Thursday, August 24, 2006

Operation: Destroy Readership!

It's that time of year again, the time when I try to drive off the last few masochists who are still reading about this craphole of a team. I'm off for a few days, along with the rest of the city it seems. Feel free to burgle my apartment and steal my collection of macrame owls.

In the meantime, there are about 14.2 billion Nats Blogs, many of which are linked in the right column. Since we, as a group, are reproducing like a Catholic family in a Monty Python sketch, I expect you'll find someone who either 1) Entertains you as much as I do; or 2) (If you're one of them) , is just as feckin' stupid as me.

So, enjoy the losses! We're #4!

Oh, and if you're a football fan, it's time to put your Jimmy The Greek smokin' jacket on and test your mettle at the football pick 'em. If you're interested, go here. The group # is 24540 and the password is bowden. All picks are against the spread, and since there are holidays and crap, the worst two weeks get dumped. Winner gets a copy of Will Carroll's non-best seller, "The Juice" provided that I don't throw it out when I move (which is pretty likely). (And, as the ol' joke goes, the loser gets three copies)

Sample reviews from Amazon:
  • Unfortunately, I purchased and read this book on steroids. Of all the books on the subject, this was by far the worst.
  • This is probably the worse baseball related book I have ever read. I like Will Carroll's column but he should stick with that style of writing but cause his book writing is awful. If you are looking for a book book on baseball or the subject of steroids, this sure ain't it.
  • Anyway, I like Mr. Carroll but this is subpar. Guess that's why it's not selling really well.
  • this is a horribly researched book, filled with significant amounts of misinformation and misleading ideas about herbs, nutrition and other medicinal substances.
  • the book felt a little rushed.

One shmuck seemed to like it though.

Alright.... See you for the pennant race!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Stack 'Em Up

It's been a few months since I've done one of these, so let's see how our batters compare position by position to their friends around the league.

All stats are by players at that respective position and don't necessarily reflect their total stats. 40 AB minimum

Catcher           AB    AVE    OBP    SLG
Brian Schneider 317 .240 .310 .315
Robert Fick 45 .244 .358 .400
Total 446 .247 .316 .354
NL AVE .269 .325 .413
And there you see what a drain Brian Schneider has been. Last year, he had a .743 OPS, which is roughly what his career average is. Oh, if he had just done what he did last year. Just for fun: He's had about 50 fewer plate appearances this year than he did last year. Using Bill James' runs created formula, he was worth about 51 runs last year, but only 34 this year. Adjust for playing time differences, and his bad offense has cost the Nats about 1 win this year -- that's not counting his defensive decline either. (Runs created is just a rough snapshot; for strict qualitative analysis, there are better choices.)

First Base      AB    AVE    OBP    SLG
Nick Johnson 411 .292 .428 .521
Total 446 .291 .421 .511
NL AVE .287 .368 .498
People wanted to trade this guy? And play Larry Broadway there? He doesn't hit for the power of a cleanup guy, but on a non-dysfunctional team, he'd rightly be hitting second. He's finally staying healthy, but in a lost season. If only he could've stayed healthy last year. How might things have been different? He's getting a night off tonight, but the next highest AB total at 1B is 17, by Robert Fick.

Second Base        AB    AVE    OBP    SLG
Jose Vidro 348 .302 .364 .405
Marlon Anderson 99 .283 .335 .505
Bernie Castro 25 .280 .308 .280
Total 498 .291 .355 .410
NL AVE .275 .338 .415
What to make of this? Offensively, Jose Vidro's still a net plus at second. He can smack singles with the best of him, and he's got just enough of an eye to give him a pretty good on-base perecentage. But defensively? Yeesh. The team is at the bottom of the league, and his inability to get to balls or stay in on the tough pivot are the primary reason why. Marlon Anderson isn't great, but if Vidro were traded, having him as your second baseman isn't going to cripple the team. Bernie Castro's stats (small sample size, of course) are there just to illustrate how silly the idea of him having a starting job is, no matter how feckin' fast he is.

Third Base        AB    AVE    OBP    SLG
Ryan Zimmerman 473 .279 .349 .471
Total 490 .276 .347 .461
NL AVE .281 .352 .470
Just as the last time, this one depresses me. For all his wonderfullness, Zimmerman's basically an average third baseman. Defense, of course, ups his value, but the Nats aren't netting a whole lot of advantage here; they're not losing anything, either.

I wonder how many other players in the league have played all but 17 ABs of their team's games at a position. (Of course, he's off tonight, so that'll go up.). It's pretty telling, too, that the team's overall numbers get dragged down that much by those 17 ABs, which tells you how uniformally pathetic his replacements (Only Harris and Jackson) have been.

Shortstop        AB    AVE    OBP    SLG
Royce Clayton 305 .269 .313 .348
Felipe Lopez 138 .283 .379 .384
Total 471 .270 .332 .361
NL AVE .268 .329 .393
Royce Clayton: Bad! Felipe Lopez: Not-so Bad! Let's play with the Runs Created thing some more. Clayton has created 42 runs. Lopez has created 67, but in about 100 more plate appearances. With the bat, he's been about 15-20 runs better, all things being equal. Every 10 runs or so is, in general, worth a win. Defensively, Clayton's more sure-handed, but it does seem that Lopez has more lateral range. Still, as we're seeing tonight, some of Lopez' errors are soul-crushing.

Left Field         AB    AVE    OBP    SLG
Alfonso Soriano 506 .292 .365 .607
Total 524 .290 .361 .595
NL AVE .280 .360 .480
Hey, the man can slug! What's there to say? While we're playing with runs created, he's at 106 for the year. The last 2 years, in about 150 more plate appearances, he's averaged just 88 or so. He's been roughly two wins better in less playing time. Think he can keep it up next year? Me neither.

Center Field    AB    AVE    OBP    SLG
Marlon Byrd 159 .233 .303 .371
Ryan Church 118 .229 .333 .407
Alex Escobar 69 .333 .355 .478
Total 461 .243 .316 .393
NL AVE .263 .333 .421
Yeesh. Another blackhole. Still, there's the makings of something here. Church's stats are hurt by his miserable start to the year. He's hit fairly decently of late, raising those numbers to where they are. Byrd's time, it seems, has come and gone (I imagine he'll be non-tendered in the offseason). Escobar has shown he can hit -- he's tacked on a few more impressive swings tonight, which aren't reflected in the totals above). Defensively, none of them are very good. Byrd is probably the best. Church is alright. Escobar seems to be below average. If Frank would just hand the job two Church and Escobar, platooning them or going with the hot hand (instead of jerking them around willy-nilly), the Nats would be ok here, unless they have plans to bring in a gold-glover. (And those don't grow on trees!)

Right Field        AB    AVE    OBP    SLG
Jose Guillen 238 .214 .275 .399
Austin Kearns 106 .236 .354 .349
Total 471 .227 .308 .397
NL AVE .266 .341 .431
Another black hole! I've almost completely forgotten about Jose Guillen. That doesn't seem like it's a bad thing. Kearns has been disappointing (although he just hit another homer tonight), but he shows the value of a walk; even when he's not hitting or slugging, he's still getting on base. In one of those vagaries, Ryan Church has 3 homers as a RFer, giving him a slugging % over 1.000.

Pinch Hitters     AB    AVE    OBP    SLG
Marlon Anderson 49 .245 .351 .306
Daryle Ward 43 .302 .418 .605
Matt LeCroy 14 .357 .591 .357
Robert Fick 13 .385 .385 .385
Total 188 .271 .389 .431
NL AVE .235 .311 .359
The average NL team has 4 PH homers. We have 7. Last year, we had just two. Do you know who hit them? Brendan Harris and, on the last weekend of the year, Carlos Baerga. This is another one of those frustrating things. If we had had this bench, and a healthy Nick Johnson last year, there's a good chance that we're in the playoffs. Alas. It's a good mix here. Marlon gets on base. Ward crushes the ball. LeCroy and Fick just hit. Anderson is sure to be back

  • I won't bore you with the pitching stats, but Tony Armas, Ramon Ortiz and Mike O'Connor are three of the worst hitting pitchers in the league, well below even the meager league standards. One prominent stathead said recently that Livan's plus bat was worth about .2 runs of ERA. These guys are probably that bad in the other direction.

  • It's easy to see why the offense struggles so much. Only first base and left field are significantly above average. Meanwhile, center, right and catcher are all well below average. Carrying one sinkhole is ok. Three isn't.

    There's potential there, but as we've seen recently, the clutch hitting is completely non-existent. And recently, the team has shown a terrible trend of striking out in drove. On there own, strikeouts aren't bad. But when everyone is hacking, there's a problem.

    The potential's there. And there are flashes.

    Unfortunately, the team mostly smolders.
  • Monday, August 21, 2006


    Another game, another loss. If it's not the pitching, it's the hitting. Fresh off getting pasted the last two nights, Nats pitchers threw well, but the offense was offensive, getting just four measly hits, one of them a towering fly ball off the bat of Soriano that left the park for his 73rd homer of the season.

