SORIANO SWINGS, NATIONALS WIN
[May 31st] -- Man, I hate these "Businessman Special" games that baseball teams play on "getaway days." Oh, it's not the afternoon ball I object to; I like that. It's that I ALWAYS forget that it's an afternoon game and miss the action! I surfed over to the Nationals home page to check on another story and noticed all the innings boxes were filled with numbers at the top of the page, and it wasn't the score from Tuesday's game.
Based upon Chad Cordero's problems during the 9th inning, however, I guess I'm happy I didn't have to watch the Nationals come that close to blowing the lead, and the win.
That said, the Nationals avoided being swept by the Philadelphia Phillies as Livan Hernandez continues to battle back to respectability, winning 3-2. Livan pitched seven strong innings, allowing five hits and two runs. I think that Hernandez could be one of the first "stars" run out of town by the new ownership group. Both Frank Robinson and Jim Bowden were upset that he came to spring training so out of shape after having his knee surgically repaired over the winter. Of all the Nats' stars, Livan probably is the most marketable, even more so than Alfonso Soriano, but only because he is a proven pitcher. And, of all the possible roster moves to come, Livan will be the player least missed. I have a really good feeling about Mike O'Connor's future in Washington, and whether it's Shawn Hill, or Mike Hinkley, or Colin Balestar, or Clint Everts who fills out the remainder of the rotation, it's going to become a young, talented staff. John Patterson can certainly take Livan's place as resident "stud," and if Armas remains healthy, the rest of the guys will pitch no worse than Ramon Ortiz et. al.
Alfonso Soriano hit his 19th homer of the season, trailing only Albert Pujols in that category. Each new homer brings more trade rumors, and I have to say, I like the latest. Whispers from the left coast are suggesting that the Angels are/were/will consider(ing) a trade that would bring Soriano to Los Angeles for Erick Aybar and Joe Saunders. Aybar is an intriguing player. At 21, he's playing at 'AAA' Salt Lake City (I've actually seen him play a couple of times -- never knew who he was) and is on pace for a .292 - 17 - 92 season with 52 stolen bases. Saunders, 25, is also playing for the Bees, and has crafted a fine 6-2, 2.61 ERA season thus far. Frankly, that sounds like too much talent in return for a guy who might end up playing less than 80 games for the Angels.
Mike Vento got another start, and went 1-3 with a walk. Vento has hit everywhere he's played, another one of those guys who just never seems to get a real opportunity at the major league level. When Guillen is traded (And Nats' mouthpiece Bill Ladson reported in the last few days that Guillen won't remain with the Nats too much longer), Vento could certainly take his place, at least in the short term. Vento reminds me of another outfielder, though, who has been (apparently) tossed overboard permanently by the Nationals, Ryan Church.
Some potential bad news: Jose Vidro, who was seen limping during Tuesday's game, was held out of Wednesday's contest as a precaution. Vidro says he's fine, and that his slump is just a slump, but his history says otherwise. If he is in fact is having problems with that same knee, his trade value will be such that if the Nationals do move him, it will be because of payroll considerations and not an attempt to stock the farm system. I hope it's nothing, but I don't feel good about this.
Oh, by the way, if you didn't see the game, Marlon Byrd's catch that "robbed" a home run was .... well .... nice, but not great. Byrd pulled back a ball that was heading over a six foot fence -- not exactly one of those "Michael Jordan" leaps that defied gravity. That said, it saved a run.
The Nationals are off to Milwaukee to play the Brewers, a team that had to wait more than a decade before finding the right combination of kids and veterans. Maybe the Nats can learn from the Brewers 1) what to do in the short term and 2) what not to do in the long term.
CASTRO COMES TO WASHINGTON? DON'T TELL STATE!
[May 31st] -- The Nats lost to the Phillies 4-2 on Tuesday, and have now lost the first two games on their road trip. Tony Armas pitched pretty well, but, besides Marlon Byrd's two-run homer, they really isn't much to write about.
So I won't.
As many of you know, I have been pushing for the Nationals' management to "begin anew" this summer by trading away as many of their marketable veterans as they can. Prospects - prospects - prospects; that's my mantra, baby. This isn't my first choice, however. I still believe that the Lerners, and Stan Kasten, owe, yes owe, Nationals' fans a winner, now, not five years from now. If they would only sign one super-star free agent (ala Alfonso Soriano), one near-star free agent (like Nick Johnson) and a couple of solid players (along the lines of Esteban Loiaza from last year), and the team could easily finish second in the NL East. But that's not going to happen. So if Kasten is going to "partially" blow up the Nats, he might as well go all the way. It'll hurt just the same.
The first player the Nationals should trade is Jose Vidro. Why?
Because you know, and I know, that sooner or later, that gimpy, surgically-repaired knee is going to give out. It could happen next week, or it could happen next month. But it's going to happen. Vidro is at the top of leader board in batting average right now, so his value cannot increase; it'll only go down. Vidro will be 32 this August, and has missed far more games the past few seasons than he has played. A half a dozen teams would make a deal tonight if Bowden (or Kasten) would be willing to pull the trigger. The Mets have been trying to get rid of Kaz Matsui pretty much since the day they signed him; acquiring Vidro could just be the final piece needed to once and for all dethrone the Atlanta Braves as NL East mega-demons. The Nationals could easily get a special prospect as well as a solid 3rd outfielder type for Vidro, perhaps even more. But if Vidro goes, who would play second?
The first reaction would be to play Marlon Anderson, or Damian Jackson, or both for the remainder of the season. But what about Bernie Castro? If the Nationals are really intent on rebuilding, wouldn't now be the right time to find out if this kid can play at the major league level? Castro spent some time on the DL this year, but he's been lights-out when healthy. He's hitting .360 in 75 at-bats, and is sporting a .400 on base percentage. Castro has also swiped 8 bases without being caught. These kind of numbers are nothing new for the 26 year old. Over six minor league campaigns, Castro has amassed a .288 career batting average and 238 stolen bases to go with a .370 on base percentage. In an 80 at-bat "cup of coffee" with the Orioles last season, Castro hit .288 and stole 6 bases. Projected over a full season, Castro would have garnered 21 doubles and 7 triples to go along with 42 RBI's. He was on pace to steal 44 bases.
Look, there is no question that the player-personnel guys that work for the Nationals know what they're doing, but Castro seems to be another Rick Short, someone whose extensive minor league success demands at least an opportunity to show what he can do. The franchise has been looking for a "true" leadoff hitter since their days in Montreal; why not give this "true" leadoff hitter a chance as the team begins to down-shift from a team laden with major league veterans to a younger, cheaper franchise?
It makes too much sense not to do.
NATS LOSE, BUT THE FUTURE WINS
First, did they win? Yes? Cool. No? Well, did they lose "gracefully?" Not on Monday. Okay, down to question number four: "How'd the kids do?" Ahah! Good news, even in a blowout loss.
Ryan Zimmerman went 2-4 with a home run and an RBI. Even better, he didn't strikeout once (which has to be some sort of record). Zimmerman's batting average, once the sole sore spot on his otherwise stellar first year resume, is now a positive. Zimmerman leads all National League rookies in home runs and RBI's, and is 5th in batting average. Prince Fielder is the kid's main competition for top rookie honors, and although he has a higher batting average (.324), he also has many more strikeouts and plays first base worse than his father Cecil did (as if that's possible). Unless he gets hit by a bus, or he begins reading his own press clippings, he certainly should be the odds-on-favorite to nab the award come October.
Mike O'Connor pitched well before he got whacked on the ankle, ending his effort prematurely at five innings plus a batter. He gave up two runs, but Gary Majewski was feeling generous Monday and served up a three run homer to Ryan Howard, allowing O'Connor's last run. Seven starts into his young career and he has yet to allow more than three runs in any game. He lost and is now 2-3. No sweat. His ERA "jumped" from 2.65 to 3.00 (Thanks Gary!) ... who cares. Something wonderful happened on Monday. O'Connor's only problem so far this season is his propensity to walk too many batters and strike out too few. Against the Phillies, the kid struck out five in five innings while walking no one.
This isn't going to be a season that will be judged by wins and losses; well, at least it shouldn't be. I'm fully prepared to watch the Nationals lose battle after battle, as long as they win the war. What's the war? Well, the war is the process of putting together a team that will not just be good in a few years, but great. Every time Ryan Zimmerman hits a homer or makes a superb catch at third, each time that Mike O'Connor gives up less than four runs each time he takes the mound, we win. If O'Connor and Shawn Hill and the rest of the Zephyrs and Senators pitchers show promise at RFK this year, Stan Kasten and the Lerners have one less problem to deal with this off season. While I agree that the Nationals have one of the worst minor league systems in the big leagues, they do have several players who could make an impact in the next few years, and, in this case, quality over quantity might just be enough to make a difference.So, while the Nationals lost on Sunday, the future won, and that, my friends, is a really good thing.
BACK AMONG THE LIVING
[May 28th] -- So, the Washington Nationals are again playing baseball reminiscint of the style that allowed the team to win twelve consecutive games about this time last year. The fundamental mistakes that plagued the team are now gone. The starting pitching, once among the worst in the major leagues, is now playing as if they are one of the best. The offense is once again strong; the "big boys" are mashing the ball while the supporting players, guys like Royce Clayton and Damian Jackson, are producing at a high level as well. If the team leaves "well enough" alone, and there are no serious injuries from now until October, they might, just might, get close enough to .500 to make the season "successful enough."
But to accept mediocrity at this point will push back the team's championship frontier by a half-decade, maybe more. The Nationals have several very marketable players who can help today's team come close to a 500 record, or they can be traded for multiple prospects who can create something very special about the time the new ball park opens, perhaps a little later.
Stan Kasten has already said that the free-agent market, at least for the foreseeable future, is a non starter. With a minor league system void of real talent, the team's only real help is to trade roster talent today in hopes of sewing the seeds for a stronger tomorrow. The problem is, two of their mid-level stars, Nick Johnson and Brian Schneider, will have played out their contracts by the time the young kids mature, leaving them both very expensive and relatively old. Schneider will be 34 and Johnson 32 when their contracts expire. They should be traded now. Johnson is on pace to hit 38 homers and drive in more than 100 runs while keeping his on base percentage at the top of league statistics. How quickly would, say, the Atlanta Braves jump at the chance to trade for Nick and replace their below-par first baseman, Adam LaRoche? The Braves would send the Nationals two solid prospects for Nick at least, perhaps even throwing in a mid-level guy who would be buried in the Braves far system but who could make a difference in D.C.? And Brian Schneider is considered the premier defensive catcher in the National League, a guy who could instantly turn a pretender into a contender with his game calling skills. Jose Vidro, who is the leader in batting average, could bring another three prospects, while Alfonso Soriano could bring four. Livan Hernandez, now that he's pitching well again, could garner three prospects as well. By trading those five players now, the Nationals would help themselves in two ways. First, they could get enough prospects to stock an entire minor league club and second, save millions upon millions of dollars in payroll that could be used to further shore up the minor league system.
There are players on the roster today that could provide enough offense to keep the team somewhat competitive. Dayrle Ward and Matt LeCroy could combine for 20 home runs at first base. Marlon Anderson and Damian Jackson would be steady enough at second, and there are enough outfielders to at least man every position. Catcher would be a difficulty, and the team would have to get someone in return to take over for Brian -- perhaps a vet nearing the end of his career.
The pitching staff, just weeks ago among the sorriest in the National League, is looking stronger and stronger each day. Mke O'Connor seems to be a keeper, and Shawn Hill, once top prospect, has shown that at least he is capable of pitching at this level. Add a healthy John Patterson and Tony Armas Jr, and promote Jon Rauch from the bullpen, and you have, on paper at least, a pretty solid starting rotation. And if Ramon Ortiz continues to pitch well, he could be traded for prospects too.
Add these potential prospects to the two first round draft picks due to be plucked from the ranks of the amateurs in a couple of weeks, and the Nationals could emerge towards the end of the decade as one of the very best teams in the National League. How bad will things be in the meantime? Well, the Nationals (as they are constituted now) are probably headed for a 73 win season. Without all the studs, they may win 65.
It's worth it, isn't it?
NATS DOMINATE ASTROS, WIN SERIES
You can't blame the Houston Astros; it was a smart idea. The Nationals' catcher is a first baseman, and not a very good one at that. In six innings, they stole seven bases, something that hasn't happened in the National League for many years. With his team clinging to a 7-5 lead, with two Astros on base and no outs, Frank Robinson did something that I have never seen in 40+ years of watching baseball: he pulled his catcher. With Brian Schneider still out, and Wiki Gonzalez still woozy from being hit in the head two days ago, LeCroy was Robinson's only real choice to start the game. He replaced him with Robert Fick, another "former" catcher who wasn't good enough to catch in the big leagues on an every day basis.
It killed Frank.
In his post game interview, Frank was in tears, despondent that he "showed up" his player. LeCroy, however, took it in stride, saying he would have done the same thing. In the end, it stopped all of the thefts and the Nationals held on for an 8-5 victory over Houston.
Tony Armas didn't pitch particularly well, but he still hung around long enough to win his 5th game of the year. His ERA crept up a bit, to 3.44, but he did strike out six Astros in five innings. Ryan Zimmerman continues to impress. The kid got two more hits (including his 5th bunt single of the year) and made two outstanding diving catches in the field, both of which ended up being the top "Web Gem" of the night on ESPN.
So the boys have won five out of their last six games. How? Why all of a sudden are they playing solid baseball? Because statistically, they had to. The Nationals are a slightly below average team, but not a bad one. Sooner or later, they had to start getting a few breaks and win more games then they lost.
I wonder what the new owners will do about the team's future if they start a prolonged winning streak. Regardless of how fun this past week has been, they still need to trade some of their players for prospects. Winning 75 games won't warrant keeping the team together.
They still need to make those trades, no matter how hard it might be.
OH BOY, O'CONNOR!
That said, the Washington Nationals continue to play well during their first real "hot streak" of the 2006 season. After winning their last two games against the Baltimore Orioles, the Nats have taken two out of three from the Houston Astros and have now won four out of their last five games.
It's about time.
It was a weird game, that's for sure. Jose Guillen tried to scratch his eye with his batting glove on, and well, he scratched his eye. Mission accomplished, I guess. Wiki Gonzalez got ker-plunked on the head by a Preston Wilson backswing. Both players were gone long before the game was over.
The most weird (weirdest?) thing to happen was the brain cramp by all-star Roy Oswalt. Damian Jackson, who continues to play well as the team's de facto center fielder, led off the 6th inning with a double, and later reached 3rd with two out. With an 0-2 count. Oswalt lifted his leg and ..... walked off the mound towards third base. My son said, "Wasn't that a balk, Dad?" I thought so. So did Oswalt. However, it took a huddle by all the umpires to get it right, but they did, and Jackson was awarded home plate, which tied the game. To his credit, home plate umpire Larry Young, after watching a replay, said he couldn't believe that he blew the call.
