I apologize to my readers — all 4 of you! — for being AWOL for more than a week. My roommate had surgery last Monday, so I’ve been visiting her most evenings. Between being busy at work and the stress of the hospital visits (hospitals creep me out), I just haven’t had the energy to post anything here.
To catch up a bit, since my last post, the Yankees have 5 wins and 3 losses. Some notable games:
The June 1st game vs. the Indians featured another attack of the midges, but the bugs didn’t bug starter Joba Chamberlain too much this time. The Yankees set a new MLB record of 18 error-free games, breaking the record that the Red Sox set in 2006, and they beat the Indians 5-2.
In the June 2nd game vs. the Rangers, there was an exceptional amount of testosterone flying through the air, after Mark Texeira was hit by pitches from Vicente Padilla in the 2nd and 4th innings. Tex then slid into Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus at 2nd base in the 4th. Inspired by Tex’s display of manliness, the Yankees scored 7 runs in that inning. A.J. Burnett sent a message of his own in the 5th inning, throwing a pitch over the head of Nelson Cruz. That display of testosterone drew a warning from the home plate umpire to both dugouts. It also drew a fine, as well as a 6 game suspension two days later. (Padilla was also fined.) Burnett’s appeal of the fine will allow him to play until a hearing takes place.
Tex’s comments about being hit by those pitches:
“There’s really no reason for it in baseball. You know, if you can’t get a guy out, don’t hit him. You know, if you don’t want to pitch to a guy, then, you know, put four fingers out there and walk him,” Teixeira said.
I agree, Tex. As I mentioned here, I think the pitcher and hitter should just drop their pants, let everyone see who is bigger, and then tuck it back in and get on with the game.
Unfortunately, the Yankees errorless innings streak ended in this game. Oh well, at least they set a new record and won the game, 12-3.
The June 4th game vs. the Rangers featured Chien-Ming Wang’s return to the starting rotation. Unfortunately, he was not particularly effective, giving up 5 runs on 7 hits, including a home run, in 4.2 innings. But the Yankees rallied in the 8th inning, overcoming a 5-1 deficit to win the game, 8-6.
In the June 5th game vs. the Rays, Mariano Rivera blew his first save of the season and got his second loss, when Joe Dillon broke a 5-5 tie with a single in the 9th inning. The Rays scored 4 runs (3 earned) off Rivera in the 9th for the win.
I watched the Yankees beat the Rays tonight (Monday), 5-3. Andy Pettitte got the win, Mariano Rivera got the save; it was the 59th time the two have combined for a win and a save. Pettitte and Rivera are the all-time MLB winner-closer combo leaders, with two more wins/saves than Oakland’s Bob Welch and Dennis Eckersley.
Since my last blog post here, the Nationals have 5 losses and 2 wins. It’s really quite astonishing that they have those two wins in 7 games! Some notable games:
On June 2nd, the Nationals had a surprising 10-6 win against the Giants and reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. The Giants were leading 5-2 when the rally began with the Nats scoring 2 runs at the bottom of the 6th. The Nats offense exploded for 6 runs in the 8th inning. Joel
Suckrahan Hanrahan gave up a run in the 9th inning, but managed to finish the inning and the game without any further damage. Prior to that win, the Nationals had lost 6 straight games.
On June 3rd, the Giants’ Randy Johnson was supposed to be going for his 300th career win, but Mother Nature did not cooperate. The start of the game was delayed for over 3-1/2 hours as MLB hoped the game could be played and history could be made. Now, I understand the historical significance of the game, with Stretch trying for career win #300. But come on… a 3-1/2 hour delay?! That’s ridiculous!! At 10:46, the game was finally postponed and rescheduled for the following evening.
