Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Trifecta and the Fallout

"The incompetence of the bullpen was drawn to a head today," acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. "It got to a point where it wasn't fair to the fans and it wasn't fair to the rest of the team, the starting pitchers, too, to go status quo."

The Nats optioned Saul Rivera and Josh Bard to Triple-A Syracuse and designated Wil Ledezma and Steven Shell for assignment. The Nats will call up Jordan Zimmerman, Kip Wells, Garett Mock, and Jason Bergmann on Monday to fill the voids created by there departure. Wells, Bergmann, and Mock will all slide into the bullpen roles, while Zimmerman gets the nod Monday night vs. Derek Lowe and the Atlanta Braves.

A day late (try two), and a dollar short (try millions) as far as I'm concerned. The Nationals will pray for lightening in the bottle, but I think they secretly wish for a Maltov Cocktail to blow the whole bullpen to smithereens. Either that, or we might be getting prepared for a Ryan Wagner and Jorge Sosa sighting.

They need to redefine the roles in this bullpen, which include the closing job. Joe Biemel must assume that responsibility in Washington. Joel Hanrahan can not be allowed to blow any more saves this season for the Nats. Not to mention Hanrahan was was only given the responsibility to close by the '08 injury to Cordero, and the trading of Rauch, respectively.

Biemel should slide into the 9th and bump Hanrahan back into the 8th inning role, while Bergmann/Mock/Wells should see action in the middle innings, and Tavarez will worry about the Cabrera/Olsen/Martis nightmares that will happen every so often. Again, common baseball logic that is easily understood and apparent to almost everyone watching the game. And Manny often times misses these obvious adjustments.

Manny needs to redefine the roles of this bullpen and much as he needed to redefine the composition of the roster. Allowing Joel Hanrahan to blow one or two mores games will cost Manny his job. To lose three games in a row in this manner after salvaging the first win, prior to 7 straight losses, is unprecedented. This disgrace is headed for all-time proportions if it continues in this direction.

If Manny sits there and watches it happen while doing nothing, he's done. He's no dope, he knows it. That's why he shook up the roster. To do something. Now lets see if he has enough baseball sense to see if he does what is necessary on the field. It will be interesting, at the very least.

Oh and by the way, predicting 90% chance of rain tomorrow night. Any opinions on whether they should start Zimmerman in lieu of this (there's a good chance this game could be awful conditions and a lot of sitting).

Encore Performance

Adding to last post's question, if we would see any repeat performances at Nationals Park, Joel Hanrahan answered that yesterday by blowing another save via the long ball. Thanks Joel, one day of agony just wouldn't be fitting for this squad. Oh and Roger Bernandina winds up on the 15-day DL after being called up for Milledge earlier this week. Christian Guzman has landed himself there as well. Anyone want to post an over/under for how many games Nicky J will play this year?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Smells Like Fish

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke look on as the Washington Nationals lose again in extras, 3-2.

You wanted to believe didn't you? Was it when the Nats got a beautiful, clutch, 2 out, opposite field hit from Anderson Hernandez to take the lead in the 4th? Or was it before that when Alberto Gonzalez, who would fittingly have 3 hits but make a crucial mental error in the field and strike out to end the game with Dukes in scoring position, knocked in Flores with a double? It could have been while the Nats protected that precious 2-1 lead into the 9th. Or possibly even, in fact I'll even admit to this case, when MASN favorite Bob Carpenter mistakenly called Elijiah Dukes double a homerun in the bottom of the tenth. Unfortunately, that ball got stuck in the wall rather than go over (nevertheless, an enormous feat of strength that shouldn't be overlooked). And unfortunately, you have no reason to believe. These are your Washington Nationals.

Just a short 5 hour car ride away, the fans in the Bronx got treated to a show this afternoon as their captain christened their ballpark in a similar way that our "franchise" player christened ours. However, the sentiment, and even "aurora," around both events is drastically different. Everyone in the Bronx expects that moment to be the first of many to come in that ballpark. Will we ever see a moment like ours again at Nationals Park?

Bad teams find a way to lose. That is exactly what the Nats did tonight as they wasted a great performance by John Lannan (6 1/3 IP, 3 hits, 1 run, 8 strikeouts, and only one walk) versus a Marlins' club that came into today 2nd only to the Cardinals in runs scored in the NL. They found a way to lose. The Nats turned 12 hits into only 2 runs, left 21 men on base, struck out 10 times, and wild man Ryan Zimmerman made his 3rd throwing error of the season. Its the second week. And despite themselves they had a 2-1 lead with one out in the ninth.

