The workforce did not claim me this summer, but it did claim my good friend Steve Miller; and his hours were sub-optimal to say the least. He worked weekdays from 5PM to 1AM, and as such, he was unable to attend Our National Pastime at the rate he would have liked. So earlier in the summer we discussed the first week of August as a possible “stay-cation.” Steve and I would go to the Nationals games against the Diamondbacks and Friday against the Rockies. Well, it’s the first week of August and the plan is being executed, so Nationals Park is essentially my home for the next few days and I’m not complaining.Steve bought four tickets for Monday’s game, and he invited two humans of the female kind. One was a mutual friend from our high school and the other was a girl he knew and actually attends Xavier University (the institution of higher learning that will be educating me in a few weeks). We decided to make a day out of the affair, so the four of us went to the Newseum to take in the new Nationals exhibit on display. It had everything from the home plate in Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter to the pitching mound from Strasburg’s debut to the golden shoes donned by Teddy in his first President’s Race victory. Adjacent to the exhibit was the interactive TV broadcasting section, where visitors get to stand in front of a camera and rattle off a pre-determined script to test whether or not they have what it takes to make it to the broadcasting big-time someday. Behold what Steve and I produced:
Upon leaving, and after we stopped in at a Potbelly, we made our way to the Metro and eventually to Nationals Park.
Entering the game, I was on a 13 inning scoreless drought when attending Nationals games. I had not seen the Nationals score a run since the 5th inning of a double-header against the Blue Jays in early June after watching Zack Greinke mow down the Nationals lineup on Star Wars Day.
It looked as if the scoreless streak would continue. Doug Fister took the mound against the Arizona Diamondbacks looking to right the ship after struggling for much of the year.
He started off well but his first blemish came on a 3rd inning home run. Then in the 4th, the Diamondbacks tacked on three more behind two more round-trippers and the Nationals faced a 4-0 hole. After another run in the 5th, the Nats needed five runs to tie. Looking at the out-of-town scoreboard, the Mets were dismantling the Marlins and the Nationals were staring second place straight in the face.
On the other side, little known rookie Zack Godley continued his strong start for the Diamondbacks. He threw six shutout innings, including three perfect ones to start the game. He added six strikeouts and lowered his ERA to 1.50 over his first 18 innings.
After much criticism for his bullpen management over the weekend at Citi Field, Nationals Manager Matt Williams called on Drew Storen for the eighth who retired the side in order.
It was then Jonathan Papelbon who came in to make his home debut. His first outing at the park was not exactly endearing as he gave up yet another D-Backs home run.
The Nats were staring a shutout straight in the face, but they were not going to get shutout if Ryan Zimmerman had anything to say about it. He hit a towering homer to left field with one out in the 9th to at least get the home team on the board, and thus, thankfully, end my scoreless innings streak.
Then all of a sudden the Nationals woke up. It was hit after hit, and before the crowd that was left knew what was happening, the score was 6-4 Diamondbacks. Jayson Werth, struggling since coming off the DL, came up with one out and Michael Taylor on 2nd, but could not muster an RBI. Subsequently, Yunel Escobar flew out to left field, and just like that, the Nationals had dropped their fourth in a row and were one game behind the Mets in the NL East.
The Nationals have suffered yet another blow to their already depleted roster. Bryce Harper had surgery today to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb, an injury he suffered while sliding into third base last week. The injury adds Harper to the already plentiful number of Nationals who are out with injuries: Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, Doug Fister, Scott Hairston, and now Harper.
Some have been quick to criticize Harper’s overly-aggressive playing style, which has been a roller coaster of its own over the past two weeks. Harper was benched for a lack of hustle after he failed to run out a ground ball, and now he has found himself on the Disabled List after showing too much hustle. Harper does exhibit warning signs as a player, but as a 21 year old with relatively little Major League experience, it is obvious that he still has much to learn. He probably did not need to take third base on a bases-clearing hit as a double would have still produced the same result, but if Harper hadn’t been injured, we would be talking about how much hustle he showed and that he put his team in a better chance to add to their lead. Situational awareness also factors in when you realize that his hit gave the Nats a sizable lead, but at the same time, Harper was playing the style of baseball he is accustomed to playing.
Hopefully in the future, Bryce will learn how to corral his enthusiasm and filter it into creating a more positive result for both him and his team. Until then, we can only hope that his thumb heals quickly. And for that matter, that all the other injured Nationals have a speedy recovery.
As I’m sure most of you are aware, there is this pesky thing which sometimes gets in the way of recreational activities. School. Needless to say it has been a busy past couple of weeks since I last posted about the reaction to my push-up video, and much has transpired since then. Let’s get ourselves caught up:
- First and foremost is the most exciting news. My dad received two tickets to Opening Day at Nationals Park for his birthday, which means he and I will be taking in all of the April 4th festivities! I will be sure to take lots of pictures and report back on all the happenings. Sadly, it’s against the Barves (yes, that was on purpose), but Opening Day is Opening Day and I can’t wait to be apart of it.
- Once again this year, Sports Illustrated has chosen the Washington Nationals as their pick to win the World Series. As many of you may remember, they also chose us last year and some blamed the disappointing season on this “curse.” We will see how the year plays out and if, hopefully, they will be correct.
