Posts Tagged ‘josh willingham’

Atlanta Burns Nats

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

There were two pieces of bad news on Tuesday: the first was the Nats lefty Scott Olsen couldn’t make it out of the 6th inning against the Braves in Atlanta, the second was that Josh Willingham may be out for the season. While the second piece of news was assuredly worse than the first (Willingham will almost certainly undergo surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee), Olsen’s failure to tame the Braves (the Nats lost ugly — 10-2) emphasized again the pitching woes that have faced the Anacostia Nine throughout the 2010 campaign. Little relief seems in sight: Jordan Zimmermann may not start for Washington until September, Jason Marquis continues to struggle and the combo of Livan and “the kid” has yet to result in serial wins.

But the most recent reward for frustration goes to Olsen, who was angered by Jim Riggleman’s decision to send him to the bench. While Riggleman retained his reputation for wielding an early hook, Olsen glared at him, stalked off the mound, yelled into his glove on the way to the dugout and then threw his leather angrily when he arrived. Olsen had no comment on Riggleman’s liberal hook, but the Nats skipper didn’t hesitate to defend his decision: “It was 2-0 and now it’s a homer, triple, walk with nobody out,” Riggleman said after the game. “Ole had done a great job. But as great as he was, he lost it that quickly. When you get a couple of runs, you have to minimize the damage. I just felt that our bullpen has a done great job. With the right-hander facing the right-handed hitters, maybe we could get a zero from that point on or maybe just one run. It just appeared to me that [Olsen] wasn’t pitching the same he was in the first few innings.”

The Nats will face the Braves again tonight, with innings eater and starting ace Livan Hernandez scheduled to face off against the normally lights-out Tim Hudson.

Fish Wrap

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

The Washington Nationals loss to the Florida Marlins on Tuesday was yet another example of the Nats’ good-news-bad-news season. The good news is that Stephen Strasburg is healthy, the bad news is that the Florida Marlins roughed up “the kid” — who lasted just 4.1 innings in his worst outing of the year. If that comment seems unfair, it’s only because it is: while Nats fans have expected a stellar outing whenever Strasburg steps on the mound, the simple truth is that any old 22-year-old phenom can get hit, as can any Hall of Famer or Cy Young winner. Strasburg is not the only very good pitcher who, after trying out his best stuff, finds himself tramping to the dugout. That said, there are reasons for Strasburg’s indifferent outing on Tuesday. Reasons. Not excuses.

Strasburg had not pitched in three weeks and, in the wake of his activation from the D.L. was not given the luxury of a rehab start in Triple-A. It was Strasburg who said it best: “Everybody is human. They are going to have these days sooner or later,” he said after the game. “I’m a little disappointed in myself, because I really went out there not focusing on the one thing that you really have to focus on: Just going out there and competing, and going with what you had. I spent the whole time worrying about trying to fix what was going wrong instead of just letting it go — just throwing the ball.”

And credit the Marlins. If Hanley Ramirez were to spend his career playing only the Nationals he’d be the next Stan Musial, while Dan Uggla hit the pitches he wanted (mostly up-in-the-zone fastballs that went wicked fahhh). The barrage, when coupled with 6.2 innings from a tough Anibal Sanchez and nearly spotless Fish relief spelled the difference. Oh, and the failure of Nationals’ hitters to take advantage of the few chances they had to score runs. Most disturbing of all, perhaps, is Josh Willingham’s continued drought, a slump that has now reached epic proportions. Willingham was 0-3 with a strikeout; his down-the-drain average is at .262, his power numbers plunging. The slump hasn’t really lasted all that long — only since June.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: You’d have to be an insensitive lout to not be overtaken by the emotion of Andre Dawson’s appearance at Nationals Park on Tuesday. The former Expos great teared up during his induction into the newly inaugurated Ring Of Honor — as good an idea as the Nationals front office has had since the hiring of Mike Rizzo. Dawson was joined by former Expos catcher Gary Carter, who told MASN broadcasters Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble that he was honored by his name being included, but that the night was “really about Andre.” The Ring of Honor celebrates Hall of Fame inductees who played for the Montreal Expos (the home franchise team of the Nationals), the Washington Senators and the Homestead Grays of the old Negro League, who played their games in D.C. for many years. Those honored include Dawson, Carter, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Walter Johnson and Harmon Killebrew. You have to have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame to be considered — hence the non-inclusion (alas) of Washington Senators’ first baseman Mickey Vernon, perhaps the most deserving veteran who has not yet been voted into the shrine. So change the rules: Mickey’s name belongs on that ring.

