The season is over for the Washington Nationals. In many ways, I agree with this Mets fan about the end of the season finally being here.
It’s been a difficult, frustrating, infuriating, and downright painful season, which began with 7 straight losses. For the second year in a row, the Nationals lost over 100 games. They actually won the same number of games in 2009 as in 2008 (59) but lost one more game (103) this year because their final home game of 2008 was rained out and not rescheduled. (Ironically, the Yankees 2009 regular season record was 103-59.) Needless to say, my prediction of a 75-87 record was way off! So many things went wrong for the Nats in 2009…dreadful pitching (mostly by the bullpen but also by some of the starters)…non-existent offense at times…poor defense and too many errors…even a wardrobe malfunction.
But despite the intense suckitude displayed by the Nationals for most of the 2009 season, there were also some good things that happened this year. In no particular order, some of 2009’s highlights include:
- Bidding adieu to Jim Bowden and Manny Acta. Bowden was a moron; Acta was not. Acta seemed like a very nice guy, but, quite frankly, he sucked as a manager. Granted, he didn’t have a lot to work with, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was horrednous.
- A 33-42 (.440) record under interim manager Jim Riggleman
- Josh Willingham’s 2 grand slams in the 7/27 game vs. Milwaukee.
- Adam Dunn hitting his 300th career home run (I was at that game).
- Drafting, and then signing, Stephen Strasburg…and not breaking the bank in the process.
- Adam Dunn’s surprising improvement at 1B. He’s definitely not gold-glove caliber (and probably never will be), but his defense has improved. And, if nothing else, he’s a big target at first. His defense at first base is certainly better than it was in left field.
- The acquistion of Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett. Morgan (a/k/a Tony Plush) in particular provided a tremendous spark, and his presence in the lineup as well as in center field was greatly missed after he went on the DL.
- Justin Maxwell, who provided two of the greatest moments of the season: stealing a home run away from Baltimore Orioles’ Adam Jones with a phenomenal over-the-wall catch at Nationals Park back in May, and his walk-off home run off of Francisco Rodríguez in the final home game of the season to defeat the Mets, and complete the sweep.
- Jordan Zimmermann’s MLB debut, and first win, in April. I was there…it was a rainy night, and a lot of people left early, so sticking around for the final out and the win was especially fun. (I hope Zimm2 makes a full recovery from Tommy John surgery and comes back stronger than ever.)
- John Lannan and Craig Stammen beating the Yankees in June. I felt very conflicted about that series at the time, but in retrospect, that series definitely ended up being one of the most memorable series of the season.
- Not getting swept by the Red Sox. It’s the little things that mean a lot in a 103-loss season.
- The 8-game winning streak in August.
- The 7-game winning streak to end the season.
- The emergence of John Lannan as the leader of the Nationals pitching staff. People believed that he would fall apart because he doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts and just isn’t dominant enough. His first few starts of the season weren’t good, and he hit a rough patch in August, but came back for a strong finish in September.
- Ryan Zimmerman — his 30-game hit streak was easily the biggest highlight of the season…despite some throwing issues early in the season, his defense was gold-glove caliber…and signing him to a 5-year deal ensures that the “face of the franchise” will wear a Nationals uniform for a long time.
And now, even though the postseason is in full swing, I’m feeling a bit of sadness and withdrawal. Despite another 100+ loss season and all of the agony that went along with it, I’m sad that the Nationals’ season is over. Maybe it’s just the residual good feelings from the end-of-the-season 7-game winning
streak…or maybe it’s the fact that I upgraded the seats in my season
ticket plan (I’ll be behind home plate instead of near the right field
corner)…or perhaps a combination of both. I attended the Nats’ final home game — in which Justin Maxwell hit the walk-off home run — and it was such an incredible way to end the home schedule. But it left me wanting more…more improvement, more wins. If only the Nationals could have played like that more often during the course of the season and had more incredible comebacks like that.
I am full of hope for next year. The 7-game winning streak at the end of the season was a very exciting way to end a miserable season. Granted, those 7 wins came against an awful Mets team and a deflated Braves team that had just been knocked out of wild card contention…it’s not like we swept the Phillies and the Dodgers. Nevertheless, I am very hopeful that 2010 will be better. I’m hopeful that the Nats can get the starting pitcher that they need. I’m hopeful that the Nationals can settle their situation at second base. I’m hopeful that Ian Desmond can continue his maturation process and become a bona fide MLB shortstop. I’m hopeful that Drew Storen can make a successful leap from the minors to the majors next season to help ease the Nationals’ bullpen woes. I’m hopeful that Stephen Strasburg makes it to the big leagues — sooner rather than later — and lives up to the hype surrounding him. I am looking forward to seeing what moves the Nationals make during the offseason, including who the manager will be. I know that whatever the Nats do, they’re not going to go from worst to first in one season…but I am hopeful that there will be a significant improvement. I have to be hopeful…hope is what will keep me reasonably sane between now and next February.
Speaking of February…when do pitchers and catchers report??
