by Mike Feigen
When the Nationals take the field for Game 1 of the National League Division Series this Friday, whichever pitcher Matt Williams entrusts with the starting assignment will give the team a tremendous chance to win.
That’s what the eye test tells us.
Fans of the Nationals saw Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez win game after game — or at least help the club earn win after win — throughout the regular season. Those core members of the starting five owned a collective record of 69-42 (.622) and the Nationals went 94-55 (.631) when one of them received the ball.
However, wins and losses really don’t tell a precise story of how well a pitcher performed. Too many external factors come into play in each win and loss, such as run support, batted ball luck and bullpen performance.
Instead, we look at the types of things a pitcher can control, such as walks and strikeouts. In the case of the 2014 Nationals, no pitching staff did it better — in the history of baseball.
This season, Washington pitchers struck out 1,288 opposing batters and walked 352. That’s a ratio of 3.66-to-1, a better rate than any of the other 2,391 teams to play a full season of baseball since 1901.
In fact, only 60 other teams in history had even managed a 2.66-to-1 ratio, underscoring just how well the Nationals struck batters out and limited free passes.
But the 3.66-to-1 figure only scratches the surface.
When considering only starting pitchers, the Nationals’ figure leaps to an astounding 4.05-to-1. And when excluding the 13 spot starts posted throughout the year by Blake Treinen, Taylor Jordan and Taylor Hill — leaving just the core five of Zimmermann, Strasburg, Fister, Roark and Gonzalez — the limits of the statistical stratosphere are tested.
The final ratio? An incredible 4.30-to-1.
So, when the going gets tough and runners are on base in the postseason, Williams, pitching coach Steve McCatty and the rest of the Nationals have the numbers on their side to back up what we’ve seen in the regular season. Notching a timely strikeout instead of issuing an inopportune walk can make or break a team in October — and one team is better equipped to do it than any other.
by Mike Feigen
For 20 teams throughout the major leagues, the day after the conclusion of the regular season is often a time for reflection, a chance to digest a year of ups and downs, of wins and losses, of hopes dashed and chances blown. For 10 others, it is an opportunity to look forward to the postseason, to dream of a magical championship run yet to be scripted.
The Washington Nationals are one of those fortunate 10 — but the looking forward part can wait, at least for one day.
Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, a picturesque afternoon in the nation’s capital, brought a sense of history to a town built upon extraordinary achievements. Jordan Zimmermann, the stoic leader of a dominant pitching staff, entered Game No. 162 of the regular season looking to log a few innings of work as a tune-up for the playoffs.
Instead, he threw the first no-hitter in Nationals history.
Zimmermann, 28 years old with the number 27 on his back, turned in a performance worthy of the history books. The right-hander struck out 10 Miami Marlins, walked just one and needed just 104 pitches to complete his effort. He became the third D.C.-based hurler to record a no-hitter, following in the footsteps of Hall of Famer Walter Johnson (July 1, 1920) and the less-heralded Bobby Burke (Aug. 8, 1931).
He also needed help from his defense.
Rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., inserted by manager Matt Williams into left field in the top of the ninth inning with the Nationals still clinging to a 1-0 lead, made one of the finest game-ending catches in Nationals history. The 6-foot-4, 224-pound thoroughbred reacted quickly as Marlins leadoff hitter Christian Yelich drove a 2-1 fastball deep toward the gap in left-center, turning and galloping back and to his left as the ball hurtled through the air. Gaining ground on the deep liner, Souza Jr. left his feet, glove on his left hand outstretched, his open right hand ready to protect the ball, his body nearly horizontal to the ground.
The crowd of 35,085, standing and roaring throughout the final inning, briefly fell silent. Zimmermann, whose head dropped upon contact, turned to watch the final few feet of the flight of the ball — and the final few feet of Souza Jr.’s leap.
Zimmermann raised both arms high, Souza Jr. raised his glove in the air, ball secure in its webbing, as teammates rushed toward the center of the diamond. For a surreal 30 seconds, Nationals Park became a deafeningly loud sea of high-fives, with families sharing memories and strangers hugging red-clad strangers, beneath the canopy of a perfect, blue, late-September sky.
It was an immaculate ending. It could be a beautiful beginning. October awaits.
