Monday, May 16, 2011

Series preview: Pirates at Nats

Monday, 7:05 p.m.
Pirates LHP Paul Maholm (1-5, 3.60) vs.
Nationals LHP John Lannan (2-4, 4.79)
Radio: WJFK-106.7 FM, WFED-1500 AM
Tuesday, 1:05 p.m.
Pirates RHP Charlie Morton (4-1, 3.13) vs.
Nationals RHP Jordan Zimmermann (2-4, 4.13)
Radio: WJFK-106.7 FM, WFED-1500 AM

Everyone in Pittsburgh was in a great mood this time last week, when the home club won its third straight to improve to 18-17. It marked the latest point in a season in which this woebegone franchise owned a winning record since 2004. Then, in typical Pirates fashion, they lost five straight by 21 combined runs, including a weekend sweep in Milwaukee.

When they've played well this season, the Bucs have gotten good pitching. Four out of five members of the rotation boast ERAs in the 3.00s. Paul Maholm, who starts tonight, has pitched much better than his 1-5 record indicates. (His lone win, incidentally, came against the Nationals April 25 at PNC Park.) The left-hander has five quality starts, but his teammates have scored a total of only 12 runs during his eight outings. Charlie Morton, tomorrow's starter, has gotten plenty more support (30 runs in seven starts) and is on his way to a breakout year thanks to the addition of a power sinker to his repertoire.

Former National Joel Hanrahan continues to excel as Pittsburgh's closer, having successfully converted all 11 save opportunities to go along with a 1.37 ERA. The hard-throwing righty has found a way to harness his stuff; he's issued only five walks in 19 2/3 innings. Another ex-Nat, lefty Joe Beimel, had been pitching quite well until Saturday, when he allowed three runs to the Brewers without recording an out.

Offensively, the Pirates have several talented young regulars who are learning just how tough it is to hit consistently at the big-league level. Electric center fielder Andrew McCutchen is batting .235, though he leads the club with seven homers and 15 extra-base hits. Left fielder Jose Tabata has 11 stolen bases but only a .226 average. And third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft (behind Tim Beckham, ahead of Eric Hosmer, Brian Matusz and Buster Posey) is in a huge funk. Alvarez sports a .210 average, one homer, seven RBI and a whopping 41 strikeouts.

Nats' best vs. Maholm -- Jayson Werth (8-for-21, 3 2B, HR, 5 RBI, BB, 5 K), Ivan Rodriguez (4-for-9, HR, 4 RBI), Adam LaRoche (2-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI, BB).
Nats' worst vs. Maholm -- Wilson Ramos (0-for-3, 2 K), Brian Bixler (0-for-3, K), Michael Morse (1-for-5, BB, 3 K).
Nats' best vs. Morton -- Adam LaRoche (2-for-3, 3 RBI, K), Ian Desmond (2-for-2, 2B, RBI), Roger Bernadina (1-for-2), Michael Morse (1-for-2), Wilson Ramos (1-for-2).
Nats' worst vs. Morton -- Jayson Werth (1-for-5, HR, 3 RBI).

Pirates' best vs. Lannan -- Matt Diaz (11-for-25, 4 2B, 2 RBI, 3 BB, K), Neil Walker (5-for-10, 2B, RBI, 2 K), Andrew McCutchen (4-for-11, 2B, HR, RBI, 3 BB, 2 K).
Pirates' worst vs. Lannan -- Garrett Jones (1-for-10, RBI, 3 K), Chris Snyder (2-for-11, 2B, RBI, K), Ronny Cedeno (4-for-17, RBI, K).
Pirates' best vs. Zimmermann -- Matt Diaz (2-for-3, 2B, HR, 2 RBI).
Pirates' worst vs. Zimmermann -- Xavier Paul (0-for-1), Lyle Overbay (0-for-1, 2 BB).


UNTERP.NAT said...

Okay, I'm on board as saying Espinosa has no business in the ML right now as a hitter. In my eyes he has the worst swing for his size I have seen. If he doesn't cut down on that swing and began taking pitches where the pitcher locates them and chokes up on that bat, he will not survive. He is heading to sub .150 and that is not acceptable. He needs to change his entire approach at the plate or start a family. If he doesn't have a wife, he needs to get one and start making babies. Desmond needs to get going again, too...

