July 23, 2013

Salvage Operation

Rick Eckstein was done in by Danny Espinosa, Denard Span and injuries that led to the most hilariously awful collection of reserve hitting performances imaginable.

The not-so-secret truth behind the 2013 Washington Nationals offensive futility is that most of their everyday players are having good, in some cases very good, seasons. Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth are both having near great seasons that have been truncated by repeated trips to the DL. Wilson Ramos has likewise been legitimately great, when he's been healthy enough to play.  Ian Desmond is building on his breakout 2012, and Ryan Zimmerman has been very solid (at least with the bat) all season. Adam LaRoche has unsurprisingly not come close to replicating last season's success, but he hasn't been a drag on the offensive either, apart from his traditional difficulties with left handers, and grounding into a team-leading 11 double plays.

That leaves Espinosa, Span, and the vast airless void that is the Nationals' bench.  Giving 167 plate appearances to Espinosa, he of the 158/193/272 slash line, isn't the sole cause of the team's offensive woes, but it made a significant contribution to the size of the hole. Backup 2B Steve Lombardozzi's 235/247/294 performance didn't exactly cry out for additional playing time either. The promotion of Anthony Rendon seems to have stanched the bleeding for the time being, but real damage was done.

Denard Span's .262 batting average and .319 on base percentage aren't insupportable from a very good defensive center fielder, but they're inexcusable from a leadoff hitter who has accumulated the 2nd most plate appearances on the team. What's more, Span has simply (and suddenly, given his career numbers) been unable to hit left-handed pitching at all this season, but has only recently been platooned versus lefties.

Enough ink has been spilled on the collective troubles of the Nats' bench, so suffice it to say that sacking the lot of them and replacing them with 5 starters from the AAA squad probably wouldn't be a downgrade. There's too much water under the bridge to realistically expect the team to compete either for the division or wild card at this point, but that's no reason not to maximize their offensive potential going forward. With that in mind, a modest lineup reorganization proposal to help the Nationals stop sucking quite so much:

vs. RHP                                     vs. LHP

CF  D. Span                               2B  A. Rendon
RF  J. Werth                               RF  J. Werth
LF  B. Harper                             3B  R. Zimmermann
SS  I. Desmond                           SS  I. Desmond
3B  R. Zimmerman                       C   W. Ramos
1B  A. LaRoche                           LF  S. Hairston
2B  A. Rendon                             CF  B. Harper
C   W. Ramos                              1B  T. Moore

The starters actually hit right-handed pitching pretty well, so the only adjustments to be made would be to get the on-base guys higher in the lineup, and break up the lefties and righties a bit.  The lineup versus right-handers is dangerous, top-to-bottom.  It's pretty clear that the problem comes against left-handed pitching. Span and LaRoche are out entirely, Harper drops way down, and Rendon leads off more or less by default. The middle of the order is solid, but the bottom third has mostly been a black hole this season. Add in the fact that none of the bench bats can be counted on to contribute in key spots, and you get a team that is 3 games under .500 and trending down.

There you have it, a nickel's worth of free advice for new Nationals hitting coach/sacrificial lamb Rick Schu. By the numbers, there's no reason that the Nationals should not have a better than league average offense going forward. Not that that'll be much comfort to the team or its fans, who had such grand dreams for 2013.

January 29, 2013

The *Unofficial* Statement From Mike Rizzo

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu... uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge.

Which translated for polite company reads: “The issue is currently being reviewed by Major League Baseball and it would be inappropriate for the Nationals to comment until that review is completed.”

November 13, 2012

Public Service Announcement

I'm not in the habit of re-posting press releases from the Nationals, but this is  an issue that touches NTP directly, as I have family in central New Jersey still struggling with the after effects of Sandy and the follow on Nor'easter.