Until the bullpen, who management decimated for no apparent reason the past few years, let Nationals' fans down again. To illustrate, take the curious case of Emilio Bonfiacio. GM whiz Jim Bowden decided to trade Rauch for Bonifacio last summer to then move Bonifacio for a corner outfielder and a starting pitcher that frankly isn't all that good. Then, coming into the season Nationals' management hoped to move a corner outfielder, odd man out Josh Willingham who was acquired 3 months earlier, for middle relief help. Did anyone call Arizona asking for Jon Rauch? Good luck with that Mike Rizzo. Rizzo is going to need all the help he can get as he attempts to do what another well covered man in Washington is hoping to do. Build successful, well managed programs that produce cost-effective results. This is no simple task.

The Nationals' management must continue to skimp on payroll because of their vast amount of relative payroll that is wasted in under-performing veterans. Dmitri Young is on the books this season for $5.5 million. This is money flushed down the toilet by Nationals' ownership. Nationals' fans will be lucky to see him on the field in any capacity, let alone make a difference with the vast amount of corner outfielders/first basemen. Even if he gets on the field he lacks power and is an atrocious defender. On the basepaths he is slower than molasses, and although he is a great guy and a valued leader, possess no real role or value to a club with the roster composition of the Washington Nationals. And yet, he's one of our highest paid players.

Austin Kearns is making a whopping $8 million this season to be an overhyped, underperforming, lollygagging, roadblock to either Elijiah Dukes or Lastings Milledge. Kearns has never been able to perform on a consistent basis in his two stops, first in Cincinnati and now in Washington. He is an overrated defender with a mediocre arm and has shown no signs of "turning the corner" as the Nationals would have you believe. This will be his last season seeing close to regular at bats in the MLB.

Christian Guzman is also making $8 million dollars this season to be an overweight shortstop with questionable range. Not to mention that seemingly because of his weight he can not run anymore, which restricts his value to a one-dimensional slap hitter who possesses no threat on the basepaths. The Nationals are painfully slow on the basepaths as a result of this. They are not good enough offensively to play station to station, and thus will hit into an enormous amount of double plays and unproductive outs this season.

All three of these players received an extension under Jim Bowden. The writing was on the wall when all three of these players accepted those extensions. Jim Bowden chose not to see it. Oh and just as an FYI, here's a quick run off of free agents in the class of '08 who play similar positions and make less money than their Nationals' counterpart: Jason Giambi, 1 year- $5.25 mil, Bobby Abreu, 1 year-$5 mil, Orlando Hudson, 1 year- $3.8 mil, Orlando Cabrera, 1 year- $4 mil. How different would this team look with 3 of those 4 rather than the Nats' trio?)

This team can not contend when you pay players that are clearly not elite players, superstar level money. The Nationals' have committed a combined 21 million dollars this season in Dmitri Young, Christian Guzman, and Austin Kearns. Not to mention they had to pay Willy Mo Pena 2 million to take his act anywhere else and Daniel Cabrera 2.6 million to walk every batter in sight. If your doing the math along with me, and I'm sure you are, that's a combined 25.6 million of the Nationals' roughly $58 million dollar payroll.

And yet the Nationals' skimp of free agents. They state that they can not afford to dip into the free agent market in pitching. They claim that they can not afford to throw Mark Tiexiera another $20 million over 10 years, which essentially would be $2 million more per year, a small price to pay for a true franchise player. They cut cost and deliver a mediocre, at absolute best, product for loyal Washington fans. They have the money, they just waste it. This city would turn out in numbers for a good product. They would have plenty of money to re-invest into the ballclub if they would invest their assets wisely. Watching that last out was painful for the result, and the limited amount of people that seemed to care when it happened.

Our nation awaits in difficult times for a change that is so desperately needed. In many of those great cities, baseball acts as a pleasant distraction to the state of affairs in our nation. In our nations' capital however, it is a painful reminder as we wait in the hopes of the changes that have been promised.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Missed Opportunities, Nats Stay Winless in '09 Home Opener

Final Score: Philadelphia 9, Washington 8

They say the loneliest number of them all is 1. On a day that saw the Nationals knock out three homeruns, receive a five hit performance by Christian Guzman, and tag the Phillies pitching staff for 12 hits as a team, they still managed to wind up on the wrong side of a 9-8 score. Now, the Nationals look like a ball club that would be satisfied with just 1.