Assessing The Second Half

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Just one year ago, in 2009, the Washington Nationals opened the second half of their season not only in last place in the NL East, but as the worst team in baseball. The problems then were obvious: the bullpen had imploded, regular outfielder Austin Kearns was slumping, there was no starting pitching and the team seemed uninvolved and detached. The challenge then was different than it is now: to change what was happening on the field, the Nats needed to change what was happening in the front office — a view reflected in ownership’s mid season open letter to fans that contained an embarrassing, but necessary apology. No such apology is needed now. While the Nats are yet again in last place in their division, the rebuilt bullpen is solid, Austin Kearns (DHL’d to Cleveland) has been replaced in the outfield by slugger Josh Willingham, the team’s starting rotation is filled with promise and the clubhouse is tight and optimistic. But perhaps the biggest revolution has been where the fans can’t see it: the front office is retooled — with an engaged general manager and a core of scouts and development experts who are competing with the best in baseball.

The challenges facing the 2009 Nats were obvious, the needed changes reflected in the standings. That’s less true now, particularly considering that the franchise controls one of the game’s premier young pitchers (Stephen Strasburg), has one of the most formidable 3-4-5 line-up combinations in the National League (Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham), is steadied by a future hall of famer behind the plate (“Pudge” Rodriguez), and has — waiting in the wings — a crowd of injured starting pitchers that could energize a second half surge (Jason Marquis, Jordan Zimmermann, Scott Olsen and Chien-Ming Wang). Which is not to say that there aren’t problems. There are. The Nats defense is weak, the team’s set-up men are struggling, their center fielder is having problems on the base paths (and at the plate) and (pending the uncertain return of a quartet of tweeky arms) their starting pitching is shaky.

In 2009, these same problems (and their hypothetical resolution) spurred overly optimistic talk; that the Nationals were actually “only a player or two” from being good. That wasn’t true in 2009 — not even close, but it’s true now. The question for Mike Rizzo is whether he busts up a good thing to continue building, or whether he tweaks the team at the edges, hoping that the return of the Marquis-Zimmermann-Olsen-Wang quartet will provide the necessary spur to vault the team out of last place. It’s not an easy decision: busting up the team means trading popular and productive players (Dunn or Willingham, or both), while tweaking it at the edges probably (probably) means accepting that the Nats future is not now, but sometime next year. If there’s good news here, it’s this: Nats fans won’t have to wait until August or September to determine the team’s fate — that tale will be told before the July 31 trading deadline.

The Wisdom Of Secton 1-2-9: The CFG contingent arrived at the first game of the McCovey series with a new set of fans seated firmly in the row behind the regulars. That the two (I swear) looked like the spitting image of Omar Little and Stringer Bell was tempting: “hey, you two were great in The Wire.” The moment, thankfully, passed. The two turned out to be charter members of the Nyjer Morgan fan club, pumping their fists at every Nyjer moment: “My man,” one said, when Nyjer came to the plate. A row mate was not impressed, mimicking Casey At The Bat — “strike two said the umpire” and then the smile “not my style said Nyjer.” There were titters. When Morgan flipped his bat in disgust at a strike out served up by Matt Cain, the potential for a debate seemed electric, but one of the Morgan partisans smiled:  “You’ll see,” he said, to no one in particular. And he was right: Morgan was 2-5 and knocked in a run. “Hey man,” one of the Morgan fans said, but so we could hear it, “some of these fans don’t remember what Nyjer did for us last year.” His row mate nodded in agreement. “Yeah man, I know. Short memories.” This was greeted by silence. And chagrin. They were relentless, boring in for the kill. One of them tapped me on the shoulder: “That was a rope,” he said, after Morgan put a streaking line drive down the right field line. Okay, okay, okay . . .

