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.
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.
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
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
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.