"We're going to figure it out. I don't know if it's going to be tomorrow or it's going to be June," said left fielder Adam Dunn who homered and made an error in his Nationals Park debut. "I promise: We're going to figure it out."

Things are getting so bad present elect Barack Obama turned down the Nationals' offer to throw out the first pitch on opening day. Rumor has it that the President was concerned that if the ceremonial first pitch was a strike he would have to stay on and pitch through the first. Okay, I made that up. But after watching Daniel Cabrera struggle with the strike zone all afternoon in front of 40,386 fans, I think Manny would consider all options at this point. I hear Barack Obama stays in pretty good shape too.

"We need to hold the opposition to fewer than six, seven, eight runs. Then we'll have a chance to win," Acta said. "Our offense hasn't been our biggest problem. Yes , we have left some runners in scoring position, but I think the main thing is, we can't be allowing eight, nine runs every day."

Anderson Hernandez's season debut was of no help to the Nationals' struggling pitching staff . Hernandez booted a routine ground ball in the third inning which seemingly rattled Cabrera, who proceeded to walk Pedro Feliz to load the bases and then walked Chris Coste to force in a run. Hernandez wouldn't be done; misplaying another routine ground ball later in the game leading to another Phillies' rally. The Nats' defensive woes weren't limited to the keystone, but also in the outfield, which saw Adam Dunn would get eaten up by a lazy line drive. Dunn took a sharp route to the ball which lead to him being caught in, and eaten up by, a tweener hop. They would finish the day with three errors. Any means necessary.

Daniel Cabrera was never comfortable on the mound. All afternoon Cabrera toyed with his mechanics, threw from differing arm angles, and stalled his motion to take velocity off his pitches in an attempt to gain control. It didn't work. Cabrera threw only 39 of his 94 pitches for strikes, and exited after 5 innings allowing 6 hits, 4 runs, 1 earned, 2 BB, and 2 K's.

Both of Cabrera's runs in the third innings were unearned. But after forcing in a run by walking Coste, who at days end is hitting .143 with only 2 RBI's (one being the charity he recieved for watching Cabrera play "catch me if you can" with Jesus Flores), and allowing Jamie Moyer to drive the ball deep enough to score a runner from third, I would imagine Cabrera would be the first to tell you that both runs were well deserved. And again to reiterate, if Jamie Moyer is driving the ball deep enough for a sacrifice fly, you know the stuff just wasn't that good.

While other pitchers make adjustments to what they throw, Cabrera makes adjustments to how he throws. And the results are never pretty. Cabrera is only valuable if he's gassing it up at 94-95 and getting ahead of batters to set up his inconsistent, but nasty secondary pitches. The Phightins' feasted on seemingly every diminished 87-91 MPH "get me over" fastball because Cabrera fell behind almost every hitter.

While the defense was terrible, its hard to overlook the Nats' deficiencies in all areas that require pitching the baseball. This loss falls on Cabrera's shoulders first and foremost, but miscues by Hernandez, Dunn, and the bullpen didn't help.

Homering for the Nats:
Dukes (1), Zimmerman (2), Dunn (2)

Player of the Game:
Christian Guzman: 5/5, 2 runs, 2 rbis, 1 SB (1)

Up Next:
Nats get a day off and will be back at it again Wednesday night at Nationals Park. Shairon Martis takes the bump and will face the Phillies' Joe Blanton. First pitch at 7:05.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Don't Just Stand There Act-a-Fool. (do something!)

I know Nats fans, I know. We love Manny Acta. He is a stark contrast from the stoic Frank Robinson and brings a sense of energy to a ball club that desperately needs some. He is the never-ending optimist, he earned votes for manager of the year in 2006, and by all accounts is a hell of a guy and an even better baseball mind.

However, as the team broke camp and headed north, just a little over a week ago, that same Manny Acta seems unfit to run this ball club. Manny's opening day roster composition and how he plans to utilize these players, leaves one to question his tactics, which clearly lack common baseball knowledge; inevitably costing our beloved Nationals valuable wins at the beginning of the season.

