A fan's observations on the Washington Nationals, from across the virtual divide.

In Arizona, the Nationals Represent – Part 1 – The Team

Filed under: Organization,Players,Teams — Wigi @ 12:17 pm November 22, 2010

I was trading email last week with Mike Henderson, one of my blogging colleagues. I mentioned to him that even if you discount Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper’s Arizona Fall League performances, it seems that almost every time you look at an AFL box score over the last two years, you see the names of Nationals prospects leading the way. Last year’s Phoenix Desert Dogs won their division, a team that featured not only Stephen Strasburg, but Drew Storen, Chris Marrero, Danny Espinosa, Josh Wilkie and Jeff Mandel. Strasburg lead the league in wins and Storen led in saves. This year’s team – the Scottsdale Scorpions – has clinched their division and then went on to win the Arizona Fall League championship. Bryce Harper is the headliner of this team, but other Nationals prospects, such as Derek Norris (who was supposed to play on the 2009 squad, but sat out with a hamate bone injury), Mike Burgess, Steve Lombardozzi, Cole Kimball, Adam Carr, Sammy Solis and Brad Peacock have all made their mark in Phoenix this fall.

Bryce Harper hits a triple into the gap on November 10 against the Peoria Saguraros

Bryce Harper hits a triple into the gap on November 10 against the Peoria Saguraros

Perhaps it was just my perception – after all, most of the various media sources I follow are Nationals-centered. But I watched four AFL games in person this year, and two last year (see here and here), and Nationals fans had plenty to cheer about in all of the games. But rather than blindly trust my perceptions, I decided to find out.

As it turned out, finding out was a bit easier than I imagined. Of course I expected that there would be Nationals representatives in Arizona. Last year’s Desert Dogs were managed by Gary Cathcart and Paul Menhart was the pitching coach, so the Nationals front office was well- represented on the field, and this year’s Scorpions are managed by Randy Knorr, the manager of AA Harrisburg. Finding Nationals representatives wasn’t very hard – they are standing in the dugout. But for the observant Nationals fan, a look around the stands was an even better place to look. In  Scottsdale we happened to look behind us and standing at the top of the section was Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein. Sitting behind home plate in a Nationals jacket and holding a clipboard and a radar gun was noted scout and noted dad, Phil Rizzo.

I asked Rick Eckstein about the the Nationals success, and whether the Nationals placed a greater emphasis on making the most of AFL. Rick said he didn’t think that the Nationals did anything really different than any other team, but that the Nationals’ success at AFL indicated the strength of the organization at this level. I then asked him about the decision to send Bryce Harper to the fall league. He said that it has been a huge success – Harper has gotten the opportunity to experience a higher level of competition and be exposed to the work habits of other top prospects. On days that Harper doesn’t play, he’s chomping at the bit, pacing in the dugout, and asking questions of his fellow players and coaches, and drinking up the experience.

When I talked to Randy Knorr about the how well Nationals players were doing in AFL, he didn’t necessarily agree with my premise that the Nationals players always seem to be leading the way. In fact, the Scorpions have a great team, and perhaps Knorr was not in a position to single out Nationals players when he manages a team with players from five different organizations. But as the results of the AFL championship game pointed out, it was Nationals players who were leading the way.

Another indicator of the Nationals influence in Arizona is demonstrated in a rather roundabout way. The Scottsdale Scorpions were comprised of players from five teams – The Nationals, Orioles, Rockies, Giants and Diamondbacks. There was always a strong contingent of Diamondbacks fans at the games, and they remember Mike Rizzo from his days with the team. Many of the fans I spoke with saw Mike Rizzo at a number of the early AFL games, as well as Pat Corrales, who was working with the team.

At one point when I was speaking with Randy Knorr, he made the point that one goal for the Nationals in 2011 was to stock the AAA roster with predominantly Nationals prospects. In past years, the team has had to fill the AAA roster with a lot of minor league free agents, and Knorr pointed out that this was an indication of the strength of the Nationals farm system. This is changing, and Knorr thought that the AFL performances over the last two years are an indication of how things are changing within the Nationals organization.

As much as the Nationals organization wants you believe that the Nats aren’t doing anything special in Phoenix, it is hard to argue with the results. Last year’s Desert Dogs went to the final game and this year’s Scorpions won the championship. Nationals coaches managed the teams, and the front office had an everyday presence in Phoenix. You could argue that a lot of the organization’s attention to AFL had to do with their high-profile top draft picks participating in the league, but it has been all of the Nationals players that have been making an impact on the field, not just the Harpers and Strasburgs.

