Sunday, July 11, 2010

It's Time To Take The Next Step

When The African Queen and I heard Jim Riggleman say in the post game press conference today: "There's progress, but we want to get to the point where we're not satisfied with progress. We want to make that next step."--We almost wanted to start applauding. In agreement, truer words might never have been spoken by any D.C. Manager in the five plus years of Our Washington Nationals. Now is the time to step up and move forward.

The final game before the 2010 All-Star break was a disappointment because D.C.'s team had multiple opportunities, multiple runners in scoring position (13), and multiple chances to come from behind and defeat The San Francisco Giants this afternoon at Nationals Park.

But they didn't.

A 5-0 deficit became impossible to overcome. The final 6-2 result focusing more on what Our Washington Nationals need to accomplish over the final two and one-half months of the current season, not the latest loss.

You see, Washington needs to solidify their starting rotation by the end of this season. They need to find out who is a keeper. Stephen Strasburg is definitely the number one. There is no question about that. After that, no one else currently on the active roster is guaranteed a spot. Unquestionably, the rehabbing Jordan Zimmermann might be number two in the long run. But Our GM Mike Rizzo better be careful, and he better be wise, to not rush this Z-Mann (the one with Two NN's) back into the lineup. He's too valuable of a commodity. An ace on most other staffs in baseball. Really, Jordan Zimmermann is capable of being that good.

And everyone in the game knows it.

Over the remainder of July and into August, September and October, we want to see Our Washington Nationals focus more on their starting rotation for 2011. It's important to find out whether Livan Hernandez, Craig Stammen, Luis Atilano, John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Ross Detwiler and Chien Ming-Wang are staples for Manager Jim to choose to send to the mound for a regular start next season. We need to know whether Washington's drafting and the free agent signings have been a plus? As much as we LOVE Livo!!, it's time to find out what Washington seriously has in their hand basket. And whether those choices are competitive against the best teams in the game.

For too long, Pitching in D.C. has been much like playing Powerball. The Mega Million Lottery in which you are confident and hopeful the winning number will only be for you. But in the long run, you have little chance of winning.

Those odds need to change.

Saddened greatly to hear that Jesus Flores has suffered another setback in his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery, how wise was it, in retrospect, for Mr. Rizzo to sign Pudge Rodriguez for two seasons? The deal was laughed about in some circles in the game. It's been anything but. Expected to possibly be a mentor to Jesus, Pudge has become the solidifying rescue boat for a position badly needed to be more than just competent. Hoping with both our hearts that Flores is able to overcome his latest pain in his throwing shoulder--Jesus is capable of being an All-Star. But it's nice to know that a future Hall Of Famer is manning, arguably, the most important defensive position on the field as Washington considers their future options.

Similar to the choice Our GM must decide upon over the next few weeks as to whether Adam Dunn is a keeper or not? Maybe the most important decision to be made in 2010. Most always, you can find a second baseman, which D.C.'s Team is in need of right now. But rarely do you have a power hitting slugger already in the fold that you need to ponder a future with. Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Willingham and Adam Dunn form the best powering hitting trio in the National League. If building a core to winning any championship is the key to success, you can't argue much with those three? And I don't want to hear back that two of those three are at, or near, 30 years of age--and approaching the downhill slide of their careers.

If Our Washington Nationals win the World Series Title with Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham being 32 or 33 years of age--are you really going to complain that keeping them was a wrong move? That's ludicrous!! Our Number 44 might not be the swiftest and agile of first baseman, but if D.C.'s team can compliment his permanent positioning on that infield bag with a defensively minded, power hitting rightfielder--then Dunn's shortcomings around the bag can be accepted. Look at the Phillies with Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth. Do you think the worst fans in America were complaining about those two in 2008 and 2009?

No, not at all.

Ryan Zimmerman, the Face Of Our Franchise, has openly stated he wants no one other than Adam Dunn as a teammate. We trust Zimmy's judgement and hopefully Baseball Management in D.C. will come to an agreeable solution for both sides. Remember, pitching and defense wins championships, but power gets you there, in the first place, over the 162 game season. The threat of the home run counts in the long run.

Pudge, Adam, Ian, Ryan and Josh are players you can win with.

Is Nyjer Morgan the answer in centerfield? Has Roger Bernadina surpassed him? Those are important questions. Although Michael Morse did not deliver this afternoon against The Giants at Nationals Park, is it not reasonable to consider Bernadina as Washington's centerfielder and Morse the rightfielder--if Our Number 1 does not improve his game? Today, Nyjer misplayed a ball stroked to the wall by San Francisco's Buster Posey. The ball might have been catchable by only the deftest of fielders--like Bernadina and Justin Maxwell. But there was no reason for Morgan to overplay the ball and find it caroming behind him and back onto the grass for an rbi triple. Posey scoring The Giants 5th run of the day on a sacrifice fly moments later.

Who will be Washington centerfielder is a question that needs to be decided by the end of this season.

