Friday, September 30, 2005

Nats Hock a LOOGY

Get it? Seriously, that headline is the only reason I'm even posting about this. In what I hope will be one of his last acts as general manager, Jim Bowden traded lefty reliever Mike Stanton to the Red Sox for a couple of young guys whose names sound like they came out of the EA MVP Baseball random name generator, Rhys Taylor and Yader Peralta.

It's a weird move. I don't know about you, but I certainly wasn't expecting a trade at this point in the season. Stanton will not be eligible for Boston's playoff roster, and I guess their low minors are so bursting at the seams with oddly-named pitchers that they can toss a couple of them our way for four games of Stanton. The Sox are no doubt hoping that Stanton can stop Jason Giambi in a way that drug-sniffing dogs and urine tests haven't yet been able to.

Anyway, we didn't get much, but we didn't give up anything. Stanton's heading into free agency, and getting anything for him is worth giving him up for the last three games. The Post on our new acquisitions:
Taylor, 20, went 2-2 with a 1.49 ERA in 11 games for the Red Sox's entry in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League this season. Peralta, 19, threw out of the bullpen in 27 games for three Red Sox minor-league affiliates, none higher than Class A, and went 2-3 with a 4.57 ERA.
Taylor is Australian, incidentally, so don't get into a drinking contest with him or anything. So hooray for Bodes, and I haven't said that since the Byrd/Chavez trade. Not only did he turn nothing into two very young pitchers, he provided an opportunity for the Gray Pages to reflect on Frank not knowing what the hell he's doing.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tetrapturi Sugunt!

If we've learned one thing from the series with the Marlins, it's that there's a difference between giving up on the season and completely whizzing all over it. I don't need to tell you that the Nats have had a rough second half. Guys got hurt, Bowden called up players Frank had no intention of using, everyone apparently hates Tony Tavares, Guillen and Wilkerson blamed each other for a series of yo la tengo-esque incidents (by which I mean miscommunication in the outfield, not ten minute squealing guitar solos), and we plummeted from first place to whatever you call the opposite of first place. Last, I guess.

But I'd rather be the Nationals than the Marlins. I thought Florida was going to win the NL East, and it wasn't like I was the only one. The team has a superb pitching staff, a couple legitimate superstars in the field, a solid cast of supporting players, and a cranky old manager who's definitely older and possibly crankier than ours. When it became clear that Atlanta's deal with the Devil hadn't yet expired, I was sure they would take the wild card. Instead, they're battling it out with us and the Mets for not-last while their team falls apart. In case you didn't feel like clicking those links, here's the digest version: Miguel Cabrera, tired of being given advice, says "fuck the veterans" (take that, Jeff Conine!); A.J. Burnett, on his way to what will no doubt be a very enjoyable period of free agency, says the team is playing like a bunch of scared little girls and is asked to leave; and the remains of Jack McKeon have probably decided to get while the getting's good. Oh, and they're running out of money and might have to trade Carlos Delgado.

The good news for Florida? Dontrelle Willis is on his way to the Cy Young! Or maybe not. It's tough on a CY candidacy to get your clock cleaned by a team butt-naked last in runs, homers, and OPS and playing September call-ups, especially considering how effortlessly Willis had handled Washington earlier in the season (21 innings and 4 earned runs in three previous efforts).

I'm not here to bag on the Marlins. I kind of like them. I rooted for them in 1997 and 2003, and Dontrelle Willis is one of my favorite players. When I say stuff like this about the Mets, it's out of pure malice, but this is different. I'm just trying to cheer everyone up. No matter how bad it's gotten, at least we're not Marlins fans.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

What A Rush!

The season is winding down, and we're running out of time to make the case against the current management of the Nats. Fortunately, tonight's game against the Marlins gives us a perfect opportunity: how are we supposed to dig ourselves out of last place when we're out of starting pitchers? Again? Tonight it's Cy Young candidate Dontrelle Willis going up against . . . um . . . John Halama and Joey Eischen? Giant Jon Rauch? Pee Wee Majewski? Frank and Bodes are a veritable Legion of Doom, an unstoppable tag team that destroys everything in its way. And the Nationals were in their way.

