Comeback Sunday

With the last three games not proving to be too kind to Washington’s offense, I’ve decided to declare today “Comeback Sunday.”  What?  Did you really think I was going to go with Women’s Equality Day?  The law was the only thing we had on our side and we threw it all away.

I kid.  I kid.

Anyhoo, hopefully later today the Nats can get back on track and avoid the sweep at the hands of the Phillies, though it will hurt not to have both Michael Morse and Ian Desmond in the lineup.  Until game time rolls around, for kicks and giggles, here’s a Sunday morning edition of quick hits:

  • I thought this was supposed to work the other way around?  Dodgers bail out BoSox, acquire Gonzalez, Beckett, and Crawford.  While it is heartening to see something in Brokefornia  come into money, methinks long-term this won’t end well for the Dodgers.  However, in the short-run, the addition of Gonzalez and if he is rejuvenated, Beckett, could propel Los Angeles into the playoffs.  And if they make it in, you would have to think they would be a formidable opponent.  So while the Nats continue to barrel towards unilateral disarmament, their foes stock up.  Sigh.  I wish I wasn’t such a brooding auditor.
  • This is probably going to come as a shock to everyone, but I have a thing for numbers.  So this fascinating column from Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports allowed me to slip into nirvana without coming out smelling like teen spirit.  25 things you didn’t know about baseball.  My favorite:  Fernando Rodney and his 0. 77 ERA.  Who says God doesn’t interfere in the affairs of men?
  • And finally, I guess the 50-game suspension of Fatolo Colon earlier this week only goes to show that you can lead an athlete to steroids but you still can’t make him work out.

And that’s all folks!

You Could Write A Good Country Song…

about last night as a fan of Washington-area sports teams, if you were so inclined.  The only thing missing was the girlfriend walking out, saying how like your truck, you are too old and broken down for her anymore.

As it was, the following was plenty enough:

  • Despite one of Edwin Jackson’s best efforts on the mound all season, the Nationals were shut out 2-0 by the Bernie Madoff Mets.
  • Edwin and the Nats were done in by the .219 hitting Ike Davis, who launched a two-run home run in the top of the seventh to supply all the runs the Madoff Mets would need.  Sure, Davis has been playing better since the All-Star break, but still, a real kick in the teeth.
  • The atrocious Mets bullpen, headlined by Frank Francisco, he of the 6.06! ERA and 1.78! WHIP, actually locked down Jonathon Nieses’s shutout.  I guess that’s why they are the Amazin’ Mets!
  • The Washington Redskins lost more than just the second game of the preseason to the Chicago Bears, also losing starting linebacker and pass rushing extraordinaire Brian Orakpo and starting safety Brandon Meriweather to injuries.  This is when I pause for six hours to pray at my private Redskins good karma altar.
  • And come to think of it, the Redskins defense looked like an old and broken down truck which Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall walked out and over on.

Game ball(s):  Niese.  Credit where credit is due.  The Nationals had precious few opportunities to plate runs last night and when they did, Niese flipped on the dominant switch.

Goat(s):  Whoever in the Redskins front office or on their coaching staff that thought Cedric Griffin could still cover.  Brandon Marshall was probably having warm flashbacks to his final days in Denver, when he last had so much fun working someone over.

Bryce Harper is still only 19:  Jackson.  I feel like I’ve said this a number of times about Edwin this season, but he deserved a better fate than for a L to be hung around his neck.

Current Record:  74-46

Not So Smooth

Boy, am I glad that fool Terry Collins left Johan Santana, fresh off of major shoulder surgery, in to throw 134 pitches during his June 1st no-hitter.  You don’t need to consult Stephen Hawking to figure that his season had nowhere to go but down from there, which it has, with a 13.50 ERA in July and 19.89 ERA in August.  Wait.  What is that?  Some blogger in Tallahassee said back in June that people shouldn’t get their shorts in a bunch over a manager allowing a pitcher to do what he is supposed to do?  Ahem.  What can I say?  The Nats had just shut out the Braves 2-0 behind seven superlative innings from Stephen Strasburg, so I was liable to say and do anything.  Maybe that’s when I also bought the Robo Stir.  Well, at least the yoke of having to stir my own food has finally be removed from around my neck!

Game ball(s):  Mike Morse.  He only got one hit on the night, but he made it count, launching a grand slam off of Santana which staked the Nats to a 4-2 lead which they never surrendered.

