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

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?

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.

Glass Half Empty Department Speaks…

Filed under: Games,Players — Tags: , — Wigi @ 3:39 pm May 2, 2009

There was something particularly compelling about today’s complete game win by Shairon Martis. Not only did he only give up a run and five hits in nine innings, the defense was there for him more than once, and the offense provided a winning margin in two different innings.

All of this bothers me. It was too easy.

Mike Henderson at NationalsPride.com correctly points out that Martis and the Nats were lucky today – lucky that Pujols had the day off, lucky that the Cardinals hit balls sharply right at people, lucky that Martis was having a career day.

… but we didn’t see the bullpen today. Any day that the bullpen gets a rest is a good day, I’ll agree. But the Nats have already won the six games this season where pretty much everything goes as you need it to. What they need to start doing is winning the games where they can overcome their shortcomings.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a spectacular win. Now show me some ordinary wins.

The Case For Pedro

Does Pedro Martinez have an ego?

Uh huh.

Is Pedro a Hall of Fame starter in 2009?

Nope. If he was, do you think he’d be sitting the spring out?

So why would the Nats be interested in him?

Because they need him… in the ninth inning.

Honestly, the Nats don’t really need starters. Lannan, Martis and Zimmermann are good now, and may well be great in a couple years. Olsen is better than his statistics show, and would be better still if the defense would come to his rescue a bit. Cabrera… perhaps a lost cause… but the Nats have a slew of starters that are as good (or better) either languishing in the bullpen or in the minors. Pedro would be an improvement there, but only a marginal one, I think. If you look at the cost of Pedro, versus the cost of starters already in the system, you’re probably talking like $500,000 to $1 million per additional win with Pedro in the rotation – if you could get him for $2 million.

But imagine Pedro as a closer… He’d have his mug on television every other day. Opposing batters respect him, he’s fearless, he has the poise and demeanor to be in the game when it is on the line…

… and we got nuthin.

Suppose he really did cost $5 million for the rest of the season. Would it be a bad investment, if you could get him to be a closer? I don’t think so – he and Beimel would be anchors in the bullpen. I think anyone would suspect his ability to go five or six innings, but he could probably be counted on for one… not to mention that he’s not pitching now, so even if you were going to use him as a starter, you’d need to stretch him out a bit. Why not just leave him at 25 pitches an appearance?

To sell it to Pedro, you’d have to appeal to his vanity and ego: you’ve done everything else… finish your career showing that you can do this, too… and do it as only Pedro can.

To sell it to the Nats, I would point out that the Nats have a marketing problem – their team can’t play in a close game, and they need a closer. [As an aside, I think the Nats need a closer more now than ever in their history. This team's offensive strength is going to get them and keep them in games that they've never been competitive before. If they can solve the head problems they have with their fielding, the problem that is left will be left is the bullpen. It is the only problem that needs to be solved with personnel changes.] $5 million is a lot of money, but you could take it out of the marketing budget rather than personnel. It isn’t that people will come to see Pedro, but they’ll come to see the Nats win (or be competitive). If the Nats can’t put a .480 team on the field this year, they’re going to be in terrible trouble with the fan base. They’re not entertaining to watch right now. You’re sending fans home feeling worse about the team than when they walked into the park.

Does signing Pedro fix that? I don’t know… but maybe. The Nats can’t really afford to trade away the Major League-ready players (except for an outfielder, and you know how I feel about Lastings Milledge), and there really aren’t any prospects in the system that you’d want to part with. You could sign Pedro without giving up talent.

Of course, all of this presumes that he can actually still pitch. But assuming he can, I would remind the Nats that they’ve spent $5 million on a lot less than Pedro.

(Paul LoDuca)

The upside is, Pedro could be to the bullpen what Adam Dunn is to the lineup – his presence might make the whole team better.

But then, I could be wrong.

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: