April 2010

Walk this way and Lineups


Craig Stammen Ex. game.JPGIt is important to preface any baseball statistics or arguments made a half week into the season by saying they probably mean nothing and the records mean even less. The Pirates are undefeated and tied for the lead in the NL Central and the Dodgers are in last place in the NL West. Of course, you would rather be 2-0 than 0-2 but neither record wins a playoff spot. 

The Nats look to salvage game three of their opening series against the Phillies. They will count on 26-year-old Craig Stammen, who had an impressive spring to earn the third spot in the rotation and the Nats are hoping that the third game is a charm.

“Some of the hard work has paid off, but what you do in the spring doesn’t matter,” Stammen said. “All this stuff gets thrown out when the season starts. So I have to continue the success in April.”

For Stammen to have success against the Phillies’ lineup, he will have to pound the strike zone and limit free passes, something John Lannan, Jason Marquis and the bullpen has struggled with in the past few days.

Walk this way.

The Nationals pitching staff has struggled with their control in the first two games. They lead the Majors with 17 walks, nine walks in game one and eight walks last night. The Red Sox are right behind them with 16 walks but that is in three games. These high walk numbers might be more indicative of the two lineups the teams are facing–the Phillies and Yankees, respectively–but it is never easy to win a game when a team walks eight or more batters. Last year, there were 203 times that a team issued eight or more walks and the outcome is what you may expect. The teams issuing the walks went 55-148 (.271) in those games.

The Nationals won’t average eight walks a game but of the 17 walks: six were on full counts, two were on four pitches, two were intentional and five of the batters eventually scored. Pitching around a batter with two outs typically produces a different result than walking the first batter. Last night in the top of the ninth, the Nats intentionally walked Carlos Ruiz with two outs and the next batter, Ryan Madson, struck out. On the other hand, walking the leadoff hitter of the inning always seems to haunt teams. The Phillies leadoff hitter has been issued a free pass six times and they have crossed the plate four times. Walks aren’t runs but they lead to runs.

There are 11 teams that have surrendered 10 or more walks so far this season. Their combined record is 9-17. The 10 teams with the lowest walk totals are 16-7. These statistics aren’t trying to show a cause-and-effect–there isn’t one–and maybe there isn’t even a correlation. A team wins the game by scoring more runs than the other team–thanks John Madden–but walks help the other teams score more runs. It is that simple.

 Phillies (2-0):

1.      Jimmy Rollins – SS

2.      Placido Polanco – 3B

3.      Chase Utley – 2B

4.      Ryan Howard – 1B

5.      Jayson Werth – RF

6.      Raul Ibanez – LF

7.      Shane Victorino – CF

8.      Brian Schneider – C

9.      Kyle Kendrick – SP

 

*Kendrick had a stellar spring and allowed just four hits (0 BB, 0 R) over his first 9.0 innings. He gave up two earned runs or less in all seven of his appearances (5 starts).

*Kendrick replaced injured right-hander Joe Blanton (left oblique strain) in the Phillies’ rotation.

*To pitch to Howard or not is a tough question because Jayson Werth has been just as lethal against the Nats. “You are between a rock and a hard place with those guys,” Manager Jim Riggleman said.

 

Nationals (0-2):

1.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

2.      Cristian Guzman – SS

3.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Josh Willingham – LF

6.      Willie Harris – RF

7.      Adam Kennedy – 2B

8.      Wil Nieves – C

9.      Craig Stammen – SP

*Guzman gets his first start at SS after pinch hitting for Mike Morse and playing right field last night.

*Pudge gets a break because of the day game after a night game.

Marquis makes his first start with the Nats and lineups


Jason Marquis Opening Day.JPGIt is both game two of the series and season tonight. Last year, the second game at Nationals Park (April 15 vs. the Phillies) was postponed due to thunderstorms. There won’t be any postponements or problems with the weather today. It is another b-e-a-utiful day in the Nation’s Capital–it might even be a little too warm for April 7. The temperature is in the mid-80′s with scattered clouds and plenty of sun as the players start to warm-up.

