Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reflections on the way to the bay

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Roger Bernadina has seized the right field job over the last two weeks.
[UPDATE: I stand corrected. Due to mechanical problems with their charter plane, the Nats were unable to fly out to San Francisco Sunday night and waited until yesterday to make the trip. So, actually, there was nothing relaxing about their off-day.]

The Nationals spent a much-needed, quiet day in San Francisco yesterday, with a roster full of players and coaches physically and mentally exhausted from a 20-games-in-20-days stretch that ended on a high note with Sunday's walk-off win over the Orioles.

The Nats gladly took the off-day, even if it was in a town on the other coast, because they were starting to run on fumes by the end of that long stretch. Yes, they pulled off a .500 record over the 20-game span, one that included a five-game losing streak. But they also saw one of their best starting pitchers and their starting catcher succumb to injuries. Their center fielder and leadoff man is in a prolonged funk that has affected every aspect of his game. And they now face another tough stretch of 13 games in 13 days, the first 10 on the road, the first six against the NL West's top two teams (the Giants and Padres).

I'm on my way out to the city by the bay right now, but while I'm speeding across flyover country at 37,000 feet, here are some thoughts on the Nationals. I'm curious to hear your take...

-- The Nats are going to be seriously tested for the next two weeks without Ivan Rodriguez. There are players this team can afford to lose for a prolonged period, and then there are those it simply can't afford to lose. Right now, I'd put Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and Pudge at the top of the list. Ian Desmond and Josh Willingham wouldn't be far behind. It's not just the total package Rodriguez brings to the table, though his offense, game-calling and leadership will be sorely missed. It's the fact the Nats will have to go the next two weeks with Wil Nieves and Carlos Maldonado behind the plate. With all due respect to those two, the drop-off from Pudge will be drastic. We saw last year how tough it is to play for long stretches with two career backup catchers splitting duties. Nieves is a solid backup, and he does good work when he's used twice a week. But once he has to start playing four or five times a week, he gets exposed. The Nats can only hope these two hold their own now that they're in the spotlight, and that Rodriguez's stint on the DL is a brief one.

-- Roger Bernadina is making a legitimate case to be the everyday right fielder. The Nationals said all along they wanted to give Bernadina a shot and see what he could do. Well, after a sluggish start, he's caught fire and has become a key contributor both at the plate and in the field. Since his breakout, two-homer game at Citi Field two weeks ago, he's batting .343 (12-for-35) with six extra-base hits, 11 RBI, a .686 slugging percentage and a 1.070 OPS. And he's made several outstanding plays in both right and center fields. Jim Riggleman will probably continue to sit Bernadina against left-handed pitching, but the 25-year-old has done enough to show he deserves to get every at-bat against right-handers.

-- The most-patient hitter on the Nationals' roster isn't Dunn, it's Willingham. Did you know the Hammer has drawn more walks (33) than Dunn (28) and outpaces him in on-base percentage (.425 to .380)? Willingham actually leads the National League in walks. He's done this quietly, but Willingham has always been a patient hitter with a good sense of the strike zone. And he still produces when he swings the bat. Witness Sunday's game-winning homer in the 10th.

-- Drew Storen has provided a huge boost to the Nats' bullpen, but so has Doug Slaten. Slaten's arrival from Class AAA two weeks ago didn't generate many headlines, but he's proven to be an important piece to the bullpen puzzle. The left-hander allowed a run on three hits in his first appearance but hasn't been scored on again over his last six outings. He's given up only three hits in that time, has only walked two and has picked up two victories. With Sean Burnett also rediscovering his touch, Riggleman suddenly has a deep bullpen and doesn't have to rely solely on "Clip 'n Save" anymore.

-- The first round of National League All-Star balloting results comes out today. I'm really curious to see where Zimmerman and Rodriguez rank at their respective positions. I don't expect anyone else to crack the top five (maybe Dunn at first base, though I still don't think he's that well-known around the country) but you can make a strong case that both Zimmerman and Rodriguez deserve to win the vote. Those of us who have been watching each guy all season know they deserve strong consideration. Has the rest of the country picked up on it?

55 comments:

Jenn Jenson said...

