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

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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.

The Panic Button

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This was the team that made D.C. dream. We cheered with them, cried with them, and sung “Take on Me” with them. 2012 was an incredible year for the Nationals.
Continue reading

Murphy’s Law Strikes Again, Takes Harper

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Less than a week ago, Harper left the game for not hustling enough in Matt Williams’ opinion during a routine groundout. The Nationals eventually lost.

Six days later the Nationals lead by two against the Padres. Bases loaded. Harper hit one deep into right, off the scoreboard. The runners scored, and after his briefing with Matt Williams, Harper wanted a triple. He slid headfirst into third, safe.

But when the next inning began, McClouth replaced Harper in left field. Fans assumed he had just jammed his thumb, and would come back soon. But on Sunday, the Nationals announced he would go on the fifteen-day DL.

Where have we heard this story before?

Oh, wait, we all know. Opening Day, with Ramos. Against the Braves on April 11, with Zimmerman. Fister in his second to last spring training game.

Lady luck has not smiled upon the Nationals with injuries so far this season. Starters have already combined for more than roughly 43 games lost this season, all big blows.

Many things with the ability to go wrong went wrong. Harper sliding into third. Zimmerman with second. Ramos on a foul ball. Fister on a pitch.

But here’s the good news.

The Nats have won 56 percent of their games without Ramos’ big bat, and have gone 7-6 against two very good teams after the Braves series without Zimmerman. Desmond & Werth are stepping it up while Espinosa, LaRoche, Rendon and Lobaton continue to hit. Plus, the time left on the DL remaining for Fister runs out soon, and Zimmerman and Ramos can both come back by mid-late May.

Nats est. DL time left (C/O NatsWX)

Nats est. DL time left (C/O NatsWX)

Harper’s sprain hopefully won’t mean ligamental damage, and the Nats may pick up where they left off very soon.

Grand Slams and Resilience Lead Nats to Sweep Over Marlins, But Will it Beat the Braves?

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As Strasburg dealt like an ace on thursday, striking out twelve and giving up one run over 6.2 innings, the Nats finally backed him up with a win, adding on to Werth’s early inning home run with a Harper walk with the bases loaded, to load them up once again for Desmond, who immediately teed off and gave the Nationals their second grand slam in two nights. (Just some perspective, it took them nearly three months longer to get one grand slam in 2013.)

But last night’s game shouldn’t be why fans with Curly W’s on their caps should be excited. On Wednesday, they didn’t have the ace of the 2013 season, Zimmermann. They had some odd replica of him, who didn’t have his A-game – or his C-game, and was hit early, giving up five runs in less than three innings. The bullpen came in, dominated the Marlins to one run over the next seven innings, and slowly, but surely, the Nats chipped away. After Harper’s moonshot that was fair by about seven inches, singles and sacrifices brought the Nats to a tie game by the eighth inning. And sure enough, the comeback kids did it once again, loading up the bases so Werth could send a home run into the Marlins’ bullpen, a type of home run he last hit in that Game 4 of the NLDS.

Comebacks have begun to become a staple of this season. But as the Braves continue to plague the Nats, the question remains, will the Nationals be able to come back and win against the Braves?

The signals are mixed. They’ve been the rally boys in the first and third series of the year, but the Braves gave them trouble last time. We’ll wait and see, starting tonight, but it’s not an option to not bring this atmosphere to Turner Field… or there’s no division title in D.C.

The offseason report – The teams doing the right thing – and the teams that aren’t.

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I am self-admittedly a mess without baseball. So as the winter meetings end, we begin to reach the mid point of the offseason, with only 2 months until pitchers and catchers report, or roughly, at least. That’s kind of a long time. However, it doesn’t mean we can look at some teams this offseason that have stood out, in a good or bad way.

The Good

Oakland Athletics

Top prospect from a great team? Check. Stealing a closer for not that much? Check. Great people and bench players? Check. Oakland has had a well rounded and not-too big offseason, which is exactly what a team in their position needs.

Boston Red Sox

Jacoby who? That’s what Ben Cherington is hoping he got right this offseason. Instead of re-signing the official spark plug and All-Star Jacoby Ellsbury, he went with the in house option – Jackie Bradley Jr. He (Jackie) has shown spots of talent, but not held a consistent spot on a Major League Roster. However, they made a few key additions themselves, signing A.J. Pierzynski and Edward Mujica while letting Jarrod Saltalamacchia go, who was good but never what the Red Sox expected him to be. They also re-signed official beard-man Mike Napoli.

Washington Nationals

What do you do when you don’t have that much to do? Fill in the blanks. While last year, Denard Span and Dan Haren were supposed to fix all the problems, they clubhouse guys like Mark DeRosa walk, and when he left, the Nats clubhouse kind of fell apart. Clubhouse man Nate McLouth will hopefully fix the problem Mark Derosa left, Doug Fister, a just overall great pitcher came for very little and one of the left handed relievers that were missing from last year’s flop season has come on, Jerry Blevins. The only two things they need to do now? Extend Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann, and get Eric O’Flaherty.

