Ah, it’s that time of the year again. The Midsummer Classic is right around the corner, but before the first pitch of the All-Star Game is thrown, there is business to attend to. The night before the game, tomorrow night, eight of Major League baseball’s most powerful sluggers will convene in one place to showcase their skills in baseball version of the Feats of Strength.
Last year, the format changed and made the derby incredible. In a sport not subject to a time limit, a hitting clock was instituted and produced and unforgettable event. It will be a tough task to follow up that performance, and if you missed it, check out the final round below.
I wrote a long post previewing last year’s derby (you can check that out here). Turns out, maybe I do know a thing or two about this game, as I ended up predicting all but the final round correctly (hometown hero Todd Frazier had to come in here and spoil things…).
Here are the eight competitors that will swing for the fences:
Before I break down the match-ups, I’ll give a little bit on the stadium.
The park currently sits in 18th place for most home runs hit during the 2016 season, with 101 pitches being deposited over the fence to this point. That comes out to just about 2.24 home runs per game, and Melvin Upton Jr. has the longest homer there of the season at 462 feet.
As far as being designated as a “pitcher’s park or a hitter’s park,” it has generally be known as a pitcher’s park over the years. The fences are fairly distant: Left-Field Line: 336 feet, Left Field: 357 feet, Left-Field Alley: 401 feet, Center Field: 396 feet, Right-Field Alley: 400 feet, Right Field: 382 feet, Right-Field Line: 322 feet.
The one thing of note though, is that the fences are not very tall; about eight feet all the way around. Now we can take a look at the match-ups.
Mark Trumbo vs. Corey Seager
Mark Trumbo is on pace to hit 53 home runs this season and become the fourth player to hit 50+ homers in the first year with his new team. The Oriole has 159 career dingers, and only one has come at Petco. The right-handed batter has 28 so far this season. All but 29 of his career homers have been between the left field foul pole and center field.
Corey Seager made his debut late last season, and hit four homers. This year, he has 17 before the break. There is some concern, though, about him possibly damaging his swing as he attempts to help the Dodgers make a playoff run in the second half of the season. Many players have voiced these same opinions as their reasoning behind holding out, but Seager will dive head first into this year’s derby.
Prediction: I have to give the edge to Trumbo here. One, he’s been absolutely mashing this year, and two, he’s done this before (2012 in Kansas City).
Adam Duvall vs. Will Myers
Adam DuvALL-Star. Catchy, right? The Cincinnati Reds’ left-fielder has been one of the few bright spots for the last place team, as he has just been crushing the ball in the all-too-hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. Duvall only played in 28 games in 2014 and 27 in 2015 as compared to the 82 games he has already played in this year. He has 23 home runs, a substantial improvement from the combined eight over the last two years.
It is becoming customary to have at least one player from the home team compete in their home run derby. This year, Wil Myers will represent the Padres and take some hacks. The former Tampa Bay Ray (did he swim from Tampa to San Diego?) has 19 home runs to date, already surpassing his previous season-high of 13. Of Myers’ 46 career homers, only 16 have been at Petco.
Prediction: Sorry home crowd. Don’t be too upset! Your city still produces more avocados than any other place in the United States. However, you’ll have to celebrate that after the first round, because Adam Duvall will take care of Wil Myers.
Todd Frazier vs. Carlos Gonzalez
Todd Frazier only hit 10 home runs during the entire 2014 Home Run Derby in Minnesota, yet he found himself in the final round squaring off against Yoenis Cespedes who won with a total of 28 homers. One could say Frazier used the system, but one could also say he just did what he had to do. Then last year, Frazier hit 14 in the first round alone, and finished with 39 total. This season, he has 25 round-trippers already, nearly to his season total of 35 from a season ago.
Carlos Gonzalez was a bit of a dud in the 2012 derby, only hitting four. As far as season totals are concerned, he’s way up there. CarGo hit 40 homers last year and is on his way to about the same this year, sitting at 18. Maybe that derby was an exception? Or maybe he just isn’t accustomed to hitting like this. We’ll see.
Prediction: It’s really hard to pick a champion. Two years ago, Todd Frazier nearly won the whole thing without hitting many homers at all. Last year in his home city, Frazier hit a buzzer-beating homer to keep his hopes alive. This is the biggest toss-up of the first round, but I picked against Frazier to win in the final round last year and I’m not going to pick against him in the first round here. Frazier gets it done.
Robinson Cano vs. Giancarlo Stanton
Unlike Bryce Harper, who has stated that he has no interest competing in the Home Run Derby, baseball’s most powerful hitter readily finds himself in the contest for the second time in three years. I was excited to see Giancarlo Stanton mash at Great American last year, but after he wore a pitch off the face in Milwaukee, it took a little more time to heal than just rubbing some dirt on it and running to first.
Nevertheless, Stanton is back at it again, this time in San Diego. Remember the last time he was in the derby?
Look, Stanton is must-see TV. When he or Bryce Harper steps to the plate, you turn on the respective game because you never know what one of them is going to produce. Some of Stanton’s shots are laser beams that get out quicker than Kim Kardashian from her first marriage, and others are moonshots that are so high up they feel blessed. His swing was built for the home run derby and the home run derby was built for him. Giancarlo, do not let us down.
Cano hit 32 home runs in the 2011 derby en route to the title. He hit 28 home runs that season, then 33 in 2012. He only hit 21 all of last year, but he already has 20. The left side of this bracket is loaded with talent.
Prediction: Not only has Robinson Cano been there before, he’s won it before. However, Giancarlo Stanton had not yet burst onto the national landscape with his magnificent displays of power; his shock and awe factor nearly unmatched throughout the league. This is my bet for the best first round pairing, but I think Stanton moves on.
We move into hypotheticals now!
Trumbo vs. Stanton
This is one of those pairings where you wish it came in the final. Unless there’s a serious flop or a crazy surprise, these two meeting for a chance to go to the finals is a pretty solid bet. They both hit baseballs really, really far, but I think Stanton will hit more baseballs really, really far.
Frazier vs. Duvall
Hey Reds fans check it out! Your former star vs. your current star! If only the home run derby could happen everyday, right? Well, I think Duvall goes on to the championship round. I’m fully prepared to see Frazier bust my bracket for the second straight year, though.
Stanton vs. Duvall
Here is to hoping that Giancarlo Stanton does what fans are so hoping he will do, and that is to obliterate baseballs and shatter records. Should Duvall get to this point, I think he could put up a good fight, but in the end it’ll be Stanton.
Do you want to try it out for yourself? Fill out a bracket for the chance to win some serious dough by clicking here.
As freshman year at Xavier University has come to a close, people are asking me when I’m going to be able to make it back to the great land of Northern Virginia. While I might make it back for a quick weekend sometime soon, I’ll be here in the Queen City for the summer. So, I just wanted to throw out a quick post wrapping up the year at Xavier and setting the scene for what should be an exciting summer, both personally and for the Nationals.
Before I get into some Nats news, here’s what I’ve been up to over the last year. I did the sports report for Xavier News periodically…
Additionally, I did play-by-play for several home baseball games for Xavier, who by the way won the Big East regular season championship and begin play in the Big East tournament tomorrow.
This summer, I landed a spot doing play-by-play via internet stream for the Hamilton Joes, a collegiate summer baseball team in a league similar to the well-known Cape Cod league. I will be doing the home games, as well as frequently doing road games.
Now on to the Nats, where the powers that be at ESPN have them at third behind the North Siders and the Fenway-dwellers. Do these rankings really mean anything? Nope. But, one thing noted under the Nats’ wrap-up stands out; Scherzer, he of the 20K game, has the highest ERA on the team at 3.80. Bryce seems to have come back down to Earth after his torrid stretch to start the season, but is still producing at a high level. Daniel Murphy and Wilson Ramos are carrying a mighty stick, and the rest of the lineup is starting to fall into place.
The Nats’ starting pitchers have the 2nd lowest ERA, 4th lowest WHIP, and highest strikeout percentage throughout all of the major leagues, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Yeah, all of this is pretty basic information, but it’s promising to see them do so well, especially against a team like the Mets.
Washington comes to Cincinnati the weekend of June 3rd, and I’m hoping to go Friday and Sunday if possible. In addition to attending Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter in April, I saw the Reds play the Cubs two more times that weekend, including once with Steve.
