Opening Night Journal

March 31, 2008

Ok, it’s overdone, and there are certainly more accomplished writers than me who write journals. But I’m sick of writing previews and I figured the best way to communicate what I felt about the game was to keep a journal, inning-by-inning as to my thoughts during the game, in chronological order….

  • Pregame
    • I’ve cracked a beer (Red Hook ESB) and I’m set up on the couch ready to go. Opening day is the best day. I should have takenOpening Day Monday off so I could watch day baseball, too.
    • The new stadium looks great, that scoreboard is HUGE. Also, I’m pretty sure HD was invented with baseball fields in mind.
    • I think the President’s embroidered name is a nice touch on his jacket – George W Bush, the W is the Nat’s cap logo.
    • That brick wall backstop could lead to some silly bounces. Maybe even right back at the catcher
    • Every year the Preseident should throw out the first pitch of the season, in DC, and the Nats should play the first game. It’s America’s pastime, it makes sense and it would be a great tradition.
  • Top of the 1st Inning
    • Odalis Perez got the first K at the stadium. It’s history! Go crazy! WRITE IT DOWN!
    • So far so good, 3 up and 3 down, I like it.
  • Bottom of the 1st
    • GUZMANIA! First hit in the new stadium goes to Christian Guzman. Think about that. Only Jim Bowden would have predicted that one. WRITE IT DOWN!
    • Hudson threw away a pickoff and Guzman got all the way to third. How often does that actually happen? I have a feeling that Nats are gonna get lucky with the bounces tonight.
    • Nick Johnson‘s hits a ball well, but what was great was seeing him run the bases without exploding. Also, first RBI. WRITE IT DOWN! [1-0 Nats]
    • Austin Kearns shocks me by hitting Johnson home. I’m not shocked that Kearns got a hit, I’m shocked about a 2 run 2 out rally. Is this really the Nats? [2-0 Nats]
    • Wow, thanks to ESPN for showing Dmitri Young in a suit… with a crooked tie… inexplicably carrying a metal briefcase. That was the funniest thing I’ve seen today.
  • Top of the 2nd
    • McCann hits the ball well and tries to stretch it into a double, and he gets gunned down by Kearns. He played it perfectly, although not on purpose, I think.
  • Bottom of the 2nd
    • Dukes hits a deep fly to center, but it’s still not close. FYI, before opening day he had 10 HRs in 184 career ABs. That is enticing.
  • Top of the 3rd
    • Odalis Perez just picked someone off? Everything seems to be going right tonight. First one at the new park! WRITE IT DOWN!
  • Bottom of the 3rd
    • Yuniel Escobar just made the first nice defensive play in the new stadium! Heyo! WRITE IT DOWN!
  • Top of the 4th
    • Chipper just laced a HR over the LCF fence. It is allegedly pretty windy here, so liners may be the best shot for HRs right now, although once it gets all hot and humid outside, I think the ball will carry.
    • First time the ball hits the 3rd base bag and stays fair! WRITE IT DOWN!
  • Bottom of the 4th
    • I like seeing Nick Johnson then Austin Kearns batting. Two batters in a row that can really wear down pitchers, that could be the difference between a pitcher going an extra inning or not.
  • Top of the 5th
    • Acta’s interview with John Miller and Joe Morgan was interesting. It’s just weird to hear a manager use the term “On Base Percentage” when praising a guy. Made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
    • Chevy Chase ACura. That unnecessary accent drives me crazy. Also, I live right there, it’s Bethesda, not Chevy Chase.
  • Bottom of the 5th
    • Mackowiak pinch hits, which makes me happy because I claimed that he’d be one of the first off the bench. And he was! WRITE IT DOWN!
    • So Perez is out, which is understandable. Remember, he didn’t have a complete spring training so might as well be a little careful. 5 IP, 2 K, 1ER – I’ll take that every time.
  • Top of the 6th
    • I don’t mind the little Chipper tribute. People don’t realize just how good he is. And for fantasy baseball, even if he only plays 120 games a year, he’s putting up MVP type numbers when he’s in. Anyway, look at his stats, he’s actually healthy most of the time.
  • Bottom of the 6th
    • Hudson’s keeping the ball down, lots of groundball outs. Not fun for us. But man, this stadium looks good.
  • Top of the 7th
    • Cool view of the batting cages from those premier suites seats. Anyone want to take me to a game sitting there?
    • When the ball is hit to RF, I have full confidence that Kearns is going to make a good play on it.
  • Bottom of the 7th
    • Hey, Joe Morgan, can you remind me again how well Tim Hudson is pitching? Oh, really well? Ok, thanks.
    • Paul Lo Duca hits the ballhard, but I wasn’t fooled into thinking it might carry over the LF fence. Not because I saw anything special, but because it’s Paul Lo Duca.
    • Racheal Ray is trying to sell me hot breakfast from Dunkin’ Donuts, which makes me want to eat it less.
  • Top of the 8th
    • Speaking of Dunkin’ Donuts… Ladies and Gentleman, Ray King! First LOOGY of the new stadium! WRITE IT DOWN!
    • When King pitches to righties, I get nervous. I’m cool with him walking the righty.
    • A flyball out to Lastings Milledge is what I think his is first play of the season. There is talk that he reads the ball very poorly off the bat, but he seemed to get a good jump on that one.
    • It’s a shame to see Gilbert still in a suit on March 30. But what a nasty pass by Blatche… Sorry, I flipped channels during the commercial.
    • Zimmerman just made a great play on what turned out to be a foul ball. I love that play. I hear he’s good at fielding.
    • So there’s an MLB 2K8 video game commercial on with Dennis Leary as the voiceover. Does he always sound this angry? He’s like Bobby Knight, he could sing you happy birthday and sound pissed off.
  • Bottom of the 8th
    • The Braves pitchers last name is Ohman? Oh, man? That could be good or bad I guess. It’s better than, I don’t know, being a goalie name Lettin’ In.
    • Joe Morgan’s talking about an Ernie Banks statue outside of Wrigley, which is a cool idea. I’d love it if the Nats have a player someday that is so synonymous with the team, and so great of a player, that it makes sense to make a statue for him.
    • I can barely hear it, but they’re playing Sweet Caroline during a break. This must be stopped.
    • Felipe Lopez comes in as a PH to show why he should be starting. He strikes out on 3 straight pitches. Well, he’ll have other chances.
  • Top of the 9th
    • Jon Rauch is coming in instead of Chad Cordero. I wonder if it’s cause Cordero isn’t ready to play yet? They say his fastball’s off, a 1 run game in the 9th maybe shouldn’t be where he comes in if that’s the case. I’m ok with playing Chief in the middle innings until he’s healthy. Meanwhile, I think Rauch gets really lucky as Chipper hits the ball hard but right at him
    • Mark Teixeira hits a double about a foot south of clearing the fence. Again, Rauch got lucky and isn’t looking good.
    • 2 outs and McCann is up, I don’t have a problem if they walk him right now with a man on 3rd an 2 outs.
    • It doesn’t matter as Lo Duca muffs it and, I can’t believe it, a run scores on a passed ball. First passed ball in the new stadium! WRITE IT DOWN!
    • Everyone got all antsy with McCann’s popup to LF. Can I give some advice here? If you go to a game, and see a fly ball to the OF, just wait 2 seconds before you decide to loudly gasp, and check out what the outfielder is actually doing to field the ball.
  • Bottom of the 9th
    • Wouldn’t this be the perfect vindication for Guzman? If he hit a HR here, Rob Neyer and Bill James would probably have that feeling that Obi Wan had when they blew up the planet. But, too bad, no such luck.
    • Wow, what a way to end the game. Ryan Zimmerman with a game ending HR! A game winning RBI! And then, the first curtain call in the new stadium! WRITE IT ALL DOWN! [3-2 Nats, final]

Well, what a way to ring in the new stadium. I enjoyed the replOpening Day Winay of Zimmerman’s homer, where they show him jogging to first and clearly mouthing the words “Get the F— outta here!” as he’s watching the ball sail. I am thrilled with the way they played today, and Zimmerman’s home run will be remembered, but Odalis Perez pitched a great game and deserves some credit. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come with him. In the meantime, I will be looking forward to going to my first Nats game next week.


New Logo, Philly Phriends, Beer, etc

March 28, 2008

A couple of things to end this last week before real games start. First of all, you may have noticed a new logo on the top. That is mostly because I have been asked, along with many other Nats bloggers, if I wanted to be mentioned on MASN’s pregame show, Nats Extra. The idea is that each day they will mention a blog or two, and what we wrote about. I think it is pretty cool that the “big media” or whatever you want to call it is acknowledging those of us who are just passionate fans writing about them for fun, and realize that we may have something to contribute. So thanks, MASN, for that. Anyway, they wanted the website’s logo to put up on TV when they talk about TNR, and I figured the old logo, with a bunch of pictures I stole from various other websites, needed to be trashed. Thanks to my computer geek friend Adrian, who does all kinds of design for a living, for helping me make my idea look much better than what I originally had.

Philly Talk

I was asked to give a preview of the Nats for a Phillies podcast. Being interviewed was definitely fun although a little weird. I answered questions accurately and to the best of my ability, and when he asked me to come up with a # of wins for the Nats this year I was kinda put on the spot. I came up with 76 or 77, which although is doable, may be a bit high. I did caveat that by saying if they could find a constant rotation. I’ll stand by my prediction if that condition is met. We’ll get Pat from Philadelphia Baseball Review to give us some input when we have some Phillies questions. In the meantime, check out my interview at the Philadelphia Baseball Review. I’m not sure if my audio is up yet, as soon as it is I’ll post a link, in the meantime you can check out site, it looks at all area teams, not just the Philies.  Addendum: The audio is up and here is the link:

Stadium Beer

I felt it was worth mentioning, despite my aversion to regurgitating other people’s stories, that the Nats WILL indeed be serving beer at their ballpark. Actually, the DC Sports Bog has a list of what the options are going to be, and I think its important for everyone to know. Some thoughts:

  1. If they are looking for a good local brew, Dogfish Head Ale has some great stuff
  2. I am looking forward to trying the locally brewed Hook and Ladder, as well as Leinenkugel Home Run Ale (if it’s anything like Brooklyn lager’s Pennant Ale ’55, another baseball-themed beer, it will be my go-to drink at the stadium).
  3. If you are paying $6.50 for a 12 oz. bottle of Corona, you… have a very different palette than me.
  4. I am excited to see what Asian beers they have. No chance they have San Miguel (from the Philippines and one of my favs) but good chance I can get the delicious and originally German-made Tsingtao, a staple of my trip to China and most of my trips to Chinese restaurants.
  5. I agree with Dan, more local brews would be fun, although I’m perfectly happy with the close to 30 brands that he has listed.

Finding the Nats

Just a reminder, if you’re looking to find the Nats, there are several places to get them. If you’re local, you can watch all the games on MASN with a handful on MY20, and MASN will be showing 40 games in HD on the MOJO network. The story’s all here. If you are local, you won’t be able to catch them on MLB.TV, but if you travel alot with a laptop, I’ve heard great things about it. Also, if you’re into the radio, you can catch every single MLB game, without blackout restrictions, on XM Radio. The nice thing about that is I believe you can login to their website and listen over your computer (hello, afternoon games at work). As for regular radio, or terrestrial radio as they say now, they’ll be on 107.7 FM and 1500 AM locally. Happy watching/listening.

Looking to the Future

March 25, 2008

With Opening Day quickly approaching I am getting myself pumped up for the season. People that live on the West Coast or in Florida always tell me I’m crazy to suffer through the winters here (and DC isn’t even bad compared to New York and New England). But it’s like we punish ourselves with cold dreadful winters just because it makes us appreciate Spring so much more. I’m convinced that’s why people from Boston to Baltimore, and thankfully now DC, seem to live and die by their baseball teams, while everywhere else it’s just another sport. But that is a topic for another day. Today, we look around everywhere other than the NL East, which I wrote about last week. This post will be pretty long, but if you just want to see my final predictions you can scroll down to the picture of Conan telling the future at the bottom.

The rest of the NL

I keep hearing that everyone likes the Cubs this season, and with such a history of dominance, why not? Seriously, the top of their rotation is just like Gaylord Focker’s portfolio – strong… to quite strong. Their lineup is going to do well, too, espcially that OF of Soriano, Pie and Fukudome. I think people will be surprised by the abilities of catcher Geovany Soto, and they’ve still got great bats at their corner infield positions.

Last year, the Brewers were the fashionable pick to make the playoffs. They started on track, but faded at the end and now I hear nothing about them. Lack of confidence in Ben Sheets’ ability to pitch all year may have something to do with it. But their bats are great – Hardy, Hart, and Cameron all could have 25+ HRs, Fielder and Braun should be higher than that. The more Sheets pitches the better, but Suppan, Gallardo, and Villanueva should be able to do a pretty decent job on their own. And the loss of Cordero will hurt, but not decimate their bullpen, and I think Gagne will recover from last year’s debacle.

The Reds, on the other hand, are a fashionable pick this year, but nobody’s ever accused me of being fashionable. I do like Arroyo and Harang, but I’m not sure Cueto and Bailey are ready to shoulder the burden that’s being put on them. Patterson doesn’t give me confidence in CF, although if Griffey stays healthy those corner OFs are tough to beat. I’m not sure Freel is going to make the whole season with this team, and for everyone who think Votto will come out and demolish ML pitchers, beware the lessons of guys like Jeremy Hermida and Conor Jackson. He may be great, but I’m not sure if he’s ready to be great in 2008, for 5 or 6 months. Cordero helps but doesn’t fix a shaky pen. I’ll probably wait a year or two to jump on the bandwagon here, after they’re no longer fashionable.

The Astros made the kind of moves this offseason that I just didn’t understand. They can hit some home runs with Berkman, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee and Miguel Tejada. But acquiring someone like Kaz Matsui who had a deplorable .240/.304/.333 split away from Coors field last year was just strange. What they need is pitching, and besides Roy Oswalt they have… Wandy Rodriguez? Shawn Chacon? Woody Williams? Slowpitch McWalkerstein?

Last year was bad for the Cardinals, and they shouldn’t be much better. Pujols would have to completely carry this team offensively, there aren’t many hitters on this team, and one of them used to be a pitcher. At least Rick Ankiel should be a great story. My friend Brian thinks that if they Mulder and Carpenter back in July, and they’re still hanging around, they have a shot. It may be true, but I don’t think they’ll be hanging around, and I don’t think both will be back and pitching by then.

I picked the Pirates to be my most improved team last season, and they improved by 1 game, so why not try again this year? LaRoche is a 2nd half hitter, but his first was ridiculously bad last year, and Jason Bay isn’t that bad either. The rest of their lineup still isn’t very good, but their pitching staff looks to be a strong young core, with Ian Snell, Gorzelanny, and Maholm all with promising futures. Matt Morris could still provide something for this team, and remember Zack Duke was once a huge sleeper prospect.

The Rockies were fortunate enough to make it to the World Series last season, and I don’t want to take away from the fact that they played the last month of the regular season like it was the playoffs. But just like the Mets will have trouble losing that many in a row at the end, Colorado may find themselves in a similar situation in Sept ’08 than they were in Sept ’07, and will have to win most of their remaining games. I actually like their pitching staff, but it’s good not great, and I think Tulowitzki, Taveras and Helton all played a bit above their heads last year. Not to say that any of them will have bad seasons, but 2007 could be better than 2008. They’ll be in the hunt for the NL West title, but I’m not sure if they can pull it off again.

The Dodgers look to be a much improved team this season, with some serious young talent. Andre Ethier, James Loney and Matt Kemp are all promising talents. Their starting pitching is good, although Billingsley could be more than that. The addition of Andruw Jones will probably help as well, but I fear that Torre will do the one thing he was maligned for (rather than mismanaging his bullpen at times) which is sticking too long with his veterans. If Torre can give his young guys the playing time they already deserve, they could contend for the title.

After just missing the playoffs last season, the Padres still still a team to consider at the top of the NL. Their pitching staff, anchored by Peavy, is impressive, as is their bullpen. The lineup has never been great, but a full season of Kouzmanoff, another year under Adrian Gonzalez’s belt, and the possible emergence of Chase Headley in their virtually empty outfield should help them contend.

The Giants are a team that will contend for the worst record in the majors next summer. Cain, Lincecum, and Zito should all be effective pitchers, but they don’t have much of a bullpen and their lineup is.. well… their best hitters are an out-of-shape Aaron Rowand, Randy Winn, Benji Molina, and Ray Durham. Off the top of my head, that may be their only hitters. It’s not gonna be pretty, but at least fans can watch Lincecum’s crazy delivery.

Another contender is NL West 2007 champs, the Diamondbacks, who acquired the second-best pitcher on the market this offseason, Dan Haren. That combo up top will put them in the hunt, and their lineup should only get better, with players like Chris Young, Conor Jackson, and Stephen Drew all hopefully progressing.

And the AL Teams

The Red Sox look the team to beat and it makes sense. There are some bad things about this team: Veritek is getting older and hasn’t hit like he used to, Beckett was incredible last season, which may be hard to repeat, and now he’s starting the season on the DL with back problems, which have been known to never really go away during a season. Also, Schilling is out until at least the All Star break (I’m guessing longer), Manny had a bad season last year (for him) so who knows if he can recover to old form, Wakefield hasn’t been great recently, they released Mirabelli so who’s gonna catch the knuckler anyway?, and Mike Lowell had a career year last year so he probably will regress. They still have a hole at SS and I think their setup man Okajima will be much more hittable this year. All that seems like serious issues, but this team will still be in great shape because of the emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz and John Lester, plus the fact that Manny had a bad season last year so if he recovers that’ll make up for less hitting from others.

The Yankees are in an interesting situation, and should be one of the more fun teams to watch this year. The trio of Hughes, Kennedy and Chamberlain all need to be effective to make this team have a shot. Pettitte and Wang are still a top duo, and alot will also depend on what they can get out of Moose and the guys who may end up having to fill in 15 or so starts – Igawa, Karstens, even Pavano. Their lineup is still formidable, especially if Shelley Duncan keeps up what he’s been doing, and they get anything out of Giambi or Ensberg. Damon is still effective despite being much maligned last year, he hit .296/.364/.450 in the second half and played great D in LF. If he keeps that up he will be great leading off in front of Jeter, although I’d like to see either ARod hitting 3rd, or Cano in that spot in front of ARod at 4th. I expect Posada to hit well, but not as well as last season – that will likely be offset by a better Abreu and an improved Melky, who turns 23 this year. The bullpen is better, too, even without counting Joba the Heat. But it all comes back to whether the young pitchers can hold it togther. By September, you could see 4 of the 5 spots in the rotation held down by guys under 25 with the mystery man being Humberto Sanchez.

The Blue Jays have cobbled together a good team. Always able to score runs, last season they pitched real well and couldn’t hit at all. They’ve looked to correct it this year adding Rod Barajas, Scott Rolen and David Eckstein. Vernon Wells will most likely hit better than last year, but it still may not be enough to contend for first. Second place, however, is well within their reach.

Everyone seems to love the Rays this year, (no more Devil in their name), and they are looking better. Carlos Pena, Upton, Iwamora, Crawford and Longoria can all hit. Bartlett, and Navarro can’t. Crawford’s lack of improvement over the last few seasons is a mystery, but he’ll only be 26 this year so he may yet get better. Their young pitching staff is what everyone loves, and James Shields was great. Kazmir has yet to show he isn’t fragile. Garza, Sonnanstine, and Jackson are all good pitchers, but are inconsistent and still haven’t posted pretty ERAs.

