Posts Tagged ‘Roy Oswalt’

Birds Of Prey vs. Crippled Sparrows

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

If there were ever any doubts that starting pitching makes a huge difference in a team’s success, that doubt was put to rest during Washington’s recent three game visit to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The Phillies “book-ended” the Nats by throwing two of baseball’s best starting pitchers against them, and taking two of three games from the still struggling Anacostia Nine. The one Nats win might have been predicted, as it came against Phillies’ hurler Kyle Kendrick (a young high-ERA righty who is still learning his trade), while the Nats’ losses came against two of the game’s best starters: Roy “Doc” Halladay (in a 1-0 squeaker on Friday) and Roy Oswalt — in a 6-0 blowout on Sunday. The Nats might have won on Friday, with successive runners in scoring position, but Halladay was the difference — lowering his ERA to 2.16 in seven innings of steady if unspectacular work — but the issue was never in doubt on Sunday, when Roy Oswalt sliced and diced the Nats line-up through seven innings of brilliant work.

And the Chicago Cubs? (If you have the music for 2001: A Space Odyssey, you might consider putting it on now.)

The Chicago Cubs are an entirely different story. The North Side Drama Queens, who open a series against the Nationals on Half Street on Monday night, have no one to compare with either Halladay or Oswalt — and the standings show it. The rotation that carried the Cubs into the post-season in 2008 is now past its prime, and the Chicago front office knows it. The once effective Carlos Zambrano (14-6 in 2008) is battling his anger as much as opposing batters, Ted Lilly has been shipped off to L.A. for a passel of minor league wannabes, Jason Marquis was rendered to Colorado (and then signed as a free agent here in D.C.), and Rich Harden (beset by arm problems) is struggling in Texas. The only appendage of note belongs to Ryan Dempster who, now into his mid-30s, is the staff “ace” — which means he’s won more than ten games. That Dempster stands out at all is due more to his rotation mates: a gaggle of Fisher-Price kids who look like they’d be more comfortable on the dance floor of the 9:30 Club than on the mound in Wrigleyville.

Chicago’s one young hurler of note is Randy Wells, a surprise-surprise arm who was drafted by the Slugs as a catcher in the 38th round of the 2002 amateur draft. Wells came to the show in 2009 as a fill-in for the then-injured Zambrano and pitched himself into a regular spot in the Chicago rotation — yielding a jaw-dropping 12-10 record. Tom Gorzelanny is the Cubs’ lefty, a former Buc who has had his tires recapped in Chicago after one good year in Pittsburgh. Gorzelanny “has battled injuries and inconsistency” — a Zen-like phrase for Cubs fans. Dempster, Wells and Gorzelanny are hardly the Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance of the future Chicago rotation, but the Cubs have high hopes for rookie Casey Coleman, a young righty whose grandfather (Joe) and father (Joe) were both major leaguers. But let’s not get all gooey: Coleman (who will pitch against the Nationals tonight) is not only untried and untested, he’s been lit-up in the 12 innings he’s pitched.

That leaves Thomas Diamond, a former Texas Ranger fast-track product sidetracked by Tommy John surgery in 2007 (at least he’s gotten that out of the way), who’s “all up-side,” which means he doesn’t have a clue. The bottom line? While there’s no guarantee the Nats will have an easier time against the Cubs than they did against the Phillies, there will be no Halladay or Oswalt trooping to the mound to face them. The Phillies have built an elite staff. They are birds of prey. And the Cubs? The Cubs are crippled sparrows — they’re starting over.

Photos: Roy Oswalt (AP/H. Rumph Jr). Randy Wells (AP/Nam Y. Huh)

Buying And Selling

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

While Nats bloggers have been going back-and forth about whether the team needs another bat or another arm, Mike Rizzo seems to have made up his mind. They need both. Yeah, okay — that’s the right answer. But if Rizzo was pressed (and trade bait was short), what do you think he’d really want? Given John Lannan’s continued troubles and the uncertainty surrounding the return of any number of potential starters, the answer should be obvious: not only can you can always play Roger Bernadina in right field, but you absolutely need to; we’re never going to find out whether this kid can hit unless we put him in the line-up every day. Which means that the Nats should be looking for a pitcher to supplement their front (and only) two hurlers — Stephen Strasburg and Livan Hernandez. Let’s be honest. You never know what you’re going to get with Atilano and Martin, Olsen is just too tweaky too often to be counted as a stalwart, pitching messiah Jordan Zimmermann is a ways away from rehabbing and Ross Detwiler is still an unknown. That leaves Chien-Ming Wang (who won’t be here until July) and Jason Marquis — who has yet to show the team anything. So . . .

So who’s out there?