Most Nationals fans focus on what happens in the Major Leagues, and certainly that is the metric that matters the most. But I think it may be hard for many of us to understand how badly pillaged the farm system had been and that it takes many years to turn that around – and that success in the majors is highly dependent on a healthy farm system.

If Arizona Fall League is an indicator, perhaps the Nationals luck is about to change.

Trade Deadline Post Mortem

Filed under: Media,Organization,Personnel,Players,Teams — Tags: , , , , — Wigi @ 2:56 pm August 2, 2010

I am not a GM, nor do I play one on television… so I don’t have (an informed) opinion about how the Nationals did leading up to the trade deadline. Certainly the two trades the Nationals made make a lot of sense, and in terms of Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos, I think it was definitely a case of selling high.

What bothers me about it all is that the pundits seem to be critical of Mike Rizzo for sticking to his guns with regard to the trade value for Dunn (and presumably Willingham). In Rizzo’s blog, he addresses (and essentially dismisses) the criticism.

I can’t help but wonder if the team were some other… say, the Yankees or the Phillies, or the Cubs… whether the “conventional wisdom” would be so strongly lined-up against the Nationals and Rizzo.

Does (the collective) baseball somehow believe that the Nationals don’t deserve to be shrewd players in the marketplace?

Rizzo is right: if the criticism is that the other teams didn’t get Dunn at the price they wanted to pay, that is their problem.

Remind You of 2005?

It shouldn’t.

The Nationals of 2005 were a very different animal than the Nationals of 2010. In many ways, it feels the same, and Mark Zuckerman wrote today of the last time that the Nationals were four games above .500. But on September 18, 2005, the Nationals were riding the escalator down, while our 2010 Nationals are riding the escalator up.

The Nationals in 2005 were the bare bones leftovers that Major League Baseball decided to impose on its thirtieth city – in many respects, worse than an expansion team, because there was no need for MLB to create the illusion of fairness of an expansion draft. The league, with the able assistance of Omar Minaya and Jim Bowden gave Washington a team with a  slashed payroll and traded away every significant prospect. Even if the 2005 Nationals had found their way into the post-season, nothing between 2006 and 2009 would have been appreciably different.

Our Nats sucked, and they would have sucked, no matter what.

But here we are in 2010. The Nationals are about in the same place in the standings as they were in 2005. But the Nats’ future looks very different.

The problem is, nobody really anticipated that the Nationals would be all that different this year. I think most of us had absorbed the idea of 70-92, and most of us would probably have be OK with that. We were ready to accept twenty-two games below .500, knowing that we would be better next year.

But we’re better this year.

Which makes me wonder. At what point does Mike Rizzo decide that the Nationals need to make a run at this season?

The Nationals shopping list is actually rather short. While the Nationals desperately need improved starting and relief pitching, they have ample reinforcements on the way, in the form of Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Chien-Ming Wang, Jason Marquis, Ross Detwiler, and perhaps Jordan Zimmerman. Last night’s game exemplifies why the Nationals need to shore up their pitching. They won, but the bullpen made things exciting… perhaps a little too exciting for some people’s tastes. If we can wait out three weeks of Super-Two purgatory (and several rehab stints), the Nationals pitching will be getting a lot better very quickly.

The other glaring hole is in right field, where there is no in-house answer. The platoon of Justin Maxwell, Roger Bernadina, Willie Harris, Willy Taveres and who-knows-who-else (actually, I do know, Cristian Guzman) has been adequate to good defensively – and defense is a big part of the Nationals success in 2010. But at the plate, well… not so hot. There are some who argue that we should just let Willie Harris play the position.

I am torn. I think that Willie Harris will be a better hitter if he plays every day. But what he won’t be is the guy that offers protection to the lineup… and I think that the Nationals need one more feared bat in the lineup. Say what you will about Elijah Dukes, opposing pitchers at least respected him. Sure, you could throw breaking balls at him, but you couldn’t make a mistake to him.

The Nationals will be Also-Rans if they don’t solve their right field problem. The question is whether Mike Rizzo is going to be satisfied with meeting the 70-92 expectation, or whether he’s going to shoot for 92-70. If he chooses the latter, the Nationals are going to have to make a trade. The current winning formula isn’t sustainable… even with better pitching. They need their entire lineup to wake up at the plate. As it is now, there’s a path through the lineup where you can pitch around the hot hitters. A legitimate bat with the defense and arm for right field is what they need.

