Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rest for the weary confident

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

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

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

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