The Nationals shouldn't have won the game. The Astros trotted out Oswalt to start the game, and brought in Brad Lidge to keep the game close. He didn't. Lidge gave up three runs on three hits without retiring a batter. How often does that happen? But the odds were even more lopsided than that. The Nationals were throwing their version of David against the Astros' Goliath. Mike O'Connor, who just a month or so ago was pitching in the Pacific Coast League, was starting only his sixth major league game. With all that going against him, O'Connor came through. Again. The 25 year old gave up just three hits and one walk in six strong innings, allowing only Morgan Ensberg's 16th home run of the year. The only knock against O'Connor this year has been his control (15 walks in 28 innings), but he allowed just one walk against Houston. His 2.65 ERA is now the best among the team's starters.
O'Connor is showing every time he takes the mound that he has the potential become an important part of the Nats' rotation. I love the sound of a starting rotation that would include John Patterson, Jon Rauch, Mike O'Connor and Tony Armas Jr. They are all young, and have proven that they can do the job. Shawn Hill, who will probably be making a start for the big club one day soon, showed this year at Harrisburg (2.64 ERA in 44 innings) that he has the stuff to at least get a "look-see." That's five young starters, and the Potomac troika of Colin Balestar, Mike Hinkley and Clint Everts are still learning their craft, giving the team depth and even more hope for the future.
Now's the time to move Livan. Pedro Astacio will be available next month and Ramon Ortiz has gotten his "groove" back. The Nats will have dozens of opportunities to trade Hernandez, and the team will likely get two, perhaps three prospects in return (probably one can't miss, one could miss, and one in need of a "change of scenery." The bullpen is doing it's job and hope is a word that is once again in the Nats' vocabulary.
It would be easy for Jim Bowden and/or Stan Kasten to put down the telephone and stop opening other team's emails now that the team is starting to win consistantly. Wrong. Now is exactly the time to make those deals for prospects, when the bait is plump and fat and wiggly.
I'm still bitter, but it's a happy kind of bitter these days.
NATS PLAY LONG BALL AGAIN, BEAT HOUSTON 4-1
The Washington Nationals are now winners of three of their last four games, and are ever-so-slowly beginning to show some signs of life. Don't get me wrong; I'm not expecting ten game winning streak, but with the season a quarter finished, the Nats have yet to play even a week of solid baseball. Sooner or later, it had to happen.
After starting the season 0-4, Ramon Ortiz won his second game of the season, holding the Astros to just six hits and one run in seven innings as the Nats beat the Astros, 4-1. Reports are surfacing that Ortiz has relied more on location and less on speed the last couple of outings. Whatever the reason, there has certainly been a difference in his ability to spot the ball recently. Hopefully, he can pitch at or near .500 for the remainder of his tenure in Washington.
What's with Damian Jackson? Starting in centerfield because the team's regular center fielder, Ryan Church, is in Harrisburg these days, Jackson hit a home run for the second consecutive game, a solid shot to left center. A month ago, I was beginning to think that Jackson was a bust -- yet another poor choice made by Jim Bowden. Hmm. Maybe I was wrong. Now, I've always been a Daryle Ward fan; in fact, I tried to talk Jim Bowden into trading Nick Johnson early in spring training and going with a Ward / Matt LeCroy platoon (he didn't listen, of course). Ward hit his second pinch homer of the year waaaaaay into the upper deck in right field.
Alfonso Soriano hit his 16th of the year, and is proving all of us wrong regarding his ability to hit homers at RFK. I think the average of all the blogger predictions for Soriano was about 24-26 home runs. He should get there before the all star break. Dave Sheinin said in a chat yesterday that he didn't believe the Nationals had any chance of resigning Soriano unless the team offered him Miguel Tejada like numbers, and that aint gonna happen. So will the Nats trade him for prospects, or let him have a monster year in Washington only to lose him to free agency? Stan Kasten is shrewed enough to make the trade. Heck, even Bowden would pull the trigger on that deal.
So, is this short respite away from the loss column simply a correction that was bound to happen, or have the Nationals turned the corner, and are now ready to play competitive ball for the remainder of the year?
I don't know. We'll just have to wait and see.
Oh, and by the way: I'm still bitter.
BITTER? HECK YES I'M BITTER
We'll just have to wait and see.
BOWDEN: WE'RE CLOSE TO MAKING CHANGES
[May 21st] -- That the Washington Nationals won their game Saturday night is newsworthy, I guess. Sporting the fourth worst record in the Major Leagues, the Nats played well in their 8-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. But the team made more news Saturday night, not for something they have done, but rather for something they are likely about to do.
In an interview with Bill Ladson at the team's official website, team general manager Jim Bowden for the first time indicated that the Nationals are considering jettisoning several of their veteran players. In fact, it seemed that the only thing keeping players like Felix Rodriguez, Royce Clayton and Joey Eischen on the 25 man roster is money. Not only would the team have to pay off the contracts of the veterans, but they would also incur the cost of the kids joining the team. But they aren't the only veterans who could lose their job to the team's youth movement. Damian Jackson could go as well. Do the Nationals need both Robert Fick and Marlon Anderson? Daryle Ward and Matthew LeCroy seem repetitive; they might keep one of them.
Bowden said that Billy Bray, Saul Rivera and Santiago Ramirez are ready now, while Kory Casto, Frank Diaz and Shawn Hill will be ready very soon. Casto will be moved back to the outfield, his original position, if the Nationals can't resign Alfonso Soriano, something that I doubt will happen.
Were I the person making the decisions, I would start trading for prospects in another month, when the "big boys" know what they need and know what they're willing to give up. Chad Cordero should be the first to go. A bad team doesn't need a closer, but boy-oh-boy, a pennant contender sure does. How badly would, say, the Braves, want a closer of the caliber of a Chad Cordero? Soriano, who hit his 15th home run on Saturday, is probably coveted by every team in contention. Surprisingly, fifteen teams have contacted the Nationals about Jose Guillen. The Mets have asked about Livan, but Bowden said that at a minimum, he'd want Lastings Milledge in return. Oh brother. Jose Vidro should be traded now, before his knee gives out.
But the house-cleaning needs to go deeper than that. Based on Stan Kasten's "free agents aren't the answer" pledge, it will be several years before the team is competitive again. By that time, both Nick Johnson and Brian Schneider will be in their early 30's and in the last year(s) of their contracts. Might as well trade them now and get some quality prospects in return. Both players could start for 75% of major league teams today. Nick Johnson would make a big difference in Boston or Los Angeles.
The players the Nationals could obtain in return for these players would begin to mature about the time the team moves into it's new stadium. You couldn't ask for better timing.
NATS CONTINUE TO SLIP-SLIDE AWAY....
[May 20th] -- So, tonight was the night. This was to be the end of the beginning, the beginning of the next part of the Nationals' story in Washington. The new ownership group was approved yesterday, and the arch-rival Baltimore Orioles were playing a regular season game in RFK Stadium for the first time since the Nixon Administration. Scalpers were supposed to have been lined up in front of the stadium, selling tickets for twice their face value. Orioles and Nationals' fans were scheduled to pummel each other in the parking lots.
Instead, 30,000 mostly disinterested fans showed up.
I'm not sure what was worse; the fact that game one of the Beltway Series was played on Friday and no one seemed to notice, or the fact that, save Alfonso Soriano's single-swing heroics, Washington would have been shut out for the third time in four games. For now, we have to look beyond wins and losses. We have to pluck from the manure pile something that doesn't smell too bad.
And that's tough these days.
