Monday, August 9, 2010

Dog days? Not for these 5 Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Michael Morse at last has a chance to take advantage of regular playing time.
These are officially the dog days of summer now, with the temperature holding steady in the upper 90s and the local ballclub definitively out of time to climb back into contention.

It's easy to look at the standings and the time of year and say the Nationals have nothing left to do but play out the string, but that's not really accurate. They may have little to play for in the standings at this point, but they've got plenty of things they still need to accomplish over the season's final eight weeks.

Just about every player on the roster needs to show something before season's end, whether establishing his case to be an everyday player, establishing his case to be in next year's rotation or establishing his case to be paid a lot of money this winter. From a team standpoint, the Nats need to use the final third of the season to determine whether certain guys should be everyday players, whether certain pitchers should be in next year's rotation and whether certain guys should be paid a lot of money this winter.

So, as the Nationals sleep in this morning following a late-night flight home from the west coast and rest up in advance of this week's homestand, let's look at five players who have the most to gain (or lose) based on their performance over the remainder of the season...

In one respect, you could say there's nothing Strasburg stands to gain from pitching the rest of the season. Over his nine starts in June and July, he pretty much established that he's going to be a premier pitcher in the majors ... if healthy. And that last point, of course, is the key. The Nationals need to find out if he really is healthy or whether the shoulder tightness that landed him on the DL the last two weeks is cause for actual concern. Strasburg returns to the mound tomorrow night against the Marlins, and this will be as important a start for the rookie right-hander since his June 8 big-league debut. He's got to be able to get through five or six innings and 90 or so pitches with no arm issues before everyone can rest easy. Then he's got to go back out there Sunday and do it again. By the time Strasburg reaches 160 total innings and is shut down -- most likely in early-to-mid September now -- the Nats will have a much clearer picture of his physical well-being heading into 2011. Will the shoulder issue be a mere blip on an otherwise fantastic rookie season, or will it be something that requires significant attention moving forward?

Marquis should be the last guy on this roster who needs to prove anything over the season's final eight weeks, but at this point, the only thing he's proven is that he can't pitch with any effectiveness whatsoever yet still take a bunch of the Nationals' money in the process. Yesterday's ragged return from the DL didn't help matters at all. With as many young starters as the Nats have trying to crack the rotation -- Craig Stammen was shipped to the bullpen yesterday, Ross Detwiler was placed on the DL, Yunesky Maya and Jordan Zimmermann each are poised to join the group in the next few weeks -- it's hard for Marquis to make a case he deserves one of those five jobs. Problem is, he's making $7.5 million this season and is due to make another $7.5 million next season. Could the Nationals just cut him loose and eat the money? Sure. But that's not going to happen, not anytime soon. If he's healthy, Marquis will be in the rotation the rest of the season. The same holds true next spring, unless the Nats can find another team willing to take the veteran off their hands. The only way that's going to happen is if Marquis can establish over the remainder of this season that he can still enjoy some level of success in the major leagues. Thus, the next eight weeks are incredibly important to him, not to mention the Nationals.

The Nationals knew there were going to be growing pains with a rookie shortstop, and they've experienced plenty of them with Desmond. He's been an adventure in the field, committing 26 errors (53 percent more than any other player in baseball). And he hasn't exactly been a force at the plate, as evidenced by his paltry .298 on-base percentage. All of this, plus the continued emergence of minor-league shortstop Danny Espinosa, has raised some question about Desmond's status heading into 2011. Desmond, of course, can help his cause with improved play during the season's second half. And so far, he's done just that. He's crushed the ball over the last two weeks, posting a .381 average with five extra-base hits and a .925 OPS. And his mistakes in the field have decreased somewhat. It's still not enough to assure Desmond is on an upward track and not a downward one. He needs to take advantage of these final eight weeks and establish that he is the franchise's long-term answer at shortstop.

