Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Almost halfway to finishing the job

US Presswire photo
Bryce Harper congratulates Ryan Zimmerman on his fifth-inning homer.
They have every reason right now to pat themselves on the back, to go watch fireworks explode over the National Mall knowing they've got the best record in the NL by three games and the best record in the NL East by 4 1/2 games.

On Independence Day, a traditional milepost during the baseball season, the Washington Nationals are 15 games over .500, thanks to a 9-4 pasting of the previously red-hot San Francisco Giants.

Surely, someone inside the clubhouse on South Capitol Street is gloating over all this. Right?

"We don't really think about it," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We enjoy playing. Literally, just go out every day to play, and the goal is to win each series. ... There's a lot of season left. What we've done so far is great, but it doesn't mean anything until we finish the job."

For three months, the Nationals have played well enough to put themselves in this position. Now, with the season about to transition from Phase 1 to Phase 2, they can start focusing on finishing that job.

If they need a road map for success, they need only look back at the last week's worth of games, because this team is firing on all cylinders at the moment. A lineup that struggled to produce on a nightly basis has averaged 8.6 runs and 13.4 hits over its last eight games (the last five of those against quality pitching staffs from Atlanta and San Francisco).

The pitching staff has perhaps regressed a tad during that span, but as a whole that unit has continued to perform well enough to take advantage of all that run support and win six of its last eight games.

"It's no secret to us in here," said right-hander Edwin Jackson, today's beneficiary. "We know what these guys are capable of. The last week or so, they've been showing what they can really do."

Production has come from nearly every position in the lineup, but Davey Johnson knows where this all begins.

"I always put it back to the middle of the lineup," the manager said. "Those are the guys who are your best hitters, and when they struggle it has an effect on everybody else trying to do too much, trying to pick it up. ... But when they're doing their thing, everybody else is just looking for a pitch to hit hard and, consequently, you get better pitches to hit and you're a better hitter."

Thus, the lion's share of the credit continues to be heaped upon Zimmerman and Michael Morse. Over their last 10 games, that duo is hitting .391 with six doubles, seven homers and 25 RBI.

Both sluggers were at it again today. Zimmerman came within inches of a three-run homer to left in the bottom of the third, settling instead for an RBI double. Two innings later, he cleared the fence in right-center, a two-run blast. Morse immediately followed with his own opposite-field homer, one of four the Nationals hit in this game.

With the heart of the lineup raking at the plate, everyone else feels less pressure to carry the load. Which leads to all-around efforts like this one, which saw Ian Desmond deliver a two-run single, Rick Ankiel deliver a two-run homer and backup catcher Jhonatan Solano (now hitting .393) deliver a solo blast.

Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper, meanwhile, each reached base three times, setting the stage for the big boys behind them.

"I've said it all along: It's hard to shuffle the lineup all around and have guys doing different things all year and be consistent," Zimmerman said. "Now that we're starting to get healthy and people are starting to find out what their roles are, it's a lot easier to get comfortable. And we're scoring a lot more runs."

Feeling more confident in their own ability to score runs, the Nationals don't worry so much when they give up a few early runs. There was a time not long ago when Jackson's three-run top of the first would have created an insurmountable deficit. Not anymore.

"There's no way that this offense was going to be cold all year," Jackson said. "It's just a matter of time before they get hot, and they've been in a groove and showing what they've been able to do."

And so the Nationals find themselves today in a position unfamiliar to most around these parts. Yes, the inaugural 2005 Nats also held a 4 1/2-game lead on Independence Day, but that team built around fading veterans collapsed shortly thereafter.

This team doesn't feel the same. This team has believed since Day One it could win. And now the rest of the baseball world is catching on.

"You look back at the beginning of the year, and we all talked about it," Morse said. "And now, the same people that asked the questions are coming back, and you give them the: 'I told you!' kind of thing.

"There's a lot of baseball left. What's good about this team is we really don't know how good this team can be. I think that's what makes us so great: The sky's the limit."

84 comments:

Constant Reader said...

This is so much fun. So much fun.

GYFNG!

Get Some Players said...

This is gonna be a powerhouse lineup when Werth comes back. Actually it already is but will be even more powerful.

Anyone know when he is expected back?

baseballswami said...

As much as I like the talent on this team, I like the attitude even more. Hard-working, humble, level-headed ,unselfish. This has been so nice to watch every day. Not easy, but exciting.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Man I love watching the Fish implode.

NatsLady said...

