Posts Tagged ‘Prince Fielder’

Playing The “Brew Crew”

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Ryan Zimmerman

Down 4-2 to the hard-hitting Phillies in the eighth inning, Adam Dunn hit his first home run of the season and the next batter, Ivan Rodriguez was walked. Ryan Zimmerman then came to the plate as a pinch hitter and put a floater  from Phillies’ reliever Danys Baez into the right field seats. Zimmerman’s clutch pinch hit homer stunned Baez and led the Nationals to a thrilling and much-needed come-from-behind victory in Philadelphia. The win brought the Nats to 3-3 on their road trip to New York and Philadelphia and set up a key series against the Brewers at Nats Park beginning on Friday. Baez took the loss, but was philosophical after the game in explaining how he pitched the Nats’ silver slugger: “I was trying to stay away on him,” he said. “I’ve faced him a lot of times. I always stay in, in, in. He’s coming off the bench and hasn’t played for a couple days, so I was trying to stay on him. He hit the ball and it went out of the ballpark. I didn’t hear good contact. I was surprised [the ball went out], myself.”

The win against the Phillies broke an eight game losing streak for the Nats in Philadelphia.”They are tough no matter where you play them,” Nats manager Jim Riggleman commented after the victory. “They are very comfortable here. They are just hard to beat all the way through the lineup. It was a great challenge for our ballclub, and we met the challenge pretty good.” Dunn’s homer seemed to signal something new for the Nats: a hope that the club can shake off its early season slump and begin hitting the ball. Dunn talked about his at-bat against Baez: “I basically ambushed him,” he said. “I haven’t been swinging at the first pitch. The other day, he walked me on four straight pitches leading off the eighth. I knew he was going to try to get ahead. I just closed my eyes and swung.”

El Siguiente: The Brewers are what they’ve always been — a power hitting team that struggles on the mound. The Brewers tried to change that over the winter, shipping power hitting but disappointing shortstop J.J. Hardy to the Minnesota Twins for outfielder Carlos Gomez. The trade of the popular Hardy was a head-scratcher for a lot of Beer Town fans, but the Milwaukee front office was frustrated by Hardy’s inconsistency (he was sent down to Triple-A while suffering through a killer slump in August), and weren’t thrilled to pay him to hit in the low .200s. Most important of all, the Brewers’ brain trust (such as it is) wanted to make room for “El Siguiente” — “The Next One.” Rookie Alcides Escobar has an all-world glove, can steal bases and has a potent Punch-and-Judy bat: he stole 42 bases in Nashville and won the Venezuelan winter league batting title.

The problem is still pitching. While the Brewers signed headline ace Yovani Gallardo to a five year $30 million extension just last week, the second act to the hard-throwing righty is more than a little troublesome. The Brewers’ rotation features a group of knee-knockers, including lefty slinger Manny Parra (a 6.36 ERA last year), former Cardinal also-ran Jeff Suppan (with a knee-buckling four year $42 million contract), aging bad-boy and former Trolley Randy Wolf (who’s always right around .500), and the imposing (6-4, 215) Doug Davis — who sometimes pitches like he’s five-foot-three. That might not be so bad, but bound-for-the-hall closer Trevor Hoffman is obviously on his last legs (he sports a head-spinning 12.60 ERA so far this year) and well-traveled set-up man LeTroy Hawkins hasn’t been able to find the strike zone for the last three years.

Yikes.

The good news, at least for the Brewers, is that opposing pitchers have to face Prince Fielder four times a game. Fielder, one of baseball’s good guys, can hit the ball a ton — and is worth the price of admission. Yeah, well — even so, I’d rather pierce my eyeballs with needles than to watch this guy swing his bat against the Nats. To help Fielder, the Brewers added Jim Edmonds over the winter. Edmonds is a heckler’s paradise: he left his wife to marry a Hooters’ waitress when he was a Red Bird and Cubs fans were all over him (“Hey Jim, where’s my chicken wings?”) — until, that is, he actually became a Cub. Then they thought he was the second coming. With Edmonds, super bopper Ryan Braun and Fielder in the middle of the line-up, this team can hit. Oh yeah, and the Brewers still have all-world nifty-glove-super-sub Craig Counsell sitting on the bench, and pennants just seem to follow him around. The Brewers are doing okay — they’re 4-5 coming into Washington and just in back of the Cardinals, Bakers and Cubs, but ahead of Houston and the Ahoys. Too bad for Brew Crew fans: that’s where they’re likely to stay.