Sohna and I also like Alberto Gonzalez as a utility guy. He's been pretty spectacular in the field and manageable at the plate. That's nine guys you can definitely build a winning team around. Toss in Matt Capps, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and maybe even Doug Slaten and you have more than a baker's dozen of players that can be a part of the first great Washington team. That's reasonable to expect.

It's also reasonable to expect whether Our Washington Nationals can find better than filler talent over the final few months of 2010 to round out their needs on their active roster? Can Ross Detwiler and Chien Ming Wang be determined as keepers? Are Hernandez, Martin, Atilano, Stammen and Lannen as useful? If not, are trades possible that could impact the near and future clubhouse for Our Washington Nationals? And can General Manager Mike do so without negatively affecting the core base that's been built?

Washington needs a second baseman. They need a power hitting rightfielder. And D.C.'s team needs to formulate their final three members of the starting rotation. Anyway you look at it, the nucleus might already be in place. The re-signing of one slugger and the determination of a handful of others might better put the future into focus. Talent exists on Washington's Roster 89 games into 2010, but the questions is whether the majority of it is worth keeping, or not, for the remaining 73 and beyond.

Final Score from Nationals Park where multiple lost chances to win only brought on multiple thoughts of what was to come in the future: The San Francisco Giants 6 and Our Washington Nationals 2. Loss Number 50 of 2010 left us wondering what direction D.C.'s Team is heading? Has a nucleus been formed? Should Adam Dunn be re-signed? And can Washington trust the quick return from elbow surgery by Jordan Zimmermann?

The heart says yes. History says no.

Our General Manager Mike Rizzo will earn his money over the following three weeks and the final months of 2010 to follow. The immediate future of Our Washington Nationals lays in the balance. As Our Manager Jim Riggleman said in today's' post-game press conference: "It's time to take the next step."

The future might be now, whether anyone realizes it or not.

Game Notes & Highlights

Livan Hernandez officially ened the first half of 2010 with a loss, his 5th of 2010 versus six wins. Over the course of the entire first three months and two weeks of this season, Livo's been Washington's most dependable starter. He wasn't at his best today, Old Number 61 just got beat. And that's nothing to be ashamed about for the Cuban who stabilized a starting rotation that was completely in flux before Stephen Strasburg arrived.

Having never heard of The San Francisco Giants starter today--Madison Bumgarner--I came away mighty impressed. Picked in the 1st round in 2007, 10th overall, five spots AFTER Ross Detwiler in the Entry Draft, the southpaw was pretty good. He mixed up his pitches really well. Depending mostly on his fastball and slider, Bumgarner occasionally tossed in a changeup. He kept Washington's hitters off balance and looked like a solid middle of the rotation starter for years come in San Francisco.

Did Sergio Romo ever conduct business over Washington's hitters this afternoon. Called on by San Francisco Manager Bruce Bochy in the bottom of the 7th in a then 5-2 ball game with the bases load and one out for Our Washington Nationals, Romo threw nothing but sliders to Josh Willingham and Pudge Rodriguez to retire the side. Masterful work that confused Washington's batters and led to Brian Wilson eventually being called upon to close out this game for The Giants. Romo though completely had Willingham's and Rodriguez's numbers with the game on the line.

Washington outhit San Francisco today 10 to 7. Adam Dunn had three of them and one rbi. But D.C.'s Team could not put enough of those hits together to score the runs needed to claim victory. The 6th and 7th inning's finished with Washington leaving the bases loaded while also leaving two runners on in the 8th. That's 8 of 13 runners left on base right there. You couldn't say Our Washington Nationals didn't have their chances.

We also have to say we love Michael Morse's Batting Music--"Take On Me" by A-Ha. Although Morse did not fare well at the plate today, his batting music is appropriate for a player looking for more playing time while challenging every single hitter he has faced in 2010.

Buster Posey is one fine talent for The San Francisco Giants. He raked the ball this weekend. Called up recently from AAA Fresno, The Giants top prospect went 9 for 12 at the plate this weekend at Nationals Park. He hit one home run, a triple and knocked in 5 runs. He also threw out three runners on the base paths. Not tall in size, Buster Posey is one impressive youngster. He was the 5th overall pick in the 2008 Entry Draft. The very year Our Washington Nationals chose Aaron Crow with the 9th pick--which eventually led to Drew Storen being drafted in 2009.

Always wanting to see the best, San Francisco's Tim Lincecum actually warmed up as the 8th inning moved to the 9th. Not starting during this three game set, the two-time consecutive Cy Young Award Winner in the National League threw a bullpen session as the game ended today. The amount of fans running down to the front rows of sections 101 and 102 to see him throw quite telling. Everyone else wants to see the best throw too.

George won the 4th Inning Presidents Race after Teddy, promoting Christmas In July, stopped while running down the right field line at Nationals Park to hand out gifts.

