Distinguished Senators, the Washington Nationals Blog That Is Great

Monday, May 16, 2016

Are You Not Entertained?

Man, how about that Rangers/Blue Jays fight, huh? My favorite part was when Rougned Odor punched Jose Batista right in his damn face.
Moments before this picture was taken, those glasses and that helmet were actually on that guy's head.
Is that bad? Should I not have enjoyed that? Here's a Craig Calcaterra piece that suggests that I shouldn't have without managing to say much of anything.
These takes [takes expressing the idea that the fight was rad] have one thing in common: for them to make coherent sense, players have to play roles to satisfy an audience rather than be actual human beings with feelings.
Here I run into a problem with empathy. Unless it's sympathy - I've never been able to keep those straight. I'm aware that baseball players are human beings who hurt when Rougned Odor punches them in the jaw, but can I actually care?

There are over 7 billion people in the world. How upset can you get about how many of them getting punched before that's the only thing you have time for?

Speaking only of baseball, I can barely bring myself to care about the 26 guys I'm supposed to (that's the Nats active roster plus Dusty Baker and Matt LeCroy minus Jayson Werth). Maybe it's just that my brain isn't big enough to maintain that kind of Monkeysphere, but Jose Batista's feelings aren't important enough to me that I'm not going to enjoy a fight in which he gets turned into a bobblehead doll by a tiny violent lunatic infielder.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Word

Having Alonzo Mourning as the best player on your team was less than ideal for a couple of reasons. The obvious one is that while Mourning was very good, he wasn't that good. He wasn't Hakeem Olajuwon.

The other problem is that Mourning allowed himself mentally to be taken out of games. All Dennis Rodman had to do was some light needling followed by a discreet elbow, and Mourning would go off like Krakatoa (too soon?) and have to go sit down for a while.
Hugs!
I guess a 6'8" dude with parti-colored hair and a lip ring doesn't qualify as a secret weapon, but Rodman brought more than rebounds to the table. He had less tangible skills.

I thought Bryce Harper was past the Alonzo Mourning phase of his career, but these umpires keep getting under his skin.

On Monday, Harper was pretty upset about the strike zone, and he antagonized the umpire to the point that he got ejected while in the dugout with his back turned.

It turned out to be a very brief 86, as moments later Clint Robinson hit a walk-off home run. Harper took time out from celebrating Robinson's triumph to look at the umpire and yell something at him. That something, I regret to inform you, included what is euphemistically referred to as "the Fuck Word." Followed by "you."

It was pretty churlish, and now he's facing a mild suspension. That is not, in my opinion, OK.

Harper is our best player. He is THE best player, and he needs to keep himself on the field. There are two major threats to his participation:
  1. Running into walls like a dumbass
  2. Getting himself thrown out like a dumbass
He managed to tame the first one - he hasn't injured himself through excessive effort in ages. I figured he was beyond the other one as well. Remember last May? He flipped the hell out, got tossed, and let Michael A. Taylor hit the Professor Bacon Bacon Blast of the Week. Shortly afterwards, he got ejected for basically nothing, which should have taught him that picking fights with umpires is no way to win anything.

Look, we all want to yell at umpires. They have undeserved power over things we care about, and they seldom seem worthy of it. But you won't win. I mean, Major League Baseball can win against umpires, but Bryce Harper won't. Soothing your own savage breast by yelling at them is short-sighted and ill-advised. Harper just failed the marshmallow test.

It's best to treat the officials like any other part of the game that's beyond anyone's control, like the weather. You can yell the Fuck Word at the weather, but that's not going to get the wind behind your fly balls.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Greener

Stephen Strasburg's going to be sticking around for a while, and what a pleasant surprise that is.

I figured the combination of Scott Boras' advice and the Nationals' organizational whateverness when it came to Strasburg meant he was bound to go the way of the Zimmermann, but maybe the organization wasn't as whatevery as I thought.

I was influenced by the fact that the fans all seem to hate him. I get it, I guess. He's never been as good as we all hoped, and I suppose he comes off kind wienerish. But it's nice that the team is run by people smarter than those cheering for it.

It's more puzzling from the Strasburg/Boras end. Boras is infamous for making sure his clients see free agency. Why does he do this? As bank robber Willie Sutton allegedly but probably didn't say when asked why he robbed banks, "That's where the money is."

What changed this time? For the answer to this question, we go to another fake quotation: I assume that at some point in the 1970s Tommy John said, "My arm hurts." Then he had his eponymous surgery, which we've learned can extend the careers but dampen the earning potential of major league pitchers.

That's my guess. You can feel free to chalk it up to Strasburg's fondness for the organization or the area or even you personally, but I'm going with the idea that unconventional placement of his ligaments makes him less inclined to gamble on free agency. All that deferred money that wasn't good enough for Jason Heyward or Yoenis Cespedes looks greener when you've got a time bomb in your arm.

I'm a fan of the extension (it ain't my money), and I especially like how it widens the Nats competitive window. When Max Scherzer signed on, I figured we had two years, and I based that on the assumption that Strasburg wasn't sticking around any longer than he had to. You can see why I was so upset when Year One was ruined by the Three Stooges.

I'm still upset by that, but now we have extra years. Stephen Strasburg is going to be our #2 starter for at least three more years, and all our foes envy our good fortune.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Karate Foreshadowing

The Nationals have been doing some excellent foreshadowing.

First, they underlined the fact that they are definitely going to win the division by going to Missouri and kicking ass across its entire expanse.

Then they ran into the Cubs, who it turns out are going to be this season's final boss.

It's just like in Karate Kid when Karate Kid meets the guy from those Buffalo Wild Wings commercials, and you're all like, "Ooh I bet Karate Kid is going to have to beat that guy in the big karate tournament after suffering some setbacks but prevailing because he believes in himself."

That's what happened to the Nats this weekend - they're just setting the groundwork for their triumphant comeback in the NLCS. After the Cubs walk Bryce Harper for the 42nd consecutive time, Ryan Zimmerman will step up to the plate hoping to improve his 1-42 record in at bats after the Cubs intentionally walk Harper.

And he'll do it, even though he can't really play anymore and Joe Maddon had Tommy La Stella or somebody intentionally injure his knee. You're the best! Around! Etc.

But we do need to talk about the batting order. Harper got the full on Barry Bonds treatment on Sunday - the Cubs walked him six times and hit him once. He didn't swing at a pitch.

The Cubs were comfortable doing this both because Zimmerman can't hit and because Joe Maddon doesn't give a damn about anybody's feelings.

I mean, that had to have been deeply humiliating for Zimmerman. I feel bad, and it's not because my favorite baseball team lost. I think there are managers out there who wouldn't have challenged Zimmerman like that just to spare his feelings.

But Joe Maddon is the Sensei John Kreese of baseball, so he did it and it worked.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon (left) instructs his pitching staff
And while I care about Ryan Zimmerman's feelings (seriously, I do - it's not like he's Jayson Werth), he's going to need to suck it up and get used to batting a little lower in the order. Batting Harper and Daniel Murphy back to back is the only thing that makes sense.

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.