Archive for the ‘Fielding’ Category

Strasburg Getting Better, Nats Not

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Stan Kasten was pretty adamant in talking about Stephen Strasburg on Sunday, telling Nats beat report Bill Ladson that, as good as Stephen Strasburg is now, he’ll get even better. That’s good news for Nats fans, because the team itself seems to be getting worse. On Sunday, the Nationals lost their fourth in a row and their third in a row to the league worst Baltimore Orioles, 4-3. It was the third consecutive game in which the Nationals dropped a contest in which they led, and should have won. The team is now ten games under .500 — and sinking fast. But for skipper Jim Riggleman, at least, the glass is (as he is fond of repeating, and repeating) half full: “I like the fact that we scored runs early,” Riggleman said. “We had a chance to win the ballgame, and we didn’t get blown out. It’s a small consolation. We had runners out there to be driven in. We got some of them in. We are going to have to get more in. We have to get [good] pitching performances. There are a lot of good things to draw from.” We love Jim, really we do. But what glass is he talking about? Because the one that is half empty is filled with errors.

Kasten’s comments were fairly predictable, while signaling that the Nats will continue the Kasten-Rizzo philosophy of focusing on pitching — and building from within: “His [Strasburg’s] role as a symbol is very important,” Kasten told Ladson. “When we came in four years ago, we talked about wanting to build through scouting/development with an emphasis on pitching. Continuing with the fulfillment of that commitment, I think it’s very important that fans could see that we are close to turning the corner. We are close to having a really terrific, good, stable young rotation as some of our guys come up from the Minor Leagues and come back from rehab. But clearly the symbol of that movement is Stephen.”

Kasten could not have been more explicit; rather than depending on a big free agent signing, or making a blockbuster trade, the Nats will sink or swim with their young arms, and likely await the arrival (and return) of Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Jason Marquis and Chien-Ming Wang. Nats fans would be pleased if any of those four (but particularly Marquis and Wang) returned to form — filling in a now shaky rotation that is having trouble pitching into the seventh inning. Sadly, as the Nats triumverate of Kasten, Rizzo and Riggleman would undoubtedly agree, if Desmond, Kennedy, Guzman and Gonzalez could field as well as Strasburg pitches, the Nats would have emerged from Baltimore as winners, instead of also-rans.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The CFG Board of Directors (here they are, remember?) has directed our editorial staff to conduct a reset of some earlier predictions. We have refused. While the “Amazins” are contending for the division title, we stand by our claim: the Nats will finish ahead of the Apples in the NL Least. There’s a long way to go. And this we say — while everyone is focusing on “The Rise of Ike Davis” and the expertise of some guy named Pelfrey (oh, and R.A. Dickey, whoever that is), we know the truth. The truth is that the key to the New York Metropolitans is Jose Reyes. Always has been, always will be. Without him, they’re lost . . .

But in at least another instance we are inclined to offer a “redo” on our too outspoken view that the Pale Hose, which was sinking like a rock when we (arrogantly, and filled with confidence) wrote that the South Siders would be sellers and would eventually be forced to shop Jake Peavy. The day after we wrote that, the White Sox launched a breathtaking winning streak, with Peavy in the lead. They have now recouped their season and their team and the confidence of their manager. Their win streak ended at 11 yesterday, in a loss to the North Side Drama Queens. Our bet now is that, barring the resurrection of Joe DiMaggio (and his agreement on a trade to the City of Big Shoulders), Jumpin’ Jake ain’t goin anywhere . . .

And we note with interest that in spite of Stanley’s talk of focusing on development and arms in the minors, the Nats are scouting D-Backs ace Dan Haren. Here’s our question: what’s to scout? Long into the night (and we’re deadly serious), we dream of that delivery, the same delivery every single time, like the mechanism of a finely tuned watch: head down, right leg up (then, the hesitation), the head snaps to the plate, the glove is thrown out (into the face of the batter) and the arm coming perfectly over the top. It’s a thing of beauty. I swear. It’s enough to send you back to church. Go get ’em Stan, go get ’em Mike . . .