    For a while, it looked like that one-run lead was going to hold. Billy Traber pitched beautifully. He just might be my favorite Nats pitcher to watch. He reminds me a lot of Jamey Moyer in that his fastball would bounce off a pain of glass. But his assortment of various slop helps to keep the hitters off balance. When he's throwing his breaking stuff for strikes, he's capable of pitching a great game, which he did tonight.

    He throws an odd assortment of pitches, all based off that 84ish MPH fastball, which rides in slightly on right-handed batters. He's got a pretty good curveball -- perhaps his best pitch -- and will occasionally throw a changeup, which is best as a setup pitch. But he also throws a passable splitter, which is exceedingly rare from a left-handed pitcher. I really can't think of a lefty who throws one.

    With that assortment and his command, he's not going to overpower a lineup, but he's capable of this kind of outing as long as he has his control. On the night, 2/3 of his pitches were strikes, and he walked just two batters, both in the same inning. Impressively, he struck out Marlins in his 6+ innings.

    Ultimately, he was charged with three runs, but Alfonso Soriano didn't so him any favors. With that same one-run lead and a runner on second, the Marlins somehow hit a triple to left field, thanks to Soriano's decision to brew a pot of Earl Grey while on his way to field the ball. Dan Uggala followed with a bounding single up the middle that gave the Marlins their first lead of the night, and sent Traber to the dugout.

    Jon Rauch relieved and immediately gave up a hard single towards the gap in left-center. Soriano made a quick play to get over towards the ball, but as he hurried to transfer the ball, in a bid to rack up another assist, he bobbled it, and the runner on first came alllllll the way around from first, scoring the third run. Soriano was charged with an error on the bobble, but, amazingly, the scorer credited the batter with an RBI single, driving in a runner from first. Go figure.

    Traber deserved better.

    Offensively, the team was a mess. They had great plate patience, walking 6 times, but couldn't get any farkin' hits. The middle of the order was a dead zone as Zimmerman, Johnson and Vidro combined for a craptastic 0-9.

    I love the patience, but the hitting stinks lately. Still, we're getting baserunners. There are signs that they're going to break out -- signs that they're even capable. They just haven't done it. One of these days, the stars'll be aligned, and they're going to hang 15 runs on some crappy team (Buck Sez Milwaukee). Meanwhile, they'll scuffle along, losing games because they can't ever get farkin' hits.

    I didn't realize it til I just looked it up, but the Nats are second in the league in walks. (They're also middle of the pack in Sac Bunts -- See, Frank can learn!)

  • I made note of Brian Schneider's recent hot-hitting in the weekly recap from earlier. So why did Frank Robinson pinch-hit for Schneider in the 9th inning down by two runs? Sure, Marlon Anderson got on base, but it's a curious decision.

  • Svrluga's gamer breaks down the ugly RISP numbers. If you want to check them out a bit, ESPN has some pretty good filters. Just click the filter box in the top right, and you can sort by a number of options.

  • Notes on Notes:
    Micah Bowie is set to start rehabbing; Alex Escobar is (what else?) injured, with a strange elbow problem that no one can figure out; Damian Jackson sucks.

  • More Notes on Notes:
    blah blah play defense blah blah; Escobar hospitalized blah blah;
    Nationals minor leaguer Christopher French, 22, a 21st-round selection in the June draft who plays for Class A Savannah, was arrested and charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature following a fight outside a restaurant in Charleston, S.C., early Monday morning.

    "It's a criminal situation and a legal situation, and we're still checking into it," Andy Dunn, the team's director of player development, said in a phone interview. Asked if French would be eligible to play in the interim, Dunn said: "I'm not saying that's accurate. We've got to find out more."

    Dunn said French violated one of the club's minor league policies by breaking curfew, which is two hours after the end of the game. According to police reports, French struck a man three times, hospitalizing him, in an incident at 1:40 a.m.

    Man. Cut his ass. He sucks anyway.

    (Do you think that, when talking to the press, they just recycled the script from after Bowden's arrest?)

  • Our friends at BPG point us to this eBay auction of Ryan Zimmerman's first major league home run ball. Well, sort of. Read the black text below the pictures very carefully.

  • Our good friends at have another mailbag. You can learn that: Damian Jackson makes errors because he doesn't play; that some questioner thinks that Austin Kearns is garbage; the author doesn't have a clue with the catchers next year; Alex Escobar can be great -- perhaps a star like Terrmel Sledge; throwing first-pitch strikes is a strategy that only Randy St. Claire, who has apparently also fixed Ryan Wagner, employs; Ryan Zimmerman (who knew?) is a good candidate for Rookie of the Year; trading Vidro's bloated contract (which is about the size of one of his knees) is going to be hard; and, the team is unlikely to dump Guzman's contract.

    UPDATE: More details on the arrest of the minor leaguer:
    --The victim had head injuries and a perforated ear drum.
    --Would it shock you to find out that they were drinking?

  • Fouled-Off Bunts: It's Vidro's Fault Edition

    Remember when Jose Guillen went out the first time, and the team started winning? Warning: Passive Voice ahead! Snide comments were made in the press about how that was no coincidence.

    Well, since Jose Vidro's been back, the pitching has dropped from the middle of the pack to the worst. Coincidence? Is no one going to point that out? The defense is certainly better without him.

  • Oh, what could've been! From the sidebar, Felipe Lopez was given the option of sitting yesterday. He didn't. If he had, Damian Jackson likely would've played short, and never would've replaced Zimmerman, and never would've made those three errors. Someone needs to write some alternate fan fiction. (Please don't. There's enough crap out there!)

  • Is there anything more grating than the "It's my fault" acceptance speech? Sure, we don't like it when people deflect blame, but this particular type of "excuse" (and it's not really an excuse) always strikes me as selfish. It's a "Hey, look at me" sort of thing. Can't they just say "I screwed up"?

    His excuse this time is that the game moves too fast for him, because he hasn't played enough. Alrighty. First he complains when he plays too much because he's tired. Now he's not playing enough. Someone get him a bowl of porridge.

    I don't know why they don't cut him. It would only cost the team $50,000 or so -- the cost of a replacement minor leaguer. And if it's someone they're going to call up in September, the marginal cost is even less. I guess they don't see the harm in keeping a warm body (even if he plays like he's stiff) around. They can just staple his moldering corpse to the pine in a few weeks anyway.

  • A close 2nd place on my annoying athlete cliche list is home run hitters who say they're not home run hitters. Enter Soriano. If Soriano's not a home run hitter, then I'm Roger Feckin' Angell.

  • 3rd on the list is asshat managers. Frank says that Alex Escobar is going to be the everyday CFer so that they can see what they have with him. Immediately following that, Ryan Church gets a slew of apperances in center. Alrighty.

  • So, Frank, do you think that Soriano has a chance of being MVP? Soriano's not a viable candidate, for sure, but this is example #45,287 of Frank ripping his players for no good purpose. He's right with his assessment, but just as I don't want my 90-year old Grandmother pointing out the freshman 15 I put on, I don't want a senile manager speaking his mind all the time either. Diplomacy and tact, good sir!

  • Daryle Ward missed a few games this week with sore Achilles tendii. He claims he over-exerted himself shagging fly balls during BP. I'm assuming by "over-extered" he means "Did just once."

  • Robert Fick has started a rehab assignment. No hurry. Will he be back next year? If he is, I hope it's not as the team's primary backup C.

  • Colton Willems, one of the two Nats first-round picks, was shut down for the season with arm fatigue. That's nothing to worry about. It's normal for a barely 18-year old (is he even that old?) to have a little fatigue. Colton had a pretty good first year. His K totals were low, but he pitched effectively. Still, for someone so young, it's nice to see that he could at least hold his own.

  • Thom Loverro looks ahead to the central question of the offseason (non-Soriano division): What do you do with the two overpaid lumps of flesh in the middle of the infield, Guzman and Vidro. The odds of making either disappear are unlikely, unless the team is willing to eat 95 cents on the dollar. Still, that'd net the team a nickle, which is more than Guzman's worth.

  • Hot Blogger Action!
    NFA updates the draft signings. With the recent signing of Stephen King (hold the jokes; the writer is the one who sucks) and Glenn Gibson, the Nats have done a good job of getting their guys in. The only realistic top player left for them is Sean Black.

    Federal Baseball blogs up a storm: He looks at Ryan Zimmerman's chances of winning the Rookie of the Year award, and comes to a depressing conclusion. He vents his frustration at the corpse of Damian Jackson. And he digs up a quote from Stan Kasten emphasizing how much the guy hates agents.

  • Twenty Down, Seven To Go

    Take away the last two games, and it wasn't such a bad week, eh? The Nats returned to divisional games, playing the Braves and Phillies. They held their own against the Braves, splitting the four games, the highlight of which was the Nats first complete game shutout of the season -- something Pedro Astacio wouldn't come close to duplicating yesterday. Things looked good for the Philles series after the Nats took the first game, but back-to-back asswhompings killed any forward progress.

    The only thing we learned is that this team is woefully inconsistent. But then, what bad team isn't? Some days the bats all synch up, and they mash a billion runs. Other days, they're as flaccid as, well you can make your own joke here. Some days the pitching looks solid. Other days you're trying to figure out who the hell this Chris Schroder? Schroeder? Shrecker? is.

