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

Christmas in November

Nationals fans got some of their Christmas presents early this week, with the announcements that Ryan Zimmerman was honored with both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards for his amazing play in 2009. Add to that the announcement that Jim Riggleman has been chosen as the permanent manager for the Nationals, and you’d be hard pressed to find a week with more Nationals news that didn’t have seven lineup cards and a few home runs.

Bloggers got an extra gift this morning – a telephone press conference with Jim Riggleman.

After having spoken to Drew Storen last week in Arizona, I was curious if Riggleman had some advice for those young players that were hoping to crack the twenty-five man roster this spring. Riggleman pointed out that the players in the Arizona Fall League are the cream of the crop and that the majority of them make it to the Major Leagues – though not all make it right out of spring training. Riggleman added that Storen’s path through the organization – signing early after the draft, getting considerable experience in the minors, and then an additional stint in the Arizona Fall League has done nothing but help his chances. And while Riggleman said it was too early to say exactly where Storen might land in the spring, he suggested that there might be opportunities for him if he earns it in spring training.

Some other notes from the press teleconference:

  • Riggleman hopes to have Cristian Guzman play at second base this year. Guzman’s September injury to his shoulder prevented the Nats from trying Guzman at second at the end of the season. Guzman’s surgery was successful and the damage found was minimal, so there is every hope that a healthy Guzman will move to second base in the spring.
  • … which brings us to shortstop. Riggleman mentioned that he would be comfortable with Ian Desmond at shortstop, but there has been some recent rumors that the Nationals may be interested in other shortstops that might be available on the free agent market.
  • Scott Olsen is recovering well from his surgery, and is expected to be ready for spring training.
  • Jordan Zimmerman is also recovering well from his surgery, but Riggleman does not expect Zimmermann to be back before 2011.

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.

What Scott Boras Could Learn at a Grocery Store

Walk into almost any grocery store, and watch the shoppers… especially the families. When they get to the checkout aisle, while mom and dad are looking to the left, and unloading the groceries onto the belt, the kids are looking to the right, scouting out the candies and toys placed in convenient reach of  the children. Watch the children ask their moms and dads, “Can I get M&Ms? Pleeeaaase?”

Mom and dad are placed in an unfair, but very familiar situation: relent and get the kids what they want, or risk a loud and possibly embarrassing tantrum.

It is with that in mind that I read Dave Sheinin’s post in Nationals Journal about the drafting of Stephen Strasburg. It seems that Scott Boras is intent on retaining control of how his client appears in public. That’s an excellent strategy, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from Boras, especially when he represents  a player as highly-regarded as Strasburg. But in the process, Boras is creating a divide. A divide between player and team, and between player and the fans.

I think he’s on the verge of sending the wrong message.

I went back today and looked at the Nationals number one draft picks since they moved to Washington. If you look at that list, you notice something every interesting. Almost every one of those first round picks are players that even casual fans would recognize, because at the time they were drafted, they appeared in the media and in person, where the fans could get to see and hear from them. The players I remember most from their media tours were Ryan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler. Both appeared on MASN and sat in the booth for a while during games… but other first rounders also came and visited Nationals Park, took questions from the media, etc. I remember thinking at the time, just how exciting it will be to see such a highly touted draft pick like Ryan Zimmerman grow and develop into a star with the Nationals. I thought the same thing about Ross Detwiler, too.

And then there’s Aaron Crow.

Of course, there was never any thought that Zimmerman or Detwiler wouldn’t sign with the Nationals. Part of that was because they stated publicly that they were excited at the prospect of playing in Washington… and it was just a matter of time and working out the details. And of course, there’s the news this morning that the Nationals other first round pick in the draft, Drew Storen has signed with the Nationals. But for Crow, who was invited to visit with the team, see the new stadium, meet the fans, wax poetic about his future in Washington – none of those things ever happened… and while it didn’t go unnoticed that Crow didn’t sign, for a lot of us, it wasn’t like we’d left a family member off the family reunion guest list. Crow’s negotiations were about the business of baseball, and not so much about the fans. You can be upset that Crow got away, but it wasn’t like Ryan Zimmerman getting away. The fans weren’t in love with Crow – they’d never met him.

And this, really, is the lesson that Boras needs to learn from the supermarket. Baseball teams pay the players salaries, but the fans are the consumers. The reason that the Nationals need to sign Stephen Strasburg is not because the Nationals need him, but because the fans want him… which is the same reason that mothers and fathers buy M&Ms for their kids. In fact, from a purely business standpoint, the Nationals don’t need him. It is only for the marketing and public relations value that Stephen Strasburg commands the price tag he does. For the kind of money Boras is talking, the Nats could sign a top-shelf free agent pitcher with a lot less risk.