There’s Cliff Lee, who will be available once the cratering Navigators figure out that doling out $91 million in salaries for a last place team isn’t going to cut it. Lee is in the last months of a four year deal, and the Nats would have to look to sign him longer term, but our guess is that the Mariners will happily take good prospects for him — including Triple-A pitchers and Double-A position players that have a future. The Nats have either, and both. In exchange, the Nats would get a veteran fastball pitcher who could mentor Strasburg and an absolutely lights out number two starter (number one anywhere else), who can rack up some badly needed wins. The folks in Seattle say they won’t part with Lee without getting a big time power hitter in return, but that sounds like wishful thinking. Lee isn’t going to stay in Seattle after this year, especially to anchor what promises to be a development team of young prospects and remaining big contracts. It’s an ugly but pertinent truth: the Mariners will take prospects — or they can keep Lee and try to catch the fast disappearing Belinskys, White Elephants and Whatchamacallits. They’ll make the trade — maybe Mike will too.

Then there’s Roy Oswalt, but his contract is a nightmare: just over $9 million over the rest of this season, $16 million in 2011, and $16 million in 2012 with a club option buyout of $2 million. The Nats say they have money to up their salary ceiling, but Oswalt’s price might be a little high — particularly if (as expected), the Nats would have to pick up most if not all of the salary and throw in prospects. Bottom line: he won’t be cheap. But then, there’s always Jake Peavy. Don’t laugh: the former Friar has struggled with the Pale Hose and it appears he’s losing patience with wheeling-and-dealing Kenny Williams and the perpetually enraged Ozzie the G. He recently told a reporter that he would rather be traded than go through a rebuilding process in Chicago. Translation? “Get me the hell out of here.”

It’s hard to blame him: Peavy was a part of a rebuilding process in San Diego — and the team only started to rebuild when he left. Then too, the ChiSox probably look at the Peavy trade with some remorse; they dealt prospects to San Diego, one of whom (Clayton Richard) has turned into a front line pitcher — 4-3, 2.71 ERA. That’s a damn sight better than Peavy (5-5, 5.62 ERA). Ugh. The White Sox might try the same magic, trading Peavy for pitching prospects in the hopes of striking gold. The Nats could help. Of course, Peavy sports a huge contract ($52 million, three years), a teensy bit bigger than Oswalt’s which (for paperclip counter Mark Lerner) is always a problem. But in the end (and if you carefully weigh this out), the Nats could find a rental (like Lee) for some front line prospects or they could take the longer view (which is probably what Rizzo wants) and pony up some prospects and some cash. In either case, while none of these pitchers are going to come cheap, bringing any one of them aboard right now (or in the very near future) will probably mean the difference between a club that will continue its slow-but-certain downward spiral and one that might be able to contend — and fill the seats.

The Year of the Umpire?

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

The Washington Nationals bombarded the Houston Astros on Monday, wracking up 14 runs on 14 hits, and registering the biggest inning in Nats history. Nyjer Morgan, batting second, went 3-4 in breaking out of a May slump, while Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman each had four RBIs. But the Nats-Astros tilt was not only notable for the fireworks provided by Washington’s bats. In the third inning, Houston ace Roy Oswalt was ejected from the game by home plate umpire Bill Hohn, whom Oswalt clearly believed was not giving him an outside strike. Oswalt complained, confronted Hohn, and was tossed. The Nats were pleased with Oswalt’s departure (even though they seemed to be hitting him) and jumped on the Astros’ bullpen.

Oswalt argued his innocence after the Nats win. “I was upset I missed with a pitch a little bit off the plate and was actually talking to myself on the mound,” Oswalt said. “I wasn’t even looking his way, and when I turned around, he was pointing at me and saying something about, ‘Are you going to keep your mouth shut?’ I couldn’t really tell what he said. I told him I wasn’t talking to him and he kept on talking, so I told him again I wasn’t talking to him, and he threw me out.” Houston manager Brad Mills put himself between Oswalt and Hohn, but the signal for Oswalt’s ejection had already come. Hohn’s finger-in-the-air toss came after Adam Dunn had put an extra base knock into right-center field off a pitch that Oswalt seemed to groove after Hohn had called successive balls on his corner pitches. “That’s on you,” Oswalt mouthed to Hohn as Josh Willingham came to the plate.

Is This The Year of the Umpire? Oswalt’s ejection over called balls and strikes highlighted the increasing noise over the strike zone in major league baseball. Roy Halladay’s perfect game against the Marlins on Saturday featured a strike zone that gave the Phillies’ ace an outside strike — not nearly as tight as Hohn’s zone with Oswalt in Houston on Monday. The Marlins refused to talk about “the Halladay strike zone” after the game (“I don’t want to talk about the strike zone, because that’s a discredit to what he did,” Fish regular Chris Coghlan said), but they were clearly upset about some of the calls — on 3-1 and 3-2 counts. Strangely the strike zone seemed incredibly small in April — perhaps an attempt to inject some offense into the game in the post-steroid era — before loosening up through all of May.

