Get To Know A Series: San Diego Padres

Padres 

Washington Nationals (12-10) vs. San Diego Padres (10-12)

2014 Head to Head Record: (0 – 0)
2013 Head to Head Record: Nationals 5 – 2  

Thursday, April 24 7:05 p.m.
Jordan Zimmermann (3.92 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 10.02 K/9) vs. Eric Stults (4.35 ERA, 5.40 FIP, 3.92 K/9)

Friday, April 25 7:05 p.m.
Stephen Strasburg (5.33 ERA, 2.59 FIP, 14.00 K/9) vs. Robbie Erlin (4.15 ERA, 2.51 FIP, 8.83 K/9)

Saturday, April 26 1:05 p.m.
Tanner Roark (3.80 ERA, 4.00 FIP, 6.85 K/9) vs. Andrew Cashner (2.10 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 8.13 K/9)
 
Sunday, April 27 1:35 p.m. (Jordan Zimmermann Bobblehead Day)
Taylor Jordan (6.23 ERA, 4.37 FIP, 7.06 K/9) vs. Ian Kennedy ( 3.60 ERA, 2.83 FIP, 8.4 K/9)  
 
After getting swept, salvaging a game from the Angels in a dramatic 9th inning come back, the Nats welcome the lowly San Diego Padres to town after having dropped two of three to the Brewers. Always the bridesmades, San Diego is in a tough division to make any headway and there isn’t a lot of hope their sub-.500 record will improve much. Decent starting pitching, not a great bullpen and a really bad offense. This is San Diego baseball.
 
How the Nats Win: The Padres have just scored 60 runs. Good for DFL in MLB. They have, however, only given up 70 runs, putting them just behind Atlanta and Oakland and St. Louis, tied with Milwaukee in that regard. They are a nearly .500 team because they pitching keeps them in games. The difference between road and home splits, however, is telling.
Petco park is beatiful, but its also a canyon. In 13 games at home they’ve given up 34 runs. In just 9 games on the road, they’ve given up 36. The pitching and defense starts come undone at the seams a bit when they are not in their massive stadium.
 
As such, given the pitching mismatches, the Nats are set up to take the first two games of the series. Shooting for three, and beating either Cashner or Kennedy is what this team should be expected to do. The Nats pitching, even if it hasn’t lived up to the idealized standards of the home town crowd, ought to be enough to hold down one of the weakest teams in the league offensively. If Zimmermann and Strasburg don’t dominate this lineup in games 1 and 2, be annnoyed. Be very annoyed.
 
The back half of the series is going to come down to the Nats getting a little lucky, and having some of the at bats against better pitching we’d hope to see. Getting Cashner or Kennedy out of the game early is the only hope for either Saturday or Sunday because I don’t expect Tanner Roark (who I’m willing to admit might surprise me) or Taylor Jordan (who I do not think will surprise me at all) to go toe to toe with the other two pitchers.
 
Three Padres to Watch For: The afformention Andrew Cashner is a legit starting pitcher who throws primarily fastball, slider and change up. The two-seamer and four seamer are both in that 93-94 MPH range, with huge drops to Slider (83.5 MPH) and change (84.7 MPH). If you arrange the Padres by offensive production, you see backup outfielder Chris Denorfia is at the top of the list. Filling in for the injured Carlos Quentin, Denorfia has put up a .367 wOBA (.328/.349/.492 if you’re a slash line person) in 21 games and 64 plate apperances. Lastly Jedd Gyrko (pronounced Jerk-O…not kidding) who finished 6th in the NL Rookie of the year vote in 2013 has had a brutal start to the season. He’s currently hitting .135/.226/.216 (I can’t even remember the last time I saw a guy with a smaller SLG than OBP) and .203 wOBA. He’s rated as a -7.4 Offensively right now. There is an excellent chance that this is bad luck (He has a BABIP of .176). I’m going to be watching him to see if there is actually something to the player who just signed a five year extension with San Diego, or if the MLB has caught up with with the second year player.