Steve M. said...

The job for Lannan is keeping McCutcheon off the bases. He seems to nibble against him and ends up giving up too many walks to him. Make him earn his way on.

Steve M. said...

UNTERP.NAT, true on Espinosa and he needs to lose the power hitter mentality just like I said over Spring Training about Bernadina. Amazing how your game changes when you can -actually- bunt for a single and slap a few singles over the infielders. Someone mentioned this over the weekend and it is true. This is how Ryan Zimmerman would jumpstart himself in 2006 every time he got into a slump as he would lay down a bunt single. It is a mindset. Espinosa is streaky and right now he is streaking towards JMax'ian numbers....

Espinosa is in a funk slump. Much harder to change his swing at this point in the season but he can change his approach. Has to lay off of those high pitches where the scouting report says you strike him out on when he is swinging from the left side.

UNTERP.NAT said...

Steve M.

I've seen Espinosa attempt a couple of bunts and it didn't look good. From what I could see he doesn't have the technique, which is troubling. The other thing he could try is to only bat from the right side, but this sounds like the choir trying to preach to the minister. I've seen many posts about their effort not lacking but their approach isn't too smart. I always like this adage, "work smarter, not harder."

Steve M. said...


UNTERP.NAT said...

How/why did the National's organization let Epsinosa go through their system like this? Someone should have gotten hold of him. He was mishandled from the get go...

Steve M. said...

UNTERP.NAT, it happens all the time. Look at Mark's notes on Alvarez with the Pirates the #2 overall pick in 2008!

In the short-term, it is changing a batter's strategy and repitoire. Espinosa needs to get to the park early and seriously start working at being an effective bunter. He has to stay off of the high cheese. Needs to choke up a little with 2 strikes and make contact. Once he gets a few hits, hopefully we will see Espinosa get on a hot streak.

Kavorka said...

True, Espinosa is currently struggling, but this stat projection is asinine:

"He is heading to sub .150 and that is not acceptable."

It's only takes simple math to realize that in order for Espinosa to reach .150, he would need to go 0 for the next 39. In his past 10 games, he's 4 for 35. Terrible numbers, yes, but not "heading for "sub .150".

I'm a huge Espinosa fan an I'm confident he'll make the needed adjustments to continue to contribute at the Plate.

Note: Despite his hitting woes... he's still leading the team (and all MLB Rookies) in RBIs.

Dirtbag Nation!

Anonymous said...

The Nats have mortgaged a lot of their future on Desmond, Espinosa and Ramos. These guys all are very talented and it is critical that they get good instruction early on. It does not appear that Eckstein is the answer. Talk about good hitting coaches....a local guy out of Stafford, went to GW....Greg Ritchie. He is the Bucs hitting coach. Maybe Eck can have Greg take a look at all 3 guys. Also Morse hasn't turned on a ball all year and Werth is all screwed up. Not to mention Stairs, Laroche and Haiston.

Anonymous said...

Espinosa has proven in two pretty long stretches now - last year and this year that he can not adjust and hit ML pitching. He has the worst looking at bats on the club and that's saying something. If you remove his mini 2 week hot starts last year and this year before pitchers got a book on him, he has to be batting under .150 the rest of the time. Love his attitude, and his defense but that's not going to cut it without hitting. i can't believe this team is anywhere near .500 with the hundreds of unproductive AB's up and down the line up. How can these guys be this bad? How does Eckstein get a pass? It cannot possibly get worse. This is rock bottom team hitting.

Steve M. said...

Anon, Morse came in as a pinch hitter over the weekend and turned on one that was inches from a walk-off winner.

Espinosa is in a funk. It is in his head and a part of it is a long power swing and swinging at bad pitches. Hard to change a swing during the season so you work on approach and strategy right now. Good coaching strategizes on effective ways to help a guy like this just to change his mindset.

Bowdenball said...