Fans have been clamoring all summer for Morse to get regular playing time, and it's finally happening. Nyjer Morgan went on the DL last week with a hip injury, paving the way for Roger Bernadina to shift to center field and Morse to take over as the everyday right fielder. How has he done so far? Well, the results are mixed. Morse has started the Nationals' last six games. He's 4-for-21 at the plate. But two of the four hits were homers, including a second-inning blast yesterday at Dodger Stadium. Morse's season-long numbers compare with anyone else on the roster; only Adam Dunn has a higher OPS, and just barely (.941 to .931). But Morse needs to prove he can be an offensive force when playing every day, not only in select situations off the bench and as a platoon right fielder. He's going to get the opportunity as long as Morgan is out. It's now up to him to let all of us know exactly what type of player he is.

Much like Strasburg, Storen doesn't really need to do anything else to prove he's going to be a good major-league reliever. But the Nationals do need to find out if this guy is ready to be a full-time closer. He's had only one save opportunity since Matt Capps was traded, and he delivered Saturday night in beating the Dodgers. But Storen also allowed the go-ahead run to score in the ninth inning against the Phillies on July 31 (he ultimately "vultured" the win when Ryan Zimmerman homered in the bottom of the ninth) and he also looked shaky yesterday pitching the eighth inning with the Nats trailing. One reason Mike Rizzo was willing to trade Capps at the deadline was because he felt he had a closer-in-waiting in Storen. The kid certainly looks capable of handling the job, but now we need to see him actually pitch in those situations. He should get plenty of opportunities over the next eight weeks. At the end of this audition period, Rizzo will need to decide whether he's comfortable going into 2011 with Storen as closer or whether he needs to go searching for a more-established alternative.


NatsJack in Florida said...


I believe Alberto Gonzalez is in for close scrutiny over the last 8 weeks as well. He definitely is an upgrade defensively and has shown he can hit a little even if it has been a small sample.

I'd like to see him get an opportunity.

markfd said...

Mark, shouldn't Lannan be listed here and in the same boat as Marquis?

Mark Zuckerman said...

markfd: I debated including Lannan on here. Was deciding between him and Storen for the No. 5 spot. If there had been a sixth guy, it would've been Lannan. Point is, the rest of the season absolutely is important for him. As it is for several other guys who I didn't mention.

Doc said...

MarkMeister I've done some statistical projections with Morse. If he he were to get (and he obviously won't) the same number of projected ABs as Dunn over a full season, he would end up with 40+ HRs.

Right now Morse might be sitting at 28, if he had been playing regularly. Of course, it took a while for Uncle Jimmy to discover that Morse was on the team; otherwise MM might be a candidate for Rookie of the Year!

As for SS, in order to nurture this great talent the Nats need to bring in a Don Cooper type. Even better might be a guy like Rick Peterson with the Brew Crew.

Peterson has an academic and pitching coach's appreciation of the orthopedics of a pitcher's motion.

The Nats should give SS all the professional attenion that he deserves.

Given the amount of injuries that their pitchers have had over the course of the past two years, a guy like Peterson might be of benefit to the whole staff.

markfd said...

Mark, thanks for the insight as always, it will be an interesting race to the finish line for all of the aforementioned players! Nor should we forget to mention the signing deadline next Monday AND see if there is an impending decision on the future of Messers Dunn and Willingham.

Steven J. Berke said...

I would second the comment about Gonzales, especially in that one option the Nats have is to shift Desmond over to second to make room for Espinosa at short. Another option of course is to acquire another middle infielder or two thru trade orvfree agency; Gonzo is going to have to come through strong to make sure neither of the above happen.

Anonymous said...


Gonzales will likely start at second against all lefties for the remainder of the year; but I think that he has had enough major league at bats to show us what he is; a very good bench player who can play all infield positions and hit occasionally; not the answer as an everyday player.

I think everyone should back off Marquis a bit; it was his first start of a long DL stint and he wasn't really hit hard just some poor control and some real bad fielding cost him 4 quick runs.
Marquis, based on his history should be a reasonable 3 or 4 starter; he will come in handy next year as the kids continue to mature; I don't think he will be retained beyond next year.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Anonymous, I agree with your assessment of Gonzalez, however as with MOST younger players, Riggleman is hesitant to find out what they are really made of. He was forced by Rizzo and Davey Johnson to go the Desmond route and he had to find an excuse to get Benandina to CF and Morse in RF on a daily basis. It's just so apparent that the Nats are so much better defensively with Gonzo that they need to prove to everyone that he CAN'T be an everyday player.