Orioles fans should just keep their eyes on the OF and keep saying to themselves “Jones, Markakis and Scott” over and over. Because those guys are going to keep fans from going completely insane. Guthrie looks good, we have seen Daniel Cabrera and we know what we’re getting from him. I’m betting the O’s finish the season with the worst record in baseball, but thankfully they’ve FINALLY acknowledged that adding one Jay Payton or Aubrey Huff isn’t gonna put them into contention. It was time to rebuild 10 years ago, they’re just getting around to it now.

The White Sox are bringing back some of their swagger from their championship season, or at least Ozzie Guillen is talking like they are. There is a glut of OFers yet its unclear where everyone will play, and what’s gonna happen with CF. Their pitching staff is strong but not spectacular, and I’m unconvinced they can top their chief division rivals.

The Tigers made some big acquisitions in the offseason, with Miguel Cabrera being the biggest. Get it? $153 million buys alot of cheeseburgers. They can hit, but I worry that Pudge is fading fast, Jacques Jones is more of a 4th OF now, and while Carlos Guillen can hit, he goes from being one of the best hitting SS in the league to at best a middle-tier 1B. The bats should be enough to make their pitching staff look good, and it doesn’t need too much help. Although I worry that a change of scenery isn’t enough to save Dontrelle.

The Indians are the class of the central and should continue to do well. They need Hafner back to old form in order to hit well enough, but they have strong starting pitching, especially at the top. Their bullpen still has some issues, and the sooner they move Betancourt to closer over Borowski the better, although the addition of Kobayashi (pitcher, not hot dog eating champ) should help to bolster it.

The Twins are looking more and more like a rebuilding team, and the trade they made for Santana may eventually pay off, although it wasn’t the best or second best offer on the table. Their great bullpen may see lots of action, after Liriano, who is coming off injury, I am not sure I have much faith in the rest. Morneau and Mauer are still there, and now Delmon Young is too, but other than Kubel, the other bats don’t have much potential.

The Royals are a perpetual rebuilding team but may get a chance to finish out of last place if Minnesota really struggles. Gordon and Teahan will improve this year, but other than that… it should be good to see 2006 top pick Luke Hochevar up and pitching at some point this year.

The Rangers may surprise people by putting up some runs. Their infielders can hit, and additions of Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley could add alot of offense. But their Ace is Kevin Millwood, and other than Vincente Padilla, the rest of the staff makes Millwood look like an ace in comparison.

Billy Beane is a great GM, and he’s turned coal into diamonds in Oakland, or whatever the phrase is. But the A’s are gonna need more than a few diamonds this season to be anything better than very bad. They have a few guys who can hit some HRs, but not enough, and their best pitcher is Joe Blanton. Well, it’s Rich Harden if he could ever pitch, but since he can’t, it’s Blanton. At least Huston Street’s still awesome.

The Mariners, on the other hand, have some names to take note of, especially the names Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard. That’s quite a 1-2 punch, and Washburn and Silva fill out the back end, although I think Miguel Batista will be worse this year. Their lineup has some ok spots, but Sexson needs to hit better than .205 to help out a team that had Jose Vidro as their DH, and a hasn’t hit in years Wilkerson playing the OF. If Felix and Bedard makes 60 starts between the two of them, they have a chance of winning the West, but I just don’t think they’ve improved enough.

The Angels are the team that like to show off by overpaying for players now. Gary Matthews and Torii Hunter are going to take up something like 25% of this teams payroll. In 2008 that seems like alot, in 2010 it could be crippling. But for now, I like the lineup, the infield can hit, the OF can hit, and Vlad is still, for now, a premier RF. The important thing for this team’s chances is if Garland, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, and Joe Saunders can hold down the fort until Lackey and Escobar return in May. Look for Moseley and Adenhart to play an important role as well.

Bold Predictions

Conan Y2K

AL East – Red Sox
AL Central -Indians
AL West – Angels
AL WC- Yankees
ALCS -Indians vs. Yankees
AL Champs – Indians
NL East – Mets
NL Central – Cubs
NL West – Diamondbacks
NL WC – Brewers
NLCS – Cubs vs. Diamondbacks
NL Champs – Cubs
WS – Cubs
AL MVP – Derek Jeter
NL MVP – Jose Reyes
AL Cy Young – Felix Hernandez
NL Cy Young – Ben Sheets
AL RoY – Clay Buchholz
NL RoY – Geovany Soto

Wait, did I just pick the Cubs to win the World Series? If you’re not convinced, well I haven’t convinced myself of it. But this is all for fun anyway, right? There you have it, can’t wait until everyone reminds me of how wrong I am come October…

Patterson cut

March 20, 2008

I’m not much for news on this site, I usually try to do weekly analysis of a topic. But John Patterson was cut by the Nats today, and that I had to mention. He had a pretty bad spring, ending with a 7.00 ERA. What’s surprising is that he had 7 Ks and 0 BBs. From a statistical standpoint, it looks like he has something to build on. But stats don’t tell the whole story. My guess is that his formerly wicked fastball is no longer moving the way it was (the Washington Post confirmed my hunch on Friday when they said “his fastball has been clocked consistently in the 83-86 mph range, down from the low 90s”). His curve looked decent enough when I watched him pitched the other day, but if he doesn’t ever get the velocity he had before, he’ll never be that great pitcher.

