Posts Tagged ‘MLB Network’

“We Decided To Go With The Closer”

Sunday, October 5th, 2014


A transforming season that saw the Washington Nationals lead the National League in victories suddenly became a season of “what ifs” on Saturday night, with the Nats losing an historic 2-1 eighteen inning contest to the San Francisco Giants. The loss leaves the Nats now having to notch three “must wins” to advance to the NLCS  — two of them on the road.

With two outs in the ninth inning, and starter Jordan Zimmermann coasting to a 1-0 victory, Nats skipper Matt Williams walked to the mound, took the ball from Zimmermann, and called on closer Drew Storen to get the final out of the game. Storen couldn’t do it — giving up a hit to Buster Posey and a game-tying double to Pablo Sandoval.

What the Nationals have notched their win if Williams had stuck with Zimmermann? Would the outcome have been different had home plate umpire Vic Carapazza not have tightened the strike zone on the D.C. righty? We’ll never know. Instead, nine innings after Zimmermann left the game, Giants first sacker Brandon Belt homered off of Tanner Roark to give the Giants their improbable 2-1 win.

Williams explained his decision to lift Zimmermann to the press following the loss: “If he got in trouble in the ninth or got a baserunner, we were going to bring our closer in,” Williams said. “That is what we have done all year. Zimmermann got the first two guys, he wasn’t going to face Posey . . . We decided to go with the closer.”

The 18 inning game was the longest in MLB post-season history and lived up to its billing. Zimmermann dueled a revived Tim Hudson through seven complete innings (Hudson left, down 1-0, after 7.1), as both pitchers matched 1-2-3 lines. Hudson’s only hiccup came in the bottom of the 3rd, when an Anthony Rendon single scored Asdrubal Cabrera for Washington’s lone run.

The Giants first run (and the one that knotted the game at one apiece) in the top of the 9th provided the sell-out crowd with the most dramatic moment of the game. After closer Storen gave up a hit to Posey, and with Joe Panik on second, third sacker Pablo Sandoval followed with a dipsy-doodle stroke down the left field line. Panik scored, but Bryce Harper winged a throw to Ian Desmond, who gunned out Posey at the plate.

The play was reviewed, but the umpire’s call on the close tag of Posey by Wilson Ramos stood and the Nats and Giants headed to extra innings. What followed was a marathon as both teams emptied their bullpens, until Brandon Belt’s home run in the top of the 18th.

The extra innings marathon feature pitching that was nearly as brilliant as Zimmermann’s. Craig Stammen and the iffy Rafael Soriano (and Tyler Clippard and Jerry Blevins — and everyone else) stepped up for the Nationals, while Yusmeiro Petit was brilliant in six innings for the Giants. But, in the end, it was Belt’s blast that made the difference.

“I just wanted to get on base for the guys behind me: `Get `em on, get `em over and get `em in.’ Fortunately, I put a good enough swing on it,” Belt said after the Giants’ win.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The best commentary on Williams’ 9th inning decision that we’ve read, or heard, comes for the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell. Writing this morning, Boswell questioned whether Williams made the right decision in bringing Storen in in relief . . .

For Boswell, at least, the answer is “no.” It’s hard to disagree. Williams himself noted in his post-game presser that “it’s easy to second guess” and that “hindsight is 20-20.” All true. But the words are Exhibit A that Boswell isn’t the only one questioning the Williams decision — Williams is too. And while Williams is no Ned Yost (the Kansas City Curse), we are left to wonder why he simply couldn’t utter the words “what the hell, he got us this far . . .”

Boswell comes up with the only explanation out there: Williams thinks through a plan, implements it, and follows it through — no matter what. “From the first day of spring training, Williams has been a man defined by his detailed plans, his schedules and his love of predictable order,” Boswell writes. “It has served him and his team 96-wins well. But he is not very flexible . . .”

