Saturday, July 31, 2010

Thriving while surrounded by chaos

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Adam Dunn scores -- and avoids a collision with Carlos Ruiz -- in the fifth inning.
So, let's recap the events of the last four days in NatsTown, shall we?

Stephen Strasburg goes on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

Matt Capps gets traded to the Twins.

Cristian Guzman gets traded to the Rangers.

Adam Dunn trade rumors reach a fever pitch.

Oh yeah, and the Nationals take three of four from the top two teams in their division, capped by tonight's 8-1 thumping of Roy Oswalt and the Phillies.

Maybe these guys just need to have chaos surrounding them in order to play well.

Or maybe they're just really good at blocking out the peripheral stuff that consumes everyone else this time of year.

"I think our guys are able to put that stuff away and play the game," Jim Riggleman said. "I'm sure they think about that stuff on the drive home or when they get home. You can't help but think about it. You read the papers, and you know a lot of the speculation that's on the networks. It's on guys' minds, but they're pros and they've been through this before. They know how to handle it, and they've handled it very well."

They certainly handled it well today, a day that began with the realization Capps had been traded, then a barrage of rumors involving Dunn, then the departure of Guzman (the only original 2005 National to play uninterrupted for the franchise over the last 5 1/2 years) right before batting practice. After all that, all they had to do was take on the Phillies and their newest acquisition, Oswalt, who strolled to the bullpen pregame to rousing cheers from the legion of visiting fans who made the trip down I-95.

Talk about a daunting challenge. But give the Nationals credit for putting together one of their best all-around performances of the season. Craig Stammen allowed one run over 6 1/3 splendid innings. Nyjer Morgan greeted Oswalt with a triple on his first pitch of the night. Adam Kennedy had four hits and drove in a run in his only other at-bat. Josh Willingham roped a bases-loaded double. Tyler Clippard retired five of six batters faced. Shoot, Collin Balester pitched the ninth inning to close things out.

And at the end of the night, the prevailing sentiment inside the home clubhouse was one of optimism.

"It means we definitely still have the right pieces here," Morgan said.

Yes, these Nationals still believe they've got the core group in place to win in the not-too-distant future. Sorry as they were to see the well-liked Capps and Guzman go, the remaining players still see talent around the clubhouse and the potential to add more key pieces in the coming months.

That vibe, of course, would change dramatically if Dunn is dealt before tomorrow's 4 p.m. deadline. That would suck the life out of the room, especially in the back corner that houses the lockers of Dunn, Willingham and Ryan Zimmerman. Those three guys desperately want to stay together. They desperately want to be the trio of offensive stars that finally carries this franchise into contention.

Well, here's some good news for them (and for Nationals fans who don't want to see a deadline deal): Mike Rizzo doesn't sound like a GM who's about to trade away Adam Dunn.

Asked this afternoon about the market for the big slugger right now, Rizzo responded like this: "The closer to the deadline it gets, the more pressure is on teams to come with something that makes sense for me to trade one of the best offensive players in baseball."

Rizzo set the bar high from the very beginning on Dunn. The only way he would trade him would be if another GM blew his socks off.

Any chance your asking price could come down in the final hours before the deadline, Mike?

"No, the price will not come down."

So unless White Sox GM Kenny Williams suddenly decides to offer up Edwin Jackson AND Gordon Beckham in a move of sheer desperation, it sure sounds like Dunn will remain a National through the rest of the season.

At that point, it'll be up to the front office and Dunn's agent to get a contract extension done. How do three years and $45 million sound? Still not enough? How about they throw a fourth-year option in there for good measure? That has to do it, right?

And the deal doesn't have to be struck right now. Dunn made it clear today he's willing to wait until the offseason to finalize a contract.

"I would think if nothing's happened by now as far as contract stuff, they'll continue working on it," he said. "It might happen the first day of October. It might happen in the offseason. I don't know. Again, I wanted to get it done as early as possible and that hasn't worked out. It's not going to change anything."

Tomorrow promises to be another day of rumors and hand-wringing, right up until 4 p.m. Perhaps Rizzo will find a willing partner and trade Dunn (or Willingham or Willie Harris or Adam Kennedy, for that matter). Perhaps he won't, and this chapter of the soap opera will come to an end.

Either way, whoever's still wearing a Nationals uniform at 7:05 p.m. will take the field and take on the Phillies, hoping to keep this recent hot streak of baseball alive. It's what they do. And for the last four days, they've been pretty good at doing it.


Ernie said...

It was so nice to go to a game and see good pitching, good hitting, good fielding and good managing all in the same beautiful night. I mean, things were going so well you could even laugh off Nyjer's requisite baserunning foul-up. And then to come home and watch Capps pick up a save... What a great night.