So my message to Scott is this: If you want to get the best deal for your client, put him at the checkstand, right at eye level with every one of the Nationals instant-gratification-short-attention-span fans. Let Carpy and Dibble and Charlie and Dave interview him. Let him sign autographs. If you really want to be over the top, get the Nationals to have Strasburg be a guest of the team and throw out the first pitch at a Sunday afternoon game. Let Washington fall in love with Stephen Strasburg. Make it so that when the Natosphere whines and cries to mom and dad for M&Ms, there’s no real choice.

The mistake that Boras is making is that by trying to make an example of the inequities of the draft system, he risks convincing the consumers – you and me – that there is a price that is too high for a player… but the price is not a dollar price, but rather the price of the drama. The average fan wants to see Stephen Strasburg on the field. The average fan doesn’t particularly care if he signs for $15 million or $50 million. The average fan is inclined to blame the Nationals if contract negotiations fail – unless Boras calls so much attention to himself and his client that the casual fans see the absurdity in the argument that a $50 million contract in unfair – to the player!

Many fans and bloggers will correctly point out that the $500,000 difference that kept Aaron Crow from signing with the Nationals was a trivial amount, and that it shouldn’t have prevented him from signing. But suppose in that alternate-universe reality that I am so fond of, that Aaron Crow had made those public appearances at Nationals Park, been interviewed on MASN and on the radio, met the team, visited the stadium, seen Washington… given the fans a chance to fall in love with him. Do you think he wouldn’t have been signed? Do you really think that the Nationals could have let Crow walk away, while the casual fan pined for Crow in a Nats uniform? Do you think that $500,000 would have stopped the Nats?

Not a chance. Just the marketing and promotional value of those appearances would have been worth the $500,000, especially as poor as last season was.

My approach works for both parties. The Nats are desperate to show forward progress as an organization. Trotting Strasburg out at Nationals Park would be a huge win for them. And it would be a win for Strasburg, too. It serves to gloss over the monopolistic organization that is Major League Baseball and its inequities, and puts free samples of M&Ms in the hands of kids that won’t take ‘no’ for an answer when they cry for more. We want M&Ms! We want Strasburg!

A quick, fair, and probably record-breaking contract negotiation is a win for everyone. A drawn-out, acrimonious, tedious negotiation full of the minutiae of contract law and the inequities of a monopolistic system, argued on behalf of a college kid with no Major League experience that might make $500 million in salary and endorsements over the course of his career – that would be a loss for everyone.

Remember who the consumers are.

The Font of Accountability

About twenty years ago I worked for a company called GlobeWireless that processed marine telegrams – messages to and from ships at sea. This was done via morse code. Every message that passed through our station was matched with a confirmation receipt. Nobody went home until every message was accounted for as being delivered. If it meant staying an extra two hours to track down the loose ends, that is what you did. My bosses insisted on it, because a lot hinged on the proper delivery of these messages. Money. Sometimes, lives. Records were kept, and we could prove the delivery of every message going back many years.

Years later, when I started working in the hospitality industry, I noticed that there was a certain similarity in the process. Our guests would want certain items reserved on their behalf, and we would make those reservations. As the manager, I insisted that we get written confirmation of every reservation, and that confirmation be compared to and attached to the original request. That way we could prove that every reservation had been made for the guests. The only problem was, my boss thought that was an unnecessary step, and so she wouldn’t back me up when it came to insisting my employees follow the processes.

The reason I mention these two examples is because I wanted to point out that accountability is an organizational value that starts at the very top of an organization, and the values that are held at the top are the ones that are implemented at the bottom.

What does this have to do with baseball? Only this: Look at the product that we see on the field at Nationals Park. How accountable are the players to the outcomes? Only as accountable as their manager asks them to be… who is only as accountable as his boss asks him to be… and so on, up the chain.

This is one of the reasons that I am much more concerned about the errors that the Nationals make than I am about the bullpen. Errors are, by definition… errors. They are the plays that the defense should make, but does not. Contrast errors with skill and talent: Ronnie Belliard can play third base, and he and Ryan Zimmermancould have the same fielding percentage, and have the same number of errors. But having Belliard at third is not the same as having Zimmerman. A sharply hit ball down the third base line gets snagged by Zimmerman and is scored 5-3, while the same ball is a double with Belliard at third. And that isn’t an indictment of Belliard – it is just that Zimmerman is more talented.