A tattooed man representing the Nationals pitching staff is attacked by Frank "Animal" Robinson (left) and Jim "Hawk" Bowden in this commemorative trading card.

UPDATE! Jon Rauch gets the start. Good move, but I bet he gets yanked the first time he walks someone.

Meanwhile, the injuries continue to mount. It hardly matters any more, but there a couple of Nats whose grit and determination have gotten them unfair abuse from certain quarters. Brad Wilkerson has had a down year. Last year he hit 32 homers, posted a .374 OBP, and looked like he was ready to break out into . . . well, not stardom exactly, but something. 2005, however, has seen B-Wilk's power collapse (11 homers) and his OBP drop (.351). Some of this is due to the dimensions of RFK, but don't forget that Bluegrass has been dealing with an arm injury for most of the year.
Injuries have played a role in Wilkerson's inconsistency this year, as he has been playing with sore shoulders and a sore right forearm. . . .This year the injuries have forced him to swing one-handed. His left hand is often off the bat during his follow-through.
¡Livan!, formerly the official pitcher of Distinguished Senators, is in the same situation. His right knee has been hurting since May, and, according to Dr. Needham, has been drained of gooey frosting on more than one occasion. Two of our best players have had their production hurt by injuries. Rather than complaining about them, we should be praising both men for playing through the pain even at the cost of their stats.

Last week, I defended Barry Bonds. While I don't approve of cheating, I take satisfaction from Bonds' stiff-necked resolution in the face of pretty much everyone hating him. There are certain arguments I did not employ in my defense, however, because I'm not that idiot Will Carroll.
Once we get past the statistical racism and chemical McCarthyism that surrounds Bonds . . .
Yeah, that's right, Will. Anyone who disapproves of Bonds is a racist and a McCarthyite. Those aren't even arguments -- they're just what you say when you want the other person to shut up. It's nice that Will's layoff from blogging hasn't dulled his razor-sharp jackassery.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Having Been Swept

Given what's happened to the Nationals and Orioles lately, it would seem that someone, possibly a diabolical super villain, has spiked the region's water supply with Levoxyl. The similarities between the fates of the MASNmates are unfortunately numerous. Both have endured an improbably hot start followed by a pathetic, pants-wetting collapse; new acquisitions playing horribly and (we can only hope) getting GMs fired; and likeable second basemen playing meaningless late season games and suffering arm injuries likely to keep them out for six months.

And while the loss of Brian Roberts is certainly more damaging to the O's than that of Rick Short is to the Nats, Short's end of summer performance was one of approximately three bright spots at the end of this (maybe) last place season. There's also Hector Carrasco, who after nine years as a middling reliever was pressed into starter service by a Nats team that was fresh out of pitchers (hey, Sunny Kim pitched a shutout in Colorado on Saturday) and responded by not sucking. The biggest source of comfort, though, has been Dutch Zimmerman (named by an online journalist -- take that, Will Carroll!). He's been playing every day since Frank threw up his hands and started thinking about golf full time, and an 0-5 game yesterday brought his batting average down to .412. So he's doing pretty good.

But even these happy things remind us of the incompetence that got us where we are today. Our B-team lineup isn't much of a downgrade from the first squad Frank rolls out there when he's trying to win. This is most apparent at third and short, and what do those positions have in common? That's right, the left side of the infield is entirely Jim Bowden's doing. This was where he was going to impress the hell out of everybody with his free agent-signing acumen and get himself a real job. As it turned out, all $22 million got us was a couple of players quite neatly replaced by a 20-year-old rookie and a bad shortstop at a combined cost of well under a million bucks.

Then there's Frank. After a game in which Dutch got three of only five Nationals hits, Frank didn't feel like talking about his brilliant young third baseman.
"What is this? The daily Zimmerman report?" he asked sarcastically, then paused looking for his first one-liner of the day.

