Friday, May 14, 2010

These guys are legit

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ryan Zimmerman's all-around play is just one reason the Nats are 20-15.
DENVER -- Walking out of Coors Field late last night, a couple of Denver writers were raving to me about the Nationals club that had just thumped the Rockies, 14-6.

"That looks like a pretty good team," one of them said.

We started breaking down the roster and the compliments kept flying. One writer called Ryan Zimmerman "one of the 10 best players in the game right now." Another spoke glowingly of Nyjer Morgan and couldn't understand how the Pirates could have let him go last year. Another guy who has been covering baseball for decades remarked how well-liked and respected Jim Riggleman is around the sport. All agreed Mike Rizzo has done a fantastic job refashioning the roster in his image and ridding the clubhouse of Jim Bowden's underachievers.

All good points, and none of that even included mention of Ivan Rodriguez, Tyler Clippard, Matt Capps, Adam Dunn, Ian Desmond or Stephen Strasburg.

Which got me to thinking: This really is a good team. A great team, no. But a good team, yes.

We're now 35 games into the marathon. By the end of this road trip, the Nationals will have reached the quarter pole of the season. Even if they lose their next five, they'll still come home with a .500 record.

It's time to start thinking of the Nationals as legit. Are there obvious holes and problem areas? Absolutely. The bullpen is still woefully thin. Right field remains a major question mark, Roger Bernadina's recent surge notwithstanding. The rotation is relying on Livan Hernandez, Scott Olsen and Luis Atilano to carry the load, and I'm not sure how long you can realistically continue like that.

But in the grand scheme of things, these are fairly minor quibbles. They may cause members of Red Sox Nation to go into full-blown panic mode. But if this is the worst NatsTown has to worry about right now, life is pretty good.

It's May 14 and the Washington Nationals are leading the NL wild-card race. Their third baseman is one of the best all-around players in the game. Their Hall-of-Fame catcher is batting .367 and before retiring may record his 3,000th career hit while wearing a Nationals uniform. By the end of the night, they may have the league leader in wins (Clippard), saves (Capps) and ERA (Hernandez). And the greatest pitching prospect in a generation will be joining the roster in about three weeks.

Who'd a thunk it?


Bowdenball said...

One writer called Ryan Zimmerman "one of the 10 best players in the game right now."

And so the Bowdenball prophecy time-stamped 8:22 AM is fulfilled.

Nate said...

But are they 2 Legit 2 Quit? And now I have images of the early '90s Atlanta Falcons stuck in my head... I'll see myself out.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I wouldn't call the entire starting rotation a "fairly minor quibble."

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but what does Tracy Ringolsby say? Uh, never mind. He's a twit.

Wally said...

It has been a great 35 games that I have enjoyed tremendously. I enjoy Pudge more than I thought that I would, love the addition of Desmond, and am hopeful about Bernie. But color me in Anon 12:56's camp - the pitching just doesn't seem like something that you can believe in. I have an easier time believing that the bullpen will hold on, or firm up even, than the starting rotation. Livo could revert to 6.00 era form and I don't think that any of us would be shocked, Atilano seems wobbly and I'll bet Lannan is hurt.

But if they hold on until Stras comes up, Olsen stays solid, Stammen gets solid, and they get really lucky with Wang, who knows? Could be pretty cool this summer.

Bowdenball said...

One thing Mark doesn't really touch on here is how much things open up schedule-wise around the same time that Strasburg and Storen are presumably going to arrive. Once they get back from the West Coast road trip at the end of this month things really get smooth- especially if you aren't buying this Reds team that currently has a record like ours.

The first twelve games of June are a dream come true. And the next stretch I'd call "rough" after the west coast trip at the end of May comes at the end of July into early August against the Phils.

Like Wally said- it feels like if we can just "hold on" a little while longer, it could get fun.

Bowdenball said...

"Against the Phils ... and then on the road, including a visit to L.A.", that should read.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget bullpen relief with Storen.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

Not only do I think the Nats are legit, I think the Phu--ing Phillies are illegit. They're hurting. They're just about to shut down Lidge for the season. Cole "But I've Got a Cute Wife" Hamels is not right. And how long can they rely on 147-year-old Jamie Moyer to fill a rotation spot? Forget aiming for the wild card. Let's run down this overrated Phillies club and win the division. I believe in Jesus...

Anonymous said...

To all of us Nats fans from day's almost to much to believe. I'm really giddy about what is happening with this team. I try not to drink to much kool aid because I don't want to fall to hard if its all just a mirage. But, I really do think its not..."just a mirage" JTinSC

Nats fan in NJ said...

I'm still scarred, so my focus is to get through this trip with a winning record. We are 3-1 so far, so just need 2 more of the next 5. Short term focus, because otherwise I'm going to have flash backs to the second half of '05 or the recent playoff implosion of other favorite DC teams.

cadeck13 said...

I am very hopeful. And, it's really nice to hear others saying good things about us and not just referring to us as the "lowly Nats". I love the addition of Desmond and Pudge - really think Pudge has made a big impact on this team's attitude and I'm really hopeful Bernadina is coming on strong to be our RF. I like the never cry "uncle" grit this team has, they really act like they are having fun and are melding together as a team and I think that comes from Riggleman. Ahhh, so hopeful :)

Anonymous said...

The best post here has to be Sunshine_Bobby!

SpringfieldFan said...

This made me think.

I know and you know that this is a good team. We've been watching this team all season, day in and day out, and we know how they play. Yeah, there are weaknesses. But we're getting performance up and down the lineup, and there's a winning attitude that has changed the outlook.

So statements that the team is good should come as no surprise. But coming from non-fans, they are, and I just figured out why:


More than a good team, I want a team that's respected because they're good and because they're going to give the opponent a fight every night. We're not there yet (Chris Ryan, Yahoo Sports 5/13: "Do you believe a team that’s finished under 60 wins two straight seasons is a .500 ball club in that frisky division? Personally, I don’t buy the Nats as anything other than a bottom-feeder.") but these comments by Denver writers show that we're making progress. And the differences in the comments being made about this team are starting to reveal which writers have actually watched the Nats play this season, and which ones are basing their comments on Nats teams past (no names mentioned, Chris Ryan).

Steve M. said...

One writer called Ryan Zimmerman "one of the 10 best players in the game right now."

I just spent some time on the calculator after Zim's big night(6 RBI's) so in the 1st 35 games (which includes all of his missed games and partial games), I wanted to interpolate out his RBI totals.

Based on his pace of 35 games he would end up with 102 RBIs. If you assume, Zim won't miss many more games and projecting 575 ABs for the season, Zim is on pace to knock in 135 RBIs!!!!!!!

Yah, I would say Zim is moving into the elite 3rd baseman in the Majors.

Anonymous said...

To Steve M.

You want to "extrapolate."

Unknown said...

Was watching the Met's Fish game last night before the Nat's started. The Fish announcers were talking about how the Nat's had improved and could not be taken for granted anymore.

Steve M. said...

Anon at 2:02. LOL

Anonymous said...


I agree this a good team, certainly not great by any means, too many holes in various places for that, but they are overachiving, fortunately for them the NL appears to be having its worst year in recent memory so while the big boyd duke it out in the AL, almost anyone can win the NL crown, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here, this team, which can hopefully stay intact and improve in the offseason is really in contention for 2011 or 2012 playoff spot with the return of the Zimm Reaper and Wang from surgery, the maturation of Storen and Strasburg from rookies to veterans and the addition of a legitmate hitting AND fielding RF gives me high hopes!!

Doc said...

I think that the Nats BP will get better, with the supporting cast reinforcing Captain Capps sand the the Yankee Clipper. There's still some support down on the farm with 2 or 3 guys, not counting Storen.

The rotation is still suspect. SS should make the rotation stronger, but he'll be limited to going the distance and finishing the season. Its not like the Phillies will be shutting down Roy Halladay in August.

Lannan looks to be on life-support. Wang and Detwiler are just big question marks. Can Olsen keep doing what he's doing? Atilano hasn't been through the league yet. Stammen flashes hot and cold. Livo is somethin' else, and hopefully can continue to display his magic with putting batters bones out of socket.