Yesterday’s game is a perfect example of one where we’re ready to pile onto the bullpen (and certainly the bullpen didn’t hold up their end of the bargain), but the real damage was done earlier in the game – by errors.  Ross Detwiler lasted five innings, but his defense gave up three errors. In my Fantasy Baseball Alternate Universe, if you take those three errors away, Detwiler goes six innings instead of five, with the same number of pitches (84), and comes into the 7th inning facing the 8-9-1 batters, and a 5-2 lead! Now, I know that you can’t simply advance through the results and assume they would be the same had certain events not occurred, but you have to admit, this would certainly be a plausible outcome - without those three errors. At that point, Manny Acta could have sent Detwiler out for the seventh, warming two pitchers in the bullpen, and be one inning further down the road, with a bigger lead, and a strategic advantage. The bullpen might well have blown up in the Alternate Universe, too. But the bullpen would have been entering into the game in a very different situation… one where they had a much better chance of success, and one that a winning team designs their bullpen around.

There may not be much that the Nats can do about the bullpen, in terms of talent. In today’s Nationals Journal, Chico Harlan points out that half of the Nats bullpen has a negative VORP (for the uninitiated, there is some discussion and explanation of this statistic in the comments of that posting). That statistic is calculated on the historical outcomes, so it is hard to separate talent from performance from VORP. But on the defensive side of the equation, the performance of the pitchers and the performance of the defense are not inseparable from the talent of the pitchers and the talent of the defense. In other words, if the team is not being asked to be accountable for their outcomes when they have the ball – when four errors in a game is minimized at the expense of overworking the bullpen, and hoping the bats come and bail you out - that is an organizational problem, not a talent problem. Being the less-talented team is acceptable – disappointing, but acceptable. Being a better team that is not playing at the level they are capable of is not.

Errors, narrowly defined as a statistic, do not answer all of the questions. Errors, as a statistic, are an indication of the larger problem. The problem that makes the Nats play sloppy in all aspects of their game. The problem that causes Elijah Dukes to be picked off first four times. The problem that has bullpen pitchers taking the mound and believing that they need to be perfect, because if the defense isn’t there for them, the pitcher is the one on the way back to Syracuse (or free agency, in the case of Mike Hinckley). The problem that prevents a team from executing basic, fundamental baseball.

It isn’t about errors. It isn’t about poor baserunning. It isn’t about the bullpen or the pitching – and in fact, complaining about that distracts from the real issue. It is about being sloppy and unprofessional in every aspect of their game. The Nationals are sloppy because they are allowed to be sloppy. I am not saying they’re not trying. I am saying they’re not disciplined.

Rob Dibble has advocated that the Nationals take infield practice every day. There’s something to be said for that, though it has to be part of a larger belief – that excellence and being accountable for the outcomes is important. That has to be a core organizational belief. And it has to come from the top, Ted Lerner. If you’re still unconvinced, you only need to look up I-95 forty miles. The Orioles were the envy of every Major League team in the 70′s and 80′s. They created “The Orioles Way”, which was an organizational philosophy of excellence. Everything they did furthered that goal. Enter Peter Angelos. Witness the death of “The Orioles Way.”

It isn’t that the Nats are not talented. It is that nobody is holding the organization accountable for doing their jobs. When Ted insists that it be done, it will be done. And if it isn’t, find someone that will do it.

Period.

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?

Negating the Negative

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , , , — Wigi @ 10:52 am May 10, 2009

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, the scattering of spectacular wins that the Nationals have pulled off in the early part of the season were fun to watch, but not really indicative of the way a team builds a winning habit. Surround them liberally with games-they-should-have-won, and you have the formula for our April malaise.

Yesterday’s game was another spectacular win, but unlike some of the earlier versions, it was a game where the better team won, rather than the worse team getting lucky.

And don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of luck involved… but it wasn’t the luck that results from the other team’s bad fortune, but rather, the luck you create when you’re playing well. The highlight was Austin Kearns and Jesus Flores combining for a 9-2 force at the plate, but there was plenty of highlights to go around, and you can see them here (to see the Kearns-Flores put-out, click the link below the video player).

… and for those of us who care to revel in ex-Nat schadenfreude, there was no better central character than Felipe Lopez. In addition to being the player thrown out at the plate going from third to home on a ball hit to right field, he was called out at first earlier in the game on a ball hit in the infield , even though Adam Dunn dropped the throw… but Dunn was able to pick the ball up before Lopez got to first because Lopez didn’t run it out. Some things never change.