A “Wheezing” Nation . . . And Some Nuggets

Monday, August 24th, 2009

DWilly’s piece yesterday about the Red Sox was right on the money: their age is showing. I’ve been looking for a word that describes their play since the All Star break and I’ve had a difficult time coming up with just the right moniker. Then, this morning, I read a piece in the New York Times on the Sox newest Japanese import Junichi Tazawa and there it was: “wheezing.”  Perfect. Their batting averages show it precisely. The Red Sox top four guys are hitting .297, .300, .292 and .308.  After that the averages fall off, with their eight- and nine-slotted guys (Varitek and Gonzalez) not hitting their weight — at .222 and .210 respectively. Combine that with a two man rotation and you get what you get.

It is a truism that this not the ’04 ball club. There is no “Cowboy Up” talk and no emotional sparkplug. There is no Kevin Millar. The oldest guy in the Sox lineup that year was third baseman Bill Mueller, who was 33.  Today Varitek is 37, third sacker Mike Lowell is 35 (both, shown below, in the ’07 series) and two other guys are 33. Not the geriatric ward but no spring chickens either. But there is one similarity with the ’04 club. Today the Sox are 70 – 52, 6.5 games behind the Yanks. On this day five years ago they were in a similar position: 70 – 53, 6.5 games behind the Empire. The Sox finished the ’04 campaign with 98 wins, which is .700 baseball.  But without a bottom half of the lineup and a beat up pitching staff it’ll be quite a feat to match their ’04 glory.

Varitek and Lowell: old then, older now

Diamond Nuggets: Twins catcher Joe Mauer leads the majors with a .378 batting average. As surprising as it is for a catcher to be a league hitting leader it’s even more surprising to see what he’s done in the heat of August.  Over the last 30 days he’s been on a .427 clip with 10 dingers and 26 RBI. With his four year, $33 million contract up for renewal at the end of the 2010 season he’s a lock for a mid-year trade next year. I hope Theo Epstein is paying attention . . . My dislike of the Nationals TV broadcast team continues to deepen. Messers Dibble and Carpenter should be renamed drivel and . . . and . . . well . . . nothing rhymes with Carpenter — but you get the point. The inane stuff that passes for light banter is incredible. Yesterday it was a discussion of Frank Howard doing his laundry on road trips. Really. I toggled over to the Birds’ broadcast and listened intently while Jim Palmer and Gary Thorne talked about pitch counts and game situations. Music to my ears. Actually it felt like I pulled that stick out of my eye. I encourage you all to repeat my Nats/O’s toggle and listen to the differences in the broadcasts. Today was not the first time I’ve switched away from the pablum that passes for entertaining discussion on the Nats telecasts . . .
 
2007 was thought to be Prince Fielder’s break out year. He had 50 home runs that season along with 119 RBI, 354 total bases and he hit. 288.  But this year might be the one in which he becomes a more complete player. He won’t reach 50 homers (33 so far is nothing to sneeze at), but he’ll have more RBIs (he leads the majors with 110), his OBP is up 19 points over two seasons ago – and he’s hitting 15 points above his average that year. Plus, he’s much more patient at the plate and will probably have 100 walks this year — pretty good for a guy with a power swing. His fielding has also improved. He’s on pace to cut his errors in half from last year’s total of 17 and his fielding percentage is .995.  No wonder they love this guy in Milwaukee.

“The Great Right Hope” Arrives in D.C.

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Stephen Strasburg, Washington’s first overall pick in the 2009 first year player draft, will answer questions from fans and the media in D.C. on Friday. But it’s likely that he won’t be able to answer the most important question  he will face: just how good are you anyway? Strasburg is the most highly touted amateur pitcher in baseball history — outdueling (and out-earning) Mark Prior, Ben McDonald and David Clyde for the honor. The San Diego State University righthander has a zippy fastball and a vicious hook, but other pitchers in other eras have had the same, and failed. That said, the Nats have done the homework that due diligence required, sending scouts to watch Strasburg in every game he has pitched over the last year. Good scouting can’t guarantee anything, but in this case it might prove the difference between a better-than-average hurler and just another busted flush.

