Distinguished Senators, the Washington Nationals Blog That Is Great

Friday, September 04, 2015

Knife Fights

See, here's why I don't get into knife fights.

Imagine you're in a knife fight. Your opponent is wearing his Chucks and high-water jeans, and you have your three-quarter sleeve white pimp jacket, as is customary.

But you're losing! You're all cut up, and there's so much blood on your knife that you can't keep a good grip on it.

Suddenly, the winning move occurs to you. I don't know what this would be since I don't get into knife fights, but maybe it's, like, a double reverse backhand knifestab preceded by saying, "HEY look over there!"

The problem is that you're in no condition to pull off this perfect move - you can't hold your knife and you're getting sleepy from blood loss (does that actually happen, or do I just get sleepy because giving blood is boring?). You figured it out, but too late.

The Nationals could be in a similar situation. Everything's coming together, as long as you define "everything" as "the batters."
  • Ryan Zimmerman is . . . well, you can't say he's back to normal, because he's not this good. 7 homers, 28 RBI, and a 942 OPS in August. His September OPS is 2121.
  • Jayson Werth is now batting leadoff, and in that position he's "slashing" 328/400/621. I'm skeptical that there's any causation there, but I'll take it. I mean, the man's paid his debt to society and maybe it's time to lay off him.
  • Anthony Rendon's maybe coming around. The trend line is upwards, at any rate.
  • Bryce Harper is walking more than Johnny Appleseed.
This is a different kind of good team than we expected, but it's looking pretty good regardless. It's the kind of team that can win a division.

But it's probably not the kind of team that can win a division in a month while spotting the Mets six games.

Knife Fight Bibliography:
  • Borges, Jorge Luis. (1962) "The South." Ficciones  Trans. Anthony Bonner. New York: Grove Press.
  • Herbert, Frank. (1965) Dune. Philadelphia, PA: Chilton Books.
  • Payne, Anthony (producer). (1983) Beat It [video]. United States; GASP.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Meanwhile

I'm going to talk about the Orioles for a minute, since the only Nats news right now is about Bryce Harper's gluteus assimus, and this is a family-friendly space (but only recently - don't read the archives, kids).

I know most of you hate the O's, but I don't and neither does beloved mascot Professor Bacon. He likes them so much that sometimes he changes colors to Orioles orange and makes me call him Professor Old Baycon. He even squeals in a Hairspray accent.
"Feed me an apple from down'ere, hon."

Barry Svrluga wrote a really nifty piece in the Post about the O's playing out the string. The players, "displaying the kind of steadfast delusion only ballplayers can," are at least claiming they're still in it, but they're not.

And it's only going to get worse for Baltimore, since about half of these guys are free agents at the end of the season. It's too bad. I kinda like the O's, and I really like meaningful baseball programming on MASN.

A couple notes on our orange friends:

1. Ownership is still terrible. If you're in the AL East, this is the time to go for it. The Red Sox are lousy, and the Yankees are only pretty good. For the other denizens of the division, this is an opening. The Blue Jays realized this, so they upgraded in the offseason and then at the trade deadline acquired probably 10% of all the non-Nats players in baseball that I know the names of.

The Orioles, meanwhile, came off a 96 win season in a wide-open division and did . . . nothing. Well, not nothing. They got Travis Snyder, who, it turns out, didn't quite make up for losing Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.

It's bad enough that Peter Angelos is evil; he's cheap, too.

2. Buck Showalter is really good at his job. I mean, yeah, it didn't work so much this year, but getting last year's team to 96 wins is an argument for sainthood.

It wasn't that strong a team to begin with, and then a hundred things went wrong. Chris Davis was terrible and then suspended. Manny Machado played half a season, and Matt Wieters played, like, 15% of one. The closer couldn't close.

Yet somehow he was able to get this ragtag bunch of misfits to a division title. Here's a man who knew just when to use Delmon Young, who got an 877 OPS out of Alejandro De Aza and 930 from Steve Pearce. When he realized Tommy Hunter couldn't close, he booted him out of there and tried one who could.