Goat(s):  Chipper Jones.  I know.  Larry plays on the Braves and that’s not who the Nationals were playing last night.  But he smashed another home run last night in Atlanta’s 4-3 extra-innings win over the Dodgers, making it three home runs in the last two games.  Oh, and he is hitting .313 at the Geritol contemplation age of 40 and the Braves keep winning.  Anytime now you can begin to break up like the Titanic.

Bryce Harper is still only 19:  Bryce Harper. His 2 for 3 night with a home run and 2 RBIs was quite the welcome sight, as he’s batted only .183 since the All-Star break.  And that includes last night’s hopeful slump-buster effort.

Current Record:  74-45

Wednesday’s Quick Hits

It is just past 6:30pm on the east coast, the Nationals are up on the San Francisco Giants, and I may actually be awake to see the end.  I guess G.K. Chesterton was right when he said that the most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.  Anyhoo, enough about my old-man struggles at the tender age of 33.  Let’s roll out a Wednesday edition of quick hits:

  • Sure, Madison Bumgarner throttled the Nats lineup last night, and Brandon Belt did most of the damage at the plate.  But like Harry Reid, facts be damned. I knew given how well Washington has been playing, the Giants must have been cheating.  And well, what do we have here: Giants OF Cabrera suspended for positive drug test.  Amateur hour at the comedy club aside, this news shouldn’t really come as a complete shock to any baseball fan.  The fact that Melky Cabrera, Melky Cabrera was being talked about as a possible National League MVP candidate, on the heels of last year’s breakout season that also came out of the blue, should have been so brazen a sign that even a Kardashian would have blushed using it.  I guess it is just as true today as it has always been.  If it is too good to be true, it probably is.
  • I know.  Just what you want to read more about.  Stephen Strasburg and the great innings watch.  Please God let me read more about what Kate Middleton (erm, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) wore to the closing ceremonies of the Olympics!  Anything but Strasburg and pitch counts!  But I must.  From Will Carroll of SI.com, a writer I respect a lot for his coverage of medical issues, comes this great little blurb: Strasburg plan little better than educated guess. And again, the money quote:

All in all, lowered innings totals don’t automatically equal health, and similar pitchers have gone more innings without apparent issue. Without the benefit of data, the Nats (and the rest of these teams) are guessing. That’s not good enough.

Okay.  I’m done with beating the supposed dying arm of Strasburg.  Well, at least for tonight.

  • Oh, and I just finished watching Felix Hernandez pitch a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays.  Don’t worry, I’ve got the Nats on my computer.  Back to King Felix.  On days like today, he sure does wear that nickname well.  However, is it just me, or do the Rays seem to get a no-hit every two months?

Okay Sean Burnett.  Back-to-back hits allowed to the Giants in the bottom of the eighth.  Interesting strategy to hold on to the Nats four-run lead.  Like the Pence ground out.  More conventional.  I guess this is my sign to wrap this column up.

Pseudoscience & Stephen Strasburg

Fantastic column from Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports on the decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg next month:

Stephen Strasburg’s innings limit is not rooted in science, but Nationals believe it’s prudent

And for what it is worth, here is my take-away quote from the piece:

The most fascinating part of the Nationals plan to shut down Strasburg is that in spite of not knowing, they don’t care, either. The Nationals are potentially jeopardizing their fantastic 2012 season to do something that they have absolutely no idea will protect his arm from further damage. Rizzo has cited advice from medical experts, but in reality he’s hearing what’s convenient for him to hear, unless the Nationals know something the rest of the baseball world doesn’t.

I understand Mike Rizzo and the Nationals are in the position they are in because of the wrapped in a nappy environment pitchers have been raised in the last 20 years.  But perhaps even more dangerous than the assumption that shutting Strasburg down will protect him from future injury is the foolish belief that today’s wonderful success will necessarily translate to tomorrow and beyond.  A typical comment on the Strasburg dilemma I have come across scanning the blogs and message boards:

nats24
2:06 AM EDT

Nats fans have to get used to this: Stras will not be pitching in playoffs that, it looks increasingly likely the team will be in.
I look at it this way: If the Nats win it all without him, look out in ’14. A Washington dynasty? I like it.