That seems right to us. Our only mumbled addition is a defense of Williams that goes something like this: having an inflexible plan is better than not having one at all — which was the case in Chicago and Cincinnati during the Dusty Baker years . . .

Inaction is sometimes a “virtue,” as Boswell writes, and last night in the 9th was certainly one of them for the Nationals. But if Washington fans think bad decision making is a fault, they should have been in Chicago during the Prior-Wood era, or in Cincinnati (where arms go to die) two years ago . . .

We’ll take Williams, despite his faults, in lieu of the more undisciplined approach of Davey Johnson, or the incoherent (lets fight with the players) style of the dreadful Yost. That said, it wouldn’t be too much to ask for Matty to admit what we all know to be true, particularly in the wake of heartbreakers like Saturday night. “This one is on me . . .”

But we can’t let the moment pass without reflecting on the other unnecessary intervention in Saturday’s game. Home plate umpire Vic Carapazza’s strike zone was the most incoherent we’ve seen in some time. He lowered the strike zone on Bryce Harper (who yapped at him in disgust), then raised it on Asdrubal Cabrera, who was tossed (along with Williams) when Cabrera and Williams argued it . . .

Carapazza was lousy, and we’re not the only ones who think so. MASN analyst F.P. Santangelo allowed that Carpazazza called “a terrible game,” MLB Network veteran Mark DeRosa speculated that Carapazza was out of his depth (“maybe the stage was too big for him”) and Jon Heyman noted that Carapazza’s 9th inning strike zone was, ah, “borderline . . .”

Nevermind. It’s all history now. The Nationals are on to San Francisco, where they face elimination at the hands of a Giants team that finds a way to win — or, perhaps, sometimes simply figure that, if they hang in there long enough, the other guys will find a way to lose . . .


Why Todd Helton Should Be In The Hall of Fame

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013


Rockies’ first baseman Todd Helton announced on Monday that he will be retiring from baseball at the end of the 2013 season, bringing to an end a seventeen year career of one of his generation’s best hitters, and the best-known Colorado Rockie in that franchise’s history.

“It’s been an honor to be your first baseman for the last 17 years,” Helton told a crowd of reporters and fans at Coors Field. “I have grown from a man, to a husband and into a father. We have seen the good times and the bad. It has been a pleasure to share all of that with you.”

If Helton had actually stopped playing on Monday he’d leave the game with a .317 career batting average, a .415 on-base percentage, 2,505 career hits, 367 home runs and 586 doubles. His career average is the eighth-best for any player since 1946 with a minimum of 5,000 at-bats.

Helton has defined Colorado Rockies’ baseball: he’s the all-time Rockies leader in hits, runs, doubles, homers and RBIs, joined the team two years after its first appearance in the post-season and led it to the 2007 World Series and the playoffs in 2009.

But does Helton belong in the Hall of Fame? MLB Network’s Greg Amsinger described Helton as “Hall of Fame-ish” on Monday night’s broadcast and there seems some doubt that he’ll get the votes necessary for enshrinement. But for us, at least, Helton’s election is a no-brainer.

Helton is a five time All Star, won three Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers, a National League batting title, is ranked as one of the best ever in home OPS, finished in the top ten in batting average in his league nine times, led the N.L. twice in OBP and had one of the best years at the plate of any player in 2000, when he led his league in almost all major hitting categories.


A San Francisco Treat: Nats Snatch A Victory In Extras

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Nats southpaw Gio Gonzalez pitched brilliantly in San Francisco on Wednesday, and the Nationals denied the Giants a sweep of their series, winning in ten innings off of an Ian Desmond single. The team needed a pick-up after Tuesday night’s now-controversial debacle, and Gonzalez provided it.

Gonzalez gave up only four hits and struck out five, limiting the McCoveys to a single run in almost eight complete innings of work before being relieved by Drew Storen. The suddenly unsteady righty then proceeded to give up the tying run to San Francisco, and the Nationals went into extra innings knotted at a run apiece.