Josh Johnson just walked in a run in the second inning... Ozzie looks, I dunno, perplexed. Ghost, is there video of the Ozzie rant somewhere?

DeRosa does not belong in RF. At all. Watching him out there was the anti-Werth.

Johnson getting hammered, but the Fish defense is not helping.

NatsJack in Florida said...

NatsLady......ESPN had it last night. Check them.

NatsLady said...

Did we find out who organized the bullpen socks today? It was cool.

Faraz Shaikh said...

is it this one? http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22820793&c_id=mlb

original Nats Fan said...

this team is so much fun to watch. I remember the 100 loss teams. When they had a lead,I just wondered how they were going to lose the game: blown save, throwing error, bad pitching, etc. Now, even if they're behind a few runs, I just think, how will they win this one. Most of the time they do. I bet Zim is really enjoying the ride.

baseballswami said...

Amen to that!

NatsLady said...

Interesting stats from MLB.com. BTW, the Giants are fine ones to be talking about a "quirky" park.

Given AT&T Park's pitcher-friendly dimensions, the Giants' renowned staff can be expected to thrive at home. But the disparity between their home and road results is noticeable. They entered Wednesday ranked 11th in the NL with a 4.57 road ERA, which grew to 4.70 after Washington's shellacking.

By contrast, the Nationals own a league-best 3.25 road ERA, which bodes well for their chances if they reach the postseason. The next three lowest road ERAs belong to teams that happen to be postseason contenders: Cincinnati (3.37 entering Wednesday), Arizona (3.41) and Atlanta (3.67).

Three Giants starters rank among the NL's top 10 in home ERA: Ryan Vogelsong (second, 1.43), Bumgarner (sixth, 1.88) and Cain (ninth, 2.01). Their road ERAs look vastly different, from Cain (3.18) to Vogelsong (3.54) and Bumgarner (4.43).

Positively Half St. said...

I love watching the Fish implode, as well, and I am amazeed that they are about to pull off a trade for the fat has-been Carlos Lee. Please give Houston a whole lot of prospects, Miami. I hope Lee comes unwillingly, and further poisons your well.

+1/2St.

jw said...

Maybe it's a warm up for turn back the clock

jw said...

Clarifying -- maybe the bullpen high socks are a warm up for turn back the clock.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Carlos Lee to the Fish for 2 prospects. That's gonna shore up the Fish defense.

baseballswami said...

Interesting player to add to the witch's brew that is the Marlins. I find myself not terrified.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Carlos Lee and Ozzie Guillen.....best buddies.

See ya later Gabby Sanchez.

NatsLady said...

Carlos Lee picked Miami over LA??? Does Ozzie have dirty pix or something?

Giancarlo not going to the All-Star game. Is this for real?

According to Stanton the injury occurred Monday when he was standing in the outfield: “I was getting my legs and arms ready, just to throw somebody out, anticipating it, and bending my legs it kind of just locked up on me.”

The Kid may get to go after all.

baseballswami said...

Stanton is awfully young to have such chronic knee problems. Football?

NatsLady said...

I can't believe how long the Mets have hung in there, they have the worst bullpen in MLB, and 4th worst D (if you go by "errors.")

The barrage [of runs today] lifted the Mets’ bullpen ERA to 5.11 on the season. MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo pointed out that it’s more than one-third of a run worse than that of the next worst bullpen.

SonnyG10 said...

Don't care who the other teams get. Our mantra: "Yea though I walk through the valley of the Shadow of Death, I fear no evil, for I am the meanest s.o.b. in the valley!"

NatsLady said...

swami, I had the same thought, Stanton sounds like an old man, as if he has Chipper's knees. Did he play football?

NatsLady said...

The Milwaukee announcers don't approve of Lee's choice. "If he want to LA he would have a chance to go to the postseason." Shows you what they think of the Fish...

natsfan1a said...

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!! That was a fun morning, er afternoon, er, day at the park.

btw, as Solano's dinger at-bat started, I said, "time for a fun run from the Onion." The rest is history. You're welcome. :-)

Confidential to Mick: I was keeping track in case I needed to repost your prediction from June 25, as you'd suggested I should do when you were proved right, but it looks like I won't need to do that after all. Hope that you're as happy about that development as I am. ;-)

baseballswami said...

NL -- I think he was offered a football scholarship to some prestigious program and decided to play baseball instead. I have heard their announcers talk about it.

realdealnats said...