- From a roster standpoint, the most notable move of the month was new manager Matt Williams’ decision to send Ross Detwiler to the bullpen to begin the season. Many presumed he would take over the role of 5th starter behind Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, and Fister, but that was not to be. Rather, it is still a competition between last season’s two star rookies, Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark (pronounced Row-ark).
- Doug Fister will likely start the season on the disabled list after suffering a strained lat as Spring Training came to a close. Hopefully he recovers quickly and can get back as soon as possible. On a positive note, barring anything drastic happening in their exhibition game against the Tigers this Saturday, this will be the most serious injury coming out of Spring Training. Needless to say, the Nationals were pretty lucky in not suffering any major/serious injuries.
- On a personal note, the high school baseball season is already underway. It feels good to once again be playing baseball myself. I’ll keep you all updated on how we do as the season progresses.
Only four (4!!!!) more days until the Nats open their season away against the Mets on Monday. We’ve been waiting long enough, let’s get started.
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
Once a year, the Nationals organization provides a tease for Nationals fans; an event signaling the looming arrival of spring training and generating excitement for the upcoming baseball season. This fantastic event is called NatsFest. Many Major League teams put on fan festivals around this time, and the Nationals are not to be excluded in that count. The 2014 NatsFest was Saturday, and even though I was over two hours late because of taking the SAT, I was there nonetheless. However, the 2014 festivities were much different than the festivities four years ago in 2010; the first year of NatsFest. They were two much different scenes, so I decided to share my experiences at both.
In 2010, NatsFest was held at Nationals Park. Basically every part of the stadium was open; you walked in through the main gates, got to tour the locker room, hit in the real batting cages adjacent to the locker room, get autographs signed inside on the second level of the stadium, and listen to guest speakers such as Tim Kurkjian and George Will. Best of all, it was free and not very crowded at all. The Nationals had had a dismal year the previous season in 2009, and the fan support was accordingly low. Not saying it was empty, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the 8,400 that were at the Gaylord Convention Center this past Saturday.
We parked in the stadium’s parking lot, got the tickets we had reserved, and made our way in for what would be such a memorable experience. I saw players up close such as Pudge Rodriguez and got to have my picture taken with Ryan Zimmerman. Back then the lines weren’t so crazy, so I went back a second time and got a picture with then-manager Jim Riggleman and then-National Jason Marquis.
We toured the locker room, and as I mentioned, I took a few hacks in the batting cage across the hall. Those are the experiences not easily forgotten. The ones where you see up-close what you’ve watched so long on TV and have a new-found understanding for, in this case, your beloved team. The Nationals organization did a spectacular job in preparing their first fan festival. I did not attend in 2011, 2012, or 2013, so we decided this year it was time for a return trip.
A lot changes in four years, and indeed much has changed since that memorable NatsFest at Nats Park four years ago. As the college search is kicking into gear, I had to take the SAT bright and early Saturday morning. When I saw the date coincided with that of NatsFest I was dissapointed because I figured since the SAT was so extensive, I would not be able to make it over there in time. Luckily, the problem was solved. I raced out of the test as soon as we were allowed to leave and my dad and I were on our way to the Gaylord Convention Center with just about an hour and a half remaining. But hey, better late than never right?
We walked through the doors and stood there taking in our surroundings; looking at the vastness of the room and trying to decide what we wanted to do first. We took a lap around the Center, seeing the photo stations, the autograph stations, the main stage, and the makeshift field where Ross Detwiler was being bombarded by little kids for autograph requests. Dad and I listened to a panel which consisted of Mike Rizzo and newly aquired Nationals Jerry Blevlins and Doug Fister. It was interesting hearing them discussing their goals for the season, and Blevlins added some humor when he was asked how he could hit since he was coming from the American League. He responded by saying that he had one at-bat last season in an 18 inning game and he felt accomplished when he hit a foul ball in that at bat. He quipped that we should thus view him as a contact hitter this season.
The highlights of the afternoon for me personally were the people I got to meet. As an aspiring journalist and broadcaster, when I saw Bob Carpenter,
the Nationals’ TV broadcaster, just standing by himself, I jumped at the opportunity to finally meet him. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what we discussed because I was a little shocked, but I’m sure it was legendary. I watch the games and listen to his commentary every day, and to finally meet him in person was a fun experience. Also, a few minutes later, I saw my friends from The Nationals Archive standing in the back of a Q&A session. Over the past year I have loved reading their blog posts and interacting with them on Twitter, so meeting them gave me the chance to let them know how much I appreciate all of their work. Finally, as we were exiting, I shook hands with the one and only Matts Bats, another Nationals blogger. If you haven’t heard of him, check him out. He’s doing some pretty incredible things for being a nine-year-old. Needless to say, since college is on my mind, that kid will have no lack of things to write on his college resume in a few years.
So, all in all, even though it was only for an hour and a half, being able to go to NatsFest this year was definitely worth it. While it was different than being at Nationals Park, it was nonetheless an awesome day. I got to listen to the players, interact with people I wanted to see, and enjoy the spirit of my fellow Nats fans looking forward to this upcoming season.
16 days until Spring Training everyone…16 days.