WHAT'S BIGGER NEWS: A NATS WIN OR WARD & ANDERSON GETTING TRADED?
The Nationals continue to aquire young arms in an on-going attempt to build up the talent level of their minor league system, hopefully turning the belly laughter into only giggles and guffaws. Slowly but surely, Jim Bowden is turning the league's laughing stock into an "okay" minor league system.
Just minutes after scampering home to score the winning run in the 10th inning, Bowden traded uber-utility player Marlon Anderson to the Dodgers for Jhonny (not a typo) Nunez. Before Anderson could begin to pack, Daryle Ward became part of the personnel putsch, going to the Atlanta Braves for Luis Atilano. Well, that's just fine. I mean, the bench was the ONLY part of the 2006 Nationals team that was actually doing it's job.
Nunez, 20, was a non-drafted signee out of the Dominican Republic in 2003. He had a tremendous season for the Dodger's Gulf Coast League affiliate, going 6-0 with a stellar 1.58 ERA. He struck out 56 batters in 57 innings while walking only 19. Amazingly, he held opponents to a .177 batting average. His manager loved him: "He's been dominant all season and was dominant again today. We [are] very confident with him out there." That said, my quick, late night dash through the information super-highway turned up no stats for 2003-2005, and thebaseballcube.com doesn't even know who he is. More to come here.
Atilano, 21, is a 6'3", 200 pound right-hander who appeared on a medium-fast track to Atlanta before Tommy John surgery ended his season earlier this month. It can take up to a year for a pitcher to return to form after this type of surgery (the bad news) but virtually every pitcher who has had it returned at near 100% (the good news). Atilano went 6-7, 4.50 with class 'A' Myrtle Beach, striking out 45 in 116 innings. Going into this season, he had a career minor league record of 16-12, 4.11 garnered over three seasons (2003-Gulf Coast League, 2004-Danville, 2005-Rome). He was certainly considered a prospect. From bravesscout.com: (from 2005) "How good might this guy be in two years? The control is tremendous and he continues to show why the Braves drafted him so high last year ... the Braves believed they had another Javier Vazquez when they drafted him, and they still feel that way. As he continues to mature physically, his fastball is only going to get better and more consistently in the mid 90's. When you look at his numbers, including his age, you just see a potential success story in the future." But wait: there's more. From Baseball America's 2003 draft review: "Atilano has two solid pitches and an ideal frame that could make him a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter. Atilano, 18, has an easy arm that produces a cutting fastball with excellent movement. Though skinny at 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, he should get stronger as his body matures, which should make his fastball more effective and possibly sit in the 93-94 mph range. Atilano also throws an above-average changeup with good depth and fade. The Braves like his mound presence and competitiveness, traits that led the Major League Scouting Bureau to grade him higher than any other player this year in Puerto Rico."
Good moves, Jimbo. Atilano, if he can come back from his surgery, may crack the Nationals' rotation in three years or so. Considering the Nats gave up a player who wouldn't have re-signed with the team next year, you can make the assertion that Atilano was acquired for "nothing." Nunez looks even better, but until I find out more about him, I'll remain "hopefully" confident that he can help the team as well. In the past two months, Bowden has traded for five, count em, five minor league starting pitchers. Some will make it into the Nationals' starting rotation, some won't. The point is, it's all about the numbers. You have to have more prospects than players needed, not less.
I'll miss both Daryle Ward and Marlon Anderson, but it's not like they were going to help the Nationals have a winning September (as if that mattered). Good bench players are a dime-a-dozen; Bodes can re-stock this winter. One thing's for sure, Robert Fick should be returning to the team. Fick, having a sub-par season thanks to injuries and two stints on the disabled list, says he wants to come back next season and says his agent has had preliminary talks with Bowden already. I've always been a "Fick fan." He's hard nosed and plays like he really loves the game. I don't see that too much anymore.
Here is the post I wrote before going to bed and flipping on "Baseball Tonight" to hear Karl Ravage say, "... and there's Marlon Anderson streaking home with the winning run for the Nationals, only to be traded moments later." I'd say that demanded a re-write, wouldn't you?
To be fair, when we bloggers take "whacks" at the Nationals for their poor play, we have an obligation to give them "loves" when they play well, even if it only happens once every ten days or so.
I didn't see the comeback. I watched the game right up until the bottom of the 9th, when I walked with my daughter to the corner to buy a couple of pops (this is a decidedly regional term. When I lived in D.C., everything was a Coke, as in "I'm buying everyone cokes -- what kind do you want? I want a Pepsi." I'm guessing that's still the terminology -- yes?). I had only a few seconds to be excited over the Nationals comeback, because before I had the chance to get comfortable, the Phillies scored on what should have been the third strike of the third out of the inning. But that wasn't the strangest scoring play of the night. With Marlon Anderson on 3rd, Aaron Fultz bounced a pitched in front of the plate, a pitch that pinch-hitter Ryan Church swung at. Have you ever seen film of the British "bouncing betty" bomb, the one that was designed to bounce accross the water several times before hitting and destroying German dams? Well, that's kind of how that ball looked as it hit the plate, then the catcher, and maybe even Ryan Church before squiggling and jiggling out towards the mound. I was still trying to figure out if it was a hit ball or not when Marlon zoomed in from stage right and pirouetted around Mike Lieberthal to score the winning run.
It was a nice win, but it seems the Nationals have fallen into a rut of winning one game in each series. That just isn't going to cut it. I've read several different stories, all saying the same thing: Other than Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Zimmerman, there is no reason to watch the Nationals play ball.
