This had to feel so good.
Riding a six-game losing streak, mired in last place, reeling from Anthony Rendon’s continually balky knee, missing Max Scherzer for a start and getting pounded 9-1 in Atlanta, the Nats came back to win 13-12 with Dan Uggla, who’s so bad that the Braves are still paying him just to be rid of him, hitting the game-winning homer in the ninth. Whew.
— William Ladson (@washingnats) April 13, 2015
What would make William Ladson, who has covered the Nationals franchise since 2002, tweet that during Monday’s Nats-Red Sox game? Well, how about this:
Or maybe THIS from the SAME INNING:
Or maybe it was Ian Desmond’s fifth error in seven games (thankfully not pictured).
Can we just hit reset on this season?
Big news out of Nats camp is they’ve released utility man Kevin Frandsen (via @ZuckermanCSN). He didn’t hit much in his one season with the Nats (.259/.299/.309 in 220 at-bats), but that doesn’t mean he didn’t contribute in other ways.
Kevin Frandsen: "THERE IS NO WRONG PIPE!" https://t.co/vd2toaBEiY
— Chris Mottram (@ChrisMottram) September 17, 2014
Happy trails, dude. There is no wrong pipe.
(Vine taken from last year’s division championship celebration.)
In an otherwise excellent Grantland piece outlining the Nationals for what they’re projected to be — a 100-win team, which is an increasingly rare creature in MLB — Rany Jazayerli strikes a nerve:
It is widely assumed within the industry that Boras was a driving force behind Rizzo’s worst decision as GM of the Nationals: shutting Strasburg down in September 2012 with the team barreling toward its first playoff berth since moving to Washington. It still makes no sense that the Nationals would jeopardize their postseason chances in order to theoretically protect Strasburg’s long-term health, but such is the cost of keeping Boras placated.
Regardless of Boras’ influence and what you think of Rizzo’s decision, the move made sense then and makes even more now. The facts:
*Strasburg was in his first full post-Tommy John season, and the plan heading in was to limit him to 160 innings.
*When Strasburg hit 160, in early September with the Nats up 6.5 games, he was shut down.
*Buzz bombs went off left and right about how silly the Nats were for this, especially as compared to Atlanta, which was in a similar situation with Kris Medlin. He was used in relief through July before moving to the rotation in August, effectively keeping his innings down.
*The Nats lost in the first round of the playoffs, dropping a heartbreaker to St. Louis. Strasburg’s would’ve-been start was given to Ross Detwiler, who pitched six innings, allowing one unearned run.
*The Cardinals were in that series because they beat the Braves in the Wild Card game. Medlin started and picked up the loss, allowing five unearned runs.
*In the two seasons since 2012, Strasburg has thrown 398 ace-level innings, posting a 3.08 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 433 strikeouts. Medlen was very good in 2013 but required a second Tommy John Surgery in 2014. He’s now attempting a comeback with Kansas City.
So yeah, flags fly forever and all, but the Nats had a plan, they stuck to it, and it’s working out pretty well. This is the same plan, by the way, that they executed to similar effect with fellow ace Jordan Zimmermann.
Rather than risk the future by squeezing a few playoff starts out of Strasburg, they attempted to bolster their fortune for years to come, effectively spreading more bets across the roulette table that is the MLB Playoffs.
That’s the thing with October baseball, you never know. From the same Grantland piece linked above:
Since 1986, 26 teams have won 100 games, but just two of them — the 1998 and 2009 Yankees — won the World Series.
Two out of 26! The Nats won 98 games in 2012 and 96 in 2014, yet didn’t make it out of the first round either year. The Braves made the playoffs 14 times in 15 years but only won it all once. The A’s have made it eight times in 15 years without even winning a series.
The point being, while this year’s Nats are as stacked as a modern team can be, they probably won’t go all the way. The best-case scenario is they win the division and get about a 1-in-8 chance of winning three straight playoff series. That was the best-case scenario in 2012, too.
The Worldwide Leader unveiled a rather cool feature yesterday, The Great Analytics Rankings, sorting all 122 NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL teams by “the strength of each franchise’s analytics staff, its buy-in from execs and coaches, its investment in biometric data and how much its approach is predicated on analytics.” I don’t know what biometric data is, but this is interesting nonetheless, at least as it pertains to our favorite teams.
We’ll start with the good. The Nats and O’s are both labeled as “believers,” meaning they rank somewhere in the top half among MLB teams. For the O’s, it’s thanks to “GM Dan Duquette, manager Buck Showalter and pitching coordinator Rick Peterson, all of whom are respected for their analytical thinking,” though “they need a more coherent, holistic approach and a stronger investment to compete with division rivals Tampa Bay, Boston and New York.”