The following is an excerpt from the August/September issue of Nationals Magazine. To read the full story, visit nationals.com/publications to find out how you can subscribe. The August/September issue of Nationals Magazine is on sale now, can be purchased at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park and is also available inside Nationals Park on gamedays.
by Mike Feigen
No matter the game situation, the position he plays on the diamond or the spot he hits in the lineup, Anthony Rendon serves as the Washington Nationals’ steadying influence.
At one end of the spectrum stands The Era of Twitter, the 24-hour news cycle, newspaper comments sections and ubiquitous “hot take” sports columns. The gravitational pull of this collective force draws unsuspecting victims into its orbit, with misstatements becoming headline news and free agent decisions drawing round-the-clock coverage.
At the other end stands a reserved, unassuming 24-year-old, grinning sheepishly — perhaps reluctantly — as a cluster of reporters scurry to form a semicircle around the padded folding chair in front of his locker. With his back to the scene, he collects his thoughts, takes a deep breath, and turns to face the scribes, with the chair forming a symbolic barrier between himself and The Era, lest it envelop him, too.
Whether he wants to admit it or not, the Nationals’ success through the first three-and-a-half months of the season was largely a credit to the work put in by Anthony Rendon. The 6-foot-1, 198-pound second and third baseman enjoyed a tremendous all-around first half, hitting .287/.343/.490 with 13 home runs, 53 runs batted in, 67 runs scored and eight stolen bases.
His cool, calm and collected approach at the plate and in the field gave the Nationals a dependable presence on a daily basis, with injuries sidelining Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche, Wilson Ramos, Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman for a combined 168 games at various points in April, May and June.
Beginning the year as Matt Williams’ Opening Day second baseman — and hitting the back-breaking three-run home run in that game — Rendon started nearly every day at third base when Zimmerman went down less than two weeks into the year, before moving back to second upon Harper’s return on the last day of June. He provided excellent defense wherever he played, showing remarkable range, nifty glove work and a howitzer for a right arm.
Rendon’s success at the plate earned him a series of “promotions” up the lineup card, moving from the eighth spot in the opener — that experiment lasted just one day — before settling in nicely as Williams’ everyday No. 2 hitter behind Span. He hit at least once in every spot in the order along the way, including five times at the No. 5 spot and nine times in the leadoff role.
Span has seen an uptick in the amount of quality pitches he has to hit with Rendon hitting behind him, driving 28 doubles prior to the All-Star break — matching his entire 2013 total in 278 fewer plate appearances.
“(Anthony) has been the catalyst,” Span said in early July. “He’s done everything — he’s gotten on base, he’s scored runs, he’s knocked in a ton of runs. Defensively, he’s been unbelievable at second and third base. He’s been our MVP so far in this first half of the season.”
To continue reading “Equilibrium” on Nationals infielder Anthony Rendon, along with more great content from Nationals Magazine, please visit nationals.com/publications, or pick up a copy at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park, as well as inside Nationals Park on gamedays.
by Mike Feigen
All things considered, the evening of June 17 was a fairly uneventful one for Corporal William “Kyle” Carpenter, a retired United States Marine. He visited Nationals Park, took in batting practice from the field, met Nationals players and coaches and enjoyed the game from a suite.
Two days later, he became the 79th living service member — just eight of whom served in Iraq and Afghanistan — to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Awarded for acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty, then-Lance Cpl. Carpenter was severely injured when he threw himself on a live grenade to protect fellow Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio in the Helmand province of Afghanistan in late 2010. The ensuing blast left Carpenter with nearly 30 fractures in his right arm, a fractured skull, punctured lung, numerous shrapnel wounds and the loss of his right eye. Eufrazio was injured by shrapnel as well, but survived the blast.
“With that singular act of courage, Kyle, you not only saved your brother in arms, you displayed a heroism in the blink of an eye that will inspire for generations — valor worthy of our nation’s highest military decoration,” President Barack Obama said Thursday during a White House ceremony.
Carpenter said military doctors labeled him P-E-A, short for Patient Expired on Arrival. But after nearly 40 surgeries over a two-and-a-half year period, many of which took place at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., he battled his way back to health.
