The scene seemed all too familiar last night as the Nationals trailed the Giants in the late innings at Nats Park. The Nationals batters had given a valiant effort against arguably the most dominant pitchers in baseball, Tim Lincecum, but to no avail, as they trailed 5-4 and turned the game over to their bullpen.
You see for the Nationals it had been simple, good hitting plus bad pitching means losing more than seventy percent of the time. All season the only way the Nationals could earn a win would be by a slaughter at the plate or an outstanding performance by a starting pitcher. For the Nats, once the game goes to the bullpen, it’s usually over.
Tuesday was different. Tuesday the Nationals bats didn’t give up, and the bullpen didn’t give in.
Trailing 5-4 in the eight the Nationals posted a six run inning to overtake a very strong pitching ball club, and earn their 14th win of the year.
Leading the Rally was Cristian Guzman who finally broke out of a long slump that had found his batting average drop 20 points over the last two weeks. Also helping out were the old reliables, Ryan Zimmerman and Elijah Dukes both providing RBI doubles in the Nationals winning effort.
On Monday night the Washington Nationals fired pitching coach Randy St. Claire and promoted Triple-A pitching coach Steve McCatty to replace him.
St. Claire was the longest tenured coach with the Nationals as he had been with the organization for the last seven years. Nats management attributed the firing to the Nationals having the worst pitching staff in the Major Leagues.
This of course is an undeniable truth, the Nationals have a league worst 5.69 ERA. They’ve allowed more runs than anyone else with 308 and the bullpen has 12 blown saves.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” acting general manager Mike Rizzo said.
But do they? Do the numbers also say that St. Claire was put in a position to fail with a bunch of nobody’s or wash ups in a bullpen without any experience? Do the numbers tell the tale of a pitching coach who was given a rotation that started the season with two rookies, and a perennial failure in Daniel Cabrera?
No, I think the numbers hide those failures, the very failures of yours truly Mr. Rizzo.
The fact is firing St. Claire is probably the worst move the front office could have made. Lets forget the fact that he was the mastermind behind the overachieving Nationals pitching staff of 2005-2007, and that he crafted John Lannan’s career. The bottom line is the Nationals at this point have only two goals for 2009:
1.Not have the worst record ever
2.Develop Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Shairon Martis, and Craig Stammen as they are the Nationals best and most fragile assets, and really the only hope for the future.
How dare the front office strip away the teaching and guiding voice of Jordan Zimmermann and the rookie crew?! Developing them is so crucial to the future of this club and bringing in a brand new, interim pitching coach will only disrupt their development.
St. Claire had a proven track record of getting the most out of pitchers, and he finally had four young ones with supreme talent to mold into future stars. Instead they will now spend 2009 adjusting instead of growing.
Someone clearly had to get the axe, it just wasn’t Randy St. Claire.
If you grew up watching baseball in the 1990’s there are certain images that will be branded in your mind forever.
Ken Griffey’s silky smooth swing and backwards hat sticks out as the epitome of what every young ball player wanted to be.
Utility middle infielders had a whole different meaning as string beans like Walt Weiss and Jeff Reboulet had careers.
Frank Thomas was the Big Hurt, Mark McGwire was Big Mac, and Randy Johnson was the Big Unit.
While most of the images from my youth are gone from the game, if not tarnished by scandal, the one that remains is the six foot ten lefty, Johnson. You can’t help but remember his flowing gold locks which trailed his 100 MPH fastball and his devastating slider.
Now his mullet may be trimmed, and his youthful ferocious demeanor may be tamed, but still he remains as a San Francisco Giants starter on the brink of history. Johnson will take the mound at Nationals Park Wednesday attempting to win his 300th game, officially capping what has been an absolutely extraordinary career.
While today he is on the brink of the Hall, Johnsons early career had him labeled as more of a gimmick than a front line starter. Until the age of 26 he meandered around between Montreal, the minors, and Seattle, unable to find the consistency to be an everyday member of a rotation. Even his first three full seasons in Seattle were marred by mediocrity. While he was retiring batters at a high rate he also lead the league in walks each year.
He was an incredibly talented ball of clay that needed an artist to mold it. It wasn’t until August 1992 where he had a long conversation with pitching legend Nolan Ryan that he found the mold he needed. The Express showed the Big Unit the way and baseball was never the same.
Johnson went on to become a 10 time all-star and record a record five Cy Young awards within 10 years. He won four consecutive Cy Young’s between 1999-2002 while winning a World Series with the Arizona Diamondbacks. In that World Series he recorded a record-tying three wins earning him a Co-World Series MVP award with Co-Ace Curt Schilling.
He ranks third all time with 4843 career strikeouts and is first all time in strikeouts per nine innings with 10.7. Johnson has lead his respective league in ERA four times, strikeouts eight, and he is the last pitcher to win the pitching Triple Crown; leading the league in ERA, wins, and strikeouts.
