Archive for the ‘Diamondbacks’ Category
Friday, October 9th, 2009
The Colorado Rockies held off the rallying Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday to take the second game in their five game series, 5-4. The key for the Purples was an unlikely two run homer off the bat of catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who hadn’t had a four base knock since May. Torrealba’s knock was complemented byÂ solid pitching from Rockies’ starter Aaron Cook and bullpen aces Jose Contreras, Matt Belisle, Rafael Betancourt, Franklin Morales and all-world closer Huston StreetÂ (above).Â The Heltons, who won during the regular season by counting on the bats of an unlikely mix ofÂ new heroes, dependedÂ on the bat of yet another unknown newcomer: in this case it was left fielder Carlos “Cargo” Gonzalez. Gonzalez — a former Showboat prospect and a throw-in in the off season Oakland-Colorado Matt Holliday-for-Huston Street trade — spent much of the last two seasons in triple-A, while Denver’s front office waited for him to pan out. Gonzalez got his chance this year, after a series of injuries made room for him in the Colorado outfield. On Thursday, the fleet Venezuelan went 3-5 to spark the otherwise sleepy Rockies’ line up.
When the Oakland A’s got Matt Holliday from the Colorado Rockies in the Huston Street trade back in November of 2008, they thought their search for a big bat was over: the Stillwater, Oklahoma native was a three time all star and three time silver slugger and he’d been named the 2007 World Series MVP. But Holliday didn’t seem to fit in in Oakland (he hit an otherwise anemic .286 with 11 home runs in 93 games), andÂ on July 24, 2009 Oakland A’sÂ guru Billy Beane swappedÂ him to St. Louis for three top prospects: Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson. In St. Louis, Holliday toreÂ the cover off the ball — hitting .353 with 13 home runs in justÂ 63 games, and propelling the Redbirds into the post season. He was just what Tony La Russa ordered.
Holliday’s post season experience gave St. Louis the confidence they needed against L.A. With Albert Pujols and Holliday in the middle of their order and Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright their big guns as starters, St. Louis was set to head into L.A. to face Joe Torre’s big bats. L.A. took the first game, with a surprisingly shaky outing by Carpenter. But St. Louis came back to dominate the second game: and it looked like the RedbirdsÂ were set to even the series at one game apiece. But with two outs in the ninth ining and St. Louis leading, the otherwise sure-handed Holliday dropped a sinking liner off the bat of first sacker James Loney toÂ give theÂ Dodgers new life. Casey Blake then walked and former Nats Ronnie Belliard singled home the tying run, before Mark Loretta’s short centerfield single provided the 3-2 walk off win. “It’s tough to swallow,” Holliday said after the game. “Obviously, I feel terrible. But I just missed the ball. It hit my stomach. I think I can catch a ball hit right at me.” The Trolleys now lead the series, 2-0.
Thursday, September 10th, 2009
The Washington Nationals just can’t seem to solve the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phuzzies’ 6-5 victory was a near thing for the Nats, who threatened all the way to the end — but could never get the timely hits they needed to win. Nor could the Nats rely on the normally dependable Tyler Clippard, who gave up back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning after the Nats had tied the game at four. “Clippard wasn’t locating his fastball,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “He has taken the ball and has done a good job, but the last couple of nights, he hasn’t been able to locate the fastball and has paid for it.”
Big innings made the difference: starter Garrett Mock suffered through an insufferable second frame, giving up a double, single, single, walk and single before pitching two ground-outs and a fly ball. The Phillies scored three: but the Nats were lucky it wasn’t more. Once again, the playoff bound Phillies relied on the long ball, with home runs by Jason Werth and Pedro Feliz. Phillies’ pitcher Cliff Lee wandered through an unsteady performance, yet somehow survived seven innings of 10 hit baseball to take the win. The big news of the night (for Phillies fans) was the dog that didn’t bark: Brad Lidge remained seated in the Phillies bullpen as Ryan Madson closed the door on the Nats in the 9th: a sign, perhaps, of things to come for the A.L. East leaders.