Offense and defense are the Nats consistent strengths. Ian Desmond continues to save a lot of pitchers' asses. He and Zim probably form the best defensive left sided infield in baseball.

Steve M. said...

Anon at 2:08, great debate point, are they overachieving or have they been chronic underachievers in the past?

Last September, I thought 2011 was the year as I was looking at how well this team performed then. I figured just with Strasburg and JZim they would have 2 top line starters and the Nyjer factor was undeniable and the glimpses of Desmond in September were a big hope.

So, I think this team has a legit chance this year based on where they are now, where they will be with Strasburg/Storen in June and then a little bit of luck with Marquis and Wang and a Rizzo trade for that RF, this team can make a run this year.

This is why Rizzo has to pull the trigger on ADunn for a 2 to 3 year deal now to lock him up to keep the pieces together.

cadeck13 said...

Respect - yes!

Anonymous said...

I too think that with this staff every game is a crapshoot. Maybe I'll have to relent and five Riggo credit for handling them.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the nats could pull off a trade of this magnitude. I think we need one solid Ace SP to get us through the year and into the playoffs

...Mr. Zach Grienke?

Anonymous said...

Anyone like the idea of letting Dunn walk and targeting Adrian Gonzales in the offseason?

natscan reduxit said...

"Which got me to thinking: This really is a good team."

... glad you jumped aboard the bandwagon, Mark. And none too soon; it's getting crowded. In no time there won't be any room left.

Go Nats!!

Wally said...

Here is a kind of related point - related only by putting this prideful feeling we all have now in contrast to last year. My point, in a too long post below, is that I will always like Jim Riggleman a lot, and so long as he doesn't take a machete to Strasburg's arm, will want to see him managing the Nats. Here is why.

Last year around this time was the lowest of lows for being a Nats fan - all of you know what I am talking about. Worst team in baseball two years running, and they weren't just losing, but the way they lost was humiliating; Smileygate, not signing Crow, Bowden, Natinals, Acta's refusal ever to go out on a limb publicly for his team ... all these things were very embarrassing to the Nationals, and by extension made it painful to be an acknowledged fan of the team. I felt, figuratively speaking, like I was sitting in a dark room with my head in my hands, hoping no one would notice me.

So into that bleak environment, they fire Acta, and name Riggleman. I didn't know much about him although I loosely remembered him from the Cubs, so I did some digging and he seemed like a solid baseball guy; not Joe Torre maybe, but clearly a respected guy. And he stands up and goes 'you know, this is my dream job. I grew up in Rockville, still think about the area as home, grew up a Senators fan, and there is no job in baseball that I would rather have." Not the usual pablum about doing the best we can, we have a long road ahead of us, blah, blah, blah. But 'this is where I want to be'. I actually couldn't believe that someone with a good reputation would say that about us right then!

And oddly, I believed him (odd because I am usually a cynic when people say things like that), and felt a high degree of, I dunno ... gratitude? Gratitude that a solid baseball guy would stand up at a pretty dark time and publicly line up on our side? So maybe, by extension, I wasn't a complete moron for liking this team? And then, lo and behold, after starting off like it was the same old thing, the team actually started playing respectably, and has just kept getting better. Realistically, the path towards respectability probably started when Rizzo took over and management started acting like grown ups, but symbolically speaking, I trace it back to Riggs' appointment.

The stat world, which I admit to dabbling in for fun at times, can say all they want about reversion to the mean, pythag expectations and that manager's do not affect the outcome of a game all that much, but I don't care. Riggleman couldn't have known any of it would work out the way it did when he stepped up, and so I am a Riggs guy.

Just don't blow up the young guns!

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

@Wally: You are exactly right, and are not alone. I thought those very same thoughts when Riggs went out on that lonely limb. You nailed it exactly. The improvement probably began, imperceptibly, when Rizzo took over. But the tangible improvement is showing under Riggs. Plus, the guy is a TREMENDOUS tactical manager. How he twisted Tracy into biting for the left-hander last night so that Goozie would come up as a right-handed pinch-hitter last night in the 8th was a classic. Riggs might be the manager of the year in MLB this year; but for going out on the limb when nobody was in our corner last year, he's my manager of the year forever.

natscan reduxit said...