    It's getting harder and harder to enjoy the invididual games. There's as much a chance of being down 10-1 as there is of being up 4-0. At least the team's going to let you know what kind of night it is early. When they lose, it's rarely in completely agonizing fashion (when's the last time we had a blown save?). They lose big-time.

    Still, we watch. We're suckers.

    Nats Record: 3-4
    Overall: 54-70. We'd have the 5th pick in next year's draft. To get to .500, they'd have to go 27-11 (a 115-win pace). To get to my pre-season prediction of 75, they'd need to go 21-17 (a 89-win pace). To avoid 90 losses, they'd need to go 19-19. Since the trade with the Reds, they've gone 16-17.
    Runs Scored: 33 (4.7/g); overall: 569. They're now 8th in the league, which, barring something dramatic happening, is about as high as they'll climb this year; they're 30 runs behind 7th place, but only 10 runs ahead of 13th.
    Runs Allowed: 48(!?!?) (6.9/g); overall 647 runs. That's dead last in the NL, an inexcusable number, especially for a team playing in that park. Worse, only three AL teams have allowed more runs. Imagine if we played with a DH!

    What's Good?
    1) Brian Schneider!? I'd hate to give credit to Frank Robinson, but something seems to have finally lit a fire under Brian Schneider's keister. His defense still stinks, but his bat came alive, and he hit his first homer since the Ford administration. .333/ .455/ .556

    2) Alfonso Soriano. You know about the good stuff. Homers and steals and all that crap. But watch his walk rate. And watch his K rate. One's trending up over the last month. One's trending down over the same. That ain't good. Old habits are hard to break, I guess. (Look at the lower graphs there; they tell the in-season story)

    3) Jose Vidro, Ryan Church, Felipe Lopez, Brandon Harper and a cast of thousands. Vidro batted .444; Church slugged .778; Lopez got on at a .419 clip (even if he made a horrible decision to steal in yesterday's game); Harper hit his first 2 MLB homers. Not a bad week for everyone!

    What's Bad?
    1) Pitching, pitching, pitching! Despite throwing a CG shutout, Astacio allowed 7 runs for the week. Ramon Ortiz allowed 15 runs in 2 games -- That's more than Trevor Hoffman has allowed all year. Bergmann, Traber, Schroder and Rauch all finished with ERAs above 6. When you're allowing nearly 8 runs per game over a week that's going to happen, I guess.

    2) Austin Kearns. He's been in a slump for a few weeks now, and it's gotten worse. Unfortunately, Frank and Page have decided that he needs to alter his swing, so they're working on converting him from a flyball hitter to more of a line-drive hitter. I'm not convinced that that's going to work; they should probably he happy with the quality near-All-Star-type player they traded for. I'm not sure if the tinkering is what caused his poor week, but if we wanted someone to hit .167/ .259/ .208, we could've sent Jose Guillen back out there.

    3) Ryan Zimmerman. If someone ever tells you how important RBI are when evaluating a player, show them this week by Ryan Zimmerman. He led the team with 8 RBI, but he batted just .172. Productive outs, my butt. The number of RBI he had surely had nothing to do with Lopez and Soriano being on all the time in front of him, did it?

    3a) Damian Jackson. Man, he blows. Cut his sorry ass now. Three errors in a game he didn't start? I've never seen a player play as consistently dumb as him. He's not just making simple errors, like when a ball kicks at a bad angle. He's making game-changing, bone-headed, head-up-ass kind of errors. First he was tired from too much playing time. Now the game's moving to fast for him. Shut the hell up. His contract is up at the end of the year. They only owe $150K or so on it. Just cut him. He's a sunk cost.

    Game O' The Week
    It surely wasn't the most exciting game of the year, but Pedro Astacio's complete game shutout of the Braves was one of the most pleasurable to watch. His breaking stuff was really darting through the zone, and he kept the Braves bats off balance by pounding the corners of the strike zone with alternating hard and soft stuff. They didn't have a chance. Bernie Castro placed a nifty bunt single into the no-man's land between the pitcher and first for an RBI, and Austin Kearns had his one big hit of the week, a two-run double. That was more than enough.

    MVP Award
    Zimmerman had more RBI, but Brian Schneider's were very well-timed. His bat came back to life, and he earns his first MVP Award of the year.

    CY Young
    [null]. I guess Saul Rivera wins by default. He's pitched effectively recently, and seems to have earned Frank's trust as one of the primary setup men, sort of in the old Carrasco role. Pencil him in at $350K for next year!

    LVP Award
    Austin Kearns, c'mon down! Despite his offense, he's played a pretty good defensive RF -- despite some wild-ass throws this past week. Watch his range from side to side. He's as good at getting to balls on the line as he is in the gap, with a quick first step right to the spot. Also, watch for how he cuts balls off, charging them hard. On a hit to right, you rarely see the runner go from first to third because he's right on top of the play.

    Joe Horgan Award
    Poor Ramon Ortiz. Two starts ago, everyone wanted to know if he was our ace. Now, we want to know when his next start is so we can make late dinner reservations. I haven't seen pitching that bad since Allan Travers retired.

    Thursday, August 17, 2006

    Busy Morning

    I'm trying to put the finishing touches on the project that won't die. My second-grade attention span definitely isn't helping either. If you're watching today's game or listening on your pocket transistor, you can kvetch about Bergmann's peitching with the good people here. (It's also a good place if you want to have a discussion about judicial temperment and how that relates to international law being cited in USSC cases, Steve Job's fantasy life, or the vagaries of uniforms)

    Meanwhile, Jason Bergmann gets to see if he can follow in the foosteps of our new ace, Billy "Beanstalk" Traber, slayer of giants. Over his locker is a sign, with words written in blue crayon: "Tom Glavine John Smoltz"

    For his next trick, he's going to mud wrestle with Pedro Martinez.

    Meanwhile, I'm back off to work, trying to sound like I know what I'm talking about.

    Wednesday, August 16, 2006

    Soriano On Waivers

    Ken Rosenthal, who has had a much better track record than Buster Olney, says that Alfonso Soriano has been placed on waivers.

    Ken runs through all the breathless speculation and recaps how not trading him earlier was likely a mistake, because they're certain to get less now. He completely ignores the fact that the best reported offer, which was mediocre, (Jason Kubel and Scott Baker) wasn't actually offered.

    He reports the horror of the idea that the Nats might be stuck with him if he accepts arbitration! Gasp! Soriano on a one-year contract!?!? How will the team survive? Jesus. That's about the ideal situation. You get Soriano with no long-term commitment, and you can always do the whole trade thing at the deadline next year or repeate the arbitration/draft-pick charade next year.

    Rosenthal buries the lede, though. Soriano gets the flashy name in lights, but it's the idea that Bowden threw Astacio and Armas (or anyone else) on waivers at the same time. Claiming teams would have a choice. They realistically can't claim all three because of the damage it could do to their active roster if the Nats just gave the players up. This could allow Bowden to slip those guys through, allowing Bowden to pull off a trade with another team with no strings attached.

    With the Mets recent pitching woes, you don't think they'd look long and hard at Armas or Astacio?

    Things could be brewing. We'll just have to wait a few days to see.

    Are You My Ace?

    It was easy to see why he was so dominant. From high up, even I could see the movement. His curveball came in sharply, floating up, then zipping down as it wrapped around the plate. Even the late zip of his fastball, as gravity and air pressure tugged it down ever so slightly was evident. And he had his control. At one point, I looked at the scoreboard, and he had thrown 18 balls verus 55 strikes, an unheard of ratio.

    When you have movement and command, the batters are helpless. They can't afford to wait for their pitch because he's not throwing balls, and getting behind 0-2 with a guy with a curve like that is folly. And when they swing early in the count, they're missing, or hitting weak grounders towards a waiting infielder. Damned if they do; damned if they don't.

    Absurdly, in your head, you start thinking about the no-hitter early in the game. After the third inning, when he had gone nine up, nine down, the thought crossed my mind. The Braves had looked helpless at the plate, and with the stuff that even I could see from a million feet away, there wasn't any indication that they'd ever be able to make solid contact.

    The first hit of the game came in the fifth. Astacio threw a pitch inside which jammed Jeff Francouer. Francouer, took a horrible swing at the ball, probably hitting it off the handle of his bat, but it was enough to scoot the ball past the second baseman into right field. A hit, but not a solid one.

    I've never seen a crowd applaud the loss of a no-hitter so early in a game. We weren't even out of the fifth inning. Were we just pitching starved? Or did everyone see what I saw from upstairs? Assuming the latter makes me feel better.

    The game went on. Astacio threw strikes. Braves swung. They missed. Later, Astacio would fall behind 2-0 to Adam LaRoche, making his one "mistake" of the night on the next pitch, a pitch that La Roche would hammer to center for a harmless single, the lone solid hit of the game. Even their outs were soft.

    When he came out for the ninth, the game wasn't in doubt. Not with the score. And not with the way he was pitching. One out. Cheers. Two outs. More cheers. Then with the final batter, he did what he did all game, firing that nasty curve, hammering the zone, and keeping the batter off balance, and striking him out.

    What can you say? It's the Nats' first complete game of the year. And only their second CG shutout since moving to DC. (Patterson had the other, of course.) I've been higher on Astacio than his stats indicate because even in his bad outings, there's some life to his curve. And as we saw last night, when he's on, he's good.

