Distinguished Senators, the Washington Nationals Blog That Is Great

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