Monday, May 03, 2010

Nationals Reviewed: The Second Fortnight

Well, two more weeks in the books, and it I hope we didn't see the high-water mark. It's been weird having a good feeling about this team. It's been so long since Nats fans have had anything real to cheer about. In the 'high water thread', someone posted that the last good moment (aside from Strassy's signing) was Jim Bowden's resignation. While that's unquestionably a great thing for the franchise, it was a bad thing for Mark Lerner. He lost a playmate. :( But, really, while it was a GOOD thing, was that really a happy time? Did anyone feel PROUD to be a Nats fan?


When's the last time you felt sustained pride? Not last year. Zimmerman's walk-off in the stadium opener was a fleeting moment. 2007? Nope. 2006? We had Soriano, but all those giggle-inducing homers came amidst a whole lot of losses.


This measly month is the first time any Nats fan could feel pride in their team since July 2005. Five years ago! When you're wandering around a random city in a Nats hat, you don't really have to go "Yeah, I know they suck!" defensively. In August of 2005, I took a trip to Utah. At the very tip of Bryce Canyon (not too far where NFA Brian is now), I was out on a trail looking at a 4,000 year old pine tree. Standing there, an old guy looked at my dirty ol' Nats hat (RIP!) and said "you've got a pretty good team there." There I was, about as far away from anywhere as one could be, and someone knew and recognized the Nats without laughing at them.


You couldn't have said that any of the last few years. Even if this team craps the bed the rest of the way, that's something.


Record: 7-6, 13-12 overall. 3rd in the NL East, 6th overall in the NL
Runs Scored: 3.4/g, 104 overall, 13th overall -- but I was assured we had a juggernaut!
Runs Allowed: 3.6/g, 124 overall, 11th overall. We were 7th in both stats last time... a tough stretch, apparently.
Pythagoras Sez: 11-14. +2 isn't anything to worry about, but it beats being below!


WHAT'S GOOD?

1) Adam Dunn's bat! Rumors of its demise were greatly exaggerated. He's still not humming along as smoothly as most fans would like, but .286/ .375/ .612 with three homers and eight RBI isn't a terrible stretch. He really is a maddening player to watch, isn't he? He's never just mediocre. He's either amazing, or he's terrible. That applies to his fielding, as well as his batting!

2) Clip 'n Save! We've praised their virtues before, but this stretch was particularly amazing: 16.2 innings, 8 hits, 0 runs, 6 walks, 24 strikeouts. Unfortunately, that's like a 95-inning pace for the two of 'em. And we saw what happens (see: Ayala, Luis) when you throw a reliever out there that much. Oh yeah... that wasn't the workload that killed Ayala. It was that damn, dirty WBC.. yeah, right.

3) Livan! What more can you say at this point? Some say it's Roy Halladay, but Livan is clearly the best pitcher in the NL East. Just look at the stats, fanboy.

4) Justin Maxwell's eye! He tied with Adam Dunn for 2nd most walks on the team. And although some of 'em may have been of the pitch-around variety, he's still gotta be smart enough to know to look for it. Seems to me that the right-field answer is pretty much hear. Willie's what he is. OK on-base. Solid defense. RoBer is a slap-first, singles hitter with a good glove... sort of a younger Nook Logan. Maxwell probably won't be a star, but you can see glimpses of why Jim Bowden's leather pants would tighten: little bit of power; little bit of eye; decent control of the strike zone at times. He's not going to be Eric Davis (that popping sound you just heard was Bowden's wood), but he could be... umm.... Marcus Thames? (He's literally the first name that pops up when you google "lefty-mashing outfielder"). He's the only guy there with a chance to have a real tomorrow. Let him mash all the lefties. Send Willie's corpse up there against 2/3 of the righties, and let Maxwell increasingly get a shot against the Kyle Kendricks of the world.

5) Ryan Zimmerman! This just in: Dude's good. His Bugs Bunny line: .440/ .500/ 1.000. The only problem: it came in just 8 games. Where's that Tatiana woman post-Dmitiri? She should be rubbing his hammies morning, noon, and night. Hopefully there wont' be a Dmitri-like pop-n-release this time.

WHAT'S BAD?