Carpenter said once it looked as though he would survive the injuries, members of his unit with the Marines started hinting that they wanted to push for him to receive the honor. This February, that process began to materialize, as Carpenter started receiving calls from the Pentagon regarding his candidacy. Then, later this spring, the biggest call finally came.
“I’m very honored, and it’s very humbling,” Carpenter said of the award. “It’s not easy to accept, because so many others give the ultimate sacrifice. I’m very appreciative in accepting it, but I accept it with a heavy heart.”
Even as he continues to internalize the significance of the award, Carpenter said he’s been grateful for all the support he’s received along the way. If anything, he said that the whirlwind of fun events leading up to the Medal of Honor ceremony, such as attending Tuesday’s Nationals game, were more about sharing the experience with those closest to him.
“I’m excited for these once-in-a-lifetime experiences, but I’m equally — or more — excited for my guests and family,” he said. “They’ve been there [for me] since Afghanistan, since I got injured. I feel like I’m repaying them, saying, ‘Thank you,’ a little bit.”
by Mike Feigen
The Washington Nationals finished off a three-game sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies Thursday afternoon, then added to their deep farm system with the selection of pitcher Erick Fedde with the 18th overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft.
Fedde, a 6-foot-4, 180 pound right-hander out of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, compiled an 8-2 record with a 1.76 ERA in 11 starts for the Rebels in 2014, striking out 82 batters and walking just 21 batters in 76.2 innings pitched. He was named to the All-Mountain West First Team and also earned 2014 Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Year honors.
“We’ve scouted him intensely over the last three years,” Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo said, noting Fedde’s competitiveness on the mound. “He’s got two plus-plus pitches, and his third pitch, a change-up, is on the come. We think that’s going to be an above average pitch.”
The 21-year-old, who played at Las Vegas High School with Bryce Harper in 2009, underwent Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on Tuesday. Rizzo said that the team is excited about Fedde’s potential, despite the injury.
“[Erick is a] big, physical guy — we had him toward the top of our draft board,” Rizzo said. “We felt that the risk of him rehabbing and coming back to pre-injury form was worth the draft pick.”
Assistant General Manager & Vice President of Scouting Operations Kris Kline was also sold on Fedde’s pedigree and repertoire.
“I actually saw his first start of the year at UNLV and it was really, really good,” Kline said. “I walked out of there thinking that we’ve got no shot at getting this player, because he was a top-five type guy. He doesn’t throw anything straight … a lot of life, very heavy, above average slider up to 88 [miles per hour] and the makings and flashes of an above-average change-up.”
Following a year in which the Nationals did not have a first-round selection, the Nationals will look to extend their impressive run of successful first round picks since Rizzo was promoted to the team’s GM post in 2009. Fedde joins Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Harper, Anthony Rendon and Lucas Giolito as first-round draft selections in Washington during Rizzo’s tenure.
Rizzo said the Nationals’ medical team has been in touch with the doctors who performed Fedde’s surgery, and assuming Fedde signs with the organization this summer, the team will at that point take over the rehabilitation process.
“We’ll put him in the Viera [Fla.] rehab mode,” Rizzo said. “We’ll have our really talented rehab coordinators get after it and allow him to hopefully be pitching at this time next year somewhere.”
With their second round selection at No. 57 overall, the Nationals tabbed Andrew Suarez, a 6-foot-2 left-hander out of the University of Miami. Suarez, 21, went 6-3 with a 2.95 ERA in 2014, walking a minuscule 15 batters in 109.2 innings of work for the Hurricanes.
The draft is set to continue with rounds three through 10 on Friday and rounds 11 through 40 Saturday.
The following is an excerpt from the June/July issue of Nationals Magazine. To read the full story, visit nationals.com/publications to find out how you can subscribe. The June/July issue of Nationals Magazine is on sale now, can be purchased at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park and is also available inside Nationals Park on gamedays.
by Mike Feigen
The most coveted emblem in sports is not a logo on a cap or a dollar sign on a contract. Instead, it is the captain’s ‘C’ on a player’s chest, symbolizing not just their play on the field, court, or ice, but the respect they earn off it. Currently, no baseball players don a ‘C’ on their jerseys — only three are designated as team captains at all — but Ian Desmond, with the encouragement of his most devoted fans, could one day join that exclusive company.