Phillies 9, Nationals 6
Once again, the Nationals took the early lead over the Phillies, when Josh Willingham and Alberto Gonzalez scored on a Wil Nieves double, and then Nieves scored on an Anderson Hernandez single. But Ryan Howard hit two home runs, including a grand slam, to lead the Phillies over the Nats. Shairon Martis got his first loss of the season, after a poor performance in which he surrendered 7 runs on 7 hits, including the 2 homers to Howard, in just 4 innings. Shockingly, the 6 Nationals relievers who followed Martis did not give up any earned runs; Mike MacDougal — recently called up from Triple A Syracuse — had two unearned runs thanks to an error from Anderson Hernandez. How ironic and frustrating that when the bullpen finally seems to be pitching a bit better, the starting pitching falls apart!
As if ANOTHER loss isn’t bad enough, it looks like Jesus Flores will be out for a lot longer than expected. He had been scheduled to return from the disabled list this weekend, but he has suffered a setback in his recovery from a shoulder injury. Jesus experienced some pain in his shoulder. His shoulder has been examined by the Nationals team physician, and he’ll be examined by orthopedist James Andrews on Monday. This does not sound good at all…I am worried.
Yankees 10, Indians 5
There were 4 home runs hit in this game…and it wasn’t even played at Yankee Stadium!
Jorge Posada (HIP HIP JORGE!) and Nick Swisher hit home runs for the Yankees, while Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo hit home runs for the Indians. Jorge had just one hit for the night, but he made it count!
CC Sabathia had a no-hitter going into the 5 inning against his former team. Choo broke up that no-no with a single in the bottom of the 5th. For the night, CC allowed 3 runs on five hits, with 3 walks and 8 strikeouts in 7 innings of work. Even without a no-hitter, it was a pretty good way to return to Cleveland. Good job, big guy!
Oh, and it should be noted that this was the 16th consecutive errorless game for the Yankees. That is one short of the MLB record set by the Red Sox in June 2006. That deserves another thumbs up……
Phillies 5, Nationals 4
Despite taking an early 1-0 lead over the Phillies on Josh Willingham’s solo home run in the second inning, the Nationals lost their 34th game of the season, 5-4, on Friday night. Ross Detweiler had a rough night, giving up 5 runs on 10 hits in 4 innings. To their credit (and my shock!), the 5 members of the Nationals bullpen who pitched in relief of Detweiler did not give up any additional runs. Too bad Detweiler himself happened to pitch like crap.
A lot of Nationals fans have complained in blogs and on message boards that manager Manny Acta doesn’t care about winning…that losing doesn’t seem to bother him. I’m not a mind-reader, so I can’t get into his head to know what he’s really thinking. I’m sure the losing bothers him…he just doesn’t show it. I wish he would show it…I wish he’d get angry now and then. I’m not talking about an Earl Weaver-esque rant or rampage, but just show some fire. Maybe the team might pick up on it and show some fire themselves.
Frankly, even if Acta does start to show some fire and sparks, it will be too little, too late. The time has come for Acta to go. I realize that it’s not Acta who is leaving those runners on base, giving up those walks and home runs, and committing those errors. But the entire team cannot be fired, so someone has to take the blame when a team performs as poorly as the Nationals have performed. Unfortunately, the manager is the one to take the blame.
The Diamondbacks fired Bob Melvin on May 7th, when their record was 12-17. After they had played 29 games, the Nationals record was 10-19. The Rockies fired Clint Hurdle yesterday, when their record was 18-28. After they had played 46 games, the Nationals record was 13-33. I’m guessing that the only reason why Acta still has a job is because the Nationals still just have an acting GM. And I’ve heard talk on Nationals blogs and message boards that the Nats will not make a decision about their GM until after the June draft. So for the near future, we Nationals fans will just have to continue dealing with Acta’s mismanagement of his pitching staff and bullpen, and his seemingly lackidasical attitude towards all of the errors, poor pitching, and losing.
Yankees 3, Indians 1
On the other hand, the Yankees defeated the Indians yesterday, 3-1. The good news is that the win moved the Yankees into sole posession of first place in the AL East; the bad news is that Andy Pettitte was taken out of the game in the 6th inning because of a strained back. It doesn’t appear to be anything serious, and he’ll probably be able to make his next start. But Andy isn’t as young as he used to be, and those aches and pains do come along more easily and more often.
Jorge Posada came off the DL and re-joined the Yankees lineup. He was 2-3 with a walk and a strikeout. Hip hip Jorge!
Yet again, ANOTHER loss due to a crappy performance by the Nationals bullpen. The Nats spotted the Pirates a 5-0 lead in the 3rd inning, and then came back to tie the game in the bottom of the 9th inning to send the game into extra innings. Mind you, the Nats had a chance to win the game in the 9th, but failed to do so. Nick Johnson hit a triple, Ryan Zimmerman walked, and then Johnson scored on a wild pitch by Pirates’ starter Russ Ohlendorf. With Zimmerman on 2nd as the potential game-winning run, Adam Dunn struck out. Josh Willingham walked, but then Willie Harris struck out, sending the game into the 10th inning. Since the Nationals had not won an extra innings game yet this season, I changed the channel from the Nationals game to the finale of “Dancing with the Stars.” (Congrats to Olympic champion gymnast Shawn Johnson, who won the DWTS mirror ball trophy!)