Stretch did get his 300th win on the 4th, in the first game of a doubleheader, as the Giants beat the Nats 5-1. Ironically, the start of this game was also delayed by about an hour because of rain. Too bad so few people actually saw this historic game; attendance was so low that the attendance stats weren’t even listed in the box score. Perhaps the 16,787 attendance figure for the second game was actually a combination of attendance for both games? Anyway, some of the Nationals commentators, members of the media, and Nats fans have fussed about a called strike against Adam Dunn on a 3-2 count to end the 8th inning, which preserved the Giants 2-1 lead with the bases loaded. The call was a bad one — it was definitely NOT a strike — but hey, those are the breaks. Lots of bad calls have been made against the Nationals this season…and against the 29 other MLB teams as well. Bad calls happen. I saw comments on one particular Nats message board which hinted that the umpire had intentionally called a strike to prevent a run from being walked in to tie the game…that, of course, would have given Stretch a no-decision. OK, so in a split second, when the pitch is thrown and caught, the umpire was thinking, “If I call this a ball, then a run will score, and that means that Randy Johnson will end up with a no-decision instead of getting his 300th win tonight, so I should call this a strike even though the pitch was a ball….” Riiiiiiiiight. [SARCASM] I’m sure that’s exactly what that umpire was thinking at that moment. [/SARCASM] This, of course, was the second time the Nationals were involved in a history-making game. In August of 2007, former Nats pitcher Mike Bacsik gave up Baroids Bonds’ 756th career home run.
After the Nats 3-1 loss to the Mets on June 5th, Joel Hanrahan went back to being Joel Suckrahan as far as I’m concerned. With the game tied at 1 in the 10th inning, Suckrahan gave up a single to Luis Castillo, a walk to Carlos Beltrán, and a double to David Wright which scored Castillo and Beltrán. And that was that. The loss caused Suckrahan to lose his job as the closer for the second time this season.
The June 6th game vs. the Mets was another surprising win for the Nationals. John Lannan pitched the first complete game of his career, allowing just 1 run and 4 hits in a 7-1 win. He even hit a single in the 5th inning and scored a run on Nick Johnson’s home run. Adam Dunn and Elijah Dukes also hit home runs in the game, which lasted exactly 2 hours.
The Nationals reverted back to their usual form on the 7th, losing to the Mets 7-0. Just more of the same suckitude.
At least the Nationals didn’t lose tonight…they didn’t play tonight…….
Busted Steroids Dealer Says He Sold to Caps, Nats
Washington Post, 5/27/2009
A man arrested in Florida yesterday for possession of anabolic steroids bragged to law enforcement officials that he has sold the performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes, including those on the Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals, according to a report from Tampa Bay Online.
The report said investigators aren’t sure if Richard Thomas of Lakeland, Fla., is telling the truth when he claimed he’s central Florida’s biggest steroid provider and sold to Capitals and Nationals players. Thomas did not name specific athletes, the report said.
The arrest of Thomas and his wife, Sandra, was announced last night by Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd at a 10 p.m. news conference. Judd said $200,000 in illegal steroids were seized by detectives.
“The only thing he said specifically was he sold to the Washington Capitals and the Washington Nationals,” Judd said. “We asked him because we knew that would create a firestorm on two more occasions because we don’t want to be quoted as saying that. Richard Thomas told us that he sold steroids to ballplayers on those teams. Now, is that one ballplayer? Or is it two ballplayers? We don’t know.”…
I don’t mean to make light of this situation, because, if Thomas’ claims are true, this will be some serious sh*t. But really…if the 13-33 Nats are juicing, then they really should get their money back, because THE ‘ROIDS AREN’T HELPING.
On a more serious note, I would not be surprised if Adam Dunn and/or Elijah Dukes are found to be using steroids. Disappointed yes, surprised no. I would, however, be extremely shocked and disappointed to hear that Ryan Zimmerman was juicing.
One important point to keep in mind is that this drug dealer didn’t happen to mention when he supposedly sold steroids to players for the Nats and Caps. Assuming his claims are true, he could have sold them to players who are no longer with the teams.
Nats’ reactions to this story:
Nats React To Steroid Claims
Washington Post, 5/27/2009
By the time the Nats reported to Citi Field this afternoon, most had read or heard about the Lakeland, Fla., man who claims he sold performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes, including players on the Nationals and Capitals. But even the players who had an interest in the story still didn’t know the specifics.