Down On Half Street: Call it the reverse curse. Twenty-four hours after he was scoured by television commentators Rob Dibble and Bob Carpenter, Alberto Gonzalez lit up Nationals Park with aÂ three-for-three outing — all of them doubles.Â Gonzalez amazing rehabilitation wasn’t enough to boost the sinking Nats past the Phuzzies on Wednesday, but it raised his average to .259 — two points better than Trolley third baseman (yes, you heard me right) Ronnie Belliard, described by the MASN on-air crew as a “very good hitter”Â (this is my soapbox, and I’ll be damned if I’ll get down from it) .Â . . Gonzalez’sÂ doubles weren’t cheap: a second inning rope down the first base line, a fifth inning shot off the centerfield wall and a seventh inning scorcher to left-center . . .
It’s never too late to watch baseball.Â If you liveÂ in the near-suburbs of eitherÂ Maryland or VirginiaÂ a quick car ride home from Nationals Park puts you in front of the television in about the fourth inning of the west coast games. Last night’s featured match-up was the ESPN Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Arizona Diamondbacks tussle in Phoenix. A Trolleys-Showboats match-up is always entertaining. But last night was especially so: outside of the pure enjoyment of watching righty wizard Dan Haren pitch, the game included someÂ interesting in-dugout politics. Haren pitched his usual clever hit-the-strikezone-with-every-pitch game (it really is something to see) before the 7th, but in the seventh he put two men on with oneÂ gone. Sure enough out trottedÂ Showboat manager A.J. Hinch. HarenÂ gave him a glance coming out of the dugout and then looked away. It looked like he was going to vomit.Â Later, when Haren was sitting on the bench,Â Hinch went over to explain, butÂ Haren just shook his head: he wouldn’t even look at him.Â Surprise, surprise:Â Hinch made the right call. Reliever Juan Gutierrez pitched the Dbacks out of the jam and Hinch looked like aÂ genius. Proof positive of that old adage: even a blind dog finds a bone sometimes.
Joe Torre pulled out all of the stops in trying to win the game, including getting through a jam in the 9th. George Sherrill had pitched an effective eighth, but was relieved by Ramon Troncoso. TroncosoÂ opened the ninth, and immediately threw an infield chopper hit by Gerardo Parra past the right ear of Dodger first baseman James Loney.Â Parra ended up on second. Torre was not amused. The next hitter, Ryan Roberts,Â sacrificed pinch runner Trent Oeltjen to third. So man on third, one out, with Showboat hitter and Dodger-slayer Stephen Drew coming to the plate.Â Torre, leaning on the dugout fence, smiled to himself and turned to pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, who was studying the stats book: “Put him on?” Torre asked. Honeycutt didn’t really answer, he just nodded. “You sure?” Honeycutt nodded again.
So, man on first and third, one out, with no-joke Justin Upton walking to the batter’s box. “Again?” Torre asked. This time he wasn’t smiling. And Honeycutt, still eyeing the stats book, nodded again. And so Torre held up four fingers.Â But this time Troncoso looked in at Torre, his jaw slack, so out Joe trotted to give his pitcher some calcium. We might guess at what he had to say: “Now listen, kid, we’re setting up the double play here and giving you someone to pitch to. Reynolds followsÂ Upton and he’s got more strikeouts than a middle aged man at a high school prom. So put this guy on and then throw strikes.” Troncoso didn’t like it,Â but what was he going to say? He shuffled a bit, threw four balls to UptonÂ and turned to face Mark Reynolds. It was a near thing.Â Torre watched every pitchÂ while Honeycutt continued staring at his stats book — and Troncoso walked in the winning run.
Thursday, September 3rd, 2009
Things have gone from bad to worse for the Washington Nationals — with the team’s bats silenced by Padres’ pitching, at least the Nats could count on their starters to put inÂ six or maybe even seven innings of solid work. That was particularly true for John Lannan, perhaps the club’s steadiest starter. That’s not true now.Â The normally predictableÂ lefty was anything but predictable on Wednesday, as Lannan struggled through a difficult fifth inning, allowing the Friars to score five runs to extend the Nationals’ losing streak to an embarrassing six games. That makes two sweeps in a row: one in St Louis and one in San Diego — with the Nationals now without a win since the series against the Chicago Cubs. The Nats seem to have slipped back to some their worst habits under Manny Acta: of scoring little and pitching poorly — but at least playing withÂ fire.
If Willie catches that ball . . .