As for Marquis, he's been bad for well over a year now and I mean horrible. But I'll let the rest of the season play out and cringe every bad inning he has in hopes that he'll somehow get better command and more life to his sinker.

Anonymous said...

"It's still not enough to assure Desmond is on an upward track and not a downward one. He needs to take advantage of these final eight weeks and establish that he is the franchise's long-term answer at shortstop."
Amen! And for my money, he isn't the answer.

Mark said...

Absolutely Lannan on this list as his last start could have looked like Marquis.

#7 is Justin Maxwell who finally showed that he can make contact. Dibble and Carpenter seem to be Maxwell fans too.

#8 is Jordan Zimmermann to see his stuff at this level

#9 to see Maya's stuff at this level

#10 to see what Ramos will do in September as well as what the future is for Jesus Flores

Natty Lite said...

Mark, I see alot of talk on here about all the mancrushes of Riggleman's and how he calls up the guys he liks and puts them in the lineup every day. How much does he actually get to decide in terms of whose in the lineup or is any of that Rizzo getting to pick the lienup and whose sent down or called up?

Mark said...

I have to question Eckstein as a hitting coach. When we see Maxwell is not hitting with his eyes on the ball, why did it take 3 strikeouts on Saturday to finally make the adjustment??? We have seen this all year. Can Maxwell build on this and shorten his swing. And get on top of balls to start hitting line drives.

Slidell said...

As Mark indicated, there are a slew of people about whom decisions need to be made.
I'm not quite ready to give up on Marquis though his effort yesterday was not particularly inspiring. His next outing will be more instructive as to whether or not he's worth the trouble. As previously noted, his expense is unfortunately a moot point.
J-max's dinger yesterday probably gives Riggs license to put him in the lineup almost at will, at least until Nyjer returns. Perhaps these flashes of success will eventually pan out to something more. I'm not holding my breath.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Natty Lite said...
Mark, I see alot of talk on here about all the mancrushes of Riggleman's and how he calls up the guys he likes and puts them in the lineup every day. How much does he actually get to decide in terms of whose in the lineup or is any of that Rizzo getting to pick the lineup and whose sent down or called up?

Some common misconceptions when it comes to this stuff. The GM is responsible for promoting/demoting players to/from the minors. He determines who's on the 25-man roster. The manager then determines how to play those 25 men. Obviously, there's some input from others (pitching coach, minor-league managers, etc.) but ultimately Rizzo creates the roster and Riggleman decides how to use it.

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to take away MZ' thesis, but I think Espinosa may fight his way onto that list if he keeps playing as well as he is. It looks like he may be on the fastrack for being with the big club next year. September call-ups will tell the tale if he gets a chance to play. He is becoming an interesting story with his performance at Syracuse.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 1:34 said 'He is becoming an interesting story with his performance at Syracuse'.

Maybe an interesting story but definitely a short story; he has been in Syracuse for 3 games.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Good call Anon 2:26.... I was about to point that out.

Espinosa will get to go to Arizona (most likely) and then get some quality looks in Spring Training but barring knocking everones socks off, he'll start next season in Syracuse, for sure.

Doc said...

There's enough promise with the Nats that keeps us all as 'fans'. However, if Rizzo blows it and doesn't sign Dunn, then being optimistic and interested is going to be real hard.

Sam said...

@Doc: How did you arrive at these "statistical projections?" I hope you didn't just extrapolate his ~100 at-bats. That would be foolish and mean absolutely nothing. So, I'm guessing you analyzed his historical performance in the minor leagues and all of his PAs in the major leagues?

phil dunn said...