The evening of April 17, 2014 proved to be one of the toughest of Ian Desmond’s career. He’d shown up at the ballpark hoping to lead the Nationals to a victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, but instead found himself in front of his locker answering questions after a difficult 8-0 loss. The two-time Silver Slugger Award-winner wasn’t just bothered by the defeat, but by his fielding mishaps — a pair of errors that led to four Cardinals runs.
Always honest and forthright about his performances, good and bad, Desmond made sure he was available to the media late that night.
“As bad as I want to run and hide… (I’ve) got to stand here and answer the questions, and be a man about it,” Desmond told reporters. “This is something I’ve done to myself. I can’t blame anybody else or anything. I’ve been here before — I’ve proved to people I can play, and I’ve proved to myself I can play. I’m going to do it again. The errors in the past have made me who I am today. These are going to make me a better man, too. I’ve just got to keep fighting through it.”
Make me a better man. Those words are seldom heard in a clubhouse, where machismo and defiance usually follow tough defeats. Desmond is an exception to that rule, offering fans and reporters an introspective into his psyche on the bad nights and heaping praise on his teammates on the good ones.
Just a week earlier, Desmond deflected credit after he hit a game-clinching grand slam to give the Nats a 7-1 lead, saying middle reliever Aaron Barrett came through more than he did by getting a key strikeout when the score was still 2-1. It’s just part of who he is.
Desmond’s regard for others extends far beyond the walls of Nationals Park.
He supports as many charitable causes as he can, the vast majority of which are behind the scenes, with no fanfare. He prefers it that way. Causes he has publicly backed include the campaign to end Neurofibromatosis (NF), which generated more than $30,000 in donations during the month of May, and the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy (YBA), which opened in March. (For more details on Desmond’s quest to End NF click here.)
As a 28-year-old professional ballplayer with a wife and two small children, Desmond could not be faulted if he simply opened his checkbook for various causes and left the work of managing them to others. Instead, he voluntarily became the face of the End NF campaign and serves on the Youth Baseball Academy board of directors, going out of his way to provide more than just financial support.
Rarely do athletes take that kind of approach, but Desmond has a deep appreciation for where he came from and what it took to reach this point.
To continue reading “The People’s Captain” on Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, along with more great content from Nationals Magazine, please visit nationals.com/publications, or pick up a copy at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park, as well as inside Nationals Park on gamedays.
by Mike Feigen
The Washington Nationals welcomed their 20 millionth fan in franchise history Friday night, honoring the lucky guest, Wayne Gonsorcik, with a pregame celebration prior to the team’s contest with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Gonsorcik, a Hospital Corpsman Chief Petty Officer in the United States Navy, attended the game with his wife, Tara, and two young children. The family was awarded with seat upgrades to the Lexus Presidents Club seats behind home plate, a signed Jordan Zimmermann jersey and tickets to a future Nats game of their choice.
“(I was) a little astonished — quite surprised,” Gonsorcik said of the experience. “We’ve been treated like royalty tonight.”
Gonsorcik, originally from Dale City, Va., was vacationing from his home in Pensacola, Fla., where he works as an instructor training Navy recruiters. The active duty officer has been in the Navy for nearly 20 years, serving two tours in Iraq.
Including the Gonsorcik family, the Nationals have welcomed 20,016,672 fans to RFK Stadium and Nationals Park since baseball returned to the nation’s capital in 2005.
The following is an excerpt from the April/May issue of Nationals Magazine. To read the full story, visit nationals.com/publications to find out how you can subscribe. The April/May issue of Nationals Magazine is on sale now, can be purchased at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park and is also available inside Nationals Park on gamedays.
by Mike Feigen
Three short seasons ago, Jayson Werth leaned on his experience as he adapted to a new organization. Today, the Nationals outfielder has become a fan favorite, the catalyst in a dynamic and talented lineup, and one of the most vocal leaders in a close-knit clubhouse.
Following the Nationals’ first full workout of Spring Training, Jayson Werth looked out from his locker at Space Coast Stadium as the throng of reporters huddled around him. He deftly answered questions with his trademark dry wit, commanding the tone of the session with a few well-timed jokes and several well-reasoned responses.
Such is life for Jayson Werth in 2014, often a go-to spokesman for a team with worlds of talent and championship dreams to match. When the bearded 34-year-old says he’s optimistic about the upcoming season and points out how close last year’s club came to making a postseason run, it’s only natural for everyone to nod their heads along with him.
