Saturday, April 2, 2011

Contributors abound in Nats victory

Associated Press photo
Rick Ankiel drops a perfect squeeze bunt in the seventh inning.
Maybe it's a good thing the Nationals don't have that silver Elvis wig lying around the clubhouse anymore, the one that would always go to whomever was deemed player of the game after a win last season. They would have had a difficult time figuring out who most deserved to wear the thing following today's 6-3 victory over the Braves.

The obvious choice would be Rick Ankiel, who both clubbed a two-run homer and dropped a perfect squeeze bunt. But Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman certainly each played a role, reaching base four times a piece. So did John Lannan, coming back after a 55-minute rain delay to toss a 1-2-3 fifth inning and help bridge the gap to the bullpen.

Don't forget about Tyler Clippard, who for the second time already this season entered in a tight spot and wriggled his way out of a jam. And then there's Sean Burnett, summoned to record a four-out save and finish off the Nationals' first victory of the young season.

In the end, maybe the real credit goes to manager Jim Riggleman, who deftly worked his way through a long and complicated ballgame, pulling all the strings and levers necessary to secure this win over a Braves team many have picked to win the NL East.

"It's a great ballclub they put out over there," Riggleman said. "We just really feel good the way we've played with them."

Read my full analysis on


Mr. NATural said...

When I saw the suicide squeeze, I knew this year would be different. I have seen a lot of baseball, and I am telling you, this was PERFECTION. Offense, defense, pitching, baserunning. It was the most beautiful game I have seen played since baseball returned to Washington.

The 2011 Washington Nationals will win the NL wild card. It started today.

Go Teddy said...

Not so sure about winning the National League wild card -- but it was a beautiful example of how National League baseball should be played. Go Nats!

masnstinks said...

I absolutely love what I am seeing out there on the field. GO NATS!!!

NatsJack in Florida said...

I watched them practice that suicide squeeze everyday for 5 days in Feb. and then daily during BP. What a thing of beauty!

LoveDaNats said...

I'm LOVING it!

Anonymous said...

It was just a day or so ago that Feel Wood posted:

"Can anyone name one instance, just one, where Riggleman made a move or a decision that made a positive difference in a game? I can't think of any, I know that."

Today's game gives a nice example. No need to research the past--although there are examples there as well.

We have 160 games to go but the overwhelming, constant negativity of some folks is amazing.

sjm308 said...

Agree about the negativity and it will bounce up again in this long season. But the overall play in these first two games is very uplifting. Not only have we not made an error, there have been at least 6 ++ plays if not more. I realize these guys are major leaguers but how great is it to see Desmond go to the 2nd base side of the bag to make the 2nd out in the 9th. The two stops by Burnett might have been luck but he made the plays. Werth has been nothing but good both in the field, on the base paths and at the plate. Zimm is just where he was last year and Espinosa has already made at least two great plays. How much fun is it to watch us catch the ball?! I realize it's early but let me enjoy what I have seen. You glass half empty (and more) guys can come back when we lose but for now we are doing what professionals should do and that is play the game the way it was designed to be played.

Go Nats!!

SonnyG10 said...

What a fun game to watch. Two games in a row with stellar defense and NO errors. Go Nats!!!

SonnyG10 said...

I was really happy to see John Lannan come back out after the rain delay and be eligible to get the win. I think he deserved it.

As I was watching the Nats bat throughout the game, I suddenly realized there was no one in the lineup that I hated to see come up. Every hitter in today's lineup had good potential for a hit, I thought. How different this is from last year when I kinda lost hope for the batters after the fourth spot.

Sam said...

Mark, the one qualm I have with your article - although, it is pretty minor - is that your reasoning for walking Hairston being the correct call is that Ankiel is a .231 career batter against lefties. As you know, batting average is a poor indicator of baseball talent. In their careers, Hairston has an 81 wRC+ against lefties compared to Ankiel's 80. In fact, they are very similar hitters against lefties, which is why, I can't, for the life of me, figure out why everyone thinks Hairston is supposed to be the first bat off the bench against lefties. That's a different point all together. The correct reason for why it was the right move to walk Hairston is that Sherrill dominates lefties and is pretty poor against righties. Therefore, it's as if Ankiel is even worse against Sherrill than Hairston is.

Mark'd said...

Manager's are criticized based on results. In the Opener, if Nix gets a hit, Riggleman is a genius.

If Ankiel whiffs at the Bunt today, Riggleman is a chump.

My concern is OF defensive depth and the speed if Nix or Stairs are on base. Riggleman doesn't have the Willie Harris 9th inning defense option anymore or Willlies speed to pinch run.

The Storen confidence is something to watch too.

Sam said...

Mark'd - you're absolutely right. Managers are judged based on how their decisions played out, which, it turns out is out of their control. They make the choice, and then it is in the hands of the players to make them look good or not. That, by the way, is the idea behind sabermetrics, which, are often misconstrued as these big, fancy statistics that no one knows. Sabermetrics was actually originally defined as "the search for objective knowledge in baseball" by Bill James. Therefore, the idea is to give the manager the most knowledge of the situation when making his decisions. Therefore, if you read my post above yours (and don't take this as an attack because it certainly is not), knowing all the information that I mentioned (all of which is extremely available) allows the manager to make an informed decision. If you play the odds correctly, more often than not, you will win. If you make silly judgment calls, you can expect to get completely random results.

Baseball decision making is an example of Game Theory. It also reminds me of Blackjack, where you can win by making the wrong move, but there is always a clear cut correct move based on the odds (even if the odds are very close to being the same).