Mark, How did Rizzo screw up so badly, signing Marquis to a 2 year $15 million contract? Marquis was something like 11-2 with a low ERA over the first half of last season. He even made the All Star Team. Over the remainder of the season, he was 4-11 with a much higher ERA. No other team had any interest in signing him for rather obvious reasons. Why didn't Marquis' terrible last half of last season raise a huge caution flag with Rizzo that Marquis was damaged goods?? So far, the Nats are out $7.5 million and I would not be surprised if they end up blowing the entire $15 million.

A DC Wonk said...

I have to question Eckstein as a hitting coach. When we see Maxwell is not hitting with his eyes on the ball, why did it take 3 strikeouts on Saturday to finally make the adjustment???

Might this possibly, just possibly, be Maxwell's fault?

NatsJack in Florida said...

Sam... He had to extrapolate his Nats AB's to get those #'s, however, Morse has hit his entire career. He's just never been given a chance to perform every day.

I, for one, want to see him prove to everyone that he can't hit consistently at this level. I think we'll all be pleasantly suprised.

As for Dunn, this is going to get tough. I believe we are probably the only NL team that would offer anything close to his asking price which is going up with every home run.

With a stated commitment to pitching and defense in our future, Adam isn't what you'd call a good fit. That will be a tough pill to swallow if the commitment is made to him without assurances from him that he'll commit to becoming a much better first baseman.

Our primary competition will come from AL teams that will want him to DH, something Adam says he is loathe to do.

Anonymous said...

but ultimately Rizzo creates the roster and Riggleman decides how to use it.

And doesn't Riggleman ask for certain players? He seemed bound and determined to see Maxwell win the right field job. It seems pretty clear Riggleman continued to ask for Maxwell every chance he got?

Which is why I would change #4. from Michael Morse to Justin Maxwell. That is who Riggleman will begin to work into the starting lineup more-and-more much to the detriment of Morgan, Bernadina and of course Morse.

That's how its going to play.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Riggleman doesn't ask for players. Rizzo knows what the makeup of the team needs to be and he's the one that knows about options, the 40 man roster and how to juggle personnel between the minors and the big club.

It's all Riggleman can do to dream up double switches and how he can get Kennedy in to the lineup. maxwell will platoon on occaision with Benandina in CF and be a defensive replacement for Morse and Willingham but he will not become an eerday fixture as some would have you believe.

Richard said...

Some of us say Adam Dunn's defense is bad but no statistics are offered to substantiate it. The defense stats seem to indicate he's an okay 1st basemen. Hmmm.

Re bringing Espinosa up in September, someone here said that that would cost the Nats some future control of the player per the collective bargining agreement. If so, it doesn't seem worth it.

Anonymous said...

Re bringing Espinosa up in September, someone here said that that would cost the Nats some future control of the player per the collective bargining agreement. If so, it doesn't seem worth it.

The Nats current player development believes that a player will tell them when he is ready to come to the big leagues. If Espinosa looks ready they will give him the next bar to hurdle. They have already stated he is major league ready defensively. Its now down to his offense as a switch hitter.

Anonymous said...

but he will not become an eerday fixture as some would have you believe.

We'll see ...

TimDz said...

Re bringing Espinosa up in September, someone here said that that would cost the Nats some future control of the player per the collective bargining agreement. If so, it doesn't seem worth it.

He's not on the 40 man and doesn't need to be protected (rule 5 draft) until the end of the 2011 season. As it appears, Rizzo has some tough choices to make (regarding who should be exposed to the rule 5 draft) this year and placing Espinosa on the 40 man now would just be one less spot on the 40 man that Rizzo would have to play with.

markfd said...

@NatsJack in Florida...Espinosa has already played in the AFL, so I do not think he will be going back this year.

greg said...

yeah, count me in the camp that it's not really legit to extrapolate full-season numbers from 114 ABs in part-time duty. when guys play part time, managers generally are playing them in what are advantageous situations.

some players will thrive more in part-time roles, some players will thrive more in full-time roles. while it's generally the latter for the better players, guys who've been fringe players for a while (like morse) don't always play as well when they're playing every day.

i'm rooting for the guy. if he hits and doesn't suck defensively, that's a big plus for the team. but i'm not ready to extrapolate 114 ABs into a full-season and say "he'd be at 28 now on the way to 40." that's getting a wee bit ahead of yourself.