The Nats modest streak doesn’t undo a terrible April. But suddenly the Nats are winning the games they should win, and as a team, and for us, as fans… we can finally take a breath and look around at the MLB world. On this Sunday, we discover that we’re only 5.5 games out of first, and we no longer have the worst record in baseball – that distinction belongs to the Indians.

The Nats can’t undo April. But they’ve started to build a sound season, despite the rocky start.

Other notes: Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman both hit solo homers deep to center. Zimmerman’s extended his hitting streak to twenty-seven games. Both homers can be seen in the video highlights linked above.

Has The Ship Been Righted?

The opening game of our series with Arizona is in the books, and perhaps for the first time this season, the Nationals won with sound baseball.

In all of the previous wins, we’ve seen the extreme ways a team can win: flawless pitching, hitting barrages, improbable  comebacks – and don’t get me wrong, those wins were fun to watch and demonstrated some of the important characteristics that a team has to have.

What we hadn’t seen this year was a game where we took the lead early, held it all game, and protected a one-run lead in the ninth inning. Until last night.

This game was precisely the sort of game I’ve been waiting to see from the Nats – an unremarkable, fundamentally sound game. The reason is, almost all of baseball is comprised of games like this. You don’t often go down six runs in the first inning, and then come back to win 11-9… or get complete games from a 23 year-old starter… or hit four home runs in a game. The Nats wins this season  have been precisely this type, and while they’re fun to watch, they’re not the thing that a successful season is made of. Last night’s win was different.

Also important was the fact that the Diamondbacks are a team we should beat. They’re suffering from internal turmoil, having just let Bob Melvin go as their manager. They’re also a team of Nationals cast-offs – many of whom we’d like to see do well, and the occasional slacker-malcontent.

The Nats made giant-killers of every team in the National League East in the month of April, as they stumbled out of the gate. But just as the Nats played the rest of the division, they played each other, too… and now that we’ve bothered to look up and see where we are twenty-seven games into the season, we see that the rest of the division has been in a four-way bar fight with each other, and they haven’t put any distance between them and us. As we wake up on Saturday morning, we find the Nats six games out of first with most of the season ahead of us. The Nats are 5-5 over the last ten games, and 4-1 over the last five… and we have a runner on first with one out in the 11th inning against the Astros… and as the home team, I like our chances.

Am I suggesting that all is well with the Nats? Absolutely not! The Nats lead the majors in errors, and they continue to make plenty of miscues in the field. The bullpen is struggling, though recent moves to bring more veteran arms into the ‘pen seem to be helping… and of course it helps to have Joe Beimel back.

There’s a lot to be happy about with the Nats right now. They’re hitting a ton, their young starters are doing well (for the most part), and the bullpen seems to be settling down a little bit. They’re sure fun to watch – it is just a shame for most of you on the east coast that they are playing out here on the left coast. They make for entertaining viewing during dinner here in Alaska.

… and then there’s this: Ryan Zimmerman extends his hitting streak to twenty-six games, and probable future Nationals player Stephen Strasburg threw a no-hitter for the San Diego State Aztecs last night.

One Pitch

Filed under: Games,Players — Tags: , , , , — Wigi @ 7:47 pm May 1, 2009

There were two outs in the top of the first inning. Jordan Zimmerman had made quick work of the first two batters, and now faced Albert Pujols. Zimmermann fell behind 3-1. He released the pitch, and a moment later, the baseball was rattling around blue seats just below the MASN “Nats Extra” studio in left field.

Now I know that a lot of my impression of what was going on in the game has to do with what the commentators are saying. But I swear, the impression I got from that pitch was Jordan Zimmermann’s way of introducing himself to Pujols.

“Hey, I’m Jordan Zimmermann… I’m not afraid of you.”

“Hey, I’m Albert Pujols.”

Last night’s game was different from a lot of the Nats games this season, because the Nats just plain got beat. The better team won.

And you know, I can live with that. As rocky as the start was for Zimmermann, he had his moments, too. Chico Harlan quotes Manny Acta in his late Nationals Journal post about how the metric by which one should judge this start for Zimmermann is how he reacted to the adversity.

I think he did fine.

The Cardinals are leading the National League for a reason. The Nats are in last place for a reason. Last night’s game is about the outcome you’d expect.

Other notes:

  • Ryan Zimmerman extends his hitting streak to 20 games.
  • Three baserunning gaffes in four games for Elijah Dukes. I am concerned.

