Sunday, April 03, 2005

Another Op'nin' Another Show! In Philly, Boston or Baltimo'

I'm off to Philly tomorrow. I imagine I'll have a hard time sleeping tonight. I don't want to get overly maudlin with the prose -- as people tend to do when they write about baseball! Besides, what I'm feeling is probably not all that different than what's going through your heads too.

I'll be on the bus with the group from the Nationals Fan Club. Look for me, I'll be the pasty white guy in the Nationals cap -- shouldn't be any problem finding me then!

I'll be in the stands busily scribbling notes on my scorecard, but these are the things I'll be looking for:

1. Who's on up first?
The Walking Stick, Nick Johnson has hit first the last few games. And he's one of the best options for the team. What makes a successful leadoff hitter?

--Getting on base. Check! His career OBP is .372
--Seeing lots of pitches to help the other hitters gauge a pitcher's stuff-- Check. His patience and plate discipline means he's seeing a lot of pitches. (4.28/plate appearance last year)
--Getting into scoring position. Check! Although he doesn't have tons of speed, he's a smart baserunner and has 35-double power (when healthy!), meaning he's putting himself in scoring position.

Yeah, it'd be nice to have Rickey Henderson circa 1984 in there, but he only comes along once a century. And besides, there are only a handful of leadoff hitters in the game in that same mold. Sometimes you have to change the image in your mind to fit the team's strengths and weaknesses.

2. Who's in center?
Ryan "Soul Patch" Church has tweaked his groin. (Apparently he went to the same massage parlor as Tony Armas?) It's not supposed to be major, but he'll probably be held out for at least tomorrow. So, meet your new centerfielder. Same as your old center fielder, Brad Wilkerson. Terrmel Sledge and his toxic bat will probably take over left field. That's good for the offense. But probably bad for the defense.

Memo to ¡Livan!: Keep it on the ground!

3. How 'bout That Local Team?
We'll be in enemy territory. Paper tigers each of the last two years, the Phillies, Phresh with a new manager, are coming into the season under the radar with essentially the same personnel as last year, sans the tateriffic Eric Milton. They've got a solid offense, led by Bobby Abreu and Jim Thome, and a bullpen, which, if it pitches up to it's name-brand reputation, can help anchor a not-so spectacular rotation.

The Phillies won't be pushovers, and when he's on, Jon Leiber is an efficient pitcher. The Nats are going to need to take a lead early and hope the 8+ innings ¡ El Caballo Grande! gives them is enough.

I've polled myself and the Nationals are favored tomorrow, 5-4 with Hernandez going 8 solid innings.


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