1) Brian Bruney. Seriously. This guy blows. And whoever could've seen it coming? This is why the mythology of Da Ring!!!1! is poppycock. The same mythical qualities that are being ascribed to Pudge were once ascribed to Bruney. Bruney just didn't have the smarts to play like an All-Star for the first two weeks of the season. Guy was a turkey in NY. He's a smoked turkey here. Mmm... Maybe on some toasted rye, with some thousand island dressing and a little kraut... Ummm... where was I? Oh, yeah. He sucks.

2) Pudge's empty batting average. Dude hit .345! Yay! Extra-base hits: 0. Walks: 1. If that batting average were any emptier it'd... umm... it'd... hmmm... sorry... I'm watching hockey and can't come up with anything witty. Mike Green joke, perhaps? Now this isn't to pick on Pudge, but it does show an issue with him that'll bear watching as the season goes long. He's lucky that he's built such a strong base to start the season; it's gonna take a lot of empty .265 weeks for his overall numbers to come down.

3) John Lannan. Here's what bugs me about statheads. They've been saying for years that he's due for a fall because of his crappy peripherals. And they're right. But where they've been wrong is ascribing his success to 'luck'. That's the biggest goddamn BS dump there is. It's a completely meaningless phrase that indicates that they're making as much shit up as the hoary old sportswriters extolling the virtues of a player's clutchness. The fact is that Lannan DID outperform his stats. And he did it not because he was lucky, but because he kept the damn ball on the ground, had solid command of his pitches, and seemed to really understand how to keep hitters off balance -- not many pitchers with his so-so stuff could consistently nail an inside curveball as consistently as he did.

Now that he's scuffling, they're going to be falling all over themselves to say 'told ya!'. Fark you. The reason he's not succeeding this year isn't because he's no longer lucky. It's because he's had a talent shift. His command has been spotty this year. By command I mean two things: one, the ability for him to nails his spots (he's not); and two, the bite or zip on his pitches. It's not there the way it was. He's getting even fewer swings-and-misses. I don't know if he's having arm problems -- could just be simple fatigue, or just one of those things. But he's NOT the same pitcher he was, and there's no "told you so" there.

Lannan's the kind of pitcher who survived by walking the tight rope. They were right in that there's no margin for error there. Something's changed, and he's fallen off a bit. Can he get it back? Perhaps. But considering how fine the margin for error was, there's a chance he won't be where he was either. And that kinda sucks.

4) Nyjer Morgan's base-running. Seriously. Just tether the guy to the bases. If he ran the bases as well as he ran his mouth (pay attention to me!1!!!), we'd be doing well. 4 caught stealings these last two weeks against only 2 SB.

5) Adam Kennedy. (.158/ .214/ .289) This is Adam Kennedy's age-34 season. If you were expecting him to repeat last year's stats, where he had the 2nd highest OPS of his career, well... you just might be Mike Rizzo. Meanwhile, the O-Dawg's at .308/ .385/ .413. Just sayin'...

GAME O' THE FORTNIGHT

I'll take Scott Olsen's 1-0 win over Chad Billingsley and the Dodgers. Random fact about that game: The lone RBI was on an Adam Dunn groundout. I didn't look it up, but a trusted friend told me that Dunn didn't have an RBI groundout at all last year. If so, that's my second favorite Adam Dunn fact. What's my first? He once went an entire calendar year without a sac fly. Seriously.

MVP AWARD: Ryan Zimmerman had the best offensive line, but Adam Dunn was in the lineup every game. He led the team in homers and RBI. And all seemed right with the world. (Oh, and in Ks too!)

CY YOUNG AWARD: Specs Clippard edges out Capps and Livan. 14 K in 9 IP is a thing of beauty. It's like Armando Benitez, just without the game-losing homers.

AUSTIN KEARNS AWARD: Josh Willingham. (.171/ .333/ .171) Bright side: 9 walks. Bad side: everygoddamnthing else.

JOE HORGAN AWARD: Tyler Walker had an ungodly 8-something ERA, but if you look at his walks/homers/strikeouts, it looks funky. He looks better than he's pitched... which bodes well if the runs start going in line with his performance. With our luck, it'll work the other way, and he'll merge the worst qualities of Bruney with the worst of Lannan.

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