Distinguished Senators, the Washington Nationals Blog That Is Great

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Two of Six

There are actually people who argue about whether Scots - you know, like Robbie Burns or Trainspotting - is merely a hideous dialect of English or a whole different language.

Any of you who have had the misfortune of talking to Orioles fans lately will know what I'm talking about.
How bout dem O's, laddie?
I know they can be hard to understand, but in among all the "up'ere"s and "down-ee-ocean"s, our friends to the north have been expressing some distress about their favorite team. The O's been pretty bad lately.

Or rather, they were pretty bad until they ran into what I had been lulled into thinking was a pretty badass baseball team.

Sure, the Nats lost that last game to the Braves, but that's OK. The Braves are beaten, and it's like I always say: parcere subiectis, et debellare superbos. No need to bury our spear in that chest.

But then the losing continued, to the point that the Orioles, who are at best two-thirds of a baseball team (did you guys know that you need a pitcher for the beginning of every single game?), are kicking our asses up and down I-95.

It's bad enough that they're playing with house money and rolling Ubaldo Goddamn Jimenez out there against us.

I was - you won't believe this, but it's true - just about to post something that wasn't just me bitching and moaning. Something positive. But then the O's came along and ruined it.

Oh, don't worry. I'll still get it out there after things go back to normal. When you only have six ideas a year, you don't let setbacks against sorta-crappy regional rivals stop you from using them.

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.
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


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.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


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.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


It's safe to say we've got this one wrapped up.

The Nationals just completed a four game sweep of the Braves, capping it with a game in which they ran Matt den Dekker and some guy named Heisey out there (I have no idea who this is. Did he win a contest or something?) and still took the Walgreens W.

Combine that with the a gritty 1-1 draw with the Marlins and a previous sweep of the hapless-but-only-because-they-keep-playing-us Braves, and the Nats are at 7-1 and in a dominant position in the division.

The National League East in 2016 has turned out to be surprisingly similar to the Franco-Prussian War. Everyone was expecting a real fight, but it was over instantly. We're sitting here in mid-April listening to a captive Napoleon III explain himself as we prepare to besiege Paris and inspire a musical.
Terry Collins (left) tries to figure out where it all went wrong as Dusty Baker (right, kickass helmet) looks on.
It's possible - MAYBE - that I'm being premature. Last year, I declared on May 11 that the rest of the season was merely a victory lap. That turned out not to be correct. But, look, I failed to take certain factors into account. One of those factors has found his natural level as Arizona's third base coach, and the other one's getting booed (already!) in Toronto.

Since those two can't make this sure thing any less than sure, we're set. Is there anyone to worry about? This division includes three teams that aren't even trying. I don't need to tell you about Atlanta. The Phillies have been tanking for a while now, and the Nats get to enjoy that starting tomorrow. The Marlins play uncharacteristically tough against the Nats, but that's not enough to stop this from happening.

The Mets? Yeah, they won last year. Won the division, went all the way to the World's Series of Base Ball, and forced me to root for the AL team for first time ever.

It was a fluke. They're a one-year wonder. The Mets are not the protagonist of this story; they were there in 2015 only to show how far the Nats had sunk. "Look what the Matt Williams did to you," said Baseball. "You have been bested by the Mets." Just as it took an FBI investigation to get Jim Bowden fired, so it took allowing the damn Mets into the penthouse to get Matt Williams out of here.

2016 has arrived, and they're already panicking. Their manager proclaimed an April 13 game against the Marlins to be a must-win, and that's as stupid as it is untrue. They did win that game, but it doesn't matter, because the Mets are only even going to finish second because they're the only one of the Nats' competitors deluded enough to think that they have a chance.

Good game. Easy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Such Luminaries

Let's check in on some former Nationals, even though nobody's played hardly any baseball yet!

Jordan Zimmermann made the most of the one game he got to play, pitching seven scoreless innings for the Tigers. Also, it was cold but he didn't wear long sleeves because he's from Minnesota or Wisconsin or Manitoba or somewhere like that.

Ian Desmond has been playing (badly) every day in the outfield for Texas - he even got a couple starts in center. Should the Nats have kept him? Nah. There's only room for one .100-hitting outfielder at Nats Park!