While hard luck lefty John Lannan pitched well, though not brilliantly, theÂ Padres found ways to score: in the fifth, Everth Cabrera and David Eckstein hit seeing eye singles beforeÂ all-star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez hit a line drive that tailed away from left-fielder Wille Harris. The ball landed just out of his reach, scoring two runs.Â Chase Headley’s two-run double later in the half-inning added to San Diego’s lead, and that was essentially the game. In the clubhouse afterwards, Nationals interim manager Jim Riggleman remained upbeat:Â “[Lannan] was a lot better than the line scores are going to say,” Riggleman said. “If Willie catches that ball, and I know it was a tough play, if we catch that ball, we’ve got a bunch of zeroes on the board and it doesn’t get us into trouble right there. You look for effort, and we got a good effort.” Lannan was also philosophical:Â “That’s the way the game goes,” he said. “It has happened to me before. You’ve just got to tip your hat, they made things happen in the fifth. I battled today, I felt pretty good.”
Down On Half Street: Former Philadelphia Phillies All Star shortstop and Chicago CubsÂ manager (and now Trolleyman third base coach) Larry BowaÂ was in his element today on the MLB satellite radio network — he was in front of a microphone being asked his opinion. This isn’t the first time. Bowa has been here before and is now counted on asÂ somewhat of a regular.Â Bowa can beÂ obnoxious, which isÂ why he’s no longer managing, but he’s mostly right about almost everything having to do with baseball. And he was again today.Â It was a fascinating interview and former Angels skipper and now XM Radio “Home Plate” on-air personality Kevin Kennedy did what he was supposed to do: he fed him softballs that Bowa dutifully lofted into the stands.
The American League is “far and away”Â the better league,Â Bowa said, andÂ added that the A.L. East isÂ packed with talent. He added that theÂ difference between the two leagues is not even that close. (See, what did I tell you — this guy is obviously a moron.) Bowa then said that he thought that Manny Ramirez was overswinging in the wake of his suspension, to show that he could put the ball out of the ballpark without steroids, but that his swing would soon return to normal. “He’ll be okay,” Bowa said. That makesÂ sense (and it’s whatÂ any L.A. cabbie could have told us).Â Bowa also said that it was the plan of the Dodgers to keep James Loney at first and play new-guy-in-L.A. Jim Thome off the bench: to keep a lefthanded bat ready for the post-season (another safe prediction). My own sense is that L.A. is haunted by the spectre of Matt Stairs, whose post-season home run last year so buckled the Trolley’s knees that they will not allow it to happen again. Hence — Thome!
But by far the most interesting and insightful comment — and least from a purely baseball perspective — was Bowa’s analysis of L.A.’s reason for acquiring the much-traveledÂ Jon Garland, lately of Arizona. Garland is not simply a steady pitcher who can be another starting arm in the run-up to the post-season, he said, “he’s a very steady ground ball pitcher.” Bowa said that if you check Garland’s stats you’ll see that he pitches mostly down in the zone “and to contact” — as he did throughout his career with the White Sox, Angels and most recently the Diamondbacks. “So you have to have good fielders behind him, which he didn’t have in Arizona.”Â That’s not true with the Dodgers.
With the Dodgers, “who are either one or two in defense, I can’t remember which”Â (Bowa added) Garland can pitch to contact and get people out in a way that he couldn’t in Arizona. Los Angeles can put a defense behind Garland that will make him a better pitcherÂ than he ever was in Arizona — and maybe even take half-a-run offÂ his ERA. That would make Garland’s current ERA of 4.29 in Arizona somewhereÂ in the under 3.50 range in L.A. “Which is darn good” by National League standards. That’s not bad statistical thinking for a shlameelÂ like Bowa, who regularly harumphsÂ about Bill James and sabarmetrics with his buddy-buds on the radio: “Bill James, you know, the guy who invented Sabermetrics,” radio guy Dan Patrick once reminded Bowa during an interview. Bowa turned up his nose.Â â€œWhat team did he play for?â€Â Bowa whined. â€œThis guy Bill James has all the answers, but heâ€™s never worn a uniform.â€ Yeah, that’s right Larry. And neither did L.A. General Manager Ned Colletti — the guy who pulled the trigger on the Garland trade.
Now pitching ground balls in L.A.: Jon Garland
Sunday, August 16th, 2009
While Nats fansÂ focus on the shelling Nats’ bats are capable of imposing — evidence of which was on full display at Cincy’s Great American Ballpark on Saturday –Â victims of the Anacostia Nine wonder how their team can lose to a club that is “a joke” and “one of the worst teams in baseball history.” Reds fans are the latest such whiners, trodding ground already worn by the footsteps of bloggers from Miami.Â “This year I havenâ€™t really considered the Washington Nationals a real team. Theyâ€™re just so bad, itâ€™s hard to take them seriously,” Cincinnati blogger Red Hot Mama writes in the wake of the Nats pasting of the Reds.Â “I mean, theyâ€™ve consistently been winning only a third of the team [their games]Â for most of the year. In the world of bad teams, thatâ€™s truly atrocious.”