It’s not as if Odalis Perez has emerged yet as a viable starter*, although Redding has looked good this summer. Maybe the front office realized that Patterson was still a longshot, and didn’t want to spend every 5 days with their fingers crossed hoping for something special and never getting it. It’s tough on the psyche, and as others have pointed out – it’s easier to get down on Patterson for being hurt than Hill because we expected more from Patterson while Hill was a surprise. Either way, the false hope won’t be missed, even if the player will be a bit.

*On Thursday afternoon when this was posted he hadn’t – then on Thursday night he went 6 IP, 2 ER, 6 K, 0 BB. And apparently the Nationals have said he is definitely starting out in the rotation.

NL East Preview 08

March 17, 2008

Since we’ve had the time to fully dissect the Nationals and what their team will look like, it’s probably not a bad idea to take a look around them. The NL East should once again prove to be a tough division with some high quality teams, but thanks to the biggest trade of the offseason there is a clear frontrunner. So let’s take a look at the four non-DC teams and where they stack up.

Atlanta Braves

Two years in a row without a postseason berth, is it possible for the Braves to go three? Well, their bats are surprisingly potent when you look at this lineup. Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Jeff Francouer, aChippernd, oh yeah, Mark Teixiera all provide serious power to a team that isn’t really synonymous with HRs. Matt Diaz can rake too, and the question will be whether middle infield tablesetters Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar can get on so the other guys can drive them in. Also there’s the perennial question, can Chipper stay healthy enough to keep this team hitting all year long? Even with that, the real question about this team is about the pitching staff. What can the 42-year-old Glavine, the 40-year-old Smoltz, and the 36-year-old-hasn’t-pitched-since-2005 Mike Hampton do collectively? Tim Hudson should continue to be very good, other than the blip that was 2006, he’s been that or better every year since 2000. One other potential issue for this team is their bullpen, Rafael Soriano is their closer and their best reliever, and while I’m not big on saves as a stat, he only has 13 in 187 appearances.

Florida Marlins

I have a special place in my heart for the team that allowed the Nats to finish out of last place for the first time last season. This is a team that may have a strong future – Hanley Ramirez is a superstar but as long as he’s playing SS and making those errors he’s much more valuable as a fantasy player than as a real player. The Marlins should take a clue from the Brewers and their moving of Ryan Braun and put Ramirez anywhere but SS. Why haven’t they? Because they just acquired another future star, Cameron Maybin, to play CF for them. Jeremy Hermida at RF is a guy with big potential who started living up to the hype at the end of last year. They got Luis Gonzalez to split time with Josh Willingham in LF, and Mike Jacobs may yet turn into a 1B with enough power to warrant playing every day. Their lineup, other than Gonzalez, can hit but are very young, and probably can’t produce enough to make up for their pitching staff. The pitching staff while showing some promise, is probably worse than the Nats. Young stars Anibel Sanchez (no-hitter) and Josh Johnson are hurt until at least early summer, and while they acquired a potential stud in Andrew Miller from the Tigers, he has yet to show any consistency and at 23 may not be ready to carry a team. Their bullpen is pretty good, but closer Kevin Gregg walked too many people last year, he needs to bring those down if he wants to be the anchor.

NY Mets

The Mets, in case you forgot, didn’t even make the postseason last year. Thanks to a monumental collapse at the end of 2007, they missed the playoffs by 1 game. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that one game doesn’t matter in this league. Last year’s Mets team was evidence of the folly of thinking that playing one guy over another doesn’t make a difference. Mets fans may want to blame Tom Glavine due to his last start, but Glavine pitched adequate albeit not great all year. Much worse were Jose Valentin’s 18 RC (according to Baseball Reference) in 188 PAs (that’s 1 less RC than Jesus Flores and 1 more than Robert Fick, for comparison) and a number of other pitchers or position players. Anyway, that was all last year. This year they have a little thing called Johan Santfreakintana. Also Pedro is going to pitch alot more innings this year. So they are getting two great pitchers over last years squad that had to blow a 7 game lead with 17 games left in order to not win their division. They will outhit most teams as well – Reyes, Wright, and Beltran are all near the top of their position lists. Ryan Church should provide some offense for this team, as he did inconstantly for the Nats last year. Brian Schneider, who also came over, will provide little offense, but Ramon Castro can hit, so who knows how much each will play. Their bullpen is pretty good, too, and Billy Wagner is still an elite closer. About the only questions this team has outside of the catching situation, is age and durability. Between Moises Alou in LF and Carlos Delgado at 1B, they have 2 positions which should be producing lots of runs that instead may see lots of time on the DL. Just because you have a better hitting SS than everyone doesn’t mean you can punt 1B – if they can’t find solutions or health there, they will be giving up their advantages of having great hitters at CF and SS. Regardless, even if their hitting is only top 10 in the league, having Johan, Pedro, John Maine and Oliver Perez (even if the latter regress a bit, they are still above average #3 & 4 pitchers) will ensure they won’t have problems in this division.