It's not like the Nationals are trying to stink. It's not like the Nationals are trying to suck. It's simply the way things turned out. If John Patterson remained healthy this year, Livan would never have been traded in the August putsch, and the team would have had an excellent chance of winning at least two games out of each five, with a 50-50 chance of winning a third game. With a little bit of rotational stability (and granted, a lot of luck), the Nationals might have won 75 games this year. However, injuries, bad luck, poor play, and bad managing doomed the team early in the season, and they were never able to recover. I don't think the players are purposely not doing their best, but we've all been in positions where our best wasn't really the best we could do. It was the best we could do under the circumstances. Losing has a way of doing that.
From this blogger is stupid department: I was working on some homework when I glanced up at my computer screen and saw the MASN starting lineup graphic. At second base, I saw the name "Casto." "Wow!" I thought -- "they called up the kid after all. I'll finally get the chance to watch him play." I was surprised that he was playing second base -- after talking about moving him there in spring training, he began the season at third. I kept watching for him, and finally, he was announced: "Batting 8th, the second baseman, Bernie CASTRO." I was surprised, and wondered why Castro got the start over Casto. Then -- very slowly -- I figured it out. Old eyes. Small computer screen. Even smaller graphics. I guess if I listened to Bob Carpenter and Tom Paciorek instead of Charlie and Dave, I might have figured it out sooner.
Oh yeah, Idahoans are j-u-s-t as smart as you folks inside the beltway.
NOWHERE TO RUN, NOWHERE TO HIDE
[August 31st] -- Um, I'm not really sure I have anything to say about Wednesday's game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Should I write that Ramon Ortiz pitched one his better games in some time, giving up "only" three earned runs in six innings? Nah, an ERA of 4.50 doesn't rate any column inches. Maybe I should cover that "red hot" offense and "all those" hits. All four of them. No, that won't do either. I think, when you find something on the side of the road that really stinks, you cross to the other side and keep on walking.
I think I'll just keep on walking.
The two pitchers the Nationals got in the Livan Hernandez trade, Matt Chico and Garrett Mock, are doing really, really well, and really, really bad. Both have started four games, and their efforts couldn't be more divergent. Chico has a record of 2-0 with a solid (especially for the Eastern League) 3.27 ERA. He's given up 28 hits in 22 innings, striking out 13 while walking 8. Those are certainly "prospect" type numbers. Mock, however, is more like a "suspect." He is 0-4 with a 10.26 ERA, giving up a whopping 29 hits in just 16 innings. He's walked five and struck out only 9. These four starts are certainly not the "death knell" of Mock's career, but I think it's becoming evident that if there is going to be a major leaguer to come out of the Livan Hernandez trade, it's going to be Matt Chico.Let me know if you can think of anything else to write about. Otherwise, I'm outa here.
ZIM ZAM ZOOM IN ANOTHER DUD LOSS
Brian Schneider, after Ryan Zimmerman's big game against the Florida Marlins a few weeks back, said that he had stopped wondering when the "other shoe" was going to drop, meaning that he no longer believed that the young third baseman would falter in the last month and a half of the season. Of course, as soon as he said it, Zimmerman's batting average took a dive, dropping from a season high of .293 to .279. He was tired, and he looked it. He was taken out early in a blow-out against the Phillies (bad move, the Nats came back and might have won had Damian Jackson not replaced him at third) and had a day off against the Marlins (good move) last week. He got a hit in his last three games, keeping his average near .280.
Then came Tuesday night.
Zimmerman went 4-5 (including his 2nd triple and 39th double), drove in three runs, and was the lone bright spot in yet another dismal performance by a Nationals starting pitcher. He raised his average back up to .283 and now has 89 RBI's for the year -- the only way he'll not reach 100 for the season would be to get hit by a bus (but considering the Nats' luck this year, I shouldn't even joke about it). Every time I think I've seen the best the kid has, that by season's end, he'll have a batting average around .250, he takes a deep breath and drives the ball to all fields.
Maybe he is the rookie-of-the-year.
Tony Armas has now joined Ramon Ortiz and Pedro Astacio as pitchers who have little to no chance of remaining with the team. With the trade of Livan, and the injury to John Patterson, all three were given ample opportunities to show that they had both the desire and the ability to be adequate major league pitchers again. All they've done is shown why they were picked up for next to nothing by Jim Bowden. There is no pitching on the major league roster, and none in the minors. The only hope of getting better pitchers is to trade hitters -- remember, no free agents of consequence will be signed -- making both the offense and defense equally bad. That said, the Nationals' offensive prowess is a mathematical myth. Going into Tuesday's game, they were ranked 23rd in the major leagues. Hmmm.... 23rd offensively, and dead last in the NL in team ERA -- no wonder they've only won 55 games this season.
Well, maybe we can move up and get the 2nd or 3rd draft pick next year. Why not? Who cares if they win 55 wins or 65 wins this season. Last place is still last place.
TIME CONSTRAINTS SUCK...
I'M BACK, BUT NATS AREN'T
Though I didn't blog this week, I certainly have been watching the games on mlb.tv (including one while sitting in a language and literacy class -- ah, the marvels of technology!) I think it's safe to say that the team has officially given up. Oh, I don't mean that they're standing around as ground balls roll into left field or that the pitchers are throwing batting practice fastballs so that they can shower early and hit the bars. No, not quitting in that sense. But haven't you ever been in a situation at some point in your life where you had been working as hard as you could to make something work, and though you seemed to be "paddling up stream," you believed that, given a bit of luck, you'd succeed? That's where the Nationals were a few weeks ago. They had won three in a row, four out of five, and it seemed that with a solid second half, the team could end the season with 75 or so wins, very respectable considering the difficult year they've had to endure.