Doc said...

@ Sam: I looked at his stats in the minors, but I must confess that it was hard to incorporate them into his current performance. He has never played regularly, even in the minors.

I also think that he's a better hitter currently than he was in the minors. He's more focused and more prepared for what he's going to see in the batter's box. Given that pitchers in the majors tend to have better control than pitchers in the minors, issues of focus are more easily accomplished.

He's also probably getting better coaching. The way he adjusted his wrists for the HR he hit off of Lilly demonstrates, to me at least, a sophisicated batting approach--it certainly impressed Lilly. Off the sinker baller throwing on Saturday, he was one of the few Nats batters to hit fly balls, when most everybody else was hitting the expected grounders. He hits low inside pitches that only Zim gets to with some power consistency.

Morse should get better, with more confidence. The current stats, as Mark has pointed out, suggest that he's up there with Dunn and Zim. In time, it might be proven that he's a better hitter than The Hammer.

Time will tell, but Morse needs to be given a chance. I'm guessing that there's a few scouts from other teams lookin' at him. I'll bet the Cubies have him on their radar.

Will said...

Mark, surely Rizzo has some say in which players start. After all, Rizzo is Riggleman's boss and has the power to fire him. It might not be as straightforward as Rizzo passing Riggleman the lineup card before the game, but there has to be some sort of communication between Rizzo and Riggs about what Rizzo expects of newly promoted players/players coming off the DL, right?

Section 222 said...

I'm pulling for Morse to continue to play well defensively. That grand slam saving catch on Saturday was great, and he had a whole ton of chances that night that he handled well. He's never going to be Maxwell defensively, but if he keeps hitting and isn't horrible in the field, maybe he could nail down a starting position, putting the nail in the coffin of the Nyjer experiment. Yeah, I know, dream on.

I'm not so sure that these next two months are as key for Storen as for, say, Lannan, or even Tyler Clippard. Storen is well ahead of schedule moving into the closer role. Remember, he was only destined for a setup role this year, at best. He'll get a shot at taking over as closer next year, almost regardless of what happens in August and September. Clippard on the other hand, has something to prove if he's not going to be permanently marked as a mopup guy. It's a shame that Riggs overused him so much early in the year. I'm convinced that's what's behind his recent troubles.

Finally, much as I've liked Gonzo's play this year, I don't think he's in the mix at all as a potential starter. He had that chance a few years back (remember when he and Bonifacio were our DP combo of the future?). He's always going to be a utility guy, and let's just hope he can continue to play that role well.

natsfan1a said...

Speaking of the next two months, call me a wacky optimist but I wonder whether our guys might be due for a prolonged hot (or at least warm) streak. Now, I'm not a real big stat person, but here's the cipherin' behind my flight of fancy: 29 of the remaining 50 games are at home, where the Nats are 29-23, as opposed to 20-40 on the road (sigh). Further, 33 of their remaining games are vs. the NL East, against which they are 20-19. So am I delusional, or what? (Let me down easy, now.)

Anonymous said...


It depends what your conclusion is; if you propose that the Nats contend for the playoffs then yes you are; if you feel that they can work their way back and finish at .500 then you are wildly optimistic.I think that 75 wins would be a nice achievement and excellent progress from last year on the way to respectability next year.

LoveDaNats said...

I'm just happy that we are no longer the worst team in baseball. To me, anything above that is a bonus. Contention next year!

Anonymous said...


There is indeed some impetus for your perspective.

There is the home games in September, plus the competition for a spot in the top 3-4 in the rotation suddenly heats up. Jordan Zimmermann finally makes an appearance along with, hopefully, Yunieski Maya.

Mike Rizzo's creed is that competition breeds better performance. Guess we'll find out if he's right.

Because in September you'll have Strasburg, Zimmermann, Maya, Olsen, Marquis, Lannan, Stammen, Livan Hernandez all competing to show they belong in the rotation next year.

Plus the position players will be trying to create a strong impression ... hopefully, the errors will diminish and decline? The offense will pick up; perhaps ever more strongly if Dunn gets signed during this period?

