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Archive for June, 2011

Treason

It’s funny that just as  I write that the Nats solid pitching and excellent defense will be the key factors that will allow them to continue playing good baseball, the team goes out and has two games where the starting pitching is average at best, the bullpen implodes and our defense is a disaster.  I think after all of this good play of late, it is very important for the Nats to win to today.  It would put us above .500 at the midway point of the season and give us a .500 road trip as we prepare for a 11-game homestand that will set the tone for the remaining of the year.  Our best pitcher of late, Jordan Zimmermann, is on the mound.  Let’s see if our young star can come through for the hometown in the clutch.

Double vision:  Like most folks, the acquisition of a player like Troy Brouwer for a late 1st round pick makes a lot of sense, assuming we re-sing him and all signs point to him signing here.  He is the kind of tough, gritty player any team, especially a team like the Caps, could always use more of.   I am happy the Caps re-signed Brooks Laich.  His game may overall be hard to quantify by stats, but I think anyone who watches the Caps all the time sees that he does a lot of everything for us on the ice.  Whether he got too much money or not is hard for me to say, but in general I trust GMGM and the cap.  I guess the one criticism I would have of Laich’s game is that he seems to get most of his goals on the PP, but individually is not able to help the PP get going when it is in a slump.

The real question is where will Laich play this year.  The Caps lost to Tampa this year for a lot of reasons.  One of the main ones however was how badly we got outplayed by Tampa’s 3rd and 4th lines.  Ideally, guys like Laich and Bouwer could help boost our 3rd line production when the going gets tough.   As the team stands now however, if Knuble returns to the top line, then the 2nd line is Johannson, Laich and Semin.  That sounds good, but we’ve seen that before and it seems hard to trot out the same 2nd line after what happened last year in the playoffs.  Brouwer can play all over the ice and we assume he would be comfortable on the 3rd line with Chimera, but then who will be their center?   Or is Eric Fehr the guy to put on the 2nd line and have Laich center Chimera and Brouwer?  I’m not expert, but that doesn’t sound so hot.  The fact of the matter is that if the Caps don’t re-sing Arnott, which they may if desperate, they still don’t have someone who anyone could defiinitely say is the rugged 2nd line center we need.  Maybe Johannson is that guy?  But if so, we need someone to get the 3rd line going especially with the acquisition of someone like Brouwer.

This is the time the Caps need to either spend the money or start trading folks.  I would give up Semin and Varly for one good 2nd/3rd line center.   We also need one more defenseman, the rugged type.  Hannon was a warrior for us last year, but his lack of speed got exposed in the playoffs.  The hated flyers recently made some rash moves basically because they were up against the salary cap and had no goalie.   That is not our problem, but we may need to trade something good to get something good and maybe Varly and Semin in one nice Russian package, topped with a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka,  is the answer.  We lose scoring and goalie depth, but those luxuries have not been able to get us over the top in the playoffs anyway.

Triple vision:   This is what I wrote on April 5, 2010:

“What the hell are the Redskins doing?  In order for this trade to be worth what we have given up in terms of draft picks and $$$, since we will have to sign McNabb (god, even writing the words ‘signing McNabb’ makes me feel light-headed) to a big contract at some point, McNabb will have to lead us far into the playoffs at some point in the next 3 years.  I have  a hard time believing that McNabb’s presence alone is going to take us to the playoffs this year.  Sure, we would have been better anyway with Shanahan, but will McNabb and Shanahan give us 6 more wins this year when as of yet, we have no starting LT on our o-line?  Will an aging McNabb be able to lead us to prominence in 3 season which is really the time I thought in my mind it would take Shanalahan to get us back on top?