Somewhere along the line, however, something went wrong. A difficult loss, an embarrassing weekend sweep, and suddenly, the players eyes and attention aren't trained on the game but rather the grass as they kick away make-believe pebbles. They are living through a nightmare and all they want is for the season to come to a merciful end.
I am as excited for the Nationals future as ever. This is the type of year I expected last season -- few wins and many embarrassing moments. But don't mistake my excitement for hope of a quick turnaround. Aint gonna happen. The Lerners have said, in as many ways as it could be said, that "free agency" isn't the answer. The problem is, neither is the farm system. So if free agency isn't the answer, and the farm system isn't the answer, what then is the answer?
REAL LIFE INTERVENTION FOR THE BELTWAY BOY
That said, I'll need to take the next three or four days off. I go back to school this Monday, and begin my second round of in-class student teaching. I have much preparation to do to be ready for that first class, and, for the weekend at least, I'm just going to have to view my Nationals from afar.
If all goes well, I'll be back Monday afternoon. Thanks for understanding that this just has to get done.
Good luck Nationals!
GREAT GAME, GREAT WIN
[August 16th] -- Ryan Zimmerman was beginning to fall into another slump. He's was 0-9 over his last two games and was striking out at an alarming pace. He hadn't had an RBI in ten days, and it had been a while since he'd hit a home run. He needed to shake things up.
And oh, how he did.
He struck out in his first at bat against the Braves' John Smoltz, and looked pretty bad while doing it. Then, just like "that," things changed. In the third inning, Zimmerman hit a sharp grounder past the third base bag, barely fair, but into Chipper Jones' glove. Jones jumped, twirled, and let go a strong throw to first, though it was just off the mark. First baseman Adam LaRoche had to move off the bag to get to the throw, and Zimmerman dove head first towards the bag, beating LaRoche's tag and driving in the first run of the game. Wow. Great play. A couple of innings later, Zimmerman handled a sharp grounder and threw to first, pulling Nick Johnson off the bag. Although the runner was called safe, and Zimmerman was charged with his 10th error of the season, replays show that Nick got to the bag before the runner. Wow. Bad play. His next time up, Ryan launched his 16th homer of the year, deep to left center field, giving the Nationals a 6-3 lead on Smoltz and the Braves. Wow. Great play. The next inning, John Smoltz of all people hit a line shot past the bag at third. Zimmerman dove to his right, snared the ball in foul ground, raised himself and threw a strike to first to nip Smoltz. Wow. Great play. The next inning, Billy Traber started to tire. With the Nationals up by a couple of runs and a runner on third with two out, Andruw Jones came to bat as a pinch-hitter. He hit a very hard but very playable grounder wide of third. Just as Zimmerman moved to his left to field the ball, the head of Jones' sawed-off bat landed at his feet and bounced near his head, causing the kid to flinch, allowing the ball to get past him, and the run to score. Wow. Bad play. Later in the game, Zimmerman hit a high-hopper to Chipper Jones, who fielded the ball quickly and threw to first, b-a-r-e-l-y getting the hustling Ryan Zimmerman.
That's the kind of night it was for the kid.
I'm not going to say something stupid like, "Zimmerman is slump-proof," because no baseball player is. What I will say, however, is that Ryan Zimmerman is a professional hitter, that he makes adjustments every time he comes to the plate, and those type of hitters don't often get into prolonged slumps. He doesn't rely on just the home run ball, or just balls hit into the gaps. He bunts when he needs to and hits to right field when he has to. I was thinking the other day that it's going to be a joy to watch the kid throughout his career, to watch him improve and became a super-star. He'll probably end his career somewhere around the year 2024. Then I realized that I'll be 68 years old when he calls it a career. Hmm... I HOPE I LIVE LONG ENOUGH to watch him finish his career.
NATS NOTES: I've never quite figured out what Bernie Castro has to do to win a full time job in the major leagues. He's been an all-star at virtually every minor-league level. In his first taste of the big-leagues, he hit .288 with the Orioles, and that only earned him a ticket out of town. He signed with the Nationals, a team with an "all-star" blocking his chance to play with the big club. Castro changes the game with his speed. He is competent with the glove. Sadly, my guess is that he'll never get the chance to start in the majors, at least here in Washington .... What's happened to Austin Kearns? He went 0-5 with two more strikeouts and his average is now down to .264. I'm afraid that Kearns is at best a slightly-above-average major league outfielder, a guy who is going to hit .260-20-70 or so with a low OBP .... Billy Traber certainly didn't look as sharp as he did in his last start; maybe it was the retro uniform .... Brian Schneider got two hits, one a long home run ... perhaps he won't be throwing things for awhile.
NATS GRANT BRIEF RESPITE FROM LOSING, BEAT BRAVES 5-0
[August 15th] -- Well, that never happened before. Come to think of it, how'd it happen it the first place? Pedro Astacio, whose season can best be described as below average, dominated the Braves, allowing only 2 hits and no runs while striking out five in what turned out to be the Nationals first complete game of the season.
That's great, but it doesn't mean a thing. Remember, the 1962 Mets set the expansion-era record for most losses in a season, yet still managed to win 40 games that year. Even the worst baseball players succeed 18% of the time.
