The injury bug is biting the Nationals at the right time

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It’s not ideal, to say the least. The Nationals have fallen to what you could argue has been their worst foe over the past few years, once again – the injury bug.

This year has been marked as the last year when a core group of players will all be together before free-agency. This year has possibly the most “World Series or Bust” connotations no matter what the management or players tell you. However, it’s going to be pretty hard to win without a 1-2-3 punch. The Nats have lost their players in the top three spots in the lineup due to injury, all of whom were incredibly productive last year and a key reason why the ballclub made it as far as they did.

Denard Span, after a Sports Hernia Surgery, felt pain in a right core muscle and had to undergo surgery. He’ll won’t return anywhere from the third week of the season to mid-May. Anthony Rendon went down and is doubtful for opening day with a sprained MCL.  Jayson Werth underwent surgery on his shoulder over the offseason and will be sitting out for a few days or a week from Opening Day barring a sudden spur in recovery speed.

The lineup is now left with three replacements preparing for Opening Day and new spots opening up. It may not look bright, but this may be the best thing to happen to the Nationals all season.

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Looking at the lineup (48 days in advance)

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The Nationals haven’t had a lack of hype surrounding their last two seasons. The magazines were filled with predictions of parades on the National Mall, banners on South Capitol Street and a Curly W in the books for the last game of the season. We all know the rest of the story –  two seasons, one regular season disappointment, one 18-inning heartbreak.

Despite the incorrect predictions, there are still two large and legitimate reasons that in the past two year’s baseball previews, in big, bold letters, under the “World Series Champions” label, the words “Washington Nationals” have appeared more often than nearly any other. One is their talented rotation, which analysts like me and those on MLB Network could babble on about for hours. The other is the depth of their lineup, the “Red Line”. The Nationals possess what many would call the most dangerous lineup from 1-8, with offensive weapons at every stop.

Given the changes in the lineup made over the offseason, the lineup has the possibility to be different. It’s hard to believe Matt Williams and Mike Rizzo would mess too much with last year’s success excepting an injury.

Last year, the Nationals lineup eventually stacked up like this:

1. Denard Span, CF

2. Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B

3. Jayson Werth, RF

4. Adam LaRoche, 1B

5. Ian Desmond, SS

6. Bryce Harper, LF

7. Wilson Ramos, C

8. Asdrubal Cabrera/Danny Espinosa/Kevin Frandsen, 2B

9. Pitcher

Despite early season woes, this lineup took the Nationals to an NL East Championship. The majority of the players remain – all but two. Even so, Ryan Zimmerman will move to 1B but it does give Matt Williams a couple options on how he wants to shape his lineup. Here’s (barring any trades or injuries) the official Side of Natitude prediction. Continue reading

The End of The Line

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Down Half Street lies the Navy Yard Metro Station. Board a train 81 days from April to October and the train will be packed with fans dressed in red, white and blue, bearing the names of Strasburg and Harper. Ride it for long enough, and you’ll eventually reach Branch Avenue, the final stop on the line before turning around and starting all over. Only one team out of thirty is lucky enough to be the team that can happily leave the train before Branch Avenue, the stop known as the World Series. The Nationals were not that team this year.

The train that looked to be going the perfect speed, to for the first time, finish ahead of everyone else, couldn’t. On Wednesday, October 7th, the San Francisco Giants eliminated the Washington Nationals from postseason contention. The Nationals managed a meager 9 runs in four games, and lost the series in four games after being heavily favored to advance to the next round.

Maybe you should blame the loss on Tanner Roark giving up the home run in the eighteenth inning to Brandon Belt in Game Two. Maybe you should blame Gio Gonzalez for giving up two runs in four innings, or Aaron Barrett for throwing the wild pitch that created the winning run. Maybe you should blame Matt Williams for not taking Barrett out of the game soon enough. But excepting the two youngest and brightest stars on the team, the blame rests on the offense.

The Nationals offense all year long thrived on the ability of the tag-team combo of Denard Span and Anthony Rendon to get on base, and then for Adam Laroche, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper or Wilson Ramos to drive them in. All of them hit higher than .258 in the regular season. In the Postseason, Adam LaRoche hit .056 and Desmond had the highest average in the top seven spots excepting Harper and Rendon at .167. Harper and Rendon combined to bat .331. However, even when Harper and Rendon got on base, nobody drove them home, as the Nationals lost one-run game after one-run game.

