Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Nationals Reviewed: And Hark, He Hath Appeared in the Fifth Fortnight Edition

A day late, but you're still probably expecting this to be all STRASBURG STRASBURG STRASBURG STRASBURG!!!! Sorry to disappoint. I'm not going to abuse the caps like that. Although he's only been here for a week, that's the story of the fortnight. Nothing else, as they say, matters.

Well, the wins and losses matter, I s'pose. And really, that's the problem with this stretch. The Nats were entering a stretch of games that they SHOULD have handled relatively easy. They didn't. They pooped the bed, as if they were led by an incontinent Acta, and losing two to Manny might've been the low point.

So the story of the last two weeks is a whole bunch of losses, punctuated by a few wins by STRAS...err... Strasburg.

If that's going to change, it's mostly up to Luis Atilano and JD Martin. Translation: We're effed.

Take away the Pirates, (Please /Youngman'd), and the Nats only won a single game of every series over these last two weeks. Gulp.

With the Royals, Orioles and some other meh teams coming up, it's now or never, if we're going to pretend we're on the fringes of playoff contention.

Nats Record: 6-7, 31-33 overall; Last in the NL East
Runs Scored: 63 (4.8/game); 279 overall, 10th in the league.
Runs Allowed: 62 (4.8/game); 298, 6th in the league. My brain still refuses to process this. No matter what, I WANT to believe the problem is with the pitching, not the hitting. But by league rank, it's the opposite.
Pythagoras Sez: 30-34. Saint Stephen is exorcising the ghosts of Marquis.

What's Good?

1) Strasburg, Duh. Think about what it's like to face Strasburg. He's got four pitches, 3 of which are as good as anyone's in the league. The fourth, his changeup, is notable because it's faster than a lot of fastballs. One comes in fast and straight as hell. The other comes in fast, but just a tick slower, and darts a tick down and a tick in to a right-handed batter. If you swing at that one with the same swing at the 4-seam, you're hammering it into the ground, having come over top of it. Then there's the curve, ripping through the air as hard as any pitch out there. But it dives down and away. It's not a 12-6 curve. It's like a 12-8 frisbee o' death. (Since my Pope Charles XIV nickname for it didn't catch on, I'm sticking with calling it the Mindbender.)

If you're a batter, you've got a split section to react. You need to identify the type of pitch (ergo its movement), its rough speed (based on the previous) and its location. When he throws that curve, it's starting high. And for a split second, it's probably looking like that high riding 4-seamer. Yet it just dives.

Watch the swings batters take on it. Yep. They're missing it. But look at how they're missing it. It's a half lunge swing more often than not. They get out on their front feet, bend a little, and just sort of wave. They just don't have time to react, given the threat the 4-seamer represents.

Think back to -- and this is the ONLY time you'll ever see a comparison like this! -- when Jason Bergmann (Yes, I went there; apologies) was throwing well. He had a 4-seamer riding high in the zone, with a sharp little slurvy breaking pitch that dived down, often in the dirt. It's a deadly combo.

Those pitches look completely different once they've crossed the plate. But a foot after the pitcher's released 'em, good look telling them apart.

2) Adam Dunn! During this 2-week period, he batted an impressive .348/ .400/ .696. He's now having another career year. The eye's taken a tiny step back, but he has his highest slugging percentage, his highest OPS and his highest adjusted OPS. He's been surprisingly good at first base, battling it to a draw. I'm too lazy to check the numbers, but I bet he's within spitting distance of average by UZR. Add it up, and you've got one of the more valuable 1B in the league. I still wouldn't extend him past two years, but that's a debate for another day. He's damn good now, and that's what immediately matters.

3) Roger Bernadina. Maybe he's the answer in RF? He'll hit the odd homer, but he has zero power. He's basically a singles hitter who plays great defense. What's key is that it seems like he's learning to walk a little bit, turning into the poor man's Willie Harris. Sure, we'd all like to have a huge bat in the corner, but he's hitting /.351/ .444. Add in his + defense, and that's (at worst) a league average RFer. Granted, that slash line's far higher than we should expect going forward, but given the angst surrounding him, you'd think he was hitting like Nyjer.

4) Tyler Clippard! Remember when he was sucking, and idiot bloggers were complaining that if he continued to pitch as much as he was, his arm would fall off, but that he'd blow a whole bunch of other games before he got to that point? Well, that's why you should never listen to bloggers. 7 scorless games with a 9/0 K/BB ratio. Suck it, Bloggers.

5) Drew Storen! It's been nice seeing how well he's reacted to pressure situation. More often than not, he's been thrown right into the fire. It's important that he's handled it. But what it's really done, is extended the bullpen, giving more defined roles to Walker and Burnett. When the Nats are leading or close, Riggles now has 5 guys he can rely on to some degree or another. Then there's White Flag Batista.

What's Bad?

1) Nyjer. .234/ .250/ .277. He's better than this, of course, and there's still a bit of potential in there, but he really benefited from the change in scenery last year coinciding with the hottest streak of his career. Reading msg boards and comments, I think most Nats fans are ready to float him down the Potomac. But what did they expect? OK, that's a stupid question to ask when he's coming off a .250 OBP streak, I guess. Bright side: No inside-the-parkers allowed.

2) Guzman. .224/ .240/ .265. Hit 'em 1 and 2 or 2 and 1. Doesn't matter; they both suck. They say you want the top of your lineup to be a sparkplug. I suppose these guys were, but just to a Yugo or a Vespa.

3) Matt Capps. He allowed runs in 3 of his 6 performances, taking 2 losses. All closers have bad stretches. And in his defense, he was handed an inordinate number of one-run saves. And as we saw with Chad Cordero, even decent closers are going to blow a decent number of one-runners. But what hurt him wasn't that he gacked up the lead. He'd gack up the game. Giving up 1 run in a one-run game isn't bad. Giving up 2? Yeah, that really sucks.

4) Wil Nieves. If it weren't for his delightful music, he'd be another player everyone would want to run out of town. .091/ .125/ .136 for the two weeks explains a lot of the offensive ineptitude. I'm just amazed that this guy was actually in the team's plans coming into spring training. Haven't they been watching the games for the last few years?

5) The Anti-Stammens. I think a few people were surprised when the team sent Craig Stammen down when they opened up a hole for Strasburg. Stammen isn't good, but he's also one of the few pitchers on the team who appears to have a something that could loosely be called "stuff." In his stead, Luis Atilano and JD Martin combined for 25.3 innings and 18 runs. Sigh.


MVP: Adam Dunn, though Zimmerman's .451 obp was pretty sweet.
CY YOUNG: Hmmm... Should we rename this one yet?
AUSTIN KEARNS AWARD: Thanks, Cristian!
JOE HORGAN AWARD: Can't yak 'em away like that, Mr. Capps!



    This time around, it has to go to Austin Kearns. He's still killing this team.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/16/2010 8:24 AM  

  • Linked at Beltway Baseball.

    By Blogger Wombat-socho, at 6/16/2010 3:01 PM  

  • I disagree about Bernardina being just a singles hitter. He's got some pop in his bat and he'll hit his share of doubles and homers over a season. If Morgan continues to shrink, Bernardina should move to center field and Mike Moore should be given a shot at the RF job. Morse can hit and the Nats need offense.

    By Anonymous phil dunn, at 6/16/2010 7:26 PM  

  • Entertaining yet informative. A breath of fresh air in the Natmosphere. Glad to see you've been doing some stuff for SBNationDC as well.

    The intriguing thing will be what will it take for Riggles to sit Guzman as he's gone into a month long swoon. The cotton candy singles are almost all gone.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/16/2010 11:27 PM  

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