Kennedy Now A Nat

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Adam Kennedy #29 of the Oakland Athletics is doubled off first base on a ball hit by Matt Holliday in the fourth inning against the Minnesota Twins during a Major League Baseball game on June 11, 2009 at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Adam Kennedy

With Orlando Hudson going to the Twinkies, the Nationals moved quickly to sign 34-year-old Adam Kennedy, solidifying their defense at second base — and all but guaranteeing that (barring a trade) Cristian Guzman will be the team’s starting shortstop when the season begins. While the announcement is not yet official, Kennedy has said he is pleased to be coming to Washington — because he likes the way the team is structuring its roster. The signing of Kennedy, and apparently for a bargain price, puts the finishing touches on the Nats’ off-season, though Mike Rizzo admits that the team would like to add another starting pitcher. Or, as MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds said on Friday night: “Right now the starting rotation is Marquis, Lannan and question, question, question.”

The signing of Kennedy was necessitated after the Nats’ front office remained adamant on what they were willing to pay for Hudson, who was undoubtedly the first choice to fill the void up the middle. Hudson accepted a one year $5 million deal to play in the cold confines of the new Target Field in Minneapolis. What that might mean for snow dates aside, the Twinkies now look as solid as any team in the AL Central — and have to be an early favorite to win the division title. Not so the Nats, though it seems clear that the team’s off-season additions have more than marginally strengthened the team: then too, Kennedy was a bargain for one year at a reported $1.25 million, with a club second option year. “It should be fun — everybody kind of blending in and ready for a good season,” Kennedy said of coming to the Nats.

In truth (and though it might sound like sour grapes), Kennedy matches up well with Hudson. If the stars line up right, this could be the one signing that team looks back on as Mike Rizzo’s best off-season move. Both Kennedy and Hudson have a reputation for hard play and good gloves, both have experience on playing for winning clubs — and both are ready to recover their careers after suffering through sometimes strange interludes of simply not showing up. Last year, Kennedy hit .289 with 11 home runs, 63 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 129 games for the Athletics, but during the previous three seasons his presence and play were spotty — and only partly because he was slowed by injuries. His offensive numbers were mediocre. Maybe this was because in his last year in Anaheim (in 2004), Kennedy started swinging for the fences: his average plummeted, his on-field presence seemed an afterthought, and teams started losing interest. He tried to straighten that out last year: with positive results.

This is a good signing, and while a lot of Nats’ watchers might have preferred Hudson, Kennedy is a solid glove man at a good price. And honestly, if Hudson’s wrist acts up and if Kennedy can play more than the 129 games he logged last year, then this decision could turn into another Rizzo miracle.

Lackey, DeRosa . . . Or Both?

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

CFG writer and droog DWilly (here he is, in case you’ve forgotten), is pessimistic about the possibility the Nats will sign Belinski free agent pitcher John Lackey: “The Red Sox will be in the mix and they’ll bid him up, but only to make sure the Yankees don’t get him,” he opined during a break in the action this last week. “And for good reason: can you imagine the Phillies facing C.C., Pettitte and Lackey in the World Series? Forget Burnett – in that mix he’d be number four. For the Red Sox, the Yankees getting Lackey would be their worst nightmare.” Add the Angels to that list: Anaheim owner Arte Moreno says that he can afford either Lackey or third sacker Chone Figgins, but not both — making his choice a no-brainer. With the crosstown Dodgers taking a pass on Lackey that leaves the Red Sox, Yankees, and Nats bidding for his services. Oh, and the Mets, who are desperate for pitching. Bart Hubbach of the New York Post says that Lackey tops the Chokes’ wish list, ranking well ahead of both Jason Marquis (who “badly wants to be a Met”) and Joel Piniero — the 31-year-old Cardinal slinger.

The Lackey-to-the Nats rumor surfaced last week, when Nats beat writer Bill Ladson reported that the Nats “are looking for an ace who can tutor pitchers such as John Lannan, Ross Detwiler and Stephen Strasburg. Washington has been looking for this type of pitcher since after the Trade Deadine.” True enough, but Lackey won’t be cheap — and at least some baseball executives are questioning his health: Lackey got off to a slow start last year due to a sore elbow and he’s spent a part of each of the last two years on the DL. And the price tag? The figures are all over the place, but current betting is that Lackey would ask for (and get) an A.J. Burnett contract — somewhere in the range of five years and $82 million. At the top end, the contract would max out at five years and $100 million, at the low end a Lackey contract would be for three years and $30 million. Lackey’s a tough, nose-in-the-dirt pitcher who could feast on N.L. hitters, but that’s a lot of change for a potential sore elbow and a tutor. And it’s a lot of change if, after spending (say) $80 million, you have nothing left to shore up your infield or add to your bullpen.

