The World Series is SET!

So we now have two wild-card teams in the Fall Classic.  Who-da-thunk?

While Ned Yost’s managing has been oft-questionned, his players have silenced those drumbeats.  And so far this year’s playoffs have been the best in recent memory.  We have seen once again that when the regular season ends, the game changes radically and the teams that can get HOT at the right time, with good defense and pitching are most likely to end up in the World Series.

As for the Nats, they have all winter to wonder how all but two hitters suddenly went cold when the playoffs began.  Baseball is often inexplicable, even to the experts.

 

Orioles Follow Nats Lead

Both the Nats and the Os won home-field advantage for initial round of the playoffs by winning more games than anyone else in their leagues in the regular season.  But both went 0-2 for those 4 home games!  And most of the baseball pundits predicted both would roll over their weaker opponents who were very lucky to even be in the playoffs.

Tom Boswell, as usual, comes through today with another excellent article.  As he says, “Luck and breaks prey on minds at this time of year.”  And some players and teams get hot while others don’t.  And it’s also interesting that Las Vegas has been betting on the teams that have been losing this year!  This shows us once again that Pete Rose was betting on the wrong sport.

Post-Season Thoughts

The 2012 Nats playoff performance was way better than that of the 2014 Nats!  The players who performed up to their ability this time were few: Harper, Rendon, Strass, JZimm, Fister, Cabrera, Blevins and —are you ready—-Soriano.  8 out of 25.  Maybe we should bring Davey Johnson back.  The Giants didn’t play much better than the Nats either.

Matt Williams cost them game 2, by removing JZimm when he was one out away from a victory!  And bad defence played a major role in the losses of games 1 and 4.  But the biggest problem was the near lack of any offense.. And most of the Nats played with little EMOTION!  They often looked like robots.  Maybe that is partly a reflection of William’s managerial style; he rarely shows ANY emotion.  He tried explaining why he took JZimm out in the 9th inning of game 2 by saying that was his game plan he put together before the game even started!  One wonders if he has any “feel” for how the game is flowing or how his players are feeling.  JZimm had thrown 8 and 2/3 innings of a three-hit shutout and was looking strongly in control of what he was doing!

Nope, the Nats/Giants playoffs were not fun to watch.  I find myself looking forward to watching the Orioles/Royals playoff series.  Both teams are playing exciting baseball as if they really want to get to the World Series.

“Uncle Buck” Shows Us How to Manage

In the Orioles 9th inning yesterday Buck Showalter came out to the mound to talk with his pitcher and the infielders.  In the words of Ryan Flaherty (O’s third-baseman) what he said was “short and sweet.”  Here it is:  “We’re going to walk this batter, and the next guy is going to hit into a DP, and then we’re gonna go home.”  Maybe the fact that Buck had never won a post-season series in three previous tries had taught him something.

Ned Yost, the manager of the K.C. Royals (who also won a three-game sweep), has been roundly criticized for ineptitude for such sins as starting Vargas on the mound in their game one.  But with our 20/20 hindsight I’ve had a hard time finding fault with the way he he’s managed thus far in the post season.

I think we will see a couple of lineup changes when the Nats take on the giants today.  For one, Ryan Zimmerman will likely be somewhere, most likely 1B.  Jose Lobaton could be the starting catcher.  Those are the only changes I’d make if I were managing.

I encourage readers to enjoy the great articles in today’s Washington Post sports section

Why?

Why did Manager Matt take JZimm out in the 9th after he only needed one more out to close out a 3-hit shutout?

Why couldn’t the Nats offense manage to score more than ONE RUN in 18 innings?  How could they play 164 games this year and forget how to hit a baseball?

Oh well, we’ve got the Redskins to watch:)

The Starting Rotation

The Nats have not yet announced their starting ratation for the first round, beginning tomorrow.  But I will tell you what I’d do if I were Matt Williams:  Zimmermann, Fister, Strassburg, Gio Gonzales.  I say that having considered the most important factors such as “stuff,” heart, mind, body and recent outings of the past six weeks or so, plus the now knowing who the opponent is—The Giants:)

 

I Hear Drums Along the Potomac!

