Posts Tagged ‘Adam Wainwright’

Olsen Dominates, Nats Head To Chicago

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Scott Olsen’s seven inning gem against the Dodgers has Nats fans (and the Washington Post) oohing and ahhing about the team’s new attitude. “Instead of saying ‘Get ’em tomorrow,’ the Nats have finally assembled a tougher, more irritable group that actually does it,” Post columnist and leading baseball pundit Thomas Boswell writes. Boswell goes on to note: “It’s not just the Nats’ record that is different this spring. The Nats themselves are. They’re starting to resemble the first gritty crew that brought baseball back to D.C. after a 33 year wait.” Tougher? More irritable? Gritty? My first reaction was to scoff: forget irritable and gritty — we need front line guys who can throw strikes. Please, please, please Tom (I know you’re the best, or close to it), but you know (and I know, and it’s no secret) that a rotation of Lannan, Stammen, Olsen and Hernandez are not going to get it done.

But in studying yesterday’s box score, I began to question by own cynicism. The difference in the Nats 1-0 win yesterday (a beautifully pitched game, if ever there was one) from any of their wins last year was obvious. For right there, in the middle of the line-up, were two players the Nats needed, but didn’t have, in the ’09 campaign. When Mike Rizzo signed Ivan Rodriguez and Adam Kennedy in the offseason, he not only filled two special needs, he added two gamers to the clubhouse — players who not only know how to win, but want to. While Rodriguez and Kennedy went a combined 0-6 yesterday, their role on the team has been indispensible, providing much needed leadership to a crew of talented, but young, players. Mike Rizzo added a caveat: “We’re a long ways from where we want to be.” Yeah, true. But you’re also a long ways from where you were.

The difference between the ’09 and 2010 Nats becomes more obvious when you go through the line-up of the Chicago Cubs, whom the Nats face in Chicago starting tonight. The North Side Drama Queens are a team of head cases and disasters-waiting-to-happen: Alfonso Soriano’s penchant to drop flies in left field is damn near agonizing, the perpetually petulant Carlos Zambrano has been demoted to the bullpen, the perennially injured Aramis Ramirez is a fracture away from putting the Cubs in the cellar and Kosuke Fukudome is overpaid and (undoubtedly) on the trading block. I know, I know — the Cubs just swept the Brewers and can hit the hell out of the ball. But the name of this game is pitching, and the Cubs don’t have it. Forget the starters (or don’t — if you really believe that Carlos Silva is the answer), and focus on the bullpen. The line-up of Berg, Grabow, Gray, Russell and Marmol is a patched together crew of rookies and semi-veterans (like Marmol) who have yet to prove they can hit the strike zone. Put another way, we would be justified in saying that the Cubs bullpen collapsed in the first two weeks of the season, but we’d be wrong. It had nothing to collapse from.

Cubs fans are on a death watch. Nats 320 has an outstanding interview with Cubs blogger Joe Aeillo of View From The Bleachers, and while Joe sounds positive enough, you can almost hear the ‘Oh-God-wadda-we-gonna-do’ tension in his voice. Joe talks about Uncle Lou’s bullpen problems and notes that Zambrano has been “the weak link” in the rotation so far this year, but the icing comes when Nats 320 asks about Soriano. “I’ll give you $20 right now, straight cash homie, if you convince the Nationals to take him back,” Joe says. That’s a deal we can pass up: we’ll keep Willingham. Soriano, the bullpen — they’re all problems. But the real problem facing the Cubs is down the road in St. Louis. The Cubs don’t have anyone who matches up with Chris Carpenter, Brad Penny or Adam Wainwright. I can’t stand Penny (he should just rob a 7-Eleven and get it out of his system), but the former Dodger bad boy is pitching brilliantly — with three wins and a 0.94 ERA. That’s a record that Zambrano can only dream about.

The Cubs haven’t had a team since Mark Prior and Kerry Wood were five outs away from the World Series. Remember? Prior was a USC power pitcher with Cy Young stuff and Woods struck out 20 in his rookie season. And then . . . and then, in the 8th inning of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS a little pop foul that should have been caught did them in. It was their last shot. Neither Prior nor Wood have been the same since; Prior became a surgeon’s dream and is now out of baseball and Wood is in Cleveland, dealing with a cranky back. Looking at Prior (a shoulder, an achilles tendon, a hamstring, another shoulder), you can understand why Mike Rizzo wants Stephen Strasburg in the minors — and why he insists that any member of the Washington club have a winning attitude. Put another way, the problem with Cubs comes down to this: Carlos Zambrano throws the ball in the mid-90s and is capable of a 20-win Cy Young season. But wouldn’t you rather have Livan Hernandez?

