Archive for July, 2009

Marlins Reel in Johnson

Friday, July 31st, 2009

The Washington Nationals traded first baseman Nick Johnson to the Florida Marlins for Double-A lefty pitcher Aaron Thompson. RotoTimes had this to say about the swap: “The Marlins get the high OBP they were searching for in Johnson and the Nats get a lefty who could fit into their starting rotation in the near future. Next year is probably a safer bet, but he may get an audition when the rosters expand in September. We’re talking about the Nationals here, so you never know.” That sounds about right: the Marlins needed an on-base guy at first, while the Nats felt they needed to continue to develop pitchers. There’s a lot of upside to Thompson: a low walk-to-strikeouts ratio with a low-90s fastball complemented by a deceptive change-up. Marlins’ reporters who have seen Thompson pitch say that he’s a pop-up pitcher, with a fastball that rises in the strike zone. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we don’t know — developing pitchers is an art form, with no guarantees of success. Then too, “can’t miss pitchers” often miss. But then, Thompson is not a can’t miss pitcher. He’s a work in progress.

Marlins Cardinals Spring Baseball

In many respects, Thompson is a typical Nats’ pitching acquisition: he’s a young and unformed hurler (22), but with plus-plus command. Interim-GM Mike Rizzo and pitching coach Steve McCatty like pitchers who “attack the strike zone” as they say, and Thompson does that effectively. He was rated the seventh best prospect in the Marlins’ system by Baseball Prospectus. He was a first round draft choice of the Marlins in 2005. In a perfect world, Baseball Prospectus says, he becomes “a solid but unspectacular left-handed starter.” The Nats reportedly wanted Florida to add pitcher Ryan Tucker to the deal, but the Marlins thought the price was too high. Thompson has been pitching at Double-A Jacksonville. A detailed study of his record shows that he gets hit (114 innings, 120 hits), but that he doesn’t give up the long-ball (seven in twenty games). 

There’s an argument to be made that the Nats could have done better – but Johnson’s contract was up at the end of the season. The Nats had the option of re-signing Johnson, but the team front office had to be concerned about his history of injuries. Seeing Johnson go down now, without anything as compensation, would have brought howls of we-told-you-so’s from Nats’ fans. That said, Johnson could be back in the off-season. Johnson likes Washington, was a strong clubhouse presence and had been with the franchise for the last five years — making the move with the team from Montreal to D.C. between the 2004 and 2005 season. Mike Rizzo admitted today that the team and Johnson had had talks about a contract extension, but couldn’t get anything done before the trade deadline.

Where Have You Gone, Joe Beimel? To Colorado actually, for two minor leaguers. The trade of Beimel is not a surprise, that he went to the Purples is. Beimel was rumored to be headed to the Dodgers and then the Cubs, both of whom were looking for left handed relievers. But Colorado was interested too, and the deal was finalized just prior to the 4 p.m. trading deadline. Colorado gave up minor league pitching prospects Ryan Mattheus and Robinson Fabian. Nationals Journal had this to say about the two: “Mattheus, 25, was among Colorado’s top prospects entering the season, but he recently tore ligaments in his elbow, and had reconstructive surgery earlier this month. Fabian, 23, had a 3-6 record and a 6.24 ERA with Class A Asheville at the time of the trade. Both Mattheus and Fabian are relief pitchers.” Mike Rizzo admitted that bringing the two aboard was a “roll of the dice.”

Improving By Standing Still?

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

The Washington Nationals win streak was snapped at four games in Milwaukee last night, as the Anacostia Boys lost to the Brewers 7-5. It looked like the same-old-same-old for the Nats when starter Garrett Mock began to fall apart in the third. The Nationals failed to hold a comfortable 4-0 lead. Even the otherwise steady Tyler Clippard was unable to get the middle of the Brewers’ order out; Clippard gave up two runs in a little over one inning of work. The game was marked by a third inning mini-controversy, when Brewer slugger Ryan Braun powered a ball to centerfield that Nyjer Morgan just missed. The ball was initially ruled a home run but, after review, was adjudged an RBI triple. “It was the fight call,” Morgan said after the game. We’re so used to seeing Morgan’s astounding catches that his miss came almost as a surprise. But Nats fans still can’t say enough about the guy: he’s seven-for-fifteen in the Milwaukee series.