"He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer," Robinson said.

What an unpleasant old man.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

He Is Despised and Rejected of Men

Did you have fun booing Barry Bonds? I hope so, because it's a win-win situation. You, the booer, get to enjoy a warm, tingly feeling of moral superiority and "Ooh, you got buuusted!" grade school schadenfreude. Bonds gets to enjoy a little extra satisfaction when he eviscerates your team and suggests that you can all shut the fuck up now.

He's an inspiration, and here's why: consider Barry's fellow offenders. Rafael Palmeiro decided he couldn't take the heat and packed it up and went home, leaving his team to play "a no-power sea lion who outweighs the Ravens offensive line" at first. Pothead Neanderthal Jason Giambi, after spending 2004 spring training lying about his noticeable weight loss ("No, dude, I was just like, working out, you know? Working out, dude"), gave a mewling, gutless sort-of apology, and he did that only after everybody found out he'd been using the substance he couldn't be bothered to mention while begging for forgiveness.

Barry Bonds, meanwhile, is one of those rare men who really doesn't care what others think of him. He could have taken the easy way out and continued rehabbing his knee over the off-season. Instead, he got back as quickly as possible to rejoin a team all but technically out of the playoff hunt so he could waddle around in left field and scare the hell out of pitchers. He didn't quit like Palmeiro or give a phony apology like Giambi; he took -- welcomed, in fact -- the heat. He has boundless fighting spirit and the kind of drive and determination that sportswriters seem to recognize only when it comes in short infielders who make the appropriate "aw, shucks" noises in front of the press.

So go ahead and boo. Call him Barroid, wave asterisks at him, whatever. You're only making him stronger.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Gonna Get Me a Post Link

Barry Svrluga's chat is happening, and if you link to it, you get a link on the Post site. Technorati, take me away!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Even A Blind Squirrel Can Find a Stopped Clock Twice a Day

There's no way we should have won that game. The Nationals ran out of starting pitchers and relied on the bullpen to go the whole nine innings for the second time in as many games. Nick Johnson, Rick Short, and Dutch Zimmerman weren't playing, while Cristian Guzman and Deivi Cruz were. But somehow it all worked out. Hector "Macho" Carrasco, who hasn't pitched three innings in a game all year, went four. Giant Jon Rauch pitched for the second time since May and struck out two. Cristian Guzman hit two doubles off a Hall of Fame pitcher.

The lesson is that even if you completely screw up, you can still catch the occasional break. It's a lesson Thomas Boswell still hasn't learned, if his column from Friday is any indication. It's a landmark piece, actually, whatever his faults. Boswell is king of the homers. He won a Ron Santo Award for his "golly gee whiz" assesment of Jim Bowden's personnel decisions, and that was all the way back in January. Since then, he's kissed ass, dismissed all criticism of the team (once by actually writing "blah blah blah"), and become known as the only person willing to defend Cristian Guzman, outlasting even Guzman's own bosses in that shameful last man standing contest. Now that the Nats aren't playing so good, he's changed his tune.
You can only play with injuries for so long, then come back quickly each time to hurt yourself anew. You can only feud with so many pitchers, then banish them to sundry distant cities. You can only make so many trades, hoping to keep postseason dreams alive a little longer, before some weakest link in the roster chain -- exposed by one trade too many -- is finally found.
If Boswell's seeing the problem, it must be obvious to everyone.

