After watching Stephen Strasburg’s two latest efforts, I am going to say something that Mike Rizzo is possibly thinking about reluctantly: the time has come to bite the bullet and trade Strass. I have watched nearly every game he has pitched for the Nats, starting in 2010. He is not a pitcher who can be sent into “must-win” games or even your everyday “important” ones that are routine for a pennant-contender. His mental “makeup” does not handle stressful situations, pressure or adversity well at all. Unfortunately, that is simply not going to change much.
If the team is serious about wanting to reach the playoffs, they need to get engaged with going after David Price, Jeff Samardzija or Cliff Lee before the trade deadline.
For those who got to watch the 3-game playoff, won by Vanderbilt U., it was quite a treat!
Except for the truly freaky 9-run inning in the first game, both U.Va. and Vandy were very well matched; good hitting, good pitching, and good TV announcing. I could see these were two very well coached teams. Though I can’t remember how many of the players had been amomg the recent pro draftees, I know it was many of them. And I could see how both David Price and Sonny Gray (and other pro pitchers who’se names I can’t remember) had received a good foundation at Vanderbilt.
Footnote: On Wednesday (at 2am!) the Nats called up pitcher Taylor Hill from AAA Syracuse because their entire bullpen was worn out. When Stephen Strasburg self-destructed that evening in Milwaukee, Hill got into his FIRST major league game. Of course he was thrilled! And after the Nats game was over he was able to watch his alma-mater, Vanderbilt, win the CWS. Quite an evening for the kid:)
The tea leaves are looking very good for the Nats at this point.
1. They took 2 of 4 from the Braves, though they should have won the 15-inning one.
2. Gio (having a mediocre year thus far) pitched very well last night, showing he actually does have some mental toughness, holding one of the best hitting teams in baseball scoreless!
3. Harper and Ramos will be back soon and are playing well in rehab with the P-Nats.
4. Adam Laroche, the best hitter on the team so far, is having a great year with the bat. He is right up there with the league leaders.
For me the BIG question mark is Ryan Zimmerman. He is not hitting as he usually does, and with Harper coming back, wherever you put him on defense he will be the least effective player on the field. If it were up to me I would try to trade him, knowing that will be difficult with the contract he has (and mediocre performance). But baseball is a business, right? We’ll see what Mike Rizzo is made of.
Lesson One: As the Nats relief pitcher Blevins walked off the mound after the top of the 12th inning (having shut down the Braves offense), I was getting excited because the Nats had their 3,4,5 hitters coming up to face a rookie (Ryan Buchter) who had never pitched in the bigs! And to top that off he was a lefty!! The Nats hitters tend to feast off southpaws:) What happened? Well, the “face of the Nationals” hit into a double play to force a tired Blevins into having to pitch a second inning. We now know what happened next.
Lesson Two: Nationals head-case numero uno, Stephen Strasburg, began his start as he ended it by throwing WAY TOO MANY FASTBALLS! He has what may be the best change-up in the business, but I found myself scratching my head in wonder after the first inning, sensing impending doom as Stephen stuck to his fastball against a team that has some hitters who can do major damage against that pitch. The Braves 3,4,5 hitters hit .388 in the game. So when the media asked Stras “why of why so many fastballs tonight,” he threw them a curve implying that was the game plan! Manager Matt was then compelled to publicly state that “he who holds the ball decides what to throw.”
So this is my bottom line assessment of that sad 13-inning game.
One often hears baseball announcers talking about a mysterious “batters eye” that exists somewhere out in center field. Having spent more time than I would have normally chosen last night in a discussion about the occult, I was startled to return home to find that Nats Park had seemingly been POSSESSED! The Nats hitters had been rendered powerless by a team in free-fall and a starting pitcher just returning from Tommy-John surgery (whose elbow again self-destructed in the 6th inning). After consulting (before the sun rose this am) with a mystic from Sri Lanka, I’m convinced that Ted Lerner and his baseball team have an unusual problem. Every member of the starting lineup looked like Danny Espinosa at bat! I recommend Mike Rizzo call in one of the 680 registered exorcists immediately for a ceremony to “cleanse” the “batter’s eye.”
