Looking at the lineup (48 days in advance)

Standard

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

Advertisements

Revisiting The Normal

Standard

The Two Wild Card Teams Have Advanced To The World Series.

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.  Continue reading

Matt Williams gets rave reviews, players and fans alike.

Standard

“He who holds the ball controls the game.”

AT THE END of the Davey Johnson era, the scent of stale beer and gloom filled Nationals park. The perfect season had rotted, beautiful at first, but now ugly. As fans stared down at the field watching the Nationals play a half hearted game against the Miami Marlins, losing by a score of four to two, everybody knew in their hearts that the miracles, and the “We Believe’s” had reached their end. There was no chance of a World Series, let alone a playoff berth in Washington this year. Every magazine, newspaper and blog had predicted it incorrectly. As they filed out of the stadium, one by one, leaving the game they had bought tickets to, expecting it to be a clincher, or a game where the starters didn’t play because of the berth, but instead fought for the second Wild-Card spot – and failed. We could smell victory that Opening Day against the same team, when Harper hit two bombs and Strasburg went seven innings without giving up a run. The scent of the World Series was in the air, but it was snatched away from us.

Even though the Braves and other mediocre teams defeated them many times, it was obvious that something else had to change. Immediately after the season ended, Mike Rizzo intensified the search for the new manager. This was not a bad situation to come into as a manager – in fact, this was one of the most, if not the most coveted positions to come into as a manager. The Nationals had a decent season, and were still poised to be in the playoffs the next year. Candidates included Trent Jewett, Randy Knorr, Cal Ripken Jr., and Matt Williams.

After working in the Major Leagues for 16 years as a Third Baseman for the Giants, D-Backs and Indians, he became a coach for the D-Backs in 2009. His only managing experience was in the Arizona Fall League, with a couple Nats prospects including Anthony Rendon.  Williams was close to Rizzo after

Career Stats:  BA: .268 HR: 378 RBI: 1,218 College: UNLV (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Career Stats:
BA: .268
HR: 378
RBI: 1,218
College: UNLV
(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

working together in Arizona before, and was the frontrunner the whole way. He was given the job officially on October 31st. News sources immediately started searching for more information on him, and told many stories of his greatness, his World Series rings, his steroid use, and the rest of his life.

Early on, he mapped out the problems with the Nationals, every day of Spring Training, (“Day one through forty-one, it’s all there” he says) and how they could bring a title and a banner home to D.C.

As the long months between the Winter League and Pitchers and Catchers rolled on, he watched his General Manager pick up Doug Fister, Jerry Blevins, Nate McClouth and Jose Lobaton, while extending every key player. 

On Thursday, the long waiting concluded, as pitchers and catchers reported to Viera, Florida. Williams had already been there for a week.

“Every pitch we make is with conviction.”

As players walked into the facility, some seeing the same thing they had been seeing for years, putting on old, familiar jerseys, while others looked somewhat lost, putting on new jerseys with new numbers and new colors, everyone was greeted warmly by the players already there, Rizzo and Williams.

Williams had already made his position very clear onto what he would do with certain players.

On Bryce Harper, he said that “He loves the way he plays the game” but at times could be “A little smarter, and not run into walls.”

On Danny Espinosa, Anthony Rendon and the Second Base job, he announced that he “Believes it’s an open competition”

On Ryan Zimmerman, he said that there would be a first baseman’s mitt in his Spring Training locker, and lone and behold, there was.

Congratulating Adam Eaton on a Home Run as Third Base Coach. REUTERS/Ralph D. Freso

Congratulating Adam Eaton on a Home Run as Third Base Coach. (REUTERS/Ralph D. Freso)

And so far, the players are enjoying him.

“(His intensity) got me a little fired up” says Stephen Strasburg

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Matt” Werth announced. “I think with the playing experience and the type of guy he is, his overall baseball IQ, I think he’s going to do a good job.

Anthony Rendon played under him in the Arizona Fall League, and says that he “Likes that he brings a little fire. (He had) his opportunity to show people that he could bring out the best in his players, and I believe he did that.”

“There is a difference between control and command.”

Fans have also been raving on him all over Twitter, saying that they are confident in his abilities and how he will bring the Nats back to their fundamentals and change the attitude of this season as opposed to last year’s.

Being introduced as the new Manager at Nationals Park (Washington Post)

Being introduced as the new Manager at Nationals Park (Washington Post)

The change we see in Spring Training will not be visible to the majority of us, partially because of the fact that Spring Training should not be too intense, partially because the drills, batting practices and bullpen sessions are not visible to us.

However, one interesting thing we can see is a new thing, the “Quote of the day”.  The quotes above have been from the first three days of Spring Training. He has planned one from day one to forty one.

Many people are concerned about a young manager guiding this team, but if there is one thing that Nats fans know, it’s that Mike Rizzo makes great decisions nearly every time. The odds that this one is an exception are quite low.

“Expect the ball to be hit; demand it to be caught.”