But his logic remains flawed. While he is (correctly) blaming Nats management for the team's sorry state, he can't help but remind how great Frank 'n' Bodes once were.
If the Nats use nine pitchers, each for one inning, against John Smoltz on Sunday, you can thank Robinson and Bowden. You thanked them for that 50-31 start and for meaningful games throughout the entire summer. You begged for it, didn't you? So, perhaps, considerable forgiveness is almost mandatory now.
So giving away Claudio Vargas and Sunny Kim was necessary to put us in first place? I'm not sure that makes sense.
Robinson's "frankness," some of it blistering, in motivating his players privately and in evaluating them publicly, helped drive a team that lost 95 games last season to first place on the Fourth of July. His demands and discipline also helped keep it playing beyond its talent and above its injuries until, past Labor Day, the unlikely Nats still found themselves in contention.
It's kind of amazing that Boz still believes in Robinson's motivational genius. Remember Frank's big move that was going to change attitudes and turn the season around? When he turned the music in the clubhouse off?
Claudio Vargas, now 8-8 as a dependable and entrenched Arizona starter, and Sunny Kim, 4-2 with a 4.50 ERA with the Rockies, were simply given away by Bowden -- put on waivers to clear roster spots so that temporary holes could be plugged in the hold of the leaking U.S.S. RFK. Nobody, including me, protested their departure.
Bullshit. You were wrong, Boswell. Don't try to involve us in your foolishness.

This turned into more of a line-by-line thing than I meant it to, but I think the flaw in Boswell's thinking is clear. He doesn't discuss the possibility that the Nationals were winning despite -- or at least regardless of -- Bowden's and Robinson's ministrations. Boz isn't alone in this. It seemed like any criticism of Bowden during the first half of the season was met with something like "yeah well hes gm of a fristplace team so he must be doing a prety good job lol!!!!!1" Now he's GM of a fourth-place team, and to start finding fault with him now evinces the kind of stimulus-response thinking that does no credit to any multi-celled organism.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Good News

The Nats are all but officially eliminated from playoff contention, and it's a good bet that next year isn't going to be as much fun as this one was. Still, that doesn't mean that we can't focus on the good news. Here goes.
  • We're over .500, and the Mets aren't. I dislike the Mets for a variety of reasons, and back when I thought this team was going to be much worse than it turned out to be, my only wish was to finish ahead of them. To do so with a payroll less than half as big as theirs would be even sweeter. That's right, Mets fans: your team's spending more money than the Cardinals.
  • I've noticed that Brad Wilkerson is using "Back Then" by Mike Jones as his entrance music. We can infer from this that back then hoes didn't want him, but that now, with increased visibility that comes from playing in Washington and appearing in a really embarrassing bank commercial, he's hot hoes all on him. Good for Brad, and if word of this gets around the league, it may help us sign free agents in the future.
  • Andruw Jones might win the MVP, and we helped! In 18 games against the Nats, Jones hit six homers with a robust .688 slugging average. Esteban Loaiza was particularly helpful, allowing Andruw to throw two homers, two doubles, and 10 RBIs on the ever-increasing pile. You're welcome, Atlanta! I hope you can sell out a playoff game this time!
  • How 'bout that Dutch Zimmerman? In his brief time with the club, he's shown himself to be competent to handle major league pitching and apparently a rad third baseman. He can't play shortstop, but it was ridiculous to ask him to. So that's the good part, but here's the downside: he was born in 1984. I'm not the only one thinking about his own mortality all of a sudden, right?
  • Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan remains completely wrong as hell. On October 26, Sheehan commented, "The Expos might be one of the worst teams ever next year, because it's hard to see how they get anything done this offseason." Even if we lose every game the rest of the way (you can do it, Frank!) Sheehan's already shown the prediction skills of a young Will Carroll.
  • JIM BOWDEN IS GONNA GET FIRED! It's just speculation, but I'm pretty sure that it won't be long before JIM BOWDEN GETS FIRED! We might have to worry about Frank next year, but NOT BODES, WHO WILL BE FIRED! Probably.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Apartment Man

