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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Assessing the Blame

Chico Harlan of the Post had an in-depth interview with Manny Acta at the end of last week (unknown if it was before or after he knew almost all of his coaches would be released). Among the nuggets was that Manny wouldn't evaluate himself, that he would let others do that. So, where should we start? Obviously Acta was not dealt a full hand on the playing field, so it's hard to access the job he did baseball-wise. So how about in the clubhouse?

Acta talks about the "change in character" of the guys in the clubhouse at the end of the season compared to the beginning. How much can a couple bad apples spoil the cart? To hear Acta and other team officials the last few days, quite a bit. But what the team hasn't said, despite further trying to distance themselves from Paul LoDuca, Johnny Estrada, Felipe Lopez, Jon Rauch and Luis Ayala, is how these players became the malcontents in the first place. Who should be held responsible for that?

LoDuca has a long and storied history of being a trouble-maker in the clubhouse. He's the rah-rah guy that isn't getting the job done in the first place. If LoDuca had hit .280 instead of .230, would he still have been a bad character guy? So LoDuca and Estrada both complained about not starting at catcher when they came back from injury as Jesus Flores cemented the starting position -- one he probably should have had from spring training. Did the team lead them on when they signed them? Did they promise X amount of playing time? Or did they just assume as "dependable veterans" they would have a spot waiting. And so much for Estrada's vow to get back at the Nats. He hasn't even has so much as a sniff of a contract since his departure.

Lopez is a head-scratcher. He started for this team pretty much from the get go, first in left then at second base. In 325 at bats, he hit a paltry .234/.305/.314 with 2 HRs and 25 RBIs. Some wondered if his playing career was over. Then, a day after the team couldn't give him away at the trade deadline, he signed with St. Louis as a free agent, and in 156 at bats he hit .385/.426/.538 with 4 HRs and 21 RBIs. He drove in almost as many runs in his 156 at bats in St. Louis than in 325 at bats here. How does a player flip a switch and go from bad to good just like that?

Luis Ayala was passed over for the closers job, twice. When Cordero got hurt, the job went to Jon Rauch. By many accounts, Rauch and Ayala did not get along very well. Not shocking; the men come from different backgrounds, have vastly different personalities, etc. At least Rauch was a veteran with extensive experience like Ayala, but that didn't keep Ayala from apparently asking for a trade and sulking all season like Rauch ripped the head off his teddy bear. Then, when Rauch was traded, Ayala was passed over AGAIN, this time for rookie Joel Hanrahan, a pitcher who has had his share of commend problems. Granted, Hanrahan has done a mostly good job since given the keys to the ninth inning. But how would YOU feel if you were passed over for a promotion you felt qualified for, TWICE; once by a disliked co-worker and the second time by an entry-level staffer?

So if this team was filled by attitude problems and malcontents for much of the year, who is to blame? Certainly no one has stepped up so far to say "I could have done a better job at handling that situation" or "I made a mistake signing this guy to begin with". Acta makes a point of how he goes about his business:
"But I haven't done anything different than I've done in the past. At all. And that's where bad characters come out, when things are not going well. I have no regrets, and I'm not going to change. I give players space. I let them have their own space. I don't need to be in their locker room all day and in their faces. I need to give them space. That's why I draw a line. I have a good atmosphere for them over here, and they respect me and I respect them."
But then later he acknowledges there was a problem in his clubhouse:
Q: Looking at the clubhouse -- beginning of the year to now, has there been a change in the character here, and do you feel better about the composition of things?

A: I do. I think everybody was able to tell the difference. We needed some new blood in here, some hungry young guys like we have gotten, and things have gotten better. Listen, not one clubhouse in the big leagues is perfect. You can never put together 25 high-character guys. You're always going to find a couple of guys who need more work than the other ones when it comes down to shaping their attitude and how they approach their job. But we're moving in the right direction.

Q: Were there too many bad characters on this team at the beginning of the year, do you think?

A: Umm... I think so. I think so. I think when you're building, like we're doing here, I think you need more high-character guys than what we had at the beginning of the season. Without naming any guys.

Q: Organizationally, lesson learned maybe?

A: Yes. I think we have. I think we have.
So if you have "a couple of guys who need more work" and know that when you're losing "that's where bad characters come out," but insist on "giv[ing] players space", what else would you expect than to have a clubhouse that "need[ed] some new blood in here."

For all the penny pinching the Larners have been accused of -- including allowing their first round draft pick go for what amounted to $900K -- it's indicative of this management team to have to throw away almost $14MM in salary to get rid of bad characters Lopez ($4.9MM), LoDuca ($5MM), Estrada ($1MM), Ayala ($1.7MM) and Rauch ($1.2MM), most of which they went out and acquired on purpose in the first place.

So who is to blame? The Larners for being cheap in the first place, making the team sign washed up veterans to start with? Bowden for selecting and signing the malcontents? Acta for his laisse-faire attitude in the clubhouse? Seems like there's plenty of blame to go around, but to this point, no one has accepted it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

(Almost) Everyone Fired

In a press release issued by the team immediately following today's 8-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Washington Nationals dismissed their entire coaching staff except Manager Manny Acta and pitching coach Randy St. Claire.

The coaches that were sacked included bench coach Pat Corrales, third base coach Tim Tolman, first base coach Jerry Morales, hitting coach Lenny Harris, bullpen coach Rick Aponte and strength and conditioning coordinator Kazuhiko Tomooka.

It's an almost complete overhaul for a team that finished with 102 losses, the worst record in major league baseball. Because of Thursday night's rain-out, the team finished with a record of 59-102, assuring the franchise the #1 overall pick in next year's amateur draft.

There has been speculation much of the season about the job status of General Manager Jim Bowden, and at this writing, there has been no further word on his status.

Team President--and minority owner--Stan Kasten this past week issued denials of his desire to step aside, saying that his primary responsibility is rebuilding this team and bringing a winning team to Washington.

Friday, September 26, 2008

GB&U: 1-0-0

RESULT: Nats lose to Phillies 8-4, loss #100 for the season.

GOOD: Cristian Guzman. 2-for-4, RBI. Kory Casto hits his second big league home run. Bonifacio, Montz with RBIs.

BAD: Lastings Milledge. 0-for-4, three left on base.

UGLY: Collin Balestar. One and two-thirds innings, 7 earned runs on seven hits and a walk. Ryan Howard took him deep in the first inning, Utley cleared the bases with a double in the second.

INJURY UPDATE: No real update, but the team placed Young, Belliard and Flores on the disabled list today. Young went onthe 60-day. Not really sure what the official moves accomplished, and haven't really seen an explanation.

NEXT GAME: Tomorrow at 3:55 pm. John Lannan (9-14) versus Jamie Moyer (15-7). Would be real nice to get Lannan into double digits.

Will They Stay or Will They Go?

If you're out trolling on the internets after the misery from the City of Brotherly Love, here's something to whet your whistle for Monday's post-season announcements. From Nats Journal:

Manny Acta said today that some on his coaching staff will not be back next season. "Changes are going to be made," Acta said. The manager said not specify which of his assistants would be let go, and said the team was not yet ready to make an announcement. Such a determination, though, marks the first sign of change entering the offseason; last year, at this same time, Acta met with General Manager Jim Bowden and several other front office members and emerged from the meeting by announcing that everybody on his staff would return.

All of Acta's assistants have been with the team for at least two years. One team official called the staff the "worst in baseball."

I'd really like to know which team official made that last statement. I'm sure you all can guess just as well as I can which coaches are most on the hot seat at this point. But let's review position-by-position:

Pat Corrales , Bench Coach: Second season as bench coach, appointed by Manny Acta. Corrales is a venerable baseball man, finishing his 50th season in professional baseball. Is it time for him to take the retirement he so obviously has earned?

Jerry Morales, First Base Coach: Second season as first base coach, appointed by Acta. The two worked together in Montreal as well. Morales and Corrales are Acta's two experienced lieutenants.

Randy St. Claire, Pitching Coach: Has been with the franchise for six seasons, the longest tenured coach on the staff. The starters were generally better than expected this year, depsite starting journeymen and untested rookies. The bullpen, however, was an unmitigated disaster.

Tim Tolman, Third Base Coach: Second season as third base coach, appointed by Acta. Tolman also coordinates spring training and has plenty of experience dealing with minor leaguers, but 2007 was his first year on a big league coaching staff.

Lenny Harris, Hitting Coach: Took over for Mitchell Page in 2007, was originally staffed as minor league infield coordinator. One of the best pinch-hitters in his long major league career.

Rick Aponte, Bullpen Coach: Second season, appointed by Acta. Nationals are his only major league coaching gig. Generally well-liked by bullpen staff and pitchers. Is a pitching coach with Licey in the Dominican Winter League, winners of the 2008 Caribbean League title.