  • On the other side of the ball, the play that'll stick out in my mind is Bernie Castro's RBI bunt hit. With runners at the corners and two outs, he pushed a hard bunt into the no-man's land between the pitcher and the first baseman. It was hard enough to get by the pitcher, but not hard enough for the second baseman to come in. Adam LaRoche had to come off the bag to field, but with Castro's speed, that was too much. He picked the ball up, looked to first, and knew he had no play.

    Frank talked that play up
    . It's certainly an exciting one, but if you're relying on slap-hitter to make that kind of perfect bunt every time, and for the opposing defense to not adjust, you're going to see a ton of wasted outs.

    As it is, the defense against him is Little League. Third and first play in, with Chipper off the line. The outfield plays at pitcher depth, but shifted WAY around to the right, knowing that he's unlikely to pull a ball or drive it.

    Likely, Frank sees a bit of Jamey Carroll in him. Carroll's a useful player on the bench -- certainly more useful than Damian Jackson -- but as we saw, he's not really much of a regular. (Yes, I know that he's succeeding this season, but that's a perfect storm of a career year combined with a park that intensifies and amplifies the one skill that he actually has: slapping singles. Put him in his park, and he's likely the same Jamey Carroll as last year.)

  • I can confirm that the Home Run Ale is 1)Decent and 2) Cheap. It's on the 100 level, basically behind the plate. From the main entrance, take the ramp right there to the right, then double back at the switch over to head back towards the entrance area. There's a brown wood bar area there, and that's where it is. $5.50 for 16 ounces of non-swill isn't bad as far as ballpark beer goes.

    The Hard Times Cafe chili nachos get my unconditional thumbs up, too. At $8.75, they seem pricey, but that's not a ballpark snack; it's a meal. I'm a big eater, and even I couldn't wolf the entire thing down. They're on the Terrace Food Court on the 300 level behind the plate. (The catfish, at the same place with the crabcakes, is pretty good, too, especially when you load it up with tabasco sauce!)

    I still haven't had the brisket. I'm not sure that I'm worthy.

  • Tuesday, August 15, 2006

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Once, Twice, Three Times For Larry

    So Alfonso's not the only one who can do it. Larry Jones crushed three homers and the Braves routed the Nats. I lucked out in that I picked last night to pretend I had a life, so I missed the game. I made the right choice.

    Remember last week when the reporters (and I!) were asking, by default, whether Ramon Ortiz was our 'ace'? Yeah? Well, forget that. He reverted to early season form and got hit early and often. So who's our ace now? Well.... let's see.... Billy Traber? Imagine how ugly things would be if were played in a bandbox of a park.

    Someone named Matt Diaz had three hits in his first three chances (all after Adam LaRoche walks -- two of which were intentional), giving him 10 straight hits, which tied the NL record. Frank has been good about not overusing the IBB over the last few weeks. I wonder why he reverted last night?

    Bernie Castro and Brandon Harper got the start over Marlon Anderson and Brian Schneider, the two goats from Sunday's game. I wouldn't read too much into it, as the Braves started a lefty.

  • Austin Kearns, who's been in a slump, has started working with Frank and Page.

    From the same link:
    --Shawn Hill is likely out for the year; his tendinitis isn't going away.
    --Jose Vidro will be back on Friday
    --Kory Casto will play in the Arizona Fall League

  • Ken Wright focuses on the league-worst error total as a proxy for the bad defense. That's one way of looking at it, I suppose, but the focus on errors always ticks me off, especially when he later notes something that's more disturbing: The Nats aren't turning any double plays.

    You can only make an error on a ball you get to. And as we saw with Clayton and Vidro, you can play bad defense without making errors ("Past a standing Vidro!"). The gruesome twosome are the biggest reason this team has't turned many double plays (the mostly flyball pitching staff is a factor, too). With the number of baserunners this team allows, the opportunities have been there, too.

    Nick Johnson was in on 109 DPs last year (in 129 games), but only on 70 this year in just 10 fewer games. That's not good! Despite his error the other day, Marlon Anderson seems to have much more range than Vidro -- he snared a ball early in Sunday's game that likely would've been past Vidro. Lopez, despite his scatter-shot arm, seems to have a bit more range than Clayton did (something that's backed up by the Reds' fans disappointment in Clayton's defense.)

    There's a balancing point between increased range and increased errors. In general, I think I'd rather have a rangier fielder than a sure-handed one. The difference between the best and worst shortstops in errors is typically 15-20. But the difference between the best and worst in terms of balls they get to has to be higher than that, right? Somewhere, someone smart has probably figured that out.

    Still, I'm glad to see someone write about this. The defense, especially earlier in the season, was a pretty big contributing factor to the pitching's poor start. (The line drives didn't help either!) I think it's better now -- Kearns is a plus defender in right. I think Soriano has turned into a better than average fielder. And Zimmerman is what he is. Now, if we could just keep Vidro on the bench and get Nick Johnson back to last season's form...

    --Banks, sporting a great new look, has raised the white flag already, and looks at what is a surprisingly deep market for free agent pitchers. There aren't any aces in there, but there's sure to be a Loaiza or two -- and our Loaiza, not the drunken one that pitches for the A's. One from column A, One from column B, please, Bowden!
    --OMG looks at the bigger picture, noting that, strangely, the pitching has been pretty good lately. (Better defense?)
    --Just A Nats Fan links to the strange tale of Sal Fasano's 'stache.
    --When even the good people at Nats 320 people are questioning Frank Robinson's decision making, you know Frank's done wrong.
    --The BPGers who watched the game last night said that Frank was acting even crazier than usual. Stress getting to him, perhaps?

  • Monday, August 14, 2006

    Nineteen Down, Eight To Go

    (Why do I strongly suspect that I messed up the title of this series somewhere along the way?)

    Blah, we stink. Coming off a West Coast trip that had some positive signs, the Nats looked like they could've built something with two divisional foes. Nope. The Marlins came in and pounded us. Then the Mets came in and pounded us. The Nats were in every game, but they're not getting those clutch hits, and the minor league bullpen is getting exposed for what it is. That's good enough to sneak out a victory here and there, but not good enough to win consistently, even in the craptastic NL.

    Nats Record: 2-4
    Overall: 51-66, a 70-win pace.
    Runs Scored: 20 (3.3/g); Overall: 533 (11/16) A good week would get them into 8th.
    Runs Allowed: 25 (4.2/g); Overall: 599 (12/16) A good week would get them into 9th)
    Expected Record: 52-65, about where we are.

    What's Good?
    1) Tony Armas! When Bud Selig turns his infernal email machine on this morning, there'll be email from the Nats putting Armas on waivers. He had two good starts this week. Yesterday, he dominated the Norfolk Mets, and he pitched well enough to win earlier against the Fish. But in both starts, he was let down by some shoddy defense. 1.38 ERA with 9 Ks in 13 innings.

    2) Brian Schneider's bat!?!? Wow! Just a few days after Frank whined about a minor problem with his swing that he didn't feel like fixing til the offseason, Schneider lurched to life, smacking the ball around (even if his defense still stinks). He had his first extra-base hit in a month and batted .375/ .412/ .438 for the week. Not a bad start!

    3) Nick Johnson. He looked like he was headed into a nosedive last week, but he broke through again, getting on base and hitting for power -- including a monster shot into the mezzanine in the gap in right. .273/ .346/ .591

    What's Bad?
    1) FLop And Kearns. The Cincinnati Kids stunk this week, both barely breaking .200. Neither had an extra-base hit and Kearns had their lone RBI. Ouch!

    2) Marlon Anderson. The fill-in second baseman / pinch-hitter extraordinaire didn't do much, other than boot the ball at the worst possible time against the Mets yesterday. .200/ .250/ .200

    3) Frank's Fancy Pitching Changes. It's tough to watch, even as I know it's what needs to be done. But seeing crappy reliever after crappy reliever paraded out in the late innings of close games when Saul Rivera, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero sit on their butts chewing sunflower seeds (only because Frank already took away their fireworks), is maddening.

    Game O' The Week
    Billy Traber, sporting some damn fine sideburns, returned from the dead to face the Mets. Who didn't pencil that one is a loss? Instead, he threw 7+ innings, keeping the Mets off balance with all sorts of slop. When Brian Schneider looped a double down the line to score 2, the Nats had an improbable lead that would even more improbably hold up, despite Chad Cordero's attempt to cough it up in the ninth.

    Those are the best kinds of games to win, the ones where you've already penciled in a loss. You could've made a killing in Vegas picking Traber over Tom Glavine.

    MVP Award
    This Soriano kid's pretty good. He went fishing at crap a few too many times (7 Ks in 22 ABs), but the end result was 3 homers and a double. .273/ .385/ .727. Can he get to 50? It'll be hard.

    Cy Young Award
    Tony Armas pitched better than his defense made it seem. Two earned runs in 13 innings is good enough for me.

    LVP Award
    Take your pick: Lopez, Kearns or Anderson. Does it much matter?

