Comments on the Game Yesterday

All the Nats weakpoints were on display in this poor effort yesterday.  Hitting with runners in scoring position: one for eleven.  The team is ranked 20th I think on this important stat.  Bull-pen sucks!  Running in one rookie from AAA after another for his first ever MLB game, for a supposed WS contender—-simply pathetic.  Blame this one on Rizzo.  Defense?  Good enough maybe for AAA.

All of the above has been commented on here since early spring training.

Let’s hear it again:  Why did the team go after Sherzer when their biggest need was clutch hitting?  Good hitters were available during the winter.

Here is the Opening Day Lineup

Uggla starts at 2B, T-Mo in LF, Taylor in CF.  I’m really holding my nose on Taylor since he can’t hit ML pitching.

The bench on opening day is: Lobaton, Espi, Dekker, Johnson, Robinson.

The above are just my guesses; the team has not announced these.

I am very disappointed about this, but it’s just the opening day lineup.  Werth could be in the lineup very soon after that.  Rendon and Span will take weeks if not months.  I am almost shocked that Ian Stewart has apparently not made the cut, judging by his name not having been mentioned in print for at least 2 weeks:)

So both the offense and defense will be weak, and the bull-pen will be close to a total F_______-up.

You saw it HERE!!!

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.

 

OK, it’s time to stir the “SOUP”

151245983-e1394535093857

AP Photo

This is the time in Spring Training (ST) for reckless prognosticators (like me for example) to just throw caution to the wind and do the impossible:  predict who (when I know it’s too early for a sane person to make any predictions:) will make the 25 man roster as position player subs.  First, a little math:  assuming the Nats carry 12 pitchers (5 starters and a 7-man bullpen) and 8 starters at the 8 positions in the field besides the pitcher, that leaves 5 bench-warmers.

So here we go:

1.  Jose Lobaton, catcher.  This is a given since the team made it clear when they traded for him that they expected Jose to be the backup to Ramos.  Every team has to carry a backup catcher.  The Nats will have plenty more of these at Syracuse and Harrisburg, should something happen to upset the plans.  Note:  Jose is not impressing anyone yet with his lack of hitting!

2.  Jamey Carroll, infielder extraordinaire.  He reminds me of myself, low on talent and size, but a 100% “gamer.”  He does all the little things very well.  Also, Matt Williams knows him well (from their days together with the Diamondbacks) and clearly likes him a lot, just look at the playing time he’s getting!

3.  Jeff Kobernus, OF AND (!) INF.  Like Jamey except he is even more versatile in that he can hold the fort in both the infield AND the outfield.  He has been hitting consistently since day one of ST.

4.  Zack Walters, infielder.  He played well last September and has shown me he is ready for prime time this Spring.  Note:  there have been several other youngsters who have shown great talent this ST but Zach (like Ryan Zimmerman several years ago) is the most “ready” of them all, with an OBP (on-base-percentage) well north of .500 at this point!

5.  Nate McLouth, outfielder.  Nate had a helluva comeback year with the Orioles last year.  He can hit, play OF and run the bases much better than average.  He would possibly be the best 4th outfielder in baseball.

Who does this leave on the outside looking in?  Tyler Moore and The Danny.  The Nats have been very patiently giving both many chances to make the team, but I say time has run out for both.  Neither one is looking good with the bat.

This Blog is not about The Danny (not much)

A lot of Gnats fans are wondering how the competition to fill the fifth starting pitcher slot is likely to be resolved.  Well, here is my humble opinion.  And I’ll preface it (as an experienced gamer) by saying such competition is very healthy and the Nats are extremely lucky to have so much talent in Spring Training Camp!

Ross “Det” Detwiler:  I think this is his to lose, and I say this for several reasons.  First, he has the most quality major league experience.  Second, he is out of options (he can’t be sent back to the minor leagues–there is a rule limiting the number of times a player can be sent down to the minor leagues).  Third, he was VERY EFFECTIVE early last season, until he got injured.

Roark pitching last season. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Roark pitching last season. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Tanner Roark:  Many will argue he should get the nod, as he was arguably the Nats best pitcher over the last 6 weeks of the season last Fall.  I too was impressed with his success last year.  And this will likely mean that if Det is the fifth starter, Tanner Roark will be the “long man” in the bullpen.  So the team wins either way!

Taylor Jordan:  With the least amount of major league experience, unless Jordan really lights up the scene in Florida, the best thing for his development would be to start the season with the Nats’ AAA team in Syracuse , pitch a lot and be ready if someone gets hurt on the parent team.  This is a talented kid with beaucoup upside potential who may actually be ready for THE SHOW if the team had a space!

On to the “Danny Watch.”  Whoopee, he got his first hit yesterday.  It’s only Spring Training, and the new manager has to give Danny Espinosa a chance, but I think the hand-writing is out there.  After 2+ seasons in the bigs, Danny just cannot hit big-league pitching.  Meanwhile, among the infielders in camp, Zach Walters can, Anthony Rendon and Jamey Carroll can, and some of the other “kids” are looking good too.  I recommend Mike Rizzo call Bo Porter (Houston manager and former Nats’ third-base coach) and work something out to ship Danny to Houston.  They need lots of new blood in Houston!

No, I’m Not In Bed With Las Vegas!

Michael Taylor in centerfield. Photo courtesy of Curly W, the official blog of the Washington Nationals.

Michael Taylor in centerfield. Photo courtesy of Curly W, the official blog of the Washington Nationals.