Many people are trying to find the downside on this team, and are saying that Matt Williams’ inexperience, quotes of the day and fundamentals will throw off the Nats. However, if what we’ve seen so far is a sign, I can tell you I have upmost confidence in him.

So laugh all you want about his managing style. But he can definitely lead the Nats to something special, so get on the bandwagon now. Because when it starts rolling, you won’t want to be late.

“If not you, then who?”

 

Is Doug Fister the Nationals’ Missing Piece?

Standard
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

How did it happen: The Nationals on top

Standard

It’s not weird when unexpected teams win anymore. But it’s always a bit of a surprise. Who would’ve called the Giants winning in 2010? Or the Cardinals in 2011? But this is unexpected. Most people put the Nationals as their wild card, or even not a playoff team at all. And until June, there was no worries about them. But with 10 as a magic number for the number one seed, the MLB wonders – how did it happen?

First, this isn’t new. This has been planned since 2007. The Nationals were failing as a win now team. They said goodbye to Alfonso Soriano, the center. And it became a draft and wait team. Strasburg, Harper, Storen, Espinosa, and more were drafted. They made little known trades to slowly but surely build up their system in the minors. And this winter, they added the final piece of the puzzle with 2 more starters in Gonzalez and Jackson. Even so, they went under the radar.

Late last September, I made a prediction. By September 2012,  the Nats would have a playoff spot. If they sweep the doubleheader tonight – they’ll have a playoff spot.

The Nationals have built their franchise around 3 players: Ryan Zimmerman, the veteran, Stephen Strasburg, the fireballer, and Bryce Harper, the prodigy. And when those three met this year, with great surrounding players, for us who have been paying attention it was no surprise.

But when it came towards the middle of April, there was a bit of a jump. The Nationals home opener had been filled, even on a day that the high was about 60 degrees. The city of DC took notice that they (for once) actually had a great team.

And Davey Johnson, a name and face you associated with 1995 is a frontrunner for NL manager of the year. Maybe the lack of the attention was what made them a little more comfortable.

But make no mistake – the nationals are here, and here to stay.

MLB is finally here! The questions that still remain…

Standard

Who will win? Are the struggles of the Red Sox here to stay? Will the Marlins and Angels be all powerful or all horrible? Are the Nats for real? Is this finally it for the Rangers? Can the Tigers go to a world series – and win? Let’s find out.

After a long offseason for the Red Sox, they have returned to the baseball diamond with one thing on their mind – a fresh start. After beer in the clubhouse, a record collapse to the Rays, and everything just simply falling apart, the Red Sox have a new GM, manager, right fielder, and season. But what matters is what is still there. Even after losing Jonathan Papelbon, and Josh Reddick, what matters is their infield. Still there is Dustin Pedroia, who deserves to be captain, Kevin Youkilis, a great all around hitter, and Adrian Gonzalez – the man who deserved the MVP last year. The Red Sox have also added a new (stricter) manager by the name of Bobby Valentine, a new right fielder (Ryan Sweeney), plus Jacoby Elisbury is ready for another MVP caliber season. Also, Carl Crawford is due for a bounce back. Keep your eyes on the Red Sox this season – they look promising once again.

The Marlins and Angels both re-vamped their lineup using big money and big stars. Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle have gone south, and C.J Wilson plus Albert Pujols have gone west to the Angels. But, the only thing to think about is that pitching does not go deep on either side – there are only three good pitchers on either team. Without pitching, neither can win a division title, and will exit early in the playoffs.

The Nats, in terms, are fo schizzle. They have what it takes to make it to the playoffs. They have a good pitching rotation, and a good bullpen. Also, the hitting is getting much better by the day. Slugger Michael Morse will be back by June most likely, Danny Espinosa is ready to rumble, and rookie Bryce Harper shows so much promise, it may make the scouts faint. Not to mention Ryan Zimmerman is here to stay. Plus, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman are here all season, and are the symbol that the Nats are ready for the playoffs.

The Rangers seem like they could finally have world series success, but the hitting is a problem. Only the front four have had real success, which means more than half the time, they won’t be getting hitting success. Plus, they have lost their number one pitcher, and even though they got Yu Darvish, it doesn’t seem like the Rangers will go to the World Series again – as long as their bats are at this state.

It could be time for the Tigers, though – they have great hitting and pitching – which is enough to take a team to the series and beyond. They have a pitching rotation, and a great infield and outfield, plus a bullpen worth it. Especially after getting Prince Fielder, they have what it takes to win it. Justin Verlander is returning from an MVP & Cy Young season, Miguel Cabrera is in position to hit quite a few homers, and the pitching staff has an overall ERA around 4.00. That’s what makes them my pick to win….

MY PLAYOFFS

AL: Wild Card Game: Red Sox over Angels

ALDS: Rangers over Red Sox, Tigers over Yankees

ALCS: Tigers over Rangers

NL: Wild Card Game: Marlins over Nationals

NLDS: Giants over Marlins, Reds over Phillies

NLCS: Giants over Reds

WORLD SERIES: Tigers over Giants, in 6 games.