Thursday, May 31

Game Report from May 30th

So I finally got to RFK for my first game (yeah, I know; I didn't live in DC before now). As games go, it wasn't terribly exciting from my perspective; I really only got into the game once a group of Dodger fans 3 sections over started making a lot of noise in the top of the 9th. I don't have a problem with making noise when you're the away team - it's a great opportunity to be a prick, since ....well, everyone expects it of you - but don't wait until the 9th to cheer your team on to victory. If you're gonna be that guy, you can't be that guy only at the end of the game - you've got to be that guy from the beginning. Otherwise you're an effective bandwagoneer, and there's no fun in that.

Anyway, I'm going to handle this in the stupidest way I know how: the mock interview.

What'd you think of RFK?
It seemed to be pretty plainly designed as a football stadium. That's not a bad thing, really - it was just slightly disorienting at first. The crowds weren't too bad, and I can't really speak to the facilities or the concessions, as I didn't use either of them.

How'd the game look early?
I figured the Nats had a shot; Bascik did a good job through the first couple of innings and Derek Lowe was going to three-ball counts on almost everyone in the first two innings. Church got CS on what I think was a botched hit-and-run - Lowe threw it near Schneider's feet. Lowe was missing low and away on righties big-time through the first couple of innings, and I figured he'd compensate by throwing mid-in on righties.

And yet that didn't happen. Why?
Lowe found his groove somewhere around Nook's first AB (and, while we're at it: no balls hit out of the infield tonight for the Nookster, although Garciaparra made a good play his first AB to rob him of a double). He rattled off 11 straight ground balls or strikeouts (one of those was FLop's single through the middle).

It's frustrating watching a groundball pitcher when he's on. He'll make the opposition look foolish if he's a great groundballer - or just ineffective if he's okay at what he does. Lowe falls into the latter camp, and even though he was racking up the pitch count (brought on by many three-ball counts), he still had plenty left in the tank. That was the case here.

Meanwhile, Bascik was giving up line drives left and right. The two runs scored in the 5th were definitely legit; both Gonzo and Ethier had well-hit balls, and ....for the love of god, don't walk the pitcher. Why do the guys who suck (Pierre, the pitchers) scare the Nats?

When did it go to hell?
Thanks go to Cristian Guzman and Ray King for that.

Guzmania? Booted an easy ground ball. I was actually explaining the concept of unearned runs to my girlfriend when she asked, "So if Russell Martin hits a HR both runs are unearned, right?" ... and sure enough, that happened about a minute later. (Sadly, this was not a mojo-changing experience, but it was funny.) He also lucked the hell out with both his hits; I thought the first one should've been an error (booted grounder by Abreu + bad throw) and the second one was cheese - but the Starcraft "OMG 4 POOL" kind of way.

Ray King? 2/3 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 ER. The walk? To the pitcher. Of course. Saul Rivera allowed Lowe to score.

...that about covers it.

Tuesday, May 22

Time Capsule: Dear Jason - Sorry!

(Editor's note: this is the final in a series of three articles I wrote last week and didn't post until now. I look forward to forgetting to update for a month.)

I was wrong. Totally, entirely, completely wrong.

After Jason Bergmann walked half the RFK concession staff in his first start of the season, I figured he was going to be embarrassing. Not just bad - completely inept. His next couple of starts weren't as jaw-droppingly bad - the control was better, and he was turning some of those walks into Ks.

His next few starts after those were better; however, I still had his first start seared into my brain and I chalked up this success to dumb luck - he's missing bats now, but that's just because everyone is willing to swing at the slop he's throwing. That won't last through the next game. Or the one after that. If not then, it'll be over next week. Meanwhile, we moved past the small sample size part of the season - he was still dealing.

By now, I had started to figure that he'd be okay in the middle of the rotation; the threat to blow up is there, but it's not as likely as I thought. (And really, who isn't a threat to blow up in the Nats' 2007 rotation?) And then .... Monday night. You've probably (edit: now, definitely. From everyone else) read about it already - 7 innings of no-hit ball. I was already starting to believ, but now? He's the staff ace.

(edit: the following paragraph is hilarious in retrospective; Bergmann went on the DL on the 18th, retroactive to the 15th)

Of course, that's not entirely his doing; with both Hill and the Delicate Flower on the DL, he's as much the de facto ace as he is the de jure ace. Were they both healthy, he'd probably be the #2 guy behind Hill. I wouldn't complain if he was the ace, though.