This would also serve to send a message to the rest of baseball that the Nats are coming on ...

I guess we can hope?

Tegwar said...


You are correct that the Nats are a much better team at home, most teams are but usually not as much a difference as this team is. The Nats have not had any winning steak over 3 games this year, very strange. Last years team which was much less talented had an 8 game wining streak. The team's ERA is .9 runs less and is now the league average which is quite an improvement. This team is actually scoring few runs per game (4.10 vs 4.38) than last year and Zimmerman, Dunn, and Willingham are all having better years. Fielding pct. has also gotten worse .979 vs .984. I think the fielding and OBP decrease by many of the other player who have been in the line-up are the key factors that are holding this team back. When JZ and Maya and Ramos come up in September/October I think we just might see a team that would have gone 13-16 at best go 17-12. As for Espinosa TimDZ has it correct Rizzo does not have a 40 man spot available, in fact I think that after the season the Nationals will probably drop 10 players from their 40 man roster.

natsfan1a said...

Thanks for the responses, guys. Anon @ 7:45, I didn't figure on either the playoffs or finishing at .500. However, a strong finish would be good, as noted by Anon @ 8:16 and David. Of course, I'd be happy with 75 wins, too (though I'm not sure they'll end up there)!

Feel Wood said...

The only bad thing about a strong finish is that it would make it more likely that Riggleman is back next year.

Anonymous said...

They have yet to win 50 games. Winning another 20-25 is going to be quite a chore for this team.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Hey Anon! If they play the exact same percentages at home and away they'll end up winning 23 more games.... Wow...sounds almost impossible, doesn't it.

I for one think 25 more wins is highly attainable.

JayB said...

Looking at the 40 man roster I see about 15 spots that should be freed up soon. Amazing how week that list is. Balister, Kennedy, Harrris, Neives, Wang, Walker, Maldonado, Mench, ...just to name the no brain moves that should be made as soon as the season is over....A whole second list is easy to spot of Chico, Maxwell types that are just not helping develop this system into a pipeline for a winning team.

LOTS of work ahead for Mr. Rizzo.....No excuse for doing nothing this off season.

natsfan1a said...

Another possible factor: 18 of the remaining 21 road games are vs. the NL East (against whom the Nats are 20-19, as previously noted).


NatsJack in Florida said...

Hey Anon! If they play the exact same percentages at home and away they'll end up winning 23 more games.... Wow...sounds almost impossible, doesn't it.

I for one think 25 more wins is highly attainable.
August 10, 2010 8:07 AM

Anonymous said...

I want to see the team finish with more than 70 wins and that is certainly very possible. Getting to 75 wins would be a stretch but it could happen and I would certainly celebrate.

Anonymous said...

Sad how 75 wins is a cause for celebration in DC. This team stinks and is providing the fanbase with the play that it is able to give, nothing more, nothing less. Oh there are parts to this team which are nice impact pieces (Strasburg and Zimmerman) but not enough of them to make a difference. And honestly, there are not too many nice pieces in the pipeline for next year or the years beyond (let's see if ALL the draft picks with high ceilings get signed). But let's ignore the talent issues this franchise has, shield our eyes, and break out the champagne! The Nats might win 75 games! Woohoo! A toast to the Lerners and their amazing stewardship. And then in the off-season we can hear the sycophants all praise some washed up veteran as the next Babe Ruth that will get one more season out of his tired bones and is going to push the franchise to 81 wins. Pass out the bubbly, we just got Doug Mientkiewicz as our new 1st baseman! He was a vacuum at 1st base for the 2004 Red Sox. He's way better than Adam (is) Dunn.

natsfan1a said...

Eh, not so much. You may need to work on your vocabulary skills a bit, Anon.

While you're at it, you might also want to look up "fan."


syc·o·phant (sk-fnt, sk-)
A servile self-seeker who attempts to win favor by flattering influential people.

Anonymous said...

Nats320. D'Oh!

Anonymous said...

Hey 1a, weren't you on a "My Nats Moment" commercial?

natsfan1a said...

uh, no. Didn't even audition for one.

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