Anonymous 11:26:

How have the Nationals mortgaged a lot of their future on Espinosa, Desmond and Ramos? Two third round draft picks (one actually made by the Expos) and a reliever whose contract is up at the end of this season? I don't even think that constitutes borrowing a twenty from your wife's purse, let alone mortgaging your future.

Kavorka said...

Another mathematical tidbit for everyone:

Espinosa is 2nd (to Werth) on the team in runs scored with 19.


The total runs that Espinosa has contributed to the team (runs scored + RBI - homeruns) is 35 (One Fifth of the total runs scored by the Team), which is first on the team (second is Werth with 30). He may not be hitting well, but he's making his hits count.

Like everyone else, I'd like to see that batting averages of everyone go up, but while hits are great, runs are what really count. True, he needs to improve at the plate, as has the rest of the team. Everyone needs to improve at the plate if we're going to contend, but we're still in every game with our pitching, defense, and some timely hitting.

Patience people... we've been improving each year. The focus of the offseason was pitching and defense... seems like that came with an offensive sacrifice.

Note: For those that may be confused by the formula, you need to subtract the homeruns cause they are counted in both runs scored and RBI.

HHover said...

Bowdenball -

I think Anon @ 11:26 was really just looking to take a swipe at Eckstein, not to convey any actual facts (nor to let them get in the way).

Kavorka -

RBIs are obviously crucial for the team's success, but they don't mean much as a measure of individual performance, since they depend on other people getting on base. (This seems like an elementary point, but since you've brought up RBIs 2x, it seemed worth saying.)

A better way to make the case would be to look at his BA with RISP, where he is hitting better (.292 vs .193 overall), but with such a small sample size it doesn't really mean much.

The Joker said...

If you add Espinosa's average to Bixler's average you have a pretty good second-baseman.

UNTERP.NAT said...

Rumors stirring that the Nationals are working on a situation to get a gold glove and multi-silver slugger in the line-up who's been incognito for several weeks and is looking to join the club in about three weeks. Does anyone have any ideas if he will ignite anything into this dormant hitting ballclub? What are his chances of making it on the Nationals? What position does he play? Who is this mystery player? And will he bring mojo?

natsfan1a said...

For non-Twittering Luddites like me, the Post's Sports Bog has a piece, currently linked to on the left side of this page, about the use of Cee Lo Green's music during the military appreciation segment at a recent game. Evidently there's a newer version that says "Thank you" rather than, um, "Forget you." (Yeah, I'm a bit of a musical Luddite, too, 'cause I didn't know that.)

Unkyd said...

Thanks Bowdenball... The mortgage line was so inappropriate, I was gonna bust chops, but you bailed it, lol...

Looking forward to seeing these guys start hitting, anybody care to hazard a guess as to what the relentlessly dissatisfied will find to moan about, then? I keep hearing MLB types whispering about Riggs, for manager of the year, for staying close to .500, in the face of some adversity. And looking back, from the quarter pole, we could have done LOTS worse than Hairston and Cora, to this point.

There's certainly a lot to botch about, but at least as much to be hopeful about.

GO NATS!!!!!'n

natsfan1a said...

Unterp, might this "mystery" player have moxie as well? I, for one, like moxie. ;-)

Unkyd said...

Nailed.....nailed it....

Steve M. said...

Kavorka - So far this month, I think all of Espi's RBIs were generated by the 2 HRs which goes to this power swing, all or nothing. He has been horrible otherwise with RISP.

The good news is he can turn it around however long-term he will not survive in this league trying to be a power hitter on the left side unless they re-do his swing.

I would be much happier seeing him mirror what Bernadina is doing (now) and let the power hitters do their thing.

Grandstander said...

It really does feel like getting Zim back will be like this huge FA signing or something. Man does this lineup need him.

Will said...

Wait... people are complaining about the 24 year old rookie, when there half a dozen other experienced veterans on the team are producing substantially worse???

Try this on for size:
Adam LaRoche: .591 OPS
Matt Stairs: .392 OPS
Rick Ankiel: .590 OPS
Mike Morse: .614
Ian Desmond: .616
Jerry Hairston: .616
Alex Cora: .524

Danny Espinosa: .651

So while we're demoting Espinosa to work on his swing, perhaps we should send down our entire infield and 2/3rds of our OF as well?