Jason Marquis takes the mound for the first time as a member of the Washington Nationals. He made his first start of the 2009 season against the Phillies and will once again try to shut down their formidable lineup. He earned the victory last season, pitching 7.0 innings and surrendering just two runs on five hits. Marquis has traditionally performed well in his first start of the season. He is 3-1 with a 3.88 ERA (46.1 IP/ 20 ER) in eight first starts of the season since 2002. Since 2005, he is 2-0 with a 3.03 ERA (29.1 IP/ 10 ER).

The veteran pitcher said he doesn’t plan on doing anything special against the Phillies. He is just going to be Jason Marquis–a sinker ball specialist that lets his defense make plays. He is just going to stick to his game plan, pound the bottom of the strike zone and induce ground ball outs.

Phillies (1-0):

1.      Jimmy Rollins – SS

2.      Placido Polanco – 3B

3.      Chase Utley – 2B

4.      Ryan Howard – 1B

5.      Jayson Werth – RF

6.      Raul Ibanez – LF

7.      Shane Victorino – CF

8.      Carlos Ruis – C

9.      Cole Hamels – SP

*Jimmy Rollins is batting .118 (4-for-34) with five strikeouts against Marquis.

* Hamels is 5-1 with a 1.47 ERA (67.1 IP/ 11 ER) and a .200 (49-for-244) BAA over his last 10 starts against the Nationals (dates to 2007 season). He enters today with a 14.1-inning scoreless streak at Nationals Park

Nationals (0-1):

1.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

2.      Ian Desmond – SS

3.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Josh Willingham – LF

6.      Ivan Rodriguez – C

7.      Mike Morse – RF

8.      Adam Kennedy – 2B

9.      Jason Marquis- SP

*Marquis is the only player in MLB whose club has reached the postseason each of the last 10 seasons.

 

Game 1 of 162 and some early season projections


Nationals Park Opening Day 2010.jpgThere are 2,430 scheduled baseball games for the 2010 season and only 13 of them were played yesterday, just one half of 1 percent of all the games. There was one game on Sunday and the Rays and O’s start their seasons tonight.

“There are 161 more to go,” Ian Desmond said. “Just because we lost one game 11-1, it’s just like losing 2-1. It doesn’t really matter.”

At the end of the day, Opening Day is just another day. It is just one of the 162 games, but the Opener is always magnified: the pomp and circumstance before the start, the President throwing out the first pitch, the sold-out park, the beautiful weather and knowing that driving in two runs leaves you on pace to have 324 RBI when the season is done. It just has a different feel to it.

It is tradition following Opening Day–like eating pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day–to see the regular season projections for a few players that preformed well for one game and see what they are on-pace to do during the 162-game marathon. We will forget for a few seconds that the sample size is only one game and the odds of the projections actually happening are zero. So don’t bet the farm on these projections–sample sizes of one game have the tortoise losing to the hare every time–and don’t bet your friend that Placido Polanco is going to drive in 972 runs. He is projected to do that though… and just maybe he will. It is mathematically possible. Here are five things that could happen but won’t happen because being mathematically possible isn’t the same as being mathematically practical. 

·         The Blue Jays’ Adam Lind is batting 1.000 (3-for-3) with one home run, two runs and an RBI. He is projected to bat 1.000 (486-for-486)–move aside Ted Williams–with 162 home runs, 162 RBI and 234 runs.

·         The Phillies’ Placido Polanco didn’t waste any time making his presence known in the power, home run hitting Philadelphia lineup. He went 3-for-5 with a grand slam and six RBI. He is projected to have 486 hits, 162 home runs and a measly 972 RBI, not a bad season.

·         If Albert Pujols wasn’t the front runner for his third straight NL MVP award, he is now. He went 4-for-5 with four runs, two home runs and three RBI to lead the Cardinals to an 11-6 win over the Reds. That is just an average day at the park for Pujols. He is project to have 648 hits and runs, 324 home runs, 486 RBI and one MVP award.

·         Jason Heyward is going to be a star, that isn’t a projection, just a fact. The 20-year-old blasted a 433-foot, three-run home run to right in his first Major League at-bat to turn Turner Field into a tizzy. The 6-foot-4, 220-lb right fielder finished 2-for-5 with four RBI, a home run and two runs. He is projected to have 324 hits, 162 home runs, 648 RBI and one memorable career.