“It’s just, what else can happen to us?” Adam Dunn said. “It’s just kind of piling on. Again, to me that is the last thing I’m worried about, some guy saying whatever he said about us.”
Mostly, players met the news with a mix of puzzlement and amusement. One quipped that all 25 players recently had dinner at Thomas’s Lakeland home.
“Look at that guy’s arms,” joked Austin Kearns said, motioning to teammate Josh Willingham. “Ask him about the steroids.”
Kearns, turning serious, then said, “I don’t really have a reaction. I don’t know who it is, I don’t know what he’s talking about or who he’s talking about. I just heard about it five minutes ago. I can’t even remember the guy’s name.”
At least a half-dozen former Washington players have been formally connected to performance-enhancing drugs, and current relief pitcher Ron Villone was named in the Mitchell Report. The Nationals are holding off on concern about Thomas’s claims, though, until Major League Baseball’s investigative unit gives them a reason to have any. The team does not plan to conduct an internal investigation, instead yielding to the league itself.
“All we’re going to say is that our own investigators will be looking into it,” MLB spokesman Rich Levin said. Asked if Major League Baseball’s investigators knew of Thomas before his arrest, Levin said, “Not that I’m aware of, no.”
Said Manager Manny Acta: “I know less than you guys know about this. I’m the wrong guy to talk about all this. All I know is what has been said in the paper, and we support Major League Baseball’s testing program. I think it’s good. It’s working. And if there is any truth to it, then it will come out.”
As if this season hasn’t already been crappy enough…now we have to deal with THIS crap.
After a rain delay of nearly two and a half hours, the Yankees lost to the Rangers last night, 7-3, thanks to the two homers from the previously 1-30 slumping bat of Chris Davis, as well as a 2-out RBI single from Jarrod
Saltalamackya Saltylimacchia Salty (whatever the heck his name is) which gave the Rangers the lead for good. The 2-3 performance (including a home run) from Hideki Matsui wasn’t enough to get a win for the Yankees, nor was the 3-5 night from Brett Gardner, subbing for the injured Melky Cabrera.
An even bigger blow than the loss to the Rangers was the loss of Cabrera to a non-throwing shoulder injury. Initial tests on the shoulder were negative; team trainer Gene Monahan estimated that Cabrera would be out 5-7 days. Melky will return to New York to be examined by team physician Chris Ahmad. I’m crossing my fingers that the injury is a minor one. Feel better soon, Melky!
The good news on the health front for the Yankees is that Jorge Posada could rejoin the team on Friday in Cleveland. (Yay!!)
SSDD for the Nationals, who lost to the Mets, 6-1. Former National Livan Hernandez pitched a complete game against his former team, only giving up a solo home run to Adam Dunn. It was a tough night for Ryan Zimmerman, who went 0 for 4 and struck out twice, thus ending his streak of safely reaching base at 43 games. He was three games short of the franchise record set by Rusty Staub for Montreal from 1969-70.
The Nationals previously potent offense has come to a grinding halt recently. The team desperately misses Jesus Flores and Elijah Dukes in the lineup; both, unfortunately, are on the DL.
The good news for the Nationals yesterday was the fact that Daniel Cabrera was designated for assignment. How did I react when I heard this news?
I jumped for joy!!!
Cabrera and his 0-5 record, his 5.85 ERA, his 35 walks (tied for most in the majors), and his 10 wild pitches (tops in the majors) are GONE. OUTTA HERE. FINALLY!! He almost certainly will clear waivers — I can’t imagine any team being stupid enough to claim him — and he has already stated that he won’t accept being assigned to the minors* so he’ll become a free agent. I hope he has other plans for the summer…I’d say there’s a pretty good chance that he won’t be playing baseball.
I loved acting GM Mike Rizzo’s comments about D-Cab:
“You have to put your best 25 players on the roster that are giving you a chance to win,” acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. “I look beyond the contract and look at the execution and performance of the player, and it wasn’t up to par. I was tired of watching him.”