No, the Nationals, still free-falling down the National League standings, had a reprieve, a remission from losing if you will. It was fun, and it made us happy, but in the end, the team is still going to be bad, and they are still going to finish last in the NL East, and they are still going to be over-hauled during the off season. And it's the middle of August and there just isn't much more than that to say, at least for tonight.
NATS NOTES: (Does any of my readers recognize where I stole the "Nats Notes" from? Hint: You have to be old enough to remember the Senators and you had to read a certain magazine on a regular basis. If you remember, leave your answer in the comments section). Ryan Zimmerman went hitless for the second consecutive game, something he hasn't done since his slide that followed his first walk-off homer a few months ago. He's striking out a lot and continues to hit weak grounders to the right side. Hopefully, he'll pull out of it tomorrow .... The Nationals signed 4th round draft pick Glenn Gibson, and left-handed high school pitcher from New York. Gibson notched the 2006 Yastrzemski Award as the top player in Suffolk County (Long Island, NY) after going 8-1 with 145 strikeouts and a 0.29 ERA in 61.0 innings as a senior at Center Moriches.
FAMILY FEUD IN WASHINGTON
I had to take a couple of days off from the Nationals -- a pressure release, if you will. The guys who get paid to write about the Nationals could care less if they win or lose, of if the periphery stories start to gnaw at them. They get paid for it. We bloggers do this for the love of it, our way of being part of the action, perhaps even part of the fun. But when players who make millions of dollars a year give up, why does anyone expect us, probably the only people remotely associated with the Nationals who donate their time, not to take a deep breath and walk away?
Frank Robinson is old school and tends to bark at players, treating them more like chattel than employees. Players are now throwing to wrong bases; heck, some are forgetting where the bases are. And when someone like Ryan Zimmerman forgets how many outs there are, you know that the pressure of losing, the pressure of being a bad team, is getting to the players. The weekend attendance, nearly 35,000 per game, dropped back down to 21,000 on Monday against the once great Atlanta Braves.
The team, and the blog-o-sphere have a month and a half left in the season, and there will be many more opportunities to get mad, get hot, and walk away from our responsibilities. I'll keep writing, and I hope that the Nationals keep playing ... or keep trying at least.
It'll be a long six weeks, but I'll keep trying if they will.
REMEMBER THE MAINE!
Last night, John Maine came into RFK, and scared the Nationals with his "arm." For five innings, he did to Washington what he had done to the Phillies earlier in the week. He shut them out. Heading into the 4th inning, Maine had a 23 inning scoreless streak before Nick Johnson launched his 18th home run of the year to make the score 3-1. Two innings later, Alfonso Soriano hit his 37th homer to bring the Nats to within one of the Mets, and a single by Nick Johnson tied the game at 4, ending Washington's scoring for the night. The Mets, of course, came back with two more runs and eventually won the game 6-4.
Like I've said for months, we can't judge the Nationals on wins and losses this season; we look for silver linings with the dark clouds. For instance, Jason Bergman gave up three runs and four hits in five innings, which doesn't seem particularly impressive, but we need to look inside the numbers. He gave up all three runs in one inning, and could have given even more had he not bore down and got some difficult outs to end the inning. He struck out four Mets. He was pulled not because he was pitching poorly, but because he was at 85 innings pitched heading into the 6th inning. I'd say that was a quality start for Bergman. Nick Johnson hit his 18th homer of the year, and is on pace to hit .293-26-85, much higher power numbers than was expected. Even his uncle, Larry Bowa, didn't see Johnson has a power hitter. On an XM interview earlier this season, Bowa said of his nephew, "Nick is a great hitter with alley power to both fields. He's never going to hit 30 homers a year, but 15-18 home runs, combined with everything else he does, is good." Seems that Mr. Johnson has good power when he stays healthy.
John Maine looks like the "real deal." I've been watching major league baseball for 45 years, and cannot remember a rookie pitcher throwing a consecutive inning scoreless streak like Maine did. He came to the Mets along with Jorge Julio from the Baltimore Orioles for pitcher Kris Benson. Maine, 25, had a career 30-24, 3.24 minor league record before the deal. He and Julio were certainly better players than Garrett Mock and Matt Chico, players the Nationals received in the Livan Hernandez trade. Does that make Benson better than Hernandez? I don't think so. Just younger. I expect that if Livan was having a "typical" season this year, the Nationals would have recieved far more in trade than they ended up getting.
The Nationals are on pace to win 71 games this year, three less then I predicted in March, so I guess we can say they are playing roughly at the level that was expected. I hope that they do even worse, winning 65 games, perhaps even less. Why? The Nationals would then have one of the top five or six picks in the amateur draft next year, meaning that with a little bit of luck, they could find another Ryan Zimmerman. And don't forget, if Alfonso Soriano signs with another team, we'll get two more picks, the teams who signed him, and a pick between the first and second rounds. A few less wins will guarantee a much better draft pick. I'll make that trade, won't you?
NATS NOTES: Congratulations, Mark Lerner. After drawing 30,000 fans on Sunday, RFK was packed with 42,000 fans last night. I know that some of that comes from playing the Mets, but that said, that's a tremendous job of "bringing in the bodies."