The Dawn of the Rizzo Era

There’s a lot to say about the Nationals fourteen games into the season. Unfortunately, a lot of it will sound like words from The Oracle (or Alan Greenspan) – truthful, but intentionally ambiguous:

What’s five minutes between friends? A good question. For Lastings Milledge, the ramifications of his tardiness were delayed, but for Elijah Dukes, he was asked to pay swiftly. Fortunately for the Nats, those events happened in the proper order; if Dukes’ punishment was followed by Milledge’s skate (in the short term), there would definitely be some problems regarding the appearance of equity. As it is, we may be seeing Rizzo assert his vision for the team… among them, that nobody is above the rules.

As much as it appeared that Dukes was giving back to the community on this Saturday morning, he was in fact, moonlighting. He was paid for his appearance at the Great Falls Little League. Benching him and fining him was the right thing to do.  Dukes has become a rather sympathetic character as of late, and it is tempting to want to cut him some slack,  but Thom Loverro urges that we not fall too deeply in love. What does this tell us about the organization? I don’t know. This is one of those cases where two points don’t make a line.

Produce or ride the bus. That would be the theme after half the bullpen traded their digs in DC for upstate New York late Sunday night. In some respects I think that the move was a little simplistic – the bullpen was put in a leaky rowboat by the poor fielding of the infield. But the beneficiaries of the move, particularly Garrett Mock and Jason Bergmann deserved to be in Washington in the first place, and in shuffle, two of Bowden’s projects, Wil Ledezma and Steven Shell, found their way out of the organization. It would have been a good move regardless of the circumstances. Timing the announcement after a third game blown in the ninth inning simply allowed Rizzo to bang his new drum a bit more loudly.

The Zims. Ryan Zimmerman has a new long-term contract. You would be hard-pressed to find an unhappy voice on this topic, except perhaps from a certain personal injury lawyer. If Bowden is the GM, this deal doesn’t happen… at least not now. While all of us fans see the wisdom of it, there’s a certain business sense to the move, too. As for the other Zim, JZim, N**2, Jordan Zimmermann, there are a lot of fans grumbling about the rain-delayed start of his Major League debut game. It is a shame that people were inconvenienced, but really, there was too much at stake to do anything other than what the Nats did. It was good for Zimmermann to get his full game in, and it was good from a public relations standpoint – at least for the vast majority of the fans who weren’t there. In a year, we’ll all remember his stellar start, and hardly a soul will remember that the actual  game didn’t start until 9:15.

More Rizzo fingerprints.

Indignant Manny. It is no coincidence that the Manny Acta we’re hearing at post-game press conferences has lost his teach, learn, roll-with-the-punches rhetoric, and replaced it with, well, Indignant Manny. After Sunday’s loss to the Marlins, I was talking with Mike Henderson of NationalsPride.com, and I mentioned to him that Manny’s original mandate has ended. Sure the Nats are a young team, but managing the Nationals is no longer about transforming a bunch of rookies into Major Leaguers. It is about learning to win. And this raises a question: Is Manny the guy to teach our team how to do that? Since the mandate has changed, so will his demeanor. Should Manny be worried about his job? No more or less than the other twenty-nine managers in Major League Baseball. But now all thirty are being asked to do the same thing: Win. Who do you suppose instigated this change? His boss, Mike Rizzo. That’s my guess, anyway.

We may be witnessing a transformation. As long and as slow as every one of those torturous Marlins games seemed, the change is actually occurring at a lightning pace. Players are being held accountable. Managers are being held accountable. The internal expectation is higher. What we’re seeing now is the demonstration of which members of the organization have more to give, and which are just spare parts.

… and this is exactly how it was always supposed to be. Stan Kasten’s plan was to build a professional organization from top to bottom. One that nurtured the growth of prospects and furthered the success of the Major League Team. Instead, what we got was a used car lot, with a segway-riding salesmen at the helm.

Will the Nats win more games this year?

Who knows. It is certainly going to be different with Mike Rizzo at the helm of the organization. One thing is for sure – almost certainly, we’ll feel better about the outcome… no matter what it is.

One last thing: Excellent game, John Lannan. You deserved to win.

The Pictures Say it All

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , , , , — Wigi @ 9:44 pm April 16, 2009

One couldn’t ask for a better night at Nationals Park than this past evening. I wandered around with my camera and took some action shots from the game. When I got home, I was surprised to find that Tom Boswell had written a post on Nationals Journal that is in some respects complementary to my posting yesterday.

So I’ve given the liks to Boz’s NJ posting, and below are some pics I took at the game.

As for the Magic 8-Ball, the murky blue liquid seems to be clearing a bit. I bet we have an answer by Sunday.

Here are some pictures:

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