Winter Meetings bring possibility, anxiety

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In D.C., mentioning the Nationals on the street right now would be a crime, with the 5-6 Redskins poised to make a mediocre run into forgettable history. (The Capitals? What Capitals? The Wizards? Is that some new fringe card game like Pokemon? ). But months from now, when the hot summer sun is beating down and the ballpark is alive once again, with fans, music and baseball, this week will be an important one to look back on – in fact, it may be the biggest factor in those summer months. So go ahead, talk about the team. Just don’t be worried when you get some crazy looks. Because, believe it or not, despite the temperature and the date, the Nationals are at a critical junction, possibly more critical than any they’ll face all season, and it’s unclear to everyone, maybe even including the General Manager Mike Rizzo, where they’ll go from here.

The Lerners, who sit up in ownership, have serious decisions to make about how they’ll use their money – whether it’ll be taking on an already bloated contract, trading a fan favorite (yes, your favorite player, be worried) or adding a free agent. Mike Rizzo has some serious decisions to make as well, regarding the cutting and trading of Papelbon and Storen, respectively, adding to the bullpen, and adding offensive pop as well as figuring out who it’s okay to part with. And in all likelihood, if the Nats feel like making a huge splash, it’s going to happen this week, at the Winter Meetings in Nashville.

If there was ever a moment for front office staff to feel like players on the first day of Spring Training, full of belief and hope that they can really go all the way this year, it would be at the Winter Meetings. The Winter Meetings, which for reasons unknown, are run by Minor League Baseball, have no boundaries. For one time, and only one time during the year, everything and everyone seems to be on the table. Rumors fly rampant and only the most elite of the stars are left out of them. Free-agents meet with teams (paging Ben Zobrist…) For the Nationals, they’ve been linked to everyone from O’Day to Chapman, Zobrist to Rollins and everyone in between, including Jonathan Lucroy. Players on the table have ranged from Strasburg to Ramos as well as Espinosa and Escobar. Papelbon and Storen, two players ironically linked, have come up in every conversation. It’s a given that some moves will be made. However, the question of what the right moves are still looms.

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Is Denard Span the Leadoff Hitter?

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To win the game, you must score the most runs. To score runs, you have to drive in runners on base. That entire process begins with one player, the leadoff batter. In this case for the Nationals, Denard Span is that player. However, ever since trading for him in 2012,  Continue reading

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.

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?