The Nats almost set a new team record for stolen bases last night. They snagged five (in the first three innings!) to tie the record, but that would be the end team larceny in the game. However, the 5th steal was by far the BEST! As Jason Werth began his slide, he saw that Jose Altuve (Houston’s All-Star second-baseman) already had the ball and was getting set to tag him out. So he altered his slide, knowing that Altuve would swipe his glove across the front side of the base, so that he would stop about 5-6 inches short of the base. As he did that he popped up to his feet after Altuve’s glove had attempted the tag, and quickly got one foot on top of the base! All Altuve could do was stand there dumb-founded:) I have seen the play live in a video clip, but have not been able to find it in Slo-Mo. In the live clip everything happens too fast to see what actually happened. But I was listening to the game on 106.7 and Charlie Slowes explained what he had seen replayed on Slo-Mo where he was sitting.
At this point in the season both the Nats starters and the bullpen (ranked as two distinct groups) are either number one or two in all of baseball (both were number one a week ago). Gio makes his first start tonight after being on the DL for a month. His stats as of today are not anywhere near the quality of the other 4 starters, so I’m crossing my fingers and hoping he comes out of the chute firing on all cylinders:)
Here is how I rank the 5 starters at this point, based on stats and what I have seen them do:
There is a new book out (I learned from one of my many “baseball buddies”) about Stephen Strasburg, “Pitchcraft: Stephen Strasburg, The Flawed Prodigy.” I have not read the book, but I skimmed a review. It is focussed on the two facts that (1) he only uses three pitches (fastball, curve, changeup) where most successful starters have at least four, and (2) that he gets upset easily when everything doesn’t go perfectly as he wishes. I may get it sooner or later, but as of today I have at least 6 good but unread books on my coffee table:)
Note: The U.Va. team prevailed last night at the College World Series, but it took them 15 innings to do so! Not sure yet who they face next.
The Nats just lost three straight in St. Louis, so this seems like a good time for something to laugh about! Here are 51 classic baseball gems. Enjoy.
1. It ain’t nothin’ till I call it. – Bill Klem, umpire
2. There have been only two authentic geniuses in the world, Willie Mays and
Willie Shakespeare. – Tallulah Bankhead
3. I never threw an illegal pitch. The trouble is, once in a while I toss
one that ain’t never been seen by this generation. – Satchel Paige
4. Ninety percent of this game is half mental. – Yogi Berra
5. If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an
infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even
considering if there is a man on base. – Dave Barry
6. Who is this Baby Ruth? And what does she do? – George Bernard Shaw
7. The way to make coaches think you’re in shape in the spring is to get a
tan. – Whitey Ford
8. Running a ball club is like raising kids who fall out of trees. – Tom
9. I watch a lot of baseball on radio. – Gerald Ford
10. I didn’t mean to hit the umpire with the dirt, but I did mean to hit
that bastard in the stands. – Babe Ruth
11. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get
you off. – Bill Veeck
12. Bob Gibson is the luckiest pitcher I ever saw. He always pitches when
the other team doesn’t score any runs. – Tim McCarver
13. Trying to sneak a pitch past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak the
sunrise past a rooster. – Joe Adcock
14. The other teams could make trouble for us if they win. – Yogi Berra
15. Beethoven can’t really be great because his picture isn’t on a bubble
gum card. – Charles Schulz
16. I think I throw the ball as hard as anyone. The ball just doesn’t get
there as fast. – Eddie Bane
17. Third ain’t so bad if nothin’ is hit to you. – Yogi Berra
18. There’s no crying in baseball! – Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own
19. I never took the game home with me. I always left it in some bar. – Bob
20. Well, it took me 17 years to get 3,000 hits in baseball, and I did it in
one afternoon on the golf course. – Hank Aaron 21. After Jackie Robinson, the most important black in baseball history is
