The Much Maligned Bull-pen is Coming Together!

They lost the two most dependable relievers from last year:  Clip and Stammen, so the pen took much of April to sort out new roles.  Add to that the team’s bringing in 5 guys who had never thrown a pitch in the majors!

Last night, after Strass left the game after only 3 innings, the pen threw 6 shut-out innings.  Sammy Solis efficiently breezed through 3 innings while allowing only one batter to reach base.  Whatever pitch he throws seems to miss bats with regularity.

Thornton, Barrett and Treinen completed the game with no runners crossing home-plate.  Thornton does seem to be having some command issues, but has still been pretty effective.

Drew Storen, since August of 2013, has simply been the BEST relief pitcher in the National League!  See Boswell’s article in today’s POST.

 

The Marlins?

As MLK once said, “I have a dream.”  Well, I had one last night and it wasn’t pretty:)

The Marlins ended up winning the NL East!  By only 2 games, mind you, but what a shock.  Actually I’ve had the thought in the back of my head for a couple of weeks, but refused to acknowledge it.  What happened?  The Nats offense and bull-pen ended up being the problems I predicted. Take a look at the BP’s collective ERA today, March 30.  Look at how the offense has been performing.  Yes, It’s only spring training, I know.

I think I know where Bryce Harper’s ring will be, come October:)

BTW—Tom Boswell’s article in the POST today is another gem.

Offense and Bullpen Suck!

Yesterday I mentioned my concern about the lack of offense, no stranger to the 2014 Gnats.

Today it’s the Pen I’m commenting on; it has been terrible in Spring Training.  You out there who have been following ST results know very well what I’m talking about.  Good starting pitching is important, but with a weak offense and a shakey pen, the Nats are set to lose a lot of games after the first 6-7 innings.

Yoiu heard it here.  nuf said.

 

Where Are the Nats as of Sept. 1?

The Nats look (to me) poised to get into October in pretty good shape.  But I would not bet the farm on them getting to the World Series:)

Manager Matt did a great job of managing last night (Sept. 1).  The best move of all was bringing Thornton in to rescue Storen.  He has been showing a tendency to switch pitchers quicker recently; GOOD!

The guys are looking (as a team) ready for the necessary Sept/Oct. “push.”  Span, Gio, Strass, Werth, Harper, Rendon, Cabrera, Lobaton and Ramos have been stepping up their production recently.  The good teams do that.

The team brought up 6 players for the “Sept. Call-up.”  The best of those moves was getting Barrett and Cedeno for the bullpen.  They had been trying to rest Barrett in Syracuse and they accomplished that.  Hopefully he is ready for what is ahead; he could very well be the additional “stopper” the Nats need.  Cedeno is another lefty weapon in their pen.  No team has enough of those.  I used to be one myself:)

Us fans need to hang onto being positive, no matter how hard that is!

Nats MVP

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Adam Laroche is, in my opinion, the team MVP for the first 81 games this year. He’s the best hitter on the team and a gold-glove first-baseman. Usually, when Nats pitchers get in a tight spot you see Adam going to the mound (and also Ian Desmond) to try to calm them down. And Adam is a big veteran influence in the dugout as well.

As for Bryce Harper’s comments on lineup changes to suit himself, I’m not going to waste space here. Matt Williams and the team veterans will deal with that:) Tom Boswell did in The Post today.

Opportunity is There!

The Nationals' Zach Walters. (Photo courtesy of David Manning-USA TODAY Sports)

The Nationals’ Zach Walters. (Photo courtesy of David Manning-USA TODAY Sports)

With the recent spate of injuries to the opening day roster, the Nats have called on several new bench players as well as Syracuse call-ups (i.e., Zack Walters– above) to show what they can do!

With the bullpen tired from overwork in the Atlanta series they needed a fresh arm who could pitch long relief if needed.  Blake Treinen filled that need, so space was made on the roster by sending Aaron Barrett down, since he had just pitched in consecutive games.  Treinen has impressed with his ability to remain calm under pressure and get hitters out.  No one doubts that  “Bear” Barrett will return soon though.

Zack Walters and Steve Souza, who both were outstanding in Spring Training, are already seeing playing time against The Marlins.  Zack had his first “bomb” tonight (April 15) and Steve got his first major league hit!  Catcher Sandy Leon is filling the roster spot of the injured Wilson Ramos, and he smacked his first major league homer last night (April 14)!

