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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Max Scherzer’s deal looks crazy – is it?

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At the beginning of November, if you looked any Nats fan in the eye and told them with a straight face that Max Scherzer was going to sign a 7-year deal worth $210 million with the Nationals, they would’ve laughed at you. They would’ve laughed so hard, that they cried. They would’ve told you to break the news while you were flying to the moon on your unicorn.

While nobody has flown to the moon on a unicorn, the Max Scherzer deal shocked the world. Not only was it from a team nobody expected, but the deal’s value went beyond expectations.

The Nationals now have an ace – a Cy Young Award winner – a 20 game winner for the next seven years. They have a pitcher with playoff experience, a pitcher that is tested and proven. They also have a pitcher who they owe $210 million.  The deal goes against almost everything Mike Rizzo stands for and everything the Nationals have done in the offseason since 2010. And yet, it still happened.

The 14-year plan

Scott Boras, Scherzer’s agent, does not leave money on the table. Ever. But Scherzer’s deal had an interesting little caveat, deferring half of the deal, meaning the Nationals are holding off on $105 million dollars for the next seven years and are instead paying the righty $15 million a year for the next fourteen years. The money never went back onto the table – its just a slower process.

This frees up $105 million dollars for the Nationals. $105 million dollars could extend Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond or Doug Fister, the three hot-button issues for the Nats this offseason. Also, with $105 million off the payroll, every executive can breath a little easier when they sign other free agents.

But what about the kids?

While the deal does free up space to extend one of the three players on contract years that will command more than $100 million, it’s assumed that one pitcher will be leaving. Unfortunately, one of those pitchers will be Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister or maybe even Stephen Strasburg, all vital pieces to the ball club. But the time to freak out is most certainly not now.

Jordan Zimmermann and/or Doug Fister and/or Stephen Strasburg won’t be on the Nationals come 2016, which is fine for multiple reasons. It gives the Nationals first round draft picks, a commodity they haven’t enjoyed since 2012. Even so, extensions shouldn’t be a huge issue considering that the Nationals have two of the best pitching prospects in the minors in Lucas Giolito (ranked as the 8th overall prospect in the league by MLB.com) and A.J. Cole, who are expected to be in the Majors by 2017 and 2016 respectively.

But, Giolito and Cole may not be ready by 2016 or 2017. So, who’ll help fill the void? That’s where Scherzer comes in – he would take over the lost spot. The Nats are deep enough to still have an outstanding rotation, even without Strasburg, Fister or Zimmermann.

The question has been thrown around all offseason – “Mike Rizzo has built a winner, but can he maintain it?” $210 million and seven years for Max Scherzer may look like the craziest thing the Nats have ever done and the opposite of trying to maintain a winner. But in reality, it might just end up being the smartest.

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.

Side of Interviews: Dave Jageler

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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… Continue reading

Don’t Press The Panic Button on Doug Fister

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From the get-go, it didn’t look all too great last night. Even with a half full O.Co colliseum, a low stakes game and a huge ballpark, Doug Fister just did not have it last night. He gave up three home runs and took the loss for the Nats. But don’t, repeat, don’t, press the panic button just yet.

Even though the Nationals’ 4th starter has been traditionally bad these past two years, Fister should be different. One bad game happened for a couple of reasons.

The biggest reason is that it was basically his Opening Day, he was amped, and didn’t have his A stuff, since he was focused on things too mentally. Basic plays like the throw to first in the first inning would get done during the rest of the year – it’s quite literally jitters.

This is also an Oakland team that has studied Detroit and their pitchers for the past two years, as they’ve played each other in two ALDS series since 2012. Doug, being traded from the Tigers, had seen them many times. This team was not unfamiliar with him from those experiences, or just seeing him as a Mariner or Tiger.

Another large reason here is the injury. The arm and all looked fine last night – but he hasn’t faced real batters all year. He missed the end of Spring Training, which is actually crucial for pitchers to see batters that are going to be in the big leagues and actually trying. The last team he faced was a AA team.

So, please. History repeats itself, but it’s highly unlikely it will in this case of Doug Fister.

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

Rotations, Rotations – The odd reason the Nats have the best rotation in baseball

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On opening day, there were no questions about the rotation. Now, there are, and they aren't that bad.

On opening day, there were no questions about the rotation for the Nats. Now, there are, and they aren’t that bad.

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.