Philadelphia Phillies

NL MVP shortstop Jimmy Rollins and his hit-happy Phillies will likely lead the NL in runs scored for the third year in a row, and only in part because they play in a minature version of a baseball stadium. They still have the right side of the infield to complement the Mets left side, with Ryan Howard hitting close to 50 HRs and Chase Utley being the best 2B in Burrellbaseball. Besides their solid infield, they have a solid CF in Shane Victorino, a strong RF platoon of Geoff Jenkins, who can still hit righties well, and Jayson Werth, who spells his name funny and demolishes lefties. They also have an interesting sabermetric dichotomy at 3B and LF. Pat Burrell in LF looks like only a decent power hitter to those who pay attention to old school stats like batting average, but if you look at how often he gets on base, you realize he’s a really valuable player. On the other end of the spectrum is new 3B Pedro Feliz, acquired from the Giants, apparently to not get on base. His career average of .252 may not be nauseating, but his career OBP is .288 is. At least he’s got some range. It will also be interesting for me to see what kind of time former Nat Chris Snelling gets, but more interesting for most will be whether Carlos Ruiz can handle full time catching duties. In terms of pitching, the Phillies have a solid staff, with strikeout pitcher Brett Myers returning to the starting rotation and my fantasy team. Cole Hamels will get to build on an exceptional sophomore season, he now has 322 Ks in 315 2/3 career IP, and he also doesn’t throw a changeup or a curve; he simply throws his fastball and alters spacetime accordingly (#286). Kyle Kendrick also pitched well last year, his rookie year, and Adam Eaton should show improvement from his 2007 nightmare. It’s yet to be seen what septuagenarian Jamie Moyer has left in the tank (actually he’s only 45). Closer Brad Lidge should be healthy enough to pitch all but the first few weeks of the season, but relying on a guy who forgot how to pitch for an entire season 2 years ago is a little scary. The rest of the bullpen is decent enough, if not spectacular, with the likes of JC Romero, Tom Gordon, and Ryan Madson.

So the final standings will look like…

1. Mets
2. Phillies
3. Braves
4. Nationals
5. Marlins

Boring that there is no change from the 2007 finish, yes. But it’s closer than you may think, I actually believe the Braves will be a much better team this year and could easily contend for second place, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see them end up there. I envision a tight wild card race this year with the Phillies and the Braves both in it until the end, along with some other teams that look strong in the Central and the West. I can’t see the Mets blowing this one,the addition of Johan makes them too good. Last year I predicted the top of the division correctly but I underestimated our own Washington Nationals, a mistake I won’t repeat.

Lineup Shuffle 2008

March 11, 2008

It’s time for the annual lineup assessment based on Runs Created (RC). Why RC? Well, I like it because it doesn’t discriminate, it isn’t based on what other players do, and it isn’t position dependent. It is also relatively easy to understand where the number came from, unlike some other statistics like VORP. But the best part about it is that we can use one single number per player to compare their hitting abilities. RC comes via a (relatively) simple formula using some of the easier to understand counting stats, and it helps to predict how many runs each specific player would be responsible for making. The formula is as follows:

RunsCreated Formula

Making this a realistic predictor of total runs that the team will score is a bit problematic. Besides attempting to predict how many plate appearances each player would have, you also have to do this for every pitcher that comes to the plate. The more variables we throw in here, the more inaccurate we’re going to get. Rather than approach it that way, I’d rather see, based on predictions, how many runs the different players would create if given the opportunity to bat every day. Again, since this is a philosophical exercise, I’m going to assume everyone gets 650 plate appearances. Originally I had this set at ABs, but the more PAs one has, the more runs they create, and someone like Nick Johnson, who has alot of walks, would have an artificially high number of PAs if he has the same number of ABs as everyone. Since this is an exercise, I’m just going to make everyone have 650, even the catchers. That will never happen, but we’re using our imagination here. We’ll look at how everyone fares based on 3 sets of predictors and see what the ideal lineup.

The first “predictor” isn’t a predictor at all, it’s their last season’s performance, again extrapolated out (or in) to 650 PAs. For Nick Johnson’s case, we’ll look at ’06, but Guzman’s limited ’07 data is enough to work with. The second predictor is Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA stat predictions for 2008. As they say “PECOTA is BP’s proprietary system that projects player performance based on comparison with thousands of historical player-seasons.” So there. Finally, I will use the 2008 player predictions from Bill James’ Baseball Handbook.