    Joe Horgan Award
    Travis Hughes gave up three runs in two appearances, but it was his HBP that cement the award. In Thursday's game, he had zero control, flinging the ball all over the park, and eventually nailing Miguel Cabrera. It was that HBP, his second of the game, which caused Sergio Mitre to attempt to nail Soriano. Just what we need.... Soriano getting hurt because a mediocre waiver-wire reject has no control!

    Sunday, August 13, 2006

    I Booed Zimmerman

    OK, I did. So what? Does that make me a bad fan? I like to boo. I dutifully booed Endy Chavez when he came to the plate. I booed Sergio Mitre when he pegged Soriano the other game. And I booed Zimmerman. He deserved it.

    With the Nats down 1, Zimmerman was on first with (pay attention to this:) one out. The Mets brought in lefty Darren Oliver, who's had as many good years this decade as I have, to face Nick Johnson. Johnson hit a towering flyball to center. Calling it a can of corn would've been charitible. Oh well, two outs and Oliver's going to have to face a righty, Austin Kearns, because there's nobody else warming.

    What the!?!? Ryan Zimmerman ran around second, and burned his way to third while the ball was settling into his glove. "Noooooo! Go back! There's only one out! Noooo," I yelled from my seat as if he could pick out my individual voice from the thousands that were screaming. Beltran lobbed the ball to second, and the infielders gathered together, slowly walking the ball to first to complete the LDP on a pop to center. Zimmerman just stood at third, realizing how big his boner was (Think Merkle, pervert!)

    Zimmerman stood and stood and stood, while the Mets took their sweet time toting the ball to first. I half expected them to break into an Enrico Palazzo-like dance number as they neared the bag at first. "Boooooooooo," I, ummm.... booed? That was simply one of the dumbest mental errors I've seen.

    Then he stood a bit longer, while the Nats came back on to the field for the top of the 9th. Even that seemed to take a beat longer, as they sat, perhaps wondering where that other out went. Felipe Lopez, as he walked by, gave him the universal sign for "it's ok," a pat on the ass -- except for those times the pat on the ass means "good job." And then there are times, as Harold Reynolds can tell you, pats on the asses are completely inappropriate.

    That wasn't the deciding play, certainly. And it really was only one of many brutal plays throughout the game, as the Nats punted, threw, and kicked the ball all over the infield and outfield.

    Tony Armas was sensational, throwing strikes with his hard-biting slider; his elbow must've been feeling great. Sitting in my po' mans seats in the upper deck, I could see the break on his slider easily. No wonder the Mets batters missed it so frequently. What impressed me, other than how he pounded the zone, was how many of his pitches were called strikes. When a pitcher is getting a lot of called strikes it means they're getting a ton of movement and that they're mixing things up really well.

    After Alfonso Soriano homered (what else?), Armas took a 1-0 lead all the way to the seventh inning. He should've taken it to the 8th. With Carlos Beltran on first and one out, David Wright hit a tricky chopper to Felipe Lopez. He made a terrific play on the ball and, instead of taking the easy out at first, he twisted his body and made the play to nip Beltran at second. Marlon Anderson, with Beltran right on top of him, was forced to throw from his back foot and without much momentum. Despite that, he got a strong enough throw off, which came just half a step late -- a tremendous play, which, with a little bit of luck (perhaps a slower runner on first) would've ended the inning.

    Easy enough though. Two outs and a runner on first with the bottom of the order coming up. Nothing to worry about. Armas pumped two quick strikes on Jose Valentin before lobbing a ball wide of the zone. On the 1-2 pitch, Wright took off for second, and Brian Schneider's throw was high and it tailed away from the bag into centerfield for an error as Wright scampered to third.

    The very next pitch, Valentin hit a solid grounder right to Marlon. Easy play. Except for the part where the ball rolled up, missing Marlon's glove. It dropped back to the ground, and all Marlon had to do was pick it up and fire to first (that's the advantage a 2B has -- they can just knock balls down). He panicked, though, and fired wide of first as Nick Johnson made a terrific diving attempt to his left. Valentin reached, and Wright scored easily.

    Had either Brian Schneider or Marlon Anderson not made errors, they wouldn't have scored. Together, they doomed Armas' chances of a well-deserved win.

    The defense was ugly again in the 9th. With the Mets up by a measly run, thanks to a homer off Jon Rauch, Beltran walked and Wright followed with a single. Rauch threw a Wild Pitch, one that skipped in the dirt in front of the plate. It's not a play that most catchers make, but it's one that the team needed Schneider to make. Now with runners on 2/3, the weak fly to right by Valentin turned into a sac fly.

    I was actually surprised by Kearns' play. Kearns has a strong, accurate arm. He had time to line up under the ball, but he threw to third, to hold that runner there. I would've thought that he'd have come home on the play, even if the odds of him throwing out the runnere were low. There were already two outs, so holding that runner on second isn't that big -- at least not nearly as big as the runner trotting home. Kearns' throw went wide for an error, giving Wright the chance to glide to third anyway. That error didn't cost anything, other than another blemish in an ugly game.

  • With that two-run lead in place, the Nats had almost no chance against Billy Wagner -- especially with the lower part of the order coming up. Kearns had a terrific AB, fouling off a bunch of tough pitches, while taking several close pitches. But, as terrific ABs often do against Wagner, it ended in an out. Ryan Church had almost no chance against Wagner, striking out on a fastball at the knees that completely locked him up. (I suppose that this'll be used as evidence that Church can't hit lefties). Marlon Anderson fought hard, lining a ball to center, and Alex Escobar, as the tying run, came to the plate, looking as if he were looking for a walk, which he drew.

    Amazingly the Nats had the tying runs on base and the winning run at the plate. One problem -- the Nats were out of viable pinch hitters. They were forced to send up Brandon Harper, the career minor leaguer. Safe to say that there aren't many Billy Wagners at Triple-A! Harper took a ball then, with the runners taking off on a double steal, he took a defensive swing (it almost looked like he was distracted), and fouled a ball of the first base side. Somehow, Carlos Delgado, who typically has the range of an Elephant Seal, made a nice sliding catch, sending us all home.

    One thought about how that played out. Damian Jackson pinch ran for Daryle Ward in the previous inning. The role of Ward's legs has always been played by Bernie Castro. Why did Frank burn up Jackson in that previous situation, knowing that he'd likely need a right-handed bat against Wagner in the 9th? I don't think that that made much of a difference in anything, but why not go for every advantage you can. If pinch hitting Jackson instead of Harper increases your chances of winning by 2%, don't you have to take it? Eh. Much ado about nothing, I guess.

  • Offensively, the key time was the 7th inning. That's when the Nats should've blown the game open. But, as per their usual, they didn't. With two quick outs, Anderson and Schneider hit back-to-back singles, ending Steve Trachsel's night. Daryle Ward pinch hit and lefty Royce Ring walked him, loading the bases for Alfonso Soriano.

    In came Chad Bradford. Bradford, who was one of the featured players in Moneyball, throws from below sidearm. It's not quite underhanded because of the way he rotates his torso 90 degrees, but the effect is as if the ball is springing up from behind the pitching rubber. Bradford has talked about how, when he's going well, he'll sometimes scrape his knuckles on the mound. Not only is his delivery funky, but he throws slop, alternating between a 78-mph 'fastball' that rises then sinks thanks to the delivery, and a 65ish 'curveball' which rises then sinks thanks to the delivery. On a 2-2 pitch, he hit a hard chopper back through the middle. Valentin ran over, fielded it on the shortstop side of the bag, and fired, just nipping Soriano at first. Inning over. Bases left loaded. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  • I've had relatively good luck with games lately. This one and the last one I was at, Thursday night, were very entertaining games, even as the Nats came out losers in both. I'm learning to deal with the losing, looking for small things for entertainment -- which is why the sloppiness of the last few innings is killing the good taste in my mouth from the first six or so.

    The Nats are still in last place, and I can't really imagine them digging their way out. The Nats have the sixth worst record and are only 2 games ahead of the fourth pick, so losing has its benefits!

    They are, though, 13-14 since the Bray/Majewski trades, thanks to their improved offense. Lord knows it ain't the pitching!

  • Frank complained about pitch selection to Michael Tucker (I refuse to acknowledge the indignity of losing a game thanks to one of his homers!) Frank has done this a few times. The selection of the pitch -- a fastball -- wasn't the problem. It was the location -- dick high and over the plate. I have no idea what the ol' man is rambling about. At least we won't have to worry about that in another 50 games.

  • Interesting radio note by Barry:
    MASN play-by-play man Bob Carpenter will be away from the team Tuesday through Thursday taking his eldest daughter to college. Radio announcer Charlie Slowes will move to TV for those games. He'll be replaced on the radio by Wizards play-by-play man Dave Johnson on Tuesday and Wednesday and former Redskins announcer Frank Herzog on Thursday

    Feel free to make your "Touchdown!" jokes so I don't have to.

  • Fouled-Off Bunts: A Tale Of Two Pitchers Edition

    So how 'bout that Billy Traber? How 'bout that Jason Bergmann? If you had asked me prior to Friday, I'd have set the over/under for the two of them at about 8 innings and 12 runs. Instead, Traber threw a gem -- one of the few Nats pitchers to see the 8th inning -- and Bergmann was effective, even if no one's going to remember his performance. All told, it added up to 12 innings of four-run ball. That's good enough to win.