Doc said...

@ Sam 10:56 Good summation of what's behind sabermetrics. It's all about knowing the odds. All managers try to manage the odds; some do it better when they know the real odds.

Anonymous said...

Not related to the subject of the blog post ... but Manny Acta's Indians lost Opening Day 15-10 and lost again today, 8-3. Here's the opening paragraphs from an article on their website:

CLEVELAND -- Two games do not define a season, especially when the contests in question come at the onset of April. Whether both result in wins or losses, the season still has six months' worth of games left on the schedule.

That explained the shrug of the shoulders offered by Indians manager Manny Acta and the abrupt response that followed. Following Saturday's 8-3 loss to the White Sox, a game sent spiraling by another disappointing performance by one of his starters, Acta was asked if there was any early cause for concern.

"I feel good about my team," Acta said.

It was the 'shrug of the shoulders' that caught my attention -- the same indifferent reaction/response he always had here in DC after a Nats loss. I also noted that the Indians, who opened the season at home, had their lowest-ever attendance at the ballpark since it opened several years ago.

I certainly don't harbor any ill will towards Manny Acta, but I was happy to see him leave the Nats and wonder how long he'll be in Cleveland.

Nattydread said...

I like the direction, and believe it will get better!

Congrats Rizzo, Congrats Riggleman!

Anonymous said...

Will 161 - 1 win the division?


Anonymous8 said...

Mark'd - I will add that there is statistical probability to all moves whether you are a Saber guy, old school stats guy, or a believer in situational moves and almost all pinch hit moves will fail 700 times out of 1,000 except the rare times where a batter "owns" the pitcher.

So whether you had Lenny Harris on your bench to Pinch Hit or Matt Stairs or Laynce Nix, the chance of them succeeding is not great even in the best circumstances which is why taking up 2 roster spots with Stairs and Nix doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

On the suicide squeeze, if it didn't have the element of surprise it may have been foiled. The most effective way to foil a suicide squeeze is for the opposition to pitch out on the 2nd to 4th pitch in the sequence. The Braves didn't see it coming nor did the vast majority of people watching which is why it worked. Now that scouts have seen it, the suicide squeeze could be a little tougher in that 1 out situation with a man on 3rd and a decent bunter at the plate.

Rabbit said...

@ Mr. NATural........I have to go along with him about the wild-card. Teams have gone from last to first place. Such oddities occur, which is why you have to play each game. So, some team - some day - will do what we hope the Nationals will do this year. So, why not the Nationals - THIS YEAR? GO NATS!!!!

natsfan1a said...

That was the first game in our "micro" plan, and I have to say it was one hail of a beginning. Heh. We were in the upper deck when the second delay started and, as I got up to head to the concourse, one of the hailstones (pebbles?) bounced off my nose. Those little suckers sting. But the win took off the sting soon enough.

After Ankiel's sac bunt, I turned to my husband and said "I think I like that even more than the HR." At one point, I also noted "These aren't your grandpa's Nats." (Not that his Ohio grandpa was a Nats fan, but I believe my point was made. My hubby had a more positive feeling about the team as well, and he's not the homer that I am. ;-))

Great to see some sparkling defense and runners actually getting moved over/home at times. Some good pitching when it counted, too. Was glad to see Lannan come out and get a 1-2-3 inning after the second delay. He also had a nice bunt earlier in the game, imo.

JaneB said...

I like your thinking Rabbit.

And fun that you got to see how yesterday's play of the day became possible!

Soul Possession, PFB Sofa said...

We've waited a long time for this--over six months since the last Curly W.

It's not just managers who look good when things go right. No one is even complaining about how Ankiel is holding the bat "wrong" in the bunt photo.

Just play .500 -- we're easy to please.

JD said...


I disagree with the conclusion that the managerial moves were great based on their subsequent success just as it is not always a bad move when it doesn't work. We won a nice game yesterday and that's great but our manager took out our 5th place hitter in the 6th inning as part of a double switch; brought back our starter after a 1 hour rain delay; saw him retire the Braves 1,2,3 in the 5th and then took him out for the 6th even though he threw only 68 pitches.

It worked out; the squeeze was great but I still disagree with the moves and I contend that that these type of moves will bite us in the ass more often than not. JMHO.

dale said...


You have to look at both purposes of a double switch before you make a judgement. If the pitcher was due up (9th spot) in the next inning then you are in effect moving Laynce Nix to bat for the pitcher as well. Riggleman is thinking ahead to the next inning and I applaud the move.

In regards to Lannan, the argument could have been made not to bring Lannan back, but I have no problem going with the strength of the team--the bullpen, in the sixth inning.

Anonymous8 said...

JD, last year Riggleman aka "Double Switch" pulled players that were 2 for 3 in the game and replaced them with Justin Maxwell who couldn't hit and there lies the problem.

Yesterday, I think Morse was on an O'for at the the time and Laynce Nix is not Justin Maxwell. This also put off 1 inning the need for another pinch hitter when I think he brought in Hairston.

Hopefully we won't see "Double Switch" make moves for the sake of making moves this season.

Anonymous8 said...

I see Chipper Jones is in the lineup for the Braves. I was hoping they would rest him.

Also, Riggleman sticking with "the C plan" as in the "the Catcher plan" and Pudge is in today's lineup on the heels of a 3 for 4 day by Ramos.

Here's hoping that Desi and Morse get hot today!

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