Mike O'Connor is continuing to show that the Nats should make his spot in the starting rotation permanent, at least until the end of the season. Once John Patterson returns from his stint on the DL, the Nats will have a pretty solid top-of-the-rotation with Patterson, O'Connor and Tony Armas Jr. Jon Rauch could be a good one as well, perhaps just a notch below Patterson. Add one of the many intriguing minor league arms to that group and the pitching problem will be close to being settled.
Every home run hit by Alfonso Soriano this month ups his trade value. No way he's still with the team anywhere close to the treading deadline. By trading Soriano, Livan Hernandez, Jose Vidro, Jose Guillen and Chad Cordero, the Nats could stock their barren farm system with a dozen prospects, a third of them of the can't-miss variety, with another two out out of the remaining eight kids succeeding in the bigs as well. So, why trade five stars (or near stars) today for five future stars (or near stars) tomorrow? Because the other six guys, while not studs, will flesh out the depth chart with quality players. They could be five more Ryan Church's, or five more Jon Rauch's. The difference between a first place and a last place team is who they trot in from the bench (with the exception of the Yankees and Red Sox, of course).
For now, all we can do is hope that the trade-bait keeps playing well enough to bring some prospects sometime soon.
ZIMMERMAN CONTINUES TO IMPROVE
[May 19th] -- There has been far too much pressure placed on young Ryan Zimmerman this year. By me, that is. Zimmerman, just one year out of the University of Virginia, was the first draft pick of the "Washington Nationals." General Manager Jim Bowden, heaped so much praise on the third baseman that I even wondered why he was heading to the minor leagues in the first place. "His defense is major league ready right now." said Bowden, adding, "I wouldn't be surprised to find him playing RFK later this year." His "cup of coffee" in September, when hit nearly .400, showed us that he could play at the major league level when things were going well, but what would he do when pitchers found his weakness?
Adjust. Mr. Zimmerman would adjust.
His first full season has been a series of ebbs and flows, a great game followed by a lousy one, a long home run followed by a three-pitch strikeout, a "Brooks Robinson" like play at third followed by a "Alfonso Soriano" like play. But such is the learning curve in the major leagues. All of his fellow first round picks from last year are still in the minor leagues, a few at the Triple-A level, but the majority of them remain in the low minor leagues, hoping that one day soon they can be where Zimmerman is now: the major leagues.
A month ago, Zimmerman was on pace to hit 20 home runs, drive in 100 runs, and strike out 180 times. Today, with a quarter of the season gone, Zimmerman's "good" and "bad" numbers are improving. At his current pace, he is on pace to hit the following:
Games:160 ~ AB:612 ~ Runs:80 ~ Hits:160 ~ 2B:28 ~ 3B:0 ~ HR:28 ~ RBI:88 ~ Walks:68 ~ K's:144 ~ SB:12. He currently has a .261 batting average, a .333 on base percentage and a .444 slugging average. Do you remember what most of us were predicting he would hit before the season started? We all guessed in the range of .260-13-60, give or take.
And he's a rookie with less than a half-season of minor league ball under his belt.
For a rookie, Zimmerman is playing pretty darn well. The Phillies had a rookie third baseman a few years ago who batted .196-18-52 as a 23 year old rookie. His name was Mike Schmidt. Chipper Jones, also 23, batted .265-23-86 as a rookie. Scott Rolen batted .283-21-92 his first year. He was 22. So, compared to other rookie third baseman who matured into some of the very best in major league history, Zimmerman is not only holding his own but in many cases playing even better.
He's a special player. Solid offense with superb defense, the kind of guy who comes around only once in a great while. Hopefully, Stan Kasten will take a page out of the Cleveland Indians' playbook and sign Zimmerman to a long-term deal, keeping them 1) affordable and 2) here.
AMID THE GLOOM, HOPE SHINES THROUGH
[May 15th] -- Because the Nationals are winning a game a week right now, we can't look at single win in a positive way ... after all, even the worst teams in the major leagues win every once in awhile. No, we have to look within the win in the hopes of finding some good news among the endless stream of bad.
- Tony Armas pitched another gem, allowing only three hits in seven innings while striking out six. He is now 4-2 with an ERA of 3.02. This is the Tony Armas that Omar Minaya envisioned as the key to the franchise's starting rotation. Bowden (or his replacement) is in a conundrum. If Armas continues to pitch well, he will become a hot commodity on the free agent market this winter. If the Nationals, however, sign him to a long-term deal, they run the risk of him breaking down again and essentially throwing all that money away. That said, Armas is on pace to win 16 games this year; it's a risk worth taking. He's only 27 years old.
- Ryan Zimmerman has done all that was asked of him so far this year, with the possible exception of hitting for average. But it looks like he's beginning to correct that too. Zimmerman was batting .239 just a couple of series ago, but five hits in the last two games has seen him up his average to a very respectable .266. Zimmerman is on pace to hit .266 with 25 home runs and 92 RBI's, a yeoman-like effort for a guy less than a year out of college. The only asterisk among his high-caliber stats is the fact that he is likely to strike out 150 times this season. While that sounds very high (and it is), consider the fact that just two weeks ago, Zimmerman was heading for a 200+ strikeout total. But he is learning to lay off the outside fluff-stuff and as a result, he's striking out less. If he continues to improve, he may end the year with only 110-120 strikeouts.
The starting rotation, threadbare as it is, is beginning to show some signs of maturation. This assumes, by the way, that Livan Hernandez is traded at some point for prospects. John Patterson has proven that he is a top-of-the-rotation stud. Tony Armas Jr. has always said that if healthy, he deserves to be part of the team's rotation. He's right. Jon Rauch has been lights-out in the bullpen, and he has the "stuff" that allows him to translate that success to the rotation. Mike O'Connor certainly deserves the chance to stay in the rotation for the rest of the year. The fifth spot could be nabbed by one of the members of the revolving-door group of Ryan Drese, Pedro Astacio and Ramon Ortiz. That has the potential to be a pretty solid rotation.
The Nats' 8-1 win over the Braves on Sunday was fun. It didn't mean a thing, but it was fun. Hopefully, we'll have some more fun at some point this week.
NATS BETTER THAN ROYALS, BUT STANDINGS DON'T SHOW IT
I'll try now.
The Washington Nationals have twelve wins this season, only two more than the Kansas City Royals. In the standings at least, the teams seem equally bad. But in reality, that's not the case at all. Where the Royals are composed of guys either trying to make it in the big leagues or not good enough to play anywhere else, the Nationals' roster is peppered with all stars and budding super-stars. Yet, both teams are on pace to win roughly the same number of games come October 1st. Reggie Sanders is leading all of the Royals position players with four home runs. Five Nats have four or more homers, with two players in double figures. Few if any of the Royals would have much of a chance of starting on most other major league teams -- certainly none of them would start on the Nationals. Their free agent prize of 2006, Reggie Sanders, signed with the Royals because no one else wanted him, or at least at a dollar figure Sanders sought. Of the Nationals' eight starters, six of them (Schneider, Johnson, Vidro, Zimmerman, Soriano and Guillen) would start on many other teams. Even with the Nationals so thread-bare in the starting rotation, I don't see a single Royals' starter joining the Nats' rotation.
So why are the teams virtually tied in the standings?
First, the wear and tear of the past few years has got to have harmed the club, first as the Montreal Expos playing in front of Minor League crowds in stadiums north, and south, of the continental United States, and later as the Nats, with no owner, no stadium, no support from the D.C. City Council and no foreseeable hope for still some time to come. Second, while I like Frank Robinson, he seems to be making more tactical mistakes per game then any other manager I can think of. While the players publicly say they like Frank, I'll bet that they make fun of him behind closed doors.
