Hockey Anybody?

Before 2012, when the Nats first got to the post-season, i had been watching more hockey than baseball.  Tonight, after the Nats fourth error, I switched to the Capitals game seven showdown with the Islanders.  Just after that the caps scored the winning goal, so they are going to the next round of playoffs.

The Nationals are now playing their worst baseball since 2011.  And something is not right with Doug Fister, and apparently this goes all the way back to the start of Spring Training.  His normal fastball used to be at 88-91 mph.  Now it is around 85 mph.  The offense, defense and bull-pen are mediocre this year.

 

Strasburg’s “Achilles Heel”

I’ve mentioned this before, but we continue to see how Stephen Strasburg can become rattled and loose his focus when events occur during games (errors by his teammates for example, or a plate umpire with a strike zone not to Stephen’s liking).  Last night in the 3rd inning Jason Werth dropped a routine fly ball in foul territory that would have been the third out.  Right after that Stephen threw a fastball right across the middle of home plate to a good hitter, Marlon Byrd, who hit it for a 3-run homer.

Those were the only runs Strasburg gave up in his 6 or 7 inning stint, so he was able to settle himself down after the home run.  My point is these episodes seem to affect Stephen’s pitching more than they do most pitchers.  I’m sure the Nats coachs are trying to work with him to increase his ability to stay focused on “grinding” through opposing team’s lineups while tuning out adverse events that are not under Stephen’s control.

Interesting footnotes:

1.  Former Nat (a very popular one!) Mikey Morse (“The Beast”) hit the game winning home run as the Giants beat our nemesis, the Atlanta Braves.  That was the Braves 4th straight loss!

2.  Another former Nat, Steve Lombardozzi, hitting .292 for the Orioles was sent down to AAA in order to make room for star third baseman Manny Machado as he came back from injury to play yesterday for the first time in 2014.  There were other Orioles that in my opinion should have been sent down instead of Lombo.  Note to Mike Rizzo: Get Lombo BACK!

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!

The 2014 Nationals Bullpen

Pitcher Luis Ayala in 2008 (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

Pitcher Luis Ayala in 2008 (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

There’s more good news for the bullpen of the Nationals (Nats); the weakest part of the 2013 roster. Apparently Mike Rizzo is still “wheelin and dealin” trying to continue upgrading. They are rumored to have offered pitcher Luis Ayala a minor league contract. He was with the Nats from 2005-2008, and initially was one of the mainstays of the pen. In his nine years pitching in the majors he has a 3.34 ERA. He was very effective last year for the Atlanta Braves. I think Ayala may have a shot at replacing Ryan Mattheus. Ayala would be the second returnee from the 2005 roster (Jamey Carroll was the first). The 2005 Nats bullpen was excellent, with Ayala usually pitching in the 7th or 8th inning for a “HOLD.”

I think all they need is another utility player/pinch hitter.