Spring Training is the place to be…


Strasburg 12.jpgAs we arrived at Space Coast Stadium with the sun shining, the temps in the mid 60’s and signs of baseball all around: green grass, fans decked out in Nats gear and players making the voyage from the fields to the clubhouse. It dawned on me right as we pulled in the parking lot that…

Spring is by far the best season in the world just like water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen–simple common facts, right? Of course, it never occurs to you while you are drinking a glass of water that it is two parts hydrogen or one part oxygen. But after you take a year of chemistry, you don’t even care anymore what it is… you just accept it as a fact and vow never to take another chemistry class again. It’s the same thing for spring, when you are at the Nats Spring Training Complex you are amazed at how peaceful and easy going it is… it is at that moment you accept it as fact that spring is the best season and vow to make the migration to Florida each year.

It is a new beginning for everyone and everything. It provides a new start for the players, a rebirth for all living plants and a second chance for people who already forgot what their New Year’s resolution was. 

Let me get a little more cliché and sentimental… as W. Earl Hall said… I know I just name-dropped him like he is Ryan Zimmerman but truth be told Google doesn’t even know who he is, they just know he said this… “Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day.” Morphine? Nope. THC? Not a chance. Nicotine? Never. Vicodin? Vastly overrated.

We could add to that… while watching a baseball game speculating and daydreaming about the upcoming season. The start of Spring Training has an innate ability to make fans, and players alike, daydream of how their season will turnout and reason why they have what it takes to win the World Series. The records are wiped clean, the potential is endless and every team is in first place till April 5. Cliché comments become cool and the term “Making the trip North” typically reserved for Minnesotans going to their cabins becomes a common catchphrase.

Science has also never explained the tranquilizing effect of the start of Spring Training and the endless possibilities: all the what ifs, maybes, dreams and if only’s.

You have all heard them before and probably made the arguments yourself.

They added A, B and C in the offseason and bolstered the bullpen with D. What if E has a breakout year now that he is healthy? If only player F, has the season he had two years ago. If player G, pitches like he did in September for the entire season and now that player H will be on the team for a full season…We are a playoff team for sure.

It is just simple math: A+B+C+D+E+F+G+H=playoffs. Right?

All you need is a carefully crafted argument, selective statistics and a few leaps in logic that hopefully go undetected. 82 percent on the time you will win every time–push at worst–and by the time the actual records are final, the argument will have been forgotten just like the Spring Training games themselves–just don’t write down your predictions.


Space Coast Stadium 10.jpgSo let the argument begin why the Nationals will finish at or above .500… forget the fact that only seven teams since 1961 (the year the schedule was expanded to 162 games) that have won 60 games or fewer in one season have gone on to finish at or above .500 the following season. (I am excluding strike years.) Here are seven reasons why they will be the eighth.

1.      It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. The Nats ended on a seven game winning streak and posted a 33-37 record after July 21st. They are better defensively and if they would have kept that pace over the season they would have finished 76-86. They are a better team now then when the season ended too.

2.      Maybe, just maybe John Lannan is the best pitcher nobody has heard of… just look at the numbers against a pitcher everybody has heard of.

 ALCS MVP CC Sabathia vs. John Lannan

 Number of games started allowing three runs or less:

Sabathia:         23

Lannan:           23

 ERA in those games:

Sabathia:         1.78 ERA (32 ER/ 161.2 IP)

Lannan:           2.24 ERA (39 ER/ 156.2 IP)

 Individual Record in those games:

Sabathia:         18-0

Lannan:           9-5

 Team Record in those games:

Sabathia:         20-3

Lannan:           12-11

 

Lannan’s biggest problem last year was the Nats offense. He was second from the bottom with a 3.71 run support average for pitchers with at least 200 IP. The Rays Matt Garza bested Lannan with a 3.68 RSA. It is the one statistic you never want to lead in.

  1. Remember the Opening Day bullpen last season? I didn’t think so. Here is why you have forgotten about them. The seven relievers: Joel Hanrahan, Joe Beimel, Mike Hinckley, Wil Ledezma, Saul Rivera, Steven Shell and Julian Tavarez are about as memorable as the movies Glitter, Gigli and The Hottie and the Nottie combined. They recorded seven blown saves in the first 21 games and 20 by the All-Star break with a 5.21 ERA. The bullpen has been bolstered–beefed up more than Popeye’s bicep–and if Matt Capps is the closer the Nats think he can be, the one he was in 2007 with 2.28 ERA, it will be game over in the ninth.

4.      The Nationals just got a small dose of Nyjer Morgan last season before he fractured his left hand at the end of August but it was enough to give Nats fans an everlasting high. He was electric at the top of the order and changed the total complexion of the offense and defense while adding speed to a lineup of lumberjacks. In 49 games with the Nats, he batted .351 (67-for-191) with 35 runs and 24 stolen bases. If he can provide that excitement, speed and defense for an entire season… Wow.

5.      What if Willingham plays the entire season like he did in May, June and July. He struggled for the first time in his career to find playing time and never was comfortable at the plate in April, batting .143. The “Hammer” returned in May. From May 5 to August 18, he batted .330 (86-for-261) with 18 home runs, 48 RBI and an on-base percentage of .430. He had a forgettable September so I won’t try to remember it. Willingham will be the everyday left fielder so don’t expect him to struggle at the start this season.

6.      Maybe Elijah Dukes finally has a breakout year. Just think if he can hit 20 home runs and drive in 90 to 100 RBI in the 6th hole?

7.      It is only time before Stephen Strasburg arrives in the Majors. And now daydream for a second about this possible rotation on July 1 as the Nats open a four game series against the Mets: Jason Marquis with a first half stuff like last year, Chien-Ming Wang fully recovered with a hard sinker circa 2007, John Lannan as his normal self and Stephen Strasburg starring as the savior he was anointed as in The Passion of the Christ before Jim Caviezel stole the role because he actually looked the part. The only question remaining is who of the five to seven qualified pitchers in the organization will be the fifth starter?

Gotta love Spring Training.

 

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