Get To Know A Series: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

2261

Washington Nationals (11-8) vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (8-10)

2014 Head to Head Record: (0-0)
2013 Head to Head Record: Didn’t play.

Monday, April 21 7:05p.m.
Tanner Roark (5.29 ERA, 4.66 FIP, 6.88 K/9) vs. Garrett Richards (2.84 ERA, 2.75 FIP, 8.53 K/9)

Tuesday, April 22 7:05 p.m. ($5 Beer Night)
Taylor Jordan (5.94 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 6.48 K/9) vs. Tyler Skaggs (3.43 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 4.71 K/9)

Wednesday, April 23 7:05 p.m.
Gio Gonzalez (2.88 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 8.64 K/9) vs. Jered Weaver (4.74 ERA, 5.42 FIP, 7.30 K/9)

Ah yes, the first interleague matchup of the 2014 season features the potent Angels offense against the Nationals pitchers who know how to strike batters out. So far in 2014, the Angels have scored 96 runs and have an overall team slash line of .246/.310/.450. The Angels pitching staff does strike a lot of batters out (8.66/9 innings so far). Overall, they have a team ERA of 4.42 and a 4.29 FIP and don’t give up a lot of home runs – giving up 22 total home runs and only having a 1.2 HR/9 ratio.

Leading the way offensively for the Angels is sensational outfielder Mike Trout. He leads the team in home runs (5), is tied for first with 13 RBIs and has a .319/.380/.639 slash line. The Angels best pitcher so far this season has been Garrett Richards. So far, Richards is 2-0 and has struck out 18 batters in 19 innings. 

How the Nats Win: Pitching will be key for the Nationals in this series. The Angels have a ton of players who are capable of turning a game around with just one swing of the bat. If the Nationals pitching can keep the Angels batters off balance and off the basepaths (especially Mike Trout), the Nationals have a great shot at winning the only series against the Angels this season.

Offensively, the Nationals need to take advantage of the Angels bullpen late in the game. If the Nationals find themselves down, they’ll need to be patient at the plate by waiting for their pitches to come to them. Playing small ball against this Angels defense might be more beneficial in the long run than trying to swing for the fences.

Three Angels to Watch For: Mike Trout is by far the No. 1 player in Major League Baseball this season. Maybe you’ve heard of him? Trout was the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year and runner up for MVP in both 2012 and 2013.This kid is a bonafide S-T-U-D who makes baseball fans, like me, swoon over him. He has the potential to hit 30 home runs, drive in 100 RBIs and steal 40 bases. He’s so much fun to watch and will wow you with his defense – here’s a highlight video from last season showing Trout at his best, which is all the time. The second Angel to watch, Albert Pujols, could become the 26th place in Major League history to hit at least 500 home runs. Currently, Pujols sits at 498, allowing Nationals fans the chance to witness history. Finally, the last Angels player to watch for is second baseman Howie (Howard) Kendrick. Kendrick, a wizard on the infield also has some pop in his bat. On 4/18, Kendrick hit a pair of two-run home runs that helped the Angels beat the Detroit Tigers. Although they were the first two home runs of his season, Kendrick has hit 73 career home runs with an average of 13 dingers a season. He can come up with a clutch hit at any time and needs to be pitched to carefully.

Opinion: The Performance Is Just Getting Started (On Benchings)

On Saturday, Matt Williams pulled Bryce Harper from the game due to (as he called it) a “lack of hustle.” Harper hit a “come backer” right to the Cardinals pitcher and made zero attempt to run for first base. He wasn’t even half way down the base path before the ball was thrown to the first baseman and he was out. Harper didn’t even try to run it through to first base, simply veering over towards the dugout.

Here is the play in question, via Federal Baseball.

To many, and perhaps to Harper, this was a lost play from the start. Why run? Why bother. To Matt Williams, it was a betrayal of the code by which the team had agreed to play. Harper went back into the dugout and didn’t come back, replaced by Kevin Frandsen.

After the game, when it was revealed it was a benching for disciplinary reasons, Natstown predictably lost its god-damned mind. I was about an hour late to this party (Hey, I had chores to do), I didn’t exactly step lightly into the fray:

D.C. is a town that has a complicated relationship with star players and head coaches. Whether football, hockey, basketball, hockey, football or hockey, the D.C. sports fan is preconditioned to expect trouble between a team’s star athlete and the head coach. Despite the fact that there is zero evidence that Matt Williams has some sort of long term problem with Bryce Harper, expect the fact that he benched him for this singular event to play out for weeks, or months, or at least be trotted out each time Harper has a bad game or a sloppy play. This is what columnists and radio hosts thrive on – something they can retrofit into a story they already know. While some in Natstown were concerned with the long term repercussions for their star young athlete and now hating Matt Williams and the Nationals (“Pinstripes” said one Phil Wood caller), most folks tweeting in and around me were questioning whether this was a good baseball move or not. (But, for those who are worrying about whether this would cause Bryce Harper to jump ship – I’ve seen nothing in Harper’s make up that would suggest he would pout, and certainly not for the three years or so before he’s no longer under Nationals control).

So was it the right move?

Half Street Heart Attack ruminates on several different reasons why the benching was indefensible, largely revolving around whether Harper was in pain or not. The argument for me doesn’t hold much water. Harper had an opportunity (and by some discussion in the presser confirmed) to say he was hurt. He didn’t. By the time you’re comparing Bryce Harper to what Barry Bonds did late in his career, I don’t know exactly what the point is supposed to be. (It would not, however, be the first time I was wrong).

A far more productive conversation (most of it is there) with a friend of the blog @ouij gets to the heart of the matter: Can you lose a battle to win a war? I’d have to agree with Ouij that, irrefutably, taking Harper off the field for the last 3 innings made the Washington Nationals a worse baseball team. Particularly given Frandsen’s throw home was offline, and he was up to bat in the ninth with runners on and one out. Those are places where you want Bryce Harper on the field.

I’m all for increasing leverage, putting the best team on the field and giving yourself the best chance to win. But Matt Williams is the manager of all the games the team plays, not just this one. You can rest a guy who’s not 100% physically because it might help the club overall. Why not a guy you think is failing to give 100%?

If baseball is about the process as much as the result, as any one who has ever uttered the phrase “small sample size” will tell you, then the lack of running down the base paths should be alarming. Is this a different conversation if Lynn does bobble the ball? If he inexplicably throws it poorly? Making good contact at the plate is important even if it doesn’t result in a hit because it prepares for the times you will make a hit. So too, running hard to first each time isn’t about getting base each time. It’s about committing to the process so you don’t have to think “holy smokes! He bobbled it! I better hustle!”

It’s about not having to wish you’d run harder if something happened. It’s about the next time if it isn’t about this time.

Matt Williams seems to believe this is necessary to the long term success of the ball club. There is a certain way he wants his players to play, and apparently that includes running every ball out. In a sport where the Yadier Molina can let a ball pass him and then throw it away, it is hard to argue that constant hustle is a bad thing. Bryce Harper, with the way he runs, might be just enough to spook Lance Lynn into bobbling, or throwing, the ball away. Probably not, but maybe.

The bigger question is something along the lines of discipline and being a team member. Whether a good thing or a bad thing, Matt Williams has chosen to create a particular culture in the clubhouse, and it is important to him to see that culture take hold. You may think it is a stupid culture, or the wrong culture, or that he could have found a different way to enforce the culture – but these are the easy things to say from outside the decision circle. In my limited turns at the helm in life, I’ve found it is a lot easier for people to question authority then to actually take up the responsibility for it.

Without being privy to the locker room, its dynamic, or how the club views the young skipper, I think it is hard to insist that this was the wrong move going forward. It may be impossible to catalog interpersonal relationships into a statistic, but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t real, do not have an effect on the play of the club, or are not the responsibility of the manager to tend to. Williams may have run the risk of pissing off his star player, but he might have run the risk of pissing off the other 24 guys if he let Harper not run a ball out. Maybe that the other 24 guys might have been okay with it if nothing happened. Maybe, just maybe, Harper can take his benching the right way.

There are no easy answers to that question for Williams, let alone in my peanut gallery section 305. Heavy is the head that dons the managers cap, indeed.

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” seems to be what he has settled on. You may think you’d manage the team another way. That if Harper was doing what 99% of players do on a groundout it is not big deal. If so, you may be Davey “vacation time” Johnson. Unfortunately, whether you are Davey or not, you’re not in charge. Matt Williams is.

Less than 20 games into his first season of managing it is impossible to tell just what this move will do in the long term. You can guess the worst, or hope for the best, but those are just hopes and guesses. Only one man had to size up the situation and determine whether the immediate battle was as important as the on going war.

Despite the wishes of many, people still play this game and people are required to run it. You may be able to get a computer to make game decisions such as lefty vs. righty, when to bring in which reliever, and how to platoon a position, but so long as blood pumps through the bodies of those who play the game, it will be up to someone to get the most out of them.

If there is any art left to managing, this is it. Sheet music, instruments, the size of the concert hall: you can plug all of that into Garageband and get a sound. It takes a conductor to get a performance. Sometimes, the best instruments need to be tuned. The best musicians sometimes need to be coaxed into giving a little bit more or trying a little bit harder. How that is accomplished is where the artistry of managing happens. It is something the audience rarely sees and, I believe, understands even less.