I figure in about 10 more minutes I'll join everyone else in whining about everything again, but for a little while it's just fun to be a Nats fan...

Apparently the way to get the Philies fans to shut up is to win. Who would have thunk it?

Anonymous said...

I have an issue with the caption underneath the picture "Adam Dunn scores -- and avoids a collision with Carlos Ruiz -- in the fifth inning." This was just after Dunn had been hit by a pitch and I believe Dunn would have gladly plowed into someone if given the opportunity. I am curious whether Dunn was waved around by Listach or if he was looking for contact. Notice how Oswalt was standing right behind the plate when Dunn crossed and had to move out of the way. After 2 guys got hit why no retaliation? Oh, and by the way, GREAT WIN!! A phillie needs to take one in the next 2 days though.

Souldrummer said...

I was at the park in the grandstands. Philly fans behind me. Philly fans in front of me. Loud, proud and in the crowd but hopefully not too over the top. They cheered Oswalt so I couldn't hear the Miss Iowa interview. They cheered the wrong people during pregames and booed us during pregames so I had to try to boo louder. They drank too much. But in the end, both sets of Philly fans were gone by the 8th inning and the family of five couldn't even bear the pain long enough to watch the fireworks.

Capps for Ramos? Guzman for anything? 3 of 4 from the Braves and Phillies? Give me either the Dunn extension at the right price or deal that's a strong and doesn't include Edwin Jackson and I'll be all good with Rizzo. This world of GM competence bewilders me.

Bote Man said...

It's so very, very nice to send the Phillies fans home crying in their beers. They must be quite bewildered--how could Oswalt let them down? He's Roy 2.0, Roy Story 2, the last bit of cement in the Phillies' wall marching inexorably towards the post-season.


Oh, and congrats to Matt Capps on his first save for the Minnesota Senators.

Dryw Loves the Nats said...

Did anyone notice that EVERY Nat in the starting line-up last night reached base at least once during the game. The only two to do so without a hit were Pudge (IBB) and Des (E5). Everyone else, including Stammen, had at least one hit. Fun!

Doc said...

Baly closing out the 9th in this game, was like the cherry on the whip cream for me as a Nat's fan! He's always had 'closer stuff'; maybe, he can make a career out of it.

Anonymous8 said...

You forgot to add that the guy you mentioned yesterday as a non-closer, Joel Hanrahan, struck out the side in the Pirates/Cardinals game and blew away Albert Pujols on a 98 MPH fastball with big time movement that Pujols swung and missed on.

Hanrahan may not be a closer but has been a decent setup man and has always been a good guy!

Mr Donkey said...

So much fun at the game last night! When phillie fans cheered, "let's go phillies," which they did loudly, I responded with, "SCOREBOARD". That shut them up and felt good.

I've never liked Oswalt very much, but he's amazing to watch pitch. Wild mechanics and good speed for a such a short guy.

Oh. And Stras was in right field during BP before the game. I don't think he made a play on any fly balls but he fielded a grounder or two. He'd then pass the ball to the guy next to him who threw it back in. First time I've been to BP.

A great night.

I hope they can get a win tonight. It looks like the game might sell out or close. I'm hoping to get a 5$ seat since I don't have my partial season seats tonight.

NatsJack in Florida said...

OK. We are all officially onthe Dunn watch...

I agree with Mark that Edwin Jackson and a minor leaguer is not acceptable from both a talent and a financial aspect but Dunn straight up for Wade Davis from Tampa Bay... hmmmmm?

Anonymous said...

NatsJack even Wade Davis straight up would not be enough. They'd have to throw in Desmond Jennings or BJ Upton.

Rizzo didn't really want to trade him unless they gave him a Denny McLain for Ed Brinkman, Aurelio Rodriguez, and Joe Coleman kind of deal. Then he might have pulled the trigger.

They are going to sign him, and next month looks like it may be a good time since Harper / Solis / and Cole negotiations must ensue anyway. Allowing for focus on a single important category at a time.

JUST SAY NO said...

Why would you want BJ Upton who wouldn't help in clubhouse continuity and has been known as a lazy player. No thanks!

Anonymous8 said...

Desmond Jennings regressed this year so at 23 years old he is looking like another great athlete who just won't be more than a bench player at the MLB level.

I want Jeremy Hellickson and Wade Davis in order to make this deal.

Anonymous said...

Well if anyone thinks that the Rays are going to trade either Hellickson or Jennings for a Dunn rental, they are going to be sorely disappointed. That's an absurd asking price (at least in the sense that the Rays, of all teams, would never, ever make that deal).

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