So were Nats fans, Mike!
Oh, and today is Cabrera’s 28th birthday. What a birthday gift…getting DFA’d! LMAO
* I just noticed an amusing typo about D-Cab — I had typed “won’t accept being assigned to the majors” instead of “to the minors.” He won’t have to worry about being assigned to the “majors” since he probably won’t be able to get a job there! LOL
On a completely unrelated note…I’ve never been a fan of Mike Tyson, but he has my deepest sympathies for the tragic loss of his 4 year old daughter. No parent should have to endure such a loss.
A 12:35 game on a Tuesday afternoon vs. the Astros in May? An afternoon game before school is out? What are the odds that a large number of people are going to be willing to take a day off work, or keep their kids out of school, to see this game? If there are 10,000 people at today’s game, I’d be surprised. This two-game series vs. Houston is the only time this season that the Astros will play in DC, which is all the more reason why this early start time was stupid.
Last time I checked the score, it was 10-10 at the bottom of the 9th inning. In other words, a pitchers’ duel!
UPDATE: still 10-10, bottom of the 11th, Elijah Dukes on 1st, no outs, Josh Willingham on deck…AND THERE’S A RAIN DELAY!!!
FINAL UPDATE: the game was suspended. It will resume in Houston on July 9th, with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning and the score tied, 10-10, but the Nationals will be the “home” team.
I’m confused about something. Initial reports were that the stats from this game would not be official until the game is completed. And that makes sense to me…the game isn’t finished. But, per the Nationals Journal:
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, all statistics compiled during today’s game — which was suspended due to rain in the bottom of the 11th with the score tied 10-10 — are official….The official scorer inside the press box at Nationals Park initially had announced that today’s statistics would not be made official until the game was completed.
I’m glad the statistics from this game are official. I’m just not sure why. Is it because 9 innings were played?
At least the Nationals didn’t lose today. Actually, since the Nats won yesterday, and this was just a two-game series, does that mean that the Nationals can claim that they finally won their first series of the season? 😉
Yep, baseball’s worst team beat baseball’s best team. (I know…I can’t belive it either!)
One way to keep the Nationals dreadful bullpen from giving away a lead and a game is for the starter to pitch a complete game. That’s exactly what Shairon Martis did on Saturday, and the Nationals defeated the Cardinals, 6-1. In fact, Martis took a no-hitter into the 5 inning, until Yadier Molina singled. Until this game, the 22 year old Martis had never pitched more than 6 1/3 innings. He struck out 6 and did not allow a walk in his 110-pitch effort. This game was the first complete-game win for a Nationals pitcher since 8/15/2006, when Pedro Astacio beat the Braves.
An assist, so to speak, should be given to Cardinals first baseman Chris Duncan, who dropped what would have been out #3 of the 5th inning. With the Nats leading 1-0 and Cristian Guzman on first, Ryan Zimmerman popped up into foul territory. Instead of being the final out of the inning, he got one more chance at bat when Duncan dropped the ball. Zimm made the Cardinals pay for that error by hitting a single. Adam Dunn then hit a 3-run home run into the upper deck in right field, above the Nationals bullpen. The Nationals added two more runs in the 8th inning when Elijah Dukes scored on an Austin Kearns triple and Kearns scored on and Anderson Hernandez single.
Speaking of Hernandez, he had the #1 web gem on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight…an incredible diving catch in the first inning. That catch was also #4 of the top plays on ESPN’s Sports Center. (Simeon Varlamov’s save in the Capitals’ win over the Penguins was #1 — see below.)
I was lucky enough to be at this game…it was a great one! What a performance by Martis! And the scattered showers that had been in the forecast for the afternoon did not materialize, which was nice for a change.
Of course, I have tickets for Sunday’s game as well, and there is once again rain in the forecast for the afternoon. The chance of rain is 70% for “later in the day”…so I hope that means the rain will wait until after the game is over.
