Distinguished Senators, the Washington Nationals Blog That Is Great

Friday, April 29, 2016

Stealing Money

I remember reading an article about the men at the periphery of professional basketball (this was back in the day when "NewsRadio" was still on the air, so I have no chance of tracking it down now). These were players who went un- or barely drafted and wound up in Europe or playing on ephemeral teams with silly names in some of your less glamorous cities.

A common complaint among these athletes was that the guys in the NBA - not the stars; the 12th men - weren't as good as they were. Why, they asked, are those chumps making the NBA minimum on ten day contracts while I'm making basically nothing playing for the North Dakota Fargonauts?

I made up the Fargonauts, but this one's real.
They had a term for it. The undeserving NBA players were "stealing money."

You have to wonder if Brian Goodwin of the Syracuse Chiefs is thinking something similar.

The Nationals aren't scoring much lately. They totaled three runs in the three games against Philadelphia. There's been a lot of talk about lineup construction, but making it so Harper and Murphy bat one after the other wasn't going to scare up enough runs to win that series.

The problem is personnel, and why in the hell is Michael A. Taylor still around? He's been stealing money for parts of three seasons, and he hasn't shown the ability to do much but hit a home run a couple times a month.

Meanwhile, Brian Goodwin is hitting .350 for the Fargonauts and probably staring wistfully at his phone.

Is there an explanation for this? It's possible. I don't follow prospects, and maybe there's something I don't know about Goodwin - maybe he compares people to Hitler all the time. But Taylor had a chance and didn't get the job done, so it's time to get Goodwin out of Fargo.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Shrub Status

The ancient Greeks had a proverb: Zeus strikes the tallest tree.

It worked on a couple levels. Literally, if confronted with several trees, lightning (i.e., Zeus) will zap the one that sticks up the most.

Figuratively, the idea is that if you're too successful, you're going to get smacked down so hard that you'll wish you were never king of Lydia.

You can tell this is a timeless idea because it affect the Nationals right now this very day in a couple of different ways.

Like a proverbially rich king of Lydia, Bryce Harper is just too good. It didn't take long for the opposition to catch on to that fact, so they're not pitching to him anymore. It turns out that the chance of Ryan Zimmerman driving someone in from first is less than the chance of Bryce Harper driving someone in from home.

Bryce Harper (left) is intentionally walked
With Harper out of commission thanks to effective cost-benefit analysis, the Nationals as a whole are getting zapped by Zeus. In the middle of what should have been a run-of-the-mill victory parade, the Nats were bushwhacked and swept by the Phillies.

The Phillies!

The bright side here is that the Nats are about to embark on a punishing Midwest road trip. Perhaps getting reduced to shrub status means that Zeus will take it easy on us.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Of Course Sometimes

An argument for the designated hitter is that no one wants to watch pitchers bat. We pay to see the best in the world doing the things at which they are best.

I've never agreed with this. Seeing the best do something at which they are not the best is not only entertaining in its own right; it makes the people who are the best at it seem even more impressive.

And, of course, sometimes the pitcher succeeds.

I missed most of Sunday's 16-inning win against the Twins, but I got to see Óliver Pérez, pitcher, shock the world and Minnesota by laying down a two out drag bunt, which the Twins fumbled into a tie game.

Chris Heisey won the game a little later with a homer, but that's not as it interesting, is it? He's supposed to do that. Pérez doing an Ichiro impersonation is something that's going to stick with you.

Sunday's marathon completed a sweep of the Twins. The Nationals again have the best record in baseball, and they're off to their best start ever. The race is - remains - over.

Is it a problem so far in the season, the Nats have had to play only the worst teams in baseball? Nah.

If the Nats win 75% of their games against bad teams (and they do!), they can win half (or, depending on your perspective, lose half) the time against good teams and be fine.

Then the playoffs come along and all they need is to be just the tiniest bit above .500. No problem.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Reinforcements

During World War I, the Germans had an idea. Rather than having the guys who were good at World War I spread out all over the army, they decided to concentrate them into all star teams which, having been given special training, would actually accomplish something after years of everyone sitting around in trenches picking vermin out of their food.

Combat prancing was a big part of the training.
Baseball would copy this all star team idea in 1933 as a way to raise money for penurious former players. 82 years after that they would ruin it by getting rid of paper ballots.

Germany's stormtrooper idea kind of worked. The elite soldiers did accomplish some stuff, but running out in front got a whole lot of them killed, leaving the rest of the army to carry on with that many fewer competent dudes.

It was a matter of attrition, and we're seeing something similar with the Nationals pitching staff.

Nats pitching has been really good, leading baseball in ERA even after coughing up five to Miami earlier today. They've even been shouldering some of the offensive burden - this fellow points out that Nats leadoff hitters are getting out-hit by the pitching staff, 517 OPS to 577.

Being out in the forefront of all the baseballing is taking its toll, though. Joe Ross developed a blister and may miss his next start. Max Scherzer had mechanical issues in Thursday's start. He insists that it's nothing to worry about, but what does he know? He's no more a trained medical professional than last year's training staff.

We need reinforcements. Lucas Giolito has a 1.17 ERA over two games in AA, and that's good enough for me. We're not looking for any Taylor Jordan half measures here.

Speaking of leadoff hitters and reinforcements, it's time to give up on Michael A. Taylor. It's not clear why he's in the majors, or why it was assumed that he'd be with the Nats out of spring training (maybe there's a good explanation; I skipped spring training this year because I hate it).