Where does this put us as fans?  I know I may be one of the few who hate the Eagles more than any other NFC East team, but I’ve been a Redskins fan long enough to know that just about everyone hates the Eagles…What’s gonna happen when he gets introduced to us for the 1st time in section 449?  I honestly think that most people will be cheering him.  But I will remain with my hands at my side.  It will require time for me to get over all the years that my heart has filled with bile whenever I heard the name McNabb.  On top of it as Walton reminded me of last night on the phone, McNabb after each Eagles loss to the Redskins, has always made a point of saying how the Eagles lost to an inferior opponent, blah, blah, blah.  I know this is not a popular opinion, but I really don’t like the guy….Don’t expect me to start feeling better about this anytime soon.  Of course, beyond my personal problems with the whole thing, the move to get Donovan still reeks of impatience on the part of the Redskins. …A lot of folks so far around here are hailing the move as brilliant, but I’m not so sure. Shanny/Allen may have bitten off a bit more than they can chew with this one. “

Back to our present-day Redskins reality.  Instead of McNabb working out with the Redskins in the player-led, lockout induced workouts, who was McNabb throwing passes too and running drills with as recently as last week?   You got it, the Eagles.   No one should ever call me a blind homer after reading the words which not only reflect my clairvoyance, but infinite wisdom when it comes to the Redskins.   Shanalahan did bite of more than they could chew.  Our o-line was still not good and that exposed all of an aging McNabb’s faults last year.  I did not ever applaud for McNabb even though most fans at Fedex feel.  Call me Ebenezer if you must.

And now, the dude which everyone thought was so professional around these parts has gone back to working out with his former team and hated NFC East rival while the Redskins are still playing him and no one is blaming him.  Sure Shanalahan and the boy wonder Kyle Shanahan carry a lot of blame on their shoulders, but what about calling out McNabb for his shenanigans?   Working out with the Eagles?  This is treason.  When the NFL resumes, I would have no problem, no problem how petty it may seem, if the Redskins did not pay McNabb some of the money due to him because of this conduct he has engaged in with is nothing short of wholly detrimental to the team.  Then I would not release him until the very last minute if we cannot find a  suitable trade partner which I still think we will.

This is bulls@#$.  And now McNabb is showing how he is really full of it.

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Smoke and Mirrors?

There’s a Washington Post sanctioned fan blog called Box Seats which is pretty good and which I enjoy reading.  It sort of has a lot of people like me on there except each one of them write about only one sport instead of all of them here in D.C. like yours truly.  Anyway, recently, one guy said that there is no way that the Nats will maintain themselves in the wild-card race and that soon enough we will see productive veterans like Pudge and Marquis sent off to other teams for yet more prospects.  The guy said some other stuff, but I can’t remember.

The truth of the matter is that ever since the Nats started winning, I keep on thinking to myself that the next series they are going to play will be the series the lose.  Hell after those two instances against the White Sox over the weekend where the home-plate umpire made the wrong call in over-riding the 1st base umpire’s call, my wife met my cries of “Com’on, you gotta be kidding” with “Maybe Obama is trying to fix the series.

And yet, the Nats keep winning:  5 series in a row now during which time our record is 13-3.  Now that is an insane pace.  But let’s take it back a bit further.  If you go back 8 series from today, you will see that the Nats are 6-1-1.  They beat Philly, lost to the Giants and split a 4-game series with Arizona, the 3rd game of which featured the famous plunking of many players from both sides.  During these 8 series, the Nats are 18-8, also insanely good.  Over the course of 162 games, that winning percentage comes out to 111 wins.

I am not saying that the Nats are going to win 111 games.   But if we look closer at the scores of all these games, we find that the Nats are not winning too many games in bizarre ways and that recently, they are regressing to the mean.

For a while, the Nats had the 2nd best fielding % in Major League Baseball and the 2nd highest fielding percentage.  Recently, ironically coinciding with the arrival of our best player – the Z man – those two numbers have dropped a little.  The Z man can still be wild on some of his throws.

Our batting average is still 29th and our on-base percentage is still 28th.  In fact, in those 18 wins I mentioned above, we have scored more than 4 runs only 9 times.  That’s not exactly hot hitting.  Conversely, we have given up 3 runs or less 15 times and are 12-3 in those games.  So, while our pitchers maybe a little hot, it seems harder for 5 different guys to be hot at the same time.  I think this means we have good starting pitching and good bullpen.