While the pitching wasn’t as superb as it had been in the months leading up, giving up 2.25 runs a game should be a recipe for success. However, the bats completely died in the five day break between Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter and Game one of the NLDS. While Harper and Rendon showed incredibly promising signs, the rest of the team continued to go quietly each and every time, letting hanging breaking balls fall in for a strike, swinging at balls in the dirt and popping up consistently. While Game 3 showed momentum changing, the Nationals simply couldn’t ride Bryce Harper alone to the next round. Errors they hadn’t made all year proved costly the one time it truly mattered. And instead of something escapable to run away from, the World Series station passed, and Branch Avenue became a reality with Ramos’ groundout to end the game.

And so the train turned around and went back. Half Street was just a blur in an underground tunnel. The signs proclaiming that the Nationals had reached the postseason had quietly disappeared. The government offices were no longer red, and back to their normal states. And even on a day where the temperature was warm and the sun was out, the chills of winter were blowing, not to stop for a long, long time. The train pulled into the airport, and the team left, all going their separate ways. And for the train itself? It will sit underground for the winter and avoid the cold. And one morning in April, it will pull out of the station, starting another journey.

Matt Williams gets rave reviews, players and fans alike.

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“He who holds the ball controls the game.”

AT THE END of the Davey Johnson era, the scent of stale beer and gloom filled Nationals park. The perfect season had rotted, beautiful at first, but now ugly. As fans stared down at the field watching the Nationals play a half hearted game against the Miami Marlins, losing by a score of four to two, everybody knew in their hearts that the miracles, and the “We Believe’s” had reached their end. There was no chance of a World Series, let alone a playoff berth in Washington this year. Every magazine, newspaper and blog had predicted it incorrectly. As they filed out of the stadium, one by one, leaving the game they had bought tickets to, expecting it to be a clincher, or a game where the starters didn’t play because of the berth, but instead fought for the second Wild-Card spot – and failed. We could smell victory that Opening Day against the same team, when Harper hit two bombs and Strasburg went seven innings without giving up a run. The scent of the World Series was in the air, but it was snatched away from us.

Even though the Braves and other mediocre teams defeated them many times, it was obvious that something else had to change. Immediately after the season ended, Mike Rizzo intensified the search for the new manager. This was not a bad situation to come into as a manager – in fact, this was one of the most, if not the most coveted positions to come into as a manager. The Nationals had a decent season, and were still poised to be in the playoffs the next year. Candidates included Trent Jewett, Randy Knorr, Cal Ripken Jr., and Matt Williams.

After working in the Major Leagues for 16 years as a Third Baseman for the Giants, D-Backs and Indians, he became a coach for the D-Backs in 2009. His only managing experience was in the Arizona Fall League, with a couple Nats prospects including Anthony Rendon.  Williams was close to Rizzo after

Career Stats:  BA: .268 HR: 378 RBI: 1,218 College: UNLV (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Career Stats:
BA: .268
HR: 378
RBI: 1,218
College: UNLV
(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

working together in Arizona before, and was the frontrunner the whole way. He was given the job officially on October 31st. News sources immediately started searching for more information on him, and told many stories of his greatness, his World Series rings, his steroid use, and the rest of his life.

Early on, he mapped out the problems with the Nationals, every day of Spring Training, (“Day one through forty-one, it’s all there” he says) and how they could bring a title and a banner home to D.C.

As the long months between the Winter League and Pitchers and Catchers rolled on, he watched his General Manager pick up Doug Fister, Jerry Blevins, Nate McClouth and Jose Lobaton, while extending every key player. 

On Thursday, the long waiting concluded, as pitchers and catchers reported to Viera, Florida. Williams had already been there for a week.

“Every pitch we make is with conviction.”

As players walked into the facility, some seeing the same thing they had been seeing for years, putting on old, familiar jerseys, while others looked somewhat lost, putting on new jerseys with new numbers and new colors, everyone was greeted warmly by the players already there, Rizzo and Williams.

Williams had already made his position very clear onto what he would do with certain players.

On Bryce Harper, he said that “He loves the way he plays the game” but at times could be “A little smarter, and not run into walls.”

On Danny Espinosa, Anthony Rendon and the Second Base job, he announced that he “Believes it’s an open competition”

On Ryan Zimmerman, he said that there would be a first baseman’s mitt in his Spring Training locker, and lone and behold, there was.

Congratulating Adam Eaton on a Home Run as Third Base Coach. REUTERS/Ralph D. Freso

Congratulating Adam Eaton on a Home Run as Third Base Coach. (REUTERS/Ralph D. Freso)

And so far, the players are enjoying him.

“(His intensity) got me a little fired up” says Stephen Strasburg

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Matt” Werth announced. “I think with the playing experience and the type of guy he is, his overall baseball IQ, I think he’s going to do a good job.

Anthony Rendon played under him in the Arizona Fall League, and says that he “Likes that he brings a little fire. (He had) his opportunity to show people that he could bring out the best in his players, and I believe he did that.”

“There is a difference between control and command.”