Doug Fister's debut for Houston saw him pitch five kinda-lousy innings to get the win. He anointed a new Doug's Dude in Milwaukee second baseman Scooter Gennett, who was obviously hungover on photo day.

Someone get this poor man a Bloody Mary STAT!
Drew Storen picked up with the Blue Jays right where he left off in Washington! He lost out on the closer position, and with a 7.71 ERA over three appearances, he's not about to win it now. I mean, Papelbon's a pretty hateable guy, and I wouldn't be surprised if this is the year his pitches stop working, but the Nats clearly got rid of the correct closer.

Livan "¡Livan!" Hernandez is returning to Cuba to play golf with his brother. They'll be joined by such luminaries as Luis Castillo and Rey Ordoñez at a charity golf tournament in May. Also, he bought a giant dog to protect his house, so don't get any ideas while he's out of town.
I can't tell if this is an artist's impression of Livan and his brother in golf attire or a photo of Livan and his brother in golf attire.
I couldn't find anything about Austin Kearns.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Much Baseball

A status report for a baseball team on April 12 is going to be pointless no matter what, but for the Nationals it's even more pointless than usual. They really haven't played much baseball, owing to bad weather and bizarre scheduling, but they've won most of it.

The wins are good, but keep in mind that an actual majority of that baseball has come against the Braves. Atlanta wasn't trying to win at the beginning of the season, and they are now down to their third-string centerfielder, with Mallex Smith having bonked himself hard enough with his own helmet that he staggered back to the dugout looking like post-match Ric Flair circa 1984

It's bad enough that the Nats are forced to play their tiny-noggined #2 CF; at least they're not reduced to running Drew Stubbs out there.

Is there anything we're worried about on a 4-1 team? I find myself becoming uneasy about Daniel Murphy. Fretting about a guy who's slugging 1.000 is, I realize, an indication of my morose outlook and bad character, but consider this:

Daniel Murphy is currently hitting like Bryce Harper and fielding like Daniel Murphy. Which of these is likely to continue through the season?
An image search for "Daniel Murphy error Nationals" got me this excellent action shot of Ian Desmond trying to figure out what a baseball is and what he should do with it. I miss him so much.
Murphy's at bats have been the highlight of the season thus far, but his glove really is as bad as advertised. It might be wise to start sending out a defensive replacement after he bats a few times.

Speaking of defensive replacements, Stephen Drew has twice been the first pinch-hitter of the game. Why? He hit .201 last year, and that was a 50 point improvement over his 2014. Meanwhile, sitting in the dugout you've got Matt den Dekker, who already won one for us, and Clint Robinson, one of a precious few Nats who came out of last year looking better than he did going in.

But these are quibbles, the product of a brain so used to disappointments that it never stops looking for them. The wins are what matters, and the Nats have four of them. The Braves don't have any, and the damn Mets only have a couple. I need to remind myself of what it was like last April and try to enjoy this.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Enhancement Talent

The Braves are a sad sight that we can now put behind us for a while. They're a lousy team, they're not trying, and they're about to pull off an awfully cynical relocation, but it was a hard-fought series nonetheless.

It's nothing to worry about. You don't want to be averaging three and a half runs a game, but the wins are the only thing that carries forward. The details of the performance are not predictive.

Our returning heroes (minus one center fielder) open the home schedule against the Miami Marlins, who were a real pain last year.

They had a 71-91 record, but managed 9-10 against the Nats, which is pretty good for a team that's not trying any harder than Atlanta. They had a couple guys in particular who made every game a trial.

First baseman Justin Bour looks like the first guy in your middle school who had a mustache, and he bullied the Nats like he was a couple years ahead of us, hormonally-speaking. He "slashed" MVP numbers against Washington (327/417/558), and I instinctively pulled my underwear out of my ass whenever I saw his face on the Jumbotron.
"Why are you hitting yourself, huh? You better not tell the assistant principal about this."
On the other end of the spectrum in every way imaginable is Ichiro, who's carrying on the baseball tradition that gave us Babe Ruth: Boston Brave, Ty Cobb: Philadelphia A, and Brad Wilkerson: Texas Ranger by playing out the string with Miami.

I say "playing" only our of respect to a baseball legend, because the scrawny bastard can't really play anymore. He hit .229 last year with what might actually have been negative power. Except that when he was up against my favorite team, he very nearly turned back into a real ballplayer - .286! Over 20% of his 2015 hits came against the Nats.