What we remember is the performance, and this show is only getting started.

 

Get To Know A Series: St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals

Washington Nationals (9-6) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (9-6)

2014 Head to Head Record: (0 – 0)
2013 Head to Head Record: Cardinals 6 – 0
 

Thursday, April 17 7:05 p.m.
Taylor Jordan (4.76 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 6.53 K/9) vs. Adam Wainwright (2.57 ERA, 2.24 FIP, 10.29 K/9)

Friday, April 18 7:05 p.m.
Gio Gonzalez (3.5 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 8.5 K/9) vs. Michael Wacha (1.89 ERA, 2.62 FIP, 8.53 K/9)

Saturday, April 19 1:05 p.m. (Pups in the Park!)
Jordan Zimmermann (5.27 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 11.20 K/9) vs. Lance Lynn (4.00 ERA, 2.88 FIP, 11.00 K/9)
 
Sunday, April 20 1:35 p.m.
Stephen Strasburg (6.00 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 14.14 K/9) vs. Shelby Miller (4.67 ERA, 6.74 FIP, 7.27 K/9)
 
In the short history of the Washington Nationals there are just a handful of teams that make Nats fans cringe. Arguably, chief among them are the St. Louis Cardinals. The Nationals one pure moment of ecstasy, and its one true moment of agony thus far are linked inextricably to the redbirds and one volatile 24 hour period in the Nation’s capital. If you don’t know what I’m talking about: Game 4, Game 5. Now you’re all caught up.
 
Making matters worse, the 2013 Nationals got absolutely pummeled by the Cardinals who were cruising along to being NLCS winners. Last year offered revenge for neither the Nationals nor their fans. As such, for many Nats fans, this series opens with plenty of bitter in our mouths.
 
Unfortunately, the St. Louis Cardinals are probably the only team as deep and complete as the Washington Nationals. Even the vaunted (and pricey) Los Angeles Dodgers can’t compete for organizational depth with the St. Louis Cardinals who seem to always have someone on the field, the bench, or in the minors ready to become a great ball player. Nats fans may begrudge the Cards plenty, but they are a great team and a great organization (Even if the moniker of “Best Fans” may still be a bit far fetched).
 
How the Nats Win: Unlike the Mets (who have a bad bullpen), or the Marlins (who have a pretty spotty lineup) or even the Braves (who suffer from some starting pitching depth) the Cardinals have it all. They can hit, they can run, they can throw with the best of them. These games are going to likely come down to who makes mistakes first, and who turns those mistakes into runs. Both teams are capable of putting another team away with a lead. Both teams are capable of coming back if the other leaves the door open. The Nats may benefit from having last-ups, and any fan should be happy with a 2-2 split with the Cardinals.
 
Three Cardinals to Watch For: Yadier Molina is arguably the best catcher in baseball, a least according to his profile in Sports Illustrated. He is a catcher that can both excel at defense and hit, a rare commodity in the game today. Many credit the Cardianals success with young pitching to his excellent game calling and command skills. Micahel Wacha may have a name that invokes Fozzy Bear, but he’s anything but a cuddly character. Throwing out his final appearance in the 2013 World Series, Wacha joined the Cardinals at the end of May and filled in more than admirably throughout the season. Lastly, let’s all keep an eye on Mark Ellis, who I don’t expect to make much of an impact on the games…but he’s the guy the brought up to replace Pete F#$*(NG Kozma.

Get To Know A Nat 2014: Kevin Frandsen

Kevin Frandsen

Name:  Kevin Vincent Frandsen
Nickname(s): Pig Pen (Ed: Because I’ve been listening to this song, I’ve been calling him ” I’m the Frand “)
DOB: May 24, 1982
Twitter?:  @KevinFrandsen
From: San Jose, California
Position: Bench Utility Player (Infield, Outfield and Emergency Catcher)
Hand: Right
With the Nats Since: Signed a one-year major league contact with the Nationals on March 26, 2014.

Just Who Is This Guy?: One word describes Kevin Frandsen and that word is versatility. Throughout his eight-year MLB career, Frandsen has played in 411 games with four different teams (San Francisco Giants Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Philadelphia Phillies and now the Nationals). Versatility is a great word to describe him because he knows his role on the team, meaning, he knows that he is a fill-in player and does whatever he can for the team. He’s doesn’t play the game just to boost his own stats; he just wants to get the “W” (or in this case, the Curly W) at the end of the day.