Signing a top flight innings-eating pitcher had to be a priority of Nats GM Mike Rizzo — but it will do little good for the Nats to spend oodles on Lackey and have little left over. So a rejiggering the priority list makes a lot of sense: back in ’08, the Nats spent a good part of their season scrambling to put together a roster that had Ryan Zimmerman struggling to overcome a left shoulder tear. Zim ended up losing 56 games, a nightmare for a team that has few marque players. While this unthinkable knock-on-wood scenario seems unlikely for 2010 (knock on wood, and hard), the Nats’ unsettled up-the-middle problems — including the distinct possibility that wunderkind Ian Desmond might not be the solution to the Nats’ shortstop woes that they think he is — would stretch the Nats to the breaking point were something to happen to Zim (or Adam Dunn, or Josh Willingham, or Cristian Guzman).

Which means that John Lackey isn’t the only priority for the Nats, and maybe not even the top priority. The Nats need pitching and desperately, but if they want a tutor and innings eater they can find one among a free agent class that includes Jon Garland, Joel Piniero, Jason Marquis or even (gasp) Carl Pavano. Garland (just as an example) won’t be cheap ($25 million over three years), but he won’t be as expensive as Lackey — and the Nats can use the savings they might have spent on JL for Mark DeRosa. The more you think about DeRosa the more you have to like him, especially as a fit for the wobbly Nats’ infield. Forget for just a moment that he’s a helluva player. Remember, instead, that his glove work eclipses that of Desmond or Guzman or Gonzalez. He can play short and second and he can spell Willingham in left and if worse comes to worse (knock on wood) he can play third. And he can hit. Then too, taking a pass on Lackey means there’s more money to not only plug the holes in the infield, but in the bullpen.

Here’s what all of this might come down to: signing John Lackey (and no one else) doesn’t make the Nats at .500 ballclub, but signing Garland (or Piniero, or Marquis) with DeRosa behind them and Mike Gonzalez in the bullpen does.

Alberto vs. Orlando

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Now that the Phuzzies have become the former world champions — dropping the World Series to New York’s Jedi Knights – we can return to baseball’s second season: as ultimate a test for GMs and owners as the on-the-field play of their counterparts during the regular season. So it is that the Nats’ off season rumor mill is finally in full swing, with reports circulating that the Nats are once again eyeing second sacker Orlando Hudson as the solution to the team’s problems in the middle infield. Jon Heyman over at SI says that Hudson is looking for other opportunities — as Trolley manager Joe Torre “employed Ronnie Belliard over him” through much of September and into the playoffs. In fact, it was downright weird watching Belliard shine in the L.A. post-season, particularly considering his embarrassing swing-from-the-heels style of play for the Nats through nearly 120 games. Can it be? Would L.A. really pick Belliard as their second sacker over Hudson?

Ah . . . well, not really. L.A. is all a-glitter over the prospect of signing free agent Adrian Beltre to play third base, with Casey Blake moving over to second — an experiment that keeps Blake’s bat in the line-up while adding a power hitter at the corner. Beltre could, in fact, pump about 20 dingers into the left field seats in Dodger Stadium, giving the kind of power to the Trolley line-up that Raul Ibanez provided in Philadelphia this last year. And L.A.’s his home town. That puts Belliard on the Dodger bench (which is where he, ah, belongs): and makes Hudson expendable. There’s no doubt there’s been an on-again off-again flirtation between the Nats and Hudson which dates back to late 2008 — when the Nats seemingly pursued the glove man, hoping he could fill the infield hole next to Cristian Guzman. In any event, the Hudson-to-the-Nats never quite happened and the “O-Dog” ended up in Hollywood. Now, it seems, there is revived interest in Hudson: the flirtation continues.

But is Hudson the right fit for D.C.?