You guys are crazy. Who do you replace Espinosa with? Hairston or Cora?? At this precise moment, Espinosa, despite his troubles, is still a better batter than both of them (see Alex Cora's 2010 OPS- an astounding .544, or the .630 OPS he posted in 2009. Or check out Hairston's .652 OPS last year).

Read up on the scouting reports on Espinosa. He was always expected to strike out quite a bit and not hit for a very high average, but the above average power, ability to take a walk, and plus defense he brings are what make him valuable.

Doc said...

@ UNTERP.NAT, 11:00 AM

I don't enough about what a MLB franchise does, or doesn't do when developing a player in the minors, but like you it's hard to understand how a player can arrive in the Bigs without having rehearsed the basics with bunting, or swing mechanics.

I thought the same last year about Desmond and his fielding in the minors through 6 years!

Isn't that what being in the minors is all about??? What do the coaches/managers do when they are not spitting out sunflower seeds??

Steve M. said...

Unkyd, on other blogs they are calling to trade Marquis -now- so every time you get a "bright" spot they immediately want to trade it before "bright" turns to "dim".

So let's talk about other bright spots. Since Bernadina came up for Ankiel the team is 4-4. Other than getting crushed in Florida last Sunday, the other 3 losses were all by 1 run.

Not sure if Bernadina is a long-term answer but like I said in Spring Training, he needed to be on the Opening Day roster for the intangibles he brings. Here's what I like about him. He is playing small ball. Not trying to hit HRs like he was in Spring Training. He is stealing bases. Getting down bunts. Playing great defense. Driving pitchers and infielders crazy. Sounds like what they wanted Nyjer Morgan to do, huh?

Laynce Nix already surpassed his 2010 HR total w/ 5 so far and he now has 1 walk! Since May 10th has raised his batting average 52 points to .310 and by far the most clutch guy in the month of May.

Adam LaRoche has been a wizard with his glove. I don't know how he does it. Just hope Riggleman can rest him on some of those nasty LH/LH matchup games.

Drew Storen has been effective in starting innings and a quiet leader in the bullpen which overall has been a bright spot.

Todd Coffey has the best Inherited Runner stat on the team. Inherited 7 runners and none have scored. That is stopper stuff compared to Burnett and Slaten who have both allowed over 45% of their inherited runners to score.

Team ERA is 3.69 ranking 6TH in the NL!!!!!!!

Will said...

Steve M.,
You said, "He has been horrible otherwise with RISP."

That's patently false. Batting with RISP, Espinosa is hitting a monstrous, MVP-like .292/.412/.750.

Compare that to the Nats batters with RISP (without Espinosa) and you get an awful .227/.322/.343 slash. The problem here is not Espinosa, it's every other batter not named Ramos and Nix.

Anonymous said...

Will is RIGHT or as some here like to say SPOT ON:

Rizzo SAID that HE knew Espinosa might have some issues adjusting to major league hitting. Rizzo KNEW it might take some time because he is a switch-hitter. Adapting to the majors as a switch-hitter is not all that easy. One can see a decided difference in his comfort level when he bats left (which he does most of the time) versus when he bats right.

Rizzo SAID they were willing to accept Espinosa's struggles at the plate in exchange for sparkling defense which he has in fact provided at second base, while he adapts and learns to hit major league pitching.

What Rizzo probably DID NOT EXPECT was the weak, AAAA hitting lineup of veterans around Espinosa? I mean c'mon. Hairston, Cora, Stairs!!! Ankiel! Every pundit in baseball laughed at that signing. Asked if he was going to pitch in relief? If anyone should be in AAA/AA mentoring prospects for this franchise its Stairs who just "stares" at major league pitching and does absolutely NOTHING else but hog a roster spot ...

NO, Todd Boss H-Rod and Broderick weren't causing losses. Keeping a roster spot for AAAA veterans and especially Stairs DOES. They are not even going to match the record they had last year at this time which does bode well for matching their win total at the end of the year.