Dynasty?  I would be as happy as a fat kid in a candy store if that were to be the case.  But we live in a dynamic world, where the game of baseball is played by fallible humans, and not widgets which can produce just the same tomorrow as they do today.  Sure, the lineup could continue to surge, and Jordan, Gio, Edwin (if he returns), Ross, and yes, Stephen, could pitch just as well next year and heck, maybe even better.  But maybe they won’t.  And I don’t want the Nationals to look back in 2017 without a World Series ring saying, “2012.  What might have been.”

Résumé Review

Quick.  Tell me who Player A is and who Player B is:

G W L ERA WHIP BAA
Player A 11 1 0 2.57 1.43 0.192
Player B 15 0 0 6.00 1.47 0.224

Would you guess that Player A is Tyler Clippard, post-All-Star break, and Player B is Drew Storen, post-All-Star break?  If you are a die-hard Nationals fan, dollars to doughnuts, yes.  Perhaps to a more casual fan, the selective exclusion of stats like saves and innings pitched may have obscured the identities.  Anyhoo, the point of this blind résumé review is not to suggest that Tyler Clippard’s days as the closer of the Nats are numbered, or that they should be.  Just to highlight that the margin for error is not quite as spacious as it once was.

Tyler hit a bit of rough patch in July, sporting a 5.79 ERA (three consecutive appearances in mid-July accounted for most of the damage and both of his blown saves for the month), and while the August ERA has been better (3.60), a surging walk-rate and morbidly obese 6.13 xFIP (regressed, expected ERA independent of fielding) suggest that Clipp should consider himself fortunate to have blown only one of his save opportunities.  And if you don’t like numbers, you only have to peer down a inch or two for visual evidence (praise Roger!).

It should be noted that peering under the hood at Storen’s numbers does reveal a little leaking oil coming from the recently repaired luxury sedan, though with the caveat that we are looking at things only after seven innings of work.  Drew’s walk rate of 6.43 BB/9 equals his k/9 rate, and that is not good.  And his xFIP sits at an ugly 5.27.  Plus, just watching him, he has hung some pitches that deserved far worse fates then they received (thank you baseball gods!).

So, what to take away from all this number crunching?  The pessimist would say that the Nationals have gotten lucky, that with their closer and former closer turned primary setup man struggling so much, they are fortunate to have only blown three saves.  And while there is perhaps a kernel of truth in that thought, the optimist (that would be me!) would counter by saying that you can’t forecast a gloomy future on the basis that it should have been ugly yesterday but it wasn’t, so it must be tomorrow.  That is, the historical performances of both Tyler and Drew, and their skill sets, are the controlling factors for how today, tomorrow, and the rest of the season will play out.  On the basis of those factors, the Nats should actually get much better play from both pitchers.  And if that is the case, it may not matter which résumé Davey Johnson pulls for his closer position.  Both will be outstanding and more than fulfill the requirements of the position.

It was sensational

Davey Johnson provided the headline to last night’s 3-2 victory extra innings over the Houston Astros.  The video of Roger Bernadina’s spectacular game-saving catch fills in the rest of the story:

Roger.  Over and out.

July’s MESPYs

Sometimes, the writing business is hard.  But when difficulty and despair creep in, I remember the fans, or more accurately, the fan who calls out for July’s edition of the MESPY (Matt’s Excellence in Self-Promotion Yada Yada) Awards.  Sniff.  That’s what makes it all worth while.

AL MVP:  Mike Trout.  Somewhere, Tim Salmon is crying, realizing the gig is up as the top fish to ever play for the Angels.  Trout put up a monster July, hitting .392 with 10 home runs, 32 runs scored (32!), 23 RBIs, and 9 stolen bases, just because he can.  His 2.8 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) was 33 percent better than the next highest in July, Ryan Zimmerman’s 2.1 WAR.

AL CY Young:  David Price.  WAR will tell you that Felix Hernandez had the edge, but that was due in large part to King Felix having one additional start.  Take that away, and the Price was Right snitches!

AL Rookie of the Month:  Trout.  I knew fish was brain food but I didn’t realize it made thinking this easy.

NL MVP:  Ryan Zimmerman.  Andrew McCutchen must be starting to feel like the Susan Lucci of the MESPY awards at this point, but Zimm edged the Dread Pirate in home runs, runs, and RBIs.  Also, McCutchen’s surprising total of zero stolen bases and Zimm’s edge in defensive metrics pushed Ryan over the top in WAR, 2.1 to 2.0.

NL CY Young:  Jordan Zimmermann.  After the July JZ had, I can’t help but wonder if the other Jaz-Z wrote A Star is Born about Zimm:

And I am one, of one

Can’t you see just how long my run?

