Hard to Ignore 15-1…………..

It would be tempting (after kicking the Braves’ butts last night) to imagine the 2015 Nats are rounding the final turn into the home-stretch of this season about the grab the division title away from the NY Mets.  But after handing the Cardinals 2 out of the last 3 games (when they could have easily won both) most of the Nats fans would probably still bet on the Mets:)

The Nats bats are most likely still smoldering and smoking this morning after exploding last night.  Ryan Zimmerman now has 71 RBIs in the approximately 95 games he has played this year (which projects out to about 121 for a full season).  He is one of the hottest batters in baseball right now.

Bryce Harper, batting just before RZimm, wisely didn’t swing at any bad pitches and managed to walk every time he came to bat!  He scored all 4 times.  Bryce is only the 4th player SINCE 1914 (!) to score 4 runs with NO OFFICIAL AT-BATS in a game.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it:)  He saw 20 pitches and did not swing at a single one!

The rest of the team brought their A-game also.  Rookie Trea Turner even got his first major-league hit!  Pretty good after flying home from St. Louis in the middle of the night and getting to bed around 6am before the game.

 

 

Nats Bite a Bullet!

I was glad to see the Nats make a tough decision as the NL East competition heats up.  Sending the veteran Doug Fister to the bull-pen showed in favor of keeping Joe Ross in the starting rotation is a clear sign the front office is serious about the run for the playoffs.  Starting Danny Espinosa at SS the other day was a similar indication.  And the move to start Robinson at first base yesterday worked well as did sending Ryan Zimmerman in the pinch-hit late in the game!

Baseball is a very fickle game, but yesterday “the gods” were smiling on the Nats:)

Last Minute Ticket to Paradise!

A friend called me about 3pm yesterday to say he had a spare ticket to the game last night.  Luckily I took it!  I watched maybe the best game I have seen ever at Nats Park.

The big one was RZimm’s walk-off homer.  But Spann made an incredible catch on a tailing line-drive in right center.  When I saw it live i was impressed, but when I watched the replay several times it dawned on me (and I’ve been playing outfield for many years) how difficult a catch I had witnessed.  He had to catch it back-handed as it tailed towards him.  If he had dived for it he would have missed it.

And then we got to see Wilmer Difo’s first ever big-league at bat—a sharp single.  he had just been called up from AA (not AAA!).  What impressed me more than the hit though, was how nervous he made the Yankees once they saw him dancing way off first-base:)

And then the Nats bull-pen out-pitched the Yankees pen (a VERY good one).  Closer Miller had not surrendered a run all year!

And then I learned RZimm has 10–count em—walk-off homers.  That has him in rare company (Stan Musial, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Jim Thome).  and Zimm is only 30.

Note:  I left out the following:  Drew Storen striking out A-Rod in a key 9th inning situation was lovely.  And then later learning that since August of 2013 Storen has the third best stats of any reliever in baseball!

 

“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

The Z-man Going Back to 3B

Zimmerman catching a fly ball during his debut in left field. (Photo: Tommy Gilligan, USA TODAY Sports)

Zimmerman catching a fly ball during his debut in left field. (Photo: Tommy Gilligan, USA TODAY Sports)

I heard Matt Williams say clearly in a pre-game radio interview last night (June 5) that Ryan Zimmerman would be back at 3B once Bryce Harper returns from the DL.  This is the clearest statement yet from anyone on the “top mgmt. team” of the Nats regarding how they plan to accommodate Harpers return in approximately a month.  I believe (and this is just my opinion!) he was basing that on how well the other pieces of this “equation” (namely Rendon, Spann, LaRoche and Espinosa) are performing AT THIS TIME.  Consequently, I take what Willims said last night with a small grain of salt:)

Baseball is a game of streaks.  (I know this all too well, as I’m dealing with a minor three-week hitting slump myself).  If any of the above players happens to be mired in a slump when Bryce comes back, Manager Matt would likely send Zimmerman alsewhere.