San Fransisco Giants

It’s an even numbered year, and you know what that means… the Giants are going to be a contender. Okay, maybe not. But they have gotten another great starter in Tim Hudson, and another great clubhouse man the Nats let walk, Michael Morse, plus re-signing key players like Vogelsong and LIncecum.

The Bad

New York Mets

Unfortunately, a 40 year old veteran does not replace the next big thing in pitching. With Matt Harvey out for next season, Bartolo Colon was brought in to be the front(?!) of the staff. While they stole a great center fielder from their cross-town rivals, this just wasn’t the year to do it. Another two years until the Mets contend for the NL East, minimum.

Seattle Mariners

I know what you’re thinking. Cano. Hart. Yeah, that’s not really enough. Let’s look back at history. 2012 Miami Marlins: Fail. 2012 Los Angeles Angels: Flop. 2013 Toronto Blue Jays: No chance. 2013 Los Angeles Angels: Still a flop. You can’t buy a championship with big name free agents. You just can’t.

Completely Boneheaded GMs

Chicago White Sox

This just did not make sense. After signing Abreu, he trades for Adam Eaton and signs Felipe Paulino – after he unloaded Rios, Peavey and Matt Thornton. So in other words, you are admitting the strategy stunk, and now you’re trying it again. Rebuild. Take a year.

Houston Astros

This is not a team that will contend. They just aren’t good enough. Yet they went out and got Dexter Fowdler and Scott Feldman. I can’t emphasize this enough – until you are a legit contender to finish above .500, you just don’t go for outside talent and use your homegrown talent.

Miami Marlins

Pretty much exactly what I wrote for the Astros, except replace Fowdler and Feldman for Saltalamacchia, Furcal and Garrett Jones.

The Signs of Opening Day……. Sign or Slump?

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WOO-HOO! It’s finally here! (No, not the Mayan apocalypse – think about the context).

Yes, after 5 whole months of waiting, we have been reunited with our national pastime. Now, technically, it opened on March 29th in Japan, but it’s not opening day for me until you can smell the hot dogs from a mile away.

I was fortunate enough to see the Red Sox play the Nats, and let me tell you it was loads of fun, even though I was so confused since I was cheering and booing on every play. Thank goodness I’m going to NORMAL opening day for the Nats (well, the home opener) so I’m not so confused. That game really showed how these teams could both go far this year for me.

So, anyways, today was, in america, opening day. Where to start, where to start? (This is the first regular season post for Sports According to Will ever!!!!)

First of all, the mighty, marvelous, Marlins. Didn’t exactly seem like it last night or today so far – in fact, they seem like the opposite. After a 4-1 loss to the Cardinals, and losing 2-0 to the Reds through the sixth inning today, they aren’t giving their beautiful ballpark a beautiful start. Though it’s only opening day, I just want to say I’m not surprised. (Read all my articles about Miami to find out why I say this, because I don’t feel like repeating myself today.) Are the Marlins just choking a bit, or is this a sign? I have to say this is a slump. The Marlins may be choking under the pressure of their new ballpark.

Next, the Nats beating the Cubbies. Wo. Stephen Strasburg pitched very well, and only gave up one run and five hits through 7. But the other hero of this game, an unsung one, was Ian Desmond. Now for all of you who aren’t Nats fans, which is a lot of my readers, Ian Desmond wasn’t very good last year. He, in terms had a stinky year. (But let’s not forget – can YOU hit a 95 MPH fastball?). But this could be a turning point for him. 3 hits, and an RBI on opening day may be a signal for him. Plus, pitchers Tyler Clippard and Brad Lidge both did their parts. (I have more articles about the Nats in the archives), but the Nats should be a wild card this year if all goes well and if Atlanta is as old as they look. (More on that later). This is obviously a sign, that the Nats could be in the playoffs if they play their cards right.

Third, the Red Sox seemed to have recapped last season in a game. Coming so close – and then being beat out. What happened was Jose Valverde BLEW A SAVE for his beloved Tigers, and the Red Sox tied it up. But, like last year, the pitching choked at the last minute and they lost. Now, I’m not saying that’s going to happen again this year, but I think it’s a good wake up call for the Red Sox that things aren’t going to be easy. I think this is just a slump. I believe that if discipline and ego stay at a good level, the Red Sox could take a wild card or maybe even snag a division title.

Lastly, the Mets beat the Braves. Whoop-dee-doo. I know. Such a big deal, right? Yeah, that’s actually a pretty big deal for the NL. If the Braves are getting older and losing to the Mets, it could open up a wild card spot and make things even more competitive in the NL – not as if they aren’t. Plus, it’s a sign – the Braves are getting kind of old. The Braves could be in the mix, but they lack the young talent that many other NL teams have to make the playoffs, so I do think this is a sign, because Atlanta is seeming old, and acting like it.

This is just my opinion, but there is one sign that I’m pretty sure about – this season’s gonna be awesome!