If anyone belongs in the minors working on their hitting and fielding its Desmond and NOT Espinosa.

La Roche is injured and its likely his offense will improve much as a result. Pudge is almost 40 ... and perhaps in the beginning of the season he will have some success but after that? Unless Pudge starts taking steroids (which was rumored back in the day).

Morse isn't playing anymore ... Nix is. Werth isn't going to put up 126 million worth of offense. He's not that kind of player. He's not Pujols.

masnstinks said...

I believe at one point Danny was leading in being hit by pitches. That's one way to get on base! It really must be difficult to be a rookie, playing stellar defense, and be a switch hitter. Let's give him this season to pull it all together and be patient with him. At least he has a reason - unlike the well-paid veterans who should know better by now. He's a very talented kid with a lot on his plate.

JD said...

I am reading all these posts and I'm not really sure what anyone's point is anymore. I think 19-21 without Zim is pretty damn good; everything else is over analysis.

UNTERP.NAT said...

JD said...

I am reading all these posts and I'm not really sure what anyone's point is anymore. I think 19-21 without Zim is pretty damn good; everything else is "over analysis".

Where you are right, how boring would it be if we didn't? I'm usually the one defending everyone. Whereas most here vent when the Nationals lose, I vent when they win...

Anonymous said...

With all the modern stats ... sabermetrics? A lot of following baseball is analysis and perhaps over-analysis.

I pretty much knew TB would be neck and neck and perhaps surpass the Yankees and BoSox yet again ... all those 35+ types aren't helping the Yankees and Carl Crawford doesn't look like any better a deal than Werth. And "analysis-wise" and just observing Werth is the better player. Werth is definitely not the spark-plug of an offense ... and he isn't a dominating offensive presence.

Let's face it its about seeing how the rookies and newer players with upside look. Zimmermann, Ramos, Storen, Kimball, Espinosa, Desmond and Bernadina are what this season is all about ... and those that are called up from AAA at some point. And the focus should be on them anyway as they aren't going to get out of last place with Zim or without him?

The value of analysis is determining when to start playing more of these younger players and less of the ancient bench. What is Stairs doing to help this franchise now and in the future? Why is even hogging a roster spot at this point? Why do the Nats need these ancient veterans on their bench? Tampa Bay, again, after letting most of their talent go and acquiring 10 or 12 picks in the first 90 ARE CONTENDERS!? Using young players?

Riggleman's notion that he has have the decrepit veteran bench, decrepit Stairs HURTS the future of this franchise. For evidence one need only look at the Tampa Bay Rays, the Florida Marlins, the Kansas City Royals.

With the Riggleman mantra, as partially revealed in his MASN commercials, this team will never get over .500. Never.

masnstinks said...

Baseball fans thrive on being miserable -- even on the day after a win - a win with offense, defense, baserunning and hustle. At least three times yesterday singles would not have been singles if the runner had not been really hustling. Bernie, Werth and ...who else legged one out? Sorry, I forgot. I really like the strategy this year that neutralizes the gdip. The runner is very often on second by the time the ball is fielded. Oh - and I really love Bo Porter - he is highly energetic and gets right down on the ground coaching like a crazy man! I might like to know more about him, Mark!!

BinM said...

JD: Can't you tell? Rizzo didn't spend money on the right players, Riggleman can't manage his way out a paper bag & filled the roster with a bunch of worthless old farts that Epstein has spent weeks teaching to lay off anything over the plate. Meanwhile, the team has morgaged the future on the likes of Ramos, Espinosa & Desmond, but needs to rush Harper, Kimball & a bunch of others to the majors this year.

Whats not to understand in that?

Tcostant said...

I think the time is getting close to where the hitting coach needs to go. We fired pitching coaches in the past, working with less and doing more with it. He's dead to me.

Feel Wood said...

"What is Stairs doing to help this franchise now and in the future? Why is even hogging a roster spot at this point?"

Putting Stairs on the roster in the first place never really made much sense to me. He's a one-dimensional role player who fits nicely into a hole that this team doesn't have. But now that he's on the roster, my guess is that they're keeping around to serve as DH in the interleague games. Interleague play ends right around the time Zimmerman is due back, so I could easily see Stairs being the one to go to make room for Zim.