If you add up his MLB hits and his hits in Japan and throw in some spring trainings and extrapolate a couple full seasons against Washington, he's got to be damn near 5,000.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Admiral Ackbar's defunct

The guy who played Admiral Ackbar died, and it reminded me of why I don't like listening to Bob Carpenter.

Why do we all know who Admiral Ackbar is? He's not the hero, and he's not vital to the story. The neat thing about Star Wars is that provokes obsessive attention, and that attention is rewarded. There are constant references to interesting stories that you're not seeing.

In this case, you're watching Return of the Jedi and all of a sudden there's this fishman in a Nehru jacket barking orders and arguing with Lando, and you know there's some kind of rad backstory.

I like that kind of thing. The Warriors is one of my favorite movies because it takes place in a world where the titular Warriors are pursued by factions who aren't any less interesting than they are. Why do the Baseball Furies paint their faces? Where did the Turnbull ACs get that bus? Why is there a radio station that exists to broadcast messages to street gangs, and who is the programming director?
I always wanted to know more about these guys.
You always have the impression that the story is unfolding in a real world, that things are going on elsewhere. The other characters do not exist merely to interact with the protagonists.

The problem (one of the problems) with Bob Carpenter is that his narrative does extend beyond the Nationals. For him, every game is either "Nationals vs Opponent" or "Nationals at Opponent."

How much time does it take to learn everything you need to know about these 30 people?  I don't know the answer exactly, but it happens before the end of game 162.

Meanwhile, you've got Orphans and Rogues and Sallustans and all kinds of other interesting people over in the other dugout. A good play-by-play man could fill up a lot of airtime telling us their stories.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Blue Flowers

Hey, tonight actually was the night! The Nationals finally broke the "Tonight's the night" curse. I'm not about to dig through Retrosheet to figure out if the Nats ever won a season opener after tonight was proclaimed to be the night, but they lost the first one and the last one, so this is a step in the right direction.

Bryce Harper hit a homer and then wore a funny hat. Max Scherzer was pretty good, aside from an apparent desire to match the Nats offense dinger for dinger. Daniel Murphy won the game all by himself without subjecting us to any silly-ass walkup music.

There's no way this doesn't wind up being the high point of the entire season, Murphy-wise.

There was a fair amount of dumbassery, even with Murphy's entrance on mute. Rendon got picked off right before a home run. Even before they handed the Braves a run, you got a bad feeling from the bullpen – they had the look of a dog who's going to eat your food the minute you turn your back.
The dog represents pitchers who aren't Max Scherzer. The turkey represents giving up a run, I guess.
Sure enough, as soon as our backs were turned, Felipe Rivero walked in a run and, more amazingly, managed to walk Jeff Francouer.

The really worrying thing – more worrying than "What the hell are we going to do when the starter doesn't go seven innings? – is that Ben Revere, our brand new center fielder, couldn't even make it four innings before he hurt a rib and had to be entrusted to the bloody clutches of the medical staff.

Their office is not a place that you're guaranteed to make it out of.
Ben Revere checks in with the trainer. "You have ptomaine poisoning on your tongue. You need a bad operation."
It was a fun win, but we have to hope every victory isn't going to cost us a center fielder.

Tonight's the night

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

The Clutch of Life and the Fist of Love

I've been reflecting on those we lost in the offseason, and I think Doug Fister is the only one I miss.

"This is Doug Fister reminding you on behalf of my good friends at PepsiCo to stay hydrated this season. Together, we can pitch a shutout against thirst!

What? No, I don't know whose hand that is."
This is going back to 2013, but that was such a nifty trade! The Nats gave up a couple relief pitchers, one of whom might have been useful but whatever. They also sent along one of those inexplicable fan favorites, which speaks well to the organization's character.

Steve Lombardozzi isn't really a major league player, but people loved him. He played all the positions, and you could call him "Lombo" - maybe that's all it takes to develop a cult following. He was well on his way to becoming our own Super Joe McEwing, and the fact that the Nats thought as little of him as he was worth is a good sign.

The Tigers were roundly mocked at the time for giving up Fister for so little. Hell, they only held on to one of those dudes, and it wasn't even the good one. It turns out that one of the main things that determines that I'm going to really like a ballplayer is if my team ripped another team to get him, and that's certainly the case here.

