Results tagged ‘ World Series ’

Expectations Illustrated

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There will be plenty of predictions coming out this week about the 2013 season from the outlets that cover Major League Baseball. And while many of us have known ever since last October – and even more so as the team has added to its strong roster throughout the winter – that the Nationals would be getting plenty of attention, the first major prediction has been levied: Tuesday morning, Sports Illustrated officially picked the Nationals as their World Series favorites.

14COVv27_EGV_PromoAs a Nationals fan, such a prediction should be greeted with equal parts pride and pause. Yes, it is exciting that one of the preeminent publications in all of sports backs our team to be the last one standing. But considering the inaccuracy of such exercises, it’s good to take any such honor with a grain of salt.

First, let’s acknowledge that SI’s last correct prediction came back in 1999, when the publication tabbed the New York Yankees to win it all. In the 13 years since, only the ’01 Yankees even made the World Series, while six of the other 12 missed the playoffs entirely.

Now, for the good news. That ’99 Yankee squad epitomized balance. Nobody on the roster hit more than 28 home runs, but seven players hit 17 or more. Last year’s Nats had six players slug at least 17 round trippers, in spite of long-term injuries to Wilson Ramos and Jayson Werth, each capable of such production in their own right.

That Yankees team also featured a deep starting rotation that saw each of its five mainstays win at least 11 games. The staff finished with the most wins, second-best ERA and third-highest strikeout total in the American League. If that sounds familiar, the Nationals staff led the NL in both wins and ERA in 2012, also finishing third in strikeouts.

We say all that to say this: if the Nationals, graced with good health, can put together a 2013 season similar to last year’s magical ride, they look every bit as formidable as those ’99 Yankees.

Here’s to hoping for – but not putting too much stock into – the power of predictions.

In Davey We Trust

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At nearly 70 years of age, there isn’t much that Davey Johnson has yet to accomplish in the game of baseball. He has already won a World Series as both a player and a manager, one of just five living men to do so. Coming into 2012, he had skippered three different franchises to the playoffs. And yet, he managed to notch a whole bevy of firsts in his first full season at the helm of the Washington Nationals. For his efforts, he was rewarded with the second BBWAA Manager of the Year Award of his career.

Davey Johnson won his second Manager of the Year Award this season.

He guided the franchise to a Major League-leading 98 wins, 17 more than the previous franchise high, set back in 2005. That success translated into the franchise’s first NL East title and Washington D.C.’s first postseason berth in 79 years. Mind you, of course, that while nobody else predicted such unprecedented success from the club, Johnson calmly and confidently told the baseball world exactly that – his team would be in the playoffs, all the way back before Spring Training began.

Despite a ton of early-season injuries to a good portion of his starting lineup, Johnson’s club either led the NL East or shared its top spot for all but 10 days this season. When the dust had settled, they owned the best run differential in Major League Baseball, outscoring their opponents by 137 runs over the course of the year.

Johnson, along with Executive VP of Player Personnel and GM Mike Rizzo, made the decision to keep Ross Detwiler in the Major League rotation at the end of Spring Training. That, along with the healthy returns of Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and the additions of Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson gave the skipper the National League’s best rotation ERA at 3.40. Once fully healthy, his offense went on to produce 194 home runs, second most in the league, establishing both franchise (1969-‘12) and D.C. baseball (1901-‘71, 2005-‘12) single-season marks.

Johnson has agreed to manage one final season for the Nationals in 2013.

Johnson registered the seventh 90-win campaign of his managerial career and joined the legendary Billy Martin as the game’s lone skippers to take four different teams to the postseason. Since shifting from a consulting role and returning to the dugout to assume the Nationals managerial helm on June 27, 2011, Johnson’s Nationals are 138-107 (.563). Just how good has he been at guiding his young squad? In that same time span, only the Braves (139) have won more games among NL teams.

Among those to manage 1,000 or more games, Johnson’s career winning percentage (1,286-995, .564) ranks second among all living managers behind his former skipper, Earl Weaver (.583). He will have one more season to improve upon those impressive credentials, having agreed to manage the 2013 season before retiring from the bench, back to the Nationals front office in 2014.