Wednesday's 12-1 loss to the Marlins was emblematic of pretty much all the bad stuff about the Nats, in the same way a 2-1 home win puts all the good stuff on display.
  • First off, we're out of starting pitchers. Early in the year, our depth of servicable starters was one of the few advantages the team had. What happened? Injuries, for one thing. Jon Rauch missed most of the year, and Zach Day broke his wrist. Worse than that, though, was the destructive combination of Frank Robinson's crankiness and Jim Bowden's carelessness. Frank's never gotten along with his pitchers, going all the way back to 1975. Tomo Ohka was jerked around, insulted, and traded when he didn't like it. Same with Zach Day. Some of the blame has to go to Bowden, the guy who actually pulled the trigger on the trades, but if Frank can't get the most out of his players, he's simply not doing his job. Bodes, meanwhile, painted himself into a corner with his roster moves and gave up Sunny Kim in exchange for nothing. And when I say "nothing," I don't mean, "a bad player," I mean actually, literally nothing. That's the same package we got earlier in the year for Claudio Vargas, by the way.
  • Our emergency starter, John Halama, was yanked in the first inning after giving up the Fox News First Run of the Game. Frank's quick hook has worked in the past, but the bullpen was worn out and proceeded to surrender a further nine runs, none of which merited sponsorship. Of course, Frank proceeded to insult Halama after the game, which I'm sure Tom Boswell just ate up. Grit!
  • Finally we come to our beloved Teutonic third baseman, Ryan "Dutch" Zimmerman. Bodes brought Dutch up to the majors when rosters expanded, and Frank sat his rookie ass on the bench and kept him there, explaining that it wouldn't be "fair" to Vinny Castilla to use the better, healthier player. Vinny's not pulling his weight (and is a few boxes of doughnuts and a week-long slump away from not hitting it), but hey, he's a veteran, you know? You got to do right by the vets, playoffs be damned. You don't see Bobby Cox using a lot of rookies . . . forget that, Frank won two MVPs, what the hell did you ever do? Anyway, Dutch finally got a start last night. At shorstop, which he has next to no experience playing. Frank decided it would be best for the young fellow to make his first major league start at a difficult position that he doesn't play. Surprising no one, he made two errors, and Vinny's washed-up ass contributed nothing before being pinch hit for.
So there you have it. You've got managerial incompetence leading to a weak roster, the mistreatment of players, and bizarre and counterproductive lineup decisions. And we got our asses kicked, but that probably would have happened anyway. Dontrelle Willis can kick our asses all by himself, like Bugs Bunny vs. the Gas House Gorillas.

Meanwhile, scroll to the bottom of this and check out the graphic depiction of the dualistic nature of the Nationals' bullpen. Without Stanton, there could be no Cordero.

And Cristian Guzman won an award.

Update! I am now able to display the above mentioned depiction thanks to teh magic of teh internet.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Mutable, Protean

Maybe I should start handing out an award for self-obliviousness, if that is a word. I already have an award named after Will Carroll, though, and I don't think anyone else deserves that honor. If there were such an award, though, our own Jim Bowden would be in the running. Here's Bodes defending his favorable comparison of young Dutch Zimmerman to Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken:
"As a general manager," Jim Bowden said, "you're not going to make these comments unless you can back it up. I'm not going to be wrong [about] the player. You don't hear me making these great comments about too many players since I've been here, have you?"
Evidently Bodes doesn't read Distinguished Senators. If he did, he would have recently been reminded of this bit of wishful thinking:
"Cristian Guzman is a critical part of the future of the Washington franchise. You never see a winning team without a good shortstop," Bowden said. "Cristian is only 26 years old. He has been on a division winner the last three years. He has tremendous range. It doesn't show up in statistics, but baseball people know what it means to win baseball games."
I hasten to point out that I heart Dutch, and even though the grown-up me disapproves of his early appearance in the majors, the kid part -- the part that likes the frosted side of Kellog's Frosted Mini Wheats -- is excited to see him. But it doesn't make me think any more of him when Bowden points at his own throbbing brain and proclaims his infallibility.