Who stays? Who goes? Does it depend on the General Manager? Of course it does. Monday will be a very interesting day in Nationals history, and this announcement tonight is just the tip of the iceberg.

Scenes from "Fan Appreciation Night"

Last night's final home game in the inaugural season of Washington's Nationals Park was rained out. A disappointing, but fitting, way for the season to end. The end of the baseball season is always sad, and last night was no exception. After at least 99 losses, there figures to be a lot of change in the off-season. Rather than dwell on the good, bad and ugly that was the 2008 season today, I thought I'd simply share some photos that we took last night and let them stand for themselves.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nats Fall One Loss Away From Ignominy

Washington, DC -- It's not the way Tim Redding wanted to end his mostly positive season. On a chill evening in late September, Redding hoped to preserve his personal .500 pitching record for a team that started the contest a collective 39 games below .500. Unfortunately for Redding and the Washington Nationals, he was not as sharp as he had been most nights previously this season, and the Nats fell to the Florida Marlins 9-4, before 23,299 brave souls remaining to see the end of this disappointing season. The loss is Washington's 99th of the season, as the Nats have lost eleven of their last fourteen games.

Redding's very first pitch to the first batter of the game, all-star shortstop Hanley Ramirez, left the park as Ramirez launched his 33rd home run of the season. Rookie Cameron Maybin followed with a double, and would eventually score on a wild pitch. Before they had batted, the Nats trailed 2-0. Redding escaped the second inning unscathed, but would not last the third.

Ramirez started the damage again with a one-out double. Rookie OF Cameron Maybin sacrificed Ramirez to third, who then walked to home on a Jorge Cantu double to deep left field. OH Josh Willingham and 2B Dan Uggla both earned free passes from Redding which would haunt the veteran starter. OF Jeremy Hermida singled to right field on an 0-2 pitch, allowing Cantu and Willingham to both score. The next batter, 1B Gaby Sanchez, in first his major league start, doubled to the out of town scoreboard in right, driving in Uggla, and mercifully ending Redding's evening -- and season.

Marco Estrada entered and promptly allowed an infield hit to catcher Matt Treanor and Hermida snuck home from third, closing the book on Redding. He finished two and two-thirds innings, surrendering seven earned runs on seven hits and two walks. He struck out four and allowed one home run, Ramirez' solo shot to start the game.

Redding was one of the big stories for the Nats early this season, as he started the season 6-3 with a 3.16 ERA, prompting talk of an All-Star appearance. He didn't get a decision in any of his next nine starts, though, and went 0-3 with a 9.17 ERA over his last four. His season ends with a record of 10-11 and and ERA of 4.95.

"First half, real good," Redding said. "Second half ... not good."

The Marlins collected eighteen hits on the evening, and several new faces for Florida had big nights. Ramirez and Hermida both went 3-for-5 and rookies Maybin and Sanchez each collected three hits as well.

The Nationals batters did not fare as well against Marlins starter Josh Johnson (W, 7-1, 3.61). Johnson missed much of the season recovering from last off-season surgery, but he's quickly proving that he belongs in next year's rotation. He went six innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits and three walks.

Emilio Bonifacio and Pete Orr -- subbing for flu-ridden Ryan Zimmerman -- each had two hits for the Nats. Bonifacio's triple in the third inning led to a run, and he, Orr, SS Alberto Gonzalez and C Wil Nieves each had RBIs.

The highlight of the game for the Nats was LF Roger Bernadina's full-out diving catch onto the warning track just in front of the visitor's bullpen in left field, robbing 3B Jorge Cantu of extra-bases. It was, simply, one of the finest defensive plays you'll see from an outfielder, and gives hope that the young players the Nats are running out there to end the season will one day be part of a winning season, not one that needs to win its remaining four games to avoid triple digits.

Collin Balestar (3-6, 4.83) gets the first chance to keep 100 at bay, as he takes on Anibal Sanchez (2-5, 5.57) in the last game in the inaugural season at Nationals Park, weather permitting, at 7:10 pm.

NATS NOTES: The Seattle Mariners lost to the Los Angeles Angels last night, giving them 100 losses, to stay one game behind Washington for the worst record in the major leagues. Should they tie, Washington will still receive the first pick in next year's amateur draft due to finishing with a worse record the previous season.

GB&U: 99 Losses

RESULT: Marlins beat Nats 9-4. Nats stand one shy of 100.

GOOD: Emilio! went 2-for-5 with an RBI. Pete Orr went 2-for-4 with and RBI. Wil Nieves went 1-for-3 with an RBI.

BONUS GOOD: Roger Bernadina's diving catch in left field was as good as you'll ever see, and rightly earned him the Web Gem on ESPN's Baseball Tonight last night.

BAD: Roger Bernadina. He went 1-for-4 with a strikeout and stranded four base-runners.

UGLY: Tim Redding. Here's a guy that really wanted to end the season on a good note, after all the decent pitching he's done this year, and he just got roughed up last night. Only made it through 2.2 IP, allowing 7 runs on 7 hits and 2 BBs, 4 Ks and 1 HR allowed.

BONUS UGLY: The weather for tonight's game, the last home game of the season. Does not look promising. Let's hope they don't wash the whole thing out. I know, what's one more game? But it's the last one!

NEXT GAME: Tonight, weather permitting, at 7:10 pm from Nationals Park. Collin Balestar (3-6, 4.83) faces Anibal Sanchez (2-5, 5.57). Sanchez has a tweaked hammy though, so if they play in the rain it's questionable if Florida will allow him to go out there on the wet field.

FRONT OFFICE UPDATE: In a response to yesterday's Sporting News article about unrest at the top, Nats President Stan Kasten vehemently denied rumors of his demise to Bill Ladson at Reassuring to hear it straight from the horses mouth. Still, can't help but feel Monday will be an interesting day in Nats history.

FUN STUFF: If you haven't seen it yet, here's video shot by BF Staff Photographer Cheryl Nichols (alias: diehardnatsfan) of the radio guys, Charlie, Dave and Jack, dancing to Wil Nieves' batting song. It's fairly hysterical and Charlie couldn't stop laughing when she showed it to him after Tuesday night's game! We'll still trying to track down the song title and artist so you too can add to your iPod.

Game Photos and Video (c) C. Nichols 2008.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Good Heavens

An article in the Sporting News on-line today recounts a story that is Exhibit A why the Nationals are the "miserable" franchise yesterday's Times article suggests:
Trouble in D.C.

The shotgun marriage of Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten and general manager Jim Bowden should end soon. According to several major league officials, Kasten wanted to fire a member of the Nationals' scouting staff for an embarrassing display in the press box before a game at Colorado. The scout loudly and profanely criticized the Rockies' player-development operation. Bowden convinced ownership to keep the scout in question. That showed Kasten that he lacked the authority to do the job as he did with Atlanta. As Braves president, Kasten was an unheralded hero for the manner in which he brought order to the organization and allowed the baseball operation to do its job without outside interference.

The Nationals desperately needed the same type of leadership. If Kasten leaves, as expected, it will be a huge setback for an organization mired in chaos. That seems to be Bowden's preferred manner of operation.
This is the worst possible news at the worst possible time. On the heels of Friday's Q&A and the Times insightful article about the misery surrounding the franchise this team seems to be stuck in a quagmire of negative vibes.

But if this Sporting News article is true, we all might as well go back to rooting for our original teams. If the Lerners are going to pander to Jim Bowden and effectively neuter Stan Kasten, keeping him from being able to fully execute "the Plan" while Bodes continues to embarrass himself, the organization and its fans with practically everything he touches? Well, that's a dark day indeed my friends.

A lot of big ticket firings/retirements/quittings happen the day after the season ends. Monday will go a long way in determining the future of this franchise.

Here's the link to the full story. The bit on the Nats is half way down.

GB&U: Eliminating the Fish

RESULT: Nats beat Marlins 9-4, eliminate Florida from the playoffs.

GOOD: Shairon Martis! First major league win, hopefully of many. 5.1 IP, 3 ERs, 5 hits, 2 BBs, 5 Ks. And a cream pie in the face for dessert. The Attorney General! Alberto Gonzalez went 4-for-5 with 3 runs and 2 RBIs. The Man with Two Last Names! Anderson Hernandez went 2-for-5 with 2 runs and 2 RBIs from the lead-off spot. Lastings! 3-for-4 with 3 RBIs! ZIM!!! 2-for-5, Homer (#14) and 2 RBIs.

BAD: Not much. Hanrahan gave up a solo tater closing things up. Other than that, a good all-around win.

UGLY: Paul LoDuca got a pinch-hit at bast in the 7th and was roundly booed by the sparce crowd before the at bats, and after he singled. Grudges make good baseball fans!