Throughout his career, Frandsen has played second base (115 games), third base (108 games), first base (44 games), shortstop (32 games), and the corner outfield positions (13 games in left field and three games in right field). In his eight seasons, he has a career .973 fielding percentage and a career 0.3 WAR. At the plate, Frandsen has a career slash line of .261/.318/.360 with 14 home runs, 94 RBIs, and seven stolen bases.

Overall, Frandsen doesn’t add much pop, drive in a lot of runs, or steal bases. He does, however, hit for decent average and doesn’t strike out much. He can play virtually anywhere on the diamond, and provides excellent leadership in the clubhouse, especially in a clubhouse with as many young players as the Nationals have. He’s a gritty player who goes out there each game just trying to do something for the team. Frandsen isn’t going up to the plate swinging hard, trying to smash a homer; he’s going up there to try and get on base and give someone else in the lineup an opportunity to drive him in. He is the definition of a team player and I love what he brings to this team because of it.
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Get To Know A Nat 2014: Aaron Barrett

Aaron Barrett Pitching for the Senators. (Click for original article).

Aaron Barrett Pitching for the Senators. (Click for original article).

Aaron Barrett  DOB: January 2, 1988
Nicknames: none, but he’s a fake Aussie. So there’s that. (He also shares a name with lead singer of Real Big Fish- Ed.) 
Twitter@aaronbarrett30
From:  Evansville, Indiana, then Ole Miss
Position: Middle Reliever    Hand: Righty
With the Nats Since: Drafted (9th round) by Nationals in 2010 Debut: March 31st, 2014

Who is this Guy?  He’s a bad mamma-jamma, that’s who. Barrett is a 26 year-old, former collegian, who K’d his way through the minor leagues before beating out a host of veterans to earn the last spot in the bullpen this Spring Training. His age means his time is now and so far so good. He has faced 13 batters to this point and he’s struck out 6 of them. He has yet to give up a hit, much less a run. He throws two pitches – a fastball and a slider – almost evenly, in the classic Brad-Lidge-late-inning-reliever mold. Update: Barrett did give up a hit on Friday night, and then was sent back down to make room for players due to an over taxed bullpen. -Ed. 

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Major League Football Week 15 Playoff Picture via @SCviaDC

National League American League
NL East W L T PCT
Atlanta Braves 8 4 0 .667
Washington Nationals 7 5 0 .583
Philadelphia Phillies 6 6 0 .500
New York Mets 5 7 0 .417
NL North W L T PCT
Milwaukee Brewers 10 2 0 .833
Pittsburgh Pirates 6 6 0 .500
Chicago Cubs 4 8 0 .333
Cincinnati Reds 4 8 0 .333
NL South W L T PCT
St. Louis Cardinals 7 5 0 .583
Miami Marlins 5 8 0 .385
Arizona Diamondbacks 4 11 0 .267
New Orleans Zyphers 2 9 0 .182
NL West W L T PCT
Los Angeles Dodgers 9 4 0 .692
San Francisco Giants 8 5 0 .615
Colorado Rockies 6 7 0 .462
San Diego Padres 5 7 0 .417
AL East W L T PCT
Toronto Blue Jays 7 6 0 .538
New York Yankees 7 6 0 .538
Baltimore Orioles 5 7 0 .417
Boston Red Sox 5 8 0 .385
AL North W L T PCT
Detriot Tigers 6 4 0 .600
Chicago White Sox 7 6 0 .538
Minnesota Twins 6 6 0 .500
Cleveland Indians 6 7 0 .462
AL South W L T PCT
Charlotte Knights 6 5 0 .545
Tampa Bay Rays 7 6 0 .538
Houston Astros 5 8 0 .385
Kansas City Royals 4 7 0 .364
AL West W L T PCT
Oakland Athletics 8 4 0 .667
Seattle Mariners 6 5 0 .545
Texas Rangers 6 6 0 .500
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 6 6 0 .500

After 14 weeks of play, the playoff picture for Major League Football is starting to form into shape. I’ll take you through division by division as the teams compete for the coveted home-field advantage.

The Atlanta Braves took sole possession of the NL East Division last week, and are riding the momentum of a three game winning streak. The Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies are one and two games behind, respectively, and even the New York Mets at three games back are still theoretically contenders. The Braves will have to keep their foot on the pedal and finish the season strong, as these three teams will be ready to pounce if there is any let up by the leaders.

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