Archive for the ‘Florida Marlins’ Category

Slumping Nationals Now Back At .500

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

The pundits will call the 2013 Nationals campaign an “up-and-down” season, but after last night’s 2-1 extra innings debacle in Miami, it’s hard not to call it mostly “down.”

The Nationals squandered a fine outing from the usually inconsistent Dan Haren by blowing a one run lead in the 9th inning and then giving the game away on a puzzling error in the 10th — and came away with on the back end of a 2-1 deficit, their fifth loss in the last six games.

The key to the game was a towering home run from Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton, who was first batter in the 9th inning. Leading 1-0 and with usually reliable closer Rafael Soriano on the mound, Stanton put a 1-2 four seam fastball into the far seats in Marlins Park.

“I never think homer,” Stanton said following the extra frame victory. “You may swing harder in some counts, so whatever, whatever. But I had two strikes, so that was more get the barrel on the ball. It was still a ball, but I got my hands to it. That’s the thing. If the ball’s up and you get your hands to it, it’s going to go if you get on top of it.”

Until Stanton’s homer, Washington starter Dan Haren (4-10 on the season) was in line for the win. The veteran righty, plagued by command issues all season, had pitched a gem: six complete innings of three hit baseball with seven strikeouts and a single walk. For the first time in the season, Haren befuddled opposing hitters.

“I felt good. I kept the ball down. That has been the key for me in the last two starts,” Haren said of his outing. “I just really focus on keeping the ball down. I was throwing strikes, keeping the defense in it. It’s nice to throw some zeros.”

Unfortunately for Haren, the Nationals gave up the game in the 9th inning, before losing it in the 10th. Once again, sloppy defense played a roll in the defeat. With Stammen in for Soriano, third sacker Chad Tracy airmailed a throw on a Adeiny Hechavarria grounder over Adam LaRoche’s head at first.

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Mets Pummel The Nats, 10-1

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

The Mets got healthy at the plate on Wednesday night, notching 15 hits and three home runs against a quintet of Washington pitchers as New York downed the Nationals 10-1. The primary victim of the Mets’ offensive was Washington starter Dan Haren, who gave up seven hits and five runs in just four innings of work.

“Haren was struggling hitting his spots. To me, it looked like his pitches were a little flat,” manager Davey Johnson said following the loss. “When he throws that many pitches, you know he is having some problems locating the ball.” Former Nats Marlon Byrd had two home runs in the game, while David Wright had one.

The Nationals’ bullpen was no more effective than starter Haren. Craig Stammen gave up two runs in a single inning of work, while rookie reliever Erik Davis was tagged with four hits and three earned runs in a single frame. If there was good news in the game it was that lefty Ian Krol made his major league debut and looked solid, striking out the side in the sixth.

The Mets’ Dillon Gee, who has struggled on the mound this season did not struggle last night against the Nationals. The righty scattered nine hits, but kept the Nationals to a single run in throwing seven solid innings. “I can’t be satisfied,” Gee said. “I’ve got to continue to do it. It feels good to do it again, give the team a chance to win, and the guys did an awesome job scoring a bunch of runs. Thankfully I was able to keep them there.”

The loss to the Mets not only brought the Nationals back to a single game under .500, it plunged them into third place behind the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East. The Philllies, behind the pitching of hard-luck lefty Cole Hamels, downed the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park, 6-1.

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Sanchez, Chen — And The Day Of The Pitcher

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

On any other day Jordan Zimmermann’s one hit masterpiece of the Cincinnati Reds would have been the top story in baseball. But not yesterday. Instead, Zimmermann’s brilliant mastery of the Redlegs was quickly relegated to a distant second place — like a very pretty, but not beautiful, bridesmaid who stands at the alter waiting for someone to take notice.

Indeed, on a day of pitching brilliance, the Zimmermann outing placed a ho-hum second to Anibal Sanchez’s amazing performance in Detroit’s 10-0 pasting of the Braves. Sanchez’s outing made history, as the righty struck out 17 hitters in a single game, besting the 16 Ks registered by Detroit Hall of Famer Mickey Lolich.

There is little that Sanchez’s performance has in common with Zimmermann’s (Anibal threw Ks, Jordan threw grounders), except for this: Sanchez, like Zimmermann, is not the publicly acknowledged ace of his team’s staff — that would be Justin Verlander.

How good was Sanchez? The former Marlin (he was never better than 13-12 for them), struck out Dan Uggla four times, Freddie Freeman and Juan Francisco three times each and struck out two batters in every inning except the fourth. Sanchez limited the Braves to five hits and no Detroit outfielder recorded a putout. And Sanchez didn’t even pitch the 9th.

But Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann wasn’t the only bridesmaid on Friday night. Out in Oakland, Baltimore southpaw starter Wei-Yin Chen two hit the White Elephants over eight innings to provide the Birds with their best pitching performance of the season. Prior to Chen, no Orioles pitcher had made it into the 8th inning — which should tell you something about the O’s starters.