Rockies Even Series; Trolleys Stun Redbirds

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 by solid pitching from Rockies’ starter Aaron Cook and bullpen aces Jose Contreras, Matt Belisle, Rafael Betancourt, Franklin Morales and all-world closer Huston Street (above). The Heltons, who won during the regular season by counting on the bats of an unlikely mix of new heroes, depended 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), and on July 24, 2009 Oakland A’s guru Billy Beane swapped him to St. Louis for three top prospects: Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson. In St. Louis, Holliday tore the cover off the ball — hitting .353 with 13 home runs in just 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 Redbirds 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 to give the 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.

Playing Hunches — and Playing Favorites

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Tom Boswell and Dave Sheinin’s sobering dual articles (“everything-has-changed-now-that-we’re-in-the-playoffs”) in yesterday’s Washington Post hasn’t kept anyone from playing hunches — or favorites. We should scatter all pretensions of predicting the future by studying statistics (or counting on hot streaks) by scattering sabermetrics to the wind. And play our hunches. Or favorites. Or both. So it is that, at least before Wednesday’s trifecta, my hunch was that Redbird Chris Carpenter would prove to be unstoppable, that the Rockies would be too hot even for Cliff Lee and that the Twinkies — riding Tuesday’s Tectonic win over the sinking Kalines — would upset the empire, even in the heart of the death star.

But, since hunches are hopes, I have been humbled by October’s cheerless realities: Chris Carpenter never looked worse, Cliff Lee never looked better and the Twinkies looked like . . .  well, they looked the Twins. But while hope might be humbled, it also springs eternal, so I’ll stick by my original predictions (which I should have made yesterday, just to make them more official): the Purples are the team to beat in the N.L., the Cardinals have the best one-two pitching punch in the playoffs (Adam Wainwright — below — will win tonight), the Twins can be the surprise team of the junior circuit and (yet to be decided) “the nation” doesn’t have a prayer against the Belinskis.  

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Good news for Nats fans! The Phish have re-upped with manager Fredi Gonzalez. Actually, what’s shocking is that Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria was considering dumping Gonzalez for not making the playoffs, even though Gonzalez was managing a franchise with the lowest payroll in baseball . . . Even better news (and this time, seriously) – is that Mets G.M. Omar Minaya still has his job! though a source on the team says that were it not for his three year extension (signed in October 2008) he wouldn’t. Minaya is on a short string (or noose, as it were) and that, if he falls on his face, he’ll be gone. Clearly, patience is running out in New York, and most particularly among its most avid fans. Our buddy-buds at NL East Chatter are running a whole chatter on “What Happens to Omar Now?” The answer is: nothing. At least not yet . . . 73 percent of those responding to an NL East Chatter poll answer the question as follows: “we are having the same damn discussion next year” . . .

Connor Tapp (the voice at Braves Baseball Blog) has some interesting things to say about what the Tomahawks should do in the off-season. He doesn’t mince words, saying that if Frank Wren resigns Garret Anderson “I might become a Mets fan.” That seems awfully dramatic, but I know what he means: if Mike Rizzo resigns Austin Kearns I might become a Braves fan. We here at CFG note that there is a hole in Tapp’s entries between August 25 and October 6: corresponding (very roughly) to those dates during which which our beloved Nats swept the Braves in three. It is onto such thin reeds that drowning men (and fans of last place baseball teams) grasp . . . Meanwhile, our friends at Phillies Phandom are having a field day (so to speak). The Phuzzies should be confident: they haven’t lost a home playoff game in two seasons.