Of course, this only makes sense, so Riggleman will do something else entirely. He'll keep Stairs on the bench so that he can give Hairston or Cora or some other light-hitting guy a partial day off by having him DH. Think even Riggleman couldn't be that dumb? Think again. Look at who he used in the DH role last year: Willie Harris(WTF?), Cristian Guzman twice(WTF?), Willingham twice, Dunn twice, Morse once and Zimmerman once - when the obvious solution would have been to DH Dunn every day so Morse's, Dunn's, and Willingham's bats could all have been in the game while Dunn's substandard defense was out. Think that might have had anything to do with the 1-8 road record against AL teams?

UNTERP.NAT said...

Feel Wood said...

Think that might have had anything to do with the 1-8 road record against AL teams?

it's demoralizing thinking about it. However, I give Riggleman a grade of "A" giving the makeup and the play of this team so far this season. He "bailed" everything on the head so far as I'm concerned...

Anonymous8 said...

They aren't going to fire Eckstein mid-season so the brain trust needs to work out of it and batters need to make adjustments.

The Michael said...

Let's all be honest with ourselves here. We are all pointing to the 'up and comers', but the fact of the matter is that not all of them will work out.

At the time, people were raving over names like Lastings Milledge, Emilio Bonifacio and Jesus Flores as 'the future'. How's that working out?

There's a strong likelihood that a couple of the young guys don't work out (Espy, Desmond, Ramos, Kimball, Storen, Detwiler, etc...) whether it be injury, performance, attitude or trade. The positive is that there are more names in the pipeline than there were 2-3 years ago.

That's where Rizzo should be commended. People want to point to the lack of free agent stud acquisitions, but the moves weren't really there to be made. If the young talent becomes consistent producers, then things will change.

But you have to tip your cap to the current regine - all of this without Z and Stras is pretty remarkable.

Matthew S said...

You'll miss me when I'm gone.

Manassas Nats Fan said...

Espinosa just needs to compact his swing a little and he will be fine. Actually it is what most of the team needs to do.

Mark'd said...

Not every prospect or Rookie of the Year are sure things. The Nats have to build and maintain a core of solid performers. 3 weeks ago it was Desmond bashing and now is Espinosa's turn.

I like the list that SteveM gave at 12:53. A lot to be thankful for when you have played all but 8 games without Zim and mind with Strasburg and you are 2 games below .500 and a 73 win pace without those guys.

Bowdenball said...

The Michael:

I agree with your general premise, but one minor correction: I don't think anyone other than my namesake ever raved about Emilio Bonifacio. He was always a slap hitter who couldn't draw a walk or steal bases efficiently. Turning him into two injury-prone seasons of Josh Willingham is more than I would have possibly dreamed we'd get out of him.

JD said...

The Michael,

The middle of the Marlins lineup comprised of Sanchez, Morrison and Stanton (to go with their excellent starters)is what we should be striving to emulate; it's not gonna happen until we have a pipeline of home grown talent and the free agents are used to augment such talent.

We are developing a stable of excellent pitchers which should begin to make it to the big club in a couple of years but other than Harper there are no sure thing position players.

Espinosa, Desmond and Ramos were never sure things and I have been trying to temper the wild expectations every time someone has a great week or 2. At the same time none of them are as bad as they have been over the past few weeks and their struggles are a function of their lack of experience.

We just need to start analyzing large sample sizes not game by game performances; in the end we will see what we have here and what we don't.

JaneB said...

Espinosa is better than a lot of the others and thank you to Will and Kavorka and several Anonomi for pointing that out,

Don't you think the Gold gloves/silver slugger we "could be" getting in three weeks or so is Zimmerman? Either that, or it's someone who won those awards in the 1990s. Who else would come play for us? And what do we have to give up in return? I mean, I love my Nats. I really do. But I don't see the scenario isn which a great hitter and defender ends up with us at this point in the season.

Meanwhile, go Nats!

natsfan1a said...

Yes, I assumed that the reference was to RZ.

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