Anon 2:08 says, " ...the NL appears to be having its worst year in recent memory .. while the big boys duke it out in the AL ..."

... I agree, and I hate it, hate it, I tell you! I'm old enough to know why they call it the Junior Circuit, old enough to remember that baseball means everyone plays the field and everyone comes to bat.

... yes, it's a losing battle (maybe even a battle that's already lost) but the struggle against the DH is a battle I'll keep fighting ... just like Monty Python's Black Knight.

Go Nats!!

dale said...

Good post, Wally. I agree with everything you expressed. This team was rudderless last year until the firing of Acta. You could see it in the body language on the field and in the press conferences afterwards. Riggleman, beyond anything else, actually started molding a "team" as soon as he started making them take defensive drills every day before games. I think the players were crying out for a leader and Manny was....well, being Manny. They needed someone who would fight for them, dare them to take risks, and take charge from the front step of the dugout. They got their man, and so did we.

Doc said...

I too think that this positive progression started with getting a grip on defense. It was too long overlooked and ignored. Its the defense that has made the pitching look good, when it deserved to look good.

kc21 said...

The starting pitching is my biggest concern. I think Storen is going to help give us a 3rd late inning reliever we can trust. The minors seem to have a couple of potential helpers as well (Peralta?). But, the other factor will be former starters who get bumped out of the rotation helping in the bullpen. This would be the dream scenario:

June: Strasberg takes spot in rotation -> Lannon goes on IR
July: Wang takes spot in rotation -> Atilano goes to bullpen
Late July: Detwiler takes spot in rotation -> Stammen goes to bullpen
August: Marquis takes spot in rotation -> Detwiler goes to bullpen
Sept: Zimmermann takes spot in rotation -> Marquis goes to bullpen

Final Rotation: 1 - Strasberg, 2 - Livan, 3 - Wang, 4 - Zimmermann, 5 - Olsen

Andrew said...

Wally said...So into that bleak environment, they fire Acta, and name Riggleman. I didn't know much about him although I loosely remembered him from the Cubs, so I did some digging and he seemed like a solid baseball guy; not Joe Torre maybe, but clearly a respected guy.

Wally, you had me at "Hello" then lost me when you mentioned Joe. Joe Torre's managerial record before the Yankees was not great. He couldn't do a thing with mediocre teams. Give a AA manager that can handle egos the Yankees and they will at least get you a winning record. Give Joe Torre any other team besides the Yankees, and he will never get them a World Series. So much for what I think of the luckiest Manager on the face of the earth.

Give me Tony LaRussa, Jim Leyland and especially Joe Maddon, and yes, Jim Riggleman.

Here's what gets me. There weren't too many people behind Jim Riggleman as the choice last year so it is nice now that he is getting the respect. People were talking Bobby Valentine and others and not many pulling for Riggs which so many thought was a Lerner being cheap pick.

Jim got shafted by the Cubs in 1999 and even the Mariners in 2008 only used him for mop up. With interim titles until this year, Jim was out of full-time managing for 10 years which is like an eternity in a Manager's career and maybe the longest stretch of not managing (not sure if that is true).

What I always liked about Jim was that he would try to get the most out of his players and tell them the right way to play baseball. There is a good back-story on Riggleman and Sammy Sosa in 1997 going at it as he wouldn't back down from the team's star.

Read Page #87 for a glimpse:

He took the Cubs to the playoffs in 1998 and after a so-so 1999 was fired by them. Thanks but what have you done for me lately. Dan Radison can tell you some good stories from the old days.

So when the Nats got rid of Frank Robinson in 2006, I called one of Jim Riggleman's brothers to see if Jim would want his name thrown in the hat for the job and I emailed Stan Kasten and he responded kindly. At that time, Jim was out of managing for 7 years and in the Minor League system with the Cardinals and I figured off everyone's radar. Obviously he wasn't hired then, and it is funny how things work out.

aspenbubba said...


Any news on Lannans elbow? I am hoping "no news is good news".

Jon Vedamuthu said...