“The problem with Clippard is that his curve just isn’t working,” one of the section’s middle relief experts opined in the second game of the San Francisco series. He didn’t need to keep making the point, Clippard was making it for him — “see, look at that.” Clippard looked terrible and shook his head as he came off the field. “He feels it,” and then there was just a tick before this, from a fan down the row: “Yeah, well, he should.” But the section remained optimistic (“he’ll get it back”), even as the Nats squandered a seemingly insurmountable lead (“yeah, but not this inning”). There were some few Giants fans in the seats, complete with newly minted, black and orange, Buster Posey jerseys. One Frisco fan (“San Francisco natives never use that term,” I was told) was tweeting with a family member, even as the Nats compiled a five runs lead. The message was pointed: “My boy Posey will regulate!” He did: 4-5 with 3 RBIs.

Nats Struggling At The Break

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Just  two games ago it was possible to think good things about the Nats. They had taken two of three from a very tough San Diego team and grabbed an easy first game in a three game set against the Giants. And the Nats were beginning to hit. The toughest teams of the west seemed suddenly vulnerable to a line-up filled with a hot home run hitter (in Adam Dunn), a suddenly tough pitching staff (headlined by Stephen Strasburg) and a revived bullpen (with solid arms Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps). But successive losses — one in which the bullpen collapsed and another in which steady Livan Hernandez was anything but — have put a cloud over the Nats’ first half and sparked continued speculation about whether the team will make major moves as the trading deadline approaches. Even Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman, ever the optimist, seemed puzzled (we just have to find a way to play better, he said after the second loss to the McCoveys), while Mike Rizzo evinced some disappointment: “I think we have underachieved a little bit, and I don’t think we played as good as I think we can. I’m looking forward to a better second half.”

While successive losses to the Giants ended the symbolic first half of the season on a low note, the team’s improvement has been undeniable: Stephan Strasburg has arrived (and he’s here to stay), Adam Dunn has emerged as a team and fan favorite (with unacknowledged defensive improvements at first base), the team remains relatively healthy (the notable exceptions being Scott Olsen and Jason Marquis), the bullpen has been sure and steady (in spite of the recent setbacks), Ian Desmond has proven he can hit major league pitching (okay, he’ll need to field major league hitting), and (surprise, surprise) Roger Bernadina has shown he can play with the big guys. There are disappointments — Nyjer Morgan has not been the spark plug he was last year, the team remains unaccountably soft on defense and no single starter has emerged to complement Strasburg and Hernandez. Oh, and the team is in last place in the NL East.

Amidst the talk of trades (Dunn for whomever, prospects and a bat for Haren, a pocket of maybes for a middling arm) — and front office prayers for the return of someone, somehow (Marquis in July, Zimmermann in August, Olsen sometime) — it’s hard to know just what would vault the team into contention. Magic wands seem out of reach and blockbusters rarely happen to teams whose farm system is still so-so. Mike Rizzo might be willing to swap three or four of the system’s top prospects, but none of them seem major league ready. They’d be here if they were. And there’s this: while Zimmerman, Dunn and Willingham seem a fine 3-4-5 combination and are good friends to boot (and no one but no one wants to see them broken up), it’s hard to defend a combo that, for all it’s power, fails to plant a stake in the heart of an on-the-ropes Jonathan Sanchez or a wet-behind-the-curve newbie like Madison Bumgarner. Mike Rizzo says that he is looking forward to a better second half. So are we. But contending is another major bat and another good starter (and, truth be told, at least another half season) away.

“A lot of leash with John . . .”

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman made sure the press knew: John Lannan would remain in Washington’s starting rotation, had every right to be there, and would soon enough return to the good old days — when he led the Washington rotation. “I believe in John,” Riggleman said after Sunday’s 6-3 loss at the hands of Chicago’s White Sox. “There has to be something there because he has it in the bullpen. He’ll get the ball sinking. He just haven’t been able to do it in game situations. John has been too good for us to let a few starts detour us too much. We have a lot of leash with John.” Lannan was undoubtedly pleased with the vote of confidence from his manager: he failed to get out of the fifth inning for his third start in a row, yielding 11 hits and five runs in four innings of work — his worst inning coming after the Nats gained their first lead in the Chicago series.

