Baseball - Washington Nationals
Win Win Win. It is always great to win. This
is just the perfect start to the Nationals’ season, Washington Nationals 5 – New York Mets 3.
The game took place in the old Florida Marlins stadium called Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida. The game started with quite a few of the teal seats unoccupied. A camera shot outside the stadium showed a long stream of cars filling into the stadium that lasted until
the third inning. Finally 7,558 fans made it through the turnstiles to watch
the home team Washington Nationals. Almost a full house in a stadium that holds
just over 8,100, for a team that drew only an average of 9,300 fans during the regular season it must have seemed like a playoff
game. There is a nice area at the park with table to enjoy a few drinks while
the game is going on.
The Nationals had a good start, not a perfect game, but a good solid game. The
Nationals allowed only 5 hits to the New York Mets while getting 9 hits themselves.
There were some sloppy plays on both ends of the field but there was also some good plays to keep the optimism for
Tony Armas was the starting pitcher for the Nationals. He went two innings
and did not allow any runs with no hits, one walk and two strikeouts. It was
a nice outing for a pitcher coming off arm problems in the previous season. His
fastball was in the upper 80s but he was a little wild at first. Had a great
performance against Beltran with a 3 pitch strikeout to end the first inning. His
breaking ball was in the mid 70’s giving him a nice difference from his fastball.
He started the second inning with another 3-0 count displaying a bit of wildness.
He had good control over his breaking ball but a little high with his fastball.
Armas pitched two strong innings and set the tone for the game.
The Nats did not score in the first two innings. Guzman had the Nationals
first hit of the season with a single. Guzman a switch-hitter was batting from
the right side. Vidro was the next batter and hit into a double play. Here is
the starting line-up for the Nats –
I do not particularly like the line-up. First of all Chavez has not impressed
me enough to be a lead-off batter. He does appear quick when you see him in the
batter’s box. However, he tends to have a long swing which lengthens his
time in getting out of the batter’s box. Additionally, he is a left hand
batter that does not appear to be trying to go to the opposite field. I would
like to see him dropped down to the number 7 slot in the order.
Guzman is a good switch hitting veteran player who would be a nice lead off man for this Nationals team. The Nationals have no true lead off hitter. They are going
to have to make the best of their situation. You know Guzman is going to get
onto base and be one of the table setters for the RBI hitters in the line-up.
While we are on the topic of RBI hitters, I do not view Vidro as one of the main RBI batters on this club. I was surprised to see him in the number 3 slot. He is certainly
better suited for a number two position. With Guzman leading off, Vidro would
be the natural number two hitter. Guillen could move up to the third slot to
insure he gets to hit in the first inning. Who is the clean-up hitter for this
team? Which leads to an interesting question – why was Castilla brought
to the Nationals? I was shocked to see him in the number six slot. He is getting paid to be the clean-up guy. Although I am very
impressed with Wilkerson, I would like to see him follow Castilla in the line-up. So
the perfect line-up for me would be the following –
I would not mind if Chavez was removed from the starting line-up. Let’s
see how the preseason goes since the Manager sees something in Chavez; I do not understand the excitement.
Mike Hinckley pitched the 3rd inning getting the first two outs on ground balls. He caught the Mets’ second baseman Matsui looking for a fastball and hitting a breaking ball on sort
of a check swing to left for the final out. The single that Hinckley
allowed was a groundball to the first base side of second base. This will be
the first of two groundball singles that got through the infield in which I thought that Vidro was playing too close to first
base. Nick Johnson is a good fielding first baseman and with no runners on against
a right hand hitter Vidro should be closer to the second base bag.
Hinckley led off the bottom of the third with a strikeout at the plate. He pitched the 4th inning with not as much success as the third.
He started the inning pitching from behind before the leadoff batter Beltran singled up the center. He walked the second batter to put himself in a tough position.
The next batter singled to right to score Beltran. Mets 1 – Nats 0. Hinckley did not help himself on a come backer to the mound which he fired into the ground near second
base to allow the second run of the inning to score. After walking the bases
full and one out, Hinckley did a good job of getting out of the inning. Nothing was hit hard in the inning. Hinckley
held his composure to keep the score at 2-0.
In the bottom of the 4th we got to see the first homerun for the Nationals by Guillen. Guillen took a low outside pitch and muscled it over the right field fence.
The Nationals came right back and tied this game up. This was the best
sign for the start of the new season.
