the pile. He'll probably get something.
I'm taking a leap here, and I look forward to seeing how accurate I am. I'd love to hear all of your predictions in the comments section and will try to respond to them throughout the day.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Danny Espinosa's First Game

Danny Espinosa's first game as a Washington Nationals infielder was going to be a boring affair. The Nationals were down 15-5 to the Florida Marlins. Adam Dunn had been pulled from the game to give Espinosa a chance. Well, then Nyjer batted.

For some background, in Tuesday nights game, Nyjer Morgan plowed into the Marlins catcher, separating his shoulder and ending his season. As expected, Chris Volstad hit Nyjer, and he ran to first. Everyone expected it, right? It's fine. But then Nyjer proceeded to steal second base on the next pitch. And then third. Not the classiest thing with the team down by double digits.

When Nyjer Morgan came back up to bat, Chris Volstad threw behind him. That was enough for Nyjer. He charged the mound, jumped at Volstead, benches cleared, bullpens cleared, blood was drawn. Morgan, Volstad, and bullpen guy Jose Veras got tossed from the game.

Nyjer Morgan is already facing a 7 game suspension for an incident in Philadelphia. Then he plowed over the St. Louis Cardinals catcher. Then the Marlins catcher. Now this. I'd have to imagine Morgan now faces a sizable suspension. Not that it will matter much, because Riggleman seems to have had it with Nyjer.

But to get back to the original point, Espinosa got a hit in his first MLB at bat, an RBI double. He also got into a benches clearing big league fight. And almost turned a double play. All in all, Espinosa saw a month's worth of excitement in just one half game. They're not all like this, kid.

Nyjer's Mean Streak

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Last year, Nyjer Morgan was an up and coming guy for the Nationals, despite the fact that he was closer to 30 years old than to 20. He hit .351 with the Nationals in 2009, and earned his spot as the solid lead off guy for 2010.

Well, things changed. Nyjer is hitting just .257 now, with a scant .317 OBP. His speed is still undeniable, but he has been caught stealing more than 30% of the time. As a result of an evolving lineup, an improving Roger Bernadina, and a declining confidence in Morgan, Jim Riggleman has had the man who calls himself T. Plush batting 8th. Ouch.

Nyjer is unhappy about this. And he's taken his frustration out on two catchers in the last 2 series. First was St. Louis Cardinals reserve catcher Bryan Anderson. He plowed into Anderson, who didn't even have the ball, and was not in the base path. He was rightly benched the next game. Lesson learned, right? Wrong.

On Tuesday, Nyjer was running home in the top of the 10th inning, a game hopelessly tied at zero. Sending Nyjer here was the right move, without a doubt. But again, Marlins catcher Brett Hayes was catching the ball on the first base side, not blocking the plate. Instead of Nyjer sliding in on the opposite side of the plate and attempting to touch with his hand, he once again bowled through a catcher. Nyjer was out. Hayes was hurt.'s Joe Frisaro reports that Hayes will miss time as he has limited mobility in his shoulder after the collision. The Marlins will have Hayes undergo an MRI Wednesday. In response to Morgan's hit, Hayes said "Obviously, his track record doesn't help himself. Somebody who does that is looking to hurt somebody. But, you know, it's baseball."

Nyjer will have to make his case to MLB on September 7th as he appeals a suspension for throwing a ball into the stands, presumably at a fan in Philly. After the collision on Tuesday, Morgan was was clearly jawing with fans, saying some inappropriate things. It was not good natured. Considering that, the baseball throwing in Philly, the two collisions at home plate, his clear disdain for Riggleman batting him 8th, and a slew of other factors, including his temper tantrum earlier this year against the Orioles, he is in a world of hurt.

The full suspension very well may be upheld now, and the Nationals have a serious decision to make with active 40-man rosters beginning today. Does Nyjer get a shot again in center as a regular starter, or do you give him spot starts to give some minor leaguers a chance? The next few weeks will be very interesting.