I would be remiss if I did not throw this in here. The day after Arrieta’s no-hitter, I was at the game with my hall as a result of free tickets from our RA, and after the game there were fireworks of all sorts. I am enamored with home run derbies, as you can tell, and in between the end of the game and the fireworks show, the Long Haul Bombers (video from 2010) lit up the night sky, propelling neon-colored softballs well into the second deck at Great American Ball Park. What a weekend at GABP that was.
So, here’s to what’s ahead. And oh by the way, you’re always welcome to take a listen.
It has been quite some time since this page has been active, and I got to figurin’ that that ought to change. College basketball has consumed the vast majority of my sporting interests since early November, but as Bronson Koenig ended the dreams of my beloved Xavier Musketeers all-too-early in March, I have turned back to the national pastime. A great couple college basketball and the MLB make; when one ends the other begins.
I have been thinking about various ideas for this site in particular, and I will try and take advantage of whatever opportunities are available to cover the team from my perspective over the course of the season. I’m sure my good friend Steve Miller and I will have some more stories to share from Nationals Park.
It has been exactly six months (or about 183 days and 26 minutes) since the Washington Nationals last played a game that counted in the standings. Granted, it was a loss to the New York Mets, but it was a real game nonetheless. Now, it’s go time. In about ten minutes, reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper, ace Max Scherzer, and the rest of the Nationals will get their season underway against the Atlanta Braves. As the Nationals Twitter account has been promoting throughout spring training, the Nats have #OnePursuit. Many speculate that with injuries, age, and impending free agencies, the window for the Nats to win is slowly closing. Today marks the first step on this particular journey.
So, without further ado…let’s do this thing.
“Back, back, back, back, back” “That’s a five-backer!”
Chris Berman’s booming voice marks what has become a staple of the Midsummer Classic – The Home Run Derby. Some of the most powerful sluggers on the planet convene in one ballpark one evening every summer for a night that consists of mammoth blasts and tape-measure bombs. The Derby has evolved into a fan-favorite, with ticket prices soaring into the hundreds as eager spectators try to nab a home run from the stands. In an attempt to make the Derby more watchable this year, the format has been significantly changed.
Instead of the classic “10 outs” format, this year it will be timed. Hitters will have 5:00 to go yard as many times as they can. Additionally, hitters can earn extra time for the distance of their hits. If a batter hits two balls 420’+ during one turn, they earn an extra minute. If a batter hits a ball 475’+, they earn an extra 30 seconds. Personally, I think this is a welcome change, as hitters will be less inclined to take pitch after pitch, waiting for that perfect strike to connect. Also, it is following a bracketed format where the participant with the most home runs this season is matched up against the player with the least. They square-off, the winner advances, and so on.
While it is disappointing that sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper will not be participating in Cincinnati this year (broken hamate bone and personal decision, respectively), along with the two-time defending champion Yoenis Cespedes, the event still promises to be chock-full of entertainment with the A-list that is set to take part. Because of the popularity of the event, I thought it would be beneficial to provide those watching with just about all the information they could need in regards to being prepared for what they see.
First, we will take a look at the stadium.
Great American Ball Park
Located along the Ohio River just a short walking distance from Paul Brown Stadium (home of the NFL’s Bengals), the Reds played their first game at Great American in 2003. Affectionately known as the Great American Small Park due to the prolific amount of home runs hit there, Great American has seen quite a number of baseballs fly over its walls over the past 12 and a half seasons. At one point there was even a streak of 70+ games with a home run hit.
