Posts Tagged ‘Oakland A’s’

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.

Nats Take Chi-Town Series

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

In the “I can’t believe this is happening” 2010 season of your Washington Nationals, the late April three game series against the Cubs might stand out as one of the team’s best. The Nationals came into Chicago hovering at .500, and left two games over. The Nationals took two of three from the Cubs in a tightly played defense-and-pitching series of contests that (in retrospect) weren’t all that close. Oddly, the Nats not only won the series, they were the better team on the field. With a 12-10 record, the Nats are off to their best start since moving from Montreal to D.C. But it’s not just the wins that are surprising (or not, as the case may be), it’s the way the Nats are winning — getting solid starting pitching, playing tough defense and relying on a dependable “lights out” reliever.

The Nats 3-2 win on Wednesday at Wrigley was a model of how the Mike Rizzo makeover has taken hold: Luis Atilano pitched six solid, if unspectacular, innings, Adam Dunn ended the game with a tough near-the-boxes snag of a fly ball that kept the Cubbies off the bases in the ninth, and Matt Capps recorded his league-leading 10th save in a three-up-and-three-down final frame. Even the sometimes-shakey Brian Bruney looked good, pitching out of a two-men-on 7th inning. Bruney looked like he’s finally getting his fastball down in the zone, and gaining confidence. My sense is that Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman is desperately trying to keep his composure, while privately holding torch light parades on the team’s impressive start. “Our guys are focused and trying to play today’s game, not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow or down the road,” Riggleman said after the series. “They are just trying to win the game. Hopefully, it will add up and we win another one.”

Those Are The Headlines, Now For The Details: “Baseball Tonight” commentators are starting to take notice of the Nats — focusing, most recently, on the 10-for-10 Capps. The “who would have thought it” comments are a reflection, mayhaps, of BT’s down-in-the-mouth view of Nats’ baseball. After L.A. dropped two of three in Washington last week, BT ran a segment on “what’s wrong in L.A.” — implying that it wasn’t a matter of what Washington was doing right, but what the Dodgers were doing wrong. The lone exception is Tim Kurkjian who, when not talking about Stephen Strasburg, is celebrating his Spring Training prediction that the team is worth watching . . . The Cubs looked just average in their series loss against the Anacostia Nine. The Cubbies pitched well, but their big bombers (and the entire team, for that matter) were held homerless. That’s almost unheard of in Chicago, and shows just how effective Nats’ starters have been . . . We’ll add this: Tyler Colvin looks like the real deal. It’s going to be hard to keep the Stan- Hack-in-waiting out of the line-up, or keep Alfonso Soriano in . . .

After putting it off for several months, I am reading The Bill James Gold Mine, the most recent trademark effort from the statistical guru and now Senior Baseball Operations Advisor for the Red Sox. As if I don’t get enough baseball (a Nats game per day, plus the MLB Extra Innings package — this week it was the fascinating Diamondbacks-Rockies match-up), I now finish the evening with a chapter of James — like slurping ice cream after a visit to Chucky Cheeze. His take on the 1974 World Series is worth reading twice, particularly if (like me), you don’t exactly have a love affair with Dodger play-by-play legend Vin Scully. Then there’s this, in the chapter on the Oakland Athletics, one of baseball’s most fascinating teams:

“Who led the Oakland A’s in Win Shares in 2009? Andrew Bailey with his 26 saves and 1.84 ERA? Nope, he had 17 Win Shares. Jack Cust and his 25 home runs? No, only 14 Win Shares. Matt Holliday before he left? Only 12 Win Shares. It was third baseman Adam Kennedy with 18 Win Shares . . .” That is to say, if you peel away all the controversy (and complexity) surrounding the concept of “win shares,” James is making the case that Kennedy was more valuable to the A’s in 2009 than franchise marquee players Bailey, Cust and Holliday. The notion is almost counter-intuitive. That said, James has a point about Kennedy, and players like him. My own non-statistical sense is that Kennedy’s value to the A’s last year and to the Nats this year is more simply put: while Kennedy is hardly flashy and does not hit the long ball, his steady experience pours concrete into the middle of the Nats infield and batting order. I just feel better with him on the field. At the end of the year (and barring injury), we’ll find that the Nats are more likely winners when Kennedy’s in the line-up than when he’s not . . .