Nats Ending With A Whimper

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

This is apparently the way that Nats end: not with a bang, but with a whimper. With seven games left in the season, the Atlanta Braves banged out thirteen hits against five Nats’ pitchers, victimizing Garrett Mock with seven hits and six runs in five innings of work. Mock, who has said he doesn’t pay attention to things like personal wins and losses, (or defensive gaffes – or his own ERA), began Saturday’s tilt against the Chops by allowing four runs in the first inning — a pattern of early innings futility that has become the sad norm amongst Washington’s young arms. It was all Braves thereafter, as Atlanta lumbered through an 11-5 win. Mock doesn’t pay attention to personal wins and losses? It’s a good thing: he’s now 3-10. With Washington losing nine of its last 11, it’s clear that the mounting losses are having an impact in the clubhouse — even this late in the season: “I don’t like losing,” Nats’ slugger Adam Dunn said after the game. “I can’t really point a finger why we are losing. It’s very frustrating. I can’t put it into words. I hate it. I hate it. It’s not good.”

Those Are The Details, Now for the Headlines: Saturday’s marquee match-up pitted the N.L. Central’s Redbirds against the Colorado Rockies — and dominant Redbird righty Adam Wainwright against fireballer Ubaldo Jimenez. It was a must-win for the Rockies, who are looking in the rearview mirror at the Braves, who are now just 2.5 out of the Wild Card lead. Which is why the Saturday match-up was so important. Shockingly, the usually steady Ubaldo Jimenez was shaky out of the gate while (less surprisingly) Cy Young contender Adam Wainwright look untouchable. Jimenez lost his control in the first inning — giving up three runs, but the Rockies’ rallied late, tying the game at three in the fifth. It stayed that way until the 7th, when unlikely hero Jason LaRue deposited a hanging Jimenez slider in the left field seats. That’s all St. Louis needed to win: and clinch the division championship.

Is there a growing sense of panic on the rockpile? ” We’re still ahead,” Colorado manager Jim Tracy said after his team’s loss to the Cards. “We saw what the Cardinals just accomplished with their victory tonight, and if we keep going in the manner that we have the last couple of nights, I promise you that we’ll put ourselves in a very good position to maybe have a little celebration like that for ourselves.” Tracy is paid to be upbeat, but with Atlanta surging the Purple’s fans are beginning to show signs of gnawing doubt — and a feeling that the team is just not hitting (literally) on all cylinders. “There is a perception around the league that all of the Rockies get hot and cold together and that’s why they’re prone to stretches where they can’t win followed by stretches that they can’t lose,” Rox Girl at Purple Row says. “While there’s a little truth to that, those of us that follow the team closely know that there are slumps within the machine even while it’s working well, as well as hot players churning along even when it’s not.”

All Things Rockies, meanwhile, notes that some key players are slumping — including bopper Brad Hawpe, who was recently lifted for former White Elephant Jason Giambi. Hawpe isn’t the only one who’s slumping. Colorado’s fleet-footed Nyjer-like centerfielder, Dexter Fowler is hitting a forgettable .267, an average that belies his recent struggles. Fowler, whose speed is wasted if he can’t get on base, looked positively overmatched on Saturday, going 0-4. Rockies’ manager Jim Tracy finally threw in the towel, pinch hitting for Fowler in the 9th. The Fowler stand-in against Redbird reliever Ryan Franklin was part time left fielder Seth Smith — and you have to wonder why Tracy isn’t using him more. Smith was the N.L. player of the week in early September, when Smith was positively on fire: in six games he hit .542 with four home runs, five doubles and ten RBIs. He posted a .607 OBP.

The Rockies and their fans would deny there’s any sense of panic (of course) and the even-keeled Jim Tracy waves off reporters who remind him that the Braves are closing fast. But there are those niggling little signs (familiar to Mets fans) that signal doubt: complaints about the perceived unfairness of umpire calls (the normally phlegmatic Tracy questioned the strike zone on Saturday), reassurances from players that their “rhythm is coming back” (as Rockies’ catcher Yorvit Torrealba would say), and complaints among diehards that, while the Rockies are facing the class of the National League, their chief competitor is in the midst of a series against an also-ran. This is vintage whine. And disturbing evidence that the Rockies have stopped searching for ways to win — and started issuing excuses.

Cards Sweep Nats; Ronnie To L.A.

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Garrett Mock and Adam Wainwright threw a classic pitchers’ duel at Busch Stadium on Sunday, but the Nats fell to the Redbirds, 2-1 to drop the third game of a three game set. Mock and Wainwright traded pitch-for-pitch through six complete, until Mock left a 3-2 pitch up in the strike zone against Albert Pujols, which turned out to be the difference in the game. Pujols stroked the mistake into centerfield, ending the deadlock and giving the Cards the win. Both bullpens closed out the game in near-perfection, as Nats’ bats could not provide an answer against a trio of Cards’ pitchers. The Nats accounted for only four hits in the game: one each by Willingham, Dukes, Orr and Bard. It was a tough series for D.C. hitters — but a particularly tough last game, as they faced one of the hottest pitchers in baseball, and arguably one of the contenders for the Cy Young Award. The masterful Wainwright had only one shaky inning and is now 16-7 on the year. 