Jon Rauch pitched the fifth inning. Rauch is a giant on the mound at 6’11”. He did allow an unearned run after center fielder Chavez missed played a fly ball. The ball was a deep fly to center by Matsui to the warning track. Chavez hesitated just prior to stepping onto the warning track and was looking for the wall just before
the ball hit off his glove. The Mets moved Matsui to third with two outs. The run was scored when Hammonds
misplayed another fly ball. Hammonds
was confused on just how hard the ball was hit and stood frozen in place before a last minute jump only to watch the ball
go over his glove.
Again in the bottom of the fifth our Nationals came right back to tie the game up at three. Back-up to the back-up catcher Osik put one out of the park to left.
Osik replaced starting catcher Schneider with normal back-up Bennett out due to injury.
TJ Tucker made quick work of the Mets in the sixth with a good strong controlled inning. Tucker has been on the Expos for the last four years and has been a middle reliever and occasional starter
over the past few years. He appeared in 54 games with a good 3.72 ERA in 2004. Tucker ended up getting the win when the Nats took the lead for the first time in
the game in the bottom of the sixth.
Carroll walked with one out to get things started. Sledge came up and
hit a nice ball through the shortstop hole on a hit and run. With runners on
first and third Hammonds hit a grounder to third which was
misplayed by the Mets. Carroll came on to score; it looked like the Mets were
going to give the run up for the out on that play anyways. Nats lead for the
first time in their history 4-3.
The Nats pitching tightened the noose for the final three innings striking out 5 and allowing only one hit in the 8th. Majewski pitched the seventh striking out two.
Ayala pitched the 8th and Cordero was lights out in the ninth with three solid strikeouts to close the game
for the first save in Nats history.
Going back to the Nats offense in the 8th inning, Carroll started it off with a one out infield single. Carroll could be a good lead off hitter for the Nationals. If he could play left field that would be awesome, Wilkerson could move to center. Carroll is very active on base paths. Sledge was unable to
move Carroll over into scoring position when he struck out. Now with two outs
Hammonds put a ball into the hole left by the second baseman.
Carroll took off for second on the hit and run play. With runners on 1st
and 3rd and two outs Harris stroked a nice hit to center to put the insurance run on the board.
Some of the intangibles for the season will be the intensity of this team. What
I really liked was when Manager Frank Robinson came out onto the field to argue a very questionable infield fly rule call
in the sixth inning. It shows these young player and veterans that everything
Overall a good solid win for the Nationals and looking forward to the next pre-season game against the Baltimore Orioles
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I do not want to hear about ‘Closer by
As a past Red Sox fan I can tell you that ‘Closer by Committee’ is a bad idea. This committee idea is Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson’s plan for the closer role on
this year’s team. Let’s take a look at the Nationals pitching to
see what kind of shape the closing staff is really in. Robinson has identified
Cordero, Ayala, and Eischen as this committee of closers.
Chad Cordero - This will be his third season
in the big leagues. In the 2004 season he posted 14 saves after being handed
the closer role in the second half of the season. Rocky Biddle was the primary
closer but was unable to keep runs from scoring. Rocky was released from the
Expos last November. Cordero appeared in 69 games last year pitching 82 innings
while giving up 27 earned runs. Along with 83 strikeouts makes Cordero seem like
a good choice to be the closer. However, once the stats are broken down a bit
you can begin to understand why the closer role becomes questionable. Cordero
finished the season with a 2.94 ERA overall. Cordero’s ERA with bases empty
is 1.88, which is a good stat. For comparison, Keith Foulke of the World Series
Championship Boston Red Sox had a 2004 ERA with bases empty of 1.61. Cordero
is right in the ballpark.
Luis Ayala - Ayala is also a player in his third season in Major League Baseball, all of them with the Expos. He pitched in 81 games in the 2004 season for a total of 90 innings. He came away with a 6-12 win loss record and two saves. Ayala
had only 63 Ks for those 90 innings with a very good ERA of 2.69. He bettered
his rookie season ERA of 2.92 over 71 innings. In 2003 he was 10-3 with 5 saves. Still it is tough to get wins or saves on a team that had such poor run production
as the Expos have had.
Joey Eischen - Eischen is third piece in the closer puzzle. Eischen is
a ten year veteran who has clearly been a situational pitcher throughout his career.
Eischen is the only left handed thrower of the three and uses that to his advantage against left handed hitters. He had an erratic career since first pitching for the Expos in 1994 for less than
an inning. The next season started a transition with three clubs over four years. He found his way back to Montreal
in 2001. 2002 was his best season with a 6-1 record and a 1.34 ERA. In both seasons of 2003 and 2004 his ERA was over 3. He appeared
in 21 games last season recording 18 innings and only 8 strikeouts. Joey is clearly
not the closer for this team. The only strange thing was he horrible ERA at Olympic
Stadium last year. He had an ERA of 5.91 at home and an ERA of 1.17. If RFK Stadium is more to his liking he could see some more innings.