The gurus at MLB.com have ranked the Nats at the TOP of their power rankings, as we head to the playoffs.  That has me worried a bit mainly because I’ve had a lifetime of experience watching favorites NOT being able to live up to expectations, ESPECIALLY in the game of baseball!

Yes, Matt Williams has the team peaking at just the right time.  And even Ryan Zimmerman finally got some ABs at the end of the regular saeson.  Winning the most games in the NL (96) is quite an accomplishment for a rookie mgr. and the players.  (Before the season began, I predicted they would win 88-92 games). And The Nats “run-differential” was huge (+131 I think).  That is a very important stat.

But even more important in baseball playoff games is starting pitching.  This is why teams will pay the big bucks for John Lester, David Price, John Shields, Zack Grienke, etc.  The Nats have 5 playoff-ready starters, more then any other team!  Their only problem is which of the 5 gets added to the bullpen.  I’m thinking it will be Roark because he has done it before and was effective.  In their final 13 starts the other four guys (Strass, Zimm, Fister and Gio) went 13-0!  In their last “turn” (meaning the last 4 starts) they pitched 31 innings, gave up ZERO runs, 6 hits, had 38 strikeouts and only 4 walks!

Here’s hoping they play the Giants rather than the Pirates in the first round.  The Pirates have given the Nats a harder time this year:)

Note:  the 4-day layoff (Monday to Friday’s game) could be a problem, but I know Williams is trying to counteract that with simulated games and other activities.

 

 

The End of the Untuck Era

Here are my picks for the post-season roster:

1.  Bullpen:  Storen, Roark, Clippard, Barrett, Stammen, Detwiler, Thornton, Blevins.  Why Blevins? Because he has been very effective against lefties (but NOT Righties!).

2.  Bench:  R-Zimm, Frandsen, Lobaton, Espinosa, Schierholtz.  Why Schierholtz?  Because he is a good backup outfielder and has more experience than Michael Taylor.  And he’s a better overall player than Hairston.

2014 is Different

The Nats have been making a strong statement recently.  Starting sometime in August of this year they have been playing “playoff” baseball, which they clearly DID NOT DO in 2012.  Just about everyone on the “core” 25-man roster has stepped up his game, including Strass and Gio (who up to then were having sub-par years).  The 5 walk-off wins in 6 games was a wake-up call for the rest of the National League.  The 4 out of 6 games they took from the dodgers and Mariners was another.  Ryan Zimmerman’s 2 base hits in his first game back from the DL was yet another.  And the list goes on.

We don’t know what will happen in the playoffs, but Matt Williams has the team READY!  Now the most tantalizing question is who will make the playoff roster.

Now that They Have Won the Division………..

First, a brief mea culpa:  I haven’t posted anything for two weeks because I had a tournament to play in (yes, Baseball!)—— in “baseball heaven”—-Cooperstown, NY.  Nine games in five days; we came in second, same as last year.

And the Nats are still winning and having a great September.  The whole yeam seems to be peaking at just the right time.  Rendon would appear to be the 2014 team MVP and is fourth in the entire National League in WAR (wins above replacement).  Four Nats have more than 80 RBIs. Drew Storen, the new “closer,” has reeled off 8 straight saves.  Span is having a career year and should win a gold glove for his incredible play in center field.  Ryan Zimmerman may be back in the lineup tonight.  And the starting pitchers,………..now ALL FIVE are pitching like they need to do for the team to get to the World Series (WS).

On the air waves and the internet an increasing number of people are including the Nats in the discussions of who has a good chance of getting to the “Fall Classic.”  Here is a link to a good article picking the Nats and Angels to get there.  If the link doesn’t work, just google “Nats and Angels by Phil Rogers” dated Sept. 18.  Also, Tom Boswell did a Sept. 17 article on how good the Nats prospects are.

Now Matt Williams has the team pushing to gain the home field advantage for the playoffs by finishing the season with the best record in the National League. At this moment they are ahead of the LA Dodgers by 1.5 games for that prize!