Red Hot Mama (the most interesting of all Reds’ blogs — in my humble opinion) is not alone in underestimating the Nats. For baseball beat reporter John Fay,Â it’s not soÂ much that the Nats are good, it’s that the Reds are bad. This path is also well-worn: when the Nats beat up on Dan Haren at Nationals Park last week, “BaseballÂ Tonight”Â Â commentators attributed the lossÂ not to the Nats ability to hit, but to Haren’s unusally poor outing. When the Nats are bad it’s because they’re bad, when the Nats are good it’s because they’re lucky. Of course, not only are the NatsÂ not even close to being the worst team in baseball history, if they continue to win games at the current rate they may well catch the other “worst” teams in the MLB: The Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres. It’s even possible to make the argumentÂ that the Nats post-July 4 record is not only pretty good — it’s a lot better than the other “atrocious teams” in the majors. TheÂ Nationals have played forty games since Independence Day, and they’re 20-20. That’s enough to vault them out of last place in the ESPN power rankings — ahead of the Monarchs, Ahoys and Friars. That hasn’t happened yet, but it should. And just think, this fromÂ “a joke” and “one of the worst teams in baseball history.”
It’s no secret: the Nats’ revival is more due to their ability to swing the wood than throw the horsehide. This was on full display in the ballpark beside the Ohio yesterday. When the Reds came to bat in the fourth, the Nats were leading 7-0 and starterÂ Johnny Cueto was sitting on the bench next to a shell-shocked Dusty Baker.Â By the time the game had ended (with Nats’ smiles all around), our Anacostia boys had pulled out a 10-6 victory. The Nats’ attack included fourteen hits and an Adam Dunn home run. Morgan, Belliard (Belliard!!), Zimmerman, Dukes, Gonzalez and Nats’ starter J.D. Martin had two hits each — the nail-in-the-coffin stroke coming from a still struggling Alberto Gonzalez, who scorched a double just inside the bag at third, scoring three. The Nats needed all the hits they could get.Â Starter Martin was game, but not that effective (the Reds threatened in nearly every inning), while reliever Logan Kensing (usually effective — after being recalled from Syracus), gave up four earned runs and lasted less than an inning.
It’s true: the Nats have been “truly atrocious” — as Reds bloggers would have it. They’ve won only 42 games. They’re 33 games under .500. They’ve “struggled” all year.Â But hope springs eternal: they could catch the Padres, Pirates and Royals in the standings. Why, they could even catch the Reds. In the world of bad teams (teams like, ah . . . the Cincinnati Reds), that’s really amazing. Or maybe it isn’t.
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 wouldÂ 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?
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.Â ‘A crack in the otherwise rock solid ediface of Dickson baseball expertise.’Â I wrote to the author yesterday (now officially promoted to the position of “droog”) to issue a soft comeuppance. TheÂ 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” –Â “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 itÂ . . . But having promoted Paul I am now going to demote him (from “droog” to just plain old “friend”) forÂ reminding me that my reference to a “Bugs Bunny change-up” in a previous post was incorrect. It is not “Bugs” whoÂ swings at the pitch, but who delivers it. Well, okay. But I don’t count that as aÂ strikeout;Â it’sÂ more like a pop-up. So now, lemmeaskya, how many other baseball blogs can boast a pic of Linda Ronstadt?
Down On Half Street:Â Cole Hamels appears to be all the way back. TheÂ former dominant lefty faced off againstÂ the Showboats’ DanÂ 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 AstrosÂ 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 consecutiveÂ outs — with 45 — shattering the record held byÂ 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.Â 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’sÂ best year wasÂ 1974; he was 13-9 and threwÂ 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 theÂ Sacramento State University Hornets since 1995.