The dimensions of the stadium are relatively generous, especially to the gaps. It’s only 328′ to left, 325′ to right, and 404′ to center. However, while in most stadiums the gaps are where it’s hard to muscle out a home run, it’s only 379′ to left-center and 370′ to right center. Along with what many believe to be a breeze that blows out towards the river from downtown, we can take a look at the park factor to see just how hitter friendly Great American is. In the 2014 season, GABP (Great American Ball Park) had a park factor for home runs of 113 according to FanGraphs. This was second only to the Rockies’ Coors Field of 116. Essentially what this means is that there are 13 more homers hit at GABP than the average Major League field. For righties, GABP had a home run park factor of 114, once again second to the Rockies at 115. Lefties on the other hand were just slightly less successful, something that will be interesting to note on Monday night as the three lefties attempt to hit a ball out of the stadium and into the Ohio River. GABP ranked fourth at 112 for lefties.Many watching will be waiting to see if any balls leave the stadium. I have included video from two times that it has been done during a game. Adam Dunn holds the record for farthest home run hit at GABP: a 535 foot behometh in 2004 that promptly exited the stadium in Center field. A second 500’+ shot was recorded by Juan Francisco in 2011 and left the stadium over the right field stands (watch it here).
According to the distance calculator provided by the Reds, it looks to require about 500′ of power to blast one into the river. Hitting one into the river also means another significant accomplishment: hitting the ball into another state, as the Ohio there is actually owned by the commonwealth of Kentucky. Next, we take a look at the competitors.
#1 Albert Pujols vs. #8 Kris Bryant
It’s a match-up of experience vs. youth. Master vs. apprentice.
To be fair, Bryant hasn’t been in the majors all season to compile a larger home run total, as he made his debut on April 17th for the Chicago Cubs. His 12 home runs pale in comparison to Pujols’ 26, but Bryant definitely does not lack power. He has mashed some of the season’s longest, including this 477 footer off the Wrigley Field jumbotron. That dinger happens to be the second-longest of derby contestants; second only to Josh Donaldson’s 481′. A third of his home runs have come in the first two pitches of his at-bats. Nine of the twelve have been to either left or left center, a good indication for what is to come on Monday. He is considered a part of the new generation of power-hitters, along with the likes of Trout, Harper, Puig, and now Joc Pederson and Joey Gallo.Albert Pujols is entering his fourth Home Run Derby and enters as the #1 seed, but he has never won the event. He performed admirably but lost in the final round in 2003 to Garrett Anderson. He made an early exit in his two other appearances, 2007 and 2009. There’s more info on Pujols because of the much larger sample size, and especially at GABP. From his days on the Cardinals in the NL Central, Albert has visited Cincy and has played many a game in the Small Park, and has knocked 20 homers over his time there. Pujols has been on an absolute tear lately, hitting homer after homer; 18 of his 26 have come since May 27th. Pujols hit the 11th longest four-bagger at Great American with a distance of 477′ in 2003. #2 Todd Frazier vs #7 Prince Fielder
Todd Frazier comes into the Derby as by far and away the crowd favorite since he is the hometown hero in Cincinnati.
As Brandon Phillips slowly phases out of the game, and Joey Votto sees patches of struggle, Frazier has evolved into a face of the franchise for the Reds. Frazier knows Great American better than any of the other contestants. He knows its nooks and crannies, he knows the power alleys, and, on top of that, he was the runner-up in the Home Run Derby last year in Minneapolis. In that Derby, it seemed Todd just seemed to do what was needed in order to advance. He only hit 10 total home runs, compared to the winner Cespedes’ 28. In round 3 and the final round, he only hit 1 homer in each round.