Kevin Frandsen and Danny Espinosa are red hot with the bat and are seeing significant playing time.  Danny is showing commendable calmness when hitting and has cut way down on strike-outs, compared to 2013.  Though Frandsen has not played much in the outfield prior to this season, he showed his infield experience in Atlanta by back-handing a ground shot to the left-field corner (normally a double) and firing it to second quickly to hold the batter to a single!

Both Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan are in the starting rotation while Doug Fister comes back from injuries.  They are showing good poise but need to lower their earned run averages.

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.

Rizzo surprises fan-base

Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo speaks during a media availability at their spring training. (Photo courtesy of Fox News.)

Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo speaks during a media availability at their spring training. (Photo courtesy of Fox News.)

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I first picked up on the Kevin Frandsen rumors Tuesday evening (3/25). I remembered seeing him playing with the Phillies last year, but nothing about him had really made a big impression on me. So I was very surprised when it came out that Mike Rizzo had snatched up Frandsen within 2 minutes of when the Phillies gave him his walking papers! I was even more blind-sided when not one but all three of Tyler Moore, Jeff Kobernus and Jamey Carroll were let go.

Where I had been thinking the 5 bench players would be Carroll, McLouth, Lobaton, Kobernus and Walters,……….we now have Espinosa, McLouth, Lobaton, Frandsen and Hairston!

After doing a little research, it does appear Frandsen could turn out to be a good pick. He can play several infield positions and is a tough competitor who never gives up.

Well, at least I got one pick right; Aaron Barrett made the bullpen🙂 And if Doug Fister’s arm turns out to be ok, we will learn who the 5th starting pitcher will be on Saturday, after the game.

I’m still concerned about the bullpen and the bench overall quality. But we are close to Opening Day and maybe it’s time to shut up and see what happens between now and April 15:)

The Final Roster Decisions

Mike Rizzo, the Nationals' General Manager. (Photo courtesy of ESPN.)

Mike Rizzo, the Nationals’ General Manager. (Photo courtesy of ESPN.)

OK, the Nats are very close to naming the final 25-man roster spots. Here are my predictions:

A. The 5th starter goes to Taylor Jordan.
B. The final bullpen slots are Tanner Roark and Aaron Barrett. Barrett replaces Drew Storen, who gets traded.
C. The final bench slots are BOTH Moore and Carroll. Hairston gets traded. So the total bench is Espinosa, McLouth, Lobaton, Moore and Carroll.

The two trades I’m suggesting above can’t happen in a vacuum of course:) but it could be that Mike Rizzo has been working on them for some time. I’m basing my picks on all the info I’m able to glean on the internet, TV, and radio, as well as the relative amounts of playing time all these guys have been getting (which I think may be the best indicator of the thinking of the team brain-trust). There you have it:)

The Nats are at a crossroads right now, faced with the same type of hype that was buffetting them at this time last year. Are they going to “man up” and start the season in line with expectations or with a white knuckle swoon like the one we saw last April.

Gettin close to decision time for the bullpen

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I think the team brain-trust has been very concerned recently about the bull-pen.  In my opinion. THAT is the Nat’s weakest link right now, and is the main reason for the decision to put Detwiler in that key group.  He has what is needed for that role, experience and high heat.  He also brings the pen a second lefty as well as the ability to play a variety of roles from long-relief as well as possibly closing a game or two.

The way I see it right now, six of the seven bull-pen spots are set.  Here are my picks for those six:  Soriano, Storen, Clippard (photo above), Detwiler, Blevins and Stammen. Unfortunately only two of this group have put up good numbers in spring training thus far: Blevins and Clippard.  Soriano, the nominal “closer,” has looked like anything but that!  The same goes for Drew Storen, the very effective closer a couple of years ago.  So the chances are good that we may see Clippard closing games soon.

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So, are you wondering who has the inside track on the remaining bull-pen slot?  Glad you asked:) Aaron Barrett.  Aaron was the closer last year for the Harrisburg Senators, the Nats’ AA team.  He had a great season in that role.  He also played in the Arizona Fall league for the team Matt Williams managed!  A look at the outstanding numbers Aaron has put up this Spring, and I expect to see him throw an inning in today’s game; it will be televised:)  The team brain-trust is talking a lot among themselves about this guy, trust me!

p.s. Click here to read about Clippard and the bobblehead campaign.