Nationals Brewers Baseball

Pitcher Julian Tavarez and outfielder Corey Patterson cleared waivers on Wednesday. Patterson might be of some interest to the Yankees, where he would be a back-up to centerfielder Brett Gardner, according to the New York Post. Patterson’s career has taken a nose-dive over the last several years. A highly touted prospect with the Cubs, Patterson continues to struggle at the plate. He was given what amounted to a cup of coffee with the Nationals this year, despite his speed and defensive abilities. The Nats’ front office did not view Patterson as the solution in center, and they were right. Tavarez remains confident that another team will sign him, but after nearly seventeen years in the majors, Tavarez is a known quantity — bad news for him. His time might be up.

The NL Least: The lack of trade talk in the NL East (outside of Philadelphia, of course) is astonishing. The Phuzzie’s quest for Roy Halladay — and their eventual trade for former Cy Young and Cleveland mainstay Cliff Lee — has seemingly taken all of the oxygen out of the rest of the division’s desire to compete for the NL East title. While the Chokes continue to search for a lefthanded reliever, the Mets’ front office has said they won’t give up a high prospect to do so. The report of the Mets’ search for another reliever comes as somewhat of a surprise — the New York nine will have to do a lot more than shore up their bullpen to compete with the Phuzzies . . . The silence out of Miami was broken by Peter Gammons, who reported that the Phish are making inquiries about Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell. Nothing seems imminent, but don’t be surprised (knowing the Phish front office), if Dan Uggla and Cody Ross are moved. Asking for a raise in Miami is the same as asking for a ticket out of town . . .

That leave the Chops who (like the Mets) are looking for some help in the bullpen. They’ve made inquiries about Oakland A’s reliever Michael Wuertz, but otherwise seem satisfied with what they have. That would stand to reason: the Braves outfield has been revamped over the last month, with the acquisition of Nate McLouth and Ryan Church. Tommy Hanson is now a part of a solid rotation: of Jair Jurrjens, Kenshin Kawakami, Derek Lowe and Jaiver Vazquez. That’s as impressive a front five as there is in baseball, at least on paper. And that’s the problem — when the Braves study the bottom line they are 12-10 since July 4. That’s simply not good enough to compete with the Phuzzies . . .

Like the Chokes, Chops and Phish, the Nats have also gone silent — under the apparent belief that their most recent run of victories says good things about the future. That’s the view of Jim Riggleman, who says he doesn’t see any big trade coming. The Nats have won six of their last eight and their young pitchers are throwing well. Then too, it’s hard to imagine what the team could get for Josh Willingham that could serve as a replacement for one of the league’s hottest hitters. You have to believe that Mike Rizzo would have to be overwhelmed with an offer to part with Willingham, Dunn or even Nick Johnson. And it’s true. The Nats have been improving by standing still, at least so far. But it’s hard to ignore the obvious: there’s a gaping hole at second base that can’t be filled by what they have.

Nats Sting Brewers (Again)

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Nyjer Morgan led off Tuesday’s game with a home run and the Nats then added two more (on round-trippers by Adam Dunn and Cristian Guzman) to take the second of four games from the Milwaukee Brewers, 8-2. Morgan continues to swing the hot bat — despite predictions that he will eventually cool off. Morgan seems to have found his role in Washington: an overachieving sparkplug on an underachieving team, playing in a position usually reserved for power hitters and superstars. Collin Balester pitched well, if not spectacularly, to take the win: six complete innings with five hits, no walks and three strikeouts. Balester’s outing now seems standard for Nats’ starters: low strikeouts but few walks with fastballs in the low 90s. Jason Bergman, Logan Kensing and Ron Vallone went the rest of the way, holding the beer makers to just one hit over three innings. The win is the Nats fourth in a row.