Frazier enters with 25 home runs and with an average true distance of 398.4′, according to the ESPN Home Run Tracker. Frazier will feed off the energy of the crowd, and it will be interesting to see how he uses his home park to his advantage as he tries to accomplish what he failed to last year. Frazier holds 4 of the 20 longest recorded home runs at GABP.Prince Fielder has been there and done that. The #7 seed has won the event twice, in 2009 and 2012. He also has the fourth-most total Derby homers of all-time with 68, and he has a chance to take over first place this year if he hits a total of 10. Fielder’s 13 bombs this year have an average true distance of 411.1′. He also has 12 career home runs at GABP. *Lefty alert* Be on river watch #3 Josh Donaldson vs. #6 Anthony Rizzo
Former Oakland A’s standout Josh Donaldson has been a catalyst of the Blue Jays explosion of an offense this season. ESPN’s Home Run Tracker puts his average speed off the bat at 105.2 MPH, with an average true distance of 408.1′. Donaldson holds the longest home run of derby competitors after launching one 481.2′. His powerful swing will look to do damage as he seeks his first Home Run Derby title.The second Cub and the second lefty we take a look at is Anthony Rizzo. His average true distance is just over 400′ at 402.1′. Six of his 87 career homers have come at GABP. With a top exit velocity of 112 MPH (third to last among participants), Rizzo is also seeking his first HRD crown. *Lefty alert* Be on river watch #4 Joc Pederson vs. #5 Manny Machado
This is the power match-up I’m really looking forward to watching, and I hope it doesn’t disappoint. As mentioned in the beginning, Pederson, who made his debut late last season, is one of the most powerful young swingers of today’s game. So far this season, he holds the farthest average home run distance over all of MLB, even farther than Giancarlo Stanton. His 2o have averaged 431′ and he is also the only one in the field to have hit one 475’+. I think Pederson is the best bet to put one in the Ohio River, and I’m excited to see him mash. Here’s to hoping he doesn’t pull a Puig from last year and throw up a goose egg. *Lefty alert* Be on river watchThe Orioles’ third baseman, Manny Machado, is known more for his dazzling defensive spectacles, but he has been known to put a charge into one. While his home runs don’t always travel to the moon, he hits a decent amount. Machado has only hit one homer of 430’+ in his career, while Pederson has notched has already notched 11 of such a distance in 2015 alone. Machado does have the top exit velocity of 114.9 MPH. Predictions
For those of you that are 18 years or older and are interested in winning $5,000, you can fill out a Home Run Derby bracket by clicking here. For what it’s worth, I’ll share what I think will happen, so if you’re making a bracket, you can be sure the opposite of whatever I predict will probably happen.
In the first round, I see all four top seeds moving on. I think the only real toss-up is Pujols and Bryant, because Bryant could really put on a display, show up Pujols, and knock him out early. Just not sure this is going to happen.
I have Pederson moving on taking care of Pujols in the second round, and Frazier besting Donaldson to move on to the finals.
My winner will be Joc Pederson. While it would be fun for the Cincinnatians to see their guy Frazier take home the title, I think he comes up just short again this year. However, Frazier is the betting favorite.
Regardless of my predictions, I am fully expecting one of the best home run derbies of recent memory. It will be a sight to see these power sluggers putting their strength on display in the Great American Small Park. So be sure to tune in to ESPN at 8 PM Eastern on Monday Night. And keep your eyes out for excitement besides the hits too; you never know, one of those shaggers may make another crazy catch.
Over the past several days, I have been counting down my top five things to look forward to this upcoming season. I thought for a long time on what to pick as number one, and I finally made a decision. So drum roll please…
#1 – Fulfilling Expectations
I considered a variety of different topics for number one. I thought about making it “The Matt Williams Decision,” or a variety of other ideas, but in the end I kept coming back to this. So many people hopped on the Nationals bandwagon at the end of the 2012 season, only to be sorely disappointed in 2013 when the Nationals failed to make the playoffs. That’s why I decided the number one thing we should look forward to in this upcoming season is the Nationals fulfilling the lofty expectations set for them.
You might wonder, what are some of these expectations? Well different people will have their own expectations. But on a general basis, the largest expectation going into this year is for the Washington Nationals to still be playing baseball in the middle of October; that is, to make the playoffs. Along the way, the pitching rotation is expected to shut down opposing offenses, hitters expected to produce runs, and fielders expected to perform at the highest level. General Manager Mike Rizzo has done an outstanding job in assembling the pieces to be able to fulfill all of these expectations in their entirety. The Nationals have one of, if not the, best rotation in all of the Major Leagues. The Nationals farm system is extremely deep, allowing the team to dip down to AAA and find a player needed for a spot start in a crucial game knowing that player will produce. Also, the Nationals have acquired a strong defense to complement the pitching core. Even though you do not often see Nationals at the top of statistical hitting categories, they still manage to win games by manufacturing runs in needed situations.
It seems every facet of the game has been put together to give the Nationals the best opportunity to be successful in the 2014 season. So what might cause the season to not go as planned?