Gotta give a shout out to the Washington Capitals, who won defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2, in Game 1 of the NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals. GO CAPS!!!!
One more thing. As a lifelong Washington Redskins fan, I absolutely despise the Dallas
Cowchips Cowboys. But I was relieved to hear that no one was critically injured (or worse) when the roof of the Cowboys practice facility collapsed on Saturday afternoon during a storm. Several injuries do sound serious — including the broken vertebrae suffered by special teams coach Joe DeCamillis — but the reports about the incident say that everyone is expected to recover. I wish everyone who was injured in the incident a speedy and complete recovery.
NATIONALS 3, BRAVES 2 — YEEEEAAAAAAHH!!!!!
A win is sweet for the Nationals no matter how they get it. But this one was particularly special because it marked the major league debut of the Nationals’ top pitching prospect, Jordan (Don’t Call Me Ryan) Zimmermann. Zimm2 completely lived up to his hype, giving his team 6 strong innings. He allowed two runs and six hits, with three strikeouts and a
walk. He was cool and relaxed on the mound, even after giving up a home run to Matt Diaz in the 4th inning. This guy is going to be fun to watch this season.
Zimm2 was originally supposed to make his debut on Sunday against the Marlins. I was very pleased about that, because that game was part of my season ticket plan. But when last Wednesday’s game vs. the Phillies was rained out, that pushed Zimmermann’s debut back one day. I really wanted to see this kid for myself, so a friend and I got tickets for Monday’s game against the Braves. Mother Nature threatened to ruin our plans once again, because it rained pretty much all day. The rain let up a bit a couple of hours before game time, but more rain moved in, and the start of the game was delayed by just over two hours. It didn’t matter to us though…we had to see Jordan Zimmermann’s debut. He was definitely worth the wait.
Mind you, we left at about 10:30, in the middle of the 5th inning. I HATE to leave a game early and very rarely do so, but we took the subway to the game, and Metrorail stops running around midnight. We wanted to make sure that we could make our connections and not miss the last train out. The score was tied at 2 when we left, and we missed the Jesus Flores single in the 6th inning that scored Elijah Dukes. But that’s OK…the important thing is that the Nationals won!
It should be noted that the Nats’ revamped bullpen not only did not allow any runs but also didn’t allow any hits. Joel Hanrahan, who had two blown saves in a row against the Marlins, entered the game in the 9th inning and got his first save of the season.
Oh, and this win coupled with the Marlins’ loss puts the Nats just 8.5 games out of first place, with 150 games to go! LOL
Miscellaneous Other Stuff:
I finally finished uploading my Nationals’ opening day photos to Flickr. If anyone is interested in seeing them, please click HERE.
I mentioned here that I don’t like the new statues at Nationals Park. I thought that maybe they’d look better in person…but alas, they really don’t. And I am not the only one who doesn’t like them. According to this article in the Washington Times, Walter Johnson’s grandson doesn’t like them either:
Hall of Famer Walter Johnson, arguably the best pitcher in baseball
history, fanned 3,509 batters while winning 417 games with the
Washington Senators from 1907 to 1927. Yet Johnson’s grandson and
biographer, Henry Thomas, is more concerned these days with another
He thinks the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and
sculptor Omri Amrany whiffed completely with the Johnson statue that
was unveiled last week in the center field plaza at Nationals Park. Or
perhaps hit a foul ball.
Thomas’ one-word description of the towering, bronze sculpture, as posted on the Nats’ Web site: “hideous.”
So there you go. It’s not just me.
THE NATIONALS FINALLY WON A GAME!!!
Holy crap…1-7! We won’t be 0 for April after all! And the Baltimore Orioles’ record of 21 straight losses to begin the 1988 season will remain intact for another year. *whew*
This was a hell of a game, with home runs from Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham (as a pinch hitter), Elijah Dukes, and Alberto Gonzalez (filling in for the injured Cristian Guzman). The 4 insurance runs in the 8th inning were the icing on the cake…the Nats were determined to win this game! LOL
Great win for Shairon Martis, with a performance that was by far the best of any Nats starter so far this year. He pitched into the 7th inning, giving up two runs on 5 hits with 2 walks and one strikeout.