Right here (in this paragraph), we might take a look at Hudson’s stats, which are more than presentable (.283, 9 HRs, 62 RBIs — and, more importantly, a good glove), and then follow that with talk about how Hudson would add some badly needed punch to an anemic middle infield. But all of that would beg the question: the problem up the middle for the Nats is not at second base, it’s at shortstop — and bringing Hudson in not only doesn’t solve that problem, it short-circuits the end-of-season discussion about moving Cristian Guzman to second and finding someone (like Ian Desmond) to play Guzman’s position. I’ve argued before that moving Guzman to second doesn’t solve anything. And it doesn’t. In fact, signing Hudson only creates an additional problem: for if Guzman can’t play second any better than he played short and if Ian Desmond doesn’t work out (and he might not) then you don’t have one problem, you have two.

Even so, the “we want Orlando” bandwagon is entering its first stage, in large part because no one is sold on Alberto Gonzalez — including outspoken MASN announcers Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble and regular Nats commentator Bill Ladson. Ladson pegs Gonzalez as no more than a sometimes substitute. “I think it’s pretty clear that he is no more than a backup,” Ladson said in a recent column. “I was shocked with the way he played after interim manager Jim Riggleman made him the everyday second baseman. There were times I thought he wasn’t fundamentally sound with the bat and glove.” Really? Gonzalez hit .265 in 105 games, and while he wasn’t exactly a whiz kid at second, he wasn’t a disaster. While Gonzalez ended the season with an admittedly paltry OBP of .299, he finished the season strong, hitting .344 in his last ten games. Gonzalez is young, has a good attitude and he’ll only get better. In fact, he might get a lot better.  

Hudson, on the other hand, will make somewhere in the range of $5 million to $7 million per year (and he’s not about to sign a single year contract) and his rumored wrist problem is worrisome. He will be 32, on the down side of his prime years. Gonzalez will only get better: Hudson can only get worse. Why spend $5-$7 million a year (over three years, I’ll bet you) for a guy who might have a problem staying in the line-up. Of course, Hudson hits a hellava lot better than Gonzalez (no question) and has a stellar glove (he’s one of the best fielding second sacker in the majors), but he’s iffy in a way that Felipe Lopez was iffy. Then too (we might remember) Joe Torre thought that, when the chips were down, Ronnie Belliard was the better player. That oughta tell us something. So what should the Nats do? At least one of the options they should consider would be to take the money they would save on signing the “O-Dog” — let’s call it “Hudson Money” — and spend it on buying a solid front rank free agent pitcher. It comes down to this: who would you rather have? Orlando Hudson — or Jon Garland? Or Joel Pineiro? Or even Jason Marquis?

Errors Sink Mets

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

The Washington Nationals rallied from three runs down, capitalized on two Mets errors in the 8th inning — and were buoyed by an Elijah Dukes running catch at the right field wall — to take the second game of their three game series with the New Yorkers, 4-3. The Mets gaffes came when pinch hitter Cristian Guzman hit into an apparent double play, but Mets’ shortstop Anderson Hernandez threw the ball away. The next Nats’ hitter, Ian Desmond, also hit the ball to Hernandez, but this time second baseman Luis Castillo made the error — throwing the ball into the Nats’ dugout after getting the force at second. The muffs allowed the Nats to break a 3-3 tie, going ahead by a single run heading into the ninth. The game ended on a spectacular leaping catch by Elijah Dukes against the right field wall, preserving the Nats’ second win in as many nights.

Whatever Jim Riggleman said to closer Mike MacDougal two nights ago (after MacDougal allowed three runs in the 10th against the Braves) seems to have worked: MacDougal notched his 18th save on Tuesday with another dominant ninth inning performance. MacDougal’s ERA has taken a beating during September. After a steady August, the Nats thought they had finally found their closer. MacDougal’s ERA stood at just over 3.40. But over the next month, culminating with the three runs he gave up against Atlanta, MacDougal gave up a steady stream of ninth inning hits (and runs) and his ERA plunged — after tonight’s win it stands at a wobbly 4.42. But on Monday night, MacDougal notched three ground outs (with three up and three down), while tonight he served up two strikeouts to close out the Chokes on successive nights. Not surprisingly, the key for MacDougal is throwing strikes, which he has consistently done over the last two games.