Not sure about the quiet day ... I understand they were trapped on an airplane for who knows how long.

MikeHarris said...

Not sure how much relaxation time the Nats had - didn't they have plane issues and not arrive until late afternoon in SF?
Travel safe, enjoy the trip (and Strasburg's Saturday debut in his hometown!)

MikeHarris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Knoxville Nat said...

Mark,

Good work as always and have a safe trip. I would like to see Riggleman give more playing time to Bernadina in CF with Morse in RF. Right now it appears as if Morgan is in a mental slump as much as he is in a hitting slump and could benefit from some extra work with Eckstein in the cage and some time on the bench to clear his head. This move would also allow us to see what Morse can do with some extended playing time and not just coming off the bench to pinch hit.

Natsfan37 said...

Mark- Last week I heard "chatter" that Strasburg could possibly come up and pitch the 29th in SD. Although I'm sure it was never more than just a rumor to begin with, is that idea 100% squashed now that Pudge is on the DL?

natsfan1a said...

Glad that you'll be there to report for us, Mark. We had the opportunity to visit AT&T Park last year on a family visit, and it gets my vote for one of the most beautiful around (although I am biased, I suppose). If you're so inclined, have an Its-It ice cream sandwich for me. mmm...

(btw, although I grew up on the West Coast, I'm not a big fan of the term "flyover country," which denigrates the rest of the regions, imho)

K.D. said...

This is where Riggleman, Livan, Bautista and Kennedy show their veteran leadership. It starts with the pitching, defense and knowing (hopefully) that Pudge will be there rested and raring to go when they get back home. My 25 All Star votes have included Pudge and Zimmerman, but the Nationals don't get much facetime (other than SS).

Anonymous said...

Pudge has batted .233 in May and has an OPS under .600 during that time. Unfortunately, at this point in his career, that seems to be closer to his norm than his great April (2009- OPS of .664, 2008- OPS of .713). In the short term and with a small sample size, it is very possible that the combination of Maldonado and Nieves will do just as well (offensively) as Pudge and Nieves. Of course, in the long run, Pudge is the best of the three but it still would be expected that the drop offensively would be small (Nieves in more extended action had an OPS in 2009 of .612 and in 2008 of .650)

Bote Man said...

With Pudge out we lose any benefit that he brings over Nieves or Maldonado to call a tight game for our pitching staff. I'm thinking he'd be the best backstop for Strasburg's first game, but now that is in question, if not right out.

K.D. said...

Anon at 8:33; Perhaps, but I really don't think it's missing his offense that fans are worried about. I don't think he would have kept up his hot hitting but his back issues might have been part of his cooling off. On the bright side if he comes off the DL when expected, June has been his best offensive month throughout his career.

N. Cognito said...

If Pudge finishes with a batting average over .250 or an OBP over .300, I will be surprised.

Doc said...

Mark, I could see that over the past 10-15 games Bernadina was doing well. For me, it was a pleasant surprise to read how well he was really doing.

At this point, our bull pen must rank up there with some of the better ones in MLB.

Good stats anaysis Anonymous. Almost anything in life, baseball included, is never as bad as it seems, or as good as it seems. Life has a way of regressing towards the mean.

K.D. said...

Off subject, Steve Phillips mentioned he would trade prospect Strasburg for known quantity Oswalt I wonder what fans would do first, if they had to make a choice, give up draft pick (assuming it's Harper) or SS? Personally, I can't see Oswalt wanting to go the Nats. Other than I know he liked working with Pudge I don't see a connection.

Andrew said...

Wednesday's matchup is Atilano and a guy named Lincecum and then on Thursday Stammen vs. Zito so this team needs to win tonight behind Livo.

With or without Pudge, those are going to be some tough outings.

Ben said...

Does anyone know what exactly happened to the team on the plane? Did Bruney come on and try to hi-jack it or something??? LOL

Posting as JayB/peric said...

Ben said...
"Does anyone know what exactly happened to the team on the plane? Did Bruney come on and try to hi-jack it or something??? LOL"

The cheap Lerners refused to pay the fuel surcharge, since it wasn't in the contract.