Now how about the “holy carp, I can’t believe we are winning this game” factor.  This refers to the kind of games where we make a miracle comeback either because a pitcher implodes or the other team makes a key error which leads to a huge inning late i the game.   Of these most recent 18 wins, 2 are definitely like that –  the 1st game of the series against St. Louis and Seattle.  Maybe you could throw in Friday night’s 14-inning game against Chicago except we were the team which kept blowing the lead.  We just didn’t blow it all the way and finally Chicago made a huge error in the 14th and the Z Man got a huge hit which have us a 4-run, insurmountable lead.

So we all know that the Nats are not going to continue to win 18 out of every 26 games and this recent hot streak has done nothing more than put us 2 games over .500 yet only 3.5 games behind Atlanta for the lead in the wild-card race.  (Am I allowed to mention the wild-card race at this point in the season or do I have to wait until at least after the all-star break?)  We are getting great pitching from everyone one and we are being lead by our young players both in the field and in the batter’s box.   By the way, all this success has come against teams with a combined .516 wining average.  Not too shabby.

So while many of us keep thinking the Nats are bound to revert back to the losers we all think they should be.  Maybe something else is happening.  Maybe our young players are learning to win and combined with some hard-working vets, there is a chemistry that is forming before us.  Maybe our young pitchers (Lannan and Zimmermann especially) combined with our cagey vets (Marquis and Hernandez) are creating a pitching rotation that can be consistent for another 84 games.  Maybe our guys, aside from Werth (who probably needs to stop batting lead-off – let’s see what Davey Johnson in all his wisdom can figure out with that situation), are learning to become better situational hitters and learning to come up big when it counts the most – see Danny Espinosa.  And maybe, this team has something just a little special.

After all, if you have been watching games, there is something contagious about the way Michael Morse – a.k.a Jus – jumps off of 1st base and pumps his fist in the air when he records the last out of the game – some kind of belief mixed with enthusiasm that will be able to carry this team through the next time they stop playing so well.

 

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Dumped

As I turned on the radio yesterday afternoon after getting out of work, I was disappointed to see that I did not catch any of the Nats game, but was very pleased to hear that we had swept the Mariners.  Then the radio guys who call the game suddenly blurted out, “we have breaking news, Jim Riggleman has just re-signed we believe with the Nats”.  I guess the piece of paper they had in their hands did not have the ‘ – ‘ .  Thus what they should have said was that Riggleman had just resigned.  Oddly enough, without the dash, they are spelled the same way.  You can’t blame them for the mistake since the Nats had won 11 of 12 and were over .500 for the 1st time in a long time.  They soon corrected their mistake leading to a period of dumbfounded disbelief that has not yet evaporated.

Riggleman made a crazy, dumb decision.  I don’t care if Rizzo’s version of the story is true (that Riggleman gave the front office the ultimatum to extend him by the end of yesterdays’ game or else) or Riggleman’s assertion that all he wanted to do was talk about an extensions is what really happened.  Riggleman is crazy to demand anything.  Until recently, many people had really been calling into question his decision-making as a manager and while he didn’t deserve all of the blame when the Nats were 27-36, he certainly doesn’t deserve all the credit for them being 38-37.  Listening to Riggleman, it sounded like he really couldn’t handle not having a longer contract as he kept on repeating in his interviews, “you can’t manage on a 1-year deal, you just can’t”.  And frankly, why should the Nats re-sign him now?  While I am hopeful that the Nats are going to continue playing great baseball and will finish over .500 and hell maybe even contend for the wild-card, things may not go that way either.   If Riggleman was fired when the Nats were 27-36, people would have thought it unfair and hasty.  I would have had the same reaction if the re-signed after yesterday’s sweep of the Mariners.

If Riggleman finished the season strong and the Nats were short-sighted enough not to re-hire a D.C. native who had been instrumental in helping turn around this baseball team, he would have had offers from other major league teams.  Now, how could anyone re-hire him?  And while I know that the world of sports has nothing to do with our reality-based existences, I would like to tell Riggleman that as a D.C. public high school teacher, I only get 1 year contracts and I have never made more than $51,000.  He could probably have made it on $600,000 this year.

The whole situation is sad and we shall soon see if baseball is more about just how well players pitch, hit, catch and throw or is there much more to it than that.

