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.

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Medlen’s injury just more validation for Strasburg’s shutdown

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Medlen exits against the Mets. It was later announced he would likely need a second Tommy John Surgery.

Medlen exits against the Mets. It was later announced he would likely need a second Tommy John Surgery. (BleacherReport)

This is a tale of two Tommy John surgeries.

Within fifteen days of each other, both Stephen Strasburg and Kris Medlen tore their UCL, requiring baseball’s most dreaded and talked about surgery – Tommy John. The two promising prospects returned in September 2011. This is where the stories differentiate.

In March of 2012, it was announced that no matter what, Stephen Strasburg would be shut down after pitching a certain amount of innings.  Kris Medlen would start the season in the bullpen, and then become a starter in July.

Kris Medlen had a good start, but began his domination of the National League as a starter. He completely dominated the Nationals throughout the entire season, and for that matter, the National League. But Medlen’s start in the NL Wild Card game proved ineffective as the Braves lost the “infield fly” game.

Strasburg had a very good season also, not as dominant as Medlen, but really showing what he would be like in the future. However, as the shutdown loomed, he began to stop producing, and finished early. Strasburg did not play in the playoffs at all, as Rizzo knew it would be better for the overall future, even though the Nats lost in game five, and many people said the opposite, and that if Strasburg had pitched in the NLDS, it might’ve been a different story.

After both posted a good, but not as good follow up year, the two promising prospects entered this year’s Spring Training with high hopes for division titles and great seasons.

Both started this year’s spring training hot. However, one sunny March afternoon, after delivering a pitch, Medlen grimaced, and jogged off the mound. It was later announced he was likely to get a second Tommy John Surgery.

Six days later, Strasburg matched up against Josè Fernandez and the Marlins, giving up two hits over four innings, completely dominating them.

Strasburg throws a pitch in his dominant performance against Miami last week.

Strasburg throws a pitch in his dominant performance against Miami last week.

Even though it was a meaningless Spring Training Game, it showed what road Medlen could be on right now – and that two years later, it’s clear that Mike Rizzo made the right move.

Nats look like they’re coming to play next year

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Sources say the Washington Nationals have signed Rafael Soriano to a 2 year, 28 million dollar contract. Don’t be surprised if next year’s slogan is World Series or bust.

This is just another signing for the Nats, like Denard Span, Dan Haren and others. But this is the biggest yet. Soriano is a great fit for the Nats, but it also shows that the Nats aren’t settling for “Good enough”. While last year was an incredible year for DC baseball, boasting baseball’s best record and a NL East division championship, this year looks even better.

Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann,, Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler and more will have playoff experience, and look like a recipe for success.

Here’s another reason they look pretty darn good – 4 or 5 of their bench players could be starting on almost any other team,  like Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina.

Also, injuries won’t be haunting them. Strasburg will be pitching an entire season, and presumably the playoffs, Zimmerman’s rest and surgery will mean he is ready to go, plus other players.

Also, Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia and Miami do not look good at all this year, at all. The Nats’ young talent and veteran powers should make it extremely easy to propel them to another NL East division title.

But here’s the biggest thing this year: Everyone on the Nats knows they can do it. There is no doubt in any of their minds about this season. It isn’t a “Trial” – it’s real. They have the swagger and the team now.

So do I think the Nats are going to win the World Series?

That’s a clown question bro.

Sitting Strasburg: Is it the right idea?

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I was actually watching the game. The pitch. It was mid august of 2010. Nationals VS Phillies, Strasburg pitching. I had to watch – this rookie phenom was tearing up the majors. I forget the batter. I forget the inning. The pitch is what I remember. He immediately winced after the pitch, which was away. He was clustered by a group of teammates. The usual rowdy philly crowd had quieted a bit. When he walked off, we thought it was a two week thing. Here we are, on the two year anniversary, where it might of created one of the biggest problems the Nationals have ever seen in their eight years as a franchise – do you sit Strasburg?

In case you’ve been paying attention to baseball but living under a rock, this is the situation: Stephen Strasburg has a 180 innings limit after his Tommy John surgery. The Nationals are poised to make a playoff run. Do you sit Strasburg or take the risk?

One year ago, this wasn’t a problem. The nationals weren’t a playoff team. Strasburg is the future. If you hurt your future, you hurt yourself. Sit him. But now that the Nationals are a playoff team, it is a problem. Shutting down Strasburg won’t be easy. As a fan of the Nats, I say to play him, to forget these inning limits.  But I know that it’s the right move.

The Nationals look to be prominent for the next few years. When Strasburg is completely healthy, that is. They also have a number five pitcher waiting, John Lannan, who was the number one in 2010 before Strasburg. And if Strasbur did end up with an injury this year? The pain would be unbearable for any Nationals fan.

