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.
I thought (hoped) the .500 road trip would give the Nationals some momentun for their homestand. How silly of me. The Nats came home with the same bullpen that they had wne they left, and it’s giving us the same results. Five straight losses — including a 4-game sweep by the Phillies — three of which were via blown saves. The other two losses were courtesy of crappy starts from Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera. At least we now know that Olsen is hurt, which probably explains his loss of velocity and overall suckitude. However, there is no excuse, and no hope, for Cabrera. He needs to go NOW.
Shairon Martis is on the mound for the Nationals tonight against the Pirates. Maybe we’ll actually have a chance to win.
By the way, I apologize for being AWOL over the last few days. Contrary to how it may apprear, I did not disappear because of the Nats’ 5 straight losses (though I felt like it). I actually haven’t been able to type very much because of a minor wrist injury. I never cease to be amazed at the ridiculous ways I can hurt myself. (I could probably sprain an ankle from tripping over the crack of dawn.) I went to the supermarket on Saturday, and I somehow managed to hurt my wrist from carrying bags of groceries home. I don’t know what I did…I just picked up the stupid bags and my wrist hurt all of a sudden. I don’t recall bending it awkwardly, but that’s what it feels like I did. Of course it’s my right wrist, and I’m right-handed. I’ve been wearing an elastic bandage on it since Saturday evening. It’s feeling a bit better now, but I still need the bandage when I type, and especially when I use the mouse on my computer. Sheesh, what a klutz.
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!
Win # 5 that is…that’s what the Nationals got tonight — a 4-1 win over the Phillies. That’s their second win on the road, and it’s the first time the Nats have won in Philly since August 21st of last year.
When I saw Garrett Mock enter the game, I nearly threw my remote control at my TV. I guess manager Manny Acta felt like Mock needed to get back out there and get some outs, after giving up three runs on Monday night. I guess tonight was a confidence builder for Mock (and for Kip Wells and Julian Tavarez too, for that matter).
Nice effort from Scott Olsen tonight. I’m glad the bullpen didn’t blow the lead/game again so he could get a much deserved win.
And…not trying to jinx anything…but…there’s a player for the Nationals who has a streak going…and I’m very pleased to see him doing so well!
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 have been outscored by the Marlins 20-9 in their first two games of the season. Former Nationals infielder Emilio Bonifacio is 6-10 against his former team, 4 4 RBI, 4 runs scored, and a batting average of .600. Conversely, tonight’s starter for the Nats — Scott Olsen, who was part of the trade that sent Bonifacio to Florida — didn’t have quite as good a time against his former team. In just 3 innings of work, he allowed 8 earned runs off of 8 hits, including 2 home runs. He also had 3 walks and 2 strikeouts. At least Olsen’s performance may make John Lannan feel a bit better…Lannan gave up “only” 6 runs in 3 innings yesterday.
I’m trying not to freak out too much after these first two games. Maybe this is some kind of reverse karma, as compared to last season. The Nationals started off with three straight wins — the first against Atlanta, the second and third against Philadelphia — and dreams of a team that actually might be a contender for the pennant danced in the heads of Nats fans everywhere. And then everything fell apart and the season went into the toilet. So maybe the reverse will happen this year…maybe things will turn around dramatically after these first couple of games. Maybe? I hope so!
I forgot to mention this over the weekend. I had to take my Holland lop rabbit to the vet on Saturday morning.
He needed to get his claws trimmed. While we were waiting for our turn with the technician, a man was paying the bill for his dogs’ vet visit. He had two dogs — a yellow lab and a golden retriever — and the dogs’ names were Wrigley and Fenway!
I could be wrong about this…but I have a feeling that the dogs’ daddy is a baseball fan. LOL
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.