Double vision:  This white boy CAN jump!  That was my 1st reaction when I saw highlights of the Wizards pick Jan Vesely.  Now to be honest, I am not thrilled with this pick.  Too many of these European players don’t work out.  I would have preferred to see the Wizards get a big man who can bang and rebound.  All the same, Vesely can run the break and his skill-set should compliment Wall’s ability to push the ball at all times.  I’m trying to be positive, but honestly, this pick has me worried.

On the other hand, I love the Chris Singleton pick.  The dude can defend the 3 position, is long and rangy and kind of reminds me of James Posey coming out of college.  He will be a contributor on this team and I love his attitude.  In an interview I heard with him last night, he said “if we all buy in on the defensive in, we can be a great team”.  Love it Singelton.  Love IT!

The Sheldon Mack pick could be good and in theory, having a kid who can shoot well and play both guard positions should bode well for a team like us who has two solid young players in Wall and Crawford, but who needs more support of the bench.  Vesely’s development and his ability to perform in the next two years will ultimately determine whether this draft is a successful one or not, but there is some hope that we could see an improved Wizards team this year based off of the players the team chose last night.

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A little bit of magic

Wilson Ramos is greeted by teammates and and umpire (is he looking to see if Ramos touches home-plate) after the Nats catcher's 3-run game-winning HR in the bottom of the 9th in last night's 6-5 win over Seattle.

For everyone out there who says that D.C. will never be a baseball town, forgive me and everyone else for our excitement.  See after the Nats lost to Baltimore on Sunday, people like myself began wondering what would happen next.  We weren’t sure we could believe that the Nats would consider their solid play and of course much is left to be determined.  And last night’s game sure followed the nightmarish script many of us had in our minds where we envisioned the Nats following their 8-game winning streak with something like a 5-game losing streak to bury us well under .500 again.  But then the 9th inning last night happened and the Nats did something they have never done in D.C. and only once other time in the history of the franchise – score 5 runs in the bottom of the 9th to win a game.

So yes people in town are excited about the Nats.  This is the best it’s been since 2005 when no one really questioned whether this could be a baseball town because RFK was filled regularly.  Well since the Nats came back from the west coast, Nats Stadium has also been filled regularly.  Maybe not sold out like Boston, New York or Philly yet, but if the Nats give us a couple of years of good, contending baseball, we will see the numbers rise.  I can tell you this, on my way to play Quizzo in Old Town Alexandria last night, I was totally jammed under the 395-South tunnel in town due to Nats traffic. Fortunately, I got back home before the games end.  In fact, during the 9th inning, while I was listening on the radio, I was driving back through the 395 tunnel and there was no one there. That must mean that most of the 25,000 people in attendance stayed.  Yes folks, D.C. can be a baseball town.  Like all cities and fanbases, we just need a little winning and a little excitement.  Ramos’ walk-off HR is the 2nd in this homestand.  This “anything can happen and good things are happening to my baseball team” kind of feeling will continue to bring more and more folks to the stadium.

Last night, the Nats won because our much maligned lineup was able to really battle.  And what was most impressive was that many of the hits in the 9th inning came off of 2-strike counts.  This has been a trend for the Nats of last and shows real growth.  What has been nice to see also is that our younger hitters, like Desmond and Espinosa have been making adjustments in their swings to compensate for the way pitchers are attacking them.  Espinosa is tightening up his motion from the left side of the plate where pitchers are trying to jam him inside while Desmond is not chasing pitches away as much.   Espinosa’s quicker, tighter motion was on display last night on his RBI single to score the 2nd Nats run of the inning. Ramos’ game-winner came off of a 1-1 pitch but if you think about the fact that the whole rally came with 2 outs, the Nats are proving that they can perform under pressure.

 

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Now what

So it’s finally over.  To wins 8 games in a row sure felt great.  And frankly, if the Nats had won yesterday against the Orioles when our 5th starter was returning from the 15 DL, that would have been amazing.  It would have to have been a slugfest.  Yesterday, our defense finally let us down too.  The real question is, now that the streak is over, are the Nats going to be able to maintain their winning ways?  I don’t mean winning 8 in a row again, but are we going to be able to keep winning series?  We are only 2 games under .500 and have a lot of hope left in this season.