·         Pudge Rodriguez is 38 years young but it is tough to guess that. He made his Nationals debut yesterday with a 3-for-4 performance at the plate including two doubles. Pudge inched closer to being the next member of the illustrious 3,000 hit club and only needs 286 hits. At this pace, he is projected to join the club on July 23, 2010 at Miller Park in Milwaukee. All he needs to do is get three hits every game and not miss a start… as a catcher.

And let’s not forget that 14 teams right now are projected to go 162-0… so much for these projections.

2010 Opening Day Lineup

2010 Opening Day Lineup

Phillies:

  1. Jimmy Rollins – SS
  2. Placido Polanco – 3B
  3. Chase Utley – 2B
  4. Ryan Howard – 1B
  5. Jayson Werth – RF
  6. Raul Ibanez – LF
  7. Shane Victorino – CF
  8. Carlos Ruis – C
  9. Roy Halladay – SP

 

Nationals:

  1. Nyjer Morgan – CF
  2. Willie Harris – RF
  3. Ryan Zimmerman – 3B
  4. Adam Dunn – 1B
  5. Josh Willingham – LF
  6. Adam Kennedy – 2B
  7. Ivan Rodriguez – C
  8. Ian Desmond – SS
  9. John Lannan – SP

 

Below is the list of Opening Day lineups since the Nationals returned to the Nation’s Capital in 2005. Cristian Guzman has been a mainstay and Livan Hernandez is back but the better question is… where were you when Terrmel Sledge started in left field?

2009 Opening Day Lineup–a 12-6 loss on April 6 against the Marlins at Land Shark Stadium.

  1. Lastings Milledge – CF
  2. Cristian Guzman – SS
  3. Ryan Zimmerman – 3B
  4. Adam Dunn – LF
  5. Nick Johnson- 1B
  6. Austin Kearns- RF
  7. Ronnie Belliard- 2B
  8. Jesus Flores- C
  9. John Lannan- SP

 

2008 Opening Day Lineup–a 3-2 victory over the Braves to open up Nationals Park. Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth to break a 2-2 tie.

  1. Cristian Guzman – SS
  2. Lastings Milledge – CF
  3. Ryan Zimmerman – 3B
  4. Nick Johnson – 1B
  5. Austin Kearns – RF
  6. Paul Lo Duca – C
  7. Elijah Dukes – LF
  8. Ronnie Belliard – 2B
  9. Odalis Perez – SP

 

2007 Opening Day Lineup–a 9-2 loss to the Marlins at RFK Stadium.

  1. Felipe Lopez – 2B
  2. Cristian Guzman – SS
  3. Ryan Zimmerman – 3B
  4. Austin Kearns – RF
  5. Dmitri Young – 1B
  6. Brian Schneider – C
  7. Ryan Church – LF
  8. Nook Logan – CF
  9. John Patterson – SP

 

2006 Opening Day Lineup–a 3-2 loss to the Mets on April 3 at Shea Stadium.

  1. Brandon Watson – CF
  2. Jose Vidro – 2B
  3. Jose Guillen – RF
  4. Nick Johnson – 1B
  5. Alfonso Soriano – LF
  6. Ryan Zimmerman – 3B
  7. Royce Clayton – SS
  8. Brian Schneider – C
  9. Livan Hernandez – SP

 

2005 Opening Day Lineup–a 8-4 loss to the Phillies on April 4 at Citizens Bank Park.

  1. Brad Wilkerson – CF
  2. Cristian Guzman – SS
  3. Jose Vidro – 2B
  4. Jose Guillen – RF
  5. Nick Johnson – 1B
  6. Vinny Castilla – 3B
  7. Terrmel Sledge–LF
  8. Brian Schneider – C
  9. Livan Hernandez – SP

Roster set for now

The Nationals finalized their 25-man roster yesterday, however, it won’t be long before it changes. The Nats kept an extra reliever (eight total) because they won’t need a fifth starter–Livan Hernandez–until Sunday against the Mets.