Sunday, May 10th, 2009
If You Think WeÂ Have Problems,Â all you have to do is take a secondÂ look at theÂ Snakes line-up.Â Â Arizona’s best hitter is cast-off Felipe Lopez (hitting .314), who has revived his career in the desert after aÂ so-so stint in D.C. After that, all of the “great young hitters” that the “Showboats” boast fall through the floor. Arizona third baseman Mark Reynolds leads the mangy pack at .248, while the talented Chris Young and Conor Jackson are hitting .183 and .184 respectively. But Reynolds is the embarrassment: in 109 at-bats he has 39 strike outs. Last year, Reynolds led the league in both strikeouts and errors — an adventure in futility matched only once before, in 1965, by Twinkie’s SS Zoilo Versalles. The fans know — AZ Snakepit described last night’s game as “rancid.”
Mark Reynolds: Futility Infielder
So which would you rather have — an infield of Zimmerman (.336), Guzman (.386), Hernandez (.310), and Johnson (.317) or an infield of Reynolds, Lopez,Â Josh Wilson (.227) and Chad Tracy (.215)? The argument that things are bound to change once the injured Stephen Drew returns doesn’t cut it: prior toÂ going on the DL, Drew was hitting .205. Â Still, baseball experts bloviate on the D-Backs “young hitters” — Sports Illustrated called them “the envy of the game,” a common enough notion among experts who would love to have one of the youngest infields in the majors. The problem is: they can’t hit. The other problem is: they can’t field. And with Dan Haren the only great arm left in the system (Webb is on the DL, Garland is steady but not a stopper, Doug Davis is just so-so and Max Scherzer is unproven — and 0-3), their pitching is questionable. To contend at all, they need Branden Webb back. The sooner the better. Â
This week’sÂ front office solution toÂ the D-Banks woes was to fire Doug Melvin and replace him with untested and untried A.J. Hinch, a formerÂ major league catcher withÂ no on-field coaching or managing experience. But the problem isÂ not in the dugout and A.J. isn’t the solution.Â The front office has made a number of questionable decisions — getting rid of Adam Dunn, Orlando Hudson,Â Randy Johnson and a passel of young prospects, while signing Eric Byrnes (the ultimate showboat) to a three year $30 million contract. There are cabbies in Phoenix who would have made better decisions.
Stealing Home: One of me droogs sent along a New York Times article by Dan Rosenheck that dissects the fine art of stealing home — a Jackie Robinson special that (Rosenheck avers) is overrated. Â Rosenheck says that Robinson was bold, but sometimes not smart:Â he stole home with one out too often,Â when a sacrifice fly might have gotten himÂ plated.
Rosenheck uses a sabremetric tool called “run expectancy,” comparing the number of runs a team is expected to score in an inning after a stolen base attempt with the same number beforehand. Robinson might have done better if he had “stayed put,” Rosenheck concludes. But Rosenheck praises Robinson’s boldness: “Stealing home is like a poker player betting on an inside straight,” he says, “a low-percentage play whose payoff is great enough to justify numerous failuresÂ — but not too many.”Â Â It’s a heck of an article and caused a flood of responses (and a Rosenheck defense) –Â all worth reading. Â
It seems almost commonsensical that stealing home is too great a gamble for a ballplayer to take — particularly with one out. The chances of a sacrifice fly are too high.Â Then again, there’s something about a successful steal of home that can’t be measured byÂ numbers alone. Robinson’s most famous steal of home (pictured above, in game one of the 1955 World Series)Â ignited the Dodger’s as few other events –and madeÂ Robinson part of national lore. Worth it, it seems to me.
Monday, April 20th, 2009
We’re Back: after a nine month hiatus, River Dogz now returns as Center Field Gate. Not much has changed here, except for the name and design and linksÂ (well, that’s a lot, I guess) and we hope you like it. But if you don’t like it, feel free to protest to no one in particular, or make a comment. The perpetrators are the same: DWilly, Tom and Mark –Â Red Sox and Cubs fans, but Nationals afficianados (Nats lovers, really) — with their absolutely penetrating analysis and barbed comments. The rules remain the same. We get to say what we want anytime we want and without any justification. And you get to complain.
If you hate change then you love the Washington Nationals.Â The faces are different, but the decisions that might have made the Anacostia boys a .500 club were not made, as they were not made last year or the year before that.Â Now, as then, we are building for the future. This is the management equivalent of Casey at the Bat: Orlando Hudson wanted to come here with his $3.5 million contract. Not my style, said Stanley, sniffing in the air. “Strike one,” said the fans. And Jon Garland might have been had for a niggling $5 million.Â No thanks, said mighty Stan. “Strike Two” said the fans. We’re in the midst of strike three, where non-decisions mean empty seats, as reflected thisÂ last Saturday.