The Nats got one really good year out of Fister, and then I got a really good year out of Fister, and then they let him go to Houston because he couldn't pitch any more.

And that's how you run a ball club. Neither end of Fister's tenure with the Nationals was a franchise-altering masterstroke, but the whole episode evinces a reassuring competence.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Drive Like a Demon from Station to Station

The Nationals pulled off some North American free trade in January. Remember Drew Storen? Not our problem any more. He's a Blue Jay now. Let Trudeau worry about him.

We got Ben Revere, who, according to various advanced metrics I won't be sharing here, will be at least useful.

Is he the solution to our outfield challenges? He can't do everything to fix our woes, obviously - it would take an MVP performance from Jayson Werth's parole officer to do that - but he should help.

I'm second to none in my affection for and mockery of the tiny-headedness of Michael A. Taylor, but the dude's a born fourth outfielder. The Nats know this - did you see some of the cockamamie schemes they were devising to keep Taylor from being the starting center fielder? I'm glad we didn't have the wherewithal to pay Yoenis Cespedes. They actually would have made him stand in center every day.

So now we have Ben Revere, and this could wind up being a lot of fun. Revere got on base over 35% of the time last year, and after I make my it's-not-1998-anymore adjustments, that turns out to be pretty good. Also, he completely runs like hell all the time. He stole exactly twice as many bases as any Nat last year, and that's always an entertaining dimension for a baseball club to have.

He might be lousy at defense. Opinions are mixed, and I guess we'll find out. Gotta be better than Cespedes, right?

The cost to pick up Revere was one Drew Storen. I'm glad to be rid of him for two reasons.

1. Drew Storen is a very good closer in laboratory conditions. He can get the job done as long as there aren't any loud noises or other relief pitchers with more saves than he has or Pete Kozma. As long as everyone sits quietly and believes in him really hard, he's an asset.

I don't have to tell Nats fans that a closer with those attributes is of limited utility. Maybe he'll thrive in the clinical environment of the Rogers Centre. Maybe he won't. I don't care.

2. Drew Storen reminds me of the human condition, which is depressing. I'm glad I don't have to look at him anymore.

Last year, I plagiarized the Oedipus to talk about Storen's situation, how he seemed to be in a pretty good place until it suddenly came crashing down around him. It was definitely more pretentious than it was edifying or amusing, but I meant every word of it.

Storen's breakdown was instructive, but it was also ominous, and I don't feel like being reminded of it every time the Nats have a lead in the ninth. I don't want Storen on my baseball team any more than I'd want Oedipus to be my king. I feel real sorry for the motherfuckers, but I have my own problems.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Kept His Gun in Quiet Seclusion, Such a Humble Man

Now these thugs actors all of a sudden
[Marlins general managers] hustle backwards all of a sudden
-Rick Ross, "Rich Forever"

I never thought that random hillbilly Dan Jennings would become a beloved recurring character on this blog.

I'd never heard of him until last year, when he parlayed his position as general manger of the Marlins into a demotion and termination. That's what we call "hustling backwards." With a combination of good intentions and incompetence, Dan Jennings has made himself the platonic ideal of hustling backwards, and now he works for the Nats!

Now that we're on the same side, I hope he doesn't take it personally that I spent a fair amount of 2015 referring to him as a random hillbilly and comparing him to Billy Carter. I don't think he will. Whatever his faults, Jennings seems like a good-natured fellow, and he doesn't strike me as the kind of person who would take "hillbilly" as an insult.

In fact, he seems like the kind of guy who not only knows all the words to the song from "Dukes of Hazzard" but tries to live by them. He's just a good ol' boy, never meaning no harm, etc.
Dan Jennings on his way to work
It's worth recounting what is, for all its dopiness, the most unusual baseball career since Rick Ankiel's:

1. Dan Jennings grows up somewhere in Waffle House country. He makes his way the only way he knows how, even though it's just a little bit more than the law will allow. He probably plays baseball at some level.

2. Dan Jennings winds up working for the Marlins, straightenin' the curves and flattenin' the hills.

3. Dan Jennings becomes general manger of the Marlins. I assume that this is because everyone ahead of him quit or got fired, but still. As GM, he is called upon to fire manager Mike Redmond.