Fans have also been raving on him all over Twitter, saying that they are confident in his abilities and how he will bring the Nats back to their fundamentals and change the attitude of this season as opposed to last year’s.

Being introduced as the new Manager at Nationals Park (Washington Post)

Being introduced as the new Manager at Nationals Park (Washington Post)

The change we see in Spring Training will not be visible to the majority of us, partially because of the fact that Spring Training should not be too intense, partially because the drills, batting practices and bullpen sessions are not visible to us.

However, one interesting thing we can see is a new thing, the “Quote of the day”.  The quotes above have been from the first three days of Spring Training. He has planned one from day one to forty one.

Many people are concerned about a young manager guiding this team, but if there is one thing that Nats fans know, it’s that Mike Rizzo makes great decisions nearly every time. The odds that this one is an exception are quite low.

“Expect the ball to be hit; demand it to be caught.”

Many people are trying to find the downside on this team, and are saying that Matt Williams’ inexperience, quotes of the day and fundamentals will throw off the Nats. However, if what we’ve seen so far is a sign, I can tell you I have upmost confidence in him.

So laugh all you want about his managing style. But he can definitely lead the Nats to something special, so get on the bandwagon now. Because when it starts rolling, you won’t want to be late.

“If not you, then who?”

 

Is Doug Fister the Nationals’ Missing Piece?

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Is Doug Fister what brings the Nationals a World Series Parade?

Is Doug Fister what brings the Nationals a World Series Parade? (CBSSports)

Hey everyone, this post was a collaboration between me and Matt Eisner, the Nationals youth pro-blogger. If you want to see more of his work, go to mattsbats.com or follow him on Twitter at @MattsBats.

Two hours down the long California freeways from San Francisco lies the Northern California town of Merced. A small, sleepy town, it doesn’t look like much to the naked eye. However, it is the home of a few notable people – NBA All Star Shooting Guard Ray Allen, the C.E.O. of YouTube – and Doug Fister.

Merced, California (Engadget)

Merced, California (Engadget)

One of the newest and most exciting additions to the Nationals roster for the 2014 season is pitcher Doug Fister.  Fister, a starter acquired from the Tigers, may be the proven veteran in the Nats rotation that Mike Rizzo has been hoping to find for many years.  He may also be the missing link in the rotation for taking the Nationals to the playoffs. But where did that start? Let’s go back a few years.

Doug grew up the son of Larry, a fire captain and police SWAT team member, and Jan, a homemaker. He grew up interested in baseball, woodworking, and remodeling cars.  As a kid, he would take apart his mom’s appliances and then put them back together again, just for fun. (He still has a love for tinkering – this winter, even though he could afford the best builder in California, he rebuilt his own bathroom – just for fun.) Doug grew up a fan of the nearby A’s and Giants.  He was also a fan of the “Iron Man” Cal Ripken, Jr.

Doug went to Golden Valley High School, and played high school ball for the Cougars. He was a pitcher and a utility player, and he hit .425 in his senior year. He was drafted by the nearby Giants as a first baseman, but decided to play baseball in college.  After graduating from Golden Valley, he decided to go to Merced Junior College for two years. In those two years, he was a junior college All Star, and struck out 29 players in just 30 innings pitched. He went on to Division I Fresno State and, in 2006, was voted to the ESPN All-District team, with a 3.33 ERA.  Doug was also a good student, with a 3.31 GPA in liberal studies and planned to be an elementary school teacher if he didn’t make it to The Show. The Fresno State Bulldogs, as they were called, went to the NCAA tournament that year, but fell to Cal State Fullerton in the Regional Finals that year.

After watching big names like Evan Longoria, Tim Lincecum, and Max Scherzer being picked, Doug Fister was selected with the fifth pick in the seventh round of the 2006 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners.  His dream came true as MLB Commissioner Bud Selig introduced him as a professional ballplayer.

After rising relatively quickly through the Mariners’ organization,

(Hardball Talk - NBC Sports)

On the Mariners(Hardball Talk – NBC Sports)

he made his major league debut on August 8, 2009 with one inning of shutout pitching. Three days later, he started his first game against the White Sox, and eventually finished that season 3-4. The next year, he was given the chance to become a regular starter. He got the job, and posted a 6-14 record with a 4.11 E.R.A. Even with those rough numbers, many people saw the potential in the tall kid from Merced.

On the trade deadline of 2011, after a rough 3-12 start, the Mariners shipped Doug Fister away to the Detroit Tigers. After that trade, he went 8-1, and had a 1.71 E.R.A in ten starts as a Tiger. After two playoff wins, things were looking good for Doug

Fister celebrating in the clubhouse after defeating the Yankees in the ALDS (CBSSports)

Fister celebrating in the clubhouse after defeating the Yankees in the ALDS (CBSSports)

Fister and the Tigers. 2012 had potential to be a big year for them.