Lombardozzi Family Teams Up with the Nationals and JK Moving Services
to Support Storm Relief Efforts

Fans may donate items throughout the week at Nationals Clubhouse Team Stores and Our Lady of Good Counsel High School

WHAT: Washington Nationals infielder Steve Lombardozzi Jr. and his father, 1987 World Series champion Steve Lombardozzi Sr., have teamed up with the Nationals and JK Moving Services, the team’s Official Mover, to support relief and recovery efforts in the areas devastated by Superstorm Sandy. 

Beginning today, fans are encouraged to bring donations to the Nationals Clubhouse Main Team Store at Nationals Park from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. through Friday (November 13-16). Nationals Clubhouse Team Stores at Tysons Corner and Dulles Town Center will also be accepting donations from 10:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. today through Saturday (November 13-17) and 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday (November 18). * All those who donate items will receive 15% off their purchase on full price merchandise at any of the Team Store locations.

Additionally, donations are being collected at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in the front office and in the Kane Center Gym Lobby Tuesday through Sunday (November 13-18). The Lombardozzis and JK Moving Services will deliver the collected items in a donated 35-foot long JK truck to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey in Hillside, N.J. on Tuesday, November 20. 

Items most needed at this time include:
·         Canned foods including soups, stews, chili, tuna, peanut butter and canned milk (pop-top preferred, but please avoid glass containers)
·         Bottled water - one liter or smaller bottles for easier transport
·         Powdered milk, baby formula and bottles
·         Personal care items including disposable diapers, soap, wipes, toilet paper, first aid kits and feminine products
·         Household items including garbage bags, zip lock bags, paper plates and cups, plastic utensils, duct tape, matches, batteries, flashlights, disinfectant and cleaning materials
·         Disposable charcoal grills and charcoal
·         New blankets and sleeping bags

In addition to these efforts, MLB and MLBPA jointly contributed $1 million to organizations helping communities devastated by Superstorm Sandy. Additional information is available at www.mlb.com/sandyrelief.
            Nationals Clubhouse Main Team Store
               Nationals Park Center Field Gate at Half & N Street, SE, Washington, DC      
            Tuesday, Nov. 13 to Friday, Nov. 16: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.       
            Nationals Clubhouse Team Stores – Tysons Corner & Dulles Town Center
               1961 Chain Bridge Rd. Suite E-5U, Tysons Corner, VA  & 21100 Dulles Town Circle, Suite 156 Dulles, VA              
               Tuesday, Nov. 13 to Saturday, Nov. 17: 10 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
            Sunday, Nov. 18: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
               Our Lady of Good Counsel High School
               17301 Old Vic Blvd., Olney, MD 
            Tuesday, Nov. 13 to Friday, Nov. 16: 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. in Front Office; 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.      in    Kane Center Gym Lobby
               Saturday, Nov. 17 & Sunday, Nov. 18: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. in Gym Lobby
# # #

Kudos to the Lombardozzis, JK Moving, and the Nats. If you can donate, please do.

July 12, 2012

I'll Take Three

Via D.C. Sports Bog (& the Nationals), behold your Michael Morse bobblehead:

Yessir, I'll be getting one (or two... possibly three) of those. Kudos to PNC on some fine bobble-heading. All that's missing is a  "Beast Mode" t-shirt and a little button you can press to play "Take On Me".

I just hope that Morse's early season lat strain was the only manifestation of The Curse of the Nationals Bobblehead, a mysterious affliction that has already felled Chad Cordero, Jose Guillen, Fat Screech, Dmitri Young, Nyjer Morgan, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman (twice) and Stephen Strasburg (preemptively) to name but a few.

July 8, 2012

Happy Birthday to Us!

Turns out we're not dead, just extremely lethargic. Plus, a competently run winning organization just doesn't pique our morbid fascination the way the old Trader Jim/Sideshow Stan carnival used to do. Still, never let it be said that we won't bestir ourselves for a little self-congratulatory back-patting.