Worst Case Scenario:
I honestly would rather not think about the worst case scenario here. After suffering through a painful 2013 season, I can’t imagine what not making the playoffs would mean this year. By many standards, especially the Marlins or the Lastros (yeah that was on purpose), the 2013 season was superb. The Nats were 10 games over .500 and were fairly competitive in what has been often considered the toughest Major League division. However, the Nats didn’t make the playoffs. So when it comes down to it, that would be the worst case scenario this season: the Nationals fail to reach the postseason. I won’t go on about different ways they wouldn’t make it because there are a variety of ways they could find themselves on the outside looking in. But I just don’t believe that will happen. I’m not one to predict a World Series ring, but I will predict a playoff berth. It would truly be the worst if that were to fail to happen.
Best Case Scenario:
Now I know I just said I would not predict a World Series championship and I’m not. Not because I don’t think they can win, I just tend never to predict specific winners; it’s just part of my sports personality. I definitely believe the Nationals are a contending team with all the right tools in place to win a title, and that is why the best case scenario this year in fulfilling their expectations as an elite team would be to be to bring the World Series trophy to Washington D.C. With the team that has been assembled for them to make a stretch run, winning a title should be a definite possibility.
For now, I am just too excited to see what happens. Most of all, I’m glad baseball is returning. It has been a long, dark winter, and pitchers and catchers means Spring is on the horizon. The prospect of baseball approaching is almost too much for me to handle. I wait all winter for this day, and it has finally arrived. Baseball has returned. The world is back to normal again.
Pitchers and Catchers report tomorrow everyone!!!!
Countdown to #Natitude: 1 DAY!!!!!!
There are just two days standing between pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training in Viera. This means we have come to number two on my countdown.
#2 – Veteran Leadership
Clubhouse leaders are an essential component to any successful team. They are players who take it upon themselves to guide inexperienced teammates. They know the value of having a mentor show them the ropes in order to become a better player. The value veteran baseball players have for the team is an intangible aspect of the game which often times goes un-recognized. However, even though there is no award for Best Leader, any knowledgeable player knows the importance of having an experienced core of talent in a locker room.
The Nationals are not low on numbers in this area. Seasoned veterans such as Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth, Denard Span, Adam LaRoche, and especially Ryan Zimmerman are part of an essential make up of a contending team. They take the younger players such as Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg under their wing when times get rough. In return, it is necessary that the younger players absorb what they are told. When the team works together and helps those who are struggling, they roll along like a well-oiled machine.
While it is important that the veterans convey verbal leadership, leading by example is also beneficial.When the rest of the team sees the vets stepping up and producing, it often rubs off on the other players. When the Nats hit a rough patch, it is important the veterans step up and take command in re-directing the team back onto the right track.
Worst Case Scenario:
The worst case scenario for veterans is a tough one. It is easy, yes, to simply say that they won’t perform well. However, that doesn’t provide much insight besides something we all could have thought of on our own. I think what would be the worst case scenario in this situation is that the veterans don’t come up big in clutch situations. This will be a key in this upcoming season; to be able to win games in late inning contests when either side could steal a victory. It will be these defining moments which characterize the season for the Nats.
Best Case Scenario:
This scenario is not as difficult to contemplate. The vets take the rookies under their wing and the team becomes a unit. Everyone feeds off each other and wins come from the positive attitude as well as on-field performances. Rookies learn from how the more experienced members of the team act in stressful times, and this enables the rookies to become reliable contributors by the end of the season. I may not be stellar in math, but it’s a pretty simple equation here: if the veterans play well and lead by example, the rest of the team will follow suit and it will be one amazing season.
It will be interesting to see where the Nationals get the majority of their contributions from this season. Will it be the veterans who take charge? Or will it be the younger players who step up when their team needs them? Only time will tell.
What will be number one?! Be sure to find out tomorrow!
Only two more days…
Countdown to #Natitude: 2 days
The 2013 Nationals feasted upon the bottom feeders of the league. They went 14-5 against the Miami Marlins, 12-7 against the New York Mets, 5-2 against the San Diego Padres, and 4-3 against the Chicago Cubs. Yes, a win is a win, but come playoff time it is important that the Nationals are battle tested and ready for the strong teams they must face.