Right now.

Will History Repeat Itself?

I make an effort not to put myself in the position to be an armchair General Manager. I figure that there are probably fifty people in the world who are qualified to be a Major League GM, and I am not one of them. For me to comment would be a little like me commenting on major surgery – Take that spleen out! You can live without a spleen, right?

But there are aspects of being a GM that isn’t about evaluating talent or negotiating contracts.

One of them is, what happens when one (or more) of the Nationals’ prospects ends up playing themselves onto the big club’s roster?

The gaudy (in a bad way) start of spring training is setting up the scenario where it is entirely possible that a player like Ian Desmond or Drew Storen so handily outperforms the incumbent that Mike Rizzo’s biggest April worry is what to do with Cristian Guzman and Jason Bergmann. It wasn’t so long ago – 2008 – that this very scenario played out as Jesus Flores played himself onto the big team’s roster, even when his ticket seemed irrevocably punched for AAA.

Back in November, I traveled to Arizona for Arizona Fall League, and I interviewed Drew Storen about his plans for spring training. At that time, he said his plan was to come to Florida and make an impact. While he’s had only one appearance so far, it was notable for both its success and brevity. He’ll pitch again tomorrow – and while his appearance may be overshadowed by Stephen Strasburg, a strong performance will almost certainly get the attention of the front office. An impact, indeed.

Ian Desmond is doing the same thing… and as a position player, he’s getting a chance every other day or so to show that perhaps Syracuse isn’t the place for him.

The problem that Rizzo faces is that the business of baseball – assigning players to the minors in order to both foster their development and slow down the arbitration clock – seems to be in conflict with the actual performance of the players. I suspect it is tempting to not let a player’s emprical performance on the field interfere with a perfectly good business decision. But the fans don’t see it that way, and people like me are rooting for Drew Storen and Ian Desmond.

I am not saying that Storen or Desmond… or any other Nationals rookie… deserves to make the team. What I am saying is, if they have game, they don’t deserve to ride the bus in the minors because the Nats have expensive contracts with veterans. The fans don’t deserve it, either. I think we deserve the best available team… and I think that the take home message from 2009 is that  it is a mistake to assume that any player on the team is a lock at his position on the first day of spring training (see Milledge, Lastings). Albert Pujols comes to spring training believing he needs to earn his spot. It seems to work out for him.

So will history repeat itself?

Let’s hope!

Half a Loaf (plus some notes)

Filed under: Fan Experience,Teams — Tags: , , — Wigi @ 10:21 am October 28, 2009

My love for baseball was formed when I was about eight or nine years old. I had a first baseman’s mitt (any idea how hard it was to find a first baseman’s mitt for your left hand in 1968?) and a bat, and baseball was pretty much all I did as a kid. And while playing was fun, what made me a fan was going to the games – especially the big ones, such as Opening Day, 1971. I remember the experience like it was yesterday.

I was reminded of that when I got a note from a friend in Virginia today. Her son’s tenth birthday is tomorrow, and a family friend got him two tickets to the World Series… so he and his father are headed to New York tomorrow for game two (or game one, if it keeps raining).

Another baseball fan is born. That is good.

On the flip side, the game he’ll remember for the rest of his life will be one between the Yankees and the Phillies. How unfortunate.

There’s a silver lining there, however. I am pretty sure I already know where the neophyte’s baseball loyalties will fall. His mother is from Philadelphia, and even though she professes not to like the Phillies, I think the connection will be hard to shake… and even if he did look past his family connection to the City of Brotherly Love*, the alternative is… well… the Yankees. The difference is small, but there is a difference.

I have to admit a reluctant admiration for the Phillies. Part of that may be that I’ve seen the Phillies more than any other team, except for the Nats… But even so, of all the teams I’ve watched this year (and I have seen them all), the Phillies are the one that I was most impressed with. So for no other reason than my gut (and the fact that they’re not the Yankees), I am rooting for the Phillies.

So to my buddy, Andrew… happy birthday! Enjoy the game… but here’s some advice: remember the experience. Find some other Phillies fans and share the high-fives. If you can, get a baseball and head down to the Phillies dugout before the game, and get an autograph or two. When you’re old (like me), you’ll remember every detail, and you’ll be a part of history.

… and lets go to a Nats game this spring.

* Someone has a sense of humor.