NEXT GAME: Tonight, Game Two of the three-game series. Tim Redding looks for his eleventh win against Josh Johnson (6-1) for Florida.

Martis' Big Night Leads Nationals Over Marlins, 9-4

by Anthony Amobi and Dave Nichols

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the 2008 season comes to a close, teams in the second division such as the Washington Nationals have nothing to play for but pride and the chance to see youngsters and role players compete for jobs next year. Last night, rookie Shairon Martis – who at 21 years old is youngest of the young on the squad – earned his first Major League victory as the Nats officially knocked Florida out of playoff contention, defeating the Marlins 9-4.

Martis (W, 1-3, 5.89) was good, but not particularly spectacular, as he went five and one-third innings and gave up three runs – all earned – on five hits. He struck out five and walked two. Meanwhile, his opponent on the mound, Scott Olsen (L, 8-11, 4.23), took the loss as he went five innings and gave up four runs – three earned – on eight hits, while striking out two and walking one. Martis' teammates came in huge for him, as Ryan Zimmerman belted his team-leading fourteenth home run, SS Alberto Gonzalez had four hits, three runs and two RBIs, and Lastings Milledge went 3-for4 with three runs driven in.

Florida took a 1-0 early lead in the very first inning as Mike Jacobs plated Hanley Ramirez with a two-out single. In the bottom of the frame, the Nats would come right back, as 2B Anderson Hernandez (2-for-5, two runs, two RBIs) reached base with a single before Zimmerman slammed a two run home run to deep left field off of Olsen and Washington took the lead, 2-1.

The Marlins tied the game at two in the top of the second inning as Josh Willingham took Martis deep with his thirteenth home run of the season. Undaunted on this evening, Washington would regain in the lead in the bottom of the third inning as Lastings Milledge hit a sacrifice fly that plated Alberto Gonzales – who had singled to start the frame and advanced to third – for a 3-2 lead.

In the fifth inning, Washington would take a 4-2 lead as Alberto Gonzalez hit a one-out double and advanced to third on Zimmerman's single. Milledge knocked in Gonzalez with a sacrifice; however, the inning would come to end and the Nationals failed to do any more damage as OF Elijah Dukes grounded out and Aaron Boone struck out looking.

Florida added another run to come with one of tying in the sixth inning as Martis walked Jorge Cantu and Mike Jacobs in succession. Manager Manny Acta decided at that point to lift Martis and hand things off to the bullpen. Dan Uggla singled off Stephen Shell to plate Cantu, but Shell induced a ground ball double-play ball from Josh Willingham to quash the rally and finish the frame.

Washington added another run in the bottom of the sixth inning. Walks to Willie Harris and pinch-hitter Pete Orr were sandwiched around a sacrifice bunt by Wil Nieves, and Hernandez ripped his third hit of the night off Marlins’ reliever Jesus Delgado to center to put the Nationals up, 5-3.

The Marlins became unglued in the eighth inning and Washington took the opportunity to rip them for four more additional runs late in the game. Willie Harris again walked to lead off the inning, and advanced to second off a Nieves sacrifice bunt. Reliever Eulogio De La Cruz walked pinch hitter Roger Bernadina and then he and Harris executed a double-steal without a throw. Hernandez came through again and plated both Harris and Bernadina with a single to center to put the Nationals up, 7-3.

After Hernandez advanced to second off a wild pitch by De La Cruz, Gonzalez drove him in with a single to center. Minutes later, Lastings Milledge capped off the inning by singling up the middle to score Gonzalez – who had advanced to third off a passed ball by catcher Jeff Baker – putting Washington’s ninth and final run on the scoreboard.

Cody Ross homered off Joel Hanrahan in the ninth inning to score Florida’s fourth run, but by then, the game was more than over.

With only five games left in the season – including the final two games in the inaugural season of Washington's Nationals Park– the Nats are eagerly trying to avoid the 100-loss plateau, the ultimate mark of a disastrous season. They need to win four of their last five to do the trick, but at least got started on the quest last night.

A scant crowd of 20,657 came out to Nationals Park on a autumn evening and left home happy, but not fulfilled in any sense of the imagination considering how long the season has truly been for even the most loyal and ardent fan.

Tonight's game is at 7:10 pm, game two of the three-game series with the Marlins. Tim Redding (10-10, 4.67) hosts Josh Johnson (6-1, 3.65).

Stock Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bowden & Rizzo Post-Mortem, Part Deux

Same format.

Q (Unidentified): To Rizzo: Can you describe what you look at over the summer leagues and who are the top three candidates in next year's draft if you had to say today?
A (MR): Summer leagues reviewed by Dana Brown, and his staff is feverishly working and scouting right now. Cape Cod is scouted "intensely". "We're well into the beginning of preparation for the '09 draft." As for naming the top three, he said, "It is a long ways from the draft. I don't like to name names of people that we're bearing down and looking at. We're going to do our due diligence on all our players that we have, and Strasburg's name comes up, Green the shortstop at Southern Cal, there's a bunch of names that we feel are on the upper echelon of the 2009 draft."
C (BF): Fairly standard answer. Doesn't want to tip his hand, but Strasburg, as mentioned in any number of baseball publications, is the consensus #1 pick in next year's draft. Now Seattle just has to win one or two of its final seven games.

Q (Unidentified): Why did we have so many injuries? Can we do something about our training staff? Also, "What would we have been, record-wise, if we did not have the injuries this year?"
A (JB): "Always" looking into better ways of training, treatment, etc.
A (MR): "In our minor league system, we've done a phenomenal job of keeping pitchers healthy." "Position player-wise, it's good to draft athletes that are strong, flexible, versatile..."
A (JB): "All of our baseball people felt that if we stayed healthy, and all the players performed up to their potential, we could have gone 82-80."
C (BF): There, my friends, was my favorite answer of the day. Jim Bowden thought this team was talented enough to go 82-80 out of spring training. As far as talent evaluation goes, that simple statement is grounds for dismissal. So either he's telling the truth and has zero concept about how to evaluate personnel to assemble a winning baseball team or he lied to this fan in public in answering this question. It's a classic Bowden answer too. "[I]f all the players performed up to their potential" is the prototypical Bowden deflection statement. He over hypes the players, then when they fail to live up to the inflated expectations he placed on them, it's their fault they failed to reach those expectation.

Q (CS): As far as injuries, aren't there are some injuries you can't do anything about?
A (JB): "When a player is hurt, you're not going to get a player playing up to their potential." "Doctors couldn't understand how [Kearns] could actually be throwing a baseball" due to the chips in his elbow.
C (BF): Of course when a player is playing hurt he's not going to live up to his potential, let alone achieve his normal level of success. Bowden is all about potential instead of realizing what a player is and evaluating him as such. He sees Kearns and thinks, "This guy has the potential to hit 30 home runs" and suddenly, he's got that expectation of him, instead of concentrating on the fact that Kearns has hit more than 20 homers exactly once in his big league career. It's a fairly typical problem of old-school GMs though, to evaluate and plan based on potential instead of performance. That's one of the bigger points that most people fail to grasp about the book Moneyball. The point Michael Lewis was trying to make about Billy Beane wasn't that he was trying to fill his system with "three true outcome" guys, but that he evaluated players based on what they do on the field, not the potential of what they might do.

Q (Unidentified): How do you feel about the success of the teams in the minors, and can you name a couple of the minor leaguers that might make an impact next season?
A (MR): "We're so proud of our young people." He touted the GCL and Dominican teams in addition to the Potomac team. He explained how the team was ranked 28 when he got there and it was #8 last year and hopes to go higher.
A (JB): Jordan Zimmermann. "[He's] the one prospect that we have that the 29 other teams call us on all the time. We feel he has the potential to be a pitcher that goes into our rotation right out of spring training next year." He then went on to say that he expects Zimmerman AND Martis, who won't be 22 until March, to BOTH be in the rotation, along with Lannan and Balestar, giving the team "four young guys under 23" to man the starting rotation.
C (BF): Again, let's tell the media that the 22-year old prospect, who has logged a total of 187 minor league innings, has the potential to start the season in the rotation next year, already setting the player up for blame when he proves he's not ready and forces whoever is in charge to find a suitable replacement. Zimmerman dominated at Single-A Potomac this year and was pretty good at Double-A Harrisburg. But his K/9 has dropped slightly at each stop up the ladder and his ERA was a run and a half higher at Harrisburg than at Potomac. That's not surprising, but you'd think that a team this bad would let a kid dominate at the Double-A level before forcing him into a job at the major league level where he'll be pitching for a last place team.