Last season they went an abysmal 6-13 against the Atlanta Braves, 0-6 against the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals, and even 1-3 against the Baltimore Orioles. For the Nats to be successful this year, they must prove their mettle against the top tier teams in the league. In inter-league play they face teams such as the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics, as well as the regular NL East power house Atlanta Braves.
How the Nationals fare this year against winning teams will show if they are a well oiled machine and ready for a deep playoff run. They have the veteran team to do it; it’s just a question of going out on the field and getting the job done.
Worst Case Scenario:
The Nationals struggle in prime games plain and simple. When push comes to shove, they bow out under the spotlight. They rely on harvesting wins against low-level opponents while struggling mightily against teams they need to beat. Even though their record shows a strong team, they cannot compete in big situations, causing them to have yet another disappointing season. A win is indeed a win, but a win against a strong team does more to improve the club’s performance than winning laughers against last place teams.
Best Case Scenario:
Even the best teams in the league are no match for the 2014 Washington Nationals. They roll through the season demolishing teams no matter the opposition’s record, and head into the playoffs with unparalleled momentum. Pitchers pitch deep into ball games, hitters lead many statistical categories, and the season goes right along with many’s expectations. Wins against quality teams are not a problem, as they win game after game no matter who they are facing. The 2014 Nats are what was expected out of the 2013 Nationals.
It is important that the Nationals perform well against above .500 teams. While wins against sub-.500 teams do count, they do not benefit the club as much as the experience gained through beating good teams. For the Nationals to be successful in this upcoming season, it will be important that they prove they can keep up with the best of them, and not back down in the face of a challenge. If they do that, then this could be a magical season.
Countdown to #Natitude: 3 days
As Spring Training nears, we come to number 4 on the countdown of my top 5 things to look forward to in this upcoming season.
4. Pitching Performances
Over the past few seasons, the Nationals have acquired a pitching staff which, when pitching at its full potential, is unrivaled in the National League. However, there were the key words: when pitching at its full potential. Young phenom Stephen Strasburg had his struggles last season in his first full year since coming back from Tommy John surgery. Gio Gonzalez showed spots of brilliance while also faltering at points, and finished the season with an 11-8 record. The pick-up of Dan Haren late in the offseason did not play out nearly to the hopes of GM Mike Rizzo. He struggled mightily the entire first half of the season before regaining some sort of success for a couple stretches following the All-Star break. Haren stumbled to a 10-14 record in his first, and what would be his only, season as a National. To his credit, he did come up big at certain points, such as getting a save in a marathon extra inning game in Atlanta, but his struggles ended up outweighing his successes. Even Ross Detwiler, the team’s fifth starter, fought the injury bug for much of the season.
The Nationals’ gem in the starting rotation during the 2013 season came in the form of Jordan Zimmermann. He pitched his way to an outstanding 19-9 record, including a complete game 2 hit shut-out; a marvel of a game I was fortunate enough to witness in person. He was also one of the two Nationals players selected to the National League All-Star team, along with Bryce Harper. Hopefully, Zimmermann’s successes last season will carry over into this year.
The bullpen also produced some pleasant surprises during 2013. Rookie Tanner Roark (Row-ark) burst onto the Major League scene by finishing the season with a 7-1 record and shining in clutch situations. Drew Storen never completely regained his pitching form after the devastating loss in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS and spent a period of time at AAA Syracuse. New closer Rafael Soriano, another one of Rizzo’s offseason signings, untucked his jersey 43 times (Soriano emphatically untucks his jersey after earning a save). We will see how newly aquired Jerry Blevlins performs out of the bullpen in his first season as a National.
Who will the surprises be this season? Will the starting rotation live up to its expectations? How will the bullpen handle the long season?
Worst Case Scenario:
Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez struggle through the season and do not pitch with much consistency. Zimmermann must once again hold down the rotation on his own and the rotation’s back end of Fister and Detwiler do not anchor it enough to fulfill expectations. Mid-season trades are needed for a reliable set-up man and the game cannot be assured when the ball is handed off to the bullpen. Starters try to push themselves to avoid having to use the bullpen, but as the season wears on they begin to get exhausted and give up runs. The Nationals sputter across the finish line due to sub-par performances by their highly touted pitching staff.