—————–

From the “Something to Look Forward To” department:

It is snowing today in Anchorage, so it is not a moment too soon that I head to Arizona on Saturday, where I will take in two Phoenix Desert Dogs games Monday and Tuesday of next week. If the stars have aligned, I believe Strasburg will start one of those games. I am bringing the camera and the computer, and I hope to provide at least a couple dispatches from the desert.

Reminiscing…

I was reading Tom Boswell’s piece in The Post today, and it got me thinking about the Nationals, and their first year in Washington. The return of baseball to Washington had captivated me – as a native Washingtonian and childhood fan of the Senators, I made the trip back to DC for Opening Day – a ritual I have re-enacted every year since.

Back in Late July, 2005, I got a phone call from a friend of mine that lived in Denver. My friend had helped me with my business, and suggested that perhaps I should take a weekend and go to Denver, and take in the Nationals series against the Rockies. The Nats had just completed a torrid first half, had lead the National League East, but were now slowly coming back to the pack, and in fact, they had lost their lead by this time. I, like every Nats fan, was totally wrapped up with the improbable season, and I couldn’t get enough. While it was clear that the Nats had begun their slide back towards the middle of the pack, I expected the Nats to right themselves and stay in the playoff picture to the end. I was wrong, of course… but had the Nats played just .500 ball the rest of the way (a reasonable hope and expectation after a 51-30 first half), they might well have been playing in October – 90 wins won the National League East that year, and 89 won the Wild Card.

I debated the idea of going to Denver, and when I realized I could only make one trip east for the remainder of the year, I decided that I should save the opportunity, and go back to DC for the playoffs. I skipped the trip to Denver (where the Nats swept the Rockies), and instead watched the Nationals at RFK in September, where they lost their last three, to settle at 81-81.

The 2009 season is now over (for the Nats, at least). I watched the Twins-Tigers game yesterday, and couldn’t help imagining the Nats in that situation. Not our current Nats, mind you… but the team of our future. Maybe even next year’s Nats. There is a lot to look forward to, not the least of which is that it really can’t be any worse than it was this year. We have good young pitching today, that hopefully will be great young pitching tomorrow. We have the leadoff-hitting center fielder we’ve wanted since our hearts were broken by Endy Chavez. Willingham and Dukes could play for almost any team, and both are poised to find their place in the big leagues. Adam Dunn is proving to be a better first baseman than anyone ever expected, and while Ryan Zimmerman is proving to be everything we hoped he would be, our hopes are stratospheric. He is our superstar. Once again, the questions are up the middle, and while I am skeptical that Ian Desmond is the answer at shortstop, or that Guzman will thrive at second, I am just a blogger, and not a major league scout or GM… so what do I know? And the question remains whether Jesus Flores can come back from his injuries, and becomes the every day catcher we think he is, or the Nick Johnson of the catching fraternity.

So for Nationals fans, the slate has been wiped clean, and not a moment too soon. If you need a positive message to take forward from 2009, the Nats played .440 ball after the All-Star break (including the end-of-the-season seven-game winning streak, and an eight-game streak in August), compared to under .300 for the first half. And unlike in previous years (thanks, Jim Bowden), instead of needing to cobble together a team comprised mostly of castoffs and second chances, the Nationals have a small but manageable shopping list for the offseason. When you’re 58-103, the playoffs may seem to be light-years away, but the addition of just one or two players can make a huge difference; for example, the Nationals with Nyger Morgan were 22-26 (.458) , and 36-78 (.315) without him.

Boswell’s point today about the playoffs is this: Once you’re in, it doesn’t matter what you did before that. The same is true for the Nationals in 2010. It doesn’t matter what happened in 2009. On April 5th at 1:05 PM, we’ll all be in our seats at Nationals Park, our Nats will be tied for first, and the promise of every baseball fan everywhere will be ours – in April, anything is possible. The difference between 2010 and every Nats season that came before it is that the best Nationals team ever will be on the field.

The Quiet Revolution

Before the Nationals game last Thursday against the Pirates, Manny Acta held a team meeting.

Since that time, the Nationals bullpen has an ERA of 2.30 (4 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings). Of those four earned runs, two were charged to Kip Wells, who gave them up in the twelfth inning of last Friday’s game against Baltimore. He was pitching his second inning in relief, and after a fluke base hit by pitcher Danys Baez of the Orioles, Wells gave up two doubles.  The bullpen has  struck out nine while walking eight – and if you throw out Daniel Cabrera’s performance last night, they’ve walked only five. Joel Hanrahan has two saves. Jason Bergmann, Kip Wells (despite giving up those two runs Fiday night), Ron Villone and Joe Beimel have pitched very well. Even Jesus Colome had a scoreless inning last night.