Manny can ill afford to carry 3 catchers out of the gate. Adding both Bard and Nieves to the roster comes at the expense of a bat or an arm that could help this team in the two weeks prior to the much anticipated debut of JZ. Just a few nights ago, Manny was forced to send Nieves to the plate in a critical bottom of the ninth, bases loaded situation because he was the last available bat. Nieves swung at ball four and the Nats squandered a golden opportunity to take control of the game the Nats so desperately needed to win (Milledge would later get a hit and the Nationals would lose in extras).

Nieves is a career .214 hitter, with a .257 OBP and a .286 SLG%. Not exactly the guy you want hitting with the game on the line if you're Manny. To contrast, Bard is a career .265 hitter, with a .332 OBP and a .394 SLG%. Even though Nieves is coming off what many consider a "successful" year, he only hit .261, with a lone HR, 20 RBI's, a .309 OBP% and a .341 SLG%. While Bard only hit .202 last year, when you look behind the numbers you see the true story. Nieves had a .306 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), while Bard had an extremely unlucky .230 BABIP. Bards two previous years, '06 & '07, average to the following stat line: 319 AB's, .304 BA, 7 HR's, 45 RBI's, and a .377 OBP. Add to the fact that Bard is a year younger in a position that takes a significant toll on a player's body, and it is a clear choice that he should be the backup/platoon(?) catcher on your Washington Nationals.

From the backstop we travel to the mound, just a short skip and small hike of 60 feet and 6 inches. However, after drawing comparisons to a "young Greg Maddux" and projected to be a front of the line starter at his peak, the Nationals decided Shawn Hill would no longer be staring in at Flores from their mound. This move was as surprising as it is idiotic, and the alarm went off when Manny claimed that it was "probably the toughest decision I've had to make since I've been here."

Why would Manny make such a decision? We all know Shawn Hill has had his ups and downs since being drafted by the Montreal Expos back in 2000. Its no secret and its well documented. But if you stick with a guy for that long, and want to sell your fans on a solid young rotation, why rid yourself of a guy who can be a quality major league pitcher? Manny called Shawn "the type of guy every manager wish to have" and deemed it a "baseball decision." Manny also stated that "this is where he (Hill) wants to be. It wasn't easy for him or for me. He'll be fine. He is going to move on."

Huh? If he is the type of guy every manager wishes to have, he's going to be "fine," and Washington is where he wants to be, why is he winning games in San Diego while Daniel Cabrera and Scott Olsen lose games in Washington? If there was any doubts about Hill's arm Friday's win over the Giants (which if you're keeping score is one more win then our entire staff combined), surely answered those questions and more as he proved that he can still be productive, viable option in a good rotation. Shawn Hill was committed to being a National and at one point had significant upside, with one week left in camp why let some one else reap the benefits of all your development and medical staff dollars? We need wins here in Washington. We need all arms possible to build this staff.

From the mound all the way to right field in the Nationals' bullpen, Manny will have a hard time justifying why he has chosen to take three left handed relievers with him to Washington. There is no room in the bullpen for Joe Biemel, Mike Hinkley, and Wil Ledezma. Under no circumstance should any team carry three lefties, two of them being of the bottom feeding quality variety. Under the assumption that the starting pitching provides a decent start, going 5-6 innings, Manny needs at the absolute maximum two lefties to play match-ups throughout the rest of the game. Having three burns a roster slot every single night, and because lefties can throw on back to back days because they are limited in the amount of batters they face, durability becomes a non issue. Who should go? Ledezma does have a power arm but he has been passed around the Bigs, and after seeing him get smacked around for earned runs in each of his three appearances, I think it should be him rather than Hinckley, although he has already walked 4 batters with 0 strikeouts (eeek!).

That extra arm in the pen could be occupied by the ever so bi-polar Jason Bergmann. Like Shawn Hill, anyone who hasn't been under a rock knows the love-hate affair the Nationals have with Jason Bergmann. Bergy is notoriously streaky and inconsistent, but when he is hot he is good. Real good. Just ask the Mets last year at Shea Stadium where he outmatched Mike Pelfrey in a 1-0 duel (Willie Harris saved that game with a miraculous catch in left in the ninth). His line that day: 7 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, 9 K's. Jason Bergman is not that good. But he is not that bad either.