Lannan’s troubles reflects his team’s troubles. Ryan Zimmerman is in a funk at the plate, Josh Willingham’s numbers of cratering and the get-on-base top of the order is failing to get on base. For all of that, the Nats’ front office seems unfazed — with no one scrambling impatiently to right the listing ship. Skipper Riggleman, in particular, seems willing to wait out the recent slump, counting on his hitter-heavy line-up and a bevy of young arms to set things right. “It’s just not happening for us right now. We are struggling,” Riggleman said in the wake of the Nats sixth straight loss. “Everybody in the locker room knows it. We are sticking together, though, and we are going to pass the character test. The character gets tested sometimes and we are getting tested right now.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Jim Kurtzke over at Nationals Daily News details the problems the Nats will have in their starting rotation without a solid Lannan. Kurtzke points out that 2010 was to be a transition year for the rotation, with Lannan slotted as a solid number 3 behind Strasburg and a healthy Zimmermann. And now? His reflections are well worth reading . . . Federal Baseball spends five minutes with Tyler Clippard — and finds out what makes the Nats’ reliever tick. Clippard is a fan of Washington fans. “The fans here in Washington have been great so far ever since I stepped foot in this organization, and being in the big leagues here,” Clippard says, “even last year when we were losing a bunch the fans were still great to us as players and stuff . . .” It sounds like Clippard would rather be here than anywhere else. The big righty extols the talents of pitch-caller Ivan Rodriguez and fellow set-up wizard Drew Storen . . . It’s good to see that we’re not the only ones feeling our age. Nationals Fanboy Looser (former newspaperman Mike Harris) remembers watching a 1962 tilt at the Polo Grounds in a tribute to Father’s Day. It’s a nice reminder of what baseball was like back before the Peloponnesian War . . . Nats 320 outdid themselves with a detailed look at Sunday’s game, along with a series of in-game photos. They write that the Nats’ slump is a team effort and point out that the Nats-Royals tilt on Monday night will be the first time that the Nats and Royals have matched up since the Nationals became the Nationals in 2005 . . .

Bombs Away

Friday, June 11th, 2010

The Washington Nationals ended their home stand with a 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, and a sweep of their three game series. Livan Hernandez pitched six solid innings in notching the win, but the difference in the game was home runs hit by Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Mike Morse — who started the game in right. The Nats hit the long ball in the series, with Adam Dunn now dialed in and absolutely firecracker hot: the Nats first sacker is hitting .284 (after a slow start), and has hit a home run in each of the Nats’ last three home games — all against the Stargells. Over the last ten games, Dunn has spiked his batting average by ten points. The Nats head to Cleveland for a three game series before heading on to Detroit, the second stop in their second round of inter-league play.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: NL East Chatter (of which we are a proud part) is running a multi-part series entitled “Future of the NL East” that focuses on the division’s best young players. The review started with a portrait of Stephen Strasburg (prior to his first outing in D.C.); this week’s focus is on Jason Heyward and it’s worth the read . . . Our friends over at Real Dirty Mets Blog have a fascinating post on Mets journal keeper and artist Joe Petruccio, who is dedicated to filling his personal notebook with a season-long looked at his “beloveds.” Petruccio’s art hearkens to the day when sports pages were filled with quick sketches or cartoons of daily plays and games. There must be, somewhere, a similar notebook filled with sketches of the Nats (I would just bet), but until we find such an artist, we will have to be satisfied with Joe’s drawings — if of the wrong team.

Speaking of Mets Fans, one of the droogs (you remember the droogs, right?), responded to our plea for new nicknames with an email — and some interesting nominations. His suggestions for the Chokes include: “the Mutts,” “the Amazins,” “the Kings of Queens” (not bad, that), the “NY Mess” and “The Miracles.” For the Phillies he has “the Whizkids” and “the Philthies” and for the Dodgers he suggests we adopt “Da Bums.” The Kings of Queens is a keeper, in my humble opinion . . . Meanwhile, our regular reader from Brazil (no kidding) writes that we should drop the nicknames altogether, arguing that the Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Rockies and Brewers (among all the others) “already are nicknames” and then she (I’m convinced it’s a “she”) adds the following two words: “you moron” . . . still another reader suggested we conduct a survey of Nats fans to see if the Nats should have a suitable nickname, “a shorthand” version of Nats that would replace what he calls “your pretty lame Anacostia Nine nickname . . .”

So here’s the Petruccio stuff. And don’t forget to visit his blog . . .

