Distinguished Senators, the Washington Nationals Blog That Is Great

Monday, September 14, 2015

Monkey Business

Drew Storen's 2015 has been a reminder to call no man happy until he is dead.

Everything was coming up Storen for the first half of the season. He had a pile of saves and a minuscule ERA. His team was cruising to a division title, which would afford him the opportunity to get the Playoff Monkey off his back.

After that, he could look forward to a nice raise in arbitration, another pile of saves, and then a big fat proven closer free agent contract.

But Fate or Whatever had other things in mind. Nemesis struck in the form of provener closer Jonathan Papelbon, whom the Nationals acquired on July 28. The thinking - it was good thinking and I liked it - was that having two closers would be better than having one.

This thinking proved to be flawed, since it failed to account for Storen completely losing it and metaphorically gouging out his eyes with his mother's jewelry. He couldn't pitch anymore. His ERA went up by five, which is a lot. He walked everyone and had as much to do as anyone with the damn Mets slamming a door in the Nats' faces.

It all ended with Storen picking and losing a fight with some locker room equipment. Thumb broken, Storen will not pitch again this year, and we've probably seen the end of his Nats tenure.

The story evokes pity and fear. Storen has a tragic flaw - the fact that his self confidence is as fragile as fine china - but he's not a bad person. He didn't do anything wrong other than pitch badly, and he didn't want to do that.

Behold this Storen, who pitched pretty good and was a man most mighty; what setup man did not gaze with envy on his fortunes? Behold into what a stormy sea of dread trouble he has come.

Therefore, while our eyes wait to see the destined final day, we must call no man happy who plays for the Nats, until he has hit free agency, free from pain.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015


So, that's that. The Mets came back from a 7-1 deficit last night, ripped out the Nationals' spine, and strangled them with it. It was the final turning point of the season. The time for competing has ended; now it is time for recriminations.

I've made it clear how I feel about trying to impose a narrative on a baseball season, but I also understand how tempting it is. It's never been more tempting than last night. If this were a movie, the Nats' screen time would have ended yesterday. Big shootout, Mets win, Nats wind up falling into a lava pit or something.

But, while existence may be a computer simulation, it is definitely not a movie, and the season still has a few weeks to chug along before we can get on with our lives.

Which means the Nats are still in it! I mean, if you hadn't given up a couple weeks ago, why give up now? Momentum isn't real, no matter what that fig-loving fraud Isaac Newton tells you.

"Nah, they're done. According the principles of physics, I mean. #FireMatty."
The Nats could win tonight, Matt Williams could stop bunting, and Drew Storen could decide to stop it with the sulk-pitching.

Then they could win again and again, even as the Mets are destroyed from within by their own hubris and Scott Boras. It could happen. It's not much less likely than it was two weeks ago.

It's no comfort to me - I actually did give up a couple weeks ago. But I'm happy to humor the delusions of others.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

I Don't Know. Whatever.

"Bryce Harper Calls Out Nationals Fans"! Can you believe it?

You shouldn't because he didn't. A journalist asked him a question about the ambiance at Nationals Park. He responded honestly, and that gave all the writers an opportunity to shriek and jump and down and get lots of clicks because of all the delicious outrage. So congratulations to everyone involved - you're all credits to your profession.

“I mean, they left in the seventh, so that’s pretty brutal. I don’t know. Whatever.”

Sounds pretty reasonable to me, and keep in mind that this was in response to a question. It's not like he called Mean Gene Okerlund over and started bellowing into his mic about fair-weather fans.

I particularly agree with the part where Harper said, "I don't know. Whatever." That's exactly right, because this whole thing is dumb. Are Nats fans not good at being fans? It's possible. But it doesn't matter.

Being a good fan has no moral dimension to it. "Good fan" and "good person" are not the same thing. They don't even overlap. If you want to leave the game in the seventh, go right ahead. Maybe you have something better to do. Maybe you're in right field melting into a sunburned puddle. The risk is that you will be looked down upon by people who think spending two hundred bucks on a jersey and being willing to overturn a car should the Nats win a World Series are indications of good character.

I can understand that Harper would prefer to play in front of an enthusiastic crowd. It's just that it doesn't matter. It's like Drew Storen's desire to close - we can't all get everything we want, and we can't concern ourselves with everything everyone else wants.

At the same time, it's silly to condemn Harper for stating a reasonable desire in such a mild, unassuming way. "What a punk!" cry the comments. And, yeah, Harper is a punk. It's just that this in no way a demonstration of that.

But all this is fiddling while Rome burns. The Nats blew it yesterday, as I'm sure you don't need me to tell you. Scherzer has been exhausted, and the bullpen's bad enough that, when combined with the acumen of Manager of the Year Matt Williams, there's no lead it can't blow.

Nero didn't really fiddle while Rome burned, they tell us. He performed a poem about the sack of Troy. I don't understand the objections to this. It was thematically appropriate, and what was he supposed to do? Run out there with a bucket?

Monday, September 07, 2015

The Natsiest

This is it, people. The final countdown. We're headed for Venus (Venus).

The Nationals just beat the ever-loving hell out of the Braves, and that's great. Curb-stomping the Braves is something I will never get tired of seeing. It hasn't been the hardest task lately, but when was the last time the Nats looked like a team that could do it? It might have been as long ago as June, when they actually did it.

So the Nats are heading into this series with the Mets in as good a shape as one could expect. The Mets, meanwhile, have become so Nats-like that I have to force myself not to like them. They just dropped two of three to the Marlins - that's something the Nats would do. They lost two games off their lead over the course of a weekend - sounds familiar. They're talking about shutting down one of their starters because of innings and ligaments and Scott Boras - well, it'd be nice for the Nats to have company when it comes to that kind of stupidity.

So we're hitting the Mets at their Natsiest. That's good, because they can send us to game over this very week if they get their crap together and the Nats regress to their second most recent state.

Europe Update: Europe actually put out an album this year. They're big in Sweden, I guess. Please enjoy the first single and title track, "War of Kings."

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


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


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.