Honey, I shrunk the team!

There’s no joy in Mudville – nor in the Nationals’ dugout. Chad Tracy (18), Ryan Zimmerman (11), Rick Eckstein, and manager Davey Johnson, right, watch the final moments of the game against the Braves, Sunday, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

There’s no joy in Mudville – nor in the Nationals’ dugout. Chad Tracy (18), Ryan Zimmerman (11), Rick Eckstein, and manager Davey Johnson, right, watch the final moments of the game against the Braves in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Well, it turns out Tom Boswell probably didn’t jinx the Nats before the Braves series, the team jinxed itself.  One conclusion I drew after the just concluded series is that it seems last year’s dismal results when they played Atlanta left the core Nats who were here last year without much confidence that they can beat the Braves.  Conversely, the Braves came to town with a swagger earned from beating the Nats convincingly in 2013 (thirteen times).  I’ve seen this happen to teams from time to time.  Hopefully the 2-1 Washington win on Sunday will help.

But the ugly game on Saturday revealed some serious problems for the team that have me very concerned.

I’ll begin with Ryan Zimmerman, the “franchise player.”  The face of the team.  We all know he has been dealing for years with throwing shoulder problems.  Now we know he has a chronic arthritis issue that isn’t going away.  He just had all winter to rest the shoulder, so a few days of not playing is no longer the answer.  More surgery is not the answer and I’m sure he has tried a variety of drugs.  So we are likely looking at a combination of platooning him at first base when a lefty is pitching, Ryan trying to just throw side-arm more of the time(side-arm doesn’t seem to be painfull), and sitting him more often.  Ryan’s new $100M multi-year contract complicates the long-range issues, as does the fact that Adam LaRoach is off to a good start this year.

Next comes Bryce Harper’s poor start to the season.  Many players begin a season “in the slow lane” from time to time.  But the way Bryce is dealing with it has me pretty worried.  He’s throwing childish temper tantrums and saying he has no clue what the problem is.  Most pitchers have figured out how to pitch to Harper and he has not adjusted accordingly.

Then I have to point out Stephen Strasburg’s poor performance after Zimmerman’s throwing error.  We have all seen him crumble numerous times in the past when faced with adversity; the pouting, the body language, the inability to keep his focus of pitching winning baseball.  In Saturday’s game the first two didn’t happen, but the third certainly did!  Strasburg’s fastball lost 2-4 mph, he lost enough of his command that he “grooved” a few pitches and the Braves began stringing multiple hits together and I watched his game go downhill.  I’m a former pitcher who knows what it takes.  To be a successful pitcher requires what I call a Pit Bull mentality.  THAT is what Strasburg lacks.  I’ll point out two Nats pitchers who clearly have what I’m talking about:  Jordan Zimmermann and Tanner Roark (the team has others too) NEVER give in to the other team, no matter what is going on around them.  They are both relentless battlers, and the hitters know that.  Unless Stephen can somehow develop some mental toughness, he won’t be an elite pitcher.

I’m also concerned about Doug Fister‘s and Wilson Ramos‘ injuries.  The team needs them sooner rather than later.

Boswell Jinx’s Nats?

Ian Desmond (20) is greeted by Nate McLouth after his seventh-inning blast to left field. (Photo courtesy of Toni L. Sandys.)

Ian Desmond (20) is greeted by Nate McLouth after his seventh-inning blast to left field. (Photo courtesy of Toni L. Sandys.)

 

He’s been working overtime lately, and Boswell again has a compelling article in the Post today. But I wish he had just held his fire this time. Why? Because like most baseball afficianados, I’m very superstitious! So, that’s all I’m gonna say about the up-coming three game series with our rivals from Atlanta!

Tom Boswell is a genius

 

Tom Boswell, Washington Post sportswriter. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Tom Boswell, Washington Post sportswriter. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

I first encountered Tom Boswell, the Washington Post sportswriter, while sitting on a beach on the island of Mauritius in 1986. I discovered what a good writer he is while reading his book How Life Imitates the World Series. It was the best baseball book I had ever read, up to that point. From time to time, my international career has brought me back to Washington, D.C. and since reading that book I started paying more attention to Boswell’s frequent articles in the Washington Post. Most are about baseball. He is my all-time favorite baseball writer.

His article in the Post on March 22 (2014) is a typical ‘perfect pitch’ from him, about how Las Vegas and the media are again predicting the Nats, on paper, are the best team in the National League. They did the same thing last year at this time, and we all know how that turned out. I sure hope the team is not paying much attention to this type of hype right now.

Boswell’s March 30th article was an astute piece about how much (or how little) the manager can influence a team’s fortunes. The Nats opening game (March 31) was a textbook example of this. Last year’s Nats would not have won that game. (Note: I have lot’s of real affection for Davey Johnson, who is not a bad manager at all. It’s just that his “time” had passed; the Nats needed a change in managers.)  In yesterday’s game the Nats simply refused to lose! They clawed their way back from the abyss several times and finally prevailed in the 10th inning. And new manager Matt Williams’ affect on the team was crystal clear to me as I watched most of the game. He made numerous decisions such as bringing rookie Aaron Barrett in to pitch the 9th inning (his first major league game ever). This took GUTS! But it worked. And I may never forget the walk that Danny Espinosa worked after eight pitches in the 9th inning! Danny has been (until March 31) a very impatient batter who could be induced to swing at almost anything that moved. He was a pitcher’s delight, until yesterday. Again, Williams brought Danny into the game at the right time.

Boswell’s March 31 piece was another thoughtful, well-researched article about what opening days of a new season are all about.

Boswell has written several books. Besides the one I mentioned above, I’ve also read  and enjoyed Why Time Begins on Opening Day.