Garrett Mock dueled Adam Wainwright in St. Louis (AP/Tom Gannam)

Garrett Mock dueled Adam Wainwright in St. Louis (AP/Tom Gannam)

Sunday’s game was one of the best of the year by Mock, who was spotting his breaking stuff nearly perfectly. But the pitch to Pujols, Mock said, will probably keep him awake: “The pitch that’s going to cost me some sleep tonight is the one that he got a hit on that scored the second run,” Mock said. “I wasn’t trying to throw the ball there, obviously — not trying to throw the ball anywhere where he could hit it. I feel like I did do a good job of executing my pitches today, but that particular pitch, I’ve got to be better than that.” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had praise for Washington’s starter. “I just called Jim Riggleman and said, ‘Whoever decided to put Mock in the rotation, it was a good decision,'” La Russa said. “Boy, he was very good.”

After the game, the franchise announced the departure of Ronnie Belliard for the sunny climes of L.A., where he will find service with the Trolleys. Ronnie’s gotta be as pleased as punch to be headed to a contender, after riding the pines for most of the season behind Anderson Hernandez, now riding the pines for the Chokes, and Adrian Gonzalez. Not surprisingly, Belliard was of two minds on the trade: “I’m happy because I’m going to L.A. and that team is in first place,” he said. “But I’m sad because I am going to leave a lot of friends. I’ve been here for the last three years and I made a lot of friends.” Belliard had been playing well since the All Star break, hitting .325 with five home runs and 22 RBIs. He’d been getting more playing time. The Nats received minor league righthander Luis Garcia and a player to be named in the swap.

Baltimore 

The Orioles might, truly, be one of the forgotten teams of baseball. Fated to play in the A.L. East, the little orange birds are mired in last place, 28 games behind the Yankees — and only eight wins better than the Nats. But there’s hope in Birdland, and not simply because the O’s have won six of their last 11. The team arguably now has one of the best outfields in all of baseball, a clear contender for the rookier of the year award, and perhaps one of the league’s premier young pitchers. All of this was on display on Sunday, when the O’s took on the Naps in Baltimore and coasted to an easy win behind the power arm of rookie Brian Matusz. All of 22, the former first round (fourth overall) pick in the 2008 draft, is the thinking man’s pitcher, who studies game-day videos of himself to determine how best to spot his killer curve, then adjusts his arm slot accordingly. Matusz threw 97 pitches yesterday, 67 of them for strikes. He held the Indians to four hits over seven innings.

Matusz isn’t a surprise: he’s a can’t miss pitcher who won’t miss. The surprise is Felix Pie — a former Cubbie who has now, shockingly, set down roots in left field after going through nearly three years of trying to figure out how to hit major league pitching. Pie has been on a tear, raising his average over the last two months to a respectable .272 and showing some power; he now has seven home runs (a laughable total, we suppose, except that the punch-and-judy Dominican wasn’t supposed to have any at all). Pie weighed in to help Matusz on Sunday, jacking a two run homer in the third. He’s hitting .383 since August 14.

Pie is a nice addition in the outfield, completing a trio that includes Adam Jones in center and Nick Markakis in right. If Jones was playing in New York or Boston, we venture to guess, people would be describing him for what he is: the best young outfielder in all of baseball. The Pie-Jones-Markakis trio has kicked Noland Reimold, a contender for rookie of the year, into the D.H. spot. Reimold’s hot bat has been a surprise for the MacPhail’s this year: the 25-year-old climbed his way, hand-over-hand through the Baltimore system, before the front office gave him a grudging look. He was a prospect that was once ranked near the bottom in the O’s system. But he’s produced and it looks like he’s in Baltimore to stay.