Andrew said...

http://www.sbnation.com/2010/5/24/1485814/steve-phillips-mike-francesa-roy-oswalt-stephen-strasburg-astros-nationals

If Steve Phillips goal was to get some personal publicity, it is working and none of it is positive.

Anonymous said...

Ben said...
Does anyone know what exactly happened to the team on the plane? Did Bruney come on and try to hi-jack it or something??? LOL


JayB/peric's faux post is hilarious.

The plane had a mechanical problem they discovered after the team boarded the plane.

They thought they could get the part to fix it and it took hours while the whole team was sitting on the plane. So they finally made the decision to spend the night in Washington and fly out on Monday.

Mike said...

Mark,

The Red Sox designated Darnell McDonald for assignment. Might the Nationals pick him off waivers, assuming he gets that far in the process?

alexva said...

As tough as it is to watch Morgan's slump, he is of no value coming off the bench. He is Willie Harris light as a pinch hitter/bench player.

P. Cole said...

Willingham is the team's MVP at this point in the season. He's always on base, comes up with big clutch hits, and is a surprisingly solid defender. He is the anchor in the outfield and hardly ever needs a day off. As much as Dunn provides protection for Zim, The Hammer provides protection for Dunn in the lineup.

Mark, any chance we'll extend his contract before the season is over?

Anonymous said...

With Willingham's overall numbers being better than Dunn's so far this season, I would think you might have mentioned him for a All-Star slot. I know it is a long shot, but he is really having a wonderful year and deserves some votes.

Bowdenball said...

It's hard to see anyone else as the starter at NL 3B. I'd like to see the Nats really make a push to get Zimm his first of hopefully many all-start starts.

I'd also like to see a push to get Willingham on his first All-star team. He clearly deserves it this year. I don't know that he deserve a starting spot over the Dodger superstars or Heyward, but he deserves a serious look, and if he can get to 5th or 6th in the balloting the manager would almost certainly add him, right? Vote early, vote often.

NatsJack in Florida said...

I, too, am a proponent of Bernandina in CF and Morse in RF for a period of time against left handers.

Roger is a much more natural CF and brings a baseball mentality as opposed to a hockey mentality to playing the position.

And don't get too worked up about who is going to catch SS. Maldonaldo did a great job working with him in Syracuse and Will did a great job with him in Spring Training.

Looking forward to my trip to DC next week end for the "unveiling". (hope my experience is better than the day trip I made on Opening Day, right Stan)

Anonymous said...

Without Pudge and Olsen (who has been their best starter of late) this road trip could get ugly early. Bernadina can almost certainly play centerfield but I suspect that his manager believes that is Maxwell's spot. If Morgan is going to lose his job to anyone it will likely be Maxwell.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Bernandina can hit. Maxwell can't.

Anonymous said...

Bernandina can hit. Maxwell can't.

Then why is Maxwell back on the active 25 when they really need a pitcher? How is it that he ends up so quickly on a lineup card? And likely in the starting lineup as early as today's game? Inquiring minds want to know?

Dan said...

Just a note on Bryce Harper - his stats heading into the NJCAA World Series on Saturday:

62 games
.442 BA (95-215)
88 runs
22 2b
4 3b
29 HR
86 RBI
35 BB
39 K
18 SB
.524 onbase
.986 slugging
1.510 OPS

Turns 18 in October.

posting as BinM said...

Bote Man: said I have 3 letters for Nook Morgan: D.F.A.

sit Nyjer said:
No excuse for Riggleman not pulling him. Utterly ridiculous. You cannot condone that type of immature play that cost your team. He should sit. Period. End of story. I've lost respect for both Nyjer and Riggleman.

And you're complaining about JayB? What a bunch of whiners you all are. Someone bring me a violin ...

Anonymous said...

Throw me into the Willingham/Bernadina/Morse camp for starting OF with Nyjer playing when Rog rests and additng some speed in a PR role until he clears his head...if that ever happens!

Theophilus said...

