Q&A with Buster Olney
With Washington baseball stepping into the national spotlight tonight on Sunday Night Baseball, Curly W Live took a moment to catch up with one of baseball’s foremost authorities – ESPN’s Buster Olney. He shared his thoughts on the 2012 Nats, the importance of this weekend’s series, the power of NATITUDE, and of which superstar pitcher tonight’s starter Jordan Zimmermann most reminds him.
Curly W Live: What has stood out to you the most about the Nationals so far?
Buster Olney: Well, the pitching is reaching its potential. I’ll make a lot of stupid picks every year, but I felt kind of smart by picking (the Nationals) to make the playoffs before the year started. I thought the biggest thing was that when you were going to play the Nationals in a series, you were going to have really tough at-bats. And I think that’s what we’ve seen. My favorite stat so far this year is the fact that they’ve allowed fewer homers as a team than Ervin Santana has. They’re the first team since the ’97 Braves to finish the month of April having allowed fewer homers as a team than some individual pitchers. That’s pretty high praise. So I think their pitching has been good. Obviously offensively they’re a work in progress with Bryce Harper coming up and (Ryan) Zimmerman having been out and (Adam) LaRoche having been out, so it will be interesting to see if they get better. And I think this weekend is one of those weekends – and I agree with what (Phillies outfielder) Hunter Pence said – the Nats have a chip on their shoulder.
CWL: How important is this weekend’s series for the team?
BO: I think it’s important. If the Phillies were to get swept in this series, I don’t think it would bother them, because they’ve been there. But I think there’s one thing that has to happen, and I talked to Shane Victorino about this yesterday. Every team that is growing has to learn how to win games against good teams. He talked about how there was a time when the Phillies were the team trying to win those games, and now it’s the Nationals. So I think in that regard, it’s an important series where you can match up. We saw Pittsburgh last year. They were good, they were competing in their division, and then they absolutely hit a wall and fell apart. I think for the Nationals, the question is, ‘How do you get through those grind-it-out parts of the season?’ And I think they’re doing that, because when you look at their run production – I think going through Thursday they were 28th out of 30 teams in runs scored – that tells you that they’re winning close games. They’ve had the walk-off wins. That’s a really good sign.”
CWL: That said, do you expect the Nationals to get a big boost from when Ryan Zimmerman returns?
BO: No question. And Ryan’s one of the best players in baseball. I think when you add him, it’s going to be a plus. At some point, your pitching staff is going to hit a lull, no matter how good it is, every staff has it. So you’ve got to win your share of 8-6 games, and they just need to be more capable of doing it when that time comes.
CWL: How has your impression of the Nationals changed this year?
BO: The energy level is coming, it’s that thing about NATITUDE. And I agree with what Davey Johnson said – once you start winning games, people will start coming into your park. When I covered the Orioles in 1995-’96, they owned that park. And as time went on, it became more of a Red Sox park, more of a Yankee park. And I think as time goes on and these guys are playing well, there will be more attention in this city, they’ll draw more people, and there will be a higher percentage of Nats fans. That’s the thing that jumped out at me: the ratio of Nats to Phillies fans has certainly gone up.
CWL: Let’s talk about the other Zimmerman(n), tonight’s starter, Jordan. What are your thoughts on him?
BO: I think he’s underrated nationally in that people don’t realize quite how good he is. He’s one of my favorite guys to watch. He reminds me so much of Matt Cain of the Giants, in that he’s just a plow-horse. And I say that with 100% respect – his mother grew up on a farm, so I think he’ll take it that way. He’s got that mentality where nothing is going to bother him. He’ll just go out and pitch his game. He’s not going to worry about peripheral stuff, he’s just going to go out and compete. He’s a tough kid. He’s one of my favorite guys to watch pitch. And the more that Nationals succeed, the more people are going to get to know him and understand that he’s comparable to someone like a Matt Cain.
Thanks again to Buster for taking the time to chat before tonight’s series finale. First pitch on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball is at 8:05pm.