Question for discussion: let's say both Patterson and Hill come back healthy and dealing. How do they get ordered in the rotation - and more importantly, does the Nats' staff start to sniff league average? My heart quickens at the prospect.


Postscript: of course, most of this is kind of irrelevant now, thanks to Bergmann's DL stint. Unfortunately, that also means the Nats' first three starters are on the DL, which: good times. Still, there's more here than I thought there was going to be at first. Right now? I'll take that.

Time Capsule: Everybody Line up to Jump over the Cliff

(Editor's note: this is the second of a series of three articles I wrote last week and didn't post until now. Still, since I put forth the effort I didn't want to have them go to waste.)

The previous post was silver lining; now it's back to the dark cloud. The good news is that in Shawn Hill's last start, he threw 5 innings of no-hit ball. The bad news is that he had to leave the game early due to elbow trouble - and a few days later he landed on the DL. Oddly enough, he went on the DL officially for a torn labrum in his non-pitching shoulder.


I'm reminded of a Dilbert cartoon. In it, Dilbert asks Wally why he hasn't responded to Dilbert's inquiry (we don't know what he asked about; it's not really relevant); was it just a simple oversight or something more sinister? Wally answers that it's the sinister reason; he's withholding information in an attempt to inflate his own value. (The strip's last panel shows Alice stealing Wally's computer tower behind his back, which is funny but not really important to the point at hand.)

I can't help but feel this is the case here; when it's been fairly obvious for a while now that Hill's elbow was troubling him, why is he on the DL due to labrum issues? Are the Nats hiding something hideous? It would suck if a MRI of Hill's elbow revealed the internal equivalent of Shredded Wheat - but if it does, shouldn't we know? It's not going to kill all hope for the season if that's the case. (You can't kill something that's already dead! Especially if you're not in a zombie movie.) What would suck is hearing that it's a different injury entirely at first - and then having his elbow knock him out for the season.

To be fair, I could be overreacting. Maybe it is his labrum that's really the problem. If it is, great; while he's resting that it'll give his elbow time to recover as well. At the very least it won't hurt any more than it currently does - and that's a good thing (edit: Captain Obvious to the rescue; I need to edit my work better). I'm just afraid we'll get the "there's been setbacks" articles soon. If he's done, he's done - but if he's done when you say he's not, that kills.

(Postscript: news from May 19 says Hill feels fine.)

Time Capsule: On Winning Steaks and Sweeps

(Editor's note: this is the first of a series of three articles I wrote last week and didn't post until now. Still, since I put forth the effort I didn't want to have them go to waste.)

Winning fixes a lot of problems. Actually, "fix" is probably too strong a word - "glosses over" would be a better phrase. The Nats' recent 4-game winning streak (edit: May 11-14) sure didn't fix much - but it self pretty good. There's still plenty of dark cloud to this silver lining (is at a good sign you need to go on a run to break the .333 mark?), but they'll be plenty of time to talk about that dark cloud this season. Let's focus on some positives:

- Starting pitching. Jason Bergmann and Shawn Hill had two outstanding starts - and not just in the "oh, he got us into the 7th down by 1" way; they threw a combined 12 innings of no-hit ball. Heck, even Jason Simontacchi picked up his first win in 4 yeras. Matt Chico managed to not look totally lost out there, too. I wouldn't expect this every time out, but stringing together four decent starts in a row? I'll take it.

- Good bullpen work. Absent a true closer for most of the weekend, the Nats didn't do too bad without one. Yeah, they'll have bad weeks (too much use will cause everyone to implode at some point), but when they're on they seem to do well as a group. There's enough skill and - dare I say - talent to not be completely incendiary most of the time. This weekend, they weren't.

- Clutch hitting. Where has this been all year? I can't recall actually being confident that a runner on third with less than two outs will score until this weekend. To be fair, the Nats were bound to improve to the mean eventually; it was nice to see that happen in conjunction with good pitching. (Also, I dont know if an inside-the-park HR counts as clutch, but it was still a lot of fun!)

Of course, no team is as good as they are when they're winning, and I'm not so optimistic as to think they've turned some mythical corner and will proceed to challenge .400 (or - god forbid - .500). Still, it's fun to see everything mesh together neatly every once in a while. Probably more importantly, it's good to see that this team's individual components can be better than what we've seen before - and especially what we saw from them during the last road trip (edit: April 30 - May 9). It's not perfect, but you know what? I'll take it.