Q (Dave at Bottomfeeder Baseball): I asked Bowden some follow-ups regarding the middle infield and injuries. Well, I thought they were questions. Listening to the tape, I was pretty fired up and pretty much barked at him and I interrupted him several times. I was pretty rude, and I did apologize after the show was over. Anyway, what I asked was this: When Bonifacio, Gonzalez and Hernandez all revert to their career minor league numbers, who plays second base? And: Injuries happen, but they happen to Guzman, Johnson, Kearns and Young every year. How do you explain away your history for giving out reward contracts?
A (JB): "I think if you look at the back of Guzman's baseball card, and look at games played in his career, you'll find it's about 148 games on average per year. Obviously, we've had him the two years here in Washington he's been hurt. But for the rest of his career that wasn't the story." Then he went on to describe how he "wants to play the game every single day", he "plays the game hard", he "plays the game right', he's "a shortstop", he has "more hits [this year] than David Wright" and I think there was something in there about saving kitties stuck in trees and helping old ladies cross the street.

"We signed [Nick Johnson] to a deal that was significantly below market value, because we thought it was worth taking the risk in case he was healthy. That one didn't work out."

"We think Emilio Bonifacio has a chance to develop into a player like Luis Castillo, he's got tremendous speed-game changing speed; we like him from the left side. If you take his on base percentage from the left side, and take away all his at bats from the right side, you'll like his on base percentage." Also, he reiterated again that he thinks Bonifacio has "the potential to be a lead-off hitter."

C (BF): So I looked at Guzman's baseball card, or the electronic equivalent. In nine seasons, Guz has played 1165 (through Sunday), for an average of 129 games per year. Bowden was only 20 games or so per year off. In fact, he's had exactly two season where he's played in at least 148 games, 2000 and 2002. Since he turned 28, Guzman has played in 182 games in three seasons. HE missed all of 2006, appeared in 46 games in 2007, and 136 out of 156 this season. Saying Guzman has averaged that many games a year is simply blowing smoke. Even in his previously "best" season, 2001 (when he inexplicably received enough MVP votes to rank 16th),he only played 118 games with an OPS+ of 110. He is clearly, at age 30, having his best statistical season, and it's still only worth an OPS+ of 104, barely above average. As he regresses to his career numbers (.269/.307/.386), his "reward" contract will continue to be an albatross. At least he owned up to Johnson's contract being a mistake. He completely ignored Dmitri Young's contract.
By the way, Wright has one more hit than Guzman this season, for what that's worth. His OBP is also 40 points higher, has hit 24 more home runs and driven in 64 more. He also has 9 more steals. Talk about cherry-picking stats, Mr. Bowden.

Bonifacio, in his short big league career, has LH/RH splits of .270/.341/.339 and .150/.167/.275. Considering his major league left-handed splits are about the same as his career total minor league numbers, the difference in the minors has got to be even worse. This is a guy that shouldn't be hitting right handed. Of course Bowden would want to "take away all his at bats from the right side." Look, Luis Castillo is a very good singles hitter and had great speed earlier in his career. But again, he's only had three seasons in his career where his OPS+ was over 100. That makes him serviceable, not an all-star.

Q (FJB): After brown-nosing Charlie Slowes, then kissing Bowden's butt a little bit for hitting on Redding and Perez, he then dropped the hammer. "I look at what you did in Arizona...where you had the crystal ball", etc. ad nauseum. "I see you as a future GM in the league. My question for you is that something you want, to be a General Manager at some point in your career?"
A (MR): "The short answer is yes, I have visions of heading up and organization in the future. But for now, I'm really excited about what we're doing here. We've got great leadership here. We're going in the right direction. We're leaps and bounds ahead of where we were in Arizona in their second year of existence." "We've got great leadership with the Lerner family, and Stan Kasten and with Jim...what we've done here since June of ' second to none." "We're the youngest team in the major leagues right now. We're fast, we're athletic, we're exciting to watch. We need a few tweaks here and there and we need patience from our fans." "If you like what we did in Arizona, wait a year or two and you'll love it here in Washington."
C (BF): This was Steven's direct attack to Bowden, and probably what got him worked up enough to confront us after the program. But there's no denying that Rizzo knows what he's doing. The draft is not a crapshoot in his hands. He will make a fine GM someday, let's just hope it's not in Seattle or Philadelphia or New York next season.

Q (BF Staff Photographer Cheryl Nichols): How do you educate a fan base that might not be the most sophisticated baseball fan base, get them to invest and be patient, but is dying for a winning baseball team, and keep them form giving up and abandoning the team because the major league product is so poor right now?
A (JB): "More things like coming out here, talking to fans, talking to the media, answering emails and letters from fans. We've been very up-front and honest with them from the very beginning." Certainly we all understand frustration, we all want to win. But when you do win, you don't want to have to break the team down, you want to be able to sustain the winning, like Atlanta did for 14 years, and that's the blueprint we have."
C (BF): I don't know. I'd probably be happy with the Marlins formula of win the World Series, tear down and suck for four years, win the World Series.

Q (Unidentified): Can Roger Bernadina emerge? Can he start next year?
A (JB): "No question. Roger hit over .320 at both Double-A and Triple-A this year. He stole over 40 bases for the second consecutive year. Although at time he might have some bad jumps or angles on balls, he runs a lot of baseballs down. He's got a good arm, he's very athletic. He needs an opportunity at this level to see what he can do. To say that he fits in talent-wise among our other young outfielders, absolutely. It's just a matter of opportunity for him."
C (BF): I would not be shocked to see Bernadina in centerfield next year, with Milledge in left and Dukes in right. Bernadina is a quality outfielder and did hit very well this season. 2007 he hit a combined .259/.338/.356 primarily in Harrisburg. He's just 24, and you have to figure next year in spring training will be his best opportunity to win a job in the major leagues. If Justin Maxwell come into spring training healthy, the two of these kids will be interesting to watch try to win a job from each other.
And that's how the Q&A ended. Steven and I did spend some time with Mr. Rizzo, Mr. Bowden and Mr. Kasten after the program. Steven has some very detailed posts on the conversations if you're interested (like you haven't seen them yet). They were all very open with their time, and I appreciated each of them taking the time to chat us up.

Being a fan blogger is a difficult thing at times. We're part fan, part media. We're allowed at some events and not at others. The years at RFK we actually were afforded press box credentials on occasion, but since the move that resource has dried up. But having the team president, GM and Ass't GM available to the public in this type of forum is a unique opportunity, and I only wish it happened more than just once a season, but certainly thankful it happened this once.

There are some folks in baseball that think bloggers hide in their mother's basements, taking the team to task anonymously and do nothing but criticize ownership, management and the players. There are others in the business that realize that the new media isn't going away, that anyone with a computer and the interest can act as correspondent or columnist, and embrace their ideas and opinions. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to be able to evaluate and analyze performance, or to project future performance.

Some people think if you don't see a player in person, interact with them, have personal intimate knowledge of them that you can't truly be able to gauge their performance and have some knowledge-based projection of future performance. They are wrong. That's one of the most important functions of fan blogs. We're the media watchdogs of this generation. Newspaper columnists used to serve that function, but anymore the mainstream media is a partner with the team in order to sell the team and to sell copy, that is is the paper even dedicates the resources to cover the team in the first place.

So again, thanks to the Washington Nationals for appearing in this forum and taking questions from their stockholders (the fans) and from the new media watchdogs. We may not agree on some (a lot) of things, but one thing I (and the others in the Natosphere) share with the Nationals is the passion and desire for the team to win. One of the last things Mr. Kasten said to me, when I mentioned that I do this because I want the team to be a winner, is: "That's where people are wrong. As much as you think you want the team to win, we (the team) want it that much more." Both entities want to win for different reasons though, and that's where Mr. Kasten might be missing it. The team wants to win for monetary and professional glory. The fans want to win for civic pride. Which goal is loftier?

GB&U: Thank Goodness That's Over

RESULT: Nats swept by Padres, 11-6, 6-1, 6-2.

GOOD: We're three games closer to the end of the season. Padres virtually eliminated from Steven Strasburg Sweepstakes.

BAD: The Nats are virtually assured of losing 100 games. With six remaining, they'll have to go 5-1 to avoid triple digits.

UGLY: Take a look around the Natosphere. Lots and lots of negativity floating around, as the Nats approach the 100 loss mark. Well, maybe not everyone is down. Anyway, as the Nats limp home, this off-season will go a long way in determining the future of this franchise for the foreseeable future.

NEXT GAME: Tuesday against the Marlins in the last home-stand of the season. Only three more dates for you to give the Lerner family your money for this season.

Nats Weekend Round-up: Lose Pair to Padres

Washington -- The Washington Nationals continued their limp to the finish line of the baseball season over the weekend, dropping a pair of games to the Padres by scores of 6-1 and 6-2. Combined with Friday night's 14-inning 11-6 loss, the Nats were swept by a team that had been equally bad in the standing as they had over 154 games. The Nats now stand one-half game ahead of Seattle to avoid the worst record in the major leagues for 2008. The Mariners have played one fewer game and have on fewer victory that the Nats. Washington has lost five straight and eight of their last ten. Seattle is working on an eleven game losing streak of their own.

Saturday night the Nationals were dominated by 6-foot, 10-inch right-hander Chris Young. Young (W, 6-6, 4.11) was masterful in keeping down the Nats offense, pitching seven innings and allowing no runs on just two hits and four walks, striking out five. He threw 66 of his 111 pitches for strikes. Young battled injury all season long, and won for just the second time since May 16. He even added a home run, the first of his major league career, against Nats starter John Lannan in the seventh inning. Lannan (L, 9-14, 3.68) didn't pitch poorly, allowing just one earned run over his seven innings, but three unearned runs led to his demise. Lannan allowed four hits and three walks, striking out five. He surrendered two home runs, Young's and 2B Edgar Gonzalez', his seventh.

Two errors led directly to runs, as Will Venable reached ahead of Gonzalez' homer, and Ryan Zimmerman threw one away with a runner on in the eighth, allowing both base-runners to move up and eventually score on an infield single by Chase Headley. The lone Nats run came courtesy of an Aaron Boone ground-rule double in the eighth inning, scoring Emilio Bonifacio from second base.

San Diego completed the sweep Sunday afternoon, on a perfect day weather-wise for baseball. Cha Seung Baek (W, 6-10, 4.87) threw seven innings, allowing just one earned run on five hits, to defeat the Nats 6-2. Baek, who pinch-hit in Friday night's marathon, struck out five and did not walk a batter. His counter, Nats' starter Odalis Perez (L, 7-11, 4.27), gave up three earned over six innings on five hits and one walk. He struck out eleven Padres in the brilliant sunshine. 29,608 fans saw the last Sunday home game of the season.

Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres budding superstar first baseman, went 2-for-3 with a home run and three runs scored and 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff added two hits and three RBIs. Ryan Zimmerman homered -- his thirteenth of the season, driving in two, and finished 2-for-4 on the day. Willie Harris also contributed two hits.

San Diego outscored the Nats 23-9 in the sweep, their first on the road since July 2006. Washington needs to go 5-1 in their last six games to avoid the franchise's first 100-loss season since 1976 as the Montreal Expos.

The Nats are off on Monday, and begin a three-game series with the Florida Marlins Tuesday night, their last home games of the season, before concluding the 2008 season on the road at Philadelphia.

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bowden and Rizzo Q&A Post Mortem (Part 1)

If you want to see the Tale of the Tape, head on over to Fire Jim Bowden. The following is Part 1 of a condensed, excerpted and analyzed pseudo-transcript and review of the proceedings held Friday at the ESPN Zone in downtown DC.

If you haven't heard yet (and if you're reading this blog, how in the world?), Friday at the ESPN Zone Washington Nationals GM Jim Bowden and Assistant GM Mike Rizzo appeared and took Q&A from fans and bloggers. It was widely anticipated and quite surprising that the team's GM and Assistant GM, a man most definitely on the hot seat and the most logical choice to take his place, appeared in the same place at the same time and took questions in the same forum from the public.

Anyway, I'll paraphrase the questions (and description of the questioner) since most of them were rambling and disjointed, provide the pertinent parts of the answers, and them some commentary on the responses. Q (Question), A (Answer) and C (Commentary).
Intro by moderator Charlie Slowes.

Q (by Charlie): So the Nats' Triple-A franchise moving to Syracuse?
A (Jim Bowden): Some generally meaningless banter about Syracuse, the facilities, and the town, especially noting its proximity to DC "only an hour plane fight away".
C: (Bottomfeeder): Everyone knows that an organization's top prospects generally finish their seasoning at Double-A, and that today Triple-A is filled with Four-A guys and emergency injury replacements. Where the Nats affiliate with is pretty immaterial, except for how fast they can get to DC when needed.

Q (CS): To Rizzo: So you're getting ready for next season already, looking at free agents and next year's draft?
A (Mike Rizzo): "It's a very active part of the season, actually." They're putting things together in Viera, have guys going to Arizona for the fall league. "Baseball is a 12 month a year working environment now."
C (BF): Natch. We had some softballs lobbed early.

Q: (CS): Looking at young players, how 'bout that Anderson Hernandez (this would be a constant theme)? He was a lousy hitter in the Mets Triple-A this year but looks like a "completely" different hitter with the Nats?
A: (JB): "A year ago he led the PCL in hits, but he was in a difficult situation being behind Jose Reyes." "Hard to stay motivated" being sent back down after leading a league in hits [ed. also in at bats. He's Cristian Guzman light].
C (BF): Here are Anderson Hernandez' stats as a major leaguer. Here are his stats as a minor leaguer. Does he think we don't have access to these numbers? He's a lifetime .264/.310/.354 hitter in eight seasons and 3500 at bats in the minor leagues. I'm not cherry-picking here. This is his career. And he's not young anymore, he'll be 26 in spring training. Rizzo compared him (favorably) to Adam Everett.

Q (CS): How important is September for young players?
A (JB): You have to take into account the situation. Hitting against Brandon Webb is different from hitting against another call up.

Q (self-described season ticket holder from the beginning): Very disappointed in the season. Why did we bring older free agents in that failed rather than have the young guys, that eventually played anyway, up from the beginning. Wouldn't it be better to sign one huge free agent than sign all these re-treats?
A (JB): "One thing we don't want to do is rush a player to the big leagues" before he's ready. In the case of Flores, they thought he needed to have another "half-year" in Triple-A. Thought they could trade LoDuca if he had hit. "In the case of Mackowiak, of course that didn't work, but if you don't sign Mackowiak, you also don't get Willie Harris, you don't get Odalis Perez, and when you sign those kind of guys in the $850 (K) to $1.5 (MM)-ers, you're not going to hit on all of them. If you were going to hit on all of them, they're not going get $850K." As for signing one big guy, it would have to be in the model they were looking for, in his 20s, someone they could lock up for 5-6 years, that will "be part of it when we're ready to win."
C (BF): Of all the things said today, this was one of the most illuminating and confusing. Bowden said, "...if you don't sign Mackowiak, you also don't get Willie Harris," et al. We all get the idea that the team wanted to put as little money as possible into the major league team this past off-season. The only guy they signed to a legitimate major league contract was LoDuca. That's why Bowden could show some success witht he free agents. Basically, and he admits to it, it's a "throw it against the wall as see what sticks" approach. Sign a bunch of low-prices retreats. See who hits (or gets people out). Don't get saddled with a 4 or 5 year bad contract (like they did with Guzman originally). Willie Harris found a little pop, but has done essentially what he did in Atlanta last year. Odalis Perez is a 4.25 ERA guy that can look real good one night and terrible his next start.
The original questioner included guys like Maxwell and Daniel and some others, but the real question here is about Flores. What I'm about to say may make some close friends of mine angry, but Bowden was essentially correct about Flores. If they could have had someone else healthy this season to catch, Flores would have been the better for spending the year in Triple-A. Hitting, he's as ready as he's gonna be. But game calling, and game managing, he's got a LOT to learn still. Does that mean he shouldn't have been learning to do that here, like Milledge and Dukes (and yes, Zimmerman) have been given the luxury? We can have that argument all night. But Flores would have been a better catcher on the big league lever next year with a year of tutelage instead of having to produce here during on-the-job training. Unfortunately, they picked the wrong guys to carry the water this year, signing LoDuca and Estrada, and wasted $6M dollars in the process, and still had to rush Flores up anyway.

Q (Fire Jim Bowden): How did you let Aaron Crow go for less than $1M (severely paraphrased)?
A (JB): "We're not going to be (hemmed?) into a marketplace, there's a dollar value for players to sign, Brain Matusz [ed. Orioles #1 draft pick] was taken with the fourth pick in the draft and at the end of the day we offered more money than what Matusz got. We also had the leverage to get the 9-B [compensation pick] if we don't sign the pick for next year." He said it would have been irresponsible to give a draft pick everything he wanted, that it would be a bad precedent.
A (MR): It costs us 10 month of developing a player. We negotiated in good faith, but couldn't come to an agreement with the player. But we have two picks in the top 10 next year.
C (BF): My bottom-line opinion on this, after hearing everything in the past, and this session Friday, and other conversations I've had with "baseball people", is that Kasten drew the line in the sand that night and said, "ENOUGH." He was willing to go over slot, but not ridiculously so, and not set a precedent for this type of last minute extortion by over-bearing agents. The Nats have gone a long way to make Mr. Hendricks and Aaron Crow out to be the bad guy in this, but I really think the team ultimately said that this was their gig, via con dios, and good luck in independent ball. Next year's the kicker though, because if they can't sign the 9-A pick, they lose it. And for a team that will already have one of the top three picks in the draft to sign, it's going to be a tall order. They might be on the hook for $10-15 MM in bonus money for just two picks next season, depending on the guidelines by MLB and the market once it develops.