It didn't last. Delmon Young turned back into Delmon Young, and the number 3 starters became number 5 starters. That doesn't take anything from 2014, though. It was a heck of a managerial performance. You could even call it masterful.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Rub Some Dirt On It

Matt Williams lost the Nationals another one last night. The Nats' one deadline acquisition, Jonathon Papelbon, sat there watching as the bullpen did what the bullpen does.

The Papelbon trade turned out to be a "Gift of the Magi" situation. Williams sold his hair to buy Mike Rizzo a watch fob, and Rizzo got Williams a closer he's too stupid to use.

My question: What is the point of Matt Williams?

He's obviously not any good tactically. He has no idea when to pull a starter. He appears to believe that there's a rule preventing a designated closer from pitching in any but save situations. He thinks a defensive replacement is something that happens to other people. He clearly only learned what a double switch was a couple of weeks ago - he handles those things like your grandpa with an iPhone.

Does he make up for it in other ways?

FP Santangelo is a proponent of what I call the emotional school of baseball criticism. You hear it pretty much every game - if the Nats are losing, the solution is to become gritty. Get the uni dirty. Play as a team. Feed off each other like a plane-crashed soccer team.
This is the goal.
I'm not as opposed to this kind of thing as I'm making it sound. There's something to it; I don't doubt that a happy clubhouse leads to better performances than a miserable one or that good attitudes are more likely to produce good results. I'm not going to base any kind of argument around the concept because it's too wispy to hang anything on, but that doesn't mean it's completely imaginary.

But the fact that FP has to say it every day means that Matt Williams isn't making it happen. I can tolerate a bad tactical manager as long as he brings other things to the table. This isn't some kind of "I renounce sabermetrics!" thing either. If I recall correctly, that was the point of Bill James' manager book - the tactics add up to few games. It's being able to manage people that counts.

There's no reason to think Williams can do that. At least some of his players don't like him any more than we do. The team is embarrassingly bad at fundamental things like throwing a ball to first base. To the extent that there's such a thing as "playing with a sense of urgency," the Nats aren't doing it.

Other than using SAT words in radio interviews, is Matt Williams good at anything?

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Slashes

Did anyone think to tell the Nationals that they were allowed to acquire players right up through yesterday? I meant to, but you know how it is. I had to read The Golden Bough to prepare for a 300-word blog post, so I never got around to it.

But yeah, just perusing the old MLB Trade Rumors here, I see that the Royals got themselves a Jonny Gomes. I quote:
Gomes has still slashed a productive .247/.412/.466 against opposing southpaws.
Isn't it terrible the things baseball makes you write? Look at what he "slashed" against "southpaws." I understand - you can only write "hit" and "left-hander" so many times before you get desperate for alternatives. "Second-sacker." "Senior circuit." It's gruesome.

Anyway, I wonder if Gomes would have been useful. More useful than the last time he was here, at least.

And here we find out that the Giants grabbed Alejandro De Aza. I wonder how much he slashed.
The free agent-to-be has slashed .292/.347/.484 over 178 plate appearances since that trade.
Good slashing.

As a left-handed outfielder whose greatest strength is defense, De Aza wouldn't have been the most useful thing for the Nats (although he might have saved that game last night if anyone had thought to get the immobile jailbird out of the left after they took the lead), but there are a couple things to recommend him.
  1. If he came here and did well, that would be pretty embarrassing for the Orioles, who dropped him like he was Delmon Young. I know some of you are into embarrassing the O's.
  2. He looks like Trinidad's own Trevor Sayers, the genius behind "Stamina Man," the song that starts playing in my head every time I think about Craig Stammen. In a roundabout way, De Aza could have filled the hole Stammen left in our hearts, if not the hole he left in our bullpen.
I wake up in the morning and I pray pray pray for an excuse to post this.