Friday, May 11

Nats/Brewers: A Postscript

Good teams find ways to win games they probably shouldn't. By that standard, the Brewers are a good team; the fact they've won any games started by Dave Bush would indicate that. They're winning even with what's effectively an offensive zero at the hot corner - another sign they're good. It wouldn't be too surprising to see them continue this start through the season, and if they do - good for them. It's been hard times in Milwaukee for a while, and this season's incarnation of the Brew Crew is both young and talented.

What's the inverse of a good team? By the previous definition, it'd be a team that loses games it should win. The Nats certainly qualify here - bad pitching, bad hitting (especially with RISP), squandering what good pitching they do get, etc., ad nausem. It'd then stand to reason that when a good team faces a bad team, the good team should win going away - and that's what happened.

Take Monday night as the first example. Matt Chico had his first quality start - 7 IP, and a little high on the hits, but given his previous outings it wasn't terrible. It was probably his first good start as a Nat. Low pitch count, too - only 93 pitches through 7. Of those pitches, 92 were good - but 1 of them was a duck crushed by Geoff Jenkins for a 3-run HR. That type of result should happen; bad pitches, by their nature, should be punished. Still, it's kind of bad luck, but not so much that it's totally impossible to believe. In addition, it's only a three-run deficit - most teams can come back from that.

Unfortunately, most teams aren't the Nats (who, as previously stated, can't hit their way out of a wet paper bag). They had opportunities, in a fashion - 1st/3rd with 2 outs in the 4th (popout), a ground rule double with 2 out in the 6th (K). Their best opportunity was in the 9th, hands-down - 1st and 2nd with only one out. Granted, by that point they're probably not going to win anyway... but a swinging K and a flyout won't bring the runners home. Not great. With unexpectedly good pitching from the back end of your rotation, you have to take advantage of it... and the Nats didn't on Monday.

So what about Tuesday? The offense clicked, kind of - they scored in the first inning for the first time in ...well, a while. They scored four runs total - most in the later innings, but it's still four runs. (Why yes, David Bush was starting for the Brewers; how'd you know?) However, Jason Simontacchi couldn't get it together, allowing 4 runs in only 6 IP, leaving Winston Abreu (welcome to the big leagues!) to give up the 5th and ultimately deciding run. Blown opportunites this game? Let's check it out!
- 2nd inning: 1st and 2nd, nobody out (DP / 6-3)
So that wasn't really the problem. This time, it can just be blamed on bad pitching and questionable defense (read: Robert Fick, who's another issue entirely).

What about Wednesday? Well, we can revisit the mantra of crummy hitting (5 hits) if we want. Lack of clutch hitting? 2nd / 3rd with 2 outs in the 2nd (K) kind of counts - they got there on a WP. 1st and 2nd with one out in 6th (pop, flyout) was the only other opportunity; you have to get hits first to fail in the clutch! So, what was the problem here? This time, blame the relievers - the combination of Jesus Colome and Micah Bowie in particular. 1-1 going into the bottom of the 8th, 3-1 Brewers coming out. Why? Just your usual 1B / 1B / 1B / WP two-run inning (which are normally the most painful; they're not hitting the ball hard, but it's just where the defenders aren't).

So: three games, three losses in three different ways. The Nats are doomed, right? Fortunately, that's not quite the case (but it's close!). There is some talent, according to the technical definition of the term. That'll mean there's a little light at the end of the tunnel that may not be an oncoming train. The Nats won't continue to be as abysmal as they have been with RISP (...right?). At the very least, statistical variation means they'll win some games - there will be some combinatino of good pitching, decent hitting, and roughly passable defense. They can all occur separately - as they did last week - but they'll happen on the same night sometimes, too. Let's just hope it happens another 32 times the rest of the season.

Sunday, May 6

6 thoughts over the last 2 games

1: The Jason Bergmann bubble popped on Friday. It was a fun ride while it lasted, and this time around it wasn't due to what I was afraid of happening (bad control). He was just hit hard - 8 H in only 6 IP. K/BB ratio wasn't bad (2:1), and I don't remember offhand how much of the outing could be blamed on bad D (my guess: probably one of the hits, maybe two). Still, it's at least a theoretical sign of concern / encouragement; I've been worried for a while that if/when Bergmann would implode, it'd be of the Oliver Perez "I'm walking everyone in the stadium" variety. This wasn't that - it was just getting beat up. That, in it of itself, is expected.