Yeah, yeah, accuse me of plagiarism, but I wrote these words elsewhere this morning:

"In case you haven't noticed, and judging by attendance you haven't, the Nationals have managed to win a few here and there and are threatening to climb...into first place(!?)."

After watching them confound the Mets, I decided I really like this team.

SBrent said...

Hey, Mark,

Speaking of legit, this site continues to be awesome. My guess is that there was an initial wave of contributions when you first announced you were going to keep this going through the regular season, but that flood probably slowed to a trickle. Don't be bashful about letting us all know if the cashbox for covering your costs starts to get thin. I'm sure as the excitement for this team builds, the fanbase will be more willing than ever to help cover the cost of keeping this Best-By-Far source of Nationals news healthy. Yeah, I know that little contribute button is always there up at the top right hand corner, and I've paid up for the season subscription. But don't hesitate to launch another pledge drive if the first wave contributions don't hold up for the long season. I suspect a lot of us could throw a few more shekels onto the pile if we knew that it was needed. On the other hand, if you've still got a King Midas treasury saved up from the first burst of enthusiasm...don't mind me! I'll just keep enjoying this fine journalistic feast.

Anonymous said...

Every single time we watch Baseball Tonight my wife and I say to each other, "man, I am so glad the Nats didn't hire Bobby Valentine."

Joe said...

I think this team will go as far as the bullpen takes them. Starting pitching, all things considered, isn't a big concern - what team doesn't worry about the back end of the rotation? There are guys in the system who can be plugged into the back end of the rotation if necessary. But the bullpen... it's been great so far, but they'll wear down at this rate. I'd feel a lot better about it if they'd occasionally get 2-3 innings out of their relievers (aside from Clippard).

The hitting is going to be there - Pudge won't hit .380 for the year, but right field won't be mired at .180, either. I'm impressed with Desmond, and other than right field the only worry is second base. Even so - Guzman isn't the best player on the team, but he'll get blazing hot at least once this summer, and with Kennedy on the roster you don't have to live through Guzman's droughts.

Mark Zuckerman said...

SBrent: Thanks for the kind words, and I appreciate the sentiment. For now, I'm in decent shape. Haven't made enough yet to make it through the whole season. But I'm good for a while, and if funds continue to come in at the rate I project, I'm hopeful to be able to pull this off.

Of course, the way things are going I may need to start up the postseason travel fundraiser! :)

nattydread said...

Totally agree with Wally's post.

Give Riggleman credit. It went unnoticed that the Nats won their last 7 games last year. It takes a motivator to get a team on its knees to gut it out at the end of a horrible season.

A DC Wonk said...

Yes, Riggs deserves a lot of credit -- but lots not forget who engineered all this: Rizzo -- who has spent his whole life (as his father did) in baseball. He came in a wiped up the Smileygate and Dominican Republic mess, he's the one who negotiated Strasburg's contract (staring down Boras, and causing Boras to blink with 77 seconds left on the signing deadline), etc etc.

All hail Rizzo, the architect of this up and coming team!

Tim said...

Hey Mark....

I also believe they are legit. Competitive teams usually have a number one guy and that guy right now is Livo. Bullpen work also is a crap shoot and usually they depend on one or two players. It will be nice to see if Storen can lessen the load.

I actually like what the right fielders are doing. They are playing defense and I think that is part of the formula that Riggs is using. Just because tradition says you need this or that. All you need it to play sound baseball and the right fielders are doing that with the leather. It is kinda like what the "old" school shortstops use to do. Anything on the offense is gravey.

We all know in this area Zim is Zim!

Keep up the great work Mark!

natsfan1a said...

Speaking of Livo, the guys on MLB Network had the Livo-Ubaldo matchup as their fave of the night (before it was rained out), and they had some good words for the team generally.

And I absolutely agree with DC Wonk re. Rizzo's contribution.

Anonymous said...

If the Nats do decide to trade for a starter for a stretch run, Cliff Lee is the guy I want. The guy is a proven playoff winner and he has a score to settle with Philly. Seattle is going nowhere and we have organizational depth. Derek Norris could be offerred up if we draft Harper.

Anonymous said...

Wally World!
Yeah, U wright!

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