On opening day, before a game was played, the Nationals looked like a 76 win team, a franchise who had six out of eight starters who likely would be part of the team for years to come. The starting pitching was thin, but the new owner's checkbook would have easily taken care of that by the time the next opening day rolled around. Now, new team president Stan Kasten has said that the team is going to build through the farm system, and that no new payroll dollars will be added anytime soon.
The players now know that there is only one option left on the table. Many of them will be traded in the coming weeks and months for those very minor league prospects that Kasten believes is going to turn the team around. How difficult it must be for a player to keep his mind on what's going on at home plate when he's unsure what's going to happen to him, and his team, tomorrow, or perhaps the next day.
Kasten and team Lerner might as well begin the process of trading the team's stars now. The Royals are proof that the difference between a good team playing bad and a bad team playing bad is only two games in the standings.
THERE AREN'T ENOUGH WORDS ....
[May 12th] -- Over the past few weeks, at least two Nationals' blogs went dark, and two others made the move from daily (or almost daily) posting to "as the need arises." Over the past few days, several of my fellow bloggers have admitted that they are finding it difficult to find positive things to write about, that trying to come up with interesting takes on these bad games has made blogging less fun.
And then this happens.
I'm not going to go into any great detail of what happened; we all know the story by now. The Nats tied the game at 1-1 in the 9th, went up 4-1 in the 11th and then lost the game 5-4 when Ken Griffey launched a walk-off home run off of Joey Eischen.
Forget for a moment Nick Johnson's 10th home run of the young season, or Jose Vidro's three hits, or Zach Day's seven inning, seven hit, one run performance. Let's focus on the loss. This wasn't just another loss, it was a loss that left the Nationals' team feeling as if it's living under some kind of voo-doo spell, that no matter what they do, no matter how good they play, bad things are going to happen. They're proving that they are playing under a spell, game after game, after game, after game ....
I'm so glad that I still have final exams to prepare for -- that gives me a good excuse to not write any more tonight. I'm beginning to feel that sense of discomfort that Basil and others have referred to, that no matter how long I sit at my desk, regardless of how many catchy phrases I come up with, none of it is making me particularly happy. Now that we have an owner, and a stadium, and there isn't anything left to wait for, I'm feeling a little down.
And games like this just seem to make it worse.
DEAD MAN WALKING?
For all of his career, Livan has been "Mr Automatic;" wind him up on opening day, point him towards the mound, and watch him go. Since 1996, he's averaged 233 innings per season. He always gives up a lot of hits and walks, but he has always seemed to pitch better when the other team was threatening to score. In 2005, he won 15 games in spite of playing the second half of the year on a bad knee, a knee he had repaired this off season. Cool. If he could have that type of year while being injured and overweight, what could he accomplish once healthy and lean?
Congrats to the Nats! Man, what a difference a ball park makes, huh?
Be back as soon as I get my computer "situation" fixed.
REAL LIFE CALLS
[May 10th] -- Talk about a momentous month! May brings both my 50th birthday and my first grandchild, Emma Grace. Being called grandpa doesn't make me feel older, but hitting 50? That is one of "those" milestones that makes your foundations shake.
When I was a senior in high school, a fifty year-old parent would have been born in 1924, twelve years after the sinking of the Titanic and five years after the end of the first World War. A guy my age then would have suffered through the Great Depression, and fought during World War II. He would have remembered life before television, and would have opened his Sunday paper and looked at classifieds marked "White Only."
At fifty, I have seen none of that as an adult. Other than a gas crisis or two, and couple of really bad presidents (one Republican and one Democratic), my generation has lived through unprecedented good-times. I had to deal with none of the pain and world-wide panic that gripped the world for almost three decades. None of my friends died fighting a war they didn't volunteer for. I almost feel guilty at my good luck.
And what about baby Emma? She will likely live until the year 2090, maybe even longer. Will her life be more like the turbulent era that my father's generation lived through, or will her life be more like that of George Jetson, who pushed a button all day long?
I don't know. But I'm proud of my daughter Kira for the person she grew up to be, and I'm hopeful that Emma will make a difference during her time on Earth.
Like me. I made a difference by writing about a baseball team. I mean, I did make a difference, right???
NATS GARNER FIRST WIN IN RED TOGS
Forget everything else for a moment; the Nationals drew more than 30,000 fans to RFK for the first time in many games, a good sign that the "on again / off again" fans are "on again." The die-hards will always show up, but those on the periphery, those who would just as soon go to the Smithsonian as they would a baseball fan, are ready to return. That's very good news.
The Good Stuff:
Mike O'Connor: O'Connor won his second game since being recalled from 'AAA' New Orleans, in his third quality start. In five innings, O'Connor gave up five hits and struck out three; his ERA is now 2.12. O'Connor continues to struggle with his control, allowing another four walks. He has now given up ten walks in seventeen innings -- not exactly Greg Maddux like. That said, he has allowed only ten hits in those seventeen innings. If he can regain his control without giving up more hits in the process, O'Connor will develop into a very credible, very solid starter. John Patterson will be rejoining the Nationals in ten days to two weeks, and someone has to be optioned to New Orleans. More than likely, it will be either O'Connor or Jason Bergman, and that's too bad, as they're both pitching very well. How about Gary Majewski??
Jose Guillen: Guillen is starting to hit like the guy we remember from last year. He got two more hits on Sunday and launched what one writer described as a "Frank Howard" type of upper deck home run. Instead of boo-hoo'ing about RFK's deep alleys, he's begun to pull the ball to left -- where RFK gives up most of it's home runs. More than that, he seems to have his head in the game again, catching catchable balls and making good throws back towards the infield.
Ryan Zimmerman: Ryan had two hits on Sunday including a long double to the gap in right-center field. His batting average is slowly creeping up (now at .246) , but more importantly, he's not getting hurt by prolonged slumps. It seems he never goes more than one game without a hit. He made his second error of the year, but those occasional miscues are largely forgotten when he makes one of his stunning defensive gems. Like Tom Paciorek said, "This kid has the chance to become a very special player."
Chad Cordero looked good -- coming in with two out in the 8th and the tying run on third and getting the third out on one pitch. He pitched an uneventful 9th for his 3rd save of the year. His ERA is now 2.40.
The Nationals beat a bad team, and that's what they're going to have to do to make up for the losses against the good teams. The Nats are still heading for a tough finish -- 70 wins might be a number to shoot for. This season, though, has to be played "one game at a time." We will have to get our "jollies" by extracting a good thing that happened in a particular at bat, or inning -- hoping to find a lot of good every night would be asking too much.
NATS LOSE TO PIRATES 5-4
[May 7th] -- Jason Bay hit a game-winning, 11th inning home run off of Felix Rodriguez to propel the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals.
That's all I've got to say about yet another loss to yet another very bad team, except to mention that Jason Bay should have hit that ball for the Nationals. Omar Minaya traded Bay a few seasons ago for a nobody, an absolute nobody. If Minaya hadn't of destroyed the franchise, Bay would still be with the team. As would Cliff Lee. And Brandon Phillips. And Grady Sizemore. And Cliff Floyd. And .......
NATS BEAT PIRATES 6-0
[May 6th] -- Man, did that feel good or what? After two very discomforting losses to the very bad Florida Marlins, the Nationals regrouped on Friday and beat the even worse Pittsburgh Pirates, 6-0. But forget for a moment how bad the Pirates are, wins are coming very infrequently these days; lets savor the winning aroma for as long as we can.
