In the year 2008, things seemed a bit simpler. The Philadelphia Phillies owned the best record in the National League and went on to win the NLDS, the NLCS, and then the World Series, all convincingly. And then the tides began to turn in 2012. All of the sudden, the field of four became five. The Wild-Card team, instead of waiting patiently with the rest of the league, had to play a game to decide their fate against another contender. And while many cried out that it unfairly punishes the teams who normally got a free pass into the Divisional Series, something different happened this time around.
On June 21st, I had the pleasure of sitting down and interviewing Dave Jageler. You might know him from the Nationals radio broadcasts on 106.7 The Fan or player interviews at occasions such as NatsFest. He had a lot of interesting things to say and knows lots about the Nats, and is also a pretty funny guy. So without any further ado…
A few weeks ago, MASN announced VIA Twitter a big contest. You had to answer the question “Why should you throw out the first pitch on April 5th?” – the most creative answer would get to throw out the first pitch, on April 5th.
I entered with a video of me playing the guitar and a slideshow, covering “Take on Me” by A-ha, with lyrics including
“Please let me… (See you later)
Throw that pitch (See you later)
I would probably… Throw it better than John Walllllllll!
Unbelievably, a couple days ago, I got a Twitter message from MASN, letting me know I would be the starter on April 5th. As you can probably guess, I was pretty happy.
After spending the next couple days perfecting my windup and getting my arm loose, I got to Nationals Park. I was greeted by the woman who ran the contest, Olivia, and a member of the Nats PR Department, Julia. They took me down onto the field, where I watched the Braves finish batting practice and hung out.
After what felt like twenty minutes but what was really an hour, I was called onto the mound to throw my pitch. Here was the result.
All in all, even though the Nats lost 6-2, it was an incredible experience. Thank you so much to MASN and Twitter for giving me this incredible opportunity.
Note: I will not be previewing the NL or the Nationals this year. You all know what I think will happen, but for a quickie:
NL WEST: Dodgers
NL CENTRAL: Cardinals
NL EAST: Nats
WILD CARD: Braves, Pirates
NLDS: Dodgers over Pirates, Nats over Cardinals
NLCS: Nats over Dodgers
World Series: Nats over A’s.
Ever since the end of the steroid era, pitching has been the key element of most teams. If they haven’t developed their own ace rotation, they’ve signed one. And at this moment, it’s seeming like they’re only getting more important and bigger contracts.
Clayton Kershaw is going to be payed roughly $147,000 dollars per inning he pitches for the next seven years. Justin Verlander is commanding 180 million for the next five or six years. Felix Hernandez has also gotten a huge seven 7 year deal. Rookies like Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Michael Wacha and players before their fifth year or not free agents yet like Stephen Strasburg & Jordan Zimmermann are expected to get about as much. Unfortunately, one pitcher does not win a world series.
The four men behind the ace are just as important, if not more. If you only had one reliable winning pitcher, you would win around 1/5 of your games. Having three good pitchers has always been considered acceptable. However, baseball has probably never seen a time like this in which the rotations are so strong for so many teams.
But who’s rotation is the best heading into this season?
While I love what the Red Sox, Tigers, Dodgers, A’s and Cardinals have, I think that it is the Nats. And not for the reason you may think.
As a Nationals fan last year, I learned something very important. There is a need for more than five pitchers in a rotation. You need that number six and seven as much as you need your ace. Last year, the Nats were supposed to be dominant with everything. However, they surprised everyone, starting the year in a slump and with really only two reliable pitchers. While they finished off better than they started, it was an annoying year. Strasburg was hurt for about a month, and Ross Detwiler barely played half a season. They called up players from Triple-A, but it wasn’t the same. While Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark held things up for the most part, the Nats realized that not having a sixth starter in the lineup killed them, or at least partially. (Not hitting until September also probably hurt.)
This year, they have too many problems with that. There is an argument over who will have the number one slot, but I think everyone knows it’s Strasburg’s to lose. This is the year he needs to prove he is an ace. Gonzalez, Zimmermann and Fister were all very good last year, but the number five slot is a curious thing. Some people say that Taylor Jordan or Tanner Roark should take it, while normal number five Ross Detwiler can move to the bullpen as a power lefty. I disagree, and say keep the National Det in the rotation, and have Jordan and Roark as backup. But it really comes down to what new manager Matt Williams sees in Spring Training.
The Red Sox & Cardinals probably have the best depth with players like Lester, Buchholz, Wainwright and Wacha, and the Tigers have probably have the better rotation, but the depth nor the rotation is as complete for any one of them is as good as the one in our Nation’s Capitol.