Re: Trade Deadline Starting Pitchers

Jason Reid says/implies go for Greinke w/o going on record for what it would take to get him. So....I want him too but at what cost...

Peric goes on the record re: Greinke:
They'll want JZimmnn ... Rizzo will say no and offer Detwiler, Wang, Lannan, Drew Storen, Nate Karns, and perhaps Lombardozzi or Kobernus. It could end up being excruciatingly painful in the end ... which is why I hope they follow the original premise and not pull the trigger unless Grienke signs an extension.

Assuming the deal only gets done w/an extension, do we want to give up Det, Storen, and Lombo? And would that even get it done?

Is this really a deal we want to make? And if so, how many years do we want to sign either EJax or Greinke for? Assuming that Purke and/or Meyer and/or one of the other young guns will be up in the next 2 -2.5 years.

natsfan1a said...

Okay, so I'll also repost my anti-home run call.

natsfan1a said...

btw, I suppose I also owe Ankiel an apology. Before his dinger, I'm saying to my husband, Bernie had better run, because Ankiel won't move him over. He'll just swing at three pitches out of the zone and K. The next noise we heard was this: AOOOGAA!! AOOGAA!! Oops. Oh, well. I can't call them all, can I? :-D
July 04, 2012 6:07 PM

Eugene in Oregon said...

NatsLady, According to MLBTR, one reason Carlos Lee didn't want to go to the Dodgers was because of California's state income tax (vs. none in Texas and, I believe, none in Florida). I guess if you're in a high-enough tax bracket you have to worry about those things...

NatsLady said...

Apparently the Marlins were not on Carlos Lee's list of no-trade teams, so he didn't have much choice. I guess. He played for Ozzie in 2004 on the White Sox.

Marlins just tied it up 5-5 in the 7th. TV just showed some fan patting his tummy in rhythm with "God Bless America."

Milwaukee announcer, "The Nats are not just for real, they're good." #respect!

Positively Half St. said...

That is an interesting thought about Lee, but I wonder how Houston picking up the cost of the contract would have affected it. If he gets checks from Houston, is he still being paid as a California employee? Probably- I can't imagine California allowing such a loophole to stand.

Money is clearly more important than a chance to go to the playoffs for some.

+1/2St.

Positively Half St. said...

Brewers back up, 6-5. As much as I dislike the team of Morgan and Braun, I really would love the Nats to be up 10 on the Fish.

+1/2St.

Firm Possession, My Gorsehacken Sofa said...

Halfstreet, according to MLBTR, the Dodgers would have made up the difference if he'd been willing to play in LA. if that's so, then it would seem he just plain didn't want to go there. Maybe he really likes that home run thingee and wants to set it off.

Eugene in Oregon said...

+1/2St.,

As I understand it, state taxes are paid based on where the games are played, not where the checks come from. In Lee's case, a trade to the Dodgers would have meant that roughly half of his remaining games would have been taxed at CA's -- presumably high -- rate (actually a bit more than half, given the games he would have played in San Diego and San Francisco). By staying in Texas (or, as is now happening, going to Florida), roughly half will be played in a state with no income tax.

NatsLady said...

Not that it means much, but first time the Nats have been over 80% to be in the playoffs.

Nats odds

http://www.coolstandings.com/baseball_team.asp?id=WAS

NatsJack in Florida said...

Eugene.... it#'s based on where your employer is based. I work in alot of states that have state income tax but but am not subject to their tax because I am paid in Florida.

NatsJack in Florida said...

It's also based on residence.

baseballswami said...

Which is probably why so many maintain residences in Florida.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Can't wait to watch the post game show on the Marlins broadcast.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Oooops... Gabby Sanchez ties it up with 2 outs in the 9th.

NatsLady said...

oooops, guess Gaby Sanchez didn't like the trade! Just tied it up with a dinger off the Axman.

baseballswami said...

The marlins need a little more controversy. Don't you think?

NatsLady said...

And off they go to extra innings. I love our bullpen I love our bullpen I love our bullpen, did I mention I love our bullpen?

baseballswami said...

They are pretty special. I think we are spoiled.

natsfan1a said...

Our whole team is pretty special.

Gonat said...

Nice read and liked the quotes.

Gonat said...

Heath Bell in and Corey Hart swings at the first pitch.

Eugene in Oregon said...