For the start of the season he will be a perfect set-up man to handle a left hander or two in the late innings.
Now that Eischen is eliminated from the ‘closer by committee’ role it leaves us with the two Nat Closers. Let’s do a further comparison of Ayala and Cordero with Foulke and the National
League Relief Man of the Year for the St. Louis Cardinals Jason Isringhausen. Isringhausen
led the NL Champions with 47 saves and a 2.87 ERA. Jason appeared in 74 games
with 71 Ks and allowed only 24 earned runs over 75 innings.
ERA w/bases empty
ERA w/runner on base
ERA w/runner in scoring position
ERA w/runner in scoring position w/2 outs
Saves / Blown Saves
32 / 7
47 / 7
14 / 4
2 / 5
Batting Average Against LH / RH
The first statistic that stands out for me is the rise
The first stat that stands out to me is the rise
of ERA with runners on base up to runners on base with 2 outs. Obviously the
reason you bring your stopper into the game is to keep runs from scoring. Cordero’s
stats just jump right up although it does not reflect as damaging in the blown saves category.
Ayala stats in this area are a bit better but 5 blown saves in 7 save chances is not a good showing.
Ayala has a great walk to innings pitch ratio but his batting average against (BAA) right-handed batters is pathetic. Although in 2003 his BAA against LH batters was .337 and .188 against RH batters. We will have to see which way it goes this coming year. However, if he can regain his mastery over right-handed hitters he would be the perfect match with Eischen
who is the left-handed hitter specialist. Combined with the low walk ration and
allowing only six homeruns in 2004, Ayala is a perfect set-up pitcher.
Cordero is really more primed to be the closer with a balanced BAA against right-handed and left-handed hitter. His strikeout ratio enables him to punch a batter out when the situation warrants. Both Cordero and Ayala are young pitchers and need experience. Nats catcher Brian Schneider is entering into his third season as a fulltime player and should be able to
manage the game better for these young pitchers. Although Cordero is not as stable
with runners on base, he is really the strongest of the three possible closers on the Washington Nationals roster.
The ideal situation for 2005 would be to have Ayala come in to the game first with Eischen available to handle a particular
left-hander prior or after Ayala’s rotation into the game. Then let Cordero
slam the door shut. These are young players.
You can not expect the kind of numbers and results the big name relievers are producing. Some of the wins or saves will have to come from the bats of the Nats.
Between Biddle and Cordero last year the Expos had 25 saves. Biddle had
an ERA of almost 7. It is realistic to look for Cordero to hit 25 saves on his
own with the same amount of work.
The other good thing of have a set-up closer rotation firmed up is -- it tells the club you have the arms which can
take over those last two innings from the starter or middle reliever. I think
with the proper management with these three relievers the eight and ninth innings are solid.
It works well for the starting pitchers’ confidence. The offensive
players believe if they make a comeback it will hold up late.
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Here’s the Line-up, Frank.
We are only a couple of days into spring training. Now is a good time
to blast out a tentative starting line-up for the upcoming Washington Nationals’ season.
The more I research the team the more impressed I am. General Manager
Jim Bowden has done a good job at signing and re-signing some talented players. Although,
we are weak in the managerial position and some of the coaches could hit the bricks prior to the start of the season. I am convinced the Nationals will be a solid offensive team. Last April the Expos were 5-19, just a pathetic start to a season.
I am looking for a solid start this year. Last season started with two
series each with three out of our four division contenders. The Expos ended the
2004 season with a 28-58 record against the National League East and 39-37 record against for the remainder of the schedule. Simple rule beat the teams in your own division!
For the 2005 season the National open up with 21 of their first 24 games in April against division rivals. This is a tough start especially with the first nine being on the road.
The Scheduling Office of Major League Baseball has not done the Nationals any favors this year. This is a team that needs to open up at RFK Stadium with a winning record.
They certainly have the line-up to do it.
Let’s take a look at the possible line-up by position:
Catcher Schneider LHB
First Base Johnson LHB .251
would like to see Wilkerson at 1st)
Second Base Vidro
Third Base Castilla RHB .271
Shortstop Guzman SH .274
Right Field Guillen RHB
Center Field Wilkerson LHB .255
Left Field Sledge LHB .269
Here is my batting order:
1. Guzman-Adds a little speed to start things off, may reconsider lead off spot. The Metrodome in Minnesota may have boosted some of his stats.