Taylor got into 17 games in 2014 and didn't hit. He followed that up by not hitting in 2015. This year he's switched it up a little by not hitting.

What's he doing here? I know he wasn't supposed to be the starter, but that's not good enough for a fourth outfielder. That might not be good enough for Syracuse.

Where, by the way, center fielder Brian Goodwin is hitting .372.
It's time.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Secondary Goals

The Nationals have won the division, which is the primary goal. Now they have the opportunity to accomplish a number of secondary goals.

One of these is keep me from worrying over the course of the season. Following a sports team is not a restful pastime. You worry and get angry and wind up wincing every time you hear Pete Kozma's name years later.

The Nats' main priority should be making sure none of that happens to me until the playoffs start.

And I have to say, I was starting to think about considering beginning to worry last night. The Nats were sitting on two straight losses and getting shut out by some guy I ain't never heard of.

It's one thing to get shut down by Jose Fernandez; that didn't bother me. But after three innings of silence against the dregs of Miami's bullpen followed by eight strikeouts at the hands of 32nd-round draft pick Adam Conley, the part of my brain that insists that the worst is going to happen was starting to take over.

Stupid brain! All the Nats were doing was getting Conley where they wanted him. Waiting til they saw the whites of his eyes. Roping, if you will, a dope.

In the seventh inning, Conley ran out of gas. Then came the Cannonade. Two distinct sets of back-to-back homers. Jayson Werth's 200th. A grand slam from Bryce Harper, who hadn't hit one in almost a week. Two hit into that minigolfesque thing in center field.
They didn't light it up for the Nats.

And let's not forget Stephen Strasburg's nearly flawless, possible-new-leadoff-hitter performance.

So yeah, it was silly of me to think about considering beginning to worry. Season's over. Harper's MVP. Dusty's Manager of the Year. See you in October.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Problem or Problem Problem

Michael A. Taylor is killing us out there.

A leadoff man - it's likely you knew this - is supposed to get on base, and Taylor is doing that every fifth time he gets the chance. You don't want to read much into one at-bat, but when he struck out Monday night with the bases loaded - well, it hurt because it was so predictable.

He's not making up for his putrid batting line in other ways, either. Taylor is playing like his tiny head is full of tiny rocks.

In the seventh on Monday, with the Nats down by four, Taylor singled. Up next were Anthony Rendon (good) and Bryce Harper (great!). Taylor, ignoring or defying all statistical conclusions and generations of lived baseball experience, lit out for second base and got caught. So that was two rallies killed.

It's OK, though. I'm fine. We're fine. There are two reasons I'm not really worried about this.

1. The Taylor situation is temporary. Ben Revere's coming back someday (right?), and then we can sit Taylor on the bench and tell him to think about what he did.

2. Dusty Baker knows that this is not ideal. This happened last year when Denard Span ended his Nats career in August, and it's not clear that Matt Williams understood what a setback it was. I quote myself:
The other day Dan Kolko was relating a conversation he'd had with Matt Williams: Given that Span has tightened up now and we're slated for more Taylor than we'd expected, did Williams want to see Taylor do anything differently? 
 No, of course not, we are told Williams said. Don't change a thing. As this happened, Taylor's stats appeared in the background, complete with a .280-something on-base percentage.
Dusty, on the other hand, evinces a basic understanding of whether or not a baseball player is getting the job done.
“He’s been struggling some to get on base,” Baker said. “But he’s the best that we have to put in that spot right now without having to tear the rest of the lineup up.”
One can take issue with the importance of not tearing up the lineup, but that's not a big deal. Having a manager with even the barest minimum qualifications, on the other hand, is huge.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Strategic Losses

As we reported first here at Distinguished Senators, the season is over and the Nats won. Just put up that NL East pennant right now. Our gonfalon bubble is unprickable.

Because the rest of the division is engaged in a dispirited slapfight for second place, our beloved, triumphant Nationals can afford the occasional strategic loss.

Jonathan Papelbon blew the save on Sunday, and that's OK. It didn't happen to somebody that anyone likes, Papelbon can handle it, and it gave our unfortunate friends in Philadelphia something to be happy about. He showed real perspective when asked about it. “We’re in first place and we won the [gosh darn] series, man. You know?”

So it's not too upsetting that the Nats failed to complete a sweep of the Phillies, since that game three loss threw into relief the only problem this team has: the save would not have been blown if Jayson Werth were still capable of playing baseball.

The Phillies won when somebody (who cares?) hit a double over Werth's head. Babyhead would have caught it. Den Dekker would have caught it. Any number of the offseason free agents who weren't interested in playing for the Nats would have had a shot.
Ian Desmond probably wouldn't have gotten it.
The hope here is that we gave up a loss, but in return made Dusty Baker aware that he shouldn't leave his worst player out there in the later innings. Maybe - this is a long shot, I know - this will prompt Dusty to consider that he shouldn't be playing his worst player at all.

That's how a loss becomes a win.

Former Nationals Update!

Helpful commenter "Anonymous" sends along with that Austin Kearns is a volunteer coach at Lexington Christian Academy. It's nice that he's staying busy, and I hope he doesn't break anyone's femur.

I have also discovered that Kory Casto has been inducted into the North Marion High School Hall of Fame. I was always pretty hard on Casto, but that was only because he was taking playing time away from Chris Snelling. Plus I think he was pranking us with how to spell his name.