Congratulations, Davey. We can’t wait to see what you have in store for your grand finale.

Spring Into Fall

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The closer you follow baseball, the more you realize how year-round the sport really is. The average American may take notice around Opening Day, then have their fandom tail off as their team is eliminated from contention, perhaps watching the World Series, if they are so inclined. The more passionate follower is more likely to count down the days until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, their baseball awareness stretching from mid-February to the end of October. But for the true obsessives (like us), there are compelling games for the Nationals being played even now, as the Arizona Fall League began this week at the Spring Training complexes around Phoenix.

For those unfamiliar with it, the AFL is a prospect showcase, where all 30 Major League teams send some of their top talent, often including players whose regular seasons were limited for whatever reason, to see how they perform in a highly competitive environment. The 30 clubs are combined into six squads, with five MLB teams apiece represented on each. Last year, the Nationals were assigned to the Scottsdale Scorpions, with Bryce Harper the most well known representative of the organization. In 2012, they are members of the Salt River Rafters, along with the Diamondbacks, White Sox, Rockies and Blue Jays.

This year’s crop of Nationals prospects includes:

Matt Skole (second from left) was honored as the Nationals 2012 Minor League Player of the Year.

Pitchers 

Aaron Barrett

Paul Demny

Cole Kimball

Ryan Perry

Infielders

Jason Martinson

Anthony Rendon

Matt Skole

Outfielders

Brian Goodwin

We will be conducting a more thorough Down on the Farm report for many of these prospects this offseason, but wanted to give special attention to one – Matt Skole – whom we have already profiled before here on Curly W Live. The 2012 Nationals Minor League Player of the Year, Skole has busted down the Fall League doors, batting .533/.650/.867 with two doubles, a home run and five RBI through his first four games on the circuit. His early success among some of baseball’s elite prospects helps back up the case that his tremendous 2012 numbers were no fluke. The third baseman batted .292 with 28 doubles, 27 home runs and 104 RBI in just 118 games between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac in his first professional season.

Make sure to check in to Curly W Live on Wednesdays throughout the offseason for more on many of the Nationals rising stars. And if you’d like to keep up with the AFL on a daily basis through the end of the season in mid-November, check out the home of the league here, complete with scores, stats, stories and more.

Some Motivation

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Around 1:05 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, after the Nationals take the field for their first home playoff game, the first in the franchise’s annals since the Montreal Expos in 1981, and the first in Washington’s Major League history since 1933, one song will blare out from the ballpark’s speakers, the chosen song of the home nine’s starting pitcher. After everything the Washington fan base has abided to get to this momentous day – from decades of postseason absence, to franchises twice leaving the District, to finally, a winning team being built from scratch to deliver this day – the song is appropriately entitled: “Waiting.”

You know the world is waiting…

Waiting on 103

The collected, experienced Edwin Jackson leads the Nationals into Game 3 of the NLDS.

For the Nationals fan base, it is waiting on Game 3. Their designated starter, the man who will take the hill with this music pumping behind him, will be looking to reestablish the team’s dominance at home, facing off in what has become a best-of-three series in D.C. between the upstart Nationals and the defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, following a successful split of the first two games on the road. Now Washington will look to Edwin Jackson, who was a key part of that championship team against whom he will pitch on Wednesday, to deliver as he has done all year long.

We need some motivation,

So won’t you come motivate me?

When the Nationals made the surprise free agent signing of the offseason, inking Jackson to a one-year deal to bolster their starting rotation, many were caught off-guard. An already full rotation was now actually overflowing, prompting the eventual decision to start John Lannan at Triple-A to begin the season. And while it could be argued that Jackson was brought in to do what he has already done – post a double-digit win total and rack up nearly 200 innings in the middle of the rotation – he was really signed by EVP of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo with Wednesday’s Game 3 in mind.

“You have to treat every inning like it’s the ninth inning,” stressed Jackson at his press conference Tuesday of the added pressure of starting in the postseason.

Jackson has been in this position before, pitching for the other side last season.

On a team full of rookies and other young players and a rotation with no postseason experience of any kind, Jackson is the elder statesman, the veteran, the man who has been to the top of the mountain before. He has twice pitched in the postseason, twice in the World Series, for two different teams in two different leagues. He has taken on the Red Sox and the Phillies, the Brewers and the Rangers, and made three starts as a part of that 2011 St. Louis team that won it all. It is only fitting that the same team, a year later, now stands in the Nationals way as they attempt to advance to the NLCS.

Thanks to that experience, Jackson is able to keep a clear mind about the task in front of him, to keep everything in perspective.

“No one has to be a hero,” he explained. “We just need to go out and play the game we know how to play.”

Last year, after the Cardinals had lost Game 3 of the NLDS to the Phillies and found themselves down, two games to one in the best-of-five format, they handed the ball to Jackson with their season on the line. The strong righty allowed two runs in the first inning, but shut down the potent Philadelphia offense (one that had scored 11 runs in the first game of the series) the rest of the way en route to a 5-3 victory. St. Louis went on to win Game 5, and of course, the rest is history.

I done told y’all, and told y’all, and told y’all again

Play the game, play the game, play the game yeah to win

There will also be a measure of revenge available for Jackson, who struggled through his toughest start of the year in St. Louis earlier this month. However, lest Cardinals fans jump to quickly to the conclusion that they will find the same kind of success against Jackson here in Washington, they need only look back at Jackson’s start on August 30, in which he allowed a single unearned run on just four hits, striking out 10 over 8.0 masterful innings in an 8-1 Nationals victory over St. Louis. That contest was part of a four-game set in which Washington pummeled the Cardinals to the tune of a 31-14 score over the series, winning three times.

I ain’t lose, I don’t lose, I ain’t lose, never lost

Always on, keepin’ on, always on, never off

With emotions likely to be running high in the first Major League Postseason game in D.C. in 79 years, it’s hard to think of anyone better than the calm, collected Jackson taking the hill for the Nationals.

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: Step One

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Hello everyone.

As all Nationals fans undoubtedly know, last night the ballclub clinched D.C.’s first postseason berth since 1933.

Mike Rizzo, Davey Johnson and the entire clubhouse will be quick to remind us that this is just the first step in an October journey. And they could not be more right. That said, there is no harm in taking a moment to reflect on just what has happened here.

Davey Johnson celebrates the first postseason in D.C. since 1933.

I imagine that the far-ranging emotions we are all feeling are equal parts wonderful and euphoric, and everything between. Think about the span of generations this postseason clinch affects.

Take my family for instance. My father, Ted Lerner, remembers the 1933 World Series. He was eight years old at the time. I think his long-term vision on how to build a franchise has set up this moment for all of us to enjoy. Most of my youth was spent following the exploits of the expansion Senators in the 1960′s. My three children grew up in the era where there was an unfortunate baseball void in Washington, D.C., and could only go to games at Camden Yards like a lot of us.

As diverging as my family’s perspectives are, how different is this moment in time for the youngsters in our area that were raised on Nationals baseball by Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Even within this modern grouping, you can see the differing perspectives.

But come the first weekend in October, that will change. This town, which is predicated on dueling political philosophies, will unite to witness postseason baseball in D.C. for the first time in 79 years. We’ll stand, clap and cheer together. Being together, united behind one cause, is something that this town is not used to, especially in October of an election year. But now we know it is coming and I cannot wait!

Some other quick thoughts after an historic night and what still lies ahead:

  • I alluded to it earlier, but I could not be more proud of Mike Rizzo and the job he has done. Mike is truly the Executive of the Year in my book. But let’s remember that this ballclub was not built in the last 12 months. Mike arrived in D.C. in the summer of 2006 as our first hire and has poured his soul into the job. And the results show.
  • When thinking about Mike and the job he’s done, my mind naturally segues to the Gio Gonzalez trade and how well that has worked out. Throughout Spring Training, I told anyone who would listen that Gio was special. He had “it.” Now his name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue when it comes to Cy Young discussions. He’ll take another shot at his 20th win on Saturday afternoon against the Brewers. I know it means a lot to him and all Nats fans.
  • With a postseason berth now secure, everyone will rightfully turn their focus to the Braves and the NL East crown. As important as that is, don’t lose sight of the race for the best record in MLB. Remember, whoever posts the best record in the NL gets home field advantage during the seven-game NLCS. Think about how special that would be for our city, our team and our fans.

Please enjoy the last two regular season homestands and the pennant race. Come out to Nationals Park during the next few weeks to support the boys. They deserve it, and every game matters right now.

A Day To Remember

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Baseball and the events of September 11th, 2001 are inexorably bound by history. The only sport that was active in its regular season with games scheduled the day of the attacks, the entire sport was brought to a standstill for a full week. The charters set to carry Major League clubs around the country for the final month of the regular season were grounded by the FAA, and the nation sat shocked, confused, and perhaps not yet ready to watch baseball. But like all aspects of daily life, the game returned, and the delay in schedule led to more memorable moments in the sport’s history, like the creation of Mr. November – a nickname that could only have come about with the adjusted schedule – and the most exciting World Series of a generation.

The ribbon boards displayed long before the gates opened at Citi Field.

Tonight, for the first time ever, the Nationals and Mets – the home teams of the two cities most directly affected by the national tragedy – will meet on the yearly observance of the events, at Citi Field in Flushing. Nationals Manager Davey Johnson spent the morning at Ground Zero, along with other athletes and dignitaries, helping raise money for Homes for Heroes, whose mission is to aid the military, police, firefighters and other first responders. Fittingly, the Nationals will wear their Patriotic Blue jerseys for the first time ever away from Nationals Park.

With the Citi Field ribbon board adorned with a “We Remember” banner around the ballpark, there will no doubt be a solemn feel to the crowd. However, in the streets of New York today, you wouldn’t have known it was different than any other day. Aside from the television and radio reports, tourists shopped and dined, locals commuted to and from work, and life marched on. And tonight, just as we did 11 years ago, we will pick up the bats and the balls and the gloves, and there will be baseball played all around the land. For many of us, the simple fact that this will be a normal Tuesday, one that will end with another edition of America’s pastime playing out in front of us, brings the most comforting sense of victory of all.

* * *

Before we look forward to tonight, here are a couple quick notes from Monday night’s series-opening win over the Mets. The Nationals took advantage of an early mistake, as just two pitches after Kurt Suzuki’s foul pop was dropped behind home plate in foul ground by Kelly Shoppach, he drilled a solo home run over the left-field wall to give Washington a lead it would never relinquish. The Nats played solid defense, Gio Gonzalez was slightly wild but still very effective, and the offense chipped in two more early home runs in a 5-1 finish.

Ryan Zimmerman and the offense are off to a powerful start to September.

Such seemingly easy victories can make losses like Sunday’s 8-0 shutout at the hands of Ricky Nolasco all the more frustrating, but sometimes those things happen in baseball. Certain pitchers own certain teams, just as certain batters own certain pitchers – it’s simply a part of the game. And the fact that the Nationals came right back from that lackluster performance to bury Collin McHugh with three homers in the game’s first four innings should be as reassuring as anything that Sunday’s game was the exception, not the norm. After all, the Nationals have now hit 27 home runs through their first 10 games of September, a full 11 more than the next closest team in the National League (Milwaukee, 16). Nats fans can also take comfort in the knowledge that Washington will not face Nolasco and the Marlins again until the 2013 season.

Tonight, R.A. Dickey will look to match Gonzalez’s 19 victories, matching up against Jordan Zimmermann. In a Mets season whose promise has gone by the wayside since the All-Star Break, Dickey’s stunning success in 2012 has given the New York fans something to cheer for down the stretch. He and Gonzalez are two of the front-runners for the National League Cy Young award, which will add some extra intrigue to how well the knuckleballer fares against the Nationals tonight, after Gonzalez handcuffed the Mets hitters on Monday.

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