Detwiler’s Curly W

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Ross Detwiler notched his first win of the season on Monday, with a 2-1 win over the Mets. The victory against the Chokes was a distinct improvement over the previous three games: the Nats’ starter was effective, the bullpen held the opposition to zero hits in three scoreless innings, and the Nats scored when they needed to. “It feels great,” Detwiler said of his victory. “It kind of feels like I got the pressure off myself to get that first victory. It’s one for the records.” The starter’s success came because he threw strikes: 65 of them in 99 pitches — with three strikeouts, nine groundouts and seven fly balls. Detwiler gave up seven hits and lowered his ERA to 5.35. Mike MacDougal, whose confidence took a hit during the series with the Braves, came on to pitch the ninth — and retired the side. Surprisingly, the Nats hitting was provided by three newcomers. Justin Maxwell went 2-4, Ian Desmond 2-3 and Mike Morse 3-4. Morse, who’s been hitting the hide off the ball, hit his third homer of the season in the sixth inning with no one on.

The Case For The Kids: Nats fans are getting a taste of what they’ll be seeing next year. Monday’s lineup included Justin Maxwell, Ian Desmond, Mike Morse and Alberto Gonzalez. While interim manager Jim Riggleman says that he will continue to play his veterans, the end of the season is turning into a kind of advanced spring training. The August 27 injury to Nyjer Morgan (and Cristian Guzman’s bum foot) has allowed Riggleman to test Mike Morse’s staying power in the bigs and so far he has to like what he’s seen. Chico Harlan quotes Riggleman as calling Morse “a professional hitter,” and the numbers bear him out: Morse is hitting .306 and seems to have shaken off the injury bug that has been such a big part of his career. Riggleman doesn’t quite know where to put Morse, but he started him in right field on Monday, in place of Elijah Dukes. Dukes has been hitting better since his mid-season return from the minors, but he’s the first to admit he has trouble hitting a curve. Then too, while Dukes’ on base numbers are getting better by the game, his power stroke has disappeared. That’s not true for Morse, who’s season total of three home runs was notched in the last three games.

The rise of Morse — and Justin Maxwell’s apparent new found ability to hit major league pitching — creates one of those happy, and rare, problems: a crowded outfield. Barring a trade (and given that Nyjer Morgan has centerfield locked up, with Willingham in left), the Nats are now set to go to Florida with at least four outfielders contending for the remaining outfield slot: Morse, Dukes, Maxwell and Roger Bernadina. While it’s too soon to tell (and a lot can happen in the off-season), if spring training were to start today, the competition for right field would likely come down to a tussle between Morse and Dukes. Dukes has helped his cause by being a good citizen and consistent nose-in-the-dirt player, but his BA continues to hover between .250 and .260. Right now, albeit in far fewer games, Morse is shaping up to be the better hitter.  

Of course, it’s possible that Riggleman (if he loses his “interim” tag) will write Morse’s name in at second base: but Alberto Gonzalez’s recent post-slump production (seven for 17 in the last five games and ten points on his BA over the last ten) and improved defense make him a contender for a starting spot up the middle. Gonzalez is no Chase Utley (who is), but there are plenty of teams out there who would love to have a second baseman who can hit .270. Over at Nationals Pride, Jeff wonders whether the Nats should sign free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson. Maybe they should. But the Nats’ weakness up the middle is not at second (Gonzalez has — count ’em — one error at second in 51 games), it’s at short — and getting Hudson doesn’t solve that problem. I’ve never understood the knock on Gonzalez: he hits better than Kaz Matsui (a lot better), fields better than Felipe Lopez (remember him?) and doesn’t have a surgically repaired and naggingly bum left wrist, like Hudson. Putting Gonzalez permanently at second (just ignor what these guys have to say about him) makes for one less thing: and frees up money to sign a top flight starter (or even a couple) and a top notch closer (if they can find one). After all, it’s possible for a team to win, or even contend, with a steady-but-not-great second baseman, but it’s impossible for them to win without a starting staff or a bullpen. If 2009 showed the Nats anything, it showed them that.