THAT WAS GREAT, NOW DO IT AGAIN NEXT TIME
Traber, a former Mets top prospect, pitched seven strong innings on Friday, giving up just four hits and one run on a home run by the Mets' catcher. Hmmmm .... I'm betting that would be Paul LoDuca. *Ouch* Just had to get that in there. It was Traber's first solid outing this year. He gave up three runs and four walks in his first start against the Phillies, winning the game 10-4. He got shelled five days later and was back in New Orleans.
Traber pitched the way the Mets envisioned he would when they drafted him in the first round six years ago. A career-ending type injury caused both the Mets, and later the Indians to give up on him. His only option left was to sign a minor-league contract with a pitching poor team.
It seems to have worked, at least for the moment.
Felipe Lopez is without a doubt the Expos / Nationals best offensive shortstop in recent memory. He is also the worst defensively. Last year, many of the Nationals' blogs pounded Cristian Guzman for his defense lapses throughout the season. He made 15 errors. All year. Lopez has committed 21 errors this year and there is still a month and a half remaining in the season. He'll probably close in on 30 errors by mid September, thirteen more than his career high from last year. One of those "Cardinal Rules" in baseball is that you have to have a solid defensive shortstop to win a championship. I don't know about that. Lopez's defense might give up, say, five more unearned runs than Guzman's might have, but he'll end up driving in a minimum twenty-five more runs than Guzman. I'd say that is a net positive for the Nats.
NATS NOTES: The Nationals drew nearly 30,000 to RFK for Friday's game against the Mets. I think that's where Nats' crowds need to start -- last year's 2.7 million is the minimum number of fans that should turn out for major league baseball in Washington ... Ryan Zimmerman hit his 36th double and has now gotten a hit in 13 out of his last 14 games ...
NATIONALS SHINING IN WORLD OF BLOGGING
[August 11th] -- It's taken the Washington Nationals nearly two years to leave behind those last vestages of the "dead-from-the-neck-up" era of the Montreal Expos. Now, finally, the team is acting like a real major league baseball franchise. It will still take a few more years for the Nationals to catch up with the rest of their division, and few more after that to surpass them, but at least we now know that it's going to happen.
That said, guess what? In the two years that the Nationals' blog-o-sphere has waited for its team to become "first class," we have been "first class" while waiting for them. Striketwo.net, a website that "summerizes, discusses and observes" news from all of baseball's "792" websites and blogs, lists the Nationals blog-o-sphere as #7 in all of Major League baseball in terms of total number of daily posts. The twenty-five Nationals blogs make up the sixth largest team blog group, and the 15 posts per day average is seventh best among the thirty major league teams. Pretty cool, huh?
The Beltway Boys, for example is currently listed as #37 out of the 792 blogs. That makes TBB in the top 3.5% of all baseball blogs. This means we're one of the top National blogs too, right? Wrong. Of those top 37 blogs, a total of six, or 16% of them, are blogs that cover the Washington Nationals. The Yankees and Mets, the top two teams in terms on total blogs, comprise only 8% of those top 37 blogs. I'm a star in the total blog-o-sphere, but only average when it comes to the Nationals blogging world. Sigh .... :)
For months, I have been apologizing here at TBB for what I perceived as the small number of blogs covering the Nationals. I couldn't have been more wrong. The Nats' blog-o-sphere is one of the best and one of the strongest, and it will only get larger as the team continues to morph into one of the league's top teams.
Way to go bloggers! We got to the top while the Nationals were still trying to play consistent baseball. For those of you who have been thinking of starting a blog, now is the perfect time to start one. Blogging is kind of like multi-level marketing: it's best to get in on the ground floor.
To Banks, Capitol, Federal, 320, Mr. Wonk and Mr. Distinguished, Just, Morning Glories, Cheap Seats and all the rest, congratulations on what you've begun. Now let's see what we can do about growing it larger, and growing it better.
A bad game during an especially bad time in what will undoubtedly be a long season.
PICTURE THIS: ORTIZ BEATS DONTRELLE WILLIS 5-2
[August 10th] -- RFK Stadium must be smack-dab in the middle of "Bizzaro World." How else can you explain a night when Ramon Ortiz not only beat Dontrelle Willis, but ended the game with nine wins, two more than the Marlins' superstar?
Ortiz, who is now the (I can't believe I'm saying this) "ace" of the staff, pitched like it on Wednesday, pitching what was perhaps his best game of the year. Ortiz was solid over 6.2 innings, allowing 8 hits and just one earned run while striking out 6. You have to wonder if he is still on the trading block -- if he is, this outing certainly increased his value. But exactly what would that value be? If Livan Hernandez, a major league star, brought two 'AA' pitchers in return, what would Ortiz, a "fringe" starter at best, bring? A mid-level 'AA' player perhaps? If the Nationals had no interest in re-signing Ortiz for 2007, then sure, throw him out on the waiver-wire and see what happens. But the Nationals may want him to return next season, as he certainly would be a veteran presence on a younger staff. He wouldn't cost much, either. It'll be interesting to see what Bowden does -- his value will never be higher than it is right now.
Ryan Zimmerman looked terrible Tuesday night, as he once again swung at everything down and away, either striking out or popping the ball into shallow right field. He reminds me a lot of a young Andruw Jones when he lunges at all those outside pitches. It took Jones seven years to stop striking out on those balls a foot outside. Zimmerman, on the other hand, adjusts after every game. Against the Marlins on Wednesday, Willis tried to get him to swing at those low-and-away pitches, but Ryan made the adjustment, and walked his first two times up. He ended up going 2-3, raising his average back up to .291. The kid is becoming almost slump-proof.
