Thursday, August 03, 2006

Why Are You Reading This?

So the Nats series with the Giants has been over for about 20 hours and I'm just now getting to hack out some thoughts on it. Why do I bother? Damned if I know.

Had the Nats won yesterday's game, they would've been only the second team to have swept a season series from the Giants, a franchise that's been around since the dawn of time. They're so old that even Tip O'Neill played for them. And proving that all politics is local, the other team to have swept the Giants? The Expos.

Just a few thoughts....

  • Tony Armas continued a long string of bad starts. He has now allowed 4 runs or more (keep in mind that he rarely goes more than 5 innings) in 5 of his last 6 starts. Since June, his ERA has risen from a wonderful 3.34 up to a bloated, Livan-sized 5.16. And people were calling for Bowden's head because he didn't trade Tony?

    I've thrown out the silly idea before that the Nats would be better off shifting him to the bullpen. They don't have any backup starters really, so it's not a realistic possibility, but because of his endurance problems, he's not much of a starter. And he's been effective (as he was earlier in the season) when his velocity is up. Perhaps letting him rear back for max effort on a few pitches would help. I look at him and see a failed starter, but a potential lights-out reliever.

    Alfonso Soriano ripped two more homers, these to right field, keeping the Nats in a game they had little business being in. He picked up his second outfield assist of the series (both on Vizquel). Teams haven't been challenging his arm as much over the last month or so, as he's tightened up his outfield play. Maybe the Giants didn't get the memo?

    Would you believe that Felipe Lopez is hitting .300/ .398/ .429 as a Nat? It's wonderful having a shortstop who can hit! Fielding is a bit scary, but he's shown decent range -- probably a step better than Clayton. His problem, as we've seen, is on the throws. Nick has picked a few out, but it seems that the more time he has to think, the wilder the throw is. Ryan Zimmerman battled a bit of the throwing yips earlier this year. Maybe something can be done about it, maybe not. But focusing solely on the throwing errors ignores some of the nice plays he's made in the field.

  • Tuesday's game featured the season debut of Livan Hernandez. I don't know who that fat BP-machine that has been wearing his uniform was, but I'm glad the real Livan is back. I didn't make a note of his velocity, but the key was his breaking stuff. His slider had a crisp bite to it, zipping across the plate. His two-seam fastball (a sinker) had more downward movement on it, instead of the slow sideways glide it's typically displayed this year. For one game, at least, he looked like the Livan of yore.

    Livan has now had a quality start in 6 of his last 7 outings. I'm coming around to the "keep 'em" idea. If he can do this next year, he's worth $7 million. (Don't you wish that you could say that you were worth $7 million?)

    While Livan partied like it was 2005, the new-found offense did something they didn't do at all last year -- get a farkin' insurance run! Clinging to a 1-run lead, Daryle Ward doubled to lead off the inning. (Man, that guy has been really effective. I'd love for the Nats to bring him back next season, but I suspect he's going to have a chance to go to a team that can offer more playing time.) After Soriano struck out, Felipe Lopez walked and stole second. (I really love his eye). Then Ryan Zimmerman (who else?) drove 'em both home, stretching the Nats lead.

    Can you remember the Nats ever doing that last year? They'd try to milk that lead with Luis Ayala hurling up elbow-shredding sliders. Oh, what a little offense and a productive bench mean, eh?

  • Monday night was the true grand re-opening, as the non-traded Alfonso Soriano showed his appreciation by banging out three hits, a double, a stolen base, and converting a double play when he pegged a runner trying to score from third. Not bad!

    The interesting play came late in the game. Robert Fick hurt himself, tearing some cartilege in his ribs, when he dived back into the bag to avoid a LDP. He continued to catch, but later in the game, with his backup, Brian Schneider, in the on-deck circle, ready to PH for him, Damian Jackson fouled a ball off, pegging Schneider right in the hand. (Jackson can't even foul balls correctly!) It looked worrisome for a moment as Schneider retreated to the bench and Alex Escobar hit instead. With Schneider still battling an injury, and now with a hurt hand, who was going to catch? Thankfully, Schneider was ok, but we were this close from watching Damian Jackson catch. And no one wants to see that!

  • I'm really not sure what to make of this team at this point. And I don't really know what I'd expect at this point either. I don't think a run at .500 is realistic. We're still too far behind. The Nats would have to go 33-21, which over a season is a 99-win team. My original guess for the season was 75 wins. They'd only have to play .500 ball for that.

    For what it's worth, since the Kearns/Lopez trade, the Nats have gone 10-8 after having previously played .422 ball. In those 18 games, they've scored 95 runs or 5.3 a game, a pace that would have them scoring 855 over a full season. With all the caveats about small sample size and all that junk, 855 runs would have led the NL last season. It's a different offense now.

    Of course, the pitching staff allowed 93 runs in that time, a pace that, not so surprisingly, would put them near the bottom of the NL. (but maybe not at the bottom)

    We see what the problem is with the team. Can Jim Bowden fix it? And does he have enough money?


    • I like your Armas to the bullpen idea. It would be great if he could throw a couple of innings per appearance to bridge the gap between the starter and Rauch / Cordero.

      Two questions: 1) can Armas warm up fast emough to be a middle-relief option? Or would he have to be used in a set role? and

      2) Would he go for it? Armas has not relieved in a game since he was in the Gulf Coast League--and then only twice. He would probably have to be talked into it during contract negotiations. If Frank sent him to the bullpen now, he'd just sign somewhere else next year.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/03/2006 12:00 PM  

    • Good questions, and that's exactly why my rantings are just that. Reality has to set in somewhere.

      I remember the subject being broached in spring training, and the answer that Frank gave was that with his arm problems they didn't want the wear and tear of irregular work hurting him. That makes a lot of sense.

      I can't imagine that Armas would go for it. He, at least from what i've read, seems to have a pretty high opinion of his pitching. And with people constantly raving about his 'stuff' (even as his stuff never gets by hitters), I can't see a reason why he would. Someone like Pittsburgh would offer him a rotation slot.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/03/2006 12:04 PM  

    • I think Armas to the bullpen could be a very good move, from Armas' point of view. Given his up and down year (and career for that matter) and his well-known medical history, I think it could be a struggle for Armas to make anything significantly higher than his current $2.1M incentive-laden deal whether it be on the free-agent market or in a one-year deal with the Nats. Considering the silly money being thrown at quality relievers these days, a successful stint in the 'pen could ease the strain on his body and raise his market value at the same time.

      Livan's recent spate of quality starts is likely not indicative of a return to 2005 form, IMO. His BB/K ratio, ERA, and LOB% have all trended in the wrong direction every year since 2003. Most worrisome to me is that fact that 2006 is the fist year that his fly ball percentage has exceeded his ground ball percentage. While RFK masks the effect of this somewhat, to me this is indicative of a guy who is having trouble keeping the ball down in the zone.

      $7M may be an acceptable amount of mnoey to pay to a veteran, league average pitcher but there is mounting evidence that Livo won't even produce that well in 2007. At this point, I'm pushing for Bowden to deal him in a waiver trade, even if it means picking up $1-$2M of his 2007 salary. The $5-$6M saved in 2007 could go towards pursuing a younger arm with more upside (Beuehrle? Meche?) or a better-than-average CF (Cameron?) in the offseason.

      By Blogger JammingEcono, at 8/03/2006 1:29 PM  

    • "I don't know who that fat BP-machine that has been wearing his uniform was"

      El Oh El!

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/03/2006 2:30 PM  

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