The result has been neatly predictable: the Nats plummet while Hudson andGarland tear up the league. Okay, I admit, that might be a stretch for Garland, but Hudson is hitting .385 and he actually wanted to come here. Then there’s this, and it’s not to be dismissed: he’s good. He’s no Ronnie Belliard, of course, but he’s pretty good.
Hudson is a deflection: the problem is not hitting (the series against the Marlins proved that), but pitching. Here it is in twelve words: we don’t have any and it’s too late now to get some. That means we will have to suffer through five innings of a head case who couldn’t stick witha minor league team and five inningsÂ with a juvenile delinquent. Give us your tired, your hungry, your poor, your worn out arms — your pitchers yearning to be arrested. If all he does is run red lights, we don’t want him.
Of course,Â the real problem isn’t even pitching.
I would have picked the Showboats to win the NL West, honest to God I would have, but then Branden Webb went down. Still, Danny Haren is the best pitcher in the league. He was 16-8 last year. One of his wins came against the Nats, in which he kept the ball low and mixed his pitches. Pure mechanics. Every delivery was the same: a machine. So now he’s 0-3, in part because the Snakes are not the Nats: they have no hitting. Still, even at 0-3 Haren is my pick for the Cy Young. You’ll see.
Friday, August 1st, 2008
Gonzalez and Bonafacio: The mid-summer hiatus is over, the great travel adventure to other parts of the world has ended (withÂ apologiesÂ for the lack of posts) and, most important of all, the trade deadline is past. But not before our beloved Anacostia boys rid themselves of uselessÂ contracts and hangers-on, and set their sights firmly on the future. It isÂ a future that does not include Paul Lo Duca or Felipe Lopez, whose trade value was apparently so low that, even together, they could not bring a single prospect. Â So be it: the Nats will not be renamed the Felipes and PaulÂ may now peddle his talents somewhere else.Â Which leaves us with the question: what exactly did we get?
Alberto Gonzalez is a good glove no-hit shortstop with impressive team skills. But whether or not he can make it in the Majors is an open question, and one that will undoubtedly be soon answered when he fills in at shortstop for the injured Cristian Guzman. The fact that he once wore pinstripes and has the same name as the formerÂ AG of the current crew should not be daunting, he has a better bat and is considered a good citizen by those in the Nationals Past TimeÂ who chart such things. The Yankees traded him because they are stockpiling pitching, no matter how modest, and because they seem set at shortstop for some time to come.
The more intriguing prospect is former Diamondbacks’ Emilio Bonifacio, the 11th best prospect in the D-Backs’ organization. Only 23, Bonifacio is known for his speed but, like Gonzalez, has yet to prove he can hit major league pitching. He’ll get a chance to find out: Jim Bowden hasÂ penciled him in as the Nats lead-off hitter and starter at second next year, despite the fact that Bonifacio has only swung the bat 35 times in two seasons.
The result will be a somewhat remade infield — with few guarantees thatÂ Gonzalez or BonifacioÂ are any more than better-than-average Triple A players. But then, Bowden had to do something, since scouringÂ Columbus, Harrisburg and Potomac for top-level middle infield prospects failed to find one of any quality. Plus there’s this: if you can find a player that will hit over .250 on this team (a line that neither Lo Duca or Felipe could reach), then you’ve found yourself a starter.
Is Jim In Trouble? Could be. Major league scouts think that Bowden might have gotten more for Jon Rauch and that someone, somewhere, might have given up even moderately experienced prospects for Lopez and Lo Duca. Then too, we are constantly reminded that Bowden passed on a handful of prospects for Alfonso Soriano, though his signing with the Cubs yielded some draft choices. The heat on Bowden is now palpable: while he received draftees Josh Smoker and Jordan Zimmerman for Soriano, the Nats are unlikely to continue to fill the seats of Nats Park unless Bowden can pull off something impressive in the off-season — or before. Bowden supporters point out that Bonifacio has hit .452 since reporting to Columbus and (no doubt) that’s excellent. But Nats fans would prefer he hit somewhere above the Mendoza line when he takes his place at second base (probably tonight), for the first time. You don’t need a crystal ball to figure this one out. Jim is under the gun. And if either Gonzalez or Bonifacio appear to be a bust, the fans will lose their patience, the ownership will read the attendance figures … and Jim will be gone.