Footnote:  One of the main reasons Ryan is now in left field is not because anyone has firmly decided that is his future, but more likely because he is far less prone to re-injuring his healing thumb out there!

 

The Attack of the Brothers Zimm

The Zimm boys, Jordan and Ryan ganged up on the Phillies last night (June 3).  What a fun game to watch!

Ryan lived up to all the ridiculous hype and actually did play left field.  His first at bat said it all, as he blasted a rocket down the line in left for a double.  For an encore, just in case there were one or two doubters remaining, he did the same thing into the corner in right field:)  Many have said in amazement that Ryan usually shows up for Spring Training and from the first day will usually spray line drives all over the field!  I believe it.

Jordan for his part found his feel and command of all his pitches again and put his problems of May in the rearview mirror!  He easily pitched 8 strong innings and could have continued for a CG.  Knowing how steady he is I’m confident we are in for “smooth sailing ahead” from J-Zimm.

As to what will happen with Ryan when Bryce Harper returns in mid-July, “Manager Matt’ said publicly “we will deal with that when it happens, based on how everyone is playing at that time.” I am not going to speculate therefore on something so complex, with so many variables, including possible future injuries, that will influence the team’s decision-makers.

 

 

 

This one was UGLY!

The game on April 17 was the Nats worst since before they got hot in August 2013.  I could see from their body language that by the fifth inning they had given up.  Starting pitching was supposed to be a team strong point, but it certainly hasn’t been this year. The starters’ ERA is near the bottom in all of baseball.  The Nats are losing the first two innings by a huge margin as their pitchers try to get comfortable with their pitches and feel for the release-point.  Manager Matt Williams stressed defense during Spring Training, but the team has more errors than any team in baseball right now.  He also emphasized aggressive base-running, and the Nats have only stolen one base thus far and their star third-baseman Ryan Zimmerman ran himself right onto the DL with a broken finger.  Adam Laroche has been thrown out at home three times already.  One wonders what the third-base coach is smoking when he keeps waving the slowest guy on the team towards home!  In 17 games I have stopped counting the base-running miscues.

After the game, knowing the manager had called a team meeting right after the last out, he was then asked by a sportswriter what they had discussed.  “That’s for me and my team to know” was his red-faced response.

I rest my case.

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.

Breaking News: Washington Nationals’ 2014 Roster

In the past week, there has been a minor flurry of meaningful activity that will bolster the Washington Nationals’ propects for success in 2014. While Anthony Rendon will be the likely starting second baseman, every team needs backup players. Former Nat, Jamey Carroll, was signed to a minor league contract. I predict this master utility infielder will make the major league roster. Besides having all the tools to really help the Nats, the team is far from confident infielder Danny Espinosa will make the roster; he cannot hit big league pitching.

Meanwhile a former teammate of Ryan Zimmerman at University of Virginia, slugger Mark Reynolds, was rumored to be a possible Nationals’ addition. That would have been a mistake (but an understandable one since Nats General Manager, Mike Rizzo, had signed Reynolds for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004). Reynolds has proven to be a human strikeout machine, setting several all-time major league records in that department! Luckily for the Nats, Reynolds signed Friday with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Also on Friday, January 17, the team reached agreement on two-year contract extensions with Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmerman. Desmond will also get another $500K bonus if he wins the National League MVP award (he was considered for the award last year). Both players had been negotiating for longer-term deals, but ran out of time as the arbitration deadline loomed. Four others were also signed by the deadline to one-year deals: Drew Storen, Ross Detwiler, Wilson Ramos and new relief pitcher Jerry Blevins.

Apparently General Manager Mike Rizzo agrees with me that the bullpen needs more. He is talking with Grant Balfour, who is expected to decide any day now which team he will play for this season. Balfour was the closer for Oakland in 2013 and saved 38 games. If the Nats grab him, the move may presage a trade of Drew Storen.