A family member (here he is, honest) theorizes that the endless use of slo-mo, super slo-mo and the strike zone box featured in nearly all MLB broadcasts (on Nats broadcasts it’s the “MASN HD Pitch Track”), has so irritated the umpires that they are in revolt. The result of the revolt is a wider strike zone, faster games and punch and judy hit-the-opposite-way games. The theory is more than just an idea. In March, a group of baseball experts convened by USA Today (that included players, umpires and managers), took on the strike zone box used by color commentators. Veteran ump Steve Palermo was the most outspoken; he called the graphic phony and inaccurate. “They put up the same box for Freddie Patek and Dave Winfield,” Palermo said. “You telling me those two strike zones are the same? I don’t think so. Not at 6-foot-6 and 5-foot-4. They should say at the bottom of the screen, ‘This is for entertainment purposes only.’ ” The graphic has led to endless second guessing by managers, fans and viewers of umpire calls. “I hate that damn box on TV. Why don’t they eliminate that?” super scout Gary Hughes queries.

If MLB’s umpires are in revolt, they’re likely led by Joe West, the president of the World Umpires Association and the spiritual leader of the fed up and huddled umpire masses. West would be an odd choice for a revolutionary leader: he’s controversial, holds grudges and spends a lot of time off the field promoting his country western CD and hobnobbing with celebrities. Earlier in the season, West criticized the Red Sox and Yankees for their habit of playing interminable games, calling the two teams “pathetic and embarrassing.” The comment sparked a firestorm of comment. But West’s complaint was hardly new: it has been made often by baseball insiders (and outsiders), who point to the Red Sox and Yankees as arrogant flouters of Commissioner Bud Selig’s wish to speed up the game. “Everybody else gets screwed but those two teams,” Angels outfielder Torii Hunter says. Steve Palermo went public with his own anger back in March, noting that when Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was disciplined for throwing extra pitches in the bullpen warm-up session after being summoned to the mound, he ripped up the disciplinary notice in front of a group of reporters. “You know what?” Palermo says. “If somebody acts up, whack them. I’m talking about $50,000. And then $100,000. And then $200,000. You usually get the attention after the $100,000 mark.”

If there’s an umpire revolt in major league baseball, it’s likely to reach a boiling point this week, when Bud Selig and crew may decide to reprimand Joe West — and either fine or suspend him — for allegedly recruiting reporters to his side in the length of games controversy. West is also under fire for calling two balks on White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle and ejecting him, and then doing the same with Pale Hose manager Ozzie Guillen. Now, granted, West comes off as a jerk and his “Cowboy” Joe West pose flies in the face of one of the game’s most sacred unwritten rules — that umps should be invisible. But in spite of this, West seems to be making a point that has nothing to do with his comments on the length of game controversy or his dust-up with the South Siders. And it’s a point that every umpire in the MLB would support: that the strike zone is what the umps say it is (that’s what it says in the rules) and . . . and as soon as you step on the field, the umps are in charge. It can’t be any other way and it hasn’t been for more than one hundred years. Then too, let’s get serious: it’s not as if Roy Halladay is Danny Cabrera. You don’t like the strike zone? Well, get a clue: swing the bat. Like the Nats did yesterday in Houston.

Those Little Town Blues

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Roger Bernadina conquered New York — slugging two home runs and executing a rally-killing circus catch in right field as the Washington Nationals took two of three from the Apples at Citi Field. The Nats 6-4 ninth inning victory left the Nationals in sole possession of second place in the NL East, with the Anacostia Nine posting a head-spinning 19-15 record, just 1.5 games behind the guaranteed-to-win-the-division Philadelphia Phillies. The Mets were left to lick their wounds after Tuesday’s victory, which not only came at their expense, but made them trailers to a Washington team that (shhhhhh … don’t say it) is now being talked of as a possible (shhhhh!) contender for a spot in the playoffs in September (now you’ve gone and done it, you idiot). Buster Olney commented openly on “Baseball Tonight” on Wednesday that if the Nats continue to play well, and if Stephen Strasburg is all that everyone thinks he is and (if, if, if if) someone like Chien-Ming Wang were to recover nicely from his shoulder problems — well, then, the Nats would be buyers and not sellers in July, and perfectly capable of adding another pitcher (like, say, Roy Oswalt) to an already formidable mix. And adding someone like Oswalt could make the difference between a nice finish to a good season, and a season in which the home towners play well into October.