“The way we played in the second half last year coming down the stretch, there’s still some meat on the bone,” Werth says. “The season just wasn’t long enough. It’s something to build on going forward. We’re excited to get things going.”
As Werth looks forward to the promise of a new year, it’s easy to forget just how far he and the Nationals have come since he signed with the club on December 5, 2010. Year One of the Werth era brought a major leap forward for the entire organization, with an 80-81 record and third place finish in the National League East, then the highest placement in the division since the franchise moved to D.C. in 2005.
In spite of the team’s dramatic improvement, Werth’s up-and-down season did not live up to his own lofty standards, and he knew he could do more. At the time, he spoke at length about how he battled just to find his swing, even as his 2.3 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) would have ranked in the top three among qualified Nats hitters each of the previous three seasons.
What was less apparent, beneath the surface, was how his leadership had slowly begun to transform the Nationals into a group that expected to win by the end of 2011.
“(Last season is) water under the bridge now,” Werth told reporters upon reporting for camp before the 2012 season. “I don’t think it’s a fair assessment to judge my career or my time in Washington on last year. We’ve got lots of time to make good. We’re going in the right direction.”
Proven prophetic as the wins poured in throughout his second season with the Nationals, Werth wasn’t able to be as integral as he’d hoped, sidelined by a broken wrist for much of the summer. Even upon his return, when he slashed an excellent .312/.394/.441, he did so from the leadoff spot because his home run power had yet to fully return. Still, he continued to put the team first, setting the table for the rest of the offense while he healed.
Then, with one mighty swing on October 11, 2012, everything changed.
To continue reading “Speaker of the House” on Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth, along with more great content from Nationals Magazine, please visit nationals.com/publications, or pick up a copy at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park, as well as inside Nationals Park on gamedays.
The following is an excerpt from the Spring Training issue of Nationals Magazine. To read the full story, visit nationals.com/publications to find out how you can subscribe. The Spring Training magazine is on sale now, can be purchased at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park and is also available inside Space Coast Stadium on gamedays.
by Mike Feigen
Standing tall at 6-foot-8, Doug Fister should be hard to overlook. Instead, the Californian with the worm-killing sinker has twice been traded, including an offseason deal that earned the Nationals plaudits in baseball circles. No stranger to sharing the spotlight — he’s pitched alongside four Cy Young Award winners — Fister is ready to make a big splash in a star-studded Washington rotation.
The last time Doug Fister stepped onto a Major League mound, the stakes were high and his mission clear: with his Detroit Tigers trailing the Boston Red Sox two games to one in the 2013 American League Championship Series, he needed a big performance to knot the series.
Fister came through, holding the eventual World Champions to just one run over six magnificent innings, striking out seven batters in a 7-3 Detroit victory.
It would be the Tigers’ final win of the 2013 season, and the final time an opposing starter would limit the Red Sox to fewer than two runs in the postseason.
It was the kind of display that usually earns pitchers national notoriety and the “big game” label — particularly when they’ve led their team to six wins in seven career postseason starts, as Fister has done. Instead, it simply helped validate what fans, scouts and members of the statistics-based community had been saying for years: this guy is the real deal.
Just six-and-a-half weeks later, Fister became a Washington National.
To continue reading “A Monumental Addition” on Nationals right-hander Doug Fister, along with more great content from Nationals Magazine, please visit nationals.com/publications, or pick up a copy at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park, as well as inside Space Coast Stadium on gamedays.
by Mike Feigen
November 1 was a significant day in the history of the Washington Nationals. Matt Williams was welcomed to Nationals Park and introduced as the club’s fifth manager since baseball returned to The District. It was a day of celebration.
But earlier that morning, the Nationals made a less heralded move – one that signaled redemption for a young player who hopes to play for Williams in the near future.
Steven Souza, Jr., drafted by the Nationals in June of 2007 – the 100th-overall player selected and the sixth pick in the first three rounds by Washington – was added to the 40-man roster. Two of the players taken before him, Ross Detwiler (sixth overall) and Jordan Zimmermann (67th overall) are already household names in D.C., while Souza’s path to the Majors remains a work in progress.