Although injured for a portion of the beginning of the 2012 season, Fister came back strong, and managed a 10-10 record that year, recorded a shutout and, in all of his playoff games, did not give up more than two runs in any game, in up to seven innings of work. Doug was a large part in the Tigers’ 2013 Division Championship run. Not only did he post a career high in wins, win percentage and strikeouts, but kept the eventual World Series champions, the Red Sox, to one run over six innings in the ALCS.

On the evening of December 3, 2013, a high school senior in Boston, Chris Cotillo, broke the news that Fister was being traded for the second time of his career.  In a move that surprised the baseball world, Doug Fister was traded to the Washington Nationals for utility player Steve Lombardozzi, rookie pitcher Ian Krol and prospect Robbie Ray.  For a deal like this, it was hard for Nats fans not to be excited.

The Nationals are hoping that Doug Fister fills a role in their rotation that they tried unsuccessfully to do with Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren in 2012 and 2013.  Fister is a seasoned veteran going on 5 years of major league experience with lots of postseason experience.  With his clutch pitching and intimidating height, he could be a force to be reckoned with in the already solid rotation. Most likely, he will slot in as the Nats’ fourth starter, although on most teams he would probably slot higher.  Most expect that Nationals starting rotation to go Strasburg (R), Gonzalez (L), Zimmermann (R), Fister (R), and the fifth spot to be decided in Spring Training between Ross Detwiler, Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan or possibly even Christian Garcia.  With a lineup that strong, Fister could even go #5 for real right-left, right-left rotation.  He could also slot in higher in the rotation to mess with hitters’ timing– while Strasburg can go 95 mph and Gio and J-Zimm also throw heat in the 90s, Fister’s fastball tops out in the high 80s but with major accuracy and a sinker that induces a lot of infield outs.  Imagine what it would be like as a batter playing a four game series against the Nats facing Strasburg’s fastball on Monday, Gio’s wicked curve on Tuesday, Zimmerman’s change in velocity on Wednesday, and Fister’s nasty sinker on Thursday.

Doug Fister introducing himself at NatsFest, with Jerry Blevins and Mike Rizzo. (Scott Ableman, FLICKR)

Doug Fister introducing himself at NatsFest, with Jerry Blevins and Mike Rizzo. (Scott Ableman, FLICKR)

One big way Doug Fister can help is in the clubhouse. In my opinion, one of the biggest problems last year was the atmosphere behind the scenes, due to the loss of clubhouse guys Mark DeRosa and Michael Morse. With the help of Nate McClouth, Jerry Blevins and Jose Lobaton, he could change that. He will be the oldest of the Nationals starting pitchers and has a calm personality that will probably make him fit in well with teammates Strasburg and Zimmermann. He’s also just a generally fun guy to hang around with, according to many teammates and coaches.

However, the biggest reason Doug Fister can make the Nats a championship team, is the simple fact that he is an amazing pitcher. Even while he was pitching in the third most hitter-friendly ballpark in the country, he posted great numbers throughout his tenure as a Tiger. He succeeds by throwing well-placed pitches and getting hitters to swing on top of the sinker that drops like a rock, which means lots of groundballs to guys like Zimmerman, Desmond and Rendon/Espinosa. Walks are also a rarity with him.

In college, he studied to be a teacher – but went to baseball instead. But hopefully, he can teach the younger guys what has made him excel, and his calm. “Just do your job” attitude.  Doug Fister has seen a lot of postseason play with the Tigers, and in those high pressure situations he’s posted a 2.98 E.R.A. for an average of six innings a game.

The Nats already had the potential to be a great team, but with the addition of Doug Fister, they may have taken the leap to become a World Series team.

Fister told USA Today, he is going to “approach every day trying to get better and trying to make it to October.”

Hopefully, we’ll see him there this Fall.

This article was independently researched. However, if you want  another good article on this, please look at  washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/nationals-doug-fister-knows-he-can-be-of-service/2014/02/14/a0592b16-95c2-11e3-8461-8a24c7bf0653_story.html

Nats fans are obviously passionate about Bryce Harper being the Face of MLB

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As a relatively new team, the Nats are one of the most adept to social media. Their fans are also some of the most loyal on twitter, with Anthony Rendon’s Mullet, Jayson Werth’s beard and countless archives and blogs posting, plus players. Today, MLB opened the voting for the Face of the MLB between Ryan Braun and Bryce Harper. This is where it gets interesting.

One thing to consider on that last one is that Braun has done ‘roids, but even so…

While it’s unlikely he’ll beat Kershaw or Trout, everyone obviously needs something to do until spring training.