Olney should know better. Not only is that a lot of ifs, but the baseball gods take painful retribution on those who think about October during a frigid May road trip. But that Roger Bernadina would be the hero of the Nats latest victory seemed to underscore the unlikely mix of solid pitching, improved defense and timely hitting that has made the Nats the head-shaking talk of baseball: the good-glove-light-bat Bernadina was hitting just .212 when he came to the plate on Wednesday, as skeptical Nats fans kept wondering what the front office was going to do about the “problem in right field.” But Jim Riggleman told reporters after the game that he has faith in Bernadina’s ability to shake a slow start and drive in runs: “He is just too good to be sticking [a hit] out there now and then,” Riggleman opined. “The coaches agreed. They all felt the same way that Roger is ready to break out. It’s one game. It’s not a breakout. It could be the start of something good. It couldn’t happen to a more wonderful kid. Again, we are lucky to have him.”

So? So while it’s still early, and while it’s difficult to believe the Nats will continue to find heroes to give them wins in unlikely places (heroes like the otherwise punchless Roger Bernadina), and while it’s absolutely nuts to tempt the baseball gods by talking about September in May, its hard to argue with what long-suffering Nats fans are seeing on the field: a team that is improved in every category and that is learning to win knock-em-down late inning games. And the rest of baseball is noticing.

Bayou City Hardball

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

The Nats must be ecstatic to get out of Denver. Swept by the Rockies, after yet another shakey start from Ross Detwiler and poor play from a team of subs, our Anacostia Boys are now headed to Minute Maid Park — what MASN  announcer Bob Carpenter calls “the pinball machine in Houston.” For good reason: there’s a train that chugs back and forth out in left field (a bow to Houston’s railroad beginnings), the roof moves back and forth (a bow to Houston’s weather), there’s a knee-buckling slope in center (Tal’s Hill) that’s an orthopedist’s dream (a bow to — gasp — Halliburton, the stadium architect) and fans can sit in the short-porch “Crawford Boxes” — so named (in a fit of what passes for creativity in Houston) because they parallel Crawford Street behind the stadium. 

HOU_1094

What’s so surprising about “the pinball machine” is that, when built, it reflected the kind of high-scoring and free-swinging team that the Astros have rarely had. When established in 1962 (along with the Chokes) the then-Houston Colt 45’s decided to focus their expansion efforts on building a team of speed, defense and pitching. The result was that, while the Mets sank out of sight in their first year, the 45s were at least presentable. The ownership drafted and built wisely. By 1965, when the Colt 45’s became the Astros, the team had gained a solid reputation for signing young and aggressive players (Joe Morgan) and complementing them with savvy, if aging, pitchers (like Robin Roberts). The newly minted Astros were what an expansion club could be — a mix of veterans and tough kids.

So it must have seemed a dark injustice to Houston fans that it was the Mets, and not the Astros, who rose to prominence: the “Amazin’ Mets” (gag) of 1969 outdrew, outplayed and out-classed the Astros, with the result that the glow of the franchise’s early years (when the team played in the claustrophobic Astrodome), began to wear thin. It’s not that Houston was a bad team, but they were never able to put together a complete season until 2005. Even then, the Astros were less than amazin’ — they lost in four to the South Side Pathetics. In between, the Houston Astros became a team of nicknames: Richard Farrell became “Turk” Farrell,” Jimmy Wynn became “the Toy Cannon,”  Bob Watson became “the bull” and, in an era when Cincinnati was winning everything in sight (and dubbed “the Big Red Machine”), Houston Astro fans deemed it fitting to name their nine “the Rainbows.” Their uniforms were gaudy, their fans were fanatic — their team was mediocre.

Even now, perhaps most especially now, the more nicknames that Houston fans find, the less their team succeeds. “Los Cabillitos” root for Carlos Lee, “the O’s Bros” attend every game featuring Roy Oswalt, “the Little Pumas” cheer themselves hoarse when “the Big Puma” (Lance Berkman) appears and fans in “Byrdak’s Nest” make little chirping noises every time reliever Tim Byrdak trots in from the bullpen. Actually, it’s kind of sickening. Then too, you’d think that Houston fans would know better: the best teams ever fielded in Texas, ever, were called “the Killer Bs” — with nods to Craig Biggio (“Bijjjjj”), Derek Bell, Jeff Bagwell (“Bags”) Sean Berry (and others) — but the highly touted unit lost four division series prior to 2005. They could never win the big one. Which is to say: “the Killer B’s” might have been “B’s,” but they sure weren’t “killers.”

The 2009 version of the Bayou City ‘Stros fit well with this tradition: they’re a good ballclub that’s fortunate to play in a division where no one is playing well. But good or not, at one game under .500, this year’s version of the Astros are in desperate need of help, with everyone (including premier pitcher Roy Oswalt) on the block. Tonight’s Astros’-Nats match-up is a talisman of this desperation: Russ Ortiz is facing off against John Lannan. It’s a match-up of experience versus youth or (put another way), a match-up of “pitchers on their last legs” versus “pitchers with a future.”

 

Roy Oswalt