Maybe demoting Lastings Milledge to AAA Syracuse was the kick in the backside that the Nationals needed to finally get themselves going. Maybe the Nationals saw what I wrote in this blog about thowing myself off a bridge, and they decided to save my life by finally winning a game. Or maybe they finally just figured out what they had to do to win. Whatever they did, and whatever it took, all I can say is that IT’S ABOUT TIME!!!
@&#$% ?<>&*! #@%$^ +!!$%#@ &%$*# !!!!!!!!!!!
*ahem* Sorry about that…I had to get it off my chest……
I was going to title this blog entry “Phillies spoil Nationals home opener,” but the Nats spoiled it for themselves. They had chances to put the game away, but instead they gave the game away.
Of course, the game was marred by the tragic passing of longtime Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, who collapsed in the press box at Nationals Park several hours before the game began today. An announcement was made at the ballpark before the start of the game, and there was a moment of silence to honor Mr. Karas.
That choked me up a bit. My sincere condolences to the Kalas family, his friends and loved ones, the Phillies organization, and Phillies fans.
There was also a moment of silence to mark the tragic death of Silver Spring, MD native Nick Adenhart.
That also choked me up.
As for the game itself, here again is the good, the bad, and the ugly —
- Cristian Guzman’s 5-5 day
- Home runs from Elijah Dukes, Adam Dunn, and Ryan Zimmerman
- 8 runs scored
- Daniel Cabrera giving up just 1 earned run despite his usual wildness
- Impressive catches by Lastings Milledge in center field (!!) and Elijah Dukes in right field
- Cristian Guzman limping off the field with a hamstring injury in the 9th inning
- Daniel Cabrera walking in a run in the 2nd inning
- Two consecutive HBP by Saul Rivera in the 7th inning, followed by a Ryan Howard HR
- Three Errors (two by Anderson Hernandez, one by Adam Dunn)
- The new statues honoring Frank Howard, Josh Gibson, and Walter Johnson
Speaking of those statues…they really aren’t as horrible in person as they look in pictures. In fact, parts of them are really quite amazing.
The detail here is fantastic! I just really hate that “motion” effect. It’s waaaay too artsy for my (admittedly simple) artistic taste.
Oh, and I’ve officially decided that I’m afraid of the new, “teenage” Screech. Yes, he has slimmed down so that he no longer looks like a pregnant chicken…but now he looks possessed!
Oh, and — big surprise here — once again, Teddy failed to win the Presidents Race. Abe won, as usual.
Back to the Nats…it’s frustrating to see bits of improvement in the team that don’t translate into wins. *sigh* Maybe the off day tomorrow will help, and then the Nats will come back strong on Wednesday.
(All photos from Nationals Park taken by me today.)
The Nationals will be a better team in 2009 than they were in 2008. Of course, after losing more games than any team in the majors last year and finishing the season 32.5 games out of first place in the NL East, with a 59-102 record (the final game was rained out), they couldn’t get much worse…they almost have to be better. If the Nats can gain an additional 11 wins over last year, they would finish 2009 with a 70-92 record…certainly not enough to put the team into contention for a pennant, but still an improvement. The Nationals have a long way to go before they will be in a position to challenge their division rivals for the pennant. The baby steps will begin this season.
One of highlights of the Nationals spring training was the departure of embattled general manager Jim Bowden. His departure has enabled the team to focus on baseball, rather than the negative publicity that surrounded the Nats in general and Bowden in particular. Two other spring training highlights were the overall performaces by rookies Shairon Martis and Jordan Zimmermann, who earned the 4th and 5th spots, respectively, in the starting rotation based on their strong showings this spring.