Okay: things aren’t all that great in Baltimore and the fans are restless. How can they be otherwise. The team is in last place. They’re certainly not going to win a pennant next year, or maybe even the year after. But the MacPhail plan is on track — and if the outfield of Pie, Jones and Markakis ever hit together, the Baltimore Orioles could become one of the most formidable teams in all of baseball and a challenger to “the nation” and the evil empire. With Matusz they have the beginnings of a young staff, the only other ingredient they need. And so, after an era of irrational interference from a know-it-all owner, the Orioles are finally on the right track. If they only had a little more pitching.

Felix Pie (left) is congratulate by Melvin Mora after homering against the Indians

Felix Pie (left) is congratulated by Melvin Mora after homering against the Indians

Mark DeRosa’s Revenge

Friday, August 28th, 2009

At the outset of the ’09 season, baseball’s prognosticators picked the Cardinals for second place in the NL Central — or even third — behind the Cubbies, who had rejiggered their line-up to be more “balanced.” The Cubs had traded super utilityman Mark DeRosa to the Naps and signed on left handed hitting Milton “Game Board” Bradley, mixing a righthanded heavy line-up that had been swept in the playoffs at the hands of the hated Trolleys. The Cubs — a veritable set of mashers — were on the way up, the Cards (a bunch of sore arms and also-rans) were on the way down. Now, months later, the results of all those moves are in: and the Cardinals are running away with the division crown. While afficiandos focus on the Cubs’ failures, there’s more reason to argue that Cards G.M. John Mozeliak made all the right moves and all of them just at the right time. So what happened?

The Cardinals began their sprint to the top of the NL Central at the end of June: the timing coincided with their trade for Cleveland’s DeRosa. The Cards shipped reliever Chris Perez to Cleveland to land DeRosa to shore up a wobbly infield and undermanned outfield. Just one day later, DeRosa went on the DL, but the deed was done and the Cards were overjoyed with their acquisition. So was DeRosa: his last place ass had landed in a tub of first place butter: “From a selfish standpoint, I get to battle for a division title again and I’m in a good position with a great team.” Then, at the end of July, Mozeliak traded a passel of prospects to the White Elephants for Matt Holliday. It’s not simply that Holliday was a good hitter, he knew NL pitching and could provide protection behind Pujols, who was starting to see more walks than Cards manager Tony La Russa liked. Holliday cashed in a Mozeliak’s trust, setting the league on fire.

Mark DeRosa

But Holliday was just one piece of a make-over that Mozeliak had in mind. Two days before sealing the Holliday deal, the Cards G.M. traded away Chris Duncan to Boston for under appreciated shortstop Julio Lugo, who had worn out his welcome with the Red Sox. With acquisition Khalil Greene (whom Mozeliak had hoped would plug the Cards hole at the position) not working out, the Redbirds were desperate to find a solution. Lugo hasn’t exactly been ripping up the NL, but La Russa has done his usual sleight-of-hand in getting the most from him: he starts at second against left handed pitchers (for left swinging Skip Schumaker) and at short when breakout youngster Brendan Ryan needs a breather. So far so good: such mixing and matching would not have been possible in Boston, where psychologically hobbled Theo Epstein would never have subbed for Dustin Pedroia.  

There’s more. The acquisition of John Smoltz, it is now reported, is the result of a recommendation to La Russa and Mozeliak by the newly acquired DeRosa, who told them that the future hall of famer would fit in nicely in St. Louis. The Cardinals bit: outbidding the Marlins, Dodgers and Rangers for his services. For the Cubs (and the rest of the N.L. Central), DeRosa can be counted as the latest in a series of team curses. He has become a kind of Jason of the N.L. Central — an unforgiving and murderous nightmare, taking retribution on the Baby Bears for not having enough confidence in him to keep him around.

There’s no question. Signing Smoltz was a gamble for the Cardinals, but so far (at least) it seems to have worked out: in Smoltz’s first outing against the Friars, the righty threw five innings of three hit ball. He looked sharp and confident. He looked at home on the mound. He looked like he was back. The outing raised eyebrows around major league baseball: maybe the old guy still has something left. Yeah, maybe. But Smoltz doesn’t have to be the lights-out John Smoltz of old. He just has to pitch well enough to give the Cardinals another arm in their already superb arsenal of arms: Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Joel Pineiro. Smoltz could set the Cards up for a good run in the offseason. He could bring them into the post-season as the team to beat. And wouldn’t it be nice to see St. Louis facing off against that other great team in the league: The Los Angeles Dodgers The Colorado Rockies.