Adam Kennedy #29 and Cliff Pennington #26 of the Oakland Athletics congratulate one another following their victory over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium on August 29, 2009 in Anaheim, California. The Athletics defeated the Angels 4-3.

Nats, Marquis Fall Again To Phils

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Jason Marquis couldn’t find the strike zone in his first regular season outing, and when he did the Phillies took full advantage. The Phillies chased the free agent righthander after just four innings and went on to an easy 8-4 victory over the Nats. The Nationals have now begun their season 0-2, and probably can’t wait to for the Phillies to leave town. “The whole Phillies lineup is dangerous, but they all can be pitched to,” Marquis said after the game. “They have holes in their swing, you just have to make pitches against this lineup. There is no letup. I wasn’t able to make as many pitches as I wanted to.” What Marquis meant was: I wasn’t able to make as many good pitches as I wanted to. There’s no desperation just yet (heck, it’s only the second game of the season), but to hold their home fans, the Nats cannot afford another 0-7 start — and are growing anxious to notch their first win.(Well, I suppose if it gets really bad, Stan could bus in some people from Phillie or New York.)

If there’s good news, it’s that shortstop newbie Ian Desmond is hitting the ball — if inconsistently. The rookie stroked a beautiful line-drive home run into straight away center field and a double down the left field line. But the good news is more than balanced by the bad: Desmond notched three strike outs (one looking). The kid can hit fastballs (hell, I can hit fastballs), but he needs a tune-up on anything moving over the plate. The other piece of good news is that Josh Willingham seems in mid-season form: he was 3-5 last night with a walk and he looks tough at the plate. Willingham is hitting .571 to start the season. For Nats fans, the post-game was nearly as interesting as watching Cole Hamels (who wasn’t sharp) wrack up his first win. Callers to the “Nats Talk Live” post game show on WFED were in their football mode, telling Phil Wood that it was time to “blow up the team” and “send a message” to guys like Marquis and reliever Matt Capps. “I don’t buy this ‘the season is 162 games and there’s a long way to go,'” an angry caller told Wood. “We need to do something now.” Yeah, like what? It’s not like the Nats can trade a couple of draft picks for a celebrated slinger, then hold a reassuring press conference to sooth their fans. This isn’t that game.

It’ll be okay. The Nats head to New York to face the already-struggling Mets this weekend and there’s no reason to panic. The team that’s on the field at Nats Park (that is, the home team, not the Phillies) is galactically better than last year’s edition: Adam Kennedy and Pudge Rodriguez will make a significant difference, the Nats are finally playing their young players, and the bullpen is not nearly as shaky as it was a year ago (Matt Capps threw well last night, and would have been out of the ninth if it weren’t for an Ian Desmond error). It’s only a matter of time before Lannan and Marquis hit their stride and the quartet of Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham and Rodriguez put some numbers on the board. Which is to say: the season is 162 games and there’s a long way to go.

In The Land of the White Elephants: The modern version of the double header is to leave Nats Park right after the game (at about 10:45) and arrive at home in time to watch MLB Network’s west coast feed. Without extra innings or fireworks, it’s possible — and rewarding. Then too, you can flip between the west coast game and the thirty minute version of Baseball Tonight and, if the semi-goofy Bobby Valentine isn’t the featured BBT analyst, the games and comments are as entertaining as anything on television (maybe that’s not saying much). Even so, last night’s Navigators vs. White Elephants tilt was a barnburner, a classic match-up between two teams that don’t like each other even a little bit. This is the west coast version of the Boston-New York rivalry and, when the A’s are good (which they’re not, not really) it’s something to see.

While BBT’s on-set announcers go on (and on) about how crucial the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is to the future of humanity, the A’s versus Mariners games have been as entertaining. The two have played two walk-off last-at-bat games in as many nights, with last night’s 5-4 bottom-of-the-ninth victory a model of west coast junior circuit baseball. The hero was Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki, who came up to face Seattle fireballer Mark Lowe with newly acquired Kevin Kouzmanoff (who, honest, played like Brooks Robinson) on first. Suzuki promptly lofted a Lowe fast ball into the left field darkness which, for all the world, looked like it would clear the fence. As Suzuki did his Carlton Fisk routine down the first base line and Seattle outfielder Milton Bradley maneuvered vainly to snag a circus catch, Kouzmanoff (head down) circled the bases for the winning run. Suzuki’s shot hit just above Bradley’s glove and the celebration was on. I swear: even with the ninth inning meltdown of the emotionally impaired Jonathan Papelbon in Boston (it came against the Yankees, after all), the A’s dunking of the Navs in Oakland was the most entertaining game of the night.