The Nationals are a good team when the starters pitch deep into the game. If it's Micah Bowie, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero who come into the game, the Nationals stand a good chance of holding the lead and winning the game. Last night, those three relievers pitched 2.1 innings, allowing only one meaningless single. Unfortunately, the rest of the bullpen is either untested or just bad.
A night after drawing less than 25,000 fans, only 21,390 showed up at RFK to watch a game that featured all-star Dontrelle Willis. Stan Kasten and the Lerners have to be unhappy about that type of attendance drop from the last home stand. Some suggest that the Livan Hernandez trade had something to do with the smaller crowd, but I disagree -- all of us were expecting him to be traded, and I really haven't heard anyone suggest it was a bad deal for the Nationals. Hopefully, the weekend crowds will help the homestand's average.
NATS NOTES: Catcher Brandon Harper doubled in his first major league at-bat and was hit by Dontrelle Willis his next time up .... Matt Chico's first game as a Nationals' farmhand didn't go particularly well. The 23 year old allowed 9 hits and 3 runs in 5 innings, striking out no one .... the Nationals left 14 men on base, causing Frank Robinson to cradle his head in his hands several times throughout the night.
RAUCH READY TO JOIN ROTATION
[August 9th] -- He stands nearly seven feet tall. He has a fastball that tops out close to 95 mph. His slider and curve are both solid major league pitches. Batters have difficulty picking the ball up out of his hand because his release point is so close to home plate. He is listed by most "scouting report" services as a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher.
Yet Jon Rauch remains in the Nationals' bullpen.
Rauch, 27, was obtained along with Gary Majewski from the Chicago White Sox in 2004 for Carl Everett. He had been a starter throughout his minor league career, compiling a 43-25 record in 106 starts. It was assumed that Rauch had an excellent chance to capture one of the team's rotation openings last spring. He started just one game in 2005, however, going 2-4, 3.60 out of the bullpen.
This year, Rauch had little hope of starting for the Nationals. Jim Bowden brought in Brian Lawrence, Pedro Astacio and Ramon Ortiz to help fill the holes in the rotation. Also, unlike 2005, the Nationals have a very mediocre bullpen, one that, in Frank Robinson's opinion, couldn't do without him. Now, however, with Livan Hernandez traded to Arizona, the Nationals need another starting pitcher. Billy Traber will be given the opportunity to start; so will others from the minor league system.
Jon Rauch, though, seems married to the bullpen.
The 'pen is usually filled with former starting pitchers who couldn't make it in the major leagues with just one or two "out" pitches.
Sooner or later, major league hitters figure them out and banish them to that bench beyond the outfield wall. But Rauch is different. His fastball is consistently in the low to mid 90's, and his curve and change are both solid when he's "on" his game. Rauch has the "stuff" and certainly the "size" to be a major league pitcher. Look at the comparison between Rauch and Livan in the chart above. Rauch has superior numbers in most catagories, though he's pitched less than a tenth of the innings that Hernandez has. The question is, then, will the Nationals give him the opportunity to prove himself?
Not this year, but probably in 2007.
Who do the Nationals have to fill the rotation next season besides John Patterson? Astacio, Ortiz and Tony Armas Jr. are likely not coming back. Mike O'Connor brings more questions than he does answers, and Shawn Hill is still hurting. It will be much easier for the Nationals to replace Jon Rauch out of the bullpen than it will to find another starting pitcher with his promise. My guess is that Rauch will leave behind the bullpen next season and join Patterson in the starting rotation.
Or, that's what should happen, anyway.
NATS NOTES: Ryan Zimmerman seems to have fallen into a small slump -- he consistently swung at pitches low and away, his "Achilles Heel" when he's not seeing the ball well. When he's doing that, he's going to do little more than strike out or pop up into shallow right-center .... Now that Alex Escobar is near 100%, will he take back center-field from Ryan Church? It's no secret that Jim Bowden thinks highly of Escobar and isn't particularly fond of Church. For Church to keep his job, he's going to have to keep hitting home runs on a regular basis .... What's with Nick Johnson these days? Although he's starting to hit the ball well again, he continues to slump in the field, commiting his 9th error of the season. I thought that defense never slumps? .... Matt LeCroy, who joined the New Orleans Zephyrs after he couldn't "hook-up" with another major league team, went hitless in his first game with the Zephyrs .... Matt Chico will make his first organizational start on Wednesday with the Harrisburg Senators .... Harrisburg's Frank Diaz was named the "best defensive outfielder" in the Eastern League by a vote of that league's managers .... Jason Bergman has dominated at New Orleans since being moved into the starting rotation since his last demotion.
VACATION DAY (I HOPE)
LIVAN TRADED FOR CHICO AND THE MOCK!
Livan, who didn't want to go anywhere, thought he was safe after the July 31st trade deadline came and went. Not so. "It's a surprise," he said. "It happened and I have to deal with it. I found out in the morning when Bowden called me. I have to go there and work. I'm playing on a different team."
"Out in the Desert," a Diamondbacks blog, sees the trade this way: "Hernandez has a bloated 5.34 ERA but he does play for a fairly lousy Washington team. Is it a good trade? Time will tell but I like the move. The D-Backs give up two mid-level pitching prospects who show some promise but are far from being studs. They get a good innings-eater type pitcher who probably is the best hitting pitcher in the majors. Hernandez’s ERA is about a run higher than his career average and he has been bothered by a tender knee. He is not a power pitcher and will rely on his breaking pitches to induce ground ball outs — a D-Back specialty. I suspect Arizona will play to that strength and encourage him to keep the ball down and allow the hitters to put a lot of balls in play. Right Hernandez is giving up too many homers and issuing way too many free passes. But with some confidence in his infield he may be more inclined to pitch rather than try and strike every hitter out.