NatsJack,

I'm not an accountant, but I'm pretty sure there are some special rules/law for sports (and, I believe, entertainment) that don't apply to the average person. While the average business employee may not have to pay taxes in a state where they're just traveling for a conference or even a project, I'm pretty sure ballplayers end up paying a pro-rated share of their income based on where they 'earn' it (i.e., the cities in which they play the games). Ditto golfers and the like. And, I think, ditto entertainers. See this LATimes article for some details:

http://articles.latimes.com/2009/apr/12/sports/sp-jock-tax12

According to it, in 2007, for example, California picked up over $100m in taxes from visiting (not resident) athletes, given the number of sports franchises and games played.

Gonat said...

Sounds like the Carlos Lee trade was mostly a salary dump. Nats need to grab Wandy while Houston is dealing.

Gonat said...

Eugene, you are correct but Texas like Florida doesn't have state income tax.

Firm Possession, My Gorsehacken Sofa said...

Sounds like the Carlos Lee trade was mostly a salary dump.

Sounds like playing for the Dodgers is a bit of a salary dump in itself.

peric said...

Is this really a deal we want to make? And if so, how many years do we want to sign either EJax or Greinke for? Assuming that Purke and/or Meyer and/or one of the other young guns will be up in the next 2 -2.5 years.

Right now Purke, Solis and Meyer are even close to sure things to make the majors. Look how long it took for 1st round pick Detwiler to finally make it? And the jury is still out on him as well. Grienke provides proven top-of-the-rotation major league starting pitching ... that's why you sign him.

The pain comes because of the profound loss of depth in the organization. When that happens a team could end up twisting in the wind with a rash of injuries. And top prospects are top prospects for a reason, because there's a decent chance they could become top major league players and perhaps stars.

Although Rizzo and his organization pride themselves on finding, signing and developing young talent. Their philosophy also says they go for the proven major league talent ... BUT they are also pretty picky. They only want the very best when they deal their young prospects
.

peric said...

This is gonna be a powerhouse lineup when Werth comes back. Actually it already is but will be even more powerful.

Werth only steals at bats from young prospects, talent that improves daily while his continues to erode. If anything they may go backward with Werth in the lineup. Who you would you rather have Tyler Moore or Werth? Steve Lombardozzi or 34 year old Werth? Because that's the choice you are making? Its almost like starting DeRosa over those two.

peric said...

And yes I firmly believe signing Werth was a contradiction of the Nats current player acquisition and development philosophy. I still suspect this was Boras doing a great sell job (he has tons of power point slides, stats, etc. that he presents) to ownership and especially Ted. Rizzo may not have been all in on it ... he may have been okay with it because at the time there really wasn't anyone in the minors close to ready ... the length of the contract and the no-trade clause were both major blunders.

baseballswami said...

I hear all the stuff about DeRosa in the clubhouse, how he had been in the post season. But last time I checked, we didn't keep people on the roster to be buddies with the young'uns. I just don 't see him or Nady staying in favor of Lombo or Moore. Werth, yes, the two of them, no.

Firm Possession, My Gorsehacken Sofa said...

2-1 Cubs over the Barves, top of 5. Go Cubs Go!

Gonat said...

TyMo is no longer locked in. It was bound to happen. I hope he is the real deal and get back on track.

Gonat said...

Sofa, Barves? Is that like Barfes?

Gonat said...

NatsJack, it was just announced that Gabby Sanchez was optioned back to AAA. And BTW, thanks for the HR today.

baseballswami said...

They do make me barf sometimes.

Firm Possession, My Gorsehacken Sofa said...

Gonat, it's a meme.

baseballswami said...

Gonat - that clubhouse must have some great morale going right now.

Firm Possession, My Gorsehacken Sofa said...

Werth only steals at bats from young prospects, talent that improves daily while his continues to erode.

The chances of his sitting, on the other hand, are as intact as ever, asymptotically approaching zero. Ain't gonna happen. Just ain't. Feel free to waste pixels on it, it's a free country.

peric said...

The chances of his sitting, on the other hand, are as intact as ever, asymptotically approaching zero. Ain't gonna happen. Just ain't. Feel free to waste pixels on it, it's a free country.

I wouldn't quite go that far ... I would say the day he starts hitting .081 to .114 ala DeRosa is the day Ted is convinced that its best for the team if he mans the bench. That day could come sooner than you might believe sofa.

Firm Possession, My Gorsehacken Sofa said...

Soriano throws out Chipper at the plate to end the sixth, with the would-be tying run. Still 2-1, Cubs.

And yes, it could come sooner. "That's why they play the games."

MicheleS said...