I understand he could possibly be a key component to a playoff run. But, the Nationals pitching staff can and will hold up without him. They are the number one rotation in the league, and a rotation isn’t one man.

The main argument against this is that you can’t take out your best pitcher this late in the season and this close to a playoff run.

Even if they don’t go far this time round, the Nationals will have a chance next year, the year after, and after that.

And they have to preserve this chance.

Even if it means ripping the ball from Strasburg’s fingers.

 

THE WEEKLY: ReplACEments

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In 2009, it was a bad year for hitters.  In 2010, we thought it was a one year thing.  In 2011, we didn’t think it was anything but good pitching.  This year is no exception.  While many people struggle to find reasons for the pitcher dominating in the past few years, throwing around random statistics, I have maybe a real reason.

The pitchers of 2008 were a bit wiped out.  Most aces were veterans losing power.  In 2009, a new wave was born.  Roy Halladay was reaching potential, Clay Buchholz was ready to become one of the main men of a franchise, and Stephen Strasburg was picked number one overall.  In 2010, deemed “Year of the Pitchers” with 5 no hitters, we saw Halladay, Strasburg, and Tim Lincecum showing dominance on the mound.

2011 meant Justin Verlander’s domination.  He became the face of the MLB, winning a Cy Young and MVP.  In 2012, the transition was complete.  Yu Darvish came to MLB, and Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Moore, and many more are blowing by batters.  It’s not even the end of July and we’ve already had four no-no’s, and the league batting average is at its lowest since 1972.  When Lincecum faltered Cain shined.  DC became the fastest, curviest, and slowest city in the country.  Perfection was possible and becoming more common.

A new wave of Aces has replaced a hitters’ playground with a new pitchers’ palace.

The Signs of Opening Day……. Sign or Slump?

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WOO-HOO! It’s finally here! (No, not the Mayan apocalypse – think about the context).

Yes, after 5 whole months of waiting, we have been reunited with our national pastime. Now, technically, it opened on March 29th in Japan, but it’s not opening day for me until you can smell the hot dogs from a mile away.

I was fortunate enough to see the Red Sox play the Nats, and let me tell you it was loads of fun, even though I was so confused since I was cheering and booing on every play. Thank goodness I’m going to NORMAL opening day for the Nats (well, the home opener) so I’m not so confused. That game really showed how these teams could both go far this year for me.

So, anyways, today was, in america, opening day. Where to start, where to start? (This is the first regular season post for Sports According to Will ever!!!!)

First of all, the mighty, marvelous, Marlins. Didn’t exactly seem like it last night or today so far – in fact, they seem like the opposite. After a 4-1 loss to the Cardinals, and losing 2-0 to the Reds through the sixth inning today, they aren’t giving their beautiful ballpark a beautiful start. Though it’s only opening day, I just want to say I’m not surprised. (Read all my articles about Miami to find out why I say this, because I don’t feel like repeating myself today.) Are the Marlins just choking a bit, or is this a sign? I have to say this is a slump. The Marlins may be choking under the pressure of their new ballpark.

Next, the Nats beating the Cubbies. Wo. Stephen Strasburg pitched very well, and only gave up one run and five hits through 7. But the other hero of this game, an unsung one, was Ian Desmond. Now for all of you who aren’t Nats fans, which is a lot of my readers, Ian Desmond wasn’t very good last year. He, in terms had a stinky year. (But let’s not forget – can YOU hit a 95 MPH fastball?). But this could be a turning point for him. 3 hits, and an RBI on opening day may be a signal for him. Plus, pitchers Tyler Clippard and Brad Lidge both did their parts. (I have more articles about the Nats in the archives), but the Nats should be a wild card this year if all goes well and if Atlanta is as old as they look. (More on that later). This is obviously a sign, that the Nats could be in the playoffs if they play their cards right.

Third, the Red Sox seemed to have recapped last season in a game. Coming so close – and then being beat out. What happened was Jose Valverde BLEW A SAVE for his beloved Tigers, and the Red Sox tied it up. But, like last year, the pitching choked at the last minute and they lost. Now, I’m not saying that’s going to happen again this year, but I think it’s a good wake up call for the Red Sox that things aren’t going to be easy. I think this is just a slump. I believe that if discipline and ego stay at a good level, the Red Sox could take a wild card or maybe even snag a division title.

Lastly, the Mets beat the Braves. Whoop-dee-doo. I know. Such a big deal, right? Yeah, that’s actually a pretty big deal for the NL. If the Braves are getting older and losing to the Mets, it could open up a wild card spot and make things even more competitive in the NL – not as if they aren’t. Plus, it’s a sign – the Braves are getting kind of old. The Braves could be in the mix, but they lack the young talent that many other NL teams have to make the playoffs, so I do think this is a sign, because Atlanta is seeming old, and acting like it.

This is just my opinion, but there is one sign that I’m pretty sure about – this season’s gonna be awesome!