2. Vidro- Although he batted most of the season in the 3rd
slot, he will be a better table setting than a straight RBI man.
hitter with runs on.
5. Wilkerson-He was used as a lead-off man last year. He
is a good player but not good enough to be the lead-off guy. The five slot between
two seasoned hitters will allow him to see some good pitches. He has an excellent
eye and does not swing at pitches outside the strike zone.
very excited yet – let’s see what he can do from the 6th slot.
7. Sledge-This could be a breakout season now that he is out of the RBI position. There was too much pressure on this young player to bat higher up in the order as he did last year.
a young player that needs to focus on handling the pitchers.
Slot-We will need some lucky hits once in a while.
In 2004, the Expos scored only 635 runs. 220 runs less than the NL leading
Giants. Even worse than that it was 76 runs less than the 2003 Expos; you
can not blame the payroll on a weaker run producing team. Four teams in the National
League finished with better records than the Expos with lower team payrolls. The
Marlins had a lower salary and finished above .500 while scoring 718 runs.
Watch April, last year the Expos scored only 45 runs for the 24 games played.
Less than two runs per game are just not going to help out the pitching staff at home or on the road. A solid April will be the key to this Washington Nationals team.
It is critical for management to get the team ready to face the Phillies, Marlins, Braves, and Mets in April. The Nationals do not have the depth nor the experience to chase from behind. A solid .500 month with over 100 runs scored is a very obtainable goal for the Nationals.
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Who’s the Nationals' Daddy?
Although the Washington Nationals are playing their home games in Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Stadium, the team’s
lineage does not belong to old Washington Senators. It belongs to the Montreal
Expos. It is fortunate for us here in Washington that the City of Montreal
was not interested in supporting the team.
In 1969 the City of Montreal was awarded one of two
expansion teams by Major League Baseball (MLB). The second team was the San Diego
Padres. The Montreal Expos opened the inaugural season in a small temporary park
named Jarry Park
with seating for 28,000. On opening day, 14April1969, 29,000 fans jammed the
small park. Many hardy fans stood on tall foot snow banks outside the right field
fences on lawn chairs to enjoy the game and a cold one. For all the negatives
that had been blanketed on the Expos in the past few years there had certainly been quite a few highlights. The Expos won the division title in 1981 and 1994.
In 1981 the baseball season was split into two halves as a result of a mid-season strike. The Expos were in third place with a record of 30-25 when the league went on strike. For the second half of the season the Expos finished in first place with a 30-23 record just edging past
the St. Louis Cardinals by a half game. The Cards were 29-23 for the second place,
playing one less game due to the start date following the resumption of play. The
Expos went on to beat the Philadelphia Phillies, winners of the first half, in a five game series 3-2. The Expos won the first two home games and lost the next two at Philadelphia. When the series returned home, Steve Rogers took the mound and pitched his second
gem against the Phillies’ Steve Carlton. Rogers pitch a series winning shutout to earn his second win of the Division Series. Rogers pitched a total
of 17.7 innings while allowing only one run. The Expos next opponent was the
Los Angles Dodgers, who earned their way to the Championship Series by beating the Houston Astros. Rogers did not pitch until game 3 of the
series. He again pitched complete game win over the Dodgers to give the Expos
a 2-1 series lead. The Dodgers went on to win game 4 to even the series. Game 5 turned out to be a heart-breaker for both the Expos and Rogers. The game was tied one apiece going into the ninth. The Expos
elected to bring in Rogers to attempt to hold the Dodgers. Rogers unfortunately
gave up the winning run in the top of the ninth. The Expos were unable to score
in their half of the ninth and lost the series. The attendance for Game 5 was
36,491 far short of the 57,592 fans who witnessed opening day back when Olympic Stadium became the new home of the Expos back
in 1977. The biggest game in franchise history did not get a full house.
In another labor shortened season of 1994 the Expos were running off 20 wins in their last 23 games when a strike ended
the season and all post season play. The Expos were 74-40 on the morning of 12Aug1994,
when the season ended. 34 games above .500 with 48 games left on the schedule. That ‘94’ team had a shot for a 100 win season. 1994 was Pedro Martinez’s first year with the Expos. Attendance
for the season was poor with just over 24,000 per game. This would be the last
year with an attendance over 20,000 per game. But of course Pedro was only making
$200,000 per year in 1994, so the team could afford low box office receipts.
It was a couple of years earlier in 1991, when another Martinez
went down in the history books. Dennis Martinez, the ace of the staff, pitched
a perfect game on 28July94. It was a sad year for the Expos which finished in
dead last in the league and last in attendance with less than 10,000 fans per game.
Great play, great teams, and great players did not draw fans into Olympic Stadium.
Probably the greatest player to star for the Expos was also the most infamous.
In 1984 the Expos decided to sign a 43 year old future Hall of Fame player to help out at the box office. Well I probably should not say future Hall of Fame player knowing what we know now. However, in 1984 the Philadelphia Phillies felt Pete was getting too old.
In 1983 his average had dropped to .245, the lowest of his career. In
January of 1984 the Expos signed Mr. Hustle, Pete Rose, to a one year contract. Pete
played in 95 games for the Expos and batted .259. During his time with the Expos,
Pete collected his 4,000th hit, only the second player in league history.
Attendance was down below 20,000 per game. The gamble did not pay off
at the box office and Pete was back with the Cincinnati Reds as player/manager for the remainder of the season.
Now that the Expos are in Washington, D.C.,
I wonder if someone can get a pardon and get Pete into the Hall of Fame wearing his #14 Expos uniform.
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Sticking the New Owners with
an Expos Manager
Well, it looks like we are stuck with Frank Robinson as the manager of the Washington Nationals for another year. Unless the future owners of the team want to eat the current contract and bring in
their own manager. If Major League Baseball (MLB) is enamored with Frank Robinson,
let MLB take care of his retirement package out of their payroll or move him back to the league office.
Robinson will be entering his forth year as manager of the Montreal Expos; although, we all know the team is now the
Washington Nationals. In the first two years as manager of the Expos he winning
record of 83-79 for both years. That changed last year in 2004 as the Expos finished
a pathetic season with a 95 loss season and only 67 wins, finishing dead last.
Robinson started managing in 1975 as player/manager for the
Cleveland Indians. Let’s go back to that rookie managerial season with
the Indians. Gaylord Perry was negative toward Robinson becoming manager of the
Indains. So instead of leading Gaylord and his brother, both of whom were stars
in the league, the Indians traded both players away. Thus the Cleveland Indians
finished in 4th place in 1975. Robinson was gone himself when the
Indains nosedived early in the 1977 season.
Robinson bounced around a bit and ended up coaching for the Baltimore Orioles under Manager Cal Ripkin Sr. for the
infamous 1986 season. Ripkin was fired after losing six straight to open the
season. Robinson was installed as the manager of a team and led the team to a
record setting 0-21 to start the 1986 season.
He now has thirty years experience and Mr. Robinson has not proven to be winning manager nor a skilled developer of
young talent. Frank Robinson will turn 70 years of age this summer and his connection
with the youth of the Washington Nationals is lost generations ago. I do not
believe that players should be relied upon to provide leadership for the Nationals.
This is a style of coaching that Robinson is counting on to motivate his young crew loaded with one year contracts.
General Manager Jim Bowden had done a good job of assembling a solid team. I like the core of the team and with some community involvement there should be a
good showing at the games.
I remember late last year in November when the media was asking Robinson about coming back; he said, that he was looking
to stay on and was looking for a pay raise. I was thinking at the time, “Pay
raise, are you crazy? This guy is just in it for a little retirement bump. Is there no other person out there who would want to manage the Washington Nationals?” Let’s face it; MLB is not the best owner for the team. There was no passion to win. There was no need to win. Going back to my time as a Red Sox fan, the BoSox team owner John Henry, was excited
about the game and winning. I have not heard Frank Robinson take about winning. It is always yapping about needing more time or more talent, he is not a positive
influence during this transition to the ‘big city’.
I was getting the feeling that the Expos were becoming a spot for washed up players to demonstrate their skill in an
effort to make a comeback or a showcase for young players prior to moving on. Now
that the team is in the United States of America, where baseball is still the National
Pastime, it is time to act like a winner. A manager who had two back to back
83-79 seasons and follows it up with a 67-95 season is not acceptable and certainly does not warrant a pay raise. You can tell I am particularly irritated by even the suggestion of a pay raise from Robinson. I would not have been happy with a season with 16 less wins, which is a significant 20% swing in production. Let’s face it a manager is judged by wins and losses.
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Go Nats, who chose that nickname. If the Red Sox did not win the pennant in 2004, I still would have been a Boston fan. I wonder why
baseball fans will pick-up the Nats as their home team. It is one thing to go
to the stadium to catch a couple of games for a night out. It is totally different
to be following the team on a day to day basis. What makes a fan a fan? When you grow up in New England it is engrained to
become a Red Sox fan. What do the Nats have to do to pull you in?