It’s been a while…over two months, in fact…but I’m back. Real life intruded upon my online time — work issues and personal issues kept my online time limited to just my message board for the most part, but I’m hoping that everything is resolved now, and I’ll be able to make regular contributions to this blog once again.
Let’s see…what has happened since my last blog entry? Well, starting with the Yankees:
With a sweep of the Twins in early July, the Yankees tied the Red Sox for the lead in the AL East for one game, surrendering the lead the very next day with the first of three losses to the Angels. Less than two weeks later, a win over the Orioles pushed the Yankees into another tie for first in the AL East with the Red Sox. The Yankees have been in first place ever since, and despite losing their first eight games against Boston this season, they now hold a 9-game lead over the Red Sox. Since my last blog post, the Yankees have had winning streaks of 7 games three times and an 8 game winning streak, with no losing streaks longer than 3 games.
As for the Nationals:
Suckrahan Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge were traded to the Pirates for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett, giving the Nationals the centerfielder they’ve needed all season. Manager Manny Acta got the boot just before the All-Star game and was replaced by bench coach Jim Riggleman. Shortly thereafter, the Nationals front office sent a “We admit that we suck, but we’re trying not to suck quite so much” email to all season ticket holders and all fans who purchased Nationals tickets or merchandise online. The Nationals were 6-10 in July after Riggleman took over for Acta, and were 14-15 in August, including an 8-game winning streak in early August. The Nats traded Nick Johnson — the last remaining connection to the Montreal Expos — to the Marlins for minor league pitcher Aaron Thompson. Starting pitchers Scott Olsen, Jordan Zimmermann, Craig Stammen, and Collin Balester were lost for the season to injuries (shoulder surgery for Olsen, Tommy John surgery for Zimmernann, arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur int he elbow for Stammen, and an intercostal strain of his left
side for Balester). In need of an innings eater, and/or overtaken by nostalgia, the Nats signed pitcher (and former National) Livan Hernandez after he was released by the Mets. Oh, and the Nationals signed their number 1 draft choice — perhaps you’ve heard of him? — some guy named Stephen Strasburg.
Yep, that about covers it.
Nationals’ mlb.com beat writer Bill Ladson reported here that Nationals center fielder Lastings Milledge was optioned to Syracuse on Tuesday. The official explanation for the demotion, according to acting general manager Mike Rizzo, is to help Milledge improve his game after getting off to a very slow start. While I do think that may have been part of it, I’m not buying that as the only reason why he was sent to Syracuse. Other players have gotten off to slow starts, in previous years as well as this year, and they weren’t demoted. Ladson’s article mentioned the fact that Milledge was late for a meeting held by manager Manny Acta on Monday…I’ve also read in other articles and blogs that Milledge is often late for meetings and arrives at the ballpark late. Rizzo claims that he has “very little problems with Lastings’ attitude and his work ethic.” Personally, I think Rizzo is just being tactful…I think character issues had as much to do with Milledge’s demotion as his level of play this season.
I hope the demotion helps Milledge. I hope it makes him work harder to better his game and himself…I hope he doesn’t sulk up there and make the situation worse for himself. I wish Lastings Milledge the best of luck.
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.)
*cough* *sniffle* *groan*
Not only am I trying to deal with my teams’ two losses yesterday, but I’m also fighting off a cold. I definitely need to work on feeling better ASAP, so I’m completely healthy by the Nats’ home opener next Monday.
Orioles 10, Yankees 5
CC Sabathia was horrible in his official debut in pinstripes, giving up 6 runs (all earned) in just a little over 4 innings of play. He didn’t give up any home runs, but he didn’t strike anyone out either, and he surrendered 5 walks. The two wild pitches in the first inning were a preview of things to come.
Teixeira was 0-4 in his official Yankees debut. He also left 5 runners on base. And he was booed unmercifully by Oriole fans, who were angry because Tex chose to sign with New York instead of Baltimore. If he keeps having 0-4 games, he’d better get used to being booed.
Derek Jeter may not be the 24 year old phenom that he once was…but at least he got off to a decent start by getting 3 hits in 5 at bats.
Two players who were sorely missed last year hit home runs in this game – Jorge Posada hit a solo HR in the 6th inning, and Hideki Matsui hit a 2-run HR in the 7th inning.