The prospects that Arizona gave up were Garrett Mock and Matt Chico. Both were drafted by Mike Rizzo, the former AZ Director of Scouting who just assumed his new post as VP of Baseball Operations for….yup, the Washington Nationals. So clearly Rizzo still admires his own work. According to Jim Callis over at Baseball America Mock is a 23-year-old righty with a solid 93 - 94 mph fastball and good stuff including a nice cutter. But despite his nice stuff he has been throwing too many strikes and therefore giving up too many hits. At Double A Mock has gone 4-8 with a 4.95 ERA in 23 starts. Chico is a 23-year-old lefty that Callis points out “flunked out of JC” and after “bombing in Double A last year, he has bounced back with a strong 2006. In 23 starts between high Class A Lancaster and Tennessee, he has gone 10-6, 2.81″. He was likely the centerpiece of the trade but do you really want a guy who flunks out of a junior college?"
Check back later.
22 IS THE WINNING NUMBER!
All you have to do is check the stats on Rauch and you can see with out a doubt that Rauch can and has gotten the job done, so before you come up with an half-assed conclusion check the sources. I don't know why Robinson did not bring in race, maybe it was a lefty, lefty situation, but I do know that given the opportunity Rauch might have gotten the job done, according to his past performances. Get a clue!
Next time, Mr. Anonymous, how about leaving out the personal attacks and lets talk baseball. Okay?
DON'T BLAME FRANK -- HE HAD NO CHOICE
RYAN ZIMMERMAN: A 'STUD' AT 21
[August 7th] -- The season is far enough along now to begin making accurate comparisons between the NL East's reigning super-star third baseman, Chipper Jones, and the probable National League Rookie-Of-The-Year, Ryan Zimmerman.
And it's a stunning comparison at that.
Jones' rookie year was in 1995, when he was 23 years old. Take a look at his offensive production. Certainly, he had a solid rookie season and has gone on to have a probable hall-of-fame career, but his numbers pale in comparison with the Nationals' Zimmerman (his numbers have been extrapolated out to a full year). The home run totals are equal, and Jones has two more triples, but Zimmerman leads in all other categories, and he's done this at only 21, two years younger than Jones was. When Zimmerman is 23, he will be embarking on his third major league season, and will probably produce somewhere in the .300-30-120 range.
Based on offensive production alone, you'd have to give the nod to Zimmerman. But let's not stop there; let's take a look at their defensive capabilities. Sorry Chipper. Have to do it. Jones committed 25 errors while Ryan is on pace to make just 13 miscues. Jones made 81 putouts, Zimmerman 147. Jones had 254 assists while Zimmerman is on pace for 259. While Chipper's offense continued to improve throughout his career, his defense has been speculative at best, even to the point that Braves' manager Bobby Cox moved him to the outfield for two seasons so that Vinny Castilla could provide some solid defense at the "hot corner." Zimmerman, on the other hand, is a gold-glove caliber third baseman now.
If Zimmerman continues to improve, continues to get better each and every game, I believe that the Nationals' star will "run circles" around the legend of Chipper Jones. Don't get me wrong' Jones as "studly" a major leaguer as there is. Ryan Zimmerman is just better.
Now, I realize that there is another good third baseman in New York, David Wright of the Mets, a good friend of Zimmerman's. In his first full season (2005), the 22 year old hit 306-27-102, very good numbers. He also, however, committed 24 errors and had a fielding percent a full 20 points lower than Ryan's. No, Wright is more like Chipper Jones than like Ryan Zimmerman.
And he has from now to, oh, lets say, 2025 to prove it. Ryan Zimmerman, member, Hall Of Fame class of 2030.
Sounds weird, doesn't it?
NATS COULD BE A WINNER NEXT YEAR 'IF' ...
[August 6th] -- Maybe we should rethink this whole "get younger" and "blow up the team" concepts that have been bandied about since the Lerner take-over. Is that really in the best interest of the team? Will forcing the fans to wait another four or five years for a winner the best solution?
It may have been the day before the Nationals - Reds' trade last month, but it certainly isn't now.
Take a look at how the Nationals' starting eight should finish the season. Does this look like a team that needs "blowing up" to you? Six of the eight are in double-figures in home runs, and five will have more than eighty RBI's (though to be fair, Church's numbers assume what he's done this year extrapolated out to 500 at-bats). Other than catcher Brian Schneider, only one player, Ryan Zimmerman, has an OBP below .362. More surprisingly, six of the eight will end the year with steals in double figures. This is a championship offense. If Soriano can be re-signed, and Vidro can remain healthy for even part of the year, this team has the offense to make it to the post-season.
The problem, of course, lies with the pitching staff.
If we assume that John Patterson is healthy, and that Livan Hernandez returns to form (both fair assumptions), the Nationals can count on thirty wins from their top two starters. The question is, where do they go from there? Tony Armas Jr. probably won't be back. Pedro Astacio likely won't either. Ramon Ortiz, however, is a solid back-of-the-rotation kinda guy, and may be re-signed for 2007. That leaves two spots in the rotation still open. If we assume that the team can fill one of those opening from within the organization, the team will then need one more starting pitcher.
This one player, one of twenty-five, will decide the direction of the 2007 Nationals.