Changing the channel was a good idea.
Joe Beimel pitched a scoreless 9th inning, but then Ramón Vázquez singled, and Nyjer Morgan hit a sac fly, sending Vázquez to 2nd. Freddy Sánchez was intentionally walked, Nate McLouth flied out, and Vázquez moved to 3rd. And then…Adam LaRoche doubled, scoring Vázquez and Sánchez. Anderson Hernandez, Wil Nieves, and Alex Cintron (pinch hitting for Beimel) came to bat at the bottom of the 10th, but failed to even get a hit, much less score a run.
For some reason, Beimel seems to have some sort of cult following among at least a few Dodgers fans.
Personally, I can’t figure out why. The guy’s record is 0-3 for Washington, and he’s got 3 blown saves. I am not impressed.
I will give the Nats credit for coming back from a 5-0 deficit. They did make the game exciting. Too bad Beimel had to screw up the comeback.
Monday’s loss to the Pirates was thanks to a blown save by Garrett Mock, and it spoiled Ross Detweiler’s first start of the season. Detweiler allowed 3 runs (2 earned) on 4 hits while pitching 5 innings, with 6 strikeouts. All of the damage came in the 3rd inning, when Detweiler gave up a home run to Craig Monroe. Although the Nationals scored 5 runs in the bottom of the 5th to take the lead, the Pirates scored 5 runs in the top of the 6th and never looked back. The loss was just the same old same old for the Nats, but Detweiler’s performance was somewhat encouraging. I hope that he remains in the rotation when Scott Olsen comes off the DL, and the Daniel Cabrera is sent packing.
While I was in Baltimore watching the Yankees get their hineys handed to them, the Nationals played the Diamondbacks in Arizona. After my friend and I left the Yankees game, we went to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner, where I kept checking my score of the Nats game on my cell phone. I didn’t order dessert…seeing that the Nats won, 2-1, was my dessert!
The Nationals scoring came from two solo home runs, off the bats of Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman. Starter John Lannan pitched a pretty good game, allowing just 3 hits and no runs with 2 strikeouts in 6 innings of work. Unfortunately, he also surrendered 6 walks. Six Nationals relievers combined to finish the game and secure the win. There was a bit of drama in the 9th inning, when Kip Wells walked 2 batters and gave up a double to another, enabling the D’backs to score their only run. And then Joel Suckrahan then entered the game.
When I saw his name come up on my phone, I figured that he’d do what he does best…blow saves. Imagine my surprise when I checked the score one final time and saw that he got the save by striking out the last batter! Who needed apple cobbler, a hot fudge brownie, or a hot fudge sundae for dessert? The Nationals’ third win a row was sweet enough!
Unfortunately, the result of today’s Nationals/Diamondbacks game wasn’t so tasty. After falling behind 1-0 in the 2nd inning, the Nats took a 2-1 lead in the top of the 3rd inning…then a 4-3 lead in the top of the 5th…and then a 6-5 lead at the top of the 6th, before things fell apart in the bottom of the 6th when the D’backs took a 9-6 lead and never looked back. Being at this game must have been like being at a tennis match, with the leads bouncing back and forth so many times. Starter Scott Olsen struggled today, and ended up leaving the game in the 5th inning after getting hit on the left ankle by a line drive off the bat of Ryan Roberts. Olsen was replaced by Garrett Mock, who later was, unfortunately, replaced
Logan Loser Kensing, who proceeded to give up 4 runs and the lead. Kensing has been with the team for less than two weeks and already has 2 blown saves. Julian Tavarez pitched the 8th and 9th innings and gave up the Diamondbacks’ final run, for a final score of 10-8.
When a team scores 8 runs, including 2 home runs by its right fielder (Adam Dunn) and and left fielder (Josh Willingham), it should win the game. But the Nationals bullpen once again did the team in, and an error by shortstop Álex Cintrón lead to a Diamondbacks run. It’s incredibly frustrating!
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? 😉
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!!!
The Nationals were 3-14 vs. Florida last season. With today’s win over Washington, the Marlins completed the sweep and continued their mastery over the Nats. At least the final score of today’s game was closer than the first two — 6-4. And at least Nationals starter Daniel Cabrera lasted longer than 3 innings (he pitched through the 6th), and he got through his first start with an ERA in the single digits (7.50). Who’d have thought that Cabrera would be the pitcher with the “best” (least awful?) ERA after the first three games?
Emilio Bonifacio continued to show his former team that trading him was a mistake. He finished the series with 8 hits in 14 at bats, 4 RBI, 6 runs scored, a .667 batting average, and 4 stolen bases. Conversely, the two players obtained by the Nationals in that trade have not been impressive. Scott Olsen stunk yesterday, and in today’s game, Josh Willingham was was 0-3 with two walks and a strikeout, and he stranded 5 baserunners.
Oh yeah, that trade has worked out just great for Washington!
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.