Nats Leave Chad Hanging

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

A heads-up Justin Maxwell stolen base followed by a Pete Orr fly ball to right field in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Nats a 5-4 walk off win against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park on Wednesday night. The Nats’ comeback win was sparked by a Ryan Zimmerman three run home run, a shot into the centerfield bullpen off Trolley righthander Chad Billingsley that tied the score at three. Billingsley was into the sixth and pitching a no-hitter until Zimmerman’s blast. It was Zimmerman’s 31st home run and 100th RBI of the season. The Nats went ahead 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth, but couldn’t keep the lead — as a shaky outing by closer Mike MacDougal and two Cristian Guzman throwing errors allowed the Dodgers to tie the game in the top of the 9th.

The Nats looked like they were headed for yet another anemic night at the plate, as Billingsley mastered the Anacostia line up with six innings of no hit baseball. But with runners on first and second in the sixth, the suddenly tiring Billingsley was visited by Dodger pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. On the very next pitch — with Zimmerman at the plate – the Dodger righty threw a ball that hung up-and-in on Zimmerman, and ended up over the fence. In all, Billingsley threw six innings, giving up only one hit. It was a masterful if vain performance by the 12-10 Dodger. Nats fans were pleased to discover that they’re not the only ones frustrated by poor defense. An eighth inning fly ball off the bat of Adam Dunn dropped between confused left fielder Manny Ramirez and centerfielder Matt Kemp, while a sure double play bouncer up the middle was thrown wide at first. The miscues sent the Nats into the top of the ninth with a one run lead and a chance to close out the game.

The Nats were actually lucky in the 9th, despite MacDougal’s keep-em-in-the-game pitching and their two errors: two line shots ended the inning with the bases jammed. The Dodgers were only able to score once in the top of the ninth, leaving the score tied at four. In the bottom of the final frame, Justin Maxwell hit a single past a diving Ronnie Belliard into left, was sacrificed to second by Alberto Gonzalez and then stole third. A surprised Trolley catcher Russell Martin threw wide of the bag at third to put Maxwell 90 feet from home. That brought journeyman Pete Orr to the plate. His long fly ball to right — dropped by the usually sure-handed Andre Ethier — won the game.

A New Low, 14-2

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Actually, the game was not as close as the score seemed to indicate. It was worse. Much worse. Livan Hernandez and the Washington Nationals were crushed by the N.L. West leading Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park on Tuesday, 14-2. The Trolleys batted around twice, Livan Hernandez couldn’t make it out of the third inning, and the Nats defense was porous. But the worst news was that the Anacostia Pathetics seemed, and particularly after the third inning, to be going through the motions: with indifferent base running, booted balls, poor outfield play and standing called strikes from a pitcher they should have been able to hit. Adam Dunn hit his 38th. Great, but after that the game was over. “We got beat,” Riggleman said. “They pitched good. We did not have a good night. Livan was not at his best tonight. He has done a great job for us. We received effort from everybody on the field. Everything about our pregame — enthusiasm in the dugout — [was there]. I was not displeased tonight as I was on Sunday. So, we just got beat.”

Really? The Nats received effort from everybody on the field?

Apparently Jim Riggleman didn’t see the same game the 18,000-plus fans at Nats Park saw: in the fourth inning, Josh Willingham failed to hit the cutoff man on a play at the plate, launching a poor throw that skittered to the backstop. It was a rookie mistake from a veteran outfielder who struck out twice and hit into a double play. He looked terrible and was removed after the sixth: putting him out of our misery. In the fifth inning, Willie Harris was caught leaning off third on a ground ball and tagged out in a futile attempt to score — a fielder’s choice 1-5-2 that shouldn’t have happened. Willie said he set goals for himself in September: was one of them to hit .225? In the seventh inning, a slow grounder to first wasn’t fielded and, with Zack Segovia running to cover first Adam Dunn held the ball. Desmond, Dunn and Segovia stood looking at each other: confused. In the eighth, a Jim Thome grounder was bobbled by Ian Desmond. Thome assumed the play was over and (halfway to first) decided not to run; Desmond also assumed the play was over and (holding the ball) decided not to throw. Thomas and Desmond stared at each other until, finally (Ta Da!) Desmond felt that he might just get the out at first. Thome, surprised, thought that he might just run. Incredible.

Maybe headed-to-the-hall lugnut Jim Thome thinks it’s okay to dog a ball in a late season game in front of 18,000 paying fans. Maybe that’s what major leaguers with over 500 home runs at the end of their careers do. But you have to wonder why a rookie who’s done absolutely zero, a player like Ian Desmond, thinks he has the same luxury.

