Wednesday, June 02, 2010

A Few More Thoughts About Last Night's Deflating Loss

Just a few more thoughts about last night's deflating loss to The Houston Astros.

Pudge Rodriguez is missed by Our Washington Nationals. That fact really showed up last night in the 9th inning when Matt Capps struggled. The Future Hall Of Fame Catcher (currently on the disabled list) would have been out to the mound multiple times to talk to Capps, and challenge him to throw his best stuff. Carlos Maldonado (his replacement) did none of that and Our Number 55 threw slider after slider after slider for most of the frame. When Matt was hot in April & May recording all those consecutive saves, his 96 MPH Fastball was his Go-To pitch. For some reason, he backed away from that pitch last night. Pudge Rodriguez would have called for it more and the final result might well have been different. You can't underestimate how deeply Ivan Rodriguez being away from Our Washington Nationals has affected this team. It's huge.

Rookie Ian Desmond toughened himself up again when he batted in the top of the 9th and singled home the then game tying run off Houston Closer Matt Lindstrom. Desmond has shown a tremendous ability to hit with runners in scoring position. Capability which Adam Dunn has not consistently shown all season long. Although Dunn did walk setting up the key Washington rally in the top of the 9th, he struck out earlier with the bases loaded (and struck out twice for the evening). Adam's been getting his hits of late, but not providing the scoring punch so needed from his spot batting 4th in the batting order.

Roger Bernadina did knock in the go ahead run in the top of the 9th off Lindstrom on a broken bat single to right, but that was only his second base hit in 19 at-bats. Our Manager Jim Riggleman has written Bernadina's name down on his lineup card and placed him in right field for over one month now--and Roger hasn't seized the opportunity to be Washington's everyday rightfielder. In fact, no one has.

Cristian Guzman has been at or near the top of the National League Batting leaders all season. Everyone knows he can hit. But his fielding in 2010 has been rather impressive as well. Last Saturday in San Diego, playing shortstop against The Padres, he ranged deep into the hole between 2nd and short to backhand and toss out a San Diego runner at 1st base. Last night in the bottom of the 8th with the bases loaded for Houston, The Astros Tommy Manzella hit what appeared to be a sure single up the middle that would have broken the game open. "The Guz" ranged to his right again (playing second base now), backhanded the ball, and had JUST enough time to throw to Ian Desmond standing on second base to force Manzella and end the inning. Later, in the bottom of the 9th with the bases loaded again--Our Number 15 rushed in on a slow hit roller off the broken bat of Jeff Keppinger and STILL threw Pedro Feliz out at home. Cristian Guzman has been moved all over the field in 2010, never complained, been a professional the whole time, and continues to be a big contributor everywhere Jim Riggleman puts him.

Craig Stammen continues to struggle early in ball games. Again last night, Washington's starter gave up three first inning runs. A trend that leaves Stammen with only one personal victory in 11 trips to the mound (April 19th versus Colorado) and makes you wonder whether Craig might be the odd man out next week when Stephen Strasburg gets the call up to Our Washington Nationals. Despite having one of the best arms and group of pitches on the staff--Craig Stammen just hasn't looked that good. Craig would probably admit that too. Even when his teammates got him back in the game last night in the top of the 5th--tied up at four with The Astros--Our Number 35 promptly gave the lead right back by allowing a home run to Hunter Pence in the bottom of the 5th.

Does any manager use most every player available most every night like Jim Riggleman? Again last night, he emptied the bench to put his team in position to win. He had no field players left as substitutes as the bottom of the 9th began. And only Tyler Clippard and Tyler Walker (who had pitched nearly three innings the day before) in his bullpen. Our Manager lays it out there every single day--maneuvering to win a game. But there was one move yesterday that seemed odd. Wil Nieves led off the top of the 3rd with a double down the left field line. Stammen was next up and Craig has shown a propensity in 2010 to swing the bat well. Nieves is already in scoring position. He can't be forced out. Why then have Craig Stammen bunt? It sure seemed like a total waste of an out--especially when Our Number 35 couldn't get the bunt down twice and struck out badly. Just let the pitcher swing away in that situation. The result couldn't have been worse. Really.

And finally--to be considered a good team, you have to beat the bad teams--like The Houston Astros.

Game Photo--David J. Phillip (AP)


TBC said...

If Guzman continues his good play at bat and in the field and avoids getting slowed by injury like last year's shoulder and bunion issues, I can seriously see him being resigned by the Nats to a one or two year contract next offseason. Boy will that piss people off!

Screech's Best Friend said...

Guzman has been a total team player. Sohna's been on his side since day one. It will interesting what Mike Rizzo decides to do with him. Guzman's actually become a trading commodity for teams in contention thanks to his unselfish play. You have to wonder what others teams might be interested in his versatility. That's valuable.

SenatorNat said...

Rizzo told me personally that he would be pleased to sign Guz, Mr. Original National (along with Livo), for next 2-3 years, "depending on the money." Of course. I believe I heard on ESPN that Twins put Orlando Hudson on DL, due to that game-ending collision, first chink in the armour for that expensive acquisition for them, which has been paying off. Note that Nats went the cheaper route by signing Kennedy, who has been a solid contributor, for sure, but is not in league with OH despite certain sabermetric comparisons.

Nats will not pursue those they deem "over-priced" free agent outfielder such as Jason Werth, as they did not even consider Matt Holliday last off-season, according to the Nats' excellent GM. Holliday is not playing thus far at his extraordinarily productive pace as last year for the Cardinals, which vindicates the operating philosophy, at least for now. I applaud the Nats brass for not falling prey to Redskins-itis - but, I am equally concerned that Stan and Mike are overly circumscribed in what they can truly do in terms of prudent risk-taking in the free agency market.

At some point, it is clear to me that Nats will have to roll the dice on a big free agent everyday player - cannot try to out-smart the system every time, as they did (again, for now) with Pudge. Beltran, Beltre are two classic examples of free agent acquisitions where credible arguments can be made on both sides as to whether they were value plays. But, the evaluation has to come in the context of what realistically is on the farm capable of production, and how close the team is to play-off contention on a regular basis with or without him. And the evaluation may have to be for more than the year where they disappointed after the fact, e.g., Beltre in Seattle...

Point is, too, that virtually all ultimately worthwhile free agents are seemingly "over-priced," and, thus, some judicious budgeting for one-two must be set, or the team is going to relegate itself to small-market team's operating philosophy.

Is Oswalt worth $13.5 million for 2010-11, as a case in point, to the Nationals? Probably not, in terms of its relative share of the overall budget, especially IF Strasburg; Zimmermann; Wang; Lannan; Olsen are all good to go in 2011. But, allocating a figure in that neighborhood to draft and sign Bryce Harper is not the "alternative," to Oswalt, for example. I often interpret Nats' moves as factoring draft signings in this context. The latter must be a wholly separate proposition. Should the team decide to pass on Oswalt, $$$$ to this effect should be made available to Stan and Mike to pursue an everyday player (preferably in right field), as they deem fit.

Living off the buzz of Stephen Strasburg and relying on all parts to click on a decent but very thin roster with no room for error or injury, to speak of, is too lean a fuel mixture for success.

Trust in casting some bread on the water. Even if some precious crumbs are wasted. All delicious.