There was an interesting bit of irony in 8th inning, when Johnny Damon nearly robbed Cesar Izturis of a home run. The play could have been ruled fan interference because, as the replay clearly showed, a fan hit Damon’s glove as he attempted to make the catch. Damon didn’t protest very much, presumably because the ball was over the wall, but he did momentarily gesture in the direction of the fan while looking towards the umpires. Although this was just opening day and not a playoff game, it reminded me of the Jeffrey Maier play at Yankee Stadium during the 1996 ALDS. Definitely ironic, since the Yankees opponent in that game was the Baltimore Orioles.
The game was sold out and drew a crowd of 48,607, which is the largest opening day crowd in Oriole Park history. How many of you think the crowd was so big because Baltimore fans are so excited about their Orioles? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Raise your hand if you think the crowd was so big because of all the Yankees fans wanting to see Sabathia’s official debut in pinstripes!
To bad those fans had to leave the game disappointed.
Marlins 12, Nationals 6
John Lannan’s first opening day start of his career was anything but memorable. Unable to throw strikes, he only lasted 3 innings, giving up 6 earned runs, including 2 home runs. He also had one strikeout. At least he didn’t walk anyone…he didn’t have time for that, since he was too busy giving up runs!
Adam Dunn was 2-4 in his official Nationals debut, with a 3-run HR in the 6th inning. He had 4 RBI in the game and scored twice. His performance was one of the few highlights of the game for the Nats. Cristian Guzman was also 2-4 and scored 2 runs, while striking out once.
Ronnie Belliard had an error in the first inning (when is Anderson Hernandez coming off the DL?), and Lastings Milledge proved once again that he is not a center fielder, nor, apparently, is he a competent leadoff hitter. Emilio Bonifacio, who was thought to become a fixture at second base for the Nationals before being traded to the Marlins last fall, was 4-5 with a home run and 2 RBI against his former team. He also stole 3 bases. Bonifacio’s inside-the-park home run should/could have been caught but instead sailed over Milledge’s head.
Other than Dunn’s home run, the only other even remotely positive things I can say about this first game are (1) the Nationals didn’t give up after being down 6-0 (last year, they probably would have given up), and (2) no one got hurt.
CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira were both decidedly less than impressive in their official Yankees debuts. Adam Dunn’s official debut for the Nationals was much better, even though it didn’t help his team to win the game. At least CC’s ERA (12.46) wasn’t as high as Nats’ starter John Lannan’s (18.00), which wasn’t as high as Yankees reliever Brian Bruney’s (54.00)
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.
I’m watching the Nats
play lose to the Marlins on MASN this evening. The fact that the Nats are losing isn’t breaking my heart (it is, after all, only spring training), but I was not happy to see Ronnie Belliard leave the game in the 4th inning after turning his ankle. I hope it’s nothing serious and that a bit of ice on it tonight plus a few days rest will take care of it.
John Lannan donned a headset for an interview from the dugout. At one point during the interview, he started laughing and looking to his left…he said Collin Balester was throwing sunflower seeds at him! LOL (Ahh, children!) MASN commentator Bob Carpenter asked Lannan for his opinion about the Joe Beimel signing…looking confused, Lannan said he had no idea what Carpenter was talking about. So Bob let him know that Joe Beimel had been acquired earlier in the day. Lannan was pleased. (Speaking of Lannan, congrats to John on being named the Opening Day starter! Great accomplishment for a kid in his second full MLB season.)
Every time I hear MASN mention “Nats Town,” I want to hurl. So lame…so very lame……..
Crap…now Lastings Milledge is being helped off the field after going knee to knee with the Marlins first baseman. I hope that’s nothing serious. At least the Nats scored to make it a 7-2 game in the 9th inning.
RBI single by Willie Harris makes it 7-3, Marlins!
RBI single by Pete Orr makes it 7-4, Marlins!
Bases loaded after a hit batter. Ryan Langerhans with an RBI single. 7-5 Marlins with 1 out!
Oh well, the game ends on a 3-2 double play. Fun game in the 9th inning despite the loss. Keeping my fingers crossed that Belliard and Milledge will be OK.