The team as a whole has had two errors, and given up no unearned runs.

That is quite a turnaround, and we would be feeling a lot better about it if the Nats were hitting the way they have been all along this season. What we’ve seen instead is a struggling offense. My theory is that the Nationals sorely miss the bats of Elijah Dukes and Jesus Flores. In the meantime, we’re left with a team that looks a bit like last year’s team -  a team that opponents can pitch around a bit, leaving our lineup without protection. The Nats are a very different team at the plate with Flores and Dukes in the lineup.

Add to it all the strong performances by callups Craig Stammen and Ross Detwiler – both of whom have pitched well as starters, and suddenly the Daniel Cabrera situation seems a bit less urgent. Cabrera didn’t make a strong case for himself last night… but at the same time, that probably means he could probably be DFA’d without risk of losing him, and perhaps some time in Syracuse would be good for him. And maybe that would be as good for him as time in Washington has been for Stammen and Detwiler.

The Nats rotation has enough depth to survive an injury or two. We’re playing better defense, and our bullpen has started to show their stuff. Later this week we should have two big bats back in the lineup.

I am not crazy enough to declare the disaster over… but there are certainly lots of reasons to be hopeful.

It may have all started in the Nats clubhouse last Thursday.

—–

On a different topic, Chico Harlan posted in Nationals Journal about the Reviewed, Debated Home Run. Here is what I commented:

This situation is the shame of instant replay.

It isn’t that the umpire made the wrong call. In my biased opinion, he did make the wrong call. But instant replay gives umpires the opportunity to make a mistake twice, under the guise of trying to get it right once.

With no instant replay, mistakes are made. With instant replay, mistakes are affirmed. And in fact, the instant replay rule detracts from the game. It isn’t as if instant replay eliminates bias – it eliminates a random event.

I don’t think it was a home run. But nobody is served by instant replay in this situation. The kind of remedy that instant replay gives you here is the same kind that technology might one day automate the calling of balls and strikes. It offers the illusion of objectivity… and it is just that, an illusion. Baseball is the most human of sports. Adding technology to the mix does not make the game better. It separates us from the game.  That the umpire made a mistake last night isn’t nearly as bad as the idea that technology only served to affirm that mistake.

I’ll take my chances with the umpires.

All of the Pieces

You have to admit, watching the “Battle of the Beltways” has been entertaining so far.

In the last two games, we’ve seen great Nationals pitching and at least crisp, and occasionally spectacular defense:

Justin Maxwell snares fly in the first inning. (Image courtesy of MASN and the Washington Nationals. Used with permission)

Justin Maxwell robs the Orioles Adam Jones of a home run in the first inning. (Image courtesy of MASN and the Washington Nationals. Used with permission)

What we haven’t seen is the Nationals hitting the ball.

The reason for that has to do with the Disabled List. When you remove Jesus Flores and Elijah Dukes from the lineup, there’s actually a way to pitch around the Nats. Adam Dunn has struggled since Dukes has been out, and the Nationals miss Jesus Flores both behind the plate as well as when he’s at bat. And while Anderson Hernandez doesn’t make the lineup any more formidable by himself, his speed, and the presense of Cristian Guzman two hitters later in the lineup helps to insure he gets some pitches to hit.

In my last post I spoke about the need for the Nationals to be accountable for their level of play. The next day, Manny Acta held a team meeting, and since that time, the Nats seem to have been transformed – at least when it comes to pitching and defense. It hasn’t been lost on at least some of the national media: Tim Kurkjian wrote a piece last week about the bright future for the Nats. If the Nationals can play average defense and get average pitching from their bullpen, if the all-rookie (almost) rotation can continue to go six or seven innings every game… and if the Nats – and given history, this is a big if – can keep their starting eight on the field and off the Disabled List, we’re going to see real baseball break out on Half Street.

But in this respect, the Nationals are fragile. As well as the team has played since the end of the Pittsburgh series, they’ve barely been able to put up runs, even against a team as weak as the Orioles. Once you’re into the bench, things get dicey. The bench is acceptable, and perhaps above average, as a bench goes. But when the Nats bench is starting every day, the lineup just isn’t as imposing as it could be.

And as spectacular a catch as Justin Maxwell made today, he isn’t the hitter that Dukes is.