4. Dan Jennings exhibits a deep-seated understanding of the spirit and purpose of the Marlins organization: In an effort to prevent the team from having to pay another manager, he offers to step in and manage the team himself. It's an unusual move, going from general manager to regular manager and expecting to be kicked back up to GM when you're done. It beats all you ever saw.

5. Dan Jennings isn't any good as manager. Maybe it's not his fault, but I bet Mike Redmond felt pretty good about it.

6. Having done his part to save his loathsome organization from paying an extra salary, Dan Jennings asks for his job back. He is fired.

7. Dan Jennings gets a job with the Nationals as special assistant to the general manager. There are nine special assistants to the general manager, so there's no telling what he's actually doing. Maybe he's getting coffee. Maybe he's running moonshine. The mountain might get him, but the law never will.

So there's Dan Jennings' bizarre baseball career arc. From GM to field manager to unspecified front office job. Based on his demonstrated tendencies, we can assume he's using his face time with Mike Rizzo to hustle himself backwards into a bullpen catcher job. After that? The ground's the limit for Dan Jennings. Maybe he'll start blogging.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

It's Too Late to be Grateful

On Christmas Eve, Daniel Murphy's representatives paid a call on Mike Rizzo. They were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and stood, with their hats off, in Rizzo's office. They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him.

"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Rizzo,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for unemployed infielders, who suffer greatly at the present time."
Representatives from the ACES agency make their pitch to Mike Rizzo
At this point, a certain kind of general manager - a more cautious, if not necessarily a better, one - might have asked if there were still prisons and Union workhouses, if the Treadmill and Poor Law were still in full vigour. Finding out that they were, he would have dismissed Murphy's agents, snapped at Dan Jennings for expecting to get Christmas Day off, and gone home to eat some gruel and be terrorized by ghosts.

Rizzo took a different tack. Overwhelmed by holiday spirit, he whipped out his checkbook and started writing, looking up to ask the portly gentlemen if 37 million dollars would suffice.

It did, and now we have Daniel Murphy for three years. I'll do the cons first:

They tell me Murphy can't really play defense. He's going to be playing second, at least until everyone gets injured, and bad second basemen are no fun.

Murphy's presence means that we'll be rooting for Ryan Zimmerman's inevitable trip to the DL to come before Anthony Rendon's inevitable trip to the DL. The former might send Murphy over to 1st base, where the damage he can do is minimized. The latter could set off a terrifying cascade of defensive wackiness, so let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Assuming he stays at second, this is a straight defensive downgrade; possibly a steep one.

The other reason I don't like this signing is that Daniel Murphy is a basic Irish-American. That's a new stereotype I just developed to describe people whose walk-up music is "I'm Shipping Up to Boston." Thanks to Rizzo's Christmas liberality, I'm going to have to hear that damn song a couple hundred times more than I would have otherwise. Sam Adams commercials have been more than filling my need to hear it, so this is not a welcome development.

Fricking Irish. I'm starting to think those 19th century editorial cartoonists had a point.

Daniel Murphy avec shillelagh
To understand the pros, I have to put in some effort to accustoming myself to baseball in these times. Consider:

A 770 OPS gets you a 113 OPS+ these days. Man, I'm from the 90s. Back then, you could slug .550 and bat eighth. Every shortstop hit 30. The roads were paved with dingers. We didn't have half a dozen basic Irishmen coming up to bat to the hackneyed sounds of "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," either. Back in my day, everyone used "Crazy Train."

The point is that by modern standards, Daniel Murphy's C+ OPS makes him a pretty good hitter.

The other weird thing is that pretty good hitters make 12 million dollars, and that still seems weird to me. Greg Vaughn and Jeff Cirillo never made that much in a year. Eight digits for a guy like Murphy makes no sense to me, but I guess I'll have to get used to it.

So, in conclusion, a lame conclusion. Maybe this is good! By the bizarre, degenerate standards of the mid-2010s, the guy can hit well enough to make an absurd amount of the Lerners' money.

On the other hand, maybe this is bad! I mean, is there really an advantage to having a second baseman who hits a little bit above average when he fields way below average? Is Murphy + Danny Espinosa - $12 million really better than Trea Turner + Danny Espinosa + $12 million? I'm not convinced, and I'm not sure a free agent signing that requires a number of injuries to pay off is a good investment.