The right man for the job

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It was inevitable. Those were the words coming out of the mouth of anyone who had paid any attention to the Nationals season in 2015. Even though Matt Williams had just come off of 96 wins and the manager of the year award, does a lost clubhouse, a team struggling to stay above .500 and an imploding bullpen really beckon for the skipper to come back? Mike Rizzo and the Nationals ownership acted swiftly, after the ship known as the season hurdled towards the dock, torn, battered and nearly destroyed, but in one piece. One piece didn’t matter to them – is it smart to keep the captain of the ship who nearly sinks the vessel? On October 5th, the day after the regular season ended with a 1-0 loss to the NL Champion New York Mets, the Nationals fired manager Matt Williams and his entire staff.

After the initial celebration among the Nationals fan base, and the remorse among the rest of the NL East, the first question on everyone’s mind was screamed from the rooftops; who will be the next manager?

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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

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.

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. 

An Interesting Fifth Starter Idea

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There was really only one worry coming into Spring Training this year, and it was a good one. In a staff full of aces, who would be the fifth starter in the rotation? Would it be Detwiler, Jordan or Roark? Detwiler was demoted to the bullpen, but the question was never really answered, as Fister was injured in the final week of Spring Training, putting Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark in the rotation.

But looking at the statistics and just the general output this year, the Nats need to change one or two things. And with Fister’s rehab taking even longer than expected, it may be time to make this move. No longer keep the two sophomores in the four and five spot. Instead, put the most dominant candidate for the fifth spot so far in the rotation, Ross Detwiler.

Detwiler has been not only persistent and strong, but also quick, not panic inducing and has not given up an earned run.

If you see the statistics, the clear winner is obvious.

  • Tanner Roark: 17 IP, 5.29 ERA, 10 ER
  • Taylor Jordan: 16.2 IP, 5.94 ERA, 11 ER
  • Ross Detwiler: 10.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 4 R

The case is obvious here. If Williams gives Detwiler time to build up arm strength, he could be starting quite quickly.

The only question left is if his stuff will regress since starters turned relievers sometimes put more power into their arm. However, with the stats, I think it’s a bet Matt Williams is very willing to make. When Detwiler was demoted to the bullpen, he said that “It doesn’t mean he won’t start sometime in the future”

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.

LaRoche, Espinosa, Storen given second chances

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2013 was the year of Murphy’s Law. If something could go wrong for the Nats, it did. Bryce Harper’s face collided with the one part of Dodger Stadium that could hurt him, and somehow hurt his knee in the process. Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos both had leg problems, Ross Detwiler missed nearly all of the season with a back injury, Denard Span slumped until August, Ryan Zimmerman’s throws went in the wrong direction until June, and the middle of the bullpen was not nearly as effective as it had been in the past.

However, there were three players that truly stood out last year with their problems – Adam LaRoche, Danny Espinosa, and Drew Storen.

In 2012, Danny Espinosa seemed to have a firm grip on the Second Base job, batting .247 and hitting 17 home runs. But after an early injury and a bad start, something had to give with Anthony Rendon tearing up the Minor Leagues. He was sent down on June 4th, and Rendon came up for the second time, having a breakout season. Espinosa never recovered, and wasn’t even called up in September.

Drew Storen had also had a solid 2012, even though he missed the first part of it, posting an E.R.A. of 2.37, and pitched strongly until Game 5 of the NLDS, where he gave up the famous four runs against the Cardinals. He never bounced back to start the season, posting a combined 6.15 E.R.A. for the first four months of the season. Even though he did bounce back in the final two months, giving up 14 hits in 18.1 innings, questions still surround him.

After 100 R.B.I.’s and batting .271, life was looking good for Adam LaRoche after 2012. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.) But he never gained confidence or could keep weight on in 2013, and he also had a monster slump to start the year that never ended,

There had been much anticipation to see if Drew Storen or Danny Espinosa would start the year with a Curly W on their chests. But through all the major checkpoints in the offseason, they all remained on the Nats.

While Matt Williams has already commented on Danny Espinosa getting a chance to re-claim his job, saying that it’s an “open competition”, LaRoche and Storen will start in the same places they did last year.

Rizzo has kept faith in all of these guys, and now it’s up to them to do a good job. Hopefully, they’ll have a succesful season. But what do you think?