I noticed recently that Las Vegas has the Gnats (ooops, I meant Nats) winning 88.5 games this year. This seems right in line with my own guesstimate of 88-92 wins in my initial post. Everything will have to go right, I think, for them to reach 92 wins–no major injuries; the bullpen performs better than it did last year; Espinosa learns how to hit major-league pitching; Harper and LaRoach improve against lefties; and all the pitchers finally learn how to hold runners on base.

That last point is a real sore-point with me (as a former pitcher in college and semi-pro who LOVED picking sleeping base-runners off). Since early January I’ve been participating in indoor baseball practice with about 30-40 local players and I was chatting this week with our infield coach (who is a former professional minor-league player who is about 30 years old) and the conversation went like this: I asked him what he thought about how bad the Nats pitchers are at holding runners. He reacted by rolling his eyes, then told me he had played with a few of the very Nats pitchers I was referencing. And after he muttered a few choice, unmentionable, epithets I got the clear impression he was as annoyed about this as I was!

It was wonderful to watch parts of the first Nats Spring Training game yesterday!  Not much to say other than that. But one thing really made an impression on me. I had had no idea what all the chatter about Michael Taylor was about, and now I KNOW. His triple, to win the game in the 9th inning, let me know in dramatic fashion that this is a player to keep an eye on!  Taylor will likely be playing this year with AAA Syracuse, but he may be making an appearance with the big boys in September.

It’s the pitching, honey :)

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park Tuesday, July 2, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park Tuesday, July 2, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The top four Nats starters are (as a group) the best top four in baseball!  Stated another way, of the top 20 ERA (earned run average) pitchers in baseball, the Nats have four.  No other team has more than two.  Adding Doug Fister in the off-season was arguably (according to FanGraphs) the best trade in all of baseball. On the other hand, last season’s Nats pitchers (with a couple of exceptions) were downright terrible at holding runners on base.  So it was refreshing to see that new manager Matt Williams had them working on that detail right from the start of Spring Training!  And this is a skill where Fister excells; he has only allowed 15 runners to steal off him IN HIS CAREER!  So his teammates can learn from watching him at work.Covering first is another area where the pitchers need to improve.  I remember seeing Jason Werth getting on Gio Gonzales in the dugout over this last year on nationwide TV. Gio looked like he forgot to cover first on grounders to the right side numerous times last year.  This can’t happen in professional baseball; kids learn it in high school!

In another bit of good news the team has hired former Nats starter and fan favorite Livan Hernandez to work with the pitchers during Spring Training.  I’m hearing that this has been a very popular move with the players, especially the younger guys.

The bullpen needs some work still;  1-2 slots are yet to be decided.  Spring Training will be interesting for this part of the team.

A Preview of the 2014 Nationals

Compared to the 2012 Nats, the 2013 team was a disappointment. They won the most games in the majors in 2012, but 12 fewer last season. What’s worse, they did not get to the playoffs. Former manager Davey Johnson, who retired just after the 2013 season (and is a Trinity University grad), predicted before the season that the Nats would get to the World Series. I think this created needless pressure on the players, and led to the offense taking almost half the season to really get rolling. (Note: The most important thing that affects batting is being very RELAXED! I’ve been playing this game for 60 years and it has taken me a big chunk of that to be truly relaxed at the plate.)

They aim to improve in 2014. Matt Williams, the new manager, appears to be an exciting upgrade. Though this is his first crack at managing, I think the team could not have made a better choice. Matt is a no-nonsense, hands-on type. As a player (and I watched him play frequently) he worked hard to excel, setting the bar pretty high for himself, and he is likely to expect the Nats to do the same.

Going into the 2014 season, the team needed a better no. 4 starting pitcher, a better “bench” and a better bull-pen (especially left-handers). They recently acquired Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers as the 4thstarter. He is likely to be more effective than Dan Haren, last year’s 4th starter. Doug is young, did well in Detroit, and has the potential to get even better with time. Tyler Roark and Ross Detwiler will likely compete for the 5thstarter spot. There is a chance Ross could be used as another lefty in the bullpen too.

The Nats also acquired Nate McLouth, a very capable, fast outfielder from Baltimore to bolster the bench. The fact that Nate bats from the left side is good as the other bench outfielder, Scott Hairston, bats right-handed. Nate is also a potent base-stealer, so he could do lots of pinch-running! The Nats still need at least one more backup infielder. They lost Steve Lombardozzi in the Fister trade, and he will be greatly missed, I predict. In a “stealth signing” just before Christmas, the Nats picked up veteran infielder Emmanuel Burris. He grew up and played high school ball here in the nation’s capital.

The bull-pen has added one new left hander, Blevins, but needs one more. They also need to replace Ryan Mattheus, who was not very effective last year.

The coaching staff so far has not changed much from last year, but the new manager has added a new position, that of defensive coordinator, staffed by Mark Weidemaier. I think this is a great idea.

Besides the remaining moves I have recommended, another issue Matt Williams needs to address in Spring Training is the glaring inability of the team’s pitchers to hold runners on base–this is simply unacceptable in the major leagues.

I predict the Nats will win 88-92 wins, depending on what additional moves they make. Two very significant things that happened last season are reasons for optimism: (1) the Nats were the best team in baseball over the last 6-8 weeks of the season (they almost made the playoffs); and (2) the new hitting coach, Dick Schu, who was hired mid-season in 2013. He likely was one of the reasons Jayson Werth almost won the national League batting title!

And then we have the “Racing Presidents“. They added one more in early 2013, William Howard Taft. “Teddy” Roosevelt needs to work harder on the basics.

P.S. The price of beer at Nats Park is outrageous! I’m contemplating trying to get in with a hiking “flask” under my shirt.

P.P.S. If anyone is wondering whether the Nats will seriously enter the circus-like chase to grab the Japanese star pitcher, Tanaka, I say “no way.”