If Jim Bowden is forced to fill this hole in the rotation from the "bargain basement," then the Nationals will probably be a .500 team next year, maybe a little better. If, however, Bowden "steps up to the plate" and brings in a gun, a Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt, then the Nationals will have the speed, the power, and the pitching to make to the post season. But they need that third pitcher badly.
And a little luck to keep all their players healthy.
I'm not holding my breath, but heading in this direction makes a lot of sense. A "just trying to survive" campaign next year will probably draw 27,000 or so fans to each game. A pennant race, however, could easily generate crowds close to 40,000 for every game. I'm not a mathematician, but I'm thinking those extra 13,000 fans per game could easily pay for a Zito or a Schmidt.
Put this one in the "could happen but probably won't" column.
VIDRO BEYOND HIS 'TWILIGHT' YEARS
[August 4th] -- As The Montreal Expos' potential move to Washington became more fact than fancy, and I began to look over the team's roster, I realized that I really only knew one player on the roster: Jose Vidro. Oh sure, I'd seen the Expos play the Braves a dozen times a year on TBS, but none of the other players particularly stood out. So when the move became official in September of 2004, the player I was most excited to see was Jose Vidro. He had been one of the National League's best second baseman for several years, combining power with a high average and solid defense, something unusual for a second baseman. I got a chance to see Vidro play in person just once, but I could tell from that one look that the guy was special. He was svelte then, and deceptively quick. He was never a base stealer, but he was "sneaky" fast. Against Tom Glavine and the Atlanta Braves, Vidro went from first to third on a single that fell in front of Andruw Jones. Late in the game, Jose ranged to his right and snagged a bouncer headed into center field, jumped into the air, spun like a top, and fired a strike to first to just get the runner. That was the Jose Vidro I was expecting on opening day of 2005.
Of course, "that" Jose Vidro hasn't played a major league baseball game in several years.
Vidro injured his knee in 2001, limiting him to 124 games that year. He played a full season in 2003, but recurring knee problems forced Vidro to miss more than seventy games over the next two seasons. Last year, he was hampered first by a hamstring injury and later a "puffy" knee which ended his season in late August. He played in only eighty-seven games in 2005. He was injury free in 2006 until hamstring issues forced him to the DL in July.
It's a sad thing to say, but a healthy Jose Vidro doesn't provide much more to the Nationals than a hurt Jose Vidro on the disabled list. He fields every ball he gets to cleanly, but he doesn't get to many balls any more. His bad knee and tight hamstrings have severely limited his range. Offensively, he still hits for average, but doesn't walk as much as he used to, and as lost most of his power. Today, he's a average to below-average second baseman, but he's making "star" money.
I'm afraid the only way that Jim Bowden will be able to trade Jose Vidro this off season is if the Nationals pay off a large portion of his contract, something I don't see happening. I'm afraid we're going to have to watch a hobbled, ineffective Jose Vidro do his best for another year at RFK. Sadly, his "best" is just a modicum above bad.
And that's a shame. He was once as good as it got.
THE DEFINITIVE TAKE ON "THE TRADE THAT WASN'T"
So, Bowden kept Soriano and everyone is mad. Okay, "riddle me this?" What if, fearful that the Nationals' nation would have risen up and overthrown him, he made one of these unpalatable trades, say for three prospects, that he really didn't want. That would have placated the masses to the point that there would have been no need for cauldrons of boiling oil on the the roof at RFK. But would it have helped the team? I'm guessing that Stan Kasten reminded Bowden of a trade that his GM at Atlanta, John Sheurholtz, made at the trade deadline in 1994. The Padres, ridding themselves of star players with short-term contracts, traded Fred McGriff to the Braves for Donnie Elliot, Vince Moore and Mel Nieves. The Padres' GM got the trade done, got three prospects from a very bountiful Braves farm system, and the Padres' fans said at the time, "Well, they look like solid prospects -- if they all pan out, this will have been a good trade." Of course, none of them panned out. Nieves had a couple of borderline years at the major league level, but all three are today considered busts.
If Jim Bowden believed that the best he could get for Soriano was the 2006 version of Nieves, Elliot and Moore, then why make the deal? Soriano said that he'll give the Nats "first priority" to re-sign him if stays in Washington, and that he'd never sign here in D.C. if he was traded. Sure, it's going to be tough to re-sign him, but I believe that Soriano is an honest man, and that he will give Washington the "right-of-first-refusal," perhaps even with a bit of a home-town discount. If he doesn't re-sign, if he does sign with the Yankees or Angels or who ever, the team will then reap the benefit of a scenario where they have three first round draft picks in 2007. Let's see, two first round picks in '06 and three in '07. Why, I believe that makes a total of five first round picks over a two year period! Isn't that the right way to stock the farm system?
So who do you think would give the Nationals a stronger future in the coming years, three mid-level prospects or two first round draft picks, or perhaps even Alfonso Soriano himself? I would have loved the Nationals to have gotten a handful of "can't miss" prospects for Alfie, but it just couldn't be done; the market wasn't there. Now, we have Soriano in the outfield for the remainder of the year, which will keep the attendance high and the "natives" happy. Keeping him also sends a message to the community: "We're going to try to keep our best players."
The most important message Bowden is sending us is this: "We have a vision of where we're going from here, and making deals for the making deals isn't part of it. We don't need minor league fodder, we need major league talent. We still have Soriano, and he's as "major league" as it gets."
But I am willing to wait.