In 19 years in the majors he has recorded an ERA under four, 16 times, and an ERA under three, nine times. He has on his resume a no-hitter and a perfect game to go along with his two 19 strikeout and one 20 strikeout performances.
However the impact of Randy Johnson can’t be quantified in his eye-popping numbers. His sheer dominance can’t be seen by his ERA or his massive strikeout total.
One has to remember the helplessness opposing lefty’s felt every fifth day when he was scheduled to take the mound. You have to remember the terror that his early lack of control struck in batters for the next 10 years when he was one of the more accurate pitchers in baseball. You have to remember Larry Walker turning his helmet around and batting from the opposite side of the plate when a 103 MPH fastball whizzed past his head in the All-Star game. You have to remember the bird he evaporated and the ferocious intensity he displayed as a six foot ten Canadian with the hair of a redneck.
Randy Johnson should be appreciated both for the numbers he put up and the lore he brought to the game. In a time where everything turned out to be fake, the mythical giant who threw harder than anyone in history was genuine, lasting, and true.
So go to the game Wednesday night and tip your hat to the Big Unit. If he gets his 300th against the Nationals I for one will not fret, but give him a standing ovation as he deserves it. To the giant who started his career with the Montreal Expos, may his 300th career win come against his first franchise, now the Washington Nationals.
In anticipation for the upcoming series against the San Francisco Giants, The Nats Blog sat down with the top Giants blog, McCovey Chronicles. Here’s what they had to say:
The Nats Blog: The Giants are holding their own in the NL West this year but are still 8.5 games behind the Dodgers, is the team currently living up to or failing to meet your pre-season expectations?
McCovey Chronicles: I was hoping for .500, but I guess I didn't realize how tantalizingly maddening it was to win as many as you lose. But I'd say they are who we thought they were.
TNB: The Giants have a great pitching staff but are currently last in the National League in runs scored per game, who needs to step up, and what moves to the Giants have to make to start bringing in the runs.
MC: Maybe Edgar Renteria isn't done. Maybe Aaron Rowand will have one of his every other good years. Maybe Travis Ishikawa will do something at all. But I wouldn't count on any of those happening. No one needs to step up, the Giants just need a new everything. Except for Pablo Sandoval. He's cool.
TNB:Randy Johnson has a chance to win his 300th game Wednesday against the Nationals, what are your thoughts on having the legendary lefty on your team for his last hurrah?
MC: I appreciate the history, but it has very, very little to do with the Giants' franchise.
TNB:What moves do you see the Giants having to make wit the coming trade deadline to go from a .500 team to a competitor?
MC: Nothing I'd approve of. This isn't a team worth trading away prospects for short-term help.
TNB: What do the Giants need to do to be successful against the Nationals in this coming series?
MC: Hope the Nationals' pitching is even more wretched than the Giants' hitting
TNB:What do the Nats need to do to be successful against the Giants in this coming series?
MC: Realize that the Giants will swing at anything.
TNB: Matt Cain is having an excellent year and is challenging Tim Lincecum for ‘ace’ status. What can you tell us about Matt’s year this year and why has he taken it to the next level?
MC: Same level, different year. He's been a little lucky with runners on base, and he's actually getting run support this year. But he's been good for a while, and he's the same guy he was last year.
TNB:Favorite Giants memory?
MC: The Giants winning the 2002 NLCS before the strike cancelled the World Series.
Bill Ladson reported today that the Washington Nationals are not likely to take a hitter with their number 10 overall pick in the upcoming First-Year-Player-Draft.
The Nationals have already announced that they will be selecting phenom Steven Strasburg with their number one overall pick June 9th, but had been relatively quiet on their intentions for their second pick in the first round.
According to Ladson, the Nationals don’t feel there is a position player in the draft from either college or high school who is ‘first-round-worthy.’
This of course means that the Nats, who are the first franchise in draft history to have two top-ten picks, will be selecting two pitchers to be the cornerstone of a future rotation that already boasts John Lannan, Jordan Zimmermann, and Ross Detwiler. While the Nats acknowledge their minor league pitching is strong while their hitting is weak, they also are firm in their position to draft the best player available, and in this case they believe it will be a pitcher.
Ladson lists a likely candidate for the number 10 pick as Chad Jackson from Kenesaw State University. Jackson is a hard throwing junior who throws from the right side. He is a groundball pitcher who also has recorded a good amount of strikeouts.
This season he has posted an 8-1 record with a 2.54 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 92 innings, earning the Atlantic Sun Conference’s Pitcher of the Year award.
Entering 2009 Jenkins was the number two starter for Kenesaw state behind top prospect Kyle Heckathorn, however through the course of the spring Jenkins has out dazzled and out performed his teammate and has passed him on most team’s draft boards. He is considered not too far off from the Majors and a workhorse who could contribute to a rotation as early as the middle of 2010.