Zach Day pitched the way that team officials believed he could since his early days with the franchise. In seven shutout innings, Day allowed only four hits and one walk while striking out five; his record is now 2-3. But was Day that good or the Pirates that bad? The Pirates came into Friday's game with a team batting average of only .235 and a very "blah" .300 on-base percentage. To be fair, I guess, he had four very solid innings against the Cardinals in his last start, so he's pitched well in eleven of his twelve innings pitched with the Nationals. Perhaps he was as lucky on Friday as he was unlucky last Sunday in St. Louis. Day, a sinker-ball pitcher, was consistently up in the strike zone, and had a much higher than usual number of fly ball outs. Maybe things evened out just a bit.
Nick Johnson isn't quite the streak hitter that Frank Howard was, but he's close. After leading the league in batting average in St. Louis with a .370 average, Nick went oh-for-the week (or so it seemed) as his average dropped to a low of .311 yesterday. Johnson rebounded Friday with a 2-2, two home run night, with four RBI's and two walks. As Johnson goes, so goes the Nationals. It was on Johnson's back that the Nationals broke out to a 50-31 record last season. Missing many games the second half, and playing only adequately when he did play, the Nats limped home with a 30-51 record.
Jose Vidro rejoined the living as well, going 3-4 and raising his batting average to .346. The only other National to get a hit was Ryan Zimmerman, who went 1-4. That's it; a total of six hits in a 6-0 win.
The Nats have a great opportunity to "get well" against the Pirates this weekend. That said, they should have gotten well against the Marlins -- an opportunity they blew. Big time. Ramon Ortiz goes up against Victor Santos on Saturday, a guy pitching about as poorly as Ortiz.
The game wasn't an "indicator," a "beginning," or even a "sign." It was a win against a bad team. No more, no less. If the Nats sweep the Pirates, then the weekend will be all of those things, and more.
One game at a time. That's how we got into this mess, that's how we'll get out of it.
GUZMAN GOING UNDER KNIFE MONDAY, SAYS "SEEYA" TO 2006
[May 5th] -- Cristian Guzman trotted out towards RFK's infield knowing that today would be a "make or break" day for him. After spending the first six weeks of the season rehabbing his shoulder's "slap tear," he was going to test it for the first time in near-game conditions. A Nationals' coach was to hit several balls deep in the hole at short; Guzman's responsibility was to make the grab, spin and throw a strike to first. Easy for a healthy shoulder, but almost impossible for a damaged one.
I didn't' take long before it became obvious that all of Guzman's hard work the past month didn't matter. The team announced early Friday afternoon that Guzman would undergo season-ending surgery on Monday. Said Guzman, (like he really wrote this -- I'm sure it was his agent) "I have worked day and night the last two months to rehab my shoulder and get back on the field, but unfortunately, it did not respond to the extent we'd hoped. Monday's surgery will allow me to be a healthy and contributing factor to the Nationals in 2007 and beyond."
It will be interesting to see how Stan Kasten and whomever the new general manager will be acts/reacts to the shortstop situation. Since signing that four year contract in October of 2004, Guzman has frittered away half of it, giving the team no real value in exchange for the contract's first eight million dollars. There is no real prospect in the farm system. Ian Desmond is considered "the guy," but "the guy" is hitting .167 with 27 strikeouts in just 84 at-bats at 'AA' Harrisburg so far this year. Brandon Harris can play short, but most within the organization don't believe he can play it well. That leaves just Guzman to play the position in 2007.
So, unless the Lerners are willing to pony up some cash to buy the team a real shortstop, Cristian Guzman is going to be the guy next year. His injury, then, has done nothing but push the "what do we do with Cristian Guzman?" question back another season.
Good luck, Cristian. See you next spring.
LERNER ON HAND TO WATCH HIS $450 MILLION INVESTMENT DESTRUCT, 11-3
[May 5th] -- We already know that the new ownership group has a no-nonsense streak a mile wide. The word came down yesterday: no golf playing in the clubhouse -- get rid of those clubs. If that's the case, what will the Lerner's and Stan Kasten do about Thursday's debacle, played out infront of Lerner the younger?
I'm not going to beat a dead horse here. Another two hours worth of bad pitching, poor defense and a lack of timely hitting have embarrassed the Washington Nationals further, if that's even possible. When a team like the Marlins, with their 6-18 record, sweeps the Nationals, you know that things are going to get a lot worse before it gets better. There were many negatives that played out during the game, some larger than others. The biggest, the largest, the most worrisome is the Livan conundrum. Hernandez gave up another seven runs in five innings, and is becoming consistently bad. Without Livan anchoring the rotation, the Nationals have no hope, no chance for 2006. You would think someone would have been able to pinpoint Hernandez' problem by now, but all we hear is that "he'll turn it around; he's Livan Hernandez." Well, at this point, it really doesn't matter if it's his knee that's the problem, or his arm, or his attitude. He's heading for a 20 loss campaign.
I've decided to give as much effort in creating this post as the Nationals did on Thursday against the Marlins.
That means that I'm finished. Now.
KASTEN: NO MORE PAYROLL!
[May 5th] -- new Nationals' president Stan Kasten announced on Wednesday that the Nationals will place the majority of the team's resources into it's depleted minor league system, saying that he is not going to be adding payroll dollars anytime soon.
"People want to, naturally, ask about payroll at the Major League level. Said the new team president, "You are asking me the wrong question. That's not what you should be asking. What you need to be asking me is, 'Are you going to spend the money right away on Minor Leaguers? Are you going to spend money on expanding your scouting? Are you going to be spending money on enhancing your training facilities? Are you going to spend money opening up new scouting complexes in parts of the world? Are you going to be spending money signing additional draft picks?' The answers to those questions are, 'Yes,' and that's the way you do it."
Well, of course that's the way you do it. The minor league system within a professional baseball franchise is like the stock market. Generally, the more money you invest, the more return you see on that investment. I couldn't agree more. But the Nationals' situation is different. The fans are like children in a family who have been repeatedly beaten by their parents; suddenly, someone says, "No one will ever hit you again." Well, that's great, you say, but what about all the trauma suffered from the years of abuse? "I'm afraid to walk into my living room," you say. Well, what about all the abuse we've suffered at the hands of Major League Baseball and the city council. Yes, we want the future to be bright; yes, we want a farm system that will produce stars on a regular basis. But we don't want to wait years for that to happen. We're afraid to walk into RFK stadium right now -- what if we see Bud Selig or Marian Barry? Baseball fans in D.C. have suffered when there was a team, then suffered when there wasn't, and are now suffering once again. I thought the new owner would ride into town on a palamino, a mighty sword in one hand and a sack full of money in the other. I believed that Ted Lerner, and Stan Kasten, would lean into the camera's lens and say, "We're going to make things right by you. Watch as we build the team's farm system while make this team respectable immediately.
I never thought I would hear the new ownership suggest anything resembling "fiscal responsibility," at least not today, not so soon.
Kasten says he's going to build a winning tradition through the farm system, and that any trades made will be for prospects. That's fine. But what do we do until then? There is no help at the triple-A level (the Zephyrs just lost their 11th straight) and the prospects at double-A aren't doing very well early in the season. So how many years will Nationals' fans have to wait until we see the fruits of Kasten's farm system? Four? Five?
This "Additional payroll isn't the answer" concept isn't going to fly. Nats' fans face the prospect of watching a very bad team play in a very bad stadium for another 2-3 years, and the farm system, acknowledged by all as emaciated and moribund, holds no hope for the future. It sounds like Kasten is suggesting that we simply have to wait.