Q (CS): How difficult were the 11th hour negotiations? How is it good for the player to go to the independent leagues?
A: (MR): We "hope Crow has a great year", but it cost him a year of eligibility, and it's going to be difficult for him to recoup that loss.
Q (CS): Didn't the player lose more than the team?
A (JB): People say we walked away, the player walked away too. "We promised a September call-up", etc. The player lost more than the team did.
C (BF): It's certainly debatable as to who lost more in this. Crow is an exceptional talent, and will be right back in the top 10 in next year's draft. He walked away from almost $4M though, and that was guaranteed, the only guaranteed money he would see until he made the bigs. I guess when the season ticket renewal numbers come out we'll have a better idea how it hurt the team, because I think the Crow fiasco hurt the team more in fan relations than baseball-wise. Trying to get the average fan to pay for a sub-standard major league product touting a build-from-within strategy is fine AS LONG AS YOU SIGN YOUR PICKS. Ask educated fans what their number one pet peeve with the organization was this year, and it's gonna be Crow.

Q (4-year season ticket holder): When you scout, do base decisions on who represents the player?
A (MR): Part of the equation, but not a deciding factor. "We never walk away from a particular agent."
C (BF): Except maybe Mr. Hendricks now. As Keith Jackson was fond of saying "These two teams just plain don't like each other."

Q (Unidentified Fan): What do you look at for the starting outfield next year?
A: (MR): Competition. Dukes, Milledge and Kearns. Expecting Kearns to be the player he was two-three years ago.
A (JB): We'll look at trades, and "we'd love to have a 4-hole hitter." If we had a little more production the kids would be better off. "As for how the outfield is lined up, Manny's gotta evaluate how everything is set up defensively, maybe find out if there's an area, without getting specific in one of the three spots, maybe we have to make an outfield position change to upgrade the defense without getting specific."
C (BF): Since Bowden wouldn't be specific, let me be: Milledge is moving to left and Dukes is playing center next year. Or maybe Bernadina in center and Dukes in right. How no one in the mainstream picked up on this and reported is shocking. Milledge has plenty of talent, but he's proving that he has a hard time reading the ball off the bat, especially balls hit right at him. He makes up for some of this in his athleticism, but he's been pretty lousy in center field this season. Has it hurt this year? No. The team would have lost 95 games regardless. But if Milledge and Dukes are going to be part of the long-term solution here, they have to find out where each is going to play before they can build around them. Dukes is a singular talent, and his cannon in right is perfect. I can't even put Kearns into the discussion. If his atrocious performance this season was all due to the injury and he comes back and is a 20 homer/.350OBP guy, super. There's a place in this league, and probably on this team for a guy like that. Let's just say we need to see it first.

Q (CS): You guys had a lot of injuries. How do you know what a guy is going to give you the following year (re: Kearns, Johnson)?
A (JB): "We have to evaluate what the doctors and the medical people think about their chance of coming back. "Those are tough judgments to make."
C (BF): Basically, he said, "You never know." I'm not sure if this was a veiled reference to Kearns, Johnson, or in general. The team is saddled with two contracts at first base that cannot stay on the field at this point in their careers in Johnson and Young. They need production at first, for the time being so that this team doesn't look like a glorified Triple-A team, and for the future. Marrero's broken foot this year didn't help in that evaluation process. Wonder if Pedro Alvarez ends back up in next year's draft?

Q (Full-season ticket holder): The team stunk this year and is getting worse? Why should we continue to sink more money into a lousy product?
A (JB): "One of our to try get a big bat in the line-up." "Ideally we'd like to have a controlled player, in his 20s , that can be part of the solution."
C (BF): They're going to try to sign Adam Dunn. Really, it's a no-brainer. If Jim Bowden isn't released from service, Adam Dunn will be a Washington National in 2009.

Q (Unidentified Fan): Are you going to use some of your minor league outfield talent as trade bait?
A (JB): "One of the reasons you build up your minors system is so you can make a deal to get an impact player."
C (BF): True. But this team has no reason to be trading any of its minor league talent until it's also ready to invest in select free agents and sign their own home-grown stars to long-term contracts. We're only a very short time into a long, patience-required building process.

Q (Unidentified): We've become much better defensively in the last 30 days with the acquisitions of Alberto Gonzalez, Emilio Bonifacio and Anderson Hernandez.
Q (CS): Does this give you flexibility in the infield?
A (JB): "We feel pretty blessed that if [Guzman] were to go down for a while, we've got a Gonzalez, Anderson even a Bonifacio, we've got three guys that can play the position."
C (BF): Yes all three CAN play the position. So can Pete Orr. So can Ronnie Belliard. So can Willie Harris. I imagine Zim would LOVE the opportunity. Here's the thing to remember here about our new middle infield help: NONE OF THEM HAVE HIT AT THE MINOR LEAGUE LEVEL. Bonifaco is the most qualified. .285/.340/.362, with his defense and speed, could turn out to be a real good player. But he's not really suited for the job -- lead-off hitter -- that Bowden keeps wanting to place him in. As a number 8 hitter, Bonifacio would be a much more palatable option.

How about we stop pretenting Milledge is going to be a power hitter and let him hit lead-off. He's fast, showed in the minors to have a good OBP (.376 in 1200 ABs), and would have decent pop from that spot as well. I'm just saying. We already went over Anderson's track record. And let me say this about Alberto Gonzalez: I LOVE this guy. He's yet another Rizzo guy, originally signed by the D-Backs in 2002 as a minor league free agent. He's probably got the best range and arm of anyone in the major leagues--RIGHT NOW. But he can't hit a lick. .276/.327/.383 in 1800 minor league at bats just doesn't project. He's a classic glove guy. Again, that would be real valuable on a contending team. And I guess since Guzman is only going to get worse, Gonzalez might stick around to be used in that capacity. But should catastrophe hit Guzman again, Gonzalez couldn't save anywhere near the amount of runs on defense that he would cost the team on offense. There's a reason the Yankees let him go despite having no heir apparent for Jeter. Oh, and Gonzalez will be 26 in the spring too. These guys aren't as young as they are being made out to be.
THUS ENDS PART ONE. I've had a long day, and tomorrow will be longer. I will post Part Deux on Monday's off-day. It's the part where I raise my voice to the GM, then apologize for it. Should be great entertainment for all.

GB&U: Oh, there was a game today, too

RESULT: Nats fall to Padres 11-6 in 14 innings.

GOOD: Roger Bernadina. 3-for-5 with a walk, RBI and 2 stolen bases. Lastings Milledge. 3-for-6 with a walk. 7/8ths of the Bullpen. They got 7 innings out of 7 relievers until Speigner took over.

BAD: Collin Balestar. Had trouble spotting anything but the fastball. 5 IP, 5 ERs on 9 hits -- but no walks. This was one of those occasions where he had to throw strikes with the fastball cause he couldn't located anything else, and they were teeing off on him. His fastball was pretty flat too.

UGLY: Levale Speigner. Guess it's safe to say at this point he isn't part of The Plan (tm). 2 IP, 5 ERs on 4 hits and 2 BBs.

NEXT GAME: Later today, 7:10 pm start. John Lannan against Chris Young. Interesting pitching match-up.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I know i promised the good parts of the transcript of today's Q&A with Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo, but 14 innings has taken its toll. I will get it posted tomorrow, I promise. I'll leave you with this nugget though: Bowden admitted Rob Mackowiak was a bust, in the context of "you win some, you lose some" when it comes to signing inexpensive free agents. Remember Rob Mackowiak?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Meet The (Pseudo) Press

Today was the big day: GM Jim Bowden and Assistant GM Mike Rizzo took a Q&A from Nats fans at the ESPNZone downtown. I'll have some transcript highlights later after tonight's game, but wanted to offer some initial reaction to the Q&A and overall general impressions of the performance of the Nationals front office.

The very first question came from a season ticket holder from day one, and was to the effect of: Why should I pay my money to see this product when it's steadily gotten worse every year? THAT'S the type of day it was. There were some softballs lobbed up, and some casual fan questions like: What would the team's record have been without all the injuries (Bowden's response: 82-80!), but for the most part, the fan (and blogger) questions were direct, informed and pointed.

Bowden was Bowden. His answers were what we've come accustomed to hearing, and we really didn't learn much new from him. Of the Crow fiasco, he said that the team was disappointed, but the team needed to be responsible and eventually let the player go. There was more blame shifted to Mr. Hendricks, Crow's agent, and how the player was hurt more walking away because of the relatively small financial difference than the team was. He touted all three recent middle infield acquisitions as contributors on the major league level despite less-than-stellar minor league numbers.