    Friday night was Negro League Tribute night, and the Nats wore the uniforms of the Homestead Grays who split time between Pittsburgh and Washington. The Grays were the Yankees of the Negro Leagues, and they featured two players who were the best at their positions, and who would likely rank at the best of all-time in all of baseball.

    You've likely heard of Josh Gibson, the power-hitting catcher. Stories of his titanic blasts almost sound mythological. Gibson was a huge, powerful man who was likely the best hitting catcher that baseball's seen. Imagine Mike Piazza with a decent arm, but with more power. Or, perhaps, Mark McGwire as a catcher. There's a good discussion of Gibson at the Hall of Merit, including some stats, which help to put in perspective how dominant a player he really was.

    The player that's less well-known is Buck Leonard. It's a shame that he's not as well known, because he was every bit as good a hitter as Gibson, but he played first base. Gibson was a line-drive hitter with enough power to split the gaps or drive it over the wall. He wasn't a raw slugger, more of a doubles hitter, but he had a terrific batting eye, drawing walks by the bunches. He was also, by all accounts, a terrific defender, quick to the ball and accurate with his throws (an underrated part of 1B defense). The Hall of Merit discussion puts him into context, and one person's comparison to Edgar Martinez makes a lot of sense.

    But back to today.... Billy Traber impressed me in his first few starts with the Nats. He's an interesting pitcher, throwing nothing but slop. He relies on a fastball which sees 90 only when thrown from the upper deck. The rest of his repertoire is slop low in the zone -- a rolling curve, a bloopy changeup and a splitter that dives sharply. His last start before the callup, he was tentative with those pitches, which, because of his mediocre fastball, he needs to succeed. He got knocked around hard and sent back to New Orleans.

    I theorized, at the time, that Matt LeCroy's presence at catcher might've had an impact. LeCroy, who has about as much business being a major league catcher as I do, isn't known for his ability to block pitches in the dirt, and with thighs like ham hocks, he's not going to spring to and fro chasing that splitter. Traber kept everything up, and struggled to throw strikes. When he fell behind, the Reds pounced.

    On Friday, he had Brian Schneider behind the plate, and Traber threw strikes, walking none in his 7+ innings while allowing just run, a homer to the teenager-chasing/gambling-addict/cheater catcher. Traber threw all his pitches, and seemed to have the confidence he lacked in his previous outing. Is it as simple as having confidence in a catcher? Or is it a fluke? Thankfully for him, there ain't nobody left, so he'll get his chance to prove himself.

    On Saturday, Jason Bergmann took his shot. Despite what the announcers said repeatedly, this was NOT his first major league start. In the dark days of September (on a day which causes people to make stupid comparisons), he got an emergency start, throwing two innings on one of those rotation-by-committee days. After getting his butt kicked earlier this year, they sent him to the minors and converted him to a starter. Usually it works the other way (failed starter into reliever), but with this organization, the more you can do, the better.

    I can't say that I particularly think much of Bergmann. His stuff's decent enough, even if his fastball seems a bit straight. He doesn't have much of a curve, and only threw 2, maybe 3 yesterday. But, other than the third inning, he kept the Mets off the board. He started with the biggest sin of all, plunking the pitcher. Reyes, LoDuca and Beltran followed up with two triples and a single -- one of the triples should've been cut off by Alex Escobar, who was playing center. But still, those weren't weak fly balls dropping in; they were lasers.

    I'm not convinced that he's going to be an acceptable alternative, but that's what this season's for. Stranger things certainly happen, and, at the very least, he could prove himself useful as a swingman out of the pen next year, that bridge from the 4th to the 6th inning when the starter takes an early shower.

  • Brian Schneider had the big hit of Friday's game, a two-run double that hooked just inside the bag at third, one of two hits he had in the game. He's starting to heat up a bit this August, batting .273 for the month, though that's with little power or many walks.

  • Felipe Lopez continues to hit. He's now up to .280/ .381/ .400 as a National, which is excellent for a shortstop. He still makes too many errors, but he's also getting to quite a few more balls than Clayton was. You're not seeing those grounders through the left side anymore, are you? Where's that balance between increased range and increased errors? I don't know, but his bat likely makes up for any deficit, if there is one.

    For what it's worth, they ain't happy with Clayton in Cinci. (People abbreviate it Cinci because they can't remember whether it's two Ns or two Ts in Cincinn(?)att(?)i)

    Q: It is clear that Royce Clayton is not an upgrade at shortstop. Why can't Rich Aurilia player shortstop to keep his and Edwin Encarnacion's bats in games? — Tom, Dayton

    A: This is the Question of the Week. Seven questions on Clayton's defense were in the ol' inbox. I agree on Clayton. He has not been an upgrade defensively and I thought this before he botched two plays in the first inning Wednesday that led to a grand slam home run by Jim Edmonds. His defense isn't much better than what Felipe Lopez gave the Reds and Lopez gave more offense.

    Don't let the fact that Hal McCoy is legally blind affect your judgment. He's still a better judge of talent than half the hacks with keyboards around the country. And besides, he doesn't like Bowden, so he's a good judge of character -- check out the rest of the questions for more on that, including the original derivation of the name "Leatherpants."

  • The other part of that trade (and it's really better for my sanity and mine if we ignore Ryan Wagner), Austin Kearns isn't doing much with the bat, even if he has an impressive eye. He has just one homer as a Nat, but 19 walks, giving him an impressive .393 on-base percentage.

    The Nats now have 6 regulars (7 if you count Church) who are above the ~.350 league average mark. That's how you build an offense. There's been a lot of hand wringing about all the LOB lately. That's just a function of having a team on base in the first place. We went entire homestands last year without leaving 12 on base, as we did in a game earlier this week. Be happy. Those hits'll drop in at some point.

    It's nice having an offense which can come back. Last year, if we were down two, you could turn the radio off. This year, they can comeback. It's just that the Zephyrs' bullpen forces us to do it 2 or 3 times a game.

    Imagine where we'd be with this year's offense and last year's pitching!

  • The NY Press is already salivating over the thought of Soriano in orange and blue.

    Assuming equal 4-year $55 million deals (a pipe dream, but humor me), who would you rather have? Barry Zito or Alfonso Soriano?

  • The Astros finally realized that Preston Wilson sucks.

  • Comcast is taking another shot at MASN, blaming their impending rate increase on MASN. MASN claims that they're charging Comcast $1.25 per subscriber, yet Comcast's rates are going up by $2.

    I don't want to defend MASN, and I'm certainly sure that Comcast's expenses are going up, but I really don't know how the hell Comcast's spokesman can live with himself. Does that lying sack of crap really expect us to believe that Comcast, one of the worst of the corporate behemoths (and who owns its dominance not to the value of its products but to its abuse of the monopoly status granted to it by local communities), wasn't going to raise rates even without MASN? My cable rates, as yours have, I'm sure, gone up about $20 dollars over the last 5 years, and that's just for the regular basic package, none of that fancy digital cable crap. It's ridiculous.

    Does he really expect us to swallow that crap? If they're such a caring consumer, I'm sure that my internet rate's not going to go up anytime soon, right? And I'm also sure, since they're such a thoughtful business that we're going to be getting a rebate on our cable bill because Comcast SportsNet no longer has to pay out millions for the rights to the Orioles games? Just like the rebate we got for the money they didn't have to pay out for the rights to the Washington Capitals season that was never played, right?

    So go screw yourself David Cohen. You're a disgusting money-grubbing sack of shit. Feel free to lie to the consumer and to spin, spin, spin everything, as long as it keeps you in a high-paying job with a salary paid from my money, because some asshats in a city hall decided that going with your shitty company was in my best intereest.

    How does he live with himself? Did he feel guilty writing lies like that? I don't think that everyone needs to be altruistic with what they do. I work at a non-profit and make probably one-eighth of what that guy does, but I can go home at the end of the day knowing that I've helped to make a difference in millions of people's lives. Not everyone needs that or wants that, but what kind of satisfaction does he get from lying like that? Who is he serving? Not the consumer. I hope he enjoys his quiet, cold McMansion and his trust-fund children.

  • Thursday, August 10, 2006

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Descent Into Madness Edition

    Apparently there was some sort of game last night. Looking at the boxscores, it seems like it was an ugly one. Instead of subjecting myself to poorly played, slow baseball, I went and saw a movie. And it looks like I missed an ugly win. Still, a win's a win, and I'll be paying my penance tonight -- assuming the rain holds out.

    Is Ortiz our ace? Well, I guess in one sense, but that's taking relativism to an absurd degree. Ramon Ortiz would be a good 4th starter on a playoff team. That he's our best pitcher is a sign of how crappy things have been for the Nats this year. That Times article notes that no Nat has thrown a complete game, something that's never happened before in ML history. Do you think that anyone has a chance? If I had to wager, I'd go with Astacio. Maybe he'll get lucky and face one of those all-kids September lineups.

    But back to Ortiz... It's interesting that he's even in the discussion for 'ace' considering how truly horrible he was for the first part of the season. I was calling for his head after every start, and he was supposedly one of the names that Jim Bowden was going to whack, until Tony Tavares, for budgetary reasons, stepped in and stopped him.