“There are a couple of spots that are going to be vulnerable when we add the fifth starter,” Jim Riggleman said. “So that will be another tough call. A lot of guys are making the club right now, but we can’t carry eight relievers when we get to the 11th of April.”

Opening Day 2010

The Rotation:

1.      John Lannan – LHP

2.      Jason Marquis – RHP

3.      Craig Stammen – RHP

4.      Garrett Mock – RHP

Bullpen:

1.      Matt Capps – RHP

2.      Brian Bruney – RHP

3.      Tyler Clippard – RHP

4.      Sean Burnett – LHP

5.      Miguel Batista – RHP

6.      Jason Bergmann – RHP

7.      Jesse English – LHP

8.      Tyler Walker – RHP

Catchers:

1.      Wil Nieves

2.      Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez

Infielders:

1.      Ryan Zimmerman

2.      Cristian Guzman

3.      Ian Desmond

4.      Adam Dunn

5.      Adam Kennedy

6.      Alberto Gonzalez

7.      Mike Morse

Outfielders:

1.      Willie Harris

2.      Nyjer Morgan

3.      Josh Willingham

4.      Willy Tavares

 

Here is a look back at the Opening Day 2009 25-man roster. (The names in bold are on the 2010 Opening Day roster.)

The Rotation:

1.      John Lannan – LHP

2.      Scott Olsen – LHP–Triple-A Syracuse

3.      Daniel Cabrera – RHP

4.      Shairon Martis – RHP–Triple-A Syracuse

Bullpen:

1.      Joel Hanrahan – RHP

2.      Joe Beimel – LHP

3.      Mike Hinckley – LHP

4.      Wil Ledezma – LHP

5.      Saul Rivera – RHP

6.      Steven Shell – RHP

7.      Julian Tavarez – RHP

Catchers:

1.      Jesus Flores–60-day DL 

2.      Wil Nieves

3.      Josh Bard

Infielders:

1.      Ryan Zimmerman

2.      Cristian Guzman

3.      Ronnie Belliard

4.      Nick Johnson

5.      Willie Harris

6.      Alberto Gonzalez

Outfielders:

1.      Adam Dunn

2.      Lastings Milledge

3.      Austin Kearns

4.      Josh Willingham

5.      Elijah Dukes

It was an unconventional roster, with 11 pitchers and 14 position players, three of which were catchers. They could do that because they didn’t need a fifth starter until the middle of April. Jordan Zimmermann was the fifth starter but wasn’t called up until April 20 when Josh Bard was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse.

 

Countdown to Opening Day: 10 till ’10

Opening Day at Nationals Park is finally here though it seems like yesterday we were celebrating Justin Maxwell’s walk-off grand slam. Spring Training is over and we conclude our countdown of the 10 most memorable moments, jaw-dropping catches and walk-off wins with the Nationals most unforgettable home run of the 2009 season. You have seen it before but you’ll want to see them again.

 

 The Nats hope they can begin the 2010 season the same way they ended the 2009 campaign–on a seven game winning streak. 2009 ended at Nationals Park with a bang. Justin “All is well that ends” Maxwell connected on a 92 mph fastball and drove it into the flowers in left for a walk-off grand slam. Click here to view it on NatsHD or here…
20090930 Maxwell Walkoff GS.mpg …to view Desmond blast the ball to the Red Porch restaurant.

On the eve of Opening Day

Below are the top five Nationals story lines when the Nats were heading into Spring Training over a month ago:

1.      The shortstop position–Ian Desmond or Cristian Guzman

2.      Right field–Elijah Dukes spot to lose

3.      Stephen Strasburg

4.      The Bullpen

5.      The Starting RotationLannan and Marquis have two of the spots locked down…the other three?

Obviously, these story lines were all pretty general–the starting rotation alone could be five story lines–but rule No. 1  in predicting the futures baseball market requires being as ambiguous as possible. On the eve of Opening Day 2010, the questions about the Opening Day roster have been answered. Here’s how the story lines of Spring Training were written over the past month-plus in Viera:

  1. The shortstop position–Guzman is in the final year of the two-year contract he signed in 2008. Desmond entered his sixth Spring Training with the Nationals knowing he was going to be an everyday shortstop–he just didn’t know if it would be with the Nationals or with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. It only took a few games before it became a foregone conclusion that Desmond was going to be the everyday shortstop. He batted .318 (21-for-66) and led the team with 15 RBI in 25 games. After Guzman was relegated to the bench, he spent the final Spring Training games testing other positions and he could be the Nats super-utility man this season.
  2. Right Field–As I said before, right field was Dukes’ spot to lose and he did just that. For whatever reasons–lack of production being the most prominent–Dukes’ luck ran dry when he was unconditionally released on St. Patrick’s Day, definitely not the luck of the Irish. The always likeable veteran, Willie Harris, will start in right field for the time being and Willy Tavares will be the second member of the platoon.

3.      Stephen Strasburg–Stephen Strasburg was possibly the best pitcher in camp. Period. Lannan was right behind him though. Strasburg handled Strasburg-mania like a veteran and walked around the clubhouse like a rookie: confident but reserved. He posted a 2.00 ERA (2 ER/ 9.0 ER) in three starts before he was sent to Minor League camp on March 20. He proved he knows how to pitch–not just throw 100 mph fastballs past Major League hitters. He isn’t scared to throw a 3-2 curveball with runners on the corners either. He will attract interest with each start but before you anoint him the savior, redeemer or rescuer of the world just remember the expectations paradox–anyone can fail when there are impossible expectations and anyone can succeed when there aren’t any expectations at all. See Eric Crouch and Ryan Leaf. One was quickly forgotten and disappeared off the radar shortly after he won the Heisman Trophy and the other one was arguably one of the biggest busts in the NFL after he was the No. 2 pick in the 1998 draft but both were equally bad. Everything is relative.

Here are a few selective top rookie campaigns over the last few seasons:

Pitcher                                 Year        Record    G             IP            SO    ERA      

CC Sabathia (Cle)                2001        17-  5       33            180.1     171     4.39      

Justin Verlander (Det)          2006        17-  9       30            186.0       124    3.63        

Rick Porcello (Det)              2009        14-  9       31            170.2         89    3.96        

Dontrelle Willis (Fla)            2003        14-  6       27            160.2       142    3.30        

Armando Galarraga (Det)    2008        13-  7       30            178.2       126    3.73       

Jair Jurrjens (Atl)                  2008        13-10       31            188.1       139   3.68       

Jeff Niemann (TB)               2009        13-  6       31            180.2       125    3.94 

J.A. Happ (Phi)                    2009        12-  4       35            166.0       119   2.93    

Josh Johnson (Fla)                2006        12-  7       31            157.0       133   3.10   

Francisco Liriano (Min)        2006        12-  3       28            121.0       144   2.16      

 

4.      The Bullpen–The 2009 Nationals Achilles’ heel was the bullpen with a Major League worst  5.04 ERA. They entered this spring with a bolstered pen and four spots locked down, the remaining three were open. The back end of the bullpen ended up the same way it started. Matt Capps struggled this spring but he will begin the season as the closer and Brian Bruney will be the set-up man. Sean Burnett and the ever-so-versatile right-hander Tyler Clippard will be used against lefties. Clippard held leftied to a microscopic .122 (14-for-115) batting average with 38 strikeouts in 2009. The Nats decided to begin the season with eight relievers so Jason Bergmann, Miguel Batista, Tyler Walker and Jesse English earned the final four spots.

5.       The Starting Rotation–When the pitchers and catchers reported on Feb. 19, the race for the rotation was wide open. John Lannan and Jason Marquis were the only guarantees, if there is such a thing, and the eventual fourth starter–the always dependable, 60 mph curveball-machine Livan Hernandez–wasn’t even on the team yet. There were about nine pitchers trying to fill three spots: Scott Olsen, Matt Chico, Collin Balester, Stephen Strasburg, J.D. Martin, Craig Stammen, Garrett Mock, Shairon Martis and Livan Hernandez. Craig Stammen had bone chips removed in his right elbow during the offseason and pitched brilliantly this spring to earn the third spot: he went 1-2 with a 3.72 ERA (19.1 IP/ 8 ER) and 12 strikeouts. Mock earned the final spot right before camp broke. Even with the season starting, the race for the rotation isn’t finished. It is only time before Stephen Strasburg, Chien-Ming Wang, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler make starts in 2010.

GM Mike Rizzo continues to leave his mark


Mike Rizzo Spring Training.jpgNationals General Manager Mike Rizzo has been working endlessly each day trying to transform and reshape the Nationals’ roster, his blackberry buzzes so much you could confuse it for a high schooler’s phone. Of course, he will never be satisfied and that keeps the text messages and e-mails flowing. Satisfied is a word as foreign as “off day” in his baseball vernacular–complacency, not high cholesterol, is the real silent killer–but he is pleased with the progress the team has made over the last 13 months since he was named the interim GM (the “interim” title was officially removed on Aug. 20, 2009).

 

“We’re never satisfied,” he said. “I always prelude my comments with ‘We’re never satisfied.’” 

 

His first year as general manager meant little sleep, many early mornings, late nights and countless cups of coffee–there are better odds of counting the number of stars in the sky than the number of cups of coffee he consumed.

 

On his first Spring Training as official GM:

 

“It feels good. We all have our trials and tribulations in our careers. I really take pride in the fact that I’m in a peer group of one of 30 guys in the entire world that does this job. I don’t take it lightly and I certainly don’t take it for granted. I know what it entails and I know the esteemed peer group that I’m in. So, it’s important to me. It’s an honor to be here. It’s an honor to be overseeing all these great players.”

 

Have you had time reflect on how far you have come?

 

“I have and especially when I’m with my colleagues. We often tell stories and remind ourselves of when we were driving the back roads or driving four hours to get to a high school game in the snow and stuff. It’s a culmination of years of work and effort and sacrifice, not only from me but from our families. You have a chance of looking at it and kind of reflecting. The memories are great when you’re moving up and you always have goals of doing it. I look back with fond memories of my years. I love the foundation I have as an area scout and I’m proud that I’m a General Manager that was an area scout for 12 years.”

 

On the additions of Pudge, Capps and Marquis:

 

“I’m satisfied with what we’ve done so far. I’m proud of the players like Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Marquis and Matt Capps…these guys had chances to go, more or less, to any team they wanted, and they chose to come to Washington, DC because of the staff and front office we put together. For them to choose Washington over any one of their other options makes me real proud. That was probably the most gratifying part of the offseason…is being able to get such prestigious, Big League players to want to come to Washington, I think I can say that’s the first time that’s happened.

 


Mike Rizzo 3.JPGOn his blueprint for building the Nats:

 

“I see us certainly as a scout and player-development organization. I don’t think I’m modeling it after one franchise over another. I model it off of the franchise I have in my head. When I was interviewing for this job, I said to Mr. Lerner, ‘I’ve been preparing for this job for 29 years.’  Once I did get the opportunity to put my philosophy and my plan in place, I had very distinctive ideas of the type of organization I wanted to put together. It didn’t take me very long to a) figure out the people I wanted to bring over and b) the way I wanted to run it because I’ve been going over it in my mind for a long time.”

 

Is it frustrating that baseball teams can’t be built overnight?

 

“I’m well aware of that so that part of it doesn’t frustrate me because I know how long it takes. The frustrating part is losing games. I went through it in Arizona…we lost 111 games one year. Two years later, though, that same core of players won the National League West. Although taking your lumps is frustrating, sometimes as a young franchise you have to do it in order to grow.  I think you really have to put the plan together the right way to maximize your long-term success.”

 

On the best offseason move:

 

“I think the best move I’ve made since I’ve been here–the proudest move that I have made–is the people that I’ve brought in to work under me. You’re only as good as the people underneath you. We’ve brought together a group of guys with diverse backgrounds…The people I’ve brought in are probably the thing I’m most proud about.”

 

On time to sleep:

 

“Sleep is overrated. We work a lot but it’s fun work. When you’re grinding away for 14 hours a day, you’re talking baseball. My dad keeps it in perspective. Here’s a guy who worked 30 years for the city of Chicago, getting up at 4 a.m. driving a truck for the city. As he says to me, ‘Baseball is not a job. Don’t forget that.’”

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