Unlike the aforementioned college pitchers, Souza, an outfielder, came to the Nationals straight from the prep ranks. He bypassed a college scholarship to sign out of Cascade High School in Everett, Wash., a program that had sent former third-round pick Grady Sizemore to the big leagues just a few years earlier. Upon signing, Souza headed across the country to Viera, Fla., where he hit four home runs and added four stolen bases in 44 games for the Gulf Coast League (Rookie) Nationals.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound right-handed hitter split time between Short Season-A Vermont and Class-A Hagerstown in 2008, then repeated at Hagerstown in 2009 and 2010, hitting a combined .235 with 15 home runs and 43 stolen bases in 207 games with the Suns. At the age of 22, after being sidelined for 50 games, he advanced to High-A Potomac, where he hit .228 but improved his on-base percentage – posting a .360 mark – while adding 11 homers and 25 steals.
At that point, with five seasons of professional baseball under his belt, the young outfielder found himself at a crossroads.
The setbacks had been difficult, the progression through the Nationals system had been slow, and he’d made his own mistakes to compound the situation. Souza contemplated walking away from his dream.
Souza will join his Mesa Solar Sox teammates in the quest for an Arizona Fall League Championship on Saturday (MLB Network, 3 p.m. ET). It’s been two years since he reconsidered his place in the game, and in that time he has developed into a legitimate five-tool threat. Most recently, he’s become one of the top performers in the prospect-rich AFL circuit – all while playing less than most of his AFL counterparts.
Designated a “taxi squad” player, restricted to two games per week, Souza has maximized his opportunities in limited at-bats. While he wants to play every day, Souza said he’s learned that any chance to play is a blessing.
“Playing on the taxi squad has taught me a lot about coming off the bench,” Souza said. “You have to take advantage of every opportunity.”
Souza hit .357/.426/.476 with eight runs, eight RBI and 10 stolen bases this fall, while hitting safely in 10 of his 11 games for the AFL East Division Champion Solar Sox. Twice he stole three bases in a game, showing off his explosive speed.
“As a bigger guy, speed is what separates me from some other bigger guys,” Souza explained. “I’ve worked a lot on agility and footwork. I owe everything to (Nationals first base coach) Tony Tarasco. He’s taught me everything I know about baserunning, and it’s translated well on the field.”
Souza’s AFL performance is coming on the heels of an All-Star showing at Double-A Harrisburg in 2013, where he hit .300/.396/.557 with 39 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases in just 77 games. In 2012, with renewed enthusiasm for the game, Souza compiled an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .938 with 23 home runs and 14 stolen bases across two levels.
The transformation has been striking; after hitting no better than .237 at any of his primary stops in his first five years, Souza has hit no worse than .290 in the two seasons since.
Doug Harris, Washington’s Director of Player Development, has been thrilled to see Souza’s career blossom.
“Steven has really come into his own over the last two years,” Harris said. “He has a broad skill set with the ability to impact a game in a variety of ways. Not only has he performed at a high level during that span, but also exhibited many intangibles that have earned him a 40-man roster spot.”
For Souza, being added to the Nationals 40-man roster was a validation for all of the hard work he put in to revive his career.
“I was really honored and humbled,” Souza said of receiving the call from the Nationals. “I’m thankful to be in such a great organization.”
When offered a chance to look ahead, Souza was reluctant to set goals, saying instead that he would let his faith guide him. He made it clear, however, that he’d love to have an opportunity to play at Nationals Park in the near future.
“Honestly, if Matt Williams wants me to come in and help the team win, I’ll do that in any way I can,” he said. “If I don’t make it this year, I’ll work hard and play wherever they send me. I just want to contribute somehow – either to a win or two, or winning a championship. I’d be happy to fit in somewhere and just fade into the background.”
Mesa experienced a symmetrical season, racing out to a 7-0 record (plus one tie), dropping 11 of 17 games in the middle of the year, and then rallying to win its final six contests to finish with a 19-11 record. The furious finish was just enough to edge Salt River for the East Division title by a half game, as the Rafters ended their year with seven consecutive wins.
Saturday’s AFL Championship Game will be broadcast live on MLB Network at 3 p.m. ET, with the Solar Sox taking on the West Division Champion Surprise Saguaros.