Redding, Mets Dump Nats

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

If you were to name former Nats’ players who might come back to haunt their old team, you might nominate several: the Belinski’s star slugger and former Expo Vlad Guerrero, Royals outfielder Jose Guillen (okay, well maybe not), perhaps even outfielder Ryan Church of the Atlanta Braves. There are others, and lots of them. But Tim Redding? The Nats gave up on Redding after the end of last season, after the right hander had put in two so-so years in Washington: he was 3-6 in 2007, 10-11 in 2008. The Mets needed arms so they signed him. But he has struggled for the Chokes, with a record that reflects his worst year in D.C. along with an elevated 5.25 ERA. But on Saturday, Redding might well have pitched the game of his life, dueling D.C. ace John Lannan through seven complete while giving up only four hits and one run. Redding kept the Nats off the board long enough to allow the Mets to score enough runs to squeeze out a 3-2 victory that turned (as pitchers’ duels often turn) on a misplay in the field. In the case of the Nats, it was a misjudged liner hit at rookie Ian Desmond, who was starting his first game in right field. Redding’s outing and Desmond’s miscue were the headline news of the day, though Lannan gave up only five hits with Tyler Clippard nearly perfect in relief.

Redding pitched well, brilliantly in fact, but — as always — Nats fans will have trouble giving the former Anacostia Nine righty full credit for the win. Our preferred method is to point out that Nats’ hitters returned to their slumping ways, reverting to the stretch against Philly that saw them flailing against the likes of Hamels and Lee. The previous game, when Zimmerman and Willingham finally unwrapped the lumber, was little solace: the Nats are stuck in a drought of magnificent proportions, with Tim Redding only the most current beneficiary. Others, too many others, have come before. The Nats squeezed out a measly five hits against the Chokes, scoring only two runs. It was hardly a palliative that Adam Dunn plated RBI 100, or that Josh Bard continued to knock the ball. The Nats have to unlimber the wood against guys like Redding, and they failed to do that on Saturday — and, as has happened too often this season, John Lannen suffered.

Down On Half Street: CFG contributor DWilly — in the midst of a typically male gathering several nights ago — castigated one of our blog’s contributors for “going easy” on Nats’ owners. “I’m a season ticket holder,” he said, “and I have to tell you my patience is giving out. You’ve been nice to them, a lot nicer than I would be.” He put his index finger and thumb together to display his lack of patience: “I’m this close,” he said. (Nods all round to that.) But, you know, lots of fans are “this close.” But just when I thought he would go on and on, listing the original sin of the team’s owners — which are many and varied — he closed the conversation with two words (and a re-raise): “Juan Rivera.”

Juan Rivera? Was Juan Rivera once a part of the franchise? Really?

Oh yes, he certainly was. I should have remembered. The current 30-year-old Belinski outfielder and DH is a human highlight film — and having the kind of year that he did in 2006, when he hit .310 and logged 23 home runs. Rivera has the same kind of numbers this year, though his batting average has dipped a tad. Rivera was once a Nat — or Expo, actually — back in 2004. The then-25 year old had a good year, hitting .307 in 134 games for a last place team whose players were on their way to Washington. Rivera wasn’t: he was traded by the to-be Nats along with Maicer Izturis to the Belinskis for Jose Guillen. In the universal register of bad trades, this one is right up there: a galactically stupid move that ensured the Nats would show up in Washington with the worst team possible. You remember, don’t you?

This was when major league baseball was using the Nats as a farm system for the rest of the league and Omar “the Sultan” Minaya (who’s doing the same kind of bang up job with the Chokes that he did when he was here) was presiding over the team’s dismantling. Wouldn’t it be nice if Juan Rivera were holding down right field for the Nats? Wouldn’t it be nice to see Maicer Izturis somewhere in the infield? Wouldn’t it be grand if Austin Kearns (now gone, it seems, for good) turned into Joe Dimaggio? If we had some ham, we could have some ham and eggs: if we had some eggs. In the universal list of “these things are best forgotten” (world wars, continental pandemics, the melting of the ice sheets — and Expos and Nats trades) the trade of Juan Rivera is best forgotten.