On what might justifiably be called “the day of the pitcher,” Chen was just so-so, at least in comparison with Sanchez and Zimmermann. But Chen’s victory was a thing of beauty. He threw 12 fastballs in his first thirteen pitches, all of them four seamers and none of them faster than 92 mph. Chen is hittable, but no one seems able to hit him.

Least of all Oakland hitters: “He does a little something different each and every time,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Chen’s outing. “But at the end of the day, he’s got a fastball that gets on you a little quicker than you think. He gets a lot of popups and fly balls.”

Davey: “We’re Gonna Be Fine”

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

The Washington Nationals are a good baseball team, and perhaps even a great baseball team. They are 7-4, have swept two separate series (including an interleague series against the White Sox), play well at home (where they are 6-2), and are in second place in the National League East.

But so far in this young season the Nationals have failed to win the big games against their toughest competition. They were outscored by the Redlegs (27-10), and their bullpen has collapsed again and again — most recently on Friday, in a game they should have won against the Braves — and their star third baseman has made a number of unforced errors, calling into question the health of his shoulder.

“We need to do better,” Tyler Clippard said of the pen after Friday’s late inning 6-4 loss. But stating the obvious isn’t likely to quiet the fears that the bullpen is righty heavy — that the Nationals are missing a key left hander who could make a difference. “The Nationals miss Sean Burnett,” Mitch Williams said on MLB Network on Saturday. “They need another lefty out of the pen.”

The one counter-argument is that today, in their 3-1 loss to the Braves, a great bullpen would not have made the difference. Even with Stephen Strasburg on the mound, the Nationals couldn’t get a bead on Braves’ starter Tim Hudson, who gave up just four hits in suffocating a suddenly anemic Nats’ offense.

Is there a lesson in all of this? Today’s game might seem to point the way: Ryan Zimmerman committed another throwing error, reliever Ryan Mattheus gave up an unnecessary insurance run to Atlanta in the top of the 9th — and the Nationals couldn’t score when they needed to.

Glass-half-empty fans will say (and have been saying) that it’s time for the Nationals to start solving their problems: it’s time to begin the long transition of shifting Ryan Zimmerman to first, it’s time to go out and trade for a lefty out of the pen — and it’s time to make some tough but necessary decisions on relievers (like Henry Rodriguez) who aren’t producing.

But glass-half-full fans will look at the season and decide what Davey Johnson has decided: it’s way too early to worry. “We’re gonna be fine,” Nats’ manager Davey Johnson said in the wake of today’s loss. His team seems to agree. Adam LaRoche dismissed concerns about Zimmerman’s shoulder (“He’s one of the best defenders out there”), and Johnson shrugs when asked about his pen, saying that Friday’s loss was his fault.

Then too, there’s this. Tim Hudson is a savvy and solid pitcher, as he proved today. Stephen Strasburg pitched well, the Zimmerman error was not the difference in the game, Rodriguez looked good — and the best bullpen in the world couldn’t have and wouldn’t have won that game. The Nats didn’t throw away today’s game, the Braves won it. And the difference was Tim Hudson.

“He doesn’t throw quite as hard as he used to, but he knows how to pitch,” Zimmerman said of the Atlanta righty. “You don’t do what he’s done in this game for as long as he has without having a really good idea of what to do out there . . . . he’s one of the best guys out there, and he usually does well against us. Like I said, if you don’t get him early, it’s tough.”

With Span In Center, Nats Are Set For Opening Day

Friday, March 29th, 2013

The “new look” Nats? Well, okay — maybe not quite. The team that the Nationals will put on the field on Monday during their home opener versus the Miamis looks a lot like last year’s team. Except  . . . except that speedster Denard Span, late of the Twins, will now be in the lead-off spot, which gives the Nationals the on-base guy they’ve been looking for for a number of years.

Span, it seems, was always the guy that Mike Rizzo wanted; but not a guy that the Twins wanted to part with. Back in 2011, Rizzo nosed around for Span, but the cost was too high: the Twins wanted either Drew Storen or Tyler Clippard. Rizzo said “no.”

But this winter, Rizzo was able to swap up-and-comer Alex Meyer for Span: a heavy price, to be sure, but one Rizzo was willing to pay. Meyer was, and is, a top prospect and, with the Twins rebuilding their starting rotation the trade worked out for both teams. In truth, the trade was absolutely essential for the Nationals — who’ve lacked an on-base guy in the top spot for three years. None of the experiments (Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Jayson Werth — and others) worked out.

But it’s not just Span’s on-base talent that the Nationals acquired. The former 2002 first round pick is a good first-to-third guy and a plus centerfielder. With savvy Jayson Werth in right and Bryce Harper in left, the Nationals outfield is better defensively than it was last year — much better.

That hasn’t gone unnoticed. “If there was a glaring weakness on last year’s team, it was the need for a traditional center fielder and a leadoff hitter,” Chris Cwik over at Rotographs argues. “Denard Span should fill both of those roles. He’s not a power guy, but he has shown the ability to hit for a relatively high average, takes a fair share of walks and steals about 25 bases. He’s also joining a much better lineup, so there’s at least a reason to believe he could turn into a run-scoring machine this year.”