The starting rotation will be…well, an adventure. John Lannan pitched pretty well for the Nationals last season, considering the overall performance of the team. He has pitched well this spring and was named as the opening day starter. I like John Lannan…he’s a tough kid, nothing seems to faze him. He was one cool customer during his rookie season in 2007 when facing Barry Bonds, who had yet to hit his record breaking home run. That was enough of a reason to make me a fan. I like the fact that he bounces right back after poor starts, not allowing them to bother him. That said, Lannan is the team’s #1 starter pretty much by default…the Nationals simply don’t have anyone who’s better just yet. I’ve seen some local baseball writers refer to Lannan as the Nationals’ “ace” — he is absolutely not an ace. On a stronger team, he would be a 4th or 5th starter. As for the rest of the staff, newcomer and fellow lefty Scott Olsen’s numbers last year with the Marlins were similar to Lannan’s, so he, too, should be adequate. His strength is the fact that he’s an innings eater, which, if that trend continues, should help the bullpen. Olsen hasn’t had a particularly impressive spring, so I must admit that I’m a bit concerned how he’ll perform once the games start to count. Former Baltimore Oriole Daniel Cabrera, the elder statesman of the starting rotation at age 27, will be a wild card, with the emphasis on “wild.” He’s a hard thrower who gives up too many walks; there’s a reason why the Orioles gave up on him. He’s had an unimpressive spring training; Nats fans will just have to cross our fingers and hope for the best when Cabrera is on the mound. The really interesting part of the Nationals rotation this year will be the performances of Martis and Zimmermann, who both could end up being future aces for the team. They both were very impressive during spring training, which is what got them into the starting rotation in Washington rather than in Syracuse.
The bullpen got a boost when acting GM Mike Rizzo acquired lefty Joe Beimel from the Dodgers. Beimel is a welcome addition to a weak bullpen. he should be a good set-up man for closer Joel Hanrahan. Speaking of which, Hanrahan became the closer by default last year after Chad Cordero was injured and John Rauch was traded and pitched well enough in the closer role to retain that job this season. How he will perform over an entire season remains to be seen. He’ll probably be effective, but Mariano Rivera he is not.
The offense last year was horrendous, because of injuries and just flat out poor hitting. Adam Dunn, the Nationals’ biggest offseason acquisition, will improve the starting lineup, as will/should Nick Johnson, who appears to be fully recovered from the wrist injury he suffered last season. If the injury prone Johnson can remain healthy, he’ll provide a big boost to the team, both offensively and defensively. But that is a HUGE if and, in my opinion, a huge gamble. The rest of the lineup, with the exception of Cristian Guzman (who hit .316 last year) needs to step up their performances and score some runs for the offense to improve significantly.
The outfield may end up looking like a game of musical chairs, with a surplus of outfielders. Five players — Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge, Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, and Josh Willingham — are vying for three outfield spots and for at-bats. And Willie Harris will be in the mix at times as well. It should make for an interesting season.
Unless the other teams in the NL East completely fall apart, the Nationals will not be contenders this year, and probably not next year either. But there will be some interesting things for Nats fans to keep our eyes on:
* The development and maturation of Jordan Zimmermann and Shairon Martis. Will their spring training success continue through the regular season? Will either (or both) of them evolve into a bonafide ace for the Nationals?
* Adam Dunn’s home run production. For the last 5 straight years, Dunn has hit at least 40 home runs. Will that streak continue?
* Ryan Zimmerman. Will this finally be the year that the so-called “face of the franchise” Ryan Zimmerman finally earns that title, by proving that he is a great player rather than just a good one? And will Zimmerman’s defense finally be dazzling enough to earn him a gold glove?
* Overall team health. Nationals Park resembled a hospital ward last season. Nearly all of the Nats key offensive players, including Johnson, Zimmerman, and Dukes, spent time on the disabled list. Will the Nationals remain healthy this year?
I wish I could say that I think the Nationals will improve enough to climb out of the NL East cellar in 2009. But, realistically speaking, I don’t think that will happen. I think the Nationals record will be 75-87, a huge improvement over last year, but not enough to avoid finishing in last place again.