The foundation of this team’s “success” to this point in the year has been pitching and defense and while every starter is going to have bad days, it seems like most fans of the team have confidence in our 5 starters.  Ironically, Zimmerman has been the shakiest player on defense since his return and he still makes those errant throws on easy plays which leave you shaking your head.  Cora and Hairston are a lot less flashy and maybe can’t get to all the balls Zimm can, but they are more sure with their arm.  All the same, I think our defense is here to stay, maybe not at the same rate, but I think we should be able to count on it as well.

A look at the upcoming schedule shows that 4 of the next 6 pitchers we face have a losing record.  Maybe that will help our bats stay hot.

Bernadina has been playing a solid center-field recently and he had 3 homeruns in 4 days.  I continue to hope to see him develop into our everyday lead-off man even though he is not fulfilling that role currently.  I bet if you asked Nationals management, assuming that Bryce Harper will be playing by 2013 and Strasburg returns next year, a solid lead-off guy would be the only major need for this club.  The pieces have definitely been assembled.

But beyond all that, I really hope our winning ways continue because for the first time since 2005, there was some real buzz and excitement about the Nats in town and a successful month leading to the all-star break would be really nice to propel us through the summer.

Double vision:  I watched D.C.  United claw and scratch its way to a tie on Saturday night against Salt Lake City.  We have a lot of spunk coming from some of our very talented young players.  Ben Olsen has a good pulse on this team as I watched him make good substitutions throughout the 2nd half.  Both PKs that were awarded  ( one to each team) were questionable and sometimes you wish the refs wouldn’t feel a need to create scoring chances for teams.  0-0 is ok for soccer fans.  D.C. United definitely deserved a tie at least as we had two shots go off the cross-bar.  Overall, this team continues to show the perseverance necessary to perhaps make something out of a season that has definitely has its low points up until now.

Yesterday was a big day in D.C. sports as we had the US Open’s final round being played along with a the beltway battle between the O’s and Nats at the ballpark while USA played against Jamaica at RFK.

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Digging out

Danny Espinosa and the D.C. faithful celebrate his walk-off homer last night in the Nats extra-inning 6-4 victory over St. Louis - a fitting end to a 3-game sweep which saw the Nats score 22 runs and belt 8 home runs.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how the Nats’ marketing slogan for the year- “Expect it” – was somewhat ironic  because I think that at the beginning of the year, most people expected the Nats to be bad again.  And maybe they will be bad again by season’s end.  But the way they beat the Cardinals the last 3 nights in a row couldn’t leave any Nats fan thinking that not only are brighter days to come, but that this season may prove to be a “coming out party” for this team.  I’m not saying we’re going to make the playoffs, but I’m saying that we may not be eliminated from making the playoffs by the all-star break.

As with all sports I follow, I actually don’t really watch any other team regularly besides the D.C. team I root for, but could someone tell me, is there anyone hotter in baseball than Michael Morse? (My wife and I actually refer to him as “Jus” since his smile reminds us of my wife’s cousin Justin.)  Espinosa continues to be our most clutch hitter, winning the game last night with a 3-run bomb and all of a sudden the Nationals are becoming a homerun machine.  We have hit 8 in two days.  While that is obviously going to not continue happening, the Nats just swept the 2nd – 4th pitchers in the  Cardinals rotation.

And now the funny thing is, after having won 5 games in a row, when Clippard and Storen each gave up a homerun last night and blew the Nats lead, I actually expected us still to win.  And gosh darnit, we did.  A lot of people have pointed to Zimmerman’s return as a reason for the offensive outburst from the Nats and maybe there is some truth to it.  Some people have pointed out Riggleman’s move to bat the pitcher 8th consistently in the lineup and maybe that has something to do with it.  But what I have been seeing the last 3 nights are the Nationals batters, from top to bottom, making a concerted effort to have focused at-bats.  They are approaching the at-bat with a game plan and thus are not swinging at junk and immediately putting themselves in a hole at 0-2 or even better are fighting out of 0-2 holes.  (Laynce Nix did it two nights ago and drew a walk with the bases loaded.  Zimmerman did it last night after falling behind 0-2 and ended up getting a hit to lead off the bottom of the 10th).