Chico Harlan over at Nationals Journal gives a rundown of what the Nats might or might not do with a little over 24 hours to go until the trade deadline. The front line of Willingham, Dunn and Johnson are hitting well in July and the team is performing — and with the McCoveys and Red Sox having traded for a first baseman, the market for Nick Johnson may be dry. Harlan has published an interesting exchange with reliever Joe Beimel, who praises Jim Riggleman for instilling a new work ethic in the clubhouse. “It’s been fun coming to the field the last couple weeks,” Beimel said. “Since Riggleman took over, I think you’ve seen an attitude change in the clubhouse. Guys recognize they have to come in early and do work to get better, and they’ve been doing that. It’s been actually pretty fun. It’s been fun to come here, be in every game, and even win a few.” Beimel is rumored to be on the radar of the North Side Drama Queens, who are in talks with the Ahoys about reliever John Grabow. If the Cubs don’t get Grabow, they may work hard to get Beimel, who’s been solid out of the pen for the Nats. Wouldn’t it be nice for Mike Rizzo to get someone who could fill-in up the middle (and push the badly slumping Alberto Gonzalez)? Someone like say . . . Mike Fontenot, who is now being platooned with newly acquired Jeff Baker. Truth is, the Cubs would never part with him for Beimel, and Lou loves Fontenot, despite the former LSU star’s struggles at the plate.

Is Joe Headed to the Cubs?

Is Joe Headed to the Cubs?

A Rose By Any Other Name: During the Nats’ series with the Mets, MASN analyst Rob Dibble referred to a heater that fooled a Chokes’ batter as a “Blue Bayou.” As in — “that one blew by you.” I immediately sprinted to that handy tome on baseball phrases, but couldn’t locate Dibble’s reference. It wasn’t there. ‘Aha,’ I thought. ‘A crack in the otherwise rock solid ediface of Dickson baseball expertise.’ I wrote to the author yesterday (now officially promoted to the position of “droog”) to issue a soft comeuppance. The author informed me that a “Blue Bayou” (fastball) is referenced in his dictionary as a “Linda Ronstadt” — who sang, ah, “Blue Bayou.” Paul then referenced a “Peggy Lee fastball” – “Is that all there is?” The “Peggy Lee” was the specialty of Tug McGraw, who threw his heater and then took about 10 mph off of it . . . But having promoted Paul I am now going to demote him (from “droog” to just plain old “friend”) for reminding me that my reference to a “Bugs Bunny change-up” in a previous post was incorrect. It is not “Bugs” who swings at the pitch, but who delivers it. Well, okay. But I don’t count that as a strikeout; it’s more like a pop-up. So now, lemmeaskya, how many other baseball blogs can boast a pic of Linda Ronstadt?

Linda

Down On Half Street: Cole Hamels appears to be all the way back. The former dominant lefty faced off against the Showboats’ Dan Heren last night and, with the help of an umping call on a scorcher down the rightfield line (which should have been called foul), tamed the D-Backs. Hamels’ went eight innings and gave up only four hits . . . The Cubs and Astros have been hit by a series of unforseen injuries. Cubs’ starter Ted Lilly is on the DL after having knee surgery and “Stros” stopper Roy Oswalt tweaked his back during the Houston nine’s win against the Slugs . . . Mark Buehrle continues to dominate. Last night he set a major league record for consecutive outs — with 45 — shattering the record held by teammate Bobby Jenks and former San Francisco starter and reliever Jim Barr. While his statistics don’t show it, Barr was one hell of a pitcher. For a time in the early 1970s, his control was among the best in baseball. I remember watching him against Pittsburgh in 1973 and was stunned by his pin-point command. I could have sworn, then, that he would develop into the best pitcher in the game. It was not to be. Barr’s best year was 1974; he was 13-9 and threw eleven complete games and five shutouts. Barr developed arm problems in 1980 and was out of baseball in 1983. He has been pitching coach with the Sacramento State University Hornets since 1995.

Josh Hammers Brewers

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Josh Willingham’s two grand slam home runs powered the Washington Nationals to a 14-6 rout of the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on Monday night. Willingham became the 14th player in major league history to hit two grand slams in a single game. The first Willingham blast was hit in the fifth, the second in the sixth. Ryan Zimmerman added one of his own (his 18th), in the eighth. The rap against Willingham is that while he has shown power, he usually homers with no one on base; presumably that rap will be forgotten after his impressive display in Milwaukee. The first recorded double grand slam game, according to major league baseball, took place in 1936, the last occurred in 2003 –when Bill Mueller hit two for the Red Sox.

You have to believe that the Nats’ were happy to come away from tonight’s contest with a win — Craig Stammen proved ineffective in four-and-two-thirds innings of work: he gave up nine hits and five earned runs before being relieved by Jason Bergman, who pitched to six batters and gave up two hits. Sean Burnett and Logan Kensing closed out the game without giving up a run. Burnett lowered his ERA to 2.53. Nyjer Morgan’s three-for-five night pushed him over the .300 mark; he is now hitting .303 and has become the club’s everyday centerfielder. Rightfully so: since joining the Nats, Morgan has hit .388.