    On May 18, Ortiz gave up 3 runs in just 5 innings to the woeful Chicago Cubs -- the worst offensive team in the majors. At that point, his ERA stood at 6.15. I ripped Ortiz because he wasn't striking anyone out, pointing out that you just cannot succeed in the majors if you're not missing the occasional bat. If you're not fooling anyone, then you're giving up lots of line drives. If you're lucky, they get caught. If you're unlucky, you're hitting the shower in the third inning. Luck simply isn't enough to win.

    But something changed. I think that this was about the time that Ortiz stopped trying to overpower batters. I don't remember reading about any decisions that he or St. Claire made, but he dialed back the velocity a bit. There were a few starts early where he was throwing straight-as-a-string fastballs in the mid-90s. As he eased up on his delivery, his fastball took on some more movement, which, in combo with the new slider grip that St. Claire taught him, gave him some success. He struck out five or more batters in his next six starts -- a huge improvement over what he had done.

    And since that date, he's been respectable, compiling a pretty good 3.86 ERA while averaging 6.4 innings per start. He's struck out nearly 6 batters per game (good, not great) and has walked just 2.5. He's still giving up the gopher ball (1.6 per 9), but all in all, he's a good #3. And after his first few starts, who would've imagined that? Is he worth signing next year? At the right price, I suppose. But, with his success over the last 3 months, there might be more demand for him than there was last year, when he was coming of a terrible season.

  • Brandon Harper made his major league debut last night, and singled in his first chance. Good for him. It'd be nice if he made a really strong showing this season. He was scorching the ball for New Orleans in July, and if he shows that he's competent behind the plate, and can crank out the occasional hit, he might be perfect for next year's backup role. Every penny saved is a penny that can go into the rotation. Todd Jasobson interviews him here.

  • Jose Guillen proves again that he's a manly man. He visited the clubhouse and made sure the beat writers knew how severe his injury was. It wasn't just a UCL tear. Sez Jose: It wasn't just the tear; it was the muscles [around the ligament that were bad also]. Everything was broken in half. I don't even know how I was playing like this.

    Well, you shouldn't have been playing like this. At least he's learned his lesson and is going to take it easy, letting his body heal properly before he rushes back on to the field, only to suffer another injury, right? Jose? Guillen said, because of his work ethic, he will be swinging the bat in three months and be ready for Spring Training.

    "I'll be 100 percent, no doubt in my mind. I'll be ready by Spring Training. I'm not going to rush anything. I know how fast I heal. The doctors are surprised that I have my arm fully extended

    Uhoh. Well, at least our manager, if it's Frank (something that Jose is already whining for) will understand that he has to protect his players, right? Frank?

    "It was tough to see him struggle, period," Robinson said. "But knowing him, you know he was going to go out there. He was going to go out there if he had to kick the ball into the infield. You admire him for that. He's what you call a gamer -- he wants to play and he wants to win. There's nothing wrong with that."

    Oh, hell. It's a good thing that Frank wasn't in a position of authority and able to do what's right, right? Crap.

  • Friend of Capitol Punishment, Bill Ladson notes that Jose Vidro believes that he's going to be traded when he's activated, and that he's prepared that the other team will ask him to make a position switch, probably to first. (I wonder how he'd be at third, a position he's played before, even if he did so quite terribly?) Trading Vidro would be great, but that'd require the Nats to eat a huge chunk of his contract.... which still might be worthwhile. I'd be content with Marlon Anderson manning second next year. But that's something that's likely going to have to happen in the offseason. None of the major contenders really seem like they need a 1B.

    Vidro starts a one- or two-game rehab assignment with Potomac tomorrow.

  • Micah Bowie, one of the three actual relievers in the pen, strained his back and is day-to-day. He'll probably sit out til the weekend.

  • Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow with Brian Schneider's swing? Frank says that the flaw in his swing is relatively easy to fix, but that it's best left for the offseason, because, you know, he's busy golfing, and Brian Schneider's complacent. I'm sure glad Frank is motivated to bust his ass for this job.

    From the same, Lenny Harris, a former Red, has caught on as a minor league hitting instructor. Yawn. I'm still waiting for Chris Sabo.

  • TendIn-gate slumps on. Krivsky says he finally talked to Bowden. I like the words that Krivsky uses; he sounds like a 1950s sitcom dad. He's definitely treading on eggshells, and it's probably save to say that the Bowden ban is back in effect! Key to that story is that MLB says that it's unlikely that they'd take action, citing the ol' 'buyer beware.' Still, if Bowden did mislead them about the cortisone shot (and I wish they could pin down exactly when it was given), he's in the wrong. But at the same time, Krivsky's staff deserve a beat down for not knowing that 1) he was injured previously or 2) he was overworked. Enough of that, though. I'm sick of it.

  • Today's must-read, and perhaps the single most important piece of journalism the Washington Post has ever produced is a Guide To RFK Beer. Yummy!

  • Hot Blogger Action!!
    --The not-quite late, but lamented Distinguished Senators takes one more whack at a bloated self-important pinata.

    --The Farm Authority gives us the Nationals Minor-League players of the month.

    --NFA also notes the rapid rise of Zach Zincola. Drafted this year, he just got the callup to double-A, and has a chance of making the team as early as next year.

    --Few other notes on the minors...
    Chris Marrero, one of our first-rounders, has meningitis, but the 'good' kind. He'll be on his feet soon enough. Stephen Englund is struggling, hitting just .175/.280/ .225 with 29 Ks in just 80 ABs. Newly acquired Matt Chico pitched yesterday. Meh. No Ks. Too many hits. We'll see.

    --Just A Nats Fan is happy to see Brandon Harper.

  • Oh, the movie I saw, The Descent, was pretty good. I'm not a big fan of most recent horror movies, which are more about torture porn than anything. This one, while it had its share of gory scenes, was scary for the atmosphere and the overall feeling of dread and claustrophobia it created. I don't usually react physically to a movie -- other than the occasional jump -- but this one literally had my palms sweating and my body contorting as the characters slid and crawled and scraped their way through the cave. The scenes prior to the monsters revealing themselves were probably even more effective than the ones at the end, although the 'twist' ending (and the alternate British ending) definitely elevate this to something beyond just a typical shock and awe horror movie. If you can tolerate some spattering blood and enjoy when a movie surrounds you in atmosphere, especially through its use of a mostly dark screen and your vivid imagination, it's worth the $9 -- especially because the sound really adds to the experience.
  • Tuesday, August 08, 2006

    More-On Krivsky

    Federal Baseball has an interesting take on tendingate.

    He points out several things that I wish I had thought of.

    First, he observes that Kremchek's comments about Majewski being 'ordered' to hide the injury have been removed from the original Enquirer piece. (And he has an interesting take on how far-fetched those claims were with some made-up dialogue!)

    Second, he notes that Kremchek said that, even with knowledge of tendinitis and the shot, that he'd have signed off on the trade and that Krivsky likely would've approved it. Meaning, there wasn't really much damage to the Reds; they were going to take him either way.

    And finally, he wraps up with some interesting questions that'll need to be answered before we know what's going on.

    Check it out!

  • spins Bowden's side of the deal. Bowden, as you'd expect of a horse's ass, sounds incredulous.

  • If they did withhold information about the cortisone shot from the Reds, then there's probably something to it, even if Kremchek seems to have indicated that they might've gone ahead with the trade anyway. I still stand by my claim that the Reds should've done 30 seconds of googling to ask about specific injuries, but that doesn't excuse out and out deception.

    One thing to keep in mind is that this trade was NOT a deadline move. There was plenty of time for research and questions on both sides of the deal. Bowden's point about Majewski going out there 11 times and it being almost a month since the deal are interesting ones. And one thing that's going to need to be shown for a grievance is a connection to the injury he's suffering from now and the rotator cuff problem from earlier this year. All we're hearing now is stuff about a 'tired arm', which anyone who's taken a look at Majewski's workload over the last two years cannot be surprised by.

    For whatever it's worth, here's Majewski's game log. It shows the four games he missed in early May, and how well he was throwing before being traded. He got tagged for three runs in the last game before the trade, but had reeled off 9 straight scoreless appearances. He certainly wasn't showing signs of fatigue or tendinitis with the Nats. (Thanks to the shot, I guess -- although it's not clear when he actually received it.)

  • More later as more stories come in....

  • Monday, August 07, 2006

    Wayne Krivsky Can Go To Hell

    The Reds put Gary Majewski on the DL today, and started to raise a stink about the Nationals hiding medical information on Majewski from them. They're idiots.
    Before learning the results of Majewski's MRI exam, Reds General Manager Wayne Krivsky indicated the Reds were exploring their options for recourse, in case it could be proven the Nationals had hidden Majewski's injury.

    "We're going to look at the MRI, then go through the proper channels and use the proper protocol," he told reporters. Asked whether the Reds had checked out Majewski's health before the trade, Krivsky said the team's medical staff had exchanged information with their Nationals' counterparts.

    However, after learning the results of the MRI exam, Krivsky backed down. "I'm not going to talk about anything that was done before the trade, what was said, what wasn't said, what was exchanged, and all that," he said.