Improving By Standing Still?

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

The Washington Nationals win streak was snapped at four games in Milwaukee last night, as the Anacostia Boys lost to the Brewers 7-5. It looked like the same-old-same-old for the Nats when starter Garrett Mock began to fall apart in the third. The Nationals failed to hold a comfortable 4-0 lead. Even the otherwise steady Tyler Clippard was unable to get the middle of the Brewers’ order out; Clippard gave up two runs in a little over one inning of work. The game was marked by a third inning mini-controversy, when Brewer slugger Ryan Braun powered a ball to centerfield that Nyjer Morgan just missed. The ball was initially ruled a home run but, after review, was adjudged an RBI triple. “It was the fight call,” Morgan said after the game. We’re so used to seeing Morgan’s astounding catches that his miss came almost as a surprise. But Nats fans still can’t say enough about the guy: he’s seven-for-fifteen in the Milwaukee series.

Nationals Brewers Baseball

Pitcher Julian Tavarez and outfielder Corey Patterson cleared waivers on Wednesday. Patterson might be of some interest to the Yankees, where he would be a back-up to centerfielder Brett Gardner, according to the New York Post. Patterson’s career has taken a nose-dive over the last several years. A highly touted prospect with the Cubs, Patterson continues to struggle at the plate. He was given what amounted to a cup of coffee with the Nationals this year, despite his speed and defensive abilities. The Nats’ front office did not view Patterson as the solution in center, and they were right. Tavarez remains confident that another team will sign him, but after nearly seventeen years in the majors, Tavarez is a known quantity — bad news for him. His time might be up.

The NL Least: The lack of trade talk in the NL East (outside of Philadelphia, of course) is astonishing. The Phuzzie’s quest for Roy Halladay — and their eventual trade for former Cy Young and Cleveland mainstay Cliff Lee — has seemingly taken all of the oxygen out of the rest of the division’s desire to compete for the NL East title. While the Chokes continue to search for a lefthanded reliever, the Mets’ front office has said they won’t give up a high prospect to do so. The report of the Mets’ search for another reliever comes as somewhat of a surprise — the New York nine will have to do a lot more than shore up their bullpen to compete with the Phuzzies . . . The silence out of Miami was broken by Peter Gammons, who reported that the Phish are making inquiries about Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell. Nothing seems imminent, but don’t be surprised (knowing the Phish front office), if Dan Uggla and Cody Ross are moved. Asking for a raise in Miami is the same as asking for a ticket out of town . . .

That leave the Chops who (like the Mets) are looking for some help in the bullpen. They’ve made inquiries about Oakland A’s reliever Michael Wuertz, but otherwise seem satisfied with what they have. That would stand to reason: the Braves outfield has been revamped over the last month, with the acquisition of Nate McLouth and Ryan Church. Tommy Hanson is now a part of a solid rotation: of Jair Jurrjens, Kenshin Kawakami, Derek Lowe and Jaiver Vazquez. That’s as impressive a front five as there is in baseball, at least on paper. And that’s the problem — when the Braves study the bottom line they are 12-10 since July 4. That’s simply not good enough to compete with the Phuzzies . . .

Like the Chokes, Chops and Phish, the Nats have also gone silent — under the apparent belief that their most recent run of victories says good things about the future. That’s the view of Jim Riggleman, who says he doesn’t see any big trade coming. The Nats have won six of their last eight and their young pitchers are throwing well. Then too, it’s hard to imagine what the team could get for Josh Willingham that could serve as a replacement for one of the league’s hottest hitters. You have to believe that Mike Rizzo would have to be overwhelmed with an offer to part with Willingham, Dunn or even Nick Johnson. And it’s true. The Nats have been improving by standing still, at least so far. But it’s hard to ignore the obvious: there’s a gaping hole at second base that can’t be filled by what they have.