Willingham standard

Willingham was not the only player to hit a grand slam tonight. Fernando Tatis hit a grand slam in the New York Mets 7-3 win against the Rockies. It was the New Yorker’s third win in a row; and Chicago Cubs’ left fielder Alfonso Soriano hit a walk-off grand slam homer against the Astros in Wrigley Field. The Soriano homer gave the streaking Cubs a 5-1 win over division rivals Houston . . . The Cubs need all the wins they can get, now that St. Louis has solidified the middle of its line-up with the addition of Matt Holliday, who is hitting like he’s happy to be back in the National League. Holliday’s arrival, coupled with the return of Mark DeRosa from the DL and the addition of Red Sox castoff Julio Lugo gives the “new look Cardinals” one of the toughest line-ups in the NL. The Cardinals look like they can beat anyone — except the Phillies of course: this last weekend the Redbirds lost two of three to the Phuzzies, and were outscored 24-16 . . . The only thing the Cubs, Cards and suddenly mortal Trolleys need is for Philadelphia to get another pitcher. And they might — they’re still the lead team in the hunt for Blue Jay ace Roy Halladay. If the Phillies land Halladay, the Cards can start waving white flags from the top of Busch Stadium . . .

On a day of great hitting, Tim Lincecum pitched a complete game, striking out fifteen while giving up only four hits against the Ahoys. The fifteen strike outs tied a franchise record held by Gaylord Perry. Lincecum is now 11-3 with a 2.30 ERA . . . The Giants are agog over landing Cleveland Indians’ Ryan Garko, a player they say they “coveted.” Really? It’s possible to “covet” Matt Holliday or Roy Halladay . . . but . . . Not that it was a bad deal: Garko is hitting .285 with eleven home runs. The Giants needed a bat and gave up relatively little to get a good one. Still, Garko is no Matt Holliday (whom the Redbirds, rightly, “coveted”) and you have to believe the Giants will need an even bigger bat to compete for the wild card. The Giants just lost two of three to the Rockies — their competition in the NL West. They’re now nine games behind the Dodgers and one game behind those same Rockies in the wild card . . . that said, the Giants’ acquisition of Garko plugs the hole they had at first base, which means it’s unlikely they will pony up for Nick Johnson, whose price was likely much steeper than the one they paid for Garko . . .

Kearns Clutch In Nats’ Win

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Austin Kearns’ tenth inning rightfield gapper scored Nyjer Morgan from second and the Washington Nationals sealed a two of three series victory over the San Diego Padres at Nationals Park on Sunday. Kearns, who has been struggling all year, was mobbed by his teammates after the victory and was emotional, if soft-spoken, in a MASN post-game interview. Lefty John Lannan was brilliant through eight innings of five hit baseball, but the Nationals could not hold the lead, as closer Mike MacDougal gave up the tying run in the bottom of the ninth. Lannan was the Nats’ star, even to the point of outhitting his teammates — no one in the line-up was able to register more than one hit, excepting the lefty hurler, who recorded two. Lannan must now be considered one of the premier lefthanded pitchers in the NL: he threw 81 pitches, 59 for strikes in attempting to notch his eighth win. With the GWRBI, Kearns raised his season batting average to .201. Kearns was brought into right field as a defensive replacement by Nats interim-manager Jim Riggleman in the ninth.

Kearns Mobbed At Nats Park Sunday

Kearns Mobbed At Nats Park Sunday

 Down On Half Street: The Nats travel to Milwaukee for four against the Brewers, who are 7-14 in July while attempting to claw their way to the top of the NL Central standings. There’s no doubt the Beer Makers can hit, the question is whether their starting pitching can stand up over the stretch run. Yovani Gallardo, Jeff Suppan, Braden Looper and Manny Parra (6.42) have been struggling, though the best among them (Gallardo) sports a 3.09 ERA . . . Anderson Hernandez was a surprise starter for the Nats at second on Sunday, perhaps a purposeful vote of confidence from Jim Riggleman after Washington Post reporter Bill Orem reported that Riggleman had said that Hernandez was not the team’s future at second base. “We’ve kind of come to the conclusion, whether we’re right or wrong, that Anderson is best going to help this organization as a utility player,” Riggleman told Orem . . .