When your team hands out the second largest contract for a pitcher in history, as they did when they signed Max Scherzer to a $210 million deal today, it takes some time to wrap your head around it. Especially when your team already has the best rotation in baseball. And especially especially when what your team desperately needs is more offense.
So, what to make of all this? After consulting Twitter and reading the Internet, here’s my best attempt at figuring it all out.
1) Max Scherzer is Jordan Zimmermann’s replacement
The Nationals knew that Zimmermann only has one more season in Washington. He’s a free agent after this year, and all signs point to him leaving town. Specifically, the two sides being unable to reach a long-term deal before last season, instead settling for a two-year band-aid. So, they signed his replacement a year early to a deal that is likely similar to what ZNN will get on the open market. (And this is to say nothing of the fact that Doug Fister is also a free agent after this season.)
2) Trading Jordan Zimmermann is the ideal scenario
Now that Scherzer has been signed, their best case is to trade Zimmermann and get a bat in return. He’s gone anyway, might as well get something for him. And that sounds great, but that two-year deal he signed is backloaded. The Nats would need to find a trading partner willing to take on the $16.5 million ZNN is owed in 2015 with no guarantee of being able to secure him beyond that.
I’m not sure if this is actually an *annual* ranking of the five major D.C. pro sports teams, but it is a nice time of year to do such a thing.
5. Washington Redskins
As Tom Boswell so kindly points out, the past two Redskins seasons were the franchise’s worst since 1961. Incredible.
But! Short of Dan Snyder selling the team, the best possible thing that could happen just happened: They finally hired a real GM. And a highly regarded one to boot!
Of course, he has a drinking problem, and this is the Redskins. Our enthusiasm is curbed by hopelessness. Continue reading
We were going to do a Winners & Losers-style post for the NL East champs, but I think this is a little more inclusive. There’s not much rhyme or reason to it, other than ranking the players based on who made the most positive impact this year. Enjoy.
40. Taylor Jordan — Was a member of the Opening Day rotation (filling in for Doug Fister), then went 0-3 with a 5.61 ERA in five starts before going down to the minors and then getting shut down because of an elbow injury. Also gave up Albert Pujols’ 500th HR. Tough year.
39. Jeff Kobernus — Didn’t hit much in the minors and went hitless in six at-bats for the Nats. Not sure what he was doing up there.
38. Greg Dobbs — I’ll be honest, I do not remember Greg Dobbs. Apparently he was a pinch-hitter in May and June.
37. Taylor Hill — Again, I don’t recall the Taylor Hill experience. Looks like he pitched well at AAA, though.
36. Xavier Cedeno — September call-up saw some middle-relief action. Was somewhat dominant at AAA Syracuse (13 K/nine innings).
35. Sandy Leon — This was his third year as a backup/third-string catcher for the Nats, and he’s only 25 years old. I would’ve guessed 35.
34. Nate McLouth — After two decent years in Baltimore, batted .173 without power in 139 at-bats. The Nats owe him another $5 million in 2015. Ouch.
Sometimes we republish stuff on this blog from the first iteration of Mr. Irrelevant, which was hosted by AOL Journals and is no longer available on the Internet. This is one of those cases, as I don’t feel like writing about the Nats’ NLDS loss to the Giants. Instead, let’s remember their first night in D.C. This was originally published April 15, 2005.
My family has lived in northern Virginia a long time, and my grandfather used to take my dad and his brother to RFK to watch the Senators in the ’60s. They’d sit in the leftfield cheap seats, where Hondo Howard hit ’em. Those trips to the ballpark almost certainly instilled in them a love for the game that runs through me today. But of course, the only pro baseball I’ve ever known is an hour north in Baltimore. Until last night.
In what (I hope) will become commonplace, I left work early, hopped on the Metro and emerged 15 minutes later outside RFK, just as we had a decade ago for Redskins games. The atmosphere was palpable: protesters shouting, fireworks exploding and fighter jets overhead. People were generally smiling, talking to strangers and happy to be back in the business of baseball.
Once inside, I felt like the kid my dad probably was all those years ago. I had butterflies when Livan Hernandez split the strike zone with his first pitch. As twilight turned to moonlight, we were giddy when the Nats plated their first runs and the RFK box seats bounced like they used to. I even cried a little when Vinny Castilla launched a big fly over the leftfield wall.
My thoughts were with Grampsie, who passed yesterday. He went peacefully, which is not how baseball returned to D.C. Opening night was filled with excitement, good humor, great fortune. It didn’t matter that the stands ran out of ice and hot dogs; Grampsie would have loved it. I know I did. It felt like home.