The trade for Span allowed the Nationals to restock their farm system by trading Michael Morse to Seattle (from whence he came), and hang on to both Storen and Clippard. The big secret about Span is that while he’s not a long ball hitter, the alleys in Nationals Park are built for him. He led the A.L. in triples in 2009 (with 10) and hit the same number in 2010.

While Span’s triples production has fallen off over the last two years, he’s healthy now — which means that Nationals Faithful will be able to see the 28-year-old end up on third in the top of the first at least a few times. Then too, Span knows how to take a walk, a now common necessity for winning teams.

Span is nearly a dead-lock cinch to put up OBP somewhere north of .335 — he was at .357 last year. As important, we have to believe, is that Span comes to Washington with the same price tag that he wore in Minnesota. Span will earn $11.25 million this year and in 2014, with a $9 million option for 2015. That’s a lot cheaper than what it would have cost the Nationals for Michael Bourn — which is $47. 5 over the next four years.

By today’s standards, Span is a “deal” — his numbers compare well with Bourn, with a nearly identical OBP. Bourn’s upside is that he steals more bases and covers about the same amount of turf in the field. But who’s complaining? The addition of Span means that the Nats open with a line-up that is as tough as any the National League — and an outfield that might be the best defensively in all of baseball.

S.I.’s “Kiss Of Death”

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

There are people who throw salt over their shoulder, who won’t walk under a ladder, who dodge sidewalk cracks as they head to their office — and then there are the rest of us: who audibly groan when we see own hometown boys featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It’s the kiss of death.

Honest To God: the S.I. “Kiss Of Death” syndrome is not just some kind of black cat superstition. Just ask Cubs’ fans. Back in 2004, S.I. featured fireballer Kerry Wood on its cover under the headline “Do You Believe?” In fact, the answer to that question for “long suffering Cubs fans” (note: the words “Cubs fans” must always be preceded by the words — “long suffering”) was an emphatic “no.” They knew better, especially with Dusty “arm killer” Baker in charge. The 2004 Champs were the Boston Red Sox, who swept the series from the stinking Cardinals. The Cubs finished sixteen back.

Which is not to say that this year’s S.I prediction, authored by Tom Verducci (who says our guys look a lot like Davey Johnson’s ’86 Mets), is wrong. The CFG crew (and, as a reminder, here we are), thinks this is the best team the Nationals have ever fielded (well, that was easy) and arguably the best in baseball. But predicting a World Series match-up against the Rays (S.I.’s pick in the well-named Junior Circuit) is a bit of a stretch. The playoffs are now a second season, in which anything can happen — as any old Nationals’ fan can now tell you.

Is the Sports Illustrated jinx real? The first baseball player to appear on an S.I. cover — this was back in 1954 — was Eddie Matthews who, after his appearance, broke his hand. Pete Rose appeared on the cover in the same week, in 1978, that his 44 game hitting streak ended. “Indian Uprising,” back in 1987 featured the powerhouse Cleveland Indians: who finished in last place, with the worst record in baseball. And in May of last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers (then in first place) appeared on the cover with the headline “Fun and Games In L.A.” — and promptly tanked.

So, while the S.I. jinx is simply a superstition, it’s hard to argue with history. Then too, the reason there’s a 162 game season is not simply to test of team’s excellence, but it’s luck. It’s ability to overcome fate, and injuries and those odd little bounces that rob a sure winner of a Series championship. And there’s that other thing: the Nationals might well be “the best team in baseball,” at least on paper, but the coming season won’t be played on paper. It’ll be played against the likes of the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants. Among others.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Ah, we’re back — and this time for good. The snow has melted, we can feel Spring in the air, and the Nationals are just days from their opener. It’s the season of predictions: with everyone assessing starting rotations and winter trades.

So too, usually, we make our predictions at this time of the off-season. But this year, we’re going to do something different — we’re going to pick the counterfactuals: those teams expected to do well who, in our estimation, are overrated. Here we go:

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Miggy’s Triple Crown

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

You can now add to your list of bad baseball trades the one that sent slugger Miguel Cabrera and pitcher Dontrelle Willis from the then-Florida Marlins to the Detroit Tigers on December 4, 2007.

The Tigers gave up a knapsack of top prospects for the two fish: Dallas Trahern, Burke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and Mike Rabelo. Not surprisingly, almost all of the players that the Marlins got in the swap are out of baseball, or playing for someone else.

Remember? The baseball world was all atwitter about how the Tigers had solidified their rotation with the addition of Willis. Cabrera, however, was hardly a throw-in. Even then, he was considered one of the best hitters in baseball. But he’d put on a lot of weight and that had raised eyebrows in Miami.

“A lot of pounds” is an understatement. Cabrera looked like Dumbo. He arrived in Florida in 2003 at a trim 185 and left for Detroit at 255. But the Tigers thought he was worth the bet: he was a four time All Star and had just come off a season where he’d hit 320 with 34 home runs and 119 RBIs.

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