Nats first baseman Dmitri Young tore his left quad in a game at Harrisburg on July 18, Nationals Journal is reporting, and “is likely finished as a Nat” . . . In what was probably Roy Halladay’s last start in Toronto, on Friday, the Blue Jays drew 24,161 fans. The Blue Jays were playing Tampa Bay. That same day, the worst team in baseball (that would be the Nats) drew only 3,000 fewer. They were playing the Padres, the second worst team in the National League. Earlier this year, Baseball Tonight’s Tim Kurkjian questioned whether Washington could support a major league franchise. Do you suppose Tim will ask the same question about Toronto? After all, the Nats are outdrawing the Blue Jays, who are three games under .500. The Nats, meanwhile, are 39 games under .500 . . . First round draft pick Drew Storen is burning up the minor leagues and has been promoted from low-A Hagerstown to high-A Potomac . . .

The Jim Rice “Ceasefire”

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

There are plenty of priceless stories about Ricky Henderson — the fact that he refers to himself in the third person, that he once unblinkingly described himself as “the greatest” (via the public address system, no less), that he failed to cash a $1 million bonus check — but far fewer about Bosox great Jim Rice. Rice waited fifteen years to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a fact that fans of “the Nation” view as one of baseball’s great injustices. But there are two reasons for the postponement: Rice’s career is “right on the Cooperstown borderline,” baseball reporter Larry Stone says, and the former Red Sox outfielder had a moody relationship with baseball reporters — and with fans. “Privacy is important to everyone,” Rice once said. ” People say that you owe the public this or that. You don’t owe the public anything.” Rice’s most notorious temper tantrum is legendary: he engaged in a shoving match with Red Sox manager Joe “Walpole Joe” Morgan in 1988, after Morgan sent Spike Owen to the plate to pinch hit for him. The incident outraged even Bosox fans, who had grown tired of Rice’s devolution as a hitter — a .264 batting average in 1988, with just fifteen home runs.

JR

Rice’s election to the hall after a fifteen year wait revived all of the controversy surrounding the Red Sox left fielder, a lot of which is reflected in an often-angry exchange of claims by his least sympathetic supporters — those who write about the game — with those who view him as one of his era’s most feared hitters. 

“Rice, lauded for his power production, in reality was only average in this department,” an outspoken critic writes. “His meager .502 slugging percentage, .854 OPS, and 128 OPS+ testify to this assessment much more accurately than the remembrance of those who saw him in action. Sure, his 1,451 career RBI total is very good total – 56th all time – but even that number leaves him well short of deservedly snubbed Hall candidates Andre Dawson (1591) and Harold Baines (1628) and 15 short of non-Hall of Famer Rusy Staub, who also had a higher OBP than Rice in a dominate pitchers era.” Other writers jump to Rice’s defense, baldly reminding readers of Boston’s racial history. “Listen closely to the stories you will hear from many of those who were there about Rice being surly and one of the nastiest SOB’s anyone has ever met,” baseball writer Ed Berliner opines. “The honest stories will also tell of how baseball beat reporters back then hammered Rice into a corner and made his life as miserable as they could. And how there was no doubt in the minds of many bigotry was at the core of many a comment and many a story line.”

Most recently alot of these arguments have been put aside — not only because of Rice’s new found openness with reporters, but also because those who follow “the Nation” are now retailing Rice’s more selfless, if less well-known, side. A kind of Jim Rice ceasefire is taking place. During a press conference in Cooperstown, Rice downplayed his poor relationship with the press: “That’s over with,” he said. “I don’t wonder about that.” In Boston, meanwhile, baseball writers are busy reminding their readers of Rice’s best moments — like the time he went into the stands and grabbed a boy hit by a foul ball. “He scooped up the injured boy, carried him into the dugout, up the runway and into the clubhouse. Doctors arrived, and soon the little fellow was on his way to the hospital,” Boston Herald reporter Steve Buckley writes. “That’s the story that gets placed into evidence as People’s Exhibit A whenever there is any discussion or debate about Jim Rice’s everyman quality. Indeed, it could rightly be called the biggest play of Rice’s brilliant 16-year career in the majors.”