But in the 10th inning, with Bryce Harper on second and Ryan Zimmerman on first, shortstop Ian Desmond guided a Jeremy Affeldt offering into right field, scoring the go-ahead run. Rafael Soriano came on in the bottom of the 10th, setting down the Giants in order — and preserving the win.

The Ian Desmond single came after Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy decided that Affeldt should intentionally walk Ryan Zimmerman and pitch to Desmond, who’s been slumping lately. “Numbers may have indicated that was the right move to do,” Desmond said after the win. “But I was 100 percent confident I was going to get the job done right there.”

The Nationals win was only their fourth in the last ten games and came during a classic pitching duel that pitted Gonzalez against an as-effective Madison Bumgarner, who matched Gonzalez pitch-for-pitch. Their pitching lines were exactly the same — except for Harper’s home run.

“He’s one of the best guys I face all year. He knows what he’s doing out there, and the Giants are very lucky to have him,” Harper said of the San Francisco southpaw. “Going out there and facing a guy like Bumgarner is a lot of fun. I look forward to those matchups for hopefully the rest of our careers.”

The big stories of the game were Gio’s mound performance, Desmond’s go-ahead single — and Bryce Harper’s day at the plate. The Nats’ right fielder was 2-5 on the day and hit his 12th home run.

The victory lifted the teams’ spirits as the Nationals boarded a flight for their return to Washington, where they will face the Phillies, Orioles and the surging Braves (they beat the Twins today, their sixth in a row) in a ten game home stand. “It’s going to be a good flight back home,” Gonzalez said.


Four Dingers Derail The Dodgers

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

John Lannan threw 5.1 innings of five hit ball and the Nationals stroked four home runs to down the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-2 at Nationals Park on Monday. Ian Desmond led off the game with a home run, Michael Morse hit two and Jayson Werth hit one to lead the Nationals’ attack. The Nationals assault was in stark contrast to the problems they’ve been having at the plate over the last two weeks.

All of the Nationals’ homers except for one came in the first inning, and off of Trolley righty Hiroki Kuroda. John Lannan, meanwhile, threw 94 pitches in registering his ninth win against 11 losses. Lannan later said that he was anxious to go deeper into the game, but couldn’t convince Nats’ skipper Davey Johnson to keep him in. “I felt good and I wanted to keep battling,” Lannan said after the win. “But my pitch count was high. It was a hot day. Our bullpen was fresh. I understood why.”

Michael Morse’s two home runs gave him 26 for the year — to go along with 82 RBIs. The first baseman/left fielder is clearly the team’s MVP for 2011, having put together his best season of his late blooming career. Jayson Werth took time to compliment Morse after the win on Monday. “I’m really happy for him,” Werth said. “This game is not easy. We had similar parts of our career as far as the age. I can appreciate it. I think he always had it in him.” Werth’s game is also improving, after a tough 2011 and what has accounted for nearly a year-long slump. Werth hit his 18th home run of the year in the first inning, and notched his 52nd RBI.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: There’s been a changing of the guard in Florida, where the Marlins have struggled not only to put fans into the seats, but to put a good ball club on the field. The Marlins started to unravel after 6-7 fireballer Josh Johnson went out with a shoulder injury and the team cratered during a mid-June losing streak (they lost 18 of 19, and eleven in a row) that saw the rehiring of steady-as-she-goes Jack McKeon . . .

The return of Johnson will help next year, but it’s not likely to be enough. Last night on MLB Network, the irascible Larry Bowa said there had been a “changing of the guard” in Florida. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez “is no longer the face of the franchise,” Bowa said — “it’s Mike Stanton.” That sounds right. Yesterday, Ramirez was told that he will need surgery on his left shoulder . . .