1A.. Comment From the instant analysis. GUILTY.. When Ankiel came up I thought GREAT he is going to strike out! Eating that crow tasted really good today.

baseballswami said...

Jayson Werth is not going to be able to just walk onto the field and play every inning of every game. I sincerely hope they don't make the same mistake they have made repeatedly this year and bring him back after 10 minor league at bats. Mike Morse and Brad Lidge both showed how badly that works out. In mid-August it will be too tiring when everyone else is in baseball shape and we will be in the thick of the race at that point and can't afford to have him rehabbing on the field.

MicheleS said...

And for those of you that will be going to the day games this weekend. In section 202 in the conference rooms back there, they opened them up and had Cool Rooms. AC and water! It was great. Please take advantage especially in this heat!

Firm Possession, My Gorsehacken Sofa said...

Fireworks done here, but not in Atlanta. Cubs up 5-1, with 2 outs in the top of the 8th.

baseballswami said...

I distinctly remember several years when I thought we would never get to 50 wins. This is just so much better. Sometimes I just have to pinch myself because it doesn't seem real. We are almost there at mid- season.

MicheleS said...

Swami even though I was at the game.. I am watching the replay on MASN.. It still good even a 2nd time through. I am pinching myself as well! (in the replay, Zimmy and Beast just went back to back!)

baseballswami said...

Can't stop smiling. Best fireworks ever. Zim does love his holidays.

SonnyG10 said...

OK, I think I'll go watch a replay of today's game. Just can't get enough of watching the Nats win.

Firm Possession, My Gorsehacken Sofa said...

Braves go 5 down on July 4, Cubs win 5-1. Marlins lose, Mets lose to the Phils. Good day!

Chevy Chase Bob said...

Braves lose!

Firm Possession, My Gorsehacken Sofa said...

Excuse me, Braves are six out.

Dryw Loves the Nats said...

Yeah, I could watch this one again. This is just too much fun!!! (Not literally....I can deal with the fun, I swear....)

Drew said...

Debbie Downer alert:

Rosenbaum got hammered again, giving up five earned in six innings. His ERA is up to 3.41.

Alex Meyer left the Hagerstown game after throwing two hitless innings. Sure hope that was planned.

The good news is that the hitters keep hitting. The Nats have some promising bats on the farm aside from Rendon.

In 14 games at Potomac, ss-3b Jason Martinson has four homers and 14 RBIs. The guy he replaced, Zach Walters, is hitting .344 since his promotion to Harrisburg.

At Hagerstown, Brian Goodwin has a smoking .450 on base percentage to go with his .327 batting average.

With his 19th homer tonight, Matt Skole has 70 RBIs in 79 games.

NatsLady said...

Seeing 103 predicted for Saturday's game, with heat index of possible 110, right up there with ATL last week. And here we go with the 4:05 start--presumably due to Fox exclusive window for later starts.

(Friday "only" 100 and 7:05 start).

Be careful out there, people. And players, too. :)

baseballswami said...

Ugh. This is our payback for a winter with no snow.

NatsLady said...

Nice Nats article. Baseball "experts" starting to realize Rizzo might actually, y'know, do what he said he was gonna do. (The previous article also sort of cool, Nats to fans--don't vote for our guy.)

Note Davey in his presser is already thinking about what pitcher(s) will work best for him in the September schedule, absent Stras. Wonder if he is thinking trade or who is in Syracuse, or who in the BP could start?

NatsLady said...

Oh, sorry, here is the link to the article. Also another Boz love article is up, but I'm sure you know where to find that...

Washington-Nationals-a-cinch-to-make-first-playoff-appearance

http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/Washington-Nationals-a-cinch-to-make-first-playoff-appearance-070412

DWS said...

Just watched the game for a second time and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Re: Jayson, he must really want to be a part of this and I think he knows that he's got to get his reps (in the minors) to contribute. If he plays to his career average when he comes back the Nat's will be really scary.
Love the link Natslady.

Laddie Blah Blah said...

Davey and the heart of the order are getting all the credit, but no one is thanking the guy with the syringe and the cortisone. Has a single shot of pain-killer ever had such an effect on an entire team? Zim's resurgence has sparked the whole offense.

Firm Possession, My Gorsehacken Sofa said...

Laddie, it certainly hasn't hurt. Well, the shot hurt; those hurt like the dickens. But yes, the medical staff that catches so much [flak] every time somebody gets hurt hasn't gotten any love in here, aside from my own post a while back. Don't make me go look it up, please. I swear I did that.

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