Best Case Scenario:
The rotation stays healthy all season long without many complications. Strasburg pitches like the phenom he used to be, and the 1-2-3-4 punch of him, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, and Fister end up being too much for nearly any team to handle. They dominate series after series behind quality starts from their starting pitchers, and 5th starter Ross Detwiler exceeds expectations by pitching at a very high level. The bullpen shuts down games when given the opportunity; solidifying the Nationals as a force to be reckoned with across baseball. Opposing teams cannot muster runs due to shut-down performances by Nationals pitchers and the pitching staff provides the team with a chance to win on a daily basis.
I personally believe the Nationals pitching staff will not have an off year. I do see them having their struggles at points and giving up some runs because of pitching mistakes. Overall though I feel they will be much more reliable than last season. I’m not saying the Nationals pitching was terrible last year, because by some standards it was above average, but it was not near what many thought it would be. I believe they will pitch together as a unit, giving the Nats a strong opportunity to win in any situation. The one variable will be seeing how well they can avoid the injury bug. If they can stay healthy all year with time missed kept at a minimum, then the staff will be nearly unstoppable. Here’s to hoping that is the case.
Countdown to #Natitude: 4 days
With only five (yes, 5!!!) days remaining until the Nationals’ pitchers and catchers report to Viera, Florida for Spring Training, I thought it would be beneficial to count down what I believe to be the five biggest things to look forward to in the upcoming season. Today, we start with number five:
5. Their start
There are many baseball fans who do not appreciate the first two months of the regular season. They seem to think a day game at the end of April is not nearly as significant as a night game against a division rival on the final day of the season. However, a win is a win, and the date/opponent does not appear in the standings; only wins and losses do. No team proved this better than the Atlanta Braves last season who started off on 12-1 run only to play a majority of the rest of the season at a near .500 pace. While they did finish with a 96-66 record, it was their fast start which propelled them through the summer.
The Nationals on the other hand got off to somewhat of a lackluster start compared to many people’s expectations. They swept their opening series against the Marlins before playing the rest of the season struggling to hold a winning record. It was not until late August when the Nationals started playing the type of baseball everyone had expected from Opening Day. By that point though, it was too little too late and they missed the playoffs after winning the NL East and finishing with the majors’ best record the previous season.
So the question remains, how will the Nationals start their season? Will they play lackluster baseball through April and kick it into gear as June rolls around? Or will new manager Matt Williams and a reminder of last season give them the needed motivation to produce a quick start?
Worst Case Scenario:
We don’t like to think about the worst case scenario, but as last season showed us, it’s always a possibility. Here’s how it could go wrong this year:
The Nats have a slow Spring Training and these effects carry over into the beginning of the season. Pitching is sub-par and the Fister deal doesn’t prove as effective as everyone believes. New manager Matt Williams isn’t flat on his feet and makes some risky in-game decisions which cost the team some valuable early-season wins. From there, the Nats spend the summer playing catch-up and have to make a late season run following the All-Star break.
Best Case Scenario:
I shouldn’t even call this the best case scenario. I should call this the realistic scenario; the one which, barring unforeseen injuries or other problems, is most likely to happen:
As has been apparent from his video interviews this winter, manager Matt Williams comes into Spring Training as a man with a plan. He burns a work ethic into the Nationals players and they have a hard working, productive spring. These successes roll over to Opening Day, where the Nationals rack up win after win as they march through April (see what I did there?). GM Mike Rizzo shows his executive prowess once again as the acquisition of Doug Fister proves to be the biggest steal of the winter. Batters see the ball like beach balls and knock it around the park, leading the team to win after win. They go into the All-Star break with a determined attitude and as a National League contender.
I do believe my best case scenario will be closest to the truth. While it may take some time to adjust to the new managing style of Williams, they are Major League Baseball players who are trained to adjust in between every pitch. I think they will realize the importance of a strong start and the importance of emerging from April as one of the strongest teams in the league.
So when you’re sitting there watching the game in late April or early May, and the Nationals make a bad mistake in the 6th inning of what seems to be an unimportant game, or they walk-off in an improbable fashion, who knows; maybe that mid-game decision can come back in October to mean all the difference.
For now, we just have to wait and see.
Countdown to #Natitude: 5 days