However, offseason predictions aren’t always correct. Who had the Red Sox winning the world series last year? (Hint: Literally nobody)
But even with the unreliability of predictions, I still like the Nats’ chances.
Playoff berths. Division titles. Tension. Wild Card races. Batting title races.
All those only can all happen in one month. September.
We’re fast approaching the best month of the regular season, and this one is looking stacked with story lines. Wild Card races are much tighter than usual, some divisions will go to the final day, and a race for stats are just some of the big things that will happen. Here are my top ten stories going into the month.
10. The Braves’ fairytale season – will it continue into the postseason?
The Braves have had a season to remember, and are pretty much a lock to win the NL East. However, there are some lingering questions entering the final month of the regular season and looking to October. Injuries have started to show up, with players like Tim Hudson and Jason Heyward both hurt, as well as many more. It won’t be enough to get the Nats past them, but it raises worries for the Atlanta faithful, especially after a dominant series win by St. Louis a few days ago.
9. The AL West
This, once again, is a two team race. Once again, the Rangers have the better record, and have 2.5 games on the A’s. The season doesn’t end with them playing each other, but unless one team goes crazy, it might as well be that. I honestly don’t know who will take this, and is one of the most underrated stories this year.
8. Biogenesis and A-Rod
It’s the problem that was revealed in January, then confirmed in July. Many players have already admitted to it, like Ryan Braun, or haven’t protested it. (Props to the Brewers for giving his salary back to the fans). However, A-Rod, being A-Rod, protested his ruling. Nobody believes him anymore. So when he finally gets his ruling, it’s going to be a victory for every baseball fan.
7. Chris Davis and the search for 60
Chris Davis can still get 60 home runs. That is still completely possible. However, there are a couple questions with that. After slugging 37 in the first half of the season, while still producing hits and runs, is (in comparison) in a home run slump. However, the magic number, 60, is still possible. It would be extremely hard, hitting 13 home runs in a month or so. It has been done before, but the home run category, the only one Miguel Cabrera doesn’t have, would hold him from the triple crown. (More on that later).
6. The (possibly) late surging Nats
At the beginning of August, everyone who picked the Nats for the world series was pretty down. It didn’t look like they would even make the playoffs this year. However, after salvaging one from the Braves, the Nationals have won 7 of their last 9, and are starting to gain ground on the wild card. They have a cushy schedule until the end, with two must win series against the Cardinals and Diamondbacks. It would require one NL Central team to lose their spot (in all likelihood, the Reds). They are running out of time, but the Nats are starting to look like the team they were predicted to be.
5. The Red Sox – what changed?
This year, I don’t expect a meltdown from the Red Sox. And I’ll tell you why. They haven’t been amazing, like the Dodgers. They’ve been consistently good, sometimes great, but usually, just good. Which means they haven’t truly peaked yet. But the question I’ve had this whole season, is what changed? And here’s what I basically got it down to. They brought in clubhouse guys, and really only retained the players who were good guys. The new atmosphere created chemistry that simply wasn’t there in 2011. Now, I’m not saying they didn’t overpay for some of these guys, but it worked. This team is as much of a group of idiots as there was in 2004. Plus, the fans are back in it. Chants and general happiness are propelling the fans, and the Red Sox are playing better than ever. And really, that’s what matters.
4. The AL/NL Wild Card Race
This is possibly the best wild card race I have seen ever. In the AL, everything is insanely close, and no team is ever out. 4 teams are less than 7 back, and you never know what could happen. It’s just so much fun to watch, and not to mention some teams might move into the division lead…. it gets better every day. In the NL, it’s pretty much down to 4 teams. A NL Central team, the Reds, the D-Backs, and the Nats. Some teams look like they might blow it, others are just starting to power full steam ahead – wild card doesn’t get better then this year.
3. The Dodgers’ magical run
It’s kind of ridiculous, isn’t it? They were in a slump. Money wouldn’t win. Then Puig came up, and everything changed. All the sudden, they are the hottest team in all of baseball. Kershaw and the staff have been dominant, the hitters figured things out, and the NL West looks like a guarantee. The run has been just win after win after win. While a couple questions linger about Puig and his attitude or if they might collapse, since they might have already hit their peak do linger, but they will most likely make the playoffs, and if they win the whole thing – whoa.