The sample size is small – three games – but since Manny’s team meeting, the Nationals seem to have their head screwed on more or less straight. Once we get all of the pieces back, we might actually see what the Nationals are capable of.

Bittersweet

Filed under: Fan Experience,Games,Players,Teams — Tags: , , , — Wigi @ 11:38 am May 14, 2009

I tuned into yesterday’s game in the 8th inning. I usually watch entire games, but between the game time and some family obligations, I didn’t get back to the office until late. The Nats were leading.

It was excruciating.

Ryan Zimmermanwas hitless, and once he came up in the 9th inning and grounded into the fielder’s choice, the reality of it all settled in. The streak was over. As Zimmerman stood on first base, the fans in San Francisco gave him a standing ovation. Bay Area, you guys are class.

Far from being a sure thing, the Nats had to just survive the bottom of the 9th, and they’d head home winners for the day, and .500 for the west coast road trip. They survived. And if you think about it, first place teams are happy to go home splitting a west coast road trip. The Nationals should be absolutely thrilled.

After the game, I wandered through the current thread on Nationals Journal. It was full of fan posts rooting for the Nats to blow the save and go to extras, so Zim could get another at bat. How strange! I secretly felt the same way.

I imagined the post game interviews, and I imagined that every time someone asked Zim about the end of the streak, he said, “We won the game.”

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so melancholy after a win.

A little later in the day, I got an email from a friend who had taken his three year-old daughter to her first Potomac Nationals game. It put it all into perspective for me. Here’s an excerpt:

[My daughter,] She had a ball! At first she was a bit cowed by the large crowd — there were literally scores of strangers packing the stands. Soon enough, though, she was peeking at the action. She saw a batter swing and miss (a Red Sok, fortunately) and giggled uproariously. Then a foul ball? Forget about it, the kid was hooked. By the end of the game, as the sound-effects guy pulled out all the stops, she was clapping along to the clapping thing and imploring us to “Do the charge again!”

We got there dreadfully late — big trouble getting out of bed and out the door. The upside of that is, we stayed till the end. I just did the math, and I’m pretty sure my three-year-old just spent almost two hours sitting and watching a ball game. That does my heart good. And as we left the stadium, some random woman walking the other way was appropriately smitten with Herself’s copious charm and handed her a Nerf-type baseball. Just because, as far as I could tell. So sweet.

As I loaded her into her car seat to drive home, my daughter announced, “We see baseball tomorryow.”

This is what separates baseball from every other sport. There is a complex web of story lines. At one end of the spectrum, we see a struggling team packed with talent. We see one of its young players start to edge onto the stage with the immortals of the sport. We watch one of our most talented pitchers continue his undefeated streak – on a last-place team. We see a hitting streak end. We see our fans torn between the success of the team and the achievements of one of its stars. And at the other end of the spectrum, we see a father and daughter start a tradition that will last a lifetime.

More importantly, those story lines don’t exist in a vacuum. They are all tied together – even when they occur 3000 miles apart at different games, in different leagues. By watching, we become a part of it.

It is fitting that today is an off day, because it feels like the end of a chapter of an incredibly compelling story. The Nats will be home tomorrow. Zim’s streak has been wiped clean, but not before we’ve glimpsed greatness. Spring is over, and now it is summer. A new baseball fan is born.

What time is first pitch?

Turn Back the Clock

Frank Robinson’s appointment to a position in the Commissioner’s Office has opened the door to a lot of reminiscing about the good old days… you know, the ones with the bouncing RFK Stadium and the 51-30 start… and this Opening Night:

First Pitch at RFK Stadium, 2005

First Pitch at RFK Stadium, 2005

That season was magical… especially the first half. And it begs the comparison between that .500 team, and our lovable Nats of 2009.

I am sure that nobody would want the old 2005 team back. The ride was exquisite, but our current team is much more talented.

The thing is, the 2005 team played excellent fundamental baseball. And last night’s game was a perfect example of both how much more talented this year’s team is, and how much better they need to play.

Despite giving away five bases on miscues and errors, and a bases-loaded walk, the Nats brought the tying run to the plate twice in the ninth inning… against Johan Santana, the NL leader in ERA, and the Mets bullpen, including Francisco Rodriguez.

The 2005 team doesn’t give away those five bases or walk in the winning run. Now I am not necessarily saying that the 2005 fundamentals and the 2009 talent beats Johan Santana… But it beats the Marlins three times last week.

Lets see if it can beat Mike Pelfrey today.

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