Time for a JOSE SMASH! update. Back in June, I did a little sifting through Jose Guillen's stats to investigate whether the temperamental, mercurial outfielder hit better when facing the numerous teams that have gotten rid of him at one time or another than he did against those with which he had no beef. He did, as it turns out, slugging 300 points better against the Pirates, Reds, Angels, A's, and Diamondbacks than against everyone else. The trend continues:

Guillen versus former teams:
.333/.410/.688, 9 HR, 16 RBI in 93 ABs

Guillen versus non-former teams:
.297/.346/.478, 15 HR, 54 RBI in 387 ABs

He hits homers almost twice as frequently against his former employers, doubles at a better rate, strikes out less often, and perhaps most interestingly, gets plunked at a higher rate. And for all the complaints about how often Guillen finds a body part in the way of a fastball, the HBPs are keeping his on-base percentage above the league average for outfielders, so I'm all in favor of them. The Pirates, Jose's first team, have felt the worst of his wrath (500/593/1182, 3 2Bs, 4 HR in 22 ABs), while he's only 1 for 9 with a single against Oakland.

Unfortunately, that's it for us. None of the other NL East teams have taken a chance on our impulsive, volatile right fielder, but we can hope that he gets the Phillies confused with the Reds like I always do.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

And by the way . . .

. . . me and Bodes aren't the only ones who think the left side of the Nationals' infield needs some fixing. Yard Work contributor Ana Maria Collejeo Guillen piles on as well.
Vinny is what we in our country call “an old shoe,” something you have around because it is comfortable and sometimes usefull but you don’t think about much anymore because you have new better shoes and they are more of fashion and also do not hurt your feet…or your lineup. And in addition we also have a name for players like Cristian Guzman too. That word is “esucks.” So those are my thoughts and you are very welcome to them.
You should totally be reading Yard Work almost all the time. How else would you know what Ana Maria thinks of Jason Beritek?

Bowden: "Man, Did I Ever Fuck Up"

"Cristian Guzman is a critical part of the future of the Washington franchise. You never see a winning team without a good shortstop," Bowden said. "Cristian is only 26 years old. He has been on a division winner the last three years. He has tremendous range. It doesn't show up in statistics, but baseball people know what it means to win baseball games." -- November 22, 2004
Consider this a sequel to the last time Jim Bowden admitted he sucks. Back then, Bodes tried to tell us how ashamed he was by having his big signing, Cristian "Punchline" Guzman, sit down in favor of the lovable but not actually very good Jamey Carroll. I guess he thought we didn't get the message, because now he's just screaming it.
In need of offense, the Nationals acquired shortstop/second baseman Deivi Cruz from the Giants in exchange for right-hander Ben Cox on Tuesday.
It's not a bad deal, and it would have been even better had it happened earlier. However, there aren't many teams on which Deivi Frigging Cruz is a clear improvement, and the man who assembled such a team should not be proud of himself. I've already spent far too much of my life watching Deivi Cruz -- he was the shortstop on an Orioles team whose best player was Jay Gibbons, if that tells you anything. Even so, he makes our shortstop position better. Hell, he might make our second base position better too, but I can't blame Bowden for that so I'm ignoring it. Then there's this:
Manager Frank Robinson and interim general manager Jim Bowden had a meeting on Tuesday afternoon to talk about which Minor Leaguers they should bring up. Both men declined to talk about what was said, but Bowden hinted that third baseman [Dutch] Zimmerman would be in the Major Leagues before Sept. 1.

There is a possibility that Zimmerman could replace either third baseman Vinny Castilla or shortstop Cristian Guzman.

To recap: Jim Bowden's two biggest additions to the team, players with a combined 4 years and $15 million left on their contracts, have been replaced by no-hit journeyman shortstop and a 20-year-old with fewer than 70 professional games under his belt. Even if you ignore the fact that starting Dutch's major league service time is going to cost the Nats a lot of money down the road (Bodes'll be long gone by then -- what does he care?), his pissing away of our pitching depth, his unprofessional behavior (publicly blaming his players for a mess he made), what else does Bodes have to do to prove that his second general manager stint is just as much a failure as his first?