This begs the question as to why he has been sent to Triple-A Syracuse after being our best pitcher in spring training, posting a line of 11.1 innings, 7 hits, 0 earned runs, and a 3 to 1 K/BB ratio? If he was hot in spring, shouldn't Manny try to ride some of that in the regular season as well? Trust me, Manny should not clear room in the rotation for the likes of Jason Bergmann. But he warrants a look in a bullpen desperate for middle relief help to bridge the gap to Hanny.

Finally, we hop the fence and wind up in right field where Austin Kearns inhabits. This begs the obvious question, why? Does anyone really think we can unload Austin Kearns and his 8 million dollar salary without eating almost its entire value? Even if they found some way to unload him, which can only be achieved if he produces at a high level (a feat he failed to accomplish all of last year), the Nats would still only receive a mid-level prospect at best. Is this worth putting your fans through the agony of watching him bounce into double plays, and having to hear about how much of a "gamer" he is, and all of the "potential" he has?

All valid questions left without answers from Manny. In fact, the only answer that he has given is that Austin had a productive spring, while Dukes struggled. Be that as it may, Spring Training stats have proven to be widely unreliable as an indicator of performance within the regular season. Plain and simple, Manny is basing his decision on grounds that couldn't even hold Jamey Carroll before breaking. The Austin Kearns ship has sailed and sunk. Get off it Manny, or you'll surely drown.

However, we do have a player who's stock is actually rising. Elijiah Dukes issues are well documented, but he has potentially turned a corner by staying out of substantial trouble with the law this past year. The Nats got a good look at him in '08 and he responded by posting a rubust line of 13 Hr's, 44 RBI's, 48 Runs and 13 SB's, with a .264 BA and a .386 OBP% in only 276 AB's. Doubling those numbers to reflect a full season, approximately 550 AB's, would put his numbers at 26 HR's 88 RBI's 96 Runs and 26 SB's. You can count on one hand the amount of players that go 25-25 (homers/steals) in any given year in the MLB. The Nats have the potential to have one of them.

Instead we get the delight of seeing Austin run out there for the bulk of the time. Why would the Manny, and the Nationals, bench that kind of production for potentially up to a half season for Austin Kearns' level production? Those of you who are wondering what that exactly entails, here's Kearns' '08 line: 313 AB's, 7 HR's, 32 RBI's, 40 Runs, 2 SB's with a .217 BA and a .311 OBP. At best the Nats move Austin and receive a mid-level prospect while eating most of the money anyway, at worst he falls flat on his face; which then makes this experiment a waste of time because there will be clearly superior players for less money on the trade block around the time of the deadline. All at the expense of the talented, young player Elijiah Dukes.

Even if Kearns
produces reasonably well it would still be a far cry from the type of numbers Elijiah can produce with the same at bats. Furthermore, Kearns' ceiling, at this point in his career, is about as high as a basement apartment, while Duke's may as well be the Vatican itself. There are very few players with the kind of upside Elijiah Dukes has. At nothing else, Dukes' is a better fielder and has a stronger arm, which the fly ball happy bullpen much appreciates (and in Friday's game they did when Dukes made a strong one hop throw to gun a man at the plate). Dukes is the only National with the true 5 tool potential and deserves to be in the lineup everyday.

Don't kid yourselves Nationals fans, these are not the answers to winning a World Series. But these are steps in the right direction for a team that desperately needs a path. Games in April look the same at the end of the season as the games in August and September. Allocating your already limited assets in this manner is irresponsible and detrimental to this ball club. If it continues Manny must be held accountable. Playing from an 0-6 record for a club that is projected to be in the cellar (sigh) is not an easy thing to come back from. Manny may have put this club in a position where it was set up for defeat from the first pitch. The lack of leads in the first 6 games that the Nationals have had speak to this issue. Here's to hoping they have the spine (questionable at best) and the talent (which is who on the pitching staff?) to bounce back.

Your input is always appreciated and thanks for checking it out.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Inaugural Post (pardon the pun)

Okay Nats fans here it is.

Lets sound off. I want your feedback and I want your opinions. Lets start this up right. First a little about me.

I'm an absolute die hard Nats fan in the heart of Long Island. Brave the frontiers at Shea for years and in Philadelphia where I'll be relocating to in the fall.

I'm going to be posting opinionated articles on here every so often. I'm definitely going to post feedback after every single game, so look for it on here. I need your feedback on both. Signing off for now...I have to figure a way to promote/create this thing right.