John Hart’s “Sense of Urgency”

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

MLB Network’s two hour special30 Clubs/30 Report Cards — provided a good snapshot of who’s where with a little less than half-a-season left. There were few surprises: the Trolleys are the class of the National League, the Redbirds are the team to beat in the NL Central, “the Nation” and “the Empire” remain the flagships of the AL, the Belinskis finally have competition in the AL West and no one (but no one) thinks the Nats will improve. Former Rangers General Manager John Hart’s on air analysis was sobering. “I’m not going to beat a dead horse,” he said — and then went ahead with the whipping. Not only has the team little talent, but there’s little talent for Mike Rizzo to call on in the Nats’ farm system. “I don’t see a lot of good young players waiting in the wings to come up,” Hart said — a statement that debunks the sometime-narrative that the Nats’ development program will soon yield major league-ready ballplayers to the Anacostia Nine. It just ain’t so and John Hart isn’t the only one who thinks so — Baseball Prospectus ranked the Nats’ farm system 29th, which is (if you’re counting), next to last in all of baseball.

What’s so astonishing about Hart’s assessment (little talent — and none coming), is that it’s difficult to see how the team can appreciably improve in the second half. They just have to play better, no matter who’s on the field. This means, as Hart made clear, that new manager Jim Riggleman has to instill a culture of discipline and pride in the players. Easier said than done. “I really look at the fundamentals, that’s where it starts . . .” Hart said. “This is a club that fundamentally hasn’t been able to get the job done.” He added: “If you look at their pitching staff they’ve got a bunch of guys who are under 25 which is a good thing, they don’t have a lot of power in that staff, so you have to catch the ball if you’re going to compete . . . how did they get here? I think they overevaluated some of their people; I think number two, I haven’t seen a sense of urgency.”  

Hart’s assessment is the harshest I have heard, reinforcing the on-air and in-the-stands complaints about the product the front office has provided. The overriding complaint, in truth, has nothing to do with the team’s talent, but with the players’ desire to win. This is what Hart’s statement about a “sense of urgency” means: forget the on-the-field talent, the Nats are playing like they don’t care — which is the worst thing you can say about any team in any sport.

Down On Half Street: The Nats open against the North Side Drama Queens tonight at Nats Park. Next to the Nats (and the New York Chokes), the Cubs are probably the most dysfunctional team in the game. Cubs GM Jim Hendry traded away all-world utilityman Mark DeRosa, signed bad boy and galactic whiner Milton Bradley, and has continued to coddle “isn’t he cute when he’s angry” underachiever Carlos Zambrano. The baseball gods then intervened to punish Hendry: Aramis Ramirez went down with a shoulder separation, second baseman Mike Fontenot started hitting like Mike Fontenot, Alfonso Soriano started hitting like this guy and, most recently, the answer to all the Cubs woes — Geovany “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” Soto — has been sidelined due to an oblique strain.


The result is that all of baseball has gotten to see the Cubs farm system in action — and, unlike the Nats, the Cubs actually have one. Itsy-bitsy Sam Fuld has replaced Soriano in left field, drain plug Jake Fox is the interim catcher (we have an interim GM, so why not an interim catcher?), potential powerhouse Micah Hoffpauir has been able to show his stuff, oldster Randy Wells has pitched like Zambrano oughta, Kevin Hart has finally been allowed to audition for the rotation and permanent minor leaguer Bobby Scales (who?) has shown Hendry that he should have brought him up from triple-A years ago. Cubs fans have watched all of this with something akin to Jean-Paul Sarte’s view of the universe: hell is other people, or in this case — hell is Milt the Moron lofting the ball into the bleachers after two outs. “I haven’t seen that one before,” Lou said, “I’ll be honest with you . . . I mean, do we need to teach math?”

Okay: none of this is pretty, but you’ve gotta admit, it sure as hell is entertaining.

I would add this caveat. The Cubs aren’t dead. They’re a solid team and should they ever reach their potential (with a middle of the line-up order that is among the best in baseball), they’ll catch the Cardinals and end up in the playoffs. Certainly, Tony LaRussa knows that — it might be the only reason the Redbirds are willing to trade half their farm system (and — unlike the Nats — they also have one) for Roy Halladay.