The debate over Rice’s qualifications for the hall will inevitably fade — he’s there. As will the controversy over his relationship with the fans who, despite his rocky relationship with the Boston media, turned out in droves to see him play those caroms off the green monster. “He played it like he built it,” one Red Sox fan proudly notes. Then too, there’s this: the people who reportedly liked him the least are the people who decided that, in spite of all the controversy, Jim Rice deserved a plaque in Cooperstown.

Nats Slam Padres

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Adam Dunn’s grand slam home run in the bottom of the second inning — and Tyler Clippard’s dominant four innings of relief work — powered the Washington Nationals to a 13-1 victory over the San Diego Padres at Nationals Park on a wet Saturday night. The game was suspended for more than three hours due to rain, resuming at just after 11 p.m.  and finishing just over two hours later. Dunn’s slam came after Ryan Zimmerman had homered in the first against Padres’ starter Tim Stauffer. San Diego pitching provided a Nats’ smorgasbord: Nyjer Morgan was 4 for five, Cristian Guzman was 3 for 5, Ryan Zimmerman was 3 for 5 and Josh Willingham was 2 for four. Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman accounted for eight of the Nationals’ thirteen runs.

Padres Nationals Baseball

Nats’ reliever Tyler Clippard was impressive in four innings of work, striking out seven Friars — a Nats record for a reliever. Clippard’s outing lowered his ERA to 1.93. Clippard, who has spent his career up to this year as a starter, has thrived as a reliever since being recalled from triple-A Syracuse. “I’m a guy that needs to beat you with all of my pitches,” Clippard acknowledged recently. “Coming out of the bullpen with four pitches, I feel hitters don’t see that a lot. I went on the mound knowing that, and I had a lot of confidence.” Clippard used all of his pitches against the Padres on Saturday night: he threw 56 pitches (37 for strikes), while giving up only one hit and walking one. Clippard has gained confidence in his fastball, throwing it on pitchers’ counts. Padres’ batters couldn’t catch up to his 96 mph heater; the former Yankee prospect registered five flyballs or pop-ups in addition to the seven strikeouts.

Tyler Clippard

Friars Sizzle Nats

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

The San Diego Padres capitalized on four Washington Nationals’ errors Friday night to take the first of a three-game set from our Anacostia Boys, 6-2. After taking two of three from the Mets, the Nats reverted to the sloppy defense that had characterized the first part of their season: two errant throws to first base, a dropped pop-up in foul territory and the misplay of a rolling double in the left field corner. That’s one error on Garrett Mock, one on Jason Bergman, one error on catcher Josh Bard and one on left fielder Adam Dunn. “It was just a bad effort,” interim Manager Jim Riggleman said after the game.

Trade Winds: The St. Louis Cardinals got their man, trading three prospects to the Oakland A’s for outfielder Matt Holliday. The key to the trade for Oakland was the acquistion of third baseman Brett Wallace, who may eventually end up at first for the white elephants. The former Rockie, Holliday paid immediate dividends for the Redbirds, going four for five with one RBI in the Cardinals 8-1 win over the Phillies. Beset by uncertainty over their own financial situation — and with ownership of the ballclub undetermined — the Cubs will have difficulty matching the Cardinals’ upgrade. The Holliday trade reflects the kind of mid-season moves that both the Cards and Cubs are noted for: needing a big bat in May of last year, the Cubs signed free agent Jim Edmonds — a move that fueled their run to the NL Central flag. This year, it’s the Astros who need the bat, particularly after it was announced that Astros’ first baseman Lance Berkman was being sent to the DL for a calf strain.

 

New Redbird Matt Holliday Went 4-5 Friday (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)

New Redbird Matt Holliday Went 4-5 Friday (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)

The news in the NL Central will have an immediate impact on the Nats: it effectively takes the Cardinals out of the running for Adam Dunn (whose availability they reportedly inquired about this last week), while Berkman’s injury puts Nick Johnson on the table for the Astros. Houston called up Edwin Maysonet from triple-A Round Rock to take Berkman’s place, but he’s not the answer at first. The regular first base backup is Darin Erstad, but he’s also injured. Johnson seems a perfect fit for the Astros, with his high OBP and good glove. Astros’ players say they will “step up” to replace Berkman, but it will be difficult to replicate his numbers. “I’ll just say Lance, being honest and sincere, is a piece of our team that is going to be difficult to replace,” Astros’ outfielder Carlos Lee, who leads the team in RBIs, said. “The quality of player and what he means to this lineup, it’s going to be difficult to replace Lance. I think we’ll have to get it together and carry all the weight.”