Finally, the Cubs acquired Austin Jackson, and here's something the Nats could have used. Thanks to a series of grandfatherly health issues, Denard Span will not be coming back. Maybe ever.

So we're back to Babyhead Taylor playing every day, and I'm still against that. Austin Jackson may not have a gaudy slash line - not even against portsiders in the junior circuit - but he's an alternative.

Plus his name is reversible. It works just as well as "Jackson Austin," and that gives you flexibility.

August 31 was the last time it made sense to grab the Nats by their labels and yell "DO SOMETHING." They didn't do something, so the most we can hope for in terms of reinforcements is Tyler Moore.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Keep the Dog Far Hence

Sir James George Frazer posited that in pre-historic fertility cults, a sacred king representing the sun was ritually murdered to ensure a good harvest. It seems like a pretty disruptive way to organize your government, and it's probably not true anyway. Regardless, you have to wonder how the doomed king felt about all of this. Did he know?

The Nationals are in St. Louis this week for a series that could turn into the kind of ritual sacrifice that got TS Eliot so excited back in the day. Everything's perfectly set up for it:
  • The Nats are 5.5 back. 
  • Time may be slowing down, but it is still moving ahead and, from the Nats' perspective, running out. 
  • It's getting to be harvest time.
  • The Nats are the reigning kings of the National League East and thus representative of the sun.
  • The Cardinals are far, far better at baseball. 
It's the baseball equivalent of drugging the king, dressing him up like a stalk of wheat, and telling him to look over there while you prepare your stone axe for the mortal bonk. 

I'm guessing that's how they did it. I wasn't there.

Meanwhile, the Mets get to play the Phillies. The Nats get the best team on the road; the Mets get the worst team at home. You have to appreciate the symmetry.

My point is that if you haven't yet given up on the Nats, you might not have any choice by the time these series conclude. They have squandered a comfortable-seeming lead and spent enough time staggering around like a recently-bonked king that merely playing well isn't going to make any difference.

To paraphrase the last thing Anne Bonny ever said to her pirate boyfriend, had the Nats fought like men, they needn't have been hang'd like dogs.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A True Story

I'm finding this all very tedious. The Nationals are 6.5 half games behind the Mets; 10 games out of the wild card. They win some; they lose some. The poor bastards who have to write about this team every day force themselves to find narratives after every game, but your narrative is only as good as tomorrow's starting pitcher.

It is - let's face it - unlikely that the Nats are going to make the playoffs. MLB's official odds put the chance at less than one in ten. Not impossible, but nothing more than a Padres or an Orioles fan can expect. Watching Nats games is thus less compelling than it used to be. As much as Carpenter and FP will deny it, we're just biding our time until the mathematicians say it's over.
Key: The Nats are the one that sucks.

I'm going to tell you a true story here. I had an outbreak of gnats in my house. There's no need to panic - the source has been identified, and crafty traps have been lain. It's just a matter of time before the last one perishes.

That's how I spend my evenings now: Waiting for the gnats to die.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Minnie Churl

I checked to see if everything still sucks, and it does.

Is it churlish to be unhappy with merely winning a series rather than sweeping it? Maybe. I don't know. I'm comfortable with my churlishness. Call me Churlie Hustle. Churl Haggard. Churles the Second, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc.

What's going to happen now is that the damn Mets are going to stroll into Coors Field like they own the place, and then will proceed to own the place.

The Nationals, meanwhile, seem likely to take one of three at home from the Brewers.

If I sound pessimistic, it's only because everything sucks, up to and including my favorite baseball team.

It sounds like Ichiro is going to return to the Marlins next year.

That led me to reflect on how it sure seems like Ichiro is terrible now except when he's playing the Nats. I was relieved to discover that the statistics back up my impression.

Ichiro is hitting .262 overall, .245 against not the Nats, and a pretty impressive .394 against Washington.

So here's to the Nats for geting us closer to lots of discussions about whether Ichiro has more hits than Pete Rose. The answer to that question, by the way, is and will continue to be "No."