The Case for Adam Dunn

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Garrett Mock couldn’t hold the Phillies — giving up five runs in the first two innings — and Phillies ace Cliff Lee pitched a shutout as Philadelphia blanked the Nats 5-0 in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. Mock appeared to lose some of his shakiness over the next four innings, pitching six innings in all while giving up seven hits. But the story of the night was Lee, who was masterful: six hits over nine innings with nine strikeouts. Lee threw 124 pitches, 84 of them for strikes. Philadelphia’s scoring included a litter of doubles: given up to Rollins, Ibanez and Ruiz. Phuzzie right fielder Jason Werth once again proved to be a Nats’ killer, honing in on Nats’ pitching with a 3 for 4 night.

Down On Half Street: Josh Willingham continues to struggle at the plate. His last solid game was on August 25, when he went 4 for 4 against the Cubs in Chicago. Willingham is 6 for September: well below the Mendoza line. Willingham’s OBP is still at .389, but that’s thirty points below the .420 peak he reached in mid-August . . . Ryan Zimmerman has also cooled off, hitting just .200 in his last ten games. Maybe it’s the long season: with under twenty games remaining and the pressures of playing on the road, it’s going to be difficult for the Nats to come up with enough runs to beat the likes of Cliff Lee . . . with all the troubles Nats’ pitching has had this year, fans may be taking the hitting for granted. But Willingham and Zimmerman are not the only ones suffering through an insufferable September. Cristian Guzman (who has been up and down all year) is 7 for 35 in September — an autumnal .200 . . .  

The mini-slump in the middle of the Nats’ order seems to have had no impact on Adam Dunn, who is batting a nifty .333 over the last ten games (13 for 39). Dunn continues to hit the long ball — he hit his 37th in Florida and is line to hit his 40th before this thing is over. Dunn might well be the Nats biggest surprise this season, with a .282 batting average and an OBP of .410. Those numbers are not only pretty good, they’re better than Ryan Howard’s numbers in Philadelphia. Who would have guessed that? Howard has hit one more homer than Dunn, but his batting average stands at .272 and his OBP is .350 — well below Dunn’s marks. Dunn hasn’t nearly equalled the best of Howard’s best years (Howard was the NL MVP in 2006, with 58 homers and and 149 RBIs), but Howard’s numbers have fallen off this year. Then too, you can whine all you want about Dunn’s strike outs, but Howard is worse: Dunn has 162 strike outs to Howard’s 168. Dunn has actually cut down on his strike outs, while Howard is about the same. Dunn also has the better eye: he has walked 104 times to Howard’s 65. So who’s the better hitter: Dunn or Howard?

Howard is on the front end of a three year contract that is paying him $54 million. He will make $15 million this year, $19 million next year and $20 million in 2011. Dunn is in his first year of a two year contract that will pay him $8 million this year and $12 next year. Dunn is hitting better than Howard, and at half the price. Compared to Howard, Dunn is a bargain. In fact, Dunn is a bargain when compared to a lot of the league’s first basemen. Chicago’s Derrick Lee has a better average than Dunn and fewer strike outs (100 in 127 games), but he also has fewer homers — though not by much: 37 for Dunn, 33 for Lee. And Lee is four years older. Lee has the better glove, of course (and it’s much better) — but it’s not a stretch to say that Dunn is a comparable hitter to the Cubbie’s first baseman and, in some areas, his numbers are actually better. Lee is getting $13 million this year in the fourth year of a five year deal that pays him the same amount every year. That’s $5 million more than Dunn. Want some more?

If you compare Dunn’s numbers with Chokes first baseman Carlos Delgado (a hell of a hitter in his prime) over the last three years, Dunn is better. And after 17 seasons, Delgado is starting the break down: he’s played all of 26 games this year and he’s 37 years old — all for about $12 million (four million more than Dunn). There’s no guarantee, of course, that Dunn will hit the ball next year like he did this year. But he’s only 29 with (arguably) his best years yet to come. So here’s what this means: it’s time for the Nats to start thinking about giving Dunn a contract extension that, even if it doesn’t put him on a par with the league’s best first basemen (like Albert Pujols), reflects the reality of major league baseball: that it’s hard to find hitters that pump forty homers into the seats and more than 100 RBIs across the plate — and it’s even harder to keep them.