Trade rumors involving Nationals’ players have escalated over the last week: the Phillies are said to be interested in Josh Willingham, the Tigers in Willingham and Dunn and, most recently, the Rangers have reportedly sent scouts to look at Nationals’ hitters. The Nats are said to be looking for “prospects” — primarily pitchers. The trade of Willingham to the Phillies becomes less likely if the Phuzzies pony up a handful of their best prospects (and pitcher J.A. Happ) to Toronto for Roy Halladay. And shipping Dunn or Willingham to Detroit (where the Nats are said to be scouting the Tigers’ double-A affiliate) seems perverse — trading players who are actually performing for a bunch of 21-year-olds who might (or might not) turn into major league players. That we got. Then too, a trade of Willingham to either Philly or Detroit means that we will be forced to watch a struggling Austin “Mendoza” Kearns (.198) learn how to hit. A good decision — but only if you want to drive what’s left of your fanbase out of the ballpark.

Can Nats Prey On Friars?

Friday, July 24th, 2009

The San Diego Padres have had a volatile, if often unsuccessful, history. Founded in 1969 as an expansion franchise, “the Friars” spent their first six years in last place, before future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield (22 seasons, 3110 hits, 465 home runs) was signed out of Minnesota as a first round draft choice in 1973. The Padres finished first in the NL West in 1978 and went to the World Series in 1984, where they lost to the Detroit Tigers in five games. Tony Gwynn was just 24 in 1984, but he became the face of the franchise after Winfield was signed by the Yankees. The Winfield-Gwynn “switch off” seems emblamatic of the franchise: the Friars seem always to have one future hall of famer and face-of-the-franchise in tow: in the 1970s it was Winfield, in the 1980s and 1990s it was Gwynn, now it’s San Diego native and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

AG

Padres’ fans will undoubtedly take issue with that description, arguing that the Padres are a successful franchise that is deeply rooted in the San Diego community. That’s true now, but it wasn’t for many years. In 1974, the Padres were on the verge of coming to Washington — baseball card companies had even changed their card design to reflect the move. Instead, the team was sold to McDonald’s mogul Ray Kroc who, the next year, apologized to fans for his teams’ play over the team’s public address system: “I’ve never seen such stupid playing in my life,” he said. Padres’ fans will also point out that the team’s front office has a reputation for savvy trades: landing Gonzalez from Texas in 2006 for minor leaguer Billy Killian and pitchers Adam Eaton (now with Baltimore) and Akinori Otsuka. True enough. But for every Killian-for-Gonzalez trade there is an offsetting and haunting swap: like the 1981 trade that sent superstar Ozzie Smith to St. Louis in exchange for Sixto Lezcano and Gary Templeton. Padres’ fans are also quick to note that perhaps baseball’s best all-time reliever, Trevor Hoffman, was a Friars’ mainstay before moving onto Milwaukee at the beginning of the year. That’s true, but it’s also irrelevant. That was then, this is now.

The 2009 San Diego Padres bear no resemblance to the 1984 NL champs, nor the 1998 Gwynn-Hoffman nine (which lost the series in four to the Yankees) nor even to the 2006 Western Division winners. While the team has gained a cadre of dedicated fans (and committed themselves to San Diego with the building of Petco Park in 2004) last year’s cash-strapped Padres finished the season with 99 losses and have been in rebuilding mode since: attempting to off-load all star pitcher Jake Peavy for prospects and dangling Gonzalez to teams in lieu of paying him added millions when his contract is up in 2010. The club was also victimized by an off-season divorce of primary owner John Moores’ and his wife Rebecca, who fought for custody of their lavish houses — and the Padres. This is the team’s story: not of on-the-field heroes, but off-the-field eccentrics who have been undercapitalized (first owner C. Arnholdt Smith), weird (Ray Kroc), parsimonious (TV producer Tom Werner) and absent (Moores, who rarely attends Padres’ game).

Still, it is hardly the place of Nats’ fans to scoff at such a history. The Padres boast one of the games best pitchers (in Peavy, who is now on the DL) and one of its potential greats (in Gonzalez). An all star pitcher? One of baseball’s potential greats? The Nats have neither. The Nats take on the Padres in a three-game set beginning at Nationals’ Park tonight, with Garrett Mock (0-3) facing off against Matt Latos (0-1). The two teams will face-off again tomorrow (Tim Staufer is scheduled to go against J.D. Martin) and then on Sunday (with Chad Gaudin slated to face John Lannan).