Reggie Jackson. – Reggie Jackson
22. We know we’re better than this, but we can’t prove it. – Tony Gwynn
23. It ain’t like football. You can’t make up no trick plays. – Yogi Berra
24. If a horse won’t eat it, I don’t want to play on it. – Dick Allen on
25. You don’t realize how easy this game is until you get up in that
broadcasting booth. – Mickey Mantle
26. Alan Sutton Sothoron pitched his initials off today. – Anonymous, St.
27. All I remember about my wedding day in 1967 is that the Cubs lost a
doubleheader. – George F. Will
28. Never root for a team whose uniforms have elastic stretch waistbands. –
29. There ain’t much to being a ballplayer, if you’re a ballplayer. – Honus
30. Us ballplayers do things backward. First we play, then we retire and go
to work. – Charlie Gehringer
31. The funny thing about these uniforms is that you hang them in the closet
and they get smaller and smaller. – Curt Flood
32. Sure I played, did you think I was born age 70 sitting in a dugout
trying to manage guys like you? – Casey Stengel, to Mickey Mantle
33. When you start the game, they don’t say “Work ball!” They say “Play
ball!” – Willie Stargell
34. There are two theories on hitting the knuckleball. Unfortunately,
neither one of them works. – Charlie Lau
35. The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until the ball stops rolling
and then to pick it up. – Bob Uecker
36. Think! How the hell are you gonna think and hit at the same time? – Yogi
37. The majority of American males put themselves to sleep by striking out
the batting order of the New York Yankees. – James Thurber
38. A hot dog at the game beats roast beef at the Ritz. – Humphrey Bogart
39. He’s the strangest hitter in baseball. Figure him out one way and he’ll
kill you another. – Sandy Koufax on Roberto Clemente
40. As a nation we are dedicated to keeping physically fit – and parking as
close to the stadium as possible. – Bill Vaughan
41. Slump? I ain’t in no slump. I just ain’t hitting. – Yogi Berra
42. A man once told me to walk with the Lord. I’d rather walk with the bases
loaded. – Ken Singleton
43. I’d be willing to bet you, if I was a betting man, that I have never bet
on baseball. – Pete Rose
44. Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents
off the streets. – Yogi Berra
45. Lasorda’s standard reply when some new kid would ask directions to the
whirlpool was to tell him to stick his foot in the toilet and flush it. –
46. If you don’t succeed at first, try pitching. – Jack Harshman
47. The Hall of Fame is for baseball people. Heaven is for good people. –
48. So I’m ugly. So what? I never saw anyone hit with his face. – Yogi Berra
49. He looks like a greyhound, but he runs like a bus. – George Brett on
third baseman Jamie Quirk
50. The baseball mania has run its course. It has no future as a
professional endeavor. – Cincinnati Gazette editorial, 1879
51. I couldn’t a done it without my players. Casey Stengel on winning the pennant in 1949.
The low point (Death Valley) in yesterday’s finale in SF came in the 5th inning, when the Nats had runners on the corners with pitcher Blake Treinen coming to bat with NO OUTS. The smart move there is to have him lay down a bunt to get the runner from first to second. Then they have the top of the order coming up with 2 runners in scoring position. Great! But then we find out Treinen failed “bunting 101” in Spring Training! Incredible. How could a detail-focused manager like Matt Williams let that small fact slip by him?
I was a pitcher through college and I still remember the drills in “Pony League” (now called “Babe Ruth” league) when I was 13. The coach (it could have been Bud Younger, who once pitched at the AAA level) pitched to our group of young hurlers as we practiced bunting until we likely went home with blisters on both hands. To this day I rarely fail to get a bunt down when the situation calls for it.
Anyhow, I watched in disbelief as Treinen had THREE CHANCES at bunting and missed them all! The next batter then hit a groundball that would have scored one run for sure and tied the game, keeping the inning going. But since the bunt attempt failed, the ground ball instead resulted in an inning-ending double play. The “little things” will derail many a good team.
The best professional online commentator on all things “Nats Baseball” is Dan “MASN Dan” Kolko. You will find him on the MASN website. If you have watched even two innings of Nats baseball this year on MASN TV, you have seen Dan. He is not quite as good-looking as his eye-candy predecessor (Christina __________), but he knows baseball and he is VERY GOOD at his job. If the Nats are playing on the West Coast (SF for example:), I go to Dan’s game summary first when I wake up in the morning here on the Eastern Seaboard to see what happened while I was sound asleep.
Dan really doesn’t have much competition however; roughly 90% of the online people who write about the sport are………., well, IDIOTS. I don’t much like that term, but in this case it fits. But if you ever take a glance at the public commentary on the usual baseball websites (like the official Nats team one) one can quickly see that maybe the inmates have taken over! Just for laughs a couple of months ago, I spent a week posting comments on one such website. After keeping track of the number of individuals posting there who appeared to have a minimal understanding of what baseball is all about I ended up with the following: 3 out of the 87 fit that description!
There is a chance I could be just a bit biased, having grown up with a transistor radio tuned to Vin Scully bringing me the Brooklyn Dodgers:) The price of gas, by the way, was twenty seven cents per gallon when Vinny began his career.