The trick is for the starters to get through Tuesday and Wednesday so that Batista can take Olsen's start on Thursday. (Or is it Friday? Whatever.) If they have to make another roster move to bring up someone for that start, who has any options left? What are Maxwell, Morse and Gonzalez's situations? Atilano can't go down until Strasburg comes up (which might make sense for the 29th). Or they could just jettison Walker, which might be coming anyway.

At least until Burke is healthy, they will probably need to keep Maldonado on the roster, as Rodriguez shouldn't (maybe can't) play more than 4 days a week and the team can't keep wasting options and call-ups on players that belong in the big leagues.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Maxwell is a defensive replacement for late innings. An extra pitcher isn't needed until Olsen's next turn comes up. That's when Strike Three Maxwell goes back to Syracuse.

Bowdenball said...

I'm putting this here even though it's not responsive because it needs to be said and this is as good a place as any:

The Nats absolutely cannot start Strasburg this weekend in San Diego. The reason for this is very simple:

The single most important thing, the end game for a franchise beyond even winning a championship, is the satisfaction of the customer, the fan. Everything else is a means to that end. If you don't believe me, imagine a World Series clincher in front of an empty park with the story buried on the inside of the sports page, as if we'd won the Indoor Lacrosse title or something.

For five years now, Nationals fans, especially the season ticket holders, have given the franchise tens of thousands of dollars of our hard-earned dollars. We have received very, very little in return for this enormous investment. Basically, the season ticket holders have gotten tickets that, for 95%+ of the games, we probably could have gotten cheaper on the open market. And the individual ticket purchasers have paid middle of the league prices to see a bottom of the league product. We have done so on the very basic assumption that this was part of a long-term agreement between us and the club, that when the time came, we would be rewarded.

For the first time, the club is in a position to reward us for our commitment of tens of thousands of dollars of our hard-earned money, not to mention our television viewership and other forms of patronage that give the team the means by which to operate and thrive. They can reward us by letting us experience, in person, what will likely be the most exciting and most closely watched regular season game of this MLB season, at least until the last week of September.

It's not about what's best for the Nats, or even what's best for Stephen to be brutally honest. Just this once, it's about what's best for the customer, who ultimately should be the one that matters the most.

It doesn't have to be June 4. But it darn well better be on Half Street.

DJ said...

Say yes to bringing in Darnell McDonald!

Steve M. said...

Anonymous said...
Bernandina can hit. Maxwell can't.

Then why is Maxwell back on the active 25 when they really need a pitcher? How is it that he ends up so quickly on a lineup card? And likely in the starting lineup as early as today's game? Inquiring minds want to know?


I don't think he starts until Thursday against the leftie but what do I know.

As has been written before Justin Maxwell is to Rizzo as Austin Kearns was to JimBo. Go figure. Mench deserved the callup and didn't get it so what do we know.

Anonymous said...

Maxwell is the only true CF in Syracuse. It may be that he is here to platoon with Nyjer not just Bernadina. Mench is not a CF, he is more of a LF like Willingham. Pete Orr has been playing a lot of CF when they didn't have one. Have to assume he returns to that position again. After that its likely Duncan.

ilovethenats said...

Pudge deserves all the credit for the new attitude this team is exuding. Every single player has referenced having a future hall of famer on their team as being simply "amazing". He will be missed, for sure.

Sec3MovingTo$39.99TwoForOnePackage said...

Geez, he's not dead, he's just not on this road trip. 15-Day DL. He'll be fine. They'll be fine.

TimDz said...

@ Steve M.: Mench may have deserved a callup, but I don't think he is on the 40 man roster. Therefore, calling him up would have meant taking someone else off the 40 man.

39.99butWaitThere'sMore said...

Just going by the Nats' Web site, the 40-Man only shows 39, not counting guys on the 60-Day DL. And they could still put Coste on the 60-Day if they were maxed out.

Steve M. said...

Sec 3 - I know. There is so much drama. Wil Nieves will do fine just like every game he has caught in 2010.

Wil has as many HRs as Pudge does this year also (1) and I say that laughing.

The team is facing the toughest back-to-back pitchers this season in Lincecum/Zito so I don't have high hopes whether it was Pudge or Maldanado for those particular games.