Nats Triple Play premiered this very day in 2005, and honestly it sorta marked the tail-end of that inaugural team's magical run. So... yeah... let's not talk about that. Here's to hoping this year's second half is considerably less anti-climactic. No promises that we're going to be particularly more active, but be assured that we are watching, and waiting with bated breath to see who gets to be the 2012 version of Preston Wilson and Junior Spivey. (My money was on Marlon Byrd and Orlando Hudson, so I'm out of the betting pool.)

So, once again, happy birthday to us, and happy all star break to the NL East-leading Washington Nationals.

February 21, 2012

Nate's Nats Notes - 2/21/12

So much for doing these periodically to keep on top of the smaller news items as they trickle out. Since last we spoke the Nationals have added Edwin Jackson and Brad Lidge, subtracted Mike Cameron, seen all but 3 players report to Spring Training well ahead of the full squad deadline, and gotten injury updates on the only two really injured Nats, 1B Chris Marrero and reliever Cole Kimball, neither of whom will be doing anything but rehabbing in Viera.

We've also gotten the obligatory feel-good quotes from a post-TJ Stephen Strasburg and a post-post-abduction Wilson Ramos. In other words, the early Spring Training non-news is in mid-season form. So let's get to it:

With a Long Enough Lever and a Firm Place to Stand... You Probably Still Won't Move Ryan Zimmerman Off Third Base - All-Star and Gold Glove winner Ryan Zimmerman quite understandably doesn't feel compelled to volunteer for a position change just because the Nationals drafted standout college 3B Anthony Rendon in the first round last year. I've always been surprised that there's a contingent of Nats fans that considers Zimm's move to 1B to be an inevitability, and sooner rather than later. Yes, he's had some injuries and having to develop a new throwing motion in mid-season was hair-raising, but the RZA is still one of the best there is at the hot corner, and at all of 27 years old there's no reason to think he'll be on the downside of his career any time soon.

Whether that career will continue to be in Washington remains an open question, with Ryan holding firm on a Spring Training deadline to complete a contract extension, and both sides saying nice things about wanting to get a deal done. Of course, just because Ryan doesn't want to talk once the games count, that doesn't mean that his agents and Mike Rizzo can't still spitball ideas back and forth. If they can come up with something that meets Zimm's parameters, an in-season extension should be cause for celebration, not disruption.

Rendon, for his part, is saying all the right things about keeping his head down, soaking in the big league experience and playing wherever Davey Johnson tells you to play.

I Switched to No. 20 to Honor Andrew Jackson - Speaking of Anthony Rendon, according to the Nationals.com official 40-man roster, he'll be wearing #6 this season, aka the number formerly worn by shortstop Ian Desmond. Desmond claims that he has no connection to the number and switched to #20 to honor Frank Robinson and Barry Sanders. That's all fine and good, but if he didn't make the rookie pay for his old number, he missed the boat.

Cameron's Latest Disaster Epic - You could say that Mike Cameron's retirement threw the Nats' CF situation into disarray, except that might lead you to believe that there has been a point in the last eight seasons when the Nats' CF situation wasn't in disarray. 

Harper spills some digital ink on the topic over at Nationals Baseball, and it's well worth a read. Short version: In eight seasons this team has been unable to identify and retain a centerfielder who can simultaneously hit and field competently without alienating his teammates and/or coaches, GM or owner. And that doesn't look likely to change in 2012.

160 And/Or Bust - From the beginning of his rehab it's been widely assumed that Stephen Strasburg will be on an innings-limit for 2012, and that limit will be approximately 160 innings (the Jordan Zimmermann Plan). What wasn't known was whether the team would try to tweak Strasburg's workload either by holding him out to start the season, going to a 6-man rotation, or some other shenanigans. Apparently the answer is a resounding "No". Strasburg will start the season in the rotation, pitch his 160-or-so innings, and take a seat.

Of course, should the S.S. Franchise feel the slightest discomfort or experience the tiniest setback, you'd better believe he'll be in extended Spring Training faster than you can say ulnar collateral ligament. But he survived his first bullpen session, so he's got that going for him, which is nice.

January 10, 2012

The Worst-Case Scenario Opening Day Roster

The Nationals' off season to date has been characterized by a marked lack of activity on the position player front. No major free agents (Sorry, Mark DeRosa does not qualify as a blockbuster signing.), no "big" trades; lots of sound, very little fury (apart from certain quarters of the fanbase). Signifying what, exactly?

Unlike seasons past, when the plan for the winter was less roster upgrade than roster overhaul, the Nats approach 2012 with relatively well-defined needs. Foremost among the holes to be filled, a centerfielder and a lead-off hitter, either separately or all in one player. The free agent market for lead-off hitting centerfielders was less than impressive even before Grady Sizemore re-signed with Cleveland, and Coco Crisp is a cereal, not a solution.

Remaining free agents like Cuban Yeonnis Cespedes or trade targets like B.J. Upton are centerfielders, but not classic leadoff hitters. And now the jungle drums are rumbling that Mike Rizzo may wait until 2013 to upgrade the outfield, even as Buster Olney suggests that the team may be eyeballing ex-Nat Marlon Byrd in the Cubs on-going fire sale. And all of this leaves aside the looming, ever-expanding profile of the Prince of Milwaukee, Wisconsin's very own Hamlet. "To be or not to be?" is indeed the question, but not one we're concerned with today.

Today we're looking at the Opening Day 25-man roster as though the franchise was frozen in time on January 10, 2012. No more bench bats or bullpen arms, only what Mike Rizzo has to work with as of right this moment. With that in mind, I give you your 2012 Washington Nationals:

Starting Pitchers: S. Strasburg (R), G. Gonzalez (L), J. Zimmermann (R), C. Wang (R), J. Lannan (L)

First Thoughts - Easily the best rotation since baseball returned to Washington, DC. Three potentially legitimate top-of-the-order starters, and the 4/5 pitchers are slotted below their ability.

Relief Pitchers: D. Storen (R), T. Clippard (R), H. Rodriguez (R), S. Burnett (L), R. Mattheus (R), T. Gorzelanny (L), R. Detwiler (L)

First Thoughts - This bullpen could easily be as good as the 2011 version, but in a perfect world one of the lefty long relievers would be swapped for a right-hander and there'd be one more veteran arm to support the youngsters.

Starting Eight: W. Ramos (C), A. LaRoche (1B), D. Espinosa (2B), R. Zimmerman (3B), I. Desmond (SS), M. Morse (LF), M. Cameron (CF), J. Werth (RF)

First Thoughts - If there were an award for Comeback Lineup of the Year, the Nationals would be strong contenders. The team will need bounce back years from LaRoche, Zimmerman, Desmond & Werth to stay competitive. The inclusion of ageless Mike Cameron shines a harsh spotlight on the Nats' on-going struggles in centerfield.

Bench: J. Flores (C), M. DeRosa (UTIL), S. Lombardozzi (INF), R. Bernadina (OF), C. Tracy (UTIL)

First Thoughts - Equal parts question marks and potential, but if the season started today the bench would once again be a weakness. If Flores and DeRosa have overcome their injuries they'll be solid contributors, but it's unreasonable to expect too much from the rest.


The Nationals have made tremendous progress and fans have every reason to hope for a winning record in 2012, but significant holes remain, and there's no clear-cut path to filling them. Thank goodness Mike Rizzo still has 40 days until pitchers and catchers report to fine-tune his team.

N.B. - There is one glaring absence from the Opening Day roster, a Mr. Harper. First, please observe that this is The Worst-Case Scenario Opening Day Roster. Second, slotting Bryce Harper in as the Opening Day rightfielder and pushing Jayson Werth into center may nominally resolve some questions, but it's not a panacea. Harper's presence in the starting lineup creates problems of its own. But that's a topic for another post.