NL Rookie of the Month:  It would be a real dogfight between Michael Fiers of the Brewers and Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs (both 1.0 WAR), if it weren’t for Rizzo accumulating 153 at-bats last season with the Padres.  According to those fun-busters at MLB, that’s 23 too many to be considered a rookie.  Sigh.

Nationals’ MVP:  Ryan Zimmerman.  I guess I was talking about Zimm’s monster July around the office so much I shouldn’t have been surprised when I overheard management discussing whether cortisone shots would increase audit productivity.

Nationals’ CY Young:  Jordan Zimmermann.  Six starts.  Six quality starts, with four wins banked.  All he does is throw darts, though his xFIP (3.12) in July does leave some room for an upward ERA correction (.97 ERA in July).

Nationals’ Rookie of the Month:  Steve Lombardozzi.  No Nats rookie really shined in July, with Lombardozzi pacing all rookies with a 0.3 WAR.  But with Ian Desmond going down, Lombard has swung a nice bat and picked it on a pretty consistent basis.  I can think of far worse things.  Like being the sap donning the Teddy Roosevelt costume everyday, running around in a thousand-degree heat, never winning the Presidents race.  Yeah, that would make me hot and bitter.  Hot and bitter.

And that’s all folks!

They Keep Rolling Along

That’s what the Marlins broadcasters said at the end of this afternoon’s 4-1 victory over Miami, after Stephen Strasburg spun six strong shutout innings in leading the Nationals to a series victory.  Oh, and because the swordfish, and not the diva marlin, is his favorite large saltwater fish, he threw in a two-run single for kicks and giggles.  Keep rolling along!

Game ball(s):  Strasburg.  After his two-RBI single in the bottom of the second, Carlos Lee was overheard saying to Stephen at first, “.363.  You’re batting .363?  I tell all the ladies I weigh 363.  Sigh.”

Goat(s):  Ricky Nolasco.  Stat-heads (and yes, I am oftentimes one) have said for years that Nolasco is a better pitcher than his numbers have shown.  He has gotten unlucky, they say.  Well, either God has a sick sense of humor, or it is just the case that Nolasco is just not that good of a pitcher.  When reached for comment, God said, “Nolasco pitches.  I laugh.”

Bryce Harper is still only 19:  Drew Storen.  With Tyler Clippard needing a day off after making appearances the last three days, Storen came in with a three-run lead and shut the door on his first save of the season.  He hung a few pitches, but all in all, looked pretty good for only his ninth game of the season.

Current Record:  65-43

Comeback

No, that’s not the title to the blog post announcing that I’m finally getting back to covering the National’s run towards the playoffs.  And I really mean it this time.  No, that’s what the Nats pulled off last night against the Miami Marlins, after a sloppy start put Washington behind the eight ball.

Trailing 6-4 with one out in the bottom of the eighth, thankfully, the Marlins continued their second-half spectacular implosion, with Mike Dunn botching Carlos Lee’s toss on Adam LaRoche’s sure ground-out.  So, instead of two outs with no one on, Dunn proceeded to walk Jayson Werth to put two on with only one out, thus limiting the harm that came when newly-acquired Kurt Suzuki then struck out.  Four consecutive hits, including home runs by Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper then totaled six unearned runs for Washington, flipping the scoreboard to a much more attractive 10-6 lead.  Tyler Clippard would cough up a harmless run in the top of the ninth to secure the victory, and with it, the Nats were able to stretch their lead in the NL East over the Atlanta Braves to three games.

Game ball(s):  LaRoche.  Ho, hum.  I guess Adam got bored with just hitting one home run a game, so he went all Doublemint on the Marlins.  Last four games:  8 for 16, 4 home runs, 7 RBIs, and 6 runs scored.  This is just what Adam does.  He gets crazy hot for stretches.  Good thing his current stretch has been the entire second half so far.

Goat(s):  Dunn.  I love when pitchers with a 1.63 WHIP come into a game.  You bring the WHIP, you get the WHIP.

Bryce Harper is still only 19:  Espinosa.  He is still only 25, which has its ups (three-run home run to push the Nats into the lead) and downs (two costly errors that led to three runs).  I worry about how that will play come the playoffs, but then again, you could say that about a number of Nats come October.  I’m sorry.   I’m an auditor.  I breathe and I worry.

Current Record:  64-43

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