Memo to new ownership: You don't sooth the pain of the last two seasons by saying on the day you're announced as the new owner that increasing payroll isn't the answer. You just told us that the Nationals' $60 million payroll is "doable." It's not. We don't expect you to run this team as if it were the Yankees, but neither do we expect it to be run as if it was the Royals.
We deserve more.
Like flushing toilets at the stadium.
NIGHT OF NEW BEGINNINGS ENDS WITH SAME OLD CRAP
[May 4th] -- The night was heading for a story-book ending. After sixteen months of a mostly rudderless existence, the Washington Nationals, just a couple hours after the official announcement that they finally had an owner, overcame a five run deficit and tied the Florida Marlins at five. Brian Schneider, he of the totally screwed up swing, launched a pitch deep over the right field wall for his first home run of the year.
Too bad Chad Cordero allowed an inherited runner to score in the top of the 9th inning, ending the night's magic just a bit too early. Mike Stanton, who replaced Gary Majewski as Cordero's setup man, was the man who allowed the base runner that eventually scored. It seems that no matter the move by Frank Robinson, it just doesn't work.
Hey, it would have been a great story, but the Nationals took the field last night with the same roster that had lost nineteen times previously this season; only the owner was new.
Tony Armas' effort was terrible, and that hurt more than the loss. Coming into the game, Armas had a 2.76 ERA and had pitched well in all of his starts. You could tell there was a problem during the very first at-bat, when Armas went 3-0 to Alfredo Amezaga before eventually getting him to fly out. Armas wasn't "off," he was "OFF!" Schneider set up inside on one batter and called a fastball; Schneider through a bullet about two feet outside. The ball was past Schneider before he even reacted. With Patterson ... and Astascio ... and Drese ... and Lawrence on the disabled list, Armas has to pitch like a grown up. He has to give the team an opportunity to win, leaving those guaranteed losses to the guys that are called up to pitch a single game before returning to the bushes the next day. I mean, think about it; The Nationals were 9-18 going into Wednesday night's game -- that' s pretty bad. The Marlins were 6-18 .... downright horrid.
And we lost.
The Nationals hit well enough, as they garnered ten hits for the night. That's certainly enough to win. The Nationals pitched well enough, shutting out the Marlins for five innings before Stanton-Cordero gave up the eventual winning run in the 9th. The Nationals fielded well enough to win, save a couple of balls that got past Brian Schneider to the backstop. The team is playing well enough to win. The problem they face is that they've grown accustomed to losing; they know that at some point, a small lead will become a deficit, and a deficit will become a blowout. There is no glaring weakness just as there is no obvious strength. The Nats are just "blah." Perhaps they will play better over the next few weeks because luck will dictate it. Or perhaps they'll play worse for the very same reason. Until new ownership can change something, the current players are going to have to do it themselves.
Hopefully, the announcement that Ted Lerner is the team's new owner will help right the ship, at least a little bit. It's going to be a month before Stan Kasten can even consider making any changes, however. Until then, the Nationals are going to have to play for pride, with the knowledge that many jobs are on the line, both on and off the field.
Should be an interesting roller-coaster ride until then.
SELIG, UNABLE TO DO ANY MORE DAMAGE, SELLS TEAM TO LERNERS
[May 3rd] -- Bud Selig made a phone call from his Milwaukee office this morning and instantly changed the fortunes of the Washington Nationals. That's the good news. The bad news is that the announcement should have been made sixteen months ago, and the team will be paying for Selig's indecision for years.
The Lerner family has always been my first choice, but Fred Malek's group was a very close second. Having a Washingtonian has the team's owner was an absolute must. Had Jeff Smulyan been awarded the team, I would have had to take a number and get in line to use one of the area bridges to end the pain.
The Lerner's will hit the ground running, probably in late May or early June. Unlike the new owner in Cincinnati, who said he would "just watch" for a few months until he got a feel for owning a major league baseball team, the Lerner's will have to immediately begin the process of making amends for the damage caused by Bud Selig and the D.C. City Council.
Were I an advisor to the Lerners, I would tell them to begin the process of rebuilding that bridge between fans and team right now by announcing:
- That Stan Kasten, whose Braves won twelve consecutive division championships under his stewardship, would begin the process of evaluating both on-field and off-field personnel immediately.
- That while Kasten appreciates Jim Bowden's "hard work" during the past sixteen months, the team is going to "go in a different direction" and will begin looking for a new general manager immediately.
- That the Nationals will begin negotiating with "several" of it's young stars in an attempt to sign them to long-term deals. It doesn't matter who or how many -- but the fans need to know that Lerner is willing to spend money to retain his young talent.
- That the team recognizes that the problems that have forced the sale of the Nationals to be postponed multiple times has injured the fan base, and that they are working on ways to "thank" the fans for sticking with the team during the hard times
For the time being, every decision made by the new ownership must be public. Hold a press conference when the team goes to Staples and buys some paper clips. Journalists, especially those who have been yipping at the team's feet, need to have something positive to write about.
I know that Marion Barry and friends are going to threaten to subvert every move made by the Lerners because, as he has said, they aren't "black" enough. Who cares? Linda Cropp has publicly recognized the good works Lerner and his family have done for the city of Washington. Sooner or later, the press will stop paying attention to him.
It's a great day for baseball in Washington. The honeymoon has begun. Let's hope it lasts for a long, long while.
"ARMED" COLONIAL INVADES NEW YORK
[May 3rd] -- It's stories like this that make 67 win seasons enjoyable. Mike O'Connor, a George Washington product, fresh off of a solid year at class 'A' Potomac, gets called up to start a couple of games for the big club because, frankly, there was no one else available. In 18 innings with New Orleans, O'Connor had a 2.41 ERA with 20 strike outs. Pretty good numbers, but remember, he had never played above class 'A' until this April.
His first start, against the Cardinals was typical of a talented and nervous rookie. In five innings, he gave up only three hits and no earned runs (a Ryan Zimmerman error allowed Jim Edmonds to hit a home run) while taking the loss. Monday night, against the Mets, he did even better. O'Connor pitched seven strong innings, allowing just one run on two hits while striking out six. Take a look at his combined numbers from his first two starts: IP: 12 -- ER: 1 -- H: 5 -- BB: 6 -- K: 8. That works out to an outstanding 0.75 ERA. He evened his record to 1-1. The lefty doesn't have a lot of "gidde-yap" on his fast ball, but his off-speed stuff has more moves than a teenage boy.
O'Connor isn't exactly some "kid" who just came on to the scene. He will be 26 in August and is beginning his fourth year with the team. Although he has just twenty innings at triple-A, and could certainly use more seasoning, he doesn't want to be a 27 year old rookie next spring trying to make the club with no experience. It's obvious that the Nationals are going nowhere this year, so why not let O'Connor learn on-the-job at the major league level while getting advice from the likes of Livan Hernandez and John Patterson. I doubt it will happen, though, because it makes too much sense.
Marlon Byrd continues to show that he has the ability to again be a top-notch leadoff hitter (as he was with the Phillies his rookie year). Byrd got three more hits Monday and raised his average to .308. He has a .446 OBP and a .442 SLG average. Though I doubt this would ever happen, I think the Nationals would be a better team at the moment with Byrd in cener and Ryan Church in right. I don't know if Jose Guillen is being distracted by a wrist that still ails him, or a shoulder that is still sore, or perhaps he's pouting about not getting his 5 year, $50 million dollar contract. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the first player-personnel moves made by Stan Kasten would be to trade one of the outfield troika of Guillen, Church and Byrd.