Throughout the day, the HDTV Scoreboard showed highlights between innings of the best moments during the first half of 2010. How nice to hear Charlie Slowes' & Dave Jageler's calls on the big screen most of the day. Strasburg's debut, Zimmerman and Dunn homers highlighting the many packages.

And finally, it happened for the first time all year. Josh Willingham fouled off a baseball in the bottom of the 6th inning. A pitch by San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner that was directed right toward our seats in Section 218, front row. Standing up right away, the instincts from years of playing the game instantly came back. Reaching over to my right and using two hands, I caught the baseball cleanly and immediately presented it to The African Queen as a gift. Many thanks for the standing ovation given by those sitting around us for the catch. And thanks to regular Nats320 reader and commenter Paul for stopping and congratulating me on The Defensive Play Of This Game. If I don't catch it, the baseball hits The African Queen.

Today's In-Game Photos, Dan Angerer (AP)
All Other Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved


SenatorNat said...

Jury is out on Rizzo, actually - the Morgan trade, one year later, has not panned out, as Milledge, with his two hits yesterday, is batting .276; Bruney big bust; Marquis, budget-busting bust. Cutting Dukes with no plan beyond Willy Harris in right has not panned out, either. Signing Strasburg and drafting Storen definitely gives Mike big plusses; but not inking Dunn before the season started not a good move, as it is turning out, since Dunn is hitting .288 at the All-Star break and is servicable at first, certainly to go with his usual money-in-the bank power numbers. He boasts that Matt Holliday "is not worth what the Cardinals signed him for" and that he will not pay Werth "that kind of money" either to bring him in is music to the Lerners' ears, I am sure, but not to Nats' fans. Add to this the fact that the extra money spent on Orlando Hudson, hitting .281 playing every day for the Twins, with clutch hits, v. inexpensive Adam Kennedy, would have been very prudent. Indeed, that move alone may have this team playing close to .500 and put a completely different picture on things for far less than the money wasted as it turns out on Marquis.

Rizzo is a consumately earnest and good guy - but he is shackled by an ownership that hired him as much for his availability at a less than market price as for his proven acumen. Same with the career .450 consumately splendid baseball man and person Jim Riggleman in the dug-out. Riggleman's philosophy that everyone is to play equitably keeps spirits on the bench high, but loses about eight games a year, unnecessarily, and he is outmanaged repeatedly as to bench players, as SBF points out, and playing to tie at home, etc.

Should Nats trade Dunn or Willingham and revamp team to be speed, defense, and pitching at the break for next year, relying on Morgan, this will be a very risky move. As SBF points out, Kasten's concept of having 12 pitchers out of which a starting rotation springs forth has yet to pan out - the Yankees do not do it this way, of course. Fact is: for $900k, at the last moment, Rizzo was able to sign a proven commodity in Livo, and that has prevented this team from being 20 games under .500 at the break. Team can rely on Strasburg and Livo, at the moment. Atilano, Stammen, JD Martin, Lannan not major league starters based on performance and metrics. Add Zimmermann and Olsen, IF HEALTHY, and of course, Wang, IF HEALTHY. The "5 from 12" is a complete illusion, in other words.

Nats have no catcher for the future, apparently, either, adding to the problem of pretending that this team is building for the future. Reality is: based on where the team is, Lerners should be setting the payroll at $75 million, $20 more than they are willing to pay - Rizzo is being asked to do to much with too little, and thus, feels forced to trade Dunn and/or Willingham for "younger and more athletic" - a euphamism for "cheaper in the long-run" to try to fill too many holes.

Trust in the Mall Mentality. All Hole-Sale!

paul said...

Always nice to see you, but you know I would have booed you for dropping the ball.

So I wanted to know what the club level was like, having turned in my chits (STH rewards) to take my friend out for his birthday. Could it be a little too comfy? Cushion chairs; roast beast available to eat; a sports bar; lots of couches (that's where you could have napped between events Saturday!). Seems great for taking clients, but when I go to the ballgame, it's not the same if I don't run the risk of some slob spilling beer or cotton candy on you. (There seem to be no active slobs in club level.) And don't you want to be close enough to the 1B umpire to occasionally yell some "encouragement"? Of course, I understand wanting to be in the shade, which I guess you are in when the sun is not setting.

Regarding the team, it's hard not to agree with the prevailing opinion that we have a talented GM whose hands are tied by an overly thrifty boss who is banking on lots of patience from the fans. (Once we're winning, the fans will forget the past. . . .) Stan and Mr. Lerner desperately need PR lessons from Ted Leonsis to learn how to relate to the fans better.

Screech's Best Friend said...

Paul: I have no doubt I would have booed vociferously if I had doubt that baseball.

What we like the best about Club Level is the view of the game. You can see everything play out in front of you. Down low the game can be too flat. It's great to hear the players yell, the crack of the bat up close and the pop of the mitt, but we do like it just fine in Section 218. And no one is blocking our view.

Thanks for stopping by. We appreciated it.