Redbirds Swamp Nats

Friday, July 24th, 2009

The St. Louis Cardinals dominated the Washington Nationals in a rain-shortened contest at Nationals Park. The six inning 4-1 loss snapped the Nats’ two game winning streak in a game that was postponed on May 3. Collin Balester, pitching for the injured Jordan Zimmermann (placed on the 15 day disabled list for precautionary reasons), lasted just three innings before being relieved by a surprisingly ineffective Tyler Clippard. Clippard, who had pitched well in three previous relief appearances, gave up three hits and walked two in two innings, before giving way to Ron Villone. Surprisingly, the Nats outhit the Cardinals, 8-6, but were only able to account for one run before the game was called. The game will go into the books as a six inning St. Louis win. The game was delayed twice, for two hours and forty-six minutes, before being ended. Redbirds’ starter Adam Wainwright posted his eleventh win against six losses.

Rained Out At Nats Park (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Rained Out At Nats Park (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

More On Buehrle’s Masterpiece: MLB Network commentators parsed White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle’s perfect game, estimating that he faced twenty-seven Tampa Bay Rays’ batters in 32 minutes in a game that lasted a total of two hours and three minutes. That means that the Rays were on the field nearly three times as long as the Pale Hose. Buehrle is among the league’s fastest workers on the mound. In Thursday’s game he threw first pitch strikes nearly 70 percent of the time. Normally a flyball pitcher, Buehrle mixed his fastball with his change-up, registering eleven groundouts and ten flyouts. He threw 116 pitches, 76 of them for strikes and faced nine batters, each of them three times. The lefthanded Buehrle was particularly effective in spotting his pitches on the outside half of the plate. The Elias Sports Bureau reports that Buehrle spent less than thirty seconds in retiring eight batters that he faced and spent just two minutes and thirty seconds on only two batters that he faced. Put another way, Buehrle dominated a hot Tampa Bay Rays team that ranks third in the American League in batting average and runs. Almost forgotten in Buehrle’s performance was the fact that the White Sox won, with John Fields plating a grand slam.

MBCWS

“I never thought I’d throw a no-hitter, never thought I’d throw a perfect game and I never thought I’d hit a home run,” Buehrle said. “Never say never in this game because crazy stuff can happen.” Buehrle threw his first no hitter against the Texas Rangers in 2007 and hit a home run against the Brewers in June. Buehrle’s first no hitter against the Rangers was nearly a perfect game: in April of 2007 he pitched to 27 Rangers, but walked Sammy Sosa, whom he then picked off. “I can’t believe I did it,” Buehrle said at the time. “Perfect game would have been nice, too.” Oddly, the 2007 Texas game registered the same game time as the perfect game Buehrle pitched on Thursday — two hours and three minutes. But Thursday’s perfecto would not have registered as “perfect” (or even a no hitter or shutout) if it had not been for Dewayne Wise’s ninth inning over-the-fence grab of a  Gabe Kapler drive. Randy Johnson, then with the Arizona Diamondbacks, pitched the last MLB perfect game, on May 18 2004.

There has been one other perfect game thrown by a White Sox pitcher. On April 30, 1922, slow curveball specialist Charlie Robertson blanked the Detroit Tigers, 2-1, in Detroit. Robertson was the fifth major league pitcher to throw a perfect game and the first to throw one on the road. The Tigers complained to umpires that Robertson, an otherwise ineffective pitcher (he never won more games than he lost) doctored the ball while on the mound. Tiger players insisted on submitting several game balls to the major league front office after Robertson’s masterpiece, claiming they showed evidence of tampering — but the charges were never proved. The Tigers, like the Rays, had a powerful line-up, which included Ty Cobb and Harry Heilman (an outfielder-first baseman and lifetime .342 hitter). Robertson pitched his perfect game in Tiger Stadium (then Navin Field) before it was enclosed by outfield bleachers, with fans along the outfield grass roped off from the field of play. This led to a number of disputed calls, which went in Robertson’s favor. Robertson’s arm was never the same after he threw his perfect game, though he went on to pitch another seven years in the majors. Robertson died in his native Texas at the age of 88.