Strasburg (W, 1-0), Capps (S, 19)

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

If, during Spring Training, you had asked Nats skipper Jim Riggleman to sketch out a “model” Nationals win, he might have said something like this: a strong and intimidating strike-throwing no-walks every-fifth-day sure-thing starter followed by a middle inning lights-out reliever, finishing with an unhittable closer who strikes fear into the opposition. And the bats? That’s easy: a get-on-base-guy at the top of the order followed by the heavy lumber: Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham and Rodriguez. Add liberally all those other things that really good teams have: a tight defense anchored by a youngster at short and a speedster in center. Oh, and let’s not forget: a strong and intimidating strike-throwing no-walks every-fifth-day sure-thing starter.

On Tuesday night, Jim Riggleman got his wish: Stephen Strasburg provided one of baseball’s most dominating pitching debuts, holding the Stargells to four hits over seven complete and wowing the sell-out crowd of 40,000-plus — who gave the now former phenom innumerable standing ovations before demanding that he take a well-deserved curtain call. “I really can’t put into words any better than what you saw,” Riggleman said following Strasburg’s gem. The California native and 2009 first round, first overall Nats draft pick registered fourteen strikeouts and no walks. I’ll repeat the important part of that last sentence, just for emphasis: no walks. But Strasburg’s numbers tell only a part of the story. Excepting for a semi-shaky fourth (and even then, he seemed in complete control) Strasburg dominated the game — with a silly-sick curve, an unhittable change-up and an in-your-eyes fastball that topped out (twice) at 100 mph. And the Nationals won, in a model of precision that Riggleman might have only dreamed of just two months ago: Strasburg was followed by 8th inning guy Tyler Clippard (one inning, one hit, two strike outs), before “Let’s Go Capps” (one inning, no hits) closed the door.

Nationals 5, Pirates 2.

From where the CFG contingent was sitting — in Section 129 (and here we are, in case you’ve forgotten), the night seemed filled with odd physical tics. Every time that Strasburg finished howitzer-ing a fastball past an increasingly puzzled Ahoy line-up, the entire section would look up at the scoreboard, calculating velocity. Up and back, up and back, like watching a ping-pong match. “That’s 100.” The 82 mph curves were as impressive, the mix in pitches a sign that “this kid” (as in, “boy, can this kid throw”) is more than just a fireballer. And then the nods or guttural response, or expressions of awe. “Seven in a row, are you kidding?” There was a sense of disbelief in all of this. Everyone had heard the hype, but no one had quite believed it. CFG’s DWilly rang up after the game, his cell crackling with the sound of the crowd celebrating on Half Street: “The real deal,” he said.

Now Then, Where Were We? Oh yeah, searching for a right fielder. Even before the Strasburg debut, the Nats front office had to feel that the team they put on the field could make a run at a playoff spot, the only negative being the gaping hole in right field. That’s called a conceit: what we mean to say is — the yawning maw in right field. With the Willie Harris/Willy Taveras platoon a thing of the past (it lasted all of one game), the Nats were hoping that Harris alone (and then Roger Bernadina) could make the difference. But Willie is not only hitting below the Mendoza line, he makes Mendoza look like DiMaggio. Then too, Bernadina is yet to get his legs (or his stroke, as the case may be) and the oft-injured Mike Morse, while a Riggleman favorite, just doesn’t feel like a permanent solution. Or hit like one. Well, there’s Cristian Guzman . . . okay, well maybe not.

So, the search is on. Last week, Ben Goessling speculated about a number of fixes, including the Brew Crew’s Corey Hart, the North Sider’s Kosuke Fukudome and Tampa’s B.J. Upton, any number of whom would be an upgrade. But the price, according to Goessling, would be high: Tyler Clippard, or Matt Capps — and throw in a top prospect. With the possible exception of Hart, it hardly seems worth it. Hart has pop (15 dingers), but a so-so-average, the K-man patrols the field with the best of them (but is too inconsistent at the plate — and comes with a salary), and B.J. Upton has yet to live up to his hype (.235 BA, six homers). Past A Diving Vidro (now there’s a great name for a blog) says that David DeJesus might be an option — but then the bloggers at PADV rightly call him a K.C. Ryan Church . . . ugh.