    If Krivsky didn't realize that Majewski might've been overworked, he's a fool, and his scouts should be fired. Further, if he didn't realize that Majewski had arm trouble then, well, I guess he's a fool too.

    This wasn't a state secret.

    The incomparable Bill Ladson reported it on 5/7/06.

    Don't trust Bill Ladson? Fine. How about Barry Svrluga and the Washington Post? The Post even helpfully bolded and made a subheadline of "Majewski Has Tendinitis" to make it easy for people with ADD. Krivsky, who's a busy man, no doubt, wouldn't even have to read the whole feckin' thing!

    If that wasn't enough, Krivsky and his crack staff could've asked Majewski himself. He wasn't shy talking about it in this piece he coughwrotecough himself.

    The trade isn't popular, and the complete implosion of Gary Majewski makes it look even worse. It seems like this is as much an attempt to deflect some of the attention and responsibility on that to Cinci's old whipping boy, Jim Bowden. "Golly, that leather-panted Huckster cheated us again!" (And on this Red Reporter thread, some of them are falling for it.)

    Screw that.

    This wasn't a deadline deal made with 10 minutes to spare. There was plenty of time for a full evaluation, and for some hack intern in his staff to run a cursory google search. Ignorance doesn't excuse incompetence.

    Livan Hernandez Traded

    Wow. I'm not quite sure what to make of it -- other than to never trust ESPN!

    He's off to Arizona for two starting pitcher prospects, Garret Mock and Matt Chico.

    I'm sort of reeling now. I really liked Livan. And I don't know what this means in terms of going forward. But Mike Rizzo, the Nats Scouting Director certainly knows these guys inside and out. You've gotta trust his judgement with them.

    Still, wow.

    I'm going to miss Livan.

    Thanks to Basil at Federal Baseball for sharing the release.

    More later....

  • Here's John Sickles latest on them. It's a recap of his pre-season top 20.
    9) Garrett Mock, RHP, B
    3-7, 4.55 in 17 starts for Double-A Tennessee, 94/39 K/BB in 99 innings, 103 hits allowed. Not really breaking through as I thought he might, but the K/IP remains promising.

    20) Matt Chico, LHP, C
    A rebounding process, combined numbers are 5-6, 3.14 in 17 starts between Lancaster and Tennessee, with an 86/24 K/BB in 95 innings, 75 hits allowed. Is finally adapting to Double-A competition after failing to do so in '04 and '05.

  • Here's The WaPo story.

    NFA listened in on the press conference and spits back Bowden's quotes.

    Banks gives a thumbs up and rounds up some other scouting reports of the kids from around teh internets.

  • Fouled-Off Bunts: Just A Few More Things Edition

    You probably know this by now, but MASN and Comcast have finally reached a settlement, which will allow DC and Baltimore-area Nats fans to see the team starting in September -- just in time for the pennant race!1!1111!!! If there's justice in this world, Tom Boswell's Severn River Estate goes without.

  • Nick Johnson's fielding has noticeably slipped a bit this year, as Barry notes.

  • Billy Traber gets the callup as Roy Corcoran gets sent to New Orleans. Traber will fill in in the bullpen, but get a start this weekend. Frank, as always, displays his winning way with pitcher motivation:
    "It's not coming down to who is pitching good. It comes down to what you have down there. There isn't much left. If he was burning it up, he would have been up here," Robinson said. "I'm not knocking Traber. It's no big secret going into it or big formula to figure out who's coming."

  • Matt LeCroy signed a minor-league deal with the Nats. He'll be playing in New Orleans. Presumably, every AL team passed on him. There's a chance that he could come up in September, but, really, what's the point?

  • notes that "The Nationals have used 10 starters this season, and only Livan Hernandez and Ramon Ortiz have a chance to reach 200 innings."

    Last year, only two starters reached 200 IP (Livan and Loaiza -- Patterson fell just short.) And the team used 15 starters.

  • ESPN had a story which has now disappeared from their site, saying that Livan had been claimed on waivers and pulled off -- basically guaranteeing that he's going to return next year. With the way he's pitched over the last month and a half, that's a good thing.

  • Zuckerman says that Soriano should be an MVP candidate. Somewhere, Tom Boswell is smiling, readying his NATS #1! Foam Finger.

  • Hot Blogger Action!!
    --Federal Baseball sees some strange parallels with last season's San Diego series and looks back at happier times.
    --Nats Blog graphically displays how putrid the pitching has been relative to last year.
    --The NTP guys have a back-and-forth on the merits of Bowden and the Soriano trade. It's an interesting discussion.
    --Beltway Boys discusses the effects of having a mediocre bullpen has on Frank's decisions.
    --Dude, don't call that guy out, even if he's one of your colleagues. Bad things, man!

  • Eighteen Down, Nine To Go

    3-6 on one of those killer west coast trips ain't so bad for a mediocre team, I suppose. Sure, it's not 6-3. It's not even 4-5. But it beats 2-7, right? What's heartening, I guess, about the games is that the Nats were in most of them. A hit or two here or there, and they could've walked away with more wins. But then, if they really were getting those hits or two, they wouldn't be a lousy team in the first place. Still, it's nice finally having an offense, one that, even when the team gets down by three runs early, is capable of coming back. Last year, down three, you might as well find something else to do, like scrapbooking or mending the hem on your pants.

    Nats Record: 3-3
    Overall: 49-62. .500 remains a pipe dream. As well as the Nats have played, they'd have to win at a 102-win pace over their final 51 games. Good luck with that. Playing just .500 point forward, or even a few games, is probably a reasonable goal.
    Runs Scored: 31 (5.2/g); Overall, 513 (9/16 teams).
    Runs Allowed: 27 (4.5/g); Overall, 574 (14/16 teams).
    Expected Record: 49-62. Never doubt Pythagoras.

    What's Good?
    1) Soriano! Ho-hum. 5 extra-base hits, 8 RBI, a .346 batting average. But only 2 steals? The bum! (Actually, the 9 Ks he had are a bit alarming.) One of these days, teams are going to stop trying to take the extra base on his arm at every opportunity. It's not working very well for them!

    2) Everybody Not Named Armas, Wagner or Astacio. The pitching was decent this week. Livan, especially excelled. Ortiz was effective. Cordero, Hughes, Rivera and Rauch combined for 8 scoreless appearances.

    3) Marlon Anderson. Jose Vidro might come back this week, but if Marlon keeps playing the way he has been, Jose needs to sit. Marlon's a decent fielder, showing much more range than Jose has. And he hit like Jose used to, .316/ .409/ .579 for the week.

    What's Bad?
    1) Nick Johnson. This just wasn't his week, hitting .130 with 7 Ks against just two non-intentional walks.

    2) Tony Armas. Has he had a good start in a month? It's been a far cry from April and May when he was the only starter capable of keeping the team in the game. He got cuffed around, giving up 6 runs in just 3+ innings.

    3 AKA: The Brian Schneider Memorial Spot) Brian Schneider. He ripped a double, which was his first extra-base hit since early July. That went with his one walk for the week. Hey, he had a stolen base, though! (!?!?)

    Game O' The Week
    It wasn't the most exciting game of the year, but it was the kind of game that's fun to attend -- too bad it was in San Francisco. Livan hopped in the time machine and brought us back to last year, pitching like he did, and having the Nats win a game the way they did last year, 4-1 over the Giants.

    The Nats scored their first two runs by hitting into outs. Soriano hit a flyball to score Brian Schneider, and Nick Johnson hit into a double play to give the Nats a 2-0 lead. Last year, that would've been more than enough, but this ain't last year's Livan. Somehow, he found his breaking pitch, and threw enough sliders to keep the Giants off balance. The Giants scored one in the 6th to pull within one, and it looked like the Nats could lose another heartbreaker.

    In the 8th, Daryle Ward led off, pinch hitting for Livan, doubling to left (it sure seems like he comes through every time, doesn't it?). Felipe Lopez worked a walk and stole second, putting runners on 2/3 for Ryan Zimmerman. With blood in the water, the shark attacked, driving the ball down the line in left, getting both runs in, and giving the Nats a comfortable 3-run lead. As bad as the bullpen is at times, you just knew that this was one they'd hold on to. Bowie came in, followed by Rauch and Cordero. Bang! Zoom!

    MVP Award
    Honorable Mention to Felipe Lopez' .364/ .464/ .636, but this was Ryan Zimmerman's week. He stepped it up even higher, crushing the ball for 2 homers and 7 RBI and beating out Soriano in the big three categories: .348/ .444/ .783.

    Cy Young Award
    Is it anyone but Livan? He's not the 9-inning pitcher he was, but 7 innings per start, especially with just a 1.93 ERA is more than enough! I made the mistake of thinking he was toast earlier. I guess not. What's impressive, too, is that he struck out 10 batters in those 14 innings of work. The zip's back on his slider -- and despite the focus on the velocity of his fastball, it was his slider that was the true problem.

    LVP Award
    Sorry, Nick. Had he shown up this week, the Nats win at least one, probably two more games.

    Joe Horgan Award
    Three cheers for Ryan Wagner and the 5 runs he gave up in 2+ innings. Meanwhile, Roy Corcoran, who allowed just one run in three appearances gets the shuttle to New Orleans? Alrighty.