A function of dysfunction; Nationals get a manager, but questions about ownership are raised

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We now conclude the most interesting twenty four hours the Nationals have had since they signed Max Scherzer this past January. Thank you for watching.

After a day when nothing, and I mean nothing seemed certain for the Washington Nationals, the fans can go to bed with one certainty – the biggest issue the Nationals may be facing right now has nothing to do with who will manage their team.

After an embarrassing season filled with gaffes and poor decision making, the Nationals chose to fire their manager, Matt Williams and start the search for a new one. General Manager Mike Rizzo, who’s status had quickly gone from an irremovable messiah to an executive on the hot seat after the disappointing season, noted that the Nationals “certainly would lean toward someone who had some managerial experience, particularly at the major league level.” (C/O Adam Kilgore, The Washington Post) Soon, after not-so extensive interviews, the Nationals seemingly had their guy, Bud Black. Black, who had been recently fired by the Padres, was not set in his ways, shifted, but was still high up on the experience scale. The other finalist for the job, who in a quote to the San Francisco Chronicle, said that he thought he didn’t “think anyone would have been as good for the job as (he would’ve). It seemed like a perfect fit.”, and later explained how he handled the disappointment.

Well, he didn’t have to deal with it for too long. The Nationals, despite having the news of Bud Black’s hiring breaking, never announced his hiring. At first it seemed trivial, and they were just waiting for the World Series to end. But as other teams made their announcements, the Nationals stayed quiet. Fans went to bed on Monday night with the managerial post occupied by Bud Black, and woke up with Dusty Baker. Talks fell through with Black, and Baker was offered the job.

This should seem abnormal, but not completely problematic. And then the numbers come out. The Nationals offered Bud Black $1.6 million for a one year deal. Offering Bud Black, the experienced manager who they wanted, $1.6 million dollars and one year, the number closest to zero, to a manager who at least deserves two guaranteed to put down an anchor in the clubhouse, while Don Mattingly, Black’s former counterpart in Los Angeles, received four years and ten million dollars in Miami is like offering Bryce Harper $100 million while Mike Trout makes $400 million. Has one been better overall during their career? Yes, but there’s not a drastic difference.

So, they turned to Dusty Baker, who immediately accepted a two year deal, which, according to MLB Network Radio, is worth $3.7 million, more than the salary of Black. Ted Lerner, upon hiring him, said in a press release that “During (the Nationals’) broad search process, it was clear that Dusty’s deep experience was the best fit for our ballclub.”

That leaves one critical question: why attempt to hire Black in the first place, if you know you want another guy?

More and more, it seems like the Lerners are controlling the team beyond what’s appropriate. And frankly, that should be more worrying than whoever manages the team. Continue reading

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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 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

The Late Night Nats are Worth Paying Attention To

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LaRoche being clobbered by teammates after hitting a game winning single. (C/O Patrick Smith, Getty)

LaRoche being clobbered by teammates after hitting a game winning single. (C/O Patrick Smith, Getty)

Do not take this as me telling you to not pay attention to the Wizards this week or this summer. However, do take this as a wake up call. Many people went into last year with the Nationals as their team. The team they would pay attention to, watch every night and read the articles about them every morning. But with every passing game lost by error, mistake, or inability to come back, fans slowly drifted towards looking at Robert Griffin the Third’s Sophomore year or watching their AL team. The ballpark was still full, but the Nats had made a promise and broke it, so the energy and the hope was gone.

Coming into this season, magazines and newspapers came in with the same expectations that so many called bloated, considering the fact they were the same as last year’s. But from day one, something had changed. This was a team that could come back.

After going down early on the first day of the season and losing Wilson Ramos, the Nationals came back in extra innings. Even after losing more key players, like Harper and Zimmerman, the Nats have been able to come back, showing an attitude that Matt Williams says is “In their D.N.A.”

Even after a rough start from the starters, they came back and kept the team in the game consistently. There is no official stat, the Nationals have come back 8 times out of 9 when down or tied in the seventh inning by less than two runs this year, which seems like a lot, especially compared to last year. “When you’re put in situation(s) and the game is on the line, you want to come through for your teammates” says Jayson Werth, who has been a catalyst for many rallies this year.

So I encourage you to pay attention, to not be shoved away by one bad season. Because as Werth said, the Nationals are “Taking opportunities when they’re given to us, and (continue to) win ballgames.”

Quotes from Washington Post, Adam Kilgore. 

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.

After a Depressing Road Trip, What Can the Nationals do to Bounce Back?

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There is no doubt there was room for improvement on that last road trip. Between being swept by the Braves, then giving up eleven runs to the Marlins, of all teams, with Strasburg consistently showing worrisome signs. They overall went 2-4, bringing their record to 9-6, a game and a half behind the Braves.

Not only could the Nats not beat the Braves, once again, showing signs of 2013 all over again, Strasburg had abysmal stuff and couldn’t figure out how to do the simplest of things, and the Nats were consistently down by three or more by the third inning.

A lot of these problems are real. But instead of worrying about them, and getting Nats fans riled up, it’s a lot more challenging to ask a different question: how can the Nats bounce back?

The first, and most worrying question is if the Nats will be able to beat the Braves. Atlanta has absolutely dominated the Nationals for the past year. The Nationals have not been able to figure out the supposedly decimated starting pitching, and have consistently been behind big, very early. It seems to be completely mental. The Nats play completely differently than any other time when the other team has a tomahawk on the uniform. There’s no obvious solution. I’m not inside the heads of the players or Matt Williams. However, if they can work it out mentally, they can easily beat the Braves, as they seem to be the better team.

Strasburg is supposed to be the ace. However, lately, he’s acted like a struggling rookie up for the first time. His confidence and stuff seems to be on and off, sometimes dealing like an ace, and other times giving up more than five runs in less than three innings. Once again, this looks completely mental. His stuff and arm is good enough to strike out anybody. However, something needs to change mentally, once again.

Another large problems is sloppiness and errors. The Nats have made a shocking amount of errors so far. The obvious solution here is just more repetition, more drills, and just being careful. That one is simple enough.

The Nats have also been dominated by certain division foes. Yelich and Upton (Justin) have dominated the rotation so far. This is a problem that happened last year. What needs to happen is that the plan needs to change for these players. They need to see a pattern, then adjust their game plan.

The Nats season isn’t over. Not even close, in fact. But these problems are pretty worrying. They’ll have to fix them some way, or we won’t be seeing playoff baseball. But if a thirteen year old can think of solutions, so can the rest of the Nats… so hopefully, there won’t be a problem.

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.