2: John Patterson left the game early yesterday. Surprised? I'm not - but he was sidelined by a bicep problem. Pick your joke (increasing levels of cynicism):
A - at least it wasn't his forearm
B - he's always been injured
C - he strained it giving himself a hug to feel better
D - this does nothing to fix his poor broken soul
Bottom line, this would hurt in theory, but since he's effectively - at best - the #3 starter now anyway, whatever. In this rotation, #3 = replacement level.

3: The Jesus Flores "two guys are" Watch(ing) continues. 3-for-4 on Friday, and if Schenider continues to bite it, I'll be curious to see if Bodes can either spin him off for something that could possibly be useful.

If you've ever played sim baseball, this next paragraph will make sense - if not, hang on. The catching situation is like having a 1-star starting C and a 2-star prospect in the big leagues. The prospect might be useful, but the starter sure as hell isn't. Flip the starter to see what you can get - if it's some middling crap middle reliever, so be it, but at least he's cheaper. Put the prospect in and see what happens; if you're not in a pennant race, who cares? You were getting a zero there anyway, it might as well be a cheaper zero.

(Kasten would be so proud!)

4: Ryan Langerhans watch: 0-3 with 2 Ks, first PH off the bench on Friday and Saturday and defensive replacement in LF (for Kasto). Trade back! Maybe they can talk Langerhans into hitting righty.

5: Three boos for Levale Speigner walking in the bases loaded yesterday. Not that he was really going to do anything useful anyway, but walking in a run is probably the most disheartening situation to be in as a fan - and walking in three in a row? Kind of inexcusable. Of course, once the runs started to be earned for him he got out of the inning - hope he gets some kind of present for knocking Patterson's ERA up (and his arbitration number down!).

6: Zimm hasn't had a bad last couple of games: 4-for-8 with a couple of walks. One double both games, with a SB yesterday (whee) to boot. I'm thinking that with an increase in walks, Zimm's value will go back up; I don't have the time at the moment to go delve into his past history to see if that's actually a useful indicator or not, but it makes intuitive sense. His OBP is only .309 so far, but that's well above the .236 (OBP Mendoza?) he was showing a couple of weeks ago.

Thursday, May 3

Spinning the Wheels

First off, my apologies for not posting here in a while; I was out of town and out of touch for a few days this past weekend, and the last couple of days have been lost to studying for finals. Updates will be semi-sporadic for a few days as finals continue and graduation stuff kicks in. (We'll address late May when we get there.)

Anyway, getting back to the topic at hand, it's gotten around the wires and blogs by now, but Chris Snelling has been traded for Ryan Langerhans, who ended up on the A's. Mariners fans can now immolate themselves when Snelling does well against them, and Braves fans can now do the same when Langerhans ....nah, who am I kidding. My initial reaction to the deal was somewhere solidly in the "WTF?" territory; that can be blamed on my perceptions of Snelling (not quite as rose-colored as USS Mariner, but probably not too connected with reality either) and Langerhans (bad). Admittedly, I didn't know much about Langerhans beyond he was one of those multiple Braves' OFs last year - I didn't even know he was pawned off to the A's.

Now that I've had a chance to process the deal, I'm coming up with ...well, treading water. Maybe it's a step forward, but it's not a giant step forward - maybe it's just a small step back. I don't know. Langerhans brings multi-positional defense and (depending on who you talk to) either a slightly worse bat than Snelling's or one approximately equal. In addition, he's under contract for another year than Snelling was. In it of itself, that's not bad - and if he can do something to keep one of the two Black Holes of Suck out of the lineup, then I can't blame him too much for that. (He can play CF; it remains to be seen if he will.)

Of course, we don't know how Langerhans will be used. If he's used like Snelling-plus, then I really can't complain; he wouldn't be actively sapping Church or Kearns of ABs beyond what they'd need for a rest period, he'd be a good late-inning defender (one that actually would be a defensive improvement), and he ...well, unless they teach him to switch hit, he won't be a righty bat off the bench. Can't win them all, I guess. In addition, if he's platooning in center then that will - as implied earlier - keep Logan out of the game, which has to be a good thing.

On the other hand, this isn't a gamebreaking trade. This looks like the equivalent of changing a font style. You can do it - and some people may like it a little more, which is good, right? - but it doesn't change the content. It won't turn the page you're designing into a masterpiece, and it won't turn this team into a contender. That's okay - if you think the team's going to compete this year, you're nuts anyway. However, making too many of these trades just seems like Bodes is shuffling the deck. One? Sure. Two? Eh, maybe. But unless this is going somewhere, it's not really that worth it.