There will be more to come on Jenkins later.
The Nationals could also target starting pitchers Garret Gould from Maize HS or Jared Mitchell from Louisiana State University.
AAA Syracuse Senators-Collin Balester Balester was expected to make the Nationals rotation entering 2009 after earning 15 starts with the big league club in 2008. The 22 year old former first round pick struggled in spring training and proved to the Nats management that he needed some more seasoning. However, to Balester’s dismay, the Major League rotation has been completely restructured since March and despite the call up of two other starters he still remains in Syracuse.While he has struggled up north, his last three starts have been a good sign for the prospect. In his last 16 innings pitched he has allowed only 12 hits, two earned runs, four walks, and struck out eight. It’s starting to look like he may have finally figured it out and he may very well be the next call up we see for our rotation in Washington.
Despite allowing only four hits, John Lannan could not keep the Phillies off the base-paths Sunday afternoon as the Nats fell to Philadelphia 4-2.
The Washington ace threw 106 pitches through five innings against the reigning World Champs, allowing only four hits. The lefty earned the loss however by giving up three earned runs supplemented by four walks and a homer. With the loss Lannan falls to 2-5 on the year with a 4.21 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP.
While Lannan’s pitches were missing bats, as evidenced by his seven strikeouts, they were also missing the plate. Only 61 of Lannan’s 106 pitches were strikes, which allowed runners to get on base, and the Phillies to capitalize on only four hits.
The Nats batters couldn’t figure out the slow moving Jamie Moyer, who at the age of 45 earned his 250th career victory Sunday. Through six innings he shut down the Nats to only three hits and one earned run. The master of control allowed no walks and struck out four curly w’s.
The only National who could get any wood on the ball today was Josh Willingham who continued his hot streak, going 2/4 with two homers. Willingham attributes his recent success at the plate to receiving more consistent playing time, and I don’t disagree with him. In the month of May Willingham is batting .292/.407/.611 with eight homers. Oddly enough, however, all nine of Willingham’s homers this year have been solo shots.
The Washington Nationals have now lost 17 out of their last 20 games.
Right now the club is on pace to go 44-118. This would give them the third most losses in a season in Major League Baseball since 1920. It would surpass them as the worst Washington team ever as the 1909 Senators went 42-110, and it would staple them as the official embarrassment of Major League Baseball.
This wasn’t supposed to happen this year. The club was projected by many outlets to be better than they were last year, most having them finishing the season with about 70 wins.
On paper the team got better. They signed an all-star outfielder who hits 40 bombs a year, they have their starting first basemen healthy for the first time in several seasons, and reaching the majors finally are three top pitching prospects who have more talent than anyone who has pitched in a Nationals uniform. The young hitters of the Nationals should only get better with age, and it seems like Cristian Guzman is in his prime.
Then why can’t the team win a game?
Right now the Nationals Pythagorean Over/Under is -5.3. This means that even with the Nationals allowing the most runs per game in the majors, 6.33, the club is underachieving. For those of you unfamiliar with the Pythagorean baseball theorem, basically It takes runs scored vs runs allowed and creates a logical record based on the two outcomes. Disregarding intangibles, the number is usually very accurate. So according to the theorem the Nats should be 18-30, a pretty large difference.
Is 18 and 30 good? No, its not. But we’ve all seen bad teams and this club is clearly not the worst there is. They are third in the National League in runs scored per game. They have stars in Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmermann, and for Christ’s sake they have four everyday batters batting over .300 and three getting on base at .400.
So what’s causing this team to underachieve? Well that answer isn’t as easy as what is causing them to lose ball games. To start the Nationals are fielding like a triple A team. Right now they rank first in the majors in errors with 48 and are on pace for 162 team errors on the year. Another obvious reason for the Nationals losing is their ineptitude on the pitchers mound. The starters are young and learning, the bullpen is just awful and despite their poor track record, they seemingly are jinxed in the 9th inning.
So how does this happen, how does a team that on paper should be winning at at least a reasonably higher rate end up this bad? How does a ball club that invested in becoming better in the winter of 2008, become so much worse?
Two words: Manny Acta.
It’s hard to put much value in a manager in Major League Baseball. Most statisticians have proven that they really have a minimal impact on a winning ball club because most make the textbook decision regardless of the situation because it is almost always the right one. Often overlooked however is the importance of a manager on a bad team.
The Nationals, much like the Rays were in 2008, or the Tigers in 2006, are desperately in need of some sort of direction. Whatever the message is in the Nationals clubhouse is clearly the wrong one, it is causing unprofessionalism, poor performance, and quite frankly, choking.
To be honest it probably doesn’t matter what message is sent in the Nationals clubhouse, the most important thing however is that the message change. Regardless of anyone’s feelings for Manny Acta, the current plan is clearly not working. It is stale, it is dying.