2. The NL Central
When was the last time you saw three teams insanely competitive for one division? Not for a long time, that’s for sure. The Pirates, making their first bid at a division with a winning season since who-knows-when, are the team I want to win it. However, the Cardinals, who somehow are just always in the race are making their case to take the division title. The Reds, the least likely candidate of the three to win the division, still look like they have a chance to take it if they can get a few things going for them. If you don’t have a game to watch one night, than either watch this, or…
1. Miguel Cabrera looking for his second straight Triple Crown
Miguel Cabrera. The first triple crown winner since Carl Yastremski last year, might make history by being the first player to ever win the Triple Crown – in back to back years. He has everything but home runs, where he is 4 back of Orioles slugger Chris Davis. However, if he beats him out, he could also win the even more rare Sextuple crown, which includes HR, Hits, OBP, RBI, Slugging, and Batting Average. The last person to win this was Carl Yastremski – Cabrera would be only the 6th ever. This is history in the making, so if you get a chance to watch, I highly urge you to. Because really, what baseball fan would miss this?
I was so happy when the Dodgers were losing. Not because they were losing, but because once again, a team proved that buying does not mean winning. I left town for summer, confident that the Dodgers season would be a bust. Then some kid named Yasiel Puig came up.
I knew he would be a factor, but didn’t think he would ignite a miraculous flame. The Dodgers were then in last place, and looking like another sub-par team, for another year. Then, something clicked. After the all-star break, the team’s OBP, Batting Average and slugging all rose more than 20 points, minimum. But another thing clicked – they were a team, and they had an atmosphere. So it leaves me in quite the conundrum. Should I root for the dodgers, or should I keep them in the folder in my head that the Yankees are in?
One one hand, much of their talent was acquired through possibly one of the most unfair trades in MLB history. Not one player the Dodgers sent for blockbuster names including Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez is in the Red Sox lineup today – (although they’re doing just fine without them as it seems). They were basically bought for their remaining years, giving up what a General Manager would define as pretty much nothing. 2 out of 5 members of their pitching staff were signed to huge contracts over the winter, (Hello, Zach Greinke, Hello, Ryu-Hyun-Jin) but the ones who weren’t signed to megadeals have also performed very well. (Hello, Clayton Kershaw). Note: Clayton Kershaw is expected to sign a large contract extension w/ Dodgers or contract with another team this winter, as he is a free agent as of 2014.
On the other hand, while those players are there, their superstar, Matt Kemp, has been missing the entire season with injuries, plus without much other known talent, they were leaving 4 other spots for farm talent or rag-tag players. It’s a crime to root against those types of players. Yasiel Puig is farm, as well as Clayton Kershaw.
So it leaves me with this – are they the Yankees with their spending, or can we look at them like the Cardinals? The conclusion I’ve come to is to believe they aren’t like the Yankees, but they aren’t the Cardinals either. Even Yasiel Puig signed for 7 years and 42 million. They’ve spent a lot, there’s no doubt. But they’ve performed enough with other talent, that maybe they aren’t a crime to root against after all.
The deal that all of New England, California, and Red Sox nation have been on the edge of their seats about is done. As well as an era, or an era that Boston tried to create. Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto are members of the LA Dodgers.
Now, don’t get me wrong, something seriously bad was happening in the clubhouse of Fenway Park. Josh Beckett, the supposed leader of the beer and fried chicken brigade, was an obvious move out. Crawford, injury prone and when he was playing was not worth the millions he was paid. But the scariest thing for Boston is the loss of Adrian Gonzalez. It adds so many questions, and so many regrets.
Adrian Gonzalez could’ve been a serious candidate for MVP had the first half of the season gone better. He is a vital piece to the Red Sox success, and his RBI may be irreplaceable. While a first baseman from the Dodgers (James Loney, a career .284 hitter) was sent, he is not a real replacement, at .254 this season with 33 RBI, compared to Gonzalez’s .300 and 86 RBI.
But this was a deal that had to be made. Beckett and Crawford had to be taken off of Boston’s shoulders connected to their quality of play and injuries, as well as the salaries and bad memories that were connected to a failure of an era. But the Dodgers would not take on these players without a sweet spot in the deal. Nick Punto was a pawn in this trade, as a little bait. But they got to the big bait – Adrian Gonzalez, whose quality of play could make up for the others.
The Red Sox lost one of their best hitters and leaders. Adrian Gonzalez was not something they wanted to give up. Even so, they ended up doing just that. But the Dodgers didn’t get off of here worry free. Crawford and Beckett at their bests are incredible and at their worst are absolutely dreadful. The Dodgers will have to recreate them or get rid of them fast, because otherwise, those guys are just taking up space in the clubhouse.
Both teams came out losing and winning at the end of this deal.