Alfonso Soriano and Damian Jackson both hit long home runs to help O'Connor to his first major league win. Jackson's was long, and Soriano's was looooooong.
Should we worry about Chad "The Lad" Cordero? For the fourth time this year, Cordero has given up a homerun in a relief appearance. Those kind of mistakes aren't terribly noticable when there is a 6-1 lead like tonight, but it stings when he's trying to protect a one-run lead. I guess I shouldn't complain though, as that tater ended a streak of thirteen consecutive batters retired by the Californian. Overall though, it seems that none of last year's bullpen stalwarts are able to reprise their starring roles. Too many innings last year? Too much luck last year? I'm not sure, but it's certainly becoming a concern.
I'm happy that the Nationals won, but I'm so pleased for young Mr. O'Connor. The team is in desperate need of a left-handed starter, and they just might have found one.
BLOWING UP A TEAM CAN BE GOOD FOR IT'S HEALTH
[May 2nd] -- If you place your ear to the ground, you can almost hear it. Those once faint whispers are now more like hushed tones, words and ideas that were once secretive are now, almost, an understood fact.
The Washington Nationals are probably weeks away from being blown up.
The Nationals' payroll is $13 million dollars higher than last season, yet the team looks like it's going to cross the finish line fifteen or so games worse than they did in 2005. From the 300 level at RFK, it's kind of hard to see where those dollars were spent. And really, with a new owner in the offing (and his check book), why not blow up an under-performing team now, get some prospects for the few bloated veterans we do have, and wait for Mr. Lerner's money to cure what ails the team this fall? Of course, it goes without saying that Jim Bowden has to, just has to, be in the middle when the explosion goes off. We can use his breath to ignite the dynamite.
The Nationals are little more than a corpse at this point, but can quickly and easily be healed with medicinal money, that is, the health that free agency can bring. Mr. Lerner will want to quickly justify his being named as new owner of the team, and I have little doubt that the money will flow like water over Great Falls. Until then, the Nationals can either lose gracefully with their current complement of players, or they can lose ugly with current prospects at the major league level and newly acquired prospects flooding the dry lake bed that is the team's minor league system.
I vote for a quick and painless death for the '06 Nationals followed by a resurrection into the perfect team.
Heck, even Bill Ladson sees it coming. In his mailbag on Monday, he said he would trade Jose Guillen and Felix Rodriguez for prospects. Well, if you're going to trade Guillen during his walk year, why not trade Alfonso Soriano as well. The two of them could bring several promising minor leaguers in return, not to mention saving $14 million in salary. I mean, they could buy each Nationals' fan a team jacket with that kind of money.
Those are the easy choices; there might have to be some hard ones as well. Right now, the only position players who are guaranteed a job under the new ownership are Ryan Zimmerman, Jose Vidro and Brian Schneider. I know, I know; Nick Johnson just signed that long-term deal, but at a price that would allow him to be easily moved to another team if Larry Broadway (.354 at New Orleans) becomes too good to remain at AAA or if a stud becomes available on the free-agent market. Ryan Church and Marlon Byrd could both be ready to become full-time players, but not on the same team. Both have .280-15-70 potential, good numbers for a third outfielder on a great team. Both starting both, though, would indicate a team without a strong offense.
Is Livan Hernandez' contract as bloated as he is? I guess it depends if all those innings have taken a toll on his arm, like it appeared until that last game against the Cardinals. His eight million dollars could go a long way to help buy the team a new shortstop. Jon Rauch, at least so far, has shown that he just might be ready to take his place next to John Patterson as soon-to-be studs in the starting rotation.
The team has many middle relievers and backup position players that will be in demand as contending team's begin their push towards the playoffs. The fact that G.M. Jim Bowden signed about 100 of them this off season shows that they are easily replaceable.
2006 is a lost season. Like I've said in many previous posts, I probably love this team more than last season's because they need the love more. But by adding prospects gained along with free agents signed, the Nationals could answer both it's short and long-term needs in one short year. My guess is that Mr. Lerner will buy the team two star-quality position players and at least one star type pitcher.
You know that old saying, "Things look darkest before the dawn?" Well, who ever said it was right. The lowest point this team will have to face is happening right now. Once Mr. Lerner is formally announced as "savior," the dawn will make the team's future very, very bright.
Yeah, baby. That's what I'm talking about.
KEYSTONE COPS LOSE TO N.Y. 2-1
With runners on first and second, Paul Lo Duca hit a come-backer to pitcher Gary Majewski, who only had to throw the ball to second to ensure doubling up the slow-footed catcher at first base and send the game into extra innings. Instead, Majewski threw the ball just far enough in between shortstop Royce Clayton and second baseman Jose Vidro to insure that it made it into center field, allowing the runner on second to score the winning run.
That guy was *ugh* .... Endy Chavez, who pinch ran for Julio Franco who had walked. Ouch!
Ramon Ortiz (finally!) pitched a solid game, allowing only one run and seven hits in six innings. He deserved to win this game. He still isn't over-powering anyone, however, as his two strikeouts would indicate. Alfonso Soriano got turned around on another ball hit directly at him. Luckily, Jose Reyes was as bad on the basepaths as Soriano was in the outfield and was thrown out trying to get back to second base after making a big turn.
Hey, it's no fun pointing out all the mistakes the Nationals keep making. I am, after all, a "glass is half full" kind of guy. But unless something changes quickly, a new owner, a drastic revamping of the roster, this version of our beloved beltway boys are a train wreck waiting to happen. I'd be surprised if they win 67 wins the way they are playing. Hopefully, when the owner is finally named, the team will hit a multi-game winning streak.
They're playing just well enough to lose, and that, my fellow babies, just isn't good enough. They're beating themselves most nights.
That's just got to change.
IT'S GETTING WORSER AND WORSER
I offer this story off of the WRC-TV website with no editorial comment. It looks like there is going to be no honeymoon for the new ownership group -- regardless of who it is.
WASHINGTON -- New racial tension is mounting in the battle over which group will own the Washington Nationals baseball team.
D.C. Council members Vincent Orange and Marion Barry on Monday accused the Ted Lerner bidding group of "renting blacks" and engaging in "tokenism" in an effort to showcase its bid.
They said the group is not sincerely hiring black partners. "Renting some blacks, having some tokens, let's take that off the table," Orange said.
"Not show-dressing, not store fronting, but real, Major League Baseball needs to do better than it has done around the country. It needs to use Washington as a model," Barry said. On Tuesday, Barry and Orange will promote a council resolution urging Major League Baseball to pick either Jeffrey Smulyan's group or the Fred Malik and Jeffrey Zients group, both of which have strong minority representation.
"These are individuals of significant means. This isn't a group of people where you're just asking them to put up $100,000 or 200,000 and saying, 'Let me rent you for a few days,'" Orange said.
Barry also warned that the Lerners would have trouble coming before the council on any baseball business, and said he's worried that the Lerner group had to be told by baseball to include more minority owners.
"I've gone through the Civil Rights Movement. I've seen courts and mayors and white people do things, you turn your back and they undo it. And we don't need that ... so I speak a little different about it. I've experienced this kind of double-dealing, and I'm not going to take it anymore," Barry said.
The Lerners declined to comment to News4.
Several city leaders say they've cautioned Major League Baseball that racial sentiments need to be considered in picking an owner, given the city's racial makeup and baseball's desire to increase attendance among blacks.
Sources close to all three bidding groups told News4 on Monday, the racial talk is just another reason that baseball should pick an owner soon.
Major League Baseball is expected to pick a new owner any day now.