Runs Created Descending 08

That is a list of some of the guys who should be mainstays in the lineup, in descending order of RC according to Baseball Prospectus. They see Kearns as the biggest run producer on this team and that may not be too much of a stretch. Especially if he returns to form. Nick Johnson is expected to do alot for this team, and past performance indicates that if he is healthy, he can. Zimmerman’s numbers should go up as he has more people to knock in. As for some big ups and downs, not surprisingly they think Milledge, Pena, and Dukes will all do much better. Lopez is expected to have a bounce back season, as all of us are hoping. Also not a shocker, they don’t think Christian Guzman’s numbers from early last year will be repeated. In terms of the optimal lineup with this, here is what I found:

Maximum RC

Estrada and Lo Duca can be argued about here, which one is better is dependent on which source you go with. And their average score of the 3 sources is the same, but since Estrada take 2 of the 3, I’m going with him. They are relatively interchangeable though, so try not to sweat it too much. I don’t think Wily Mo’s numbers translate so well to this exercise because of his dramatic righty/lefty splits. He’ll sit against some guys, which will bring down his total RC, and whoever bats in his place probably won’t be as good as he is against lefties. Anyway, just something to keep in mind. It’s telling as to how much improvement BP and Bill James see when we see that they predict the lineup to produce 50-80 more runs this year than last. Now if we look another potential lineup, with Guzman at SS, Dmitri at 1B, and Lo Duca at C, it looks like this.

Potential RC 08

Remember, even if these predictor stats were on the money, this wouldn’t be the teams totals. . We gotta bat pitchers, there’s the Wily Mo’s issues, catchers don’t play as much, and lots of other things. But the message is still important here. What you’re seeing is a loss of 20 runs, which over the course of the season, would translate to a few less wins. Maybe it’s not so applicable to this team this season, but a few less wins is a big deal if you’re in a playoff race. Last year 2 wins separated the Yankees and Red Sox for the AL East, and Milwaukee, New York, and San Diego all missed the NL playoffs by 2 wins or less.

So you can see what the best lineup is, and any time they are using anything else, they may be hurting their chances to win games. Coincidentally (I think) the Bill James predictions are the same as what the totals would have been last season with proper at bats. This lineup based on ’07 stats is clearly “better,” but that is thanks to Christian Guzman, and if he can hit like he did last April, he should starting. Just don’t bet on it.

Catching the Nats on TV

March 6, 2008

MASN released their broadcast schedule for the Nationals this week. And it looks pretty much like the Nats schedule, only with some channels under the times. I counted 18 games against the Mets, 13 of which are in HD. So that might be alot of highly defined Johan. Against Atlanta, there are 12 games in HD, which would be much more exciting if this was 1994. Also in HD are the 3 home games against the O’s. Strangely, the 3 games in Baltimore are not only listed in regular def, they are on said to be on MASN2. Then you go to the O’s schedule, the opposite is listed. Must be talking about which broadcast team gets which channel, so I guess those of us with nice TVs will be watching Jim Hunter and Buck Martinez in the booth for those 3 games in BMore, hon.

In terms of games against division rivals not in NY or Atlanta, there are some, but not as many. They play 18 games against each of the other NL East teams, but if you only watch the higher channels, you may not know it. Against the Marlins and the Phillies only 3 games against each team are in HD. I’m disappointed that last season’s NL East winner has so few games in HD on MASN, but at least I won’t have to watch Philly fans. Anyway, this is all a good start, I am not sure why it takes a few years to ramp up the number of games, but 40 HD games is better than none.

Where do I see these games?

I was all excited about the HD capabilities of MASN, but I was a little concerned about where I’d be able to watch it. I know my cable provider, Comcast, has had some past battles with MASN. Nowhere on my Comcast digital cable guide is there a MASN-HD, and I don’t expect Comcast to just create a new channel in 30 days. Thankfully, the situation seems to have a temporary fix for this season. According to the Washington Examiner’s Sports Media Blog, the MASN games will be shown on… [drumroll] the MOJO network! This officially vaults MOJO up to the top of my best channel lineup, the combination of Nats games and my favorite TV show, Three Sheets,Pleepleus may be too much for me to handle. As long as Nats games don’t knock Zane Lamprey and Pleepleus off the air too much, I’m good with this setup. For games scheduled to be broadcast on MY20, they will most likely be on WDCA-DT or whatever the high def version of the channel that has been called everything from DC20 to UPN20 to DCA20 since I was a kid. The few times that the above schedule on MASN lists HD games to be on MASN2, the Orioles games are NOT in HD those days. So I am assuming even though the O’s will be on Standard-D MASN, the Nats will be on MOJO that day. The Examiner blog entry also notes that Comcast’s goal for 2009 is to have a dedicated HD channel for both MASN and CSN+. This is good news, from what I understand there is limited space or bandwidth or whatever they call it, so us sports fans gotta hope we’re top priority.