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.
No Nationals fan even blinks an eye when it’s mentioned a player has gone to the D.L. this year. After seeing names like Harper, Zimmerman, Gonzalez and Span fall out for fifteen days or more, it’s just not a surprise. However, this latest trip to the D.L. by a player, despite his lack of star-power, may be more important than Harper or Zimmerman.
“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
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.
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.
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?”
There are quite a few holidays in the good ol’ U.S.A. Christmas, July 4th, Labor Day, Presidents Day, Easter, Hanukkah, and my personal favorite after Hanukkah: Opening Day. However, there is one more I didn’t list there. The day that pitchers and catchers report.
The month is February, and the days are short, gray and cold. But you know, that somewhere in Southern Florida or Arizona, the boys of summer are getting ready. Maybe they’re just catching up on what happened in those long months or sharing glory from the World Series, or doing basic drills. But they’re back in uniform, in the heat, and everyone is optimistic. That will change for most teams, but this is the most hopeful day. So, as baseball starts up again, we have to look back at the offseason.
The first thing was managerial positions, the most important thing in my opinion. Former players like Matt Williams & Brad Ausmus both got the most appealing jobs, for the Nationals and Tigers. Lloyd McClendon, Bryan Price and Rick Rentaria all joined the Mariners, Reds and Cubs, respectively.
Back in November, which feels like forever ago at this point, the first truly major name switched teams. Tim Hudson left the Atlanta Braves for the Giants on a two year deal.
#SFGiants sign RHP Tim Hudson to a 2-year contract.
— San Francisco Giants (@SFGiants) November 19, 2013
However, the real stuff didn’t start for another few days. This was one of the most unexpected deals, with Prince Fielder being traded to the Rangers for cash and Ian Kinsler.
— Baseball Tonight (@BBTN) November 21, 2013
This shocked the baseball world in ways more than one. However, I feel like I said something about this a while back…
After this, the bigger deals started. Jhonny Peralta went to the Cardinals, and before you could say that “The Cardinals are the Yankees of the NL!” The Yankees made a splash and a half by signing Jacoby Elisbury and Carlos Beltran, creating a starting outfield with a combined age of 96 and 3 other outfielders including Ichiro Suzuki and Alfonso Soriano. Sheesh.
This is where it gets interesting for Nats fans. For barely anything unless you are a citizen of Natstown, The Nats acquired Doug Fister for prospect Robbie Ray and second baseman/utility man Steve Lombardozzi. Even more interestingly, the deal was reported by a high schooler.
— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) December 3, 2013
Next, a confusing three-team deal sent Mark Trumbo to the D-Backs. The next day, the Nats traded for Jerry Blevins, a lefty reliever. The day right after that, Nate McClouth made the cross-beltway journey to join the Nats as a utility man. Right after, Mike Napoli resigned with the Red Sox, and beards everywhere rejoiced. However, the biggest deal of the offseason was yet to come. The Seattle Mariners somehow got their hands on Robinson Cano, for ten years and $240 million.
Robinson Cano has reportedly signed a 10-year, $240M deal with the Seattle Mariners. http://t.co/pRE7fto3FY
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 6, 2013
Trying to replace the big bat that Helton provided, Morneau decided that he would spend the next two years in Colorado. The Giants then added Michael Morse. The final big deal before the new year was Sin Soo Choo signing with the Rangers for seven years. Jamey Carroll came back to Natstown, again, except he’ll start (in all likelihood) in Syracuse. Right before MLB approved instant replay, A-Rod was suspended, and it was announced he would miss all of the 2014 season.
Coincidentally, the final “really big deal” happened when the Yankees spent the A-Rod money on Masahiro Tanaka signed with the Yankees.
BREAKING: Masahiro Tanaka signs with Yankees for 7 years, $155M: http://t.co/7FJ9Toh67U
— SB Nation MLB (@SBNationMLB) January 22, 2014
The final relatively important deals were made on January 26th, when Matt Garza signed with the Brewers.
The only big names that remain are Nelson Cruz, A.J. Burnett, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez.
So, if there’s anything I missed, I apologize. It’s pretty hard to put an entire offseason into 700 words.
But everything is in place for an awesome season. What will be a bust? What will work? What was stupid? What was smart? Let me know in the comments. In the meantime, see you on Opening Day!
Those are some interesting numbers for the Washington Nationals this year. 28-29, their record. .229, their team batting average. 478, the amount of hits they’ve given up this year.
Yeah, somethings askew. After last year’s game 5 meltdown, Davey Johnson uttered the words, “World Series or bust”. It’s leaning towards the latter. In the early offseason, the Nats were a general pick for World Series champs in 2013. They were looking even better, with Denard Span and Rafael Soriano coming along for the rid, leaving the Nats with a great center fielder and a great closer. Opening day was marvelous. They won 2-0, as Strasburg pitched 7 stellar innings, and Bryce Harper hit two home runs. And then.
Then, it got hard, fast. 15-0 loss? Check. Losing to the Mets? Check. Injuries? Check. And that’s where we stand right now. Here are some reasons for Nats fans to be depressed, and then some reasons to be optimistic.
Why to be depressed: Bryce Harper is showing he can be injury prone, with knee and face injuries after playing too hard, crashing into multiple walls in California, and swelling in his knee has gone up. Jayson Werth is hurt, again, and he has missed 28 games already. Wilson Ramos has been gone for 30 games. Stephen Strasburg could be showing he’s destined for more time on the disabled list, and let’s not forget that the Nats’ bats have not heated up. At all. They average 3.46 runs a game. They are only better than Chicago and Miami. Ouch.
Why to be optimistic: Jayson Werth returns tomorrow, so that provides serious leadership not only in the clubhouse, but also in the games. He was crushing during rehab. Bryce Harper, after he gets back, should be returning to his incredible pace, and is pretty darn good in general. Ross Detwiler should be back in a week or two, and Nathan Karns has stepped up. Stephen Strasburg will pitch wednesday, so he seems to be okay. The Nats have been missing some of their big bats, so they will be a glad addition. Jordan Zimmermann has really come into his own, and is playing like an ace. LaRoche and Zimmerman have shaken off their cold starts, playing well now at the plate and in the field. (Zimmerman has reduced his errors a ton). The final thing to be happy about if you are a Nats fan is that the schedule is getting easier. Take a look at the april and may schedule comparing the Nats and Braves.
HARD TEAMS FOR THE NATS (Series): Cincinnati, Atlanta, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Detroit, LA Dodgers, San Fransisco, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Atlanta. HARD SERIES FOR NATS: 12.
HARD TEAMS FOR THE BRAVES: Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh, Washington, Detroit, San Fransisco, LA Dodgers, Washington. HARD SERIES FOR BRAVES: 8
The Nats’ schedule gets a lot easier, very soon. Like, tomorrow, starting a stint with the Mets and Twins, and they won’t see a “tough team” for another 2 weeks, and then it gets much easier come July. The Braves’ schedule gets harder around July.
I can’t tell you to be worried or optimistic for the rest of the season, but what I will tell you is this. The Nats have a great chance to win it all, and they have a great chance to miss the playoffs. We’ll just have to find out.
But, there is one thing that the East, West, and Central all share – nicknames.