There’s another possibility. The White Sox are “open for business,” and have apparently been dangling outfielder Carlos Quentin — who can be had for the right price. But it’s hard to see what that price might be. The one thing the Nats can now (supposedly) trade is relief pitching — the one thing the Pale Hose don’t need. Then too, it’s hard to figure what you gain with Quentin: sure, 21 home runs last year (remember? CQ was once “The Second Coming” in “The Second City”), but his measly BA (.236!) and anemic OBP of .323 has soured his stay in Chicago. If we’re going to pay top price for a right fielder, then it’s worth getting one who can swing the stick. Quentin has yet to prove he can. Then too, whether it’s Hart, or Kosuke or B.J. or whomever, dealing Tyler Clippard or Matt Capps just now seems like a bad idea. Clippard has emerged as one of the game’s premier middle relievers (well, he’s getting there), while dealing Capps would seem proof of attention deficit disorder: maybe the Nats front office remembers what it’s like to play without a closer, but the rest of us are permanently Hanrahan’d. Which means? Which means that sometimes, at least in baseball, the best thing to do is nothing at all.

Nats, Capps Defrock Friars

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Matt Capps pitched out of a based loaded jam in the ninth inning to preserve a Washington Nationals and John Lannan win in San Diego, 5-3. The victory marked an all-the-way back start for the Washington mainstay, who had his best outing of the year — a seven inning, seven hit semi-gem that fed off the Friar’s lack of power and Washington’s ability to put the ball in the seats. Josh Willingham began the Washington scoring with a three run top-of-the-fourth dinger off of starter Clayton Richard, who held the Nats to four hits. Ian Desmond went 2-4 for the night, which included his fourth homer, a solo shot in the seventh. The game’s comic interlude was provided by San Diego, which filled out its staring line-up card incorrectly, spurring the Nats to play the game under protest. But the protest was dropped by the Nats front office after the win.

While Richard could not stop Washington’s long ball, San Diego manager Bud Black named closer Matt Capps as the difference in the game. Capps struck out two and then induced a ground ball to pitch out of the ninth inning jam. “That was a tough one for Capps, and he got it done,” Black said following the San Diego loss. “He’s pitched well. He has that in him. We had some good swings, but we just didn’t connect. We got it in position with those four hits there in the ninth, but it just didn’t turn out.” Capps register his 17th save, throwing 24 pitches, 17 for strikes. His ERA now stands at 2.96. The Nats face off against the Padres at Petco Park in San Diego in a Saturday night game that will feature recently recalled Nats Triple-A pitcher (and spot starter in 2009), J.D. Martin against young Friar hurler Mat Latos.

Waiting For Strasburg Stanton: While Washington fans speculate endlessly about just when Stephen Strasburg will make his debut in the Bigs, Fish Fans are all agog about Michael Stanton — “the next big thing” in Florida. While Stanton (more properly, Giancarlo Cruz-Michael Stanton) was hardly judged a “phenom” when he was drafted in the second round (79th overall) of the 2007 draft, his semi-meteoric rise through the Marlins farm system (he’s now at Double-A Jacksonville) has been accompanied by a breathtaking display of power. Back on May 6, one of Stanton’s towering drives in Montgomery not only cleared the centerfield wall, it sailed effortlessly over the 95 foot scoreboard behind it. Stanton’s teammates immediately engaged in speculation about whether the ball would ever be found — it wasn’t.

The Marlins clearly know what they have, fueling speculation about just when Stanton will appear — and what kind of difference he’ll make when he does. The excitement is not confined to the front office: when not waiting for Hanley’s next tantrum, the Uggla-Cantu Fins are twittering about Stanton’s prodigious shots. This is not all hype: through his first 38 games this year (albeit, at Jacksonville), Stanton is hitting .310 with 16 home runs and 39 RBIs with a .447 on-base percentage. He leads the minors in just about everything having to do with hitting. There’s no reason to think this won’t continue with the big club, when he’s called up sometime in June. He’s “Florida big,” following the Marlins’ tradition of drafting tall ironman types that are more Ruth than Ripken.