He defended how the team has operated in the media, stating how the team has been up-front about how they were going to re-build. He defended their selective approach to free agency, going after the Tim Redding/Odalis Perez/Willie Harris types, saying that if you miss with one of them you're only costing the team $850K-$2MM, as opposed to big ticket busts like Barry Zito or Carlos Silva. He also said, in response to a question about signing LoDuca and Estrada, that the team doesn't want to rush any of it's top talent before it's ready and risk doing the player harm instead of good, which is why he signed those two guys in the off-season.

Rizzo performed well in the select questions that were directed to him. He was pretty blunt about Crow being the player they wanted. He explained how in Arizona, where he was previously, they had a specific way of scouting and drafting, and that he was trying to instill that here. He thinks the Nats are way ahead of where Arizona was when he started there. He thinks the team is going about things "the right way" and some of the talent they have stock-piled will be ready soon, and hopefully at the same time.

Then, when things were done, Steven from Fire Jim Bowden and I had a chance to speak with Mr. Rizzo first, then Mr. Bowden and eventually Team President Stan Kasten, who did not take Q&A during the main part. The conversations were all particularly interesting and intriguing on many levels. There was not much new information exchanged necessarily, but insight into each man's thought process about the game, the team, the fans, the main-stream media, and the functions and responsibilies of fan bloggers.

I will have transcript excerpts and commentary posted late after tonight's game.

One baseball related item: Jake Peavy has been scratched from tonight's start. The Padres offer Dirk Hayhurst, a right-hander from Canton, Ohio, in his place. Hayhurst has been up since late August and is 0-2 with a 8.49 ERA in 11.2 innings.

Santana, Schneider Handle Nats Easily 7-2

Washington -- Perennial Cy Young candidate Johan Santana allowed just one run and struck out eight, his catcher, Brian Schneider, hit two home runs in a game for the first time since 2003, and the New York Mets emphatically closed out the four game series with a 7-2 victory over the Washington Nationals before 25,426 at Nationals Park.

Santana (W, 14-7, 2.65) was stellar in his performance as usual, going seven innings and allowing Mets manager Jerry Manual to rest most of his bullpen, after plowing through seven relievers in Wednesday's game. Santana allowed eight hits and two walks, but the strikeouts helped snuff possible rallies all night. Manual still used three more pitchers to seal the deal, but Joe Smith, Scott Schoeneweis and Pedro Feliciano closed the door effectively on this occasion.

The Mets scored runs in each of the first five innings to dominate early. Nats starter Tim Redding (L, 10-10, 4.67) was not sharp, going only three innings and surrendering five runs -- four earned -- on seven hits and a walk. Four of the seven hits were of the extra-base variety, including Schneider's first homer of the evening, a lazy fly ball to right that just kept carrying over the fence and into the Nats bullpen. Schneider, RF Ryan Church, SS Jose Reyes and LF Dan Murphy all had two hits apiece.

Despite pounding out thirteen hits, the Nats could only manage to push two across, and not until the late innings. In the seventh inning, Anderson Hernandez doubled in Wil Nieves, with pinch hitter Luke Montz moving up to third with just one out. But Santana got Cristian Guzman to pop out to second base and Ryan Zimmerman flied out to deep right. One inning later, Elijah Dukes and Willie Harris each reached via single off Mets reliever Joe Smith, and Nieves delivered Dukes on a single up the middle with two outs. Unfortunately, there would be no heroics this evening, as Alberto Gonzalez grounded to third to end the threat.

The Nationals had to be content taking two of the four games from their division rival, as one team attempts to win the N.L. East and the other is trying to avoid losing 100 games for the first time in franchise history.

Washington hosts the San Diego Padres for a three-game series this weekend, which may decide who gets the #1 pick in next year's amateur draft. Both teams enter play with identical 58-95 records, trailing the Seattle Mariners by one-half game for the worst record in major league baseball. Seattle has equal losses but one fewer win. Friday night's match-up features Nats rookie Collin Balestar (3-6, 4.54) facing the Padres veteran Jake Peavy (9-11, 2.77).

NATS NOTES: Washington is 28 games behind Philadelphia in the N.L. East. The Mets kept pace with the Phillies and remain one-half game behind for the division pennant. New York is one and one-half games ahead of Milwaukee for the Wild Card spot in the National League.

Zimmerman finished the game 3-for-5 after slumping the first three games of the series. Guzman, Dukes and Nieves all added two hits each as well.

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008.

My Question for Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo

I am attending the Q&A with Washington Nationals GM Jim Bowden and Assistant GM Mike Rizzo today at the downtown ESPN Zone at 12:00 noon. It should be a rousing good time.

In advance, here is the question I plan to ask of them:

With notable exception, the DC baseball fan base is still relatively unsophisticated. While educated fans know, despite the Aaron Crow fiasco, how much time, energy and money is going into rebuilding a minor league system that was decimated by years of neglect while MLB was steward of the franchise, how do you explain to the casual fan -- the ones that pay to see THIS team you've assembled: journeymen starting pitchers, relief pitchers dicarded from other organizations and career back-up position players elevated to starters here -- the lack of credible major league talent on the field, when do you envision the organization investing in the MAJOR LEAGUE roster, and, projecting a bit, where do you see this team's most pressing needs once some of the home-grown talent that you've hand-selected becomes major league ready?

If someone beats me to this question, I'll just ask him about the Manny wig. Or maybe, the last time he spoke to Kevin Towers


See you all in a couple hours.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Homers, Knight Too Much For Nats

Washington -- Carlos Beltran hit two home runs, 33-year old rookie Brandon Knight was strong through five innings, and the beleaguered bullpen held on -- barely -- as the New York Mets salvaged game three of a four game series with the Washington Nationals, 9-7, in front of 25,019 bi-partisan fans at Nationals Park. The Nats tried valiantly to come back against the imploding Mets bullpen, scoring in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings but it was just not enough in the end, as former Nat Luis Ayala got the last out of the game to record his eighth save since joining the Mets last month.

The Mets jumped all over Nats rookie starter Shairon Martis early. All-star SS Jose Reyes belted a home run to right field on the game's fifth pitch, and Carlos Delgado followed suit three batters later to take a 2-0 lead before most of the crowd had settled into their seats or taken a bite of their chili dog. Washington got one back in the second when Kory Casto doubled in Lastings Milledge, who had reached on an infield single. But Martis' trouble would continue in the top of the third.

Reyes walked to lead things off, and LF Dan Murphy sent a screaming line drive to right center, scoring Reyes without a throw and Murphy sliding into third with a triple. A batter later, Delgado delivered Murphy home with a single, and Beltran followed that with his first home run of the evening, a no-doubt-about-it shot into the bleachers in right field. Martis would get the final two outs of the inning, but was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the third, ending his shortest stint in his brief major league career. His final numbers were pretty ugly: three innings, six earned runs, five hits, two walks, three home runs and four strikeouts. Martis, 21, is now 0-3 in three starts with a 6.23 ERA.

The Mets added solo runs in the fourth and sixth innings to take an 8-1 lead before the Nats bats woke up and began the comeback against a parade of Mets relievers. In the bottom of the sixth, facing Ricardo Rincon, pinch hitter Alberto Gonzales singled home 2B Emilio Bonifacio, who had earlier doubled. Elijah Dukes crushed a two-run home run off Brian Stokes down the line in left field in the seventh inning to cut the deficit to 8-5. Beltran his second of the night, his 26th of the season, in the eighth off reliever Charlie Manning, making the score 9-5. Aaron Heilman actually held the Nats scoreless in the eighth, although he gave up a double and single to start the inning, and the Nats found themselves down four starting the ninth.

Manager Jerry Manual called on side-arming Joe Smith to open the ninth against Milledge who found himself safe at first on David Wright's throwing error. Dukes drew a walk, putting two on with no outs. Manual lifted Smith in favor of Pedro Feliciano to face Anderson Hernandez, and Feliciano induced a hard ground ball to first baseman Delgado, who made a nifty back-hand stop to get the speedy Hernandez by half a step for the first out. Were the ball two feet more to Delgado's right, he never would have touched it and we might have witnessed a different ending. But they say baseball is a game of inches, and that axiom was no more applicable than last night.

Feliciano went on to get Bonifacio to tap a come-backer to the mound for the second out, and the Nats found themselves with backs to the wall once again. But catcher Wil Nieves was undaunted. After taking two strikes, he settled into the batter's box and found a pitch he finally liked, and he drilled it to the gap in right center, scoring Milledge and Dukes from second base, giving Nats fans a few more gasps of air and bringing the tying run to the plate.

Manager Manny Acta announced Luke Montz as the pinch-hitter for pitcher Garrett Mock, and Manual countered with his de facto closer, former long-time Washington National Luis Ayala. Acta called Montz back and got lefty-swinging Roger Bernadina off the bench to face Ayala. Bernadina worked Ayala into a 2-2 count, but the crafty veteran put one up in the zone that the youngster couldn't lay off, and when Bernadina swung through for strike three, Ayala pounced off the mound with a fist pump and beaming smile.

Ayala was no doubt proud about delivering the Mets a much needed victory against his former team and relief -- albeit temporary -- for their own relief corp.

The finale of the four-game set is Thursday night at 7:10 pm, in a match-up of squad aces. Tim Redding (10-9, 4.54) matches up with Johan Santana (13-7, 2.70).

NATS NOTES: Washington falls to 58-94, 27 games behind Philadelphia in the N.L. East. The Nats are ahead of Seattle and San Diego one-half game for the worst record in the majors. The Nats need to go 5-5 in their final 10 games to avoid 100 losses.

The team announced that RF Austin Kearns, C Jesus Flores, 2B Ronnie Belliard and 1B Dmitri Young will all be shut down and will not appear again in 2008.

GM Jim Bowden and Assistant GM Mike Rizzo will appear Friday at noon at the ESPN Zone in downtown DC for a Q&A with fans. Radio broadcaster Charlie Slowes will be the moderator.

GB&U: Close But No Cigar

RESULT: Nats lose to Mets 9-7.

GOOD: Wil Nieves. 3-for-5, two run single in ninth inning to bring up tying run. Elijah Dukes. Monster 2-run shot to left, his 13th of the year. Emilio! 2-for-5 with a run and RBI. Kory Casto with two hits and an RBI. Guzman had two more hits, raising his average to .315.

BAD: Zim, 0-for-4 again. Bullpen. Bergmann, Speigner and Manning each give up a run already trailing in the game. If ANY of them do their jobs, the Nats would have had a chance last night.

UGLY: Shairon Martis. I know he's just 21, and he was rushed into this here at the end of the year due to Bergmann's stinking up the joint (Fire Jim Bowden and I see opposite sides of this issue). But Martis was awful from the start. His fastball had no movement and his other pitches were just dull. He needs at least another full year in AA honing his other pitches so on the nights when he doesn't have his good stuff he can get hitters out. His line: 3 IP, 6 ERs, 5 hits, 2 BBs, 4 Ks, 3 HRs.

INJURY UPDATE: From the Nats Redundancy Department of Redundancy: Kearns, Flores, Belliard and Young all shut down for the year.

NEXT GAME: Tonight for game four at 7:10 pm. A match-up of "aces". Tim Redding (10-9, 4.54) faces Johan Santana (13-7, 2.70).

Poor Jason Bergmann

Sources tell me that at the ESPN Zone function today where Jason Bergmann appeared, took fan questions and signed autographs, only five Nats fans showed up. Bergy's had his share of disappointments this season, but this had to be tough today.

This is the first of these lunchtime events I've missed, and usually there's been 50-75 people in attendance. Granted, these were all while school was still out, and despite public reports, brought all types of fans out to the event. Maybe Mr. Oppenheim was closer to the truth than I was willing to admit.

GM Jim Bowden and Ass't GM Mike Rizzo are scheduled to appear Friday at ESPN Zone as previously mentioned (with fake transcript) here. It promises to be must-see tv. I wouldn't miss it for the world. And if only five people come out for that, then that just means more face time for me!


RESULT: Nats shut out Mets 1-0. Mets fall from first place!

GOOD: Odalis Perez. 7.1 IP, 0 runs, 4 hits, walks, 7 Ks. Outstanding. Even scored the only run of the game. Mike Hinckley and Joel Hanrahan were perfect.

BAD: The Nats only got one run themselves. Zim had a particularly rough night, going 0-for-4 and stranding 5 runners.

UGLY: Man, are the Mets in trouble. Manager Jerry Manuel had a 15 minute closed-door meeting pre-game, and then they go out and get shut out by Odalis Perez. Injury to insult, they lose Fernando Tatis to a separated shoulder. He's done for the year.

NEXT GAME: Tonight at 7:10 for game three of four. Nats rookie Shairon Martis (0-2, 2.70) takes on Mets rookie Brandon Knight (0-0, 6.43). Knight is a 33 year old rookie that sepnt most of his summer playing for the U.S. Olympic team. I think enough is said there.

Perez, Nats Blank Mets 1-0

Washington -- The Washington Nationals are again proving to be the Achilles' heel to the New York Mets in a pennant race. After giving the Mets so much trouble last season during the Mets now-famous collapse to fall out of the playoffs, the Nats are up to it again. Washington has now defeated the Mets two straight games, including Tuesday night's 1-0 shut out by Odalis Perez and company, and have knocked the once division-leadings New Yorkers from first place in the N.L. East. Philadelphia beat Atlanta, moving a half-game in front of the slumping Mets for the first time since August 26.

Perez was simply outstanding on the mound -- and in the batter's box -- for the home team last night. He went seven and one-third shut out innings, allowing only four hits and walking no one, striking out six. The Mets scratched out just four singles, two of which were back-to-back pinch-hits in the eighth inning.

At that point, Manager Manny Acta went to rookie reliever Mike Hinckley, who forced SS Jose Reyes to bounce into a fielder's choice and struck out Ryan Church to end the threat. Hinckley has yet to allow a run in his first nine major league innings pitched. Joel Hanrahan pitched a perfect ninth inning to record his ninth save of the season, striking out two. Perez (W, 7-10, 4.26), the veteran left-hander signed right before the season, retired thirteen in a row at one point and did not allow a runner to advance past second base. It was his longest outing since 2005.

"He had the best command of the season so far," Washington manager Manny Acta said. "He threw every one of his pitches for strikes. He was able to stop the middle of the lineup. He was just tremendous."

Mike Pelfrey (13-10, 3.67) was the hard luck loser for the Mets. He went seven innings, allowing one run on seven hits and four walks, striking out four.

The lone run of the game came in the fifth inning. With two down already, Perez lashed a soft liner to left center field, which LF Fernando Tatis dove for and missed, allowing the ball to get by and Perez to trot into second base with a double. Tatis would stay down in tremendous pain, and was helped off by members of the Mets training staff. He separated his right shoulder on the play, and will miss the rest of the season. When play resumed, Pelfrey walked lead-off hitter Willie Harris. As he's done all season long, SS Cristian Guzman came up with a big hit, delivering a ground rule double into the Mets bullpen to score the only run needed for the evening.

Harris would save that lead in the top of the sixth, as he made an outstanding Willie Mays-style catch with his back to home plate off a drive to left by David Wright with two out and two on. "It was a great play," Wright said. "But we needed to do a better job of putting more pressure on them in more innings, not just having one opportunity and have that make or break the game."

For the Mets, memories of last season's collapse -- especially losses to the lowly Nationals -- have to be creeping back into their consciousness.

Wednesday night is game three of the four game set. Nats rookie Shairon Martis (0-2, 2.70) takes on Mets rookie Brandon Knight (0-0, 6.43). Knight made one start in July for the Mets, and has made two subsequent relief appearances. This is a spot start, as Friday's rainout pushed Johan Santana's regular turn off. Knight pitched for the U.S. Olympic Team in Beijing this summer. Martis makes his third start for the Nats.

NATS NOTES: The win raises the Nats record to 58-93, 26 games behind Philadelphia in the division. The win also moves Washington out of the worst record in the majors, one half-game ahead of Seattle.

Monday, September 15, 2008

GB&U: Collar Tightening Again For Mets?

RESULT: Nats beat Mets 7-2 behind gem from John Lannan.

GOOD: Lannan. Seven innings, one run, one hit. He was simply awesome. He scattered three walks amongst seven strikeouts. He did not allow more than one base runner in any inning, and he had four 1-2-3 innings, including the last two he pitched. So much for hitting a wall.

BAD: David Wright. I don't usually mention opponents in the GB&U, but Wright merits exception. He was 0-for-4 with 2 Ks and grounded into a potential rally-killing double play in the top of the eighth.

UGLY: We'll stick with the theme here: Pedro Martinez. Wow, is this the same guy Nats fans so lustily booed several years ago when he was head-hunting at RFK that night? Petey gave up 8 hits and 4 BBs in 6 IP, with just 3 Ks. It's kinda amazing he only gave up four runs. I think the Mets are in trouble again.

NEXT GAME: Tomorrow night. The Nats try to knock the Mets from first place AGAIN, as New York clings perilously to a half-game lead over the suddenly red-hot Phillies. The four-game series continues as Odalis Perez (6-10, 4.48) and the Nats try to play spoiler against Mike Pelfrey (13-9, 3.77) and the Mets.

Stock Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008