On top of that, even though our error-less streak ended last night, we are 2nd in MLB in fielding percentage and tied for 3rd for fewest errors. Those are the kind of stats that to me are not streaky.  We are probably going to be an excellent defensive team all year which is going to help us continue to ascend the rankings as long as the pitching (which is currently ranked 10th in MLB for ERA) sticks around.

There is hope with our baseball team in the nation’s capitol.  Of course, after all of this excitement, we are still 3 games under .500 and unless we sweep the O’s, we will still be so after the weekend, but yes even the biggest cynic would have to admit that there is hope.

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The Nats had not won a game yet this year when Yunesky Maya was pitching and the Cardinals were send a 6-1 pitcher to the mound with an ERA under 3.5.  That alone told you that the 1st game of this series against the Cardinals was going to be the toughest to win.  After the Nats fell behind 6-1, how many of us really thought that we would come back?   (Crickets chirping in the background can be heard)

Then something strange happened.  Someone else’s bullpen imploded and even stranger than that, the Nats started hitting.  The Nats scored 8 runs total in their last 4 victories and scored 8 last night, 6 in the 7th inning alone.  Riggleman has stuck with batting the pitcher 8th and since he made the switch, we haven’t lost.  He has also stuck with Jayson Werth batting lead-off.  I don’t think Werth is paying all that money to bat lead-off, but then again, give him credit for not being a baby about being the table-setter and not the RBI getter.  And frankly, he hasn’t been getting all that many RBIs this year anyway, (although he had a big hit to make it 8-6 last night in the bottom of the 7th), so why not put our 2nd best player in our greatest position of need.

Riggleman said in his post-game conference that Ankiel would not play again today which means Bernadina, who played well in relief last night, should start at center field.  I don’t know where he will bat, but my hunch is that the skipper will stick with Werth at the top of the order.

The Z man struggled a bit in his return last night, but he got in on the action during the 7th by connecting on a huge two-out double which drove in a run.  Having him back should be huge for this team who is now playing very well.  Beating the Phillies before our road-trip was probably the biggest series win of the year, but last night has to be at the top of the list of best individual wins for this team which has now won 4 in a row.

Double vision: It was nice to see the Redskins gather once again for a players-led “mini-camp” session.  But I have to admit that Trent Williams absence is slightly troubling.  The dude has not shown up to any of these three lock-out sessions and, if reports are correct, is apparently not reachable even by his teammates.  People have to speak to this agent to speak to him.

OK Trent, check this out:  I know you are good and when you played last year for us, we were a better team and your absence due to injury was felt.  But at the same time, you were not a world-beater last year and didn’t make any Redskins fans forget about Jacoby or Lachey.  So if you don’t want to come to these camps because your agent says that he doesn’t want you getting hurt, fine.  But at least pick up the phone and call London Fletcher.  Everybody respects that dude.  And even though last year’s circus with Haynsie has nothing to do with you, people in this town are a little sensitive about lineman who decide to “work out on their own” as opposed to being with their teammates.

Now Laron Landry has not been here either this year.  I guess the biggest difference in my eyes between Landry and Williams is that Landry was dominating last year in the new system before he got hurt.   Could he use some time to build a little more comradery with his teammates and hang out with Kerrigan? Sure.  But at least we know that he has this stuff down.  Plus he sent out some insane pics of himself to the Sports Bog which at least reminds all Redskins fans that he is in shape and ready for the new year.

I would not expect Moss, nor Donovan, nor Rogers to be here, but Rocky was at practice yesterday and has been at all three.  I thought the ‘Skins would not be resigning him this year and let Perry Riley take over for him, but now I am beginning to wonder whether this kind of dedication to the team and his teammates without having a contract signed is exactly the kind of thing we need more of.    Maybe McIntosh should stay around for a couple of more years.

Nothing is sure these days, but at least with the Redskins practicing somewhere in the area, things are feeling a little more normal.

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