Of course, Stanton’s arrival as “the next big thing” is highly anticipated by Marlins’ fans (here they are), in large part because the last big thing (Cameron Maybin) hasn’t worked out so well — and because, despite fielding a good team, Miami’s fans seem as unexcited as any team in baseball not named the Blue Jays. It’s no wonder then, that Marlins President Larry Beinfest channels Mike Rizzo when he talks about Stanton, giving cagey answers to reporters who hound him about Stanton’s prospective arrival. Beinfest knows what he’s doing — increasing speculation about just when Florida’s version of Jason Heyward will arrive at Landshark Stadium. Patience, patience, Beinfest says. Stanton justs needs to continue working on his game “and the rest will take care of itself.”

Bay Watch

Monday, May 24th, 2010

How odd is it that, just over forty games into the season, the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants — teams so different in outlook, history and raw talent — would have almost identical records? And yet there it is: after suffering through a gut-wrenching five game losing streak, the Giants (predicted in the pre-season as one of the elite teams of the NL West), are one game over .500, as are the Nats (at 23-22). If the Giants are so much better than the Nats (as baseball analysts would have once claimed), then why are they playing so poorly?

At least a part of the answer became obvious on Sunday, as the McCoveys struggled through yet another punchless contest — registering a terminally fatal 0-18 with runners in scoring position and suffering their second consecutive shutout. The loss was particularly hard to swallow, as it came against their White Elephant rivals across the Bay, who not only swept the interleague series, but made the Giants look downright silly. Here’s the key, at least according to San Francisco skipper Bruce Bochy: the Giants can hit, but only sometimes and even when they do, it’s not when runners are in a position to score.

Giants fans are becoming impatient: with one of the most formidable starting rotations in all of baseball, the Giants should be winning decisively. They’re not. Bochy has responded to the team’s hitting drought by shaking up the McCovey’s batting order: dropping outfielder Aaron Rowand into the sixth spot and moving speedster Andres Torres to the head of the line-up. But even Bochy has doubts this will work — San Francisco’s problem is that it lacks hitters who can hit for power and average. Pablo Sandoval is San Francisco’s premier (and popular) young power hitter, but his batting average stands at .282 — hardly something to brag about. Aaron Rowand, signed as a free agent to anchor the outfield and drive in runs, is hitting just .242 while import Freddy Sanchez is struggling to remain above the Mendoza line.

A comparison between a line-up struggling to generate runs and one that knows how to put them on the board is sobering. The Giants have put 33 dingers into the seats, the Nats 39; the Giants are hitting an anemic .257, the Nats are chugging along at .265 — the Giants have driven in 160 runs, the Nats 191. Which is to say: a San Francisco front office that boasts a starting rotation of Lincecum, Cain, Zito and Sanchez (truly, the Nats have no one to compare), is now having to scramble to find someone comparable to Willingham, Dunn, Zimmerman and Guzman — anyone of whom would add more power and average to the Giants line-up than anyone they currently have. Which is why, in the weeks ahead, the Giants will begin to search for the hitting they will so desperately need to catch the Friars and Trolleys for the NL West flag. They must know — the price will be high.

Walk Off “Hammers” O’s

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Josh Willingham’s walk off home run in the tenth inning gave the Nats the game, the set and the match against the Baltimore Orioles in a 4-3 victory at Nationals Park on Sunday. Willingham’s game winner came off of O’s reliever Cla Meredith, and gave the Nats bragging rights in the “Battle of the Beltways” inter-league series. Perhaps as important, the Nats played a nearly perfect, tight game that relied on defense and pitching — a decided change from Saturday’s messy win and a needed boost as the Nats now head west for an extended road trip. “When you get a game winning hit like that,” Willingham said after the win, “it’s why you play the game as a baseball player . . . it got up in the air and went out.”

Willingham’s game winning knock was not the only good news for the Nats. Starter John Lannan pitched well — holding the Orioles to one run on two hits over 5.1 innings. Lannan said that his arm felt good after the outing, with the pain he had suffered over the previous weeks an apparent thing of the past. “I’m feeling healthy, which is the main thing,” Lannan said. The game also seemed to confirm Jim Riggleman’s decision to provide Roger Bernadina with a more steady starting role in right field. After a slow start, Bernadina is hitting the ball well — and he’s a defensive asset in right field. “He’s just getting a little better each time,” Riggleman noted. “He’s really finding his way and getting a little more comfortable.” The Nats will start their road journey with a series against the San Francisco Giants,  before moving on to San Diego and Houston.