The Nats have sold 6000 $1 tickets to fans who want to see Strasburg, who will arrive at Nationals Park this afternoon at 2 pm. And at 11:30, fans have been invited to chat with the Nats’ new “great right hope” on line at MLB.com. Should be quite a scene. Strasburg, who is only 20, went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA in 15 starts this at San Diego State University this season. He struck out 195 batters and issued just 19 walks in 109 innings. The ballclub would undoubtedly love to showcase Strasburg sometime in September (and thus fill the seats at Nats Park, at least for one game), but that now seems unlikely. “The Strasburg signing greatly impacts the Minor League system and the Major League ballclub, but I have to reinforce this: He can’t be viewed as the savior of the organization, because as we’ve seen with Jordan Zimmermann, the shelf life is sometimes pretty quick,” new Nats G.M. Mike Rizzo said yesterday. “But we are hoping he is the player we think he is. I know he is the person we think he is. He is a tremendous makeup guy. This guy is what you are looking for in your No. 1 ace, Major League starter.”

Down On Half Street: The Nats open a four game series against the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park on Friday, before heading out to face the North Side Drama Queens in Chicago, the Redbirds in St. Louis and the Friars in San Diego. The Prince Fielder led beermakers, who had high hopes for a playoff spot, are reeling after being swept by the Ahoys in Pittsburgh. The Brew Crew is now four games under .500 and ten games behind St. Louis in the NL Central. The standard view is that the Brewers have the wood to win (Fielder leads the team and has 32 home runs and a .416 OBP) but lack pitching. In fact, Brewers’ bats have been far less effective this year than last, in spite of Fielder’s heroics: the team ranks 17th in batting average, 12th in runs scored, ninth in OBP. Which is to say: the Brewers are right where they should be — they’re a middling team in need of a lot of help, and not just on the mound . . .

Prince Fielder

The big series of the weekend is not in New York, where “the Nation” faces off against “the Empire,” but in Colorado, where the Rockies take on the McCoveys. The Rockies and Giants are nip and tuck in the NL Wild Card race, but the edge has to go to the Rockies, in spite of San Francisco’s Lincecum-Cain one-two pitching punch. The Rockies have won four in a row, the Giants were beaten in Cincy last night (in a walk-off home run by a Redlegs’ rookie) and the McCoveys are 14th in team hitting in the NL (the Rockies are second). Then too, the Rockies line-up is filled with on-base boppers, while the Giants are thin and getting thinner. The hope for Frisco at the trade deadline was the Freddie Sanchez could fill a hole up-the-middle while providing some pop, but his shoulder is aching. He hopes to return for the Colorado series, but nothing is certain . . .

The McCoveys energized fan base has been decrying the lack of punch all year — and criticizing the front office for the team’s patchwork defense. Bay City Ball opines that Tim Lincecum is worth two Pablo Sandovals and that “outside of Lincecum, Sandoval, and Cain, the Giants don’t have much.” Yeah, that’s right. But for a guy who sits for some 30 games in Nationals Park, Lincecum, Sandoval and Cain sound like a helluvalot . . . for The Giants Baseball Blog, the key is “getting the hitting going” in the upcoming series. The Giants recently added Ryan Garko to their anemic line-up, GBB notes, and “it looks like he’s heating up just in time.” Well, maybe . . . Our favorite, the appropriately named  Dodger Hater, celebrates San Francisco’s gaggle of top-notch arms, but points out the the Giants’ bullpen is good, but not great. The holes are obvious: ” . . . all of us in Giants Nation feel like Bobby Howry is the least trustworthy arm in our pen,” Dodger Hater writes. “Every time Lurch Howry manages to pitch a scoreless inning, we all breathe a sigh of relief” . . . All of this is interesting, but more a comment on Giants’ fans than on the team. The relief pitching might appear shakey, but the McCoveys have the best pitching in all of baseball and have a good shot at catching the Rockies. If they can’t score runs, the least they can do is keep the likes of Helton and Tulowitzki off the bases . . .