N. Cognito said...

Bowdenball said...
"blah, blah, blah"

Waste of bandwidth.
The soonest he'll be up is the next homestand. Bet on it. The only thing that will keep him down beyond that is an injury or Steve Blass disease.

Sec$39.99 said...

I dunno, TimDz, they have a pretty good record against the tough guys. It's the AAAA guys they aren't getting to.

Anonymous said...

"Mench deserved the callup and didn't get it so what do we know."

The callup is only for a few days, maybe a week until Olsen's turn comes up in the rotation and they need to add a pitcher. Then the position player (Maxwell) goes back down. That's no problem since he's not out of options and they can yo-yo him up and down between AAA and the majors as much as they want all season long. (See Bergmann last year.) But if they'd brought Mench up, to send him back down they'd have to DFA him since he's out of options. Thus they won't be bringing Mench up unless it's going to be for an extended period of time and/or there's no other choice. (See Wil Nieves 2008.)

Steve M. said...

TimDZ - You are correct. Mench isn't on the 40 man which shouldn't have stopped Rizzo from promoting a guy who is working hard and having the best season of the current guys in AAA in the OF.

It doesn't change things as the love affair with Justin Maxwell continues and maybe, just maybe, there will be some payback and he does something spectacular to win a game for the Nats.

Steve M. said...

Anon - Either Mench is viable or not. So what you are suggesting is that he becomes a September callup.

I want to see what he could have done if they brought him up last week and then decide his future and yes, the outcome may be to DFA him.

Bowdenball said...

N. Cognito- looks like you're right according to Kilgore.

But there were people here and elsewhere- Mike Harris in the comments here for one, the Natsfangirls blog for another- suggesting or hoping for a Strasburg start this weekend. Why was it a "waste of bandwidth" to explain why I thought that would be a terrible idea?

alm1000 said...

What crap.
5 Philties leading the all-star balloting with the other 2 in second.
Pudge in third with NO OTHER NAT in the top 5 or top 15 for outfielders.
Come-on Natsnation get out there and vote for pudge, zim and willingham!

Anonymous8 said...

alm1000 - So Matt Capps and Livan could be the "manager" picks as pitchers. If Strasburg is lights out in his 40 days in the sun, maybe he gets a "manager" pick too.

Ryan Zimmerman, Pudge, Dunn, and Willingham may be watching from their homes unless Nats fans get crazy serious about doing their 25 online and punching them at the ballpark.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Since Spring Training, the plan was 50 innings in the minors (absolutely no less) and 100 - 110 innings in the majors.

He's at 45 with one more 5 inning start to go.

No San Diego, no Houston, just a D.C. premier as always planned.

And Bowdenball is correct in that this is the only way to reward the staunch, cold cash paying regulars that have suffered through the past 4 years, especially after that fiasco on opening day.

Mench IS being rewarded by not being in Japan. It would be silly to bring him up for anything other than a permanent roster spot and that's not happening unless Willingham goes out for any length of time.

Maxwell is liked by Riggs for his defensive capabilities. No one has been able to shorten his swing hence his 1 strike out every 3 at bats.

Cache, Store and Forward Architecture said...

Still wondering if they are considering doing a deal for catching prospect Jason Castro? He may make more sense than Nieves at this point?

N. Cognito said...

Bowdenball said...
"Why was it a "waste of bandwidth" to explain why I thought that would be a terrible idea?"

Admittedly I was being a bit flippant, but you spent a lot of time and effort on something that wasn't going to happen [first start on the road].

CrazyTown said...

"....unless Nats fans get crazy serious about doing their 25 online and punching them at the ballpark."

Please do not do this, I hate when people stuff the box just becuase they are Nats, vote for the best players in the game NOT the hometown team....ARRGH!

natsfan1a said...

I like my idea better. Have a Vote for the Worst campaign for the AL, as has been done with American Idol in the past. That way, maybe the NL will finally win one. :-)

Buzz Killjoy said...

"NatsJack in Florida said...
Maxwell is liked by Riggs for his defensive capabilities. No one has been able to shorten his swing hence his 1 strike out every 3 at bats."

I wonder if Maxwell golfs...
It could do him some good in the batter's box if he played a quick round with Livo.(swing easy, hit hard)

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