The Washington Nationals, my home team now, after years of being bad, have won the National League East, contending with Cincinnati–another team that came out of nowhere–for the best record in baseball. (The Nationals lost to the Phillies, but Pittsburgh beat Atlanta, arriving at the magic number.) I’m enjoying watching the players come out of the dugout to spray the fans with champagne!
Since I’ve moved out here to the D.C. area I’ve been obeying the baseball anthem that one should “root, root, root for the home team” so I’ve been following the Washington Nationals. That has been a grim undertaking for the last few years. But this season they have the best record in baseball!
On the surface, the main difference would appear to be the impact of two young baseball prodigies and #1 draft picks, centerfielder Bryce Harper and, especially, pitcher Stephen Strasburg. There is, however, much more to it than that, including dramatically improved defense.
Strasburg is a fun pitcher to watch, throwing fastballs approaching 100 mph fastball with pinpoint accuracy, curveballs that are practically unhittable, and confusing changeups that go 87 mph. But despite his 15-6 record, the Nationals are planning to shut him down on September 12 in the middle of a potential run for the World Series. They are babying his surgically-reconstructed arm, which he blew out after only a few games when he first came up in 2010. He had the Tommy John surgery and team officials, following medical advice for someone who has never pitched a full season and wanting to keep him on the roster for a long, long time, decided to limit him to 170 innings.
Those team officials, of course, never dreamed the team would have so much as a shot at the playoffs, so that made sense. But now, many people are saying, this could be the Nationals’ year. They may never get this close again. The kid is still strong. (In his last start he struck out 10 Cardinals.) Across the nation on sports talk shows, people are calling the Nationals’ leadership wusses. This is the time to go all in! Let Strasburg pitch!
It’s odd that you don’t hear that line of reasoning very much here. For one thing, Strasburg may not even be the Nationals’ best pitcher. Gio Gonzalez has more wins (17). Jordan Zimmerman, through most of the season, has had a lower E.R.A. (under 3). And the guy who will replace him in the lineup, John Lannan, used to be the Nationals’ number one pitcher, starting on opening day twice. But the pitching staff is so loaded he had to spend the season up to now in the minor leagues! Now he’ll be the fifth starter, though once the playoffs begin with their travel days, a four-man rotation is plenty.
I like how the esteemed sportswriter Tom Boswell writes about this:
Sometimes numbers are more eloquent and sadder than words because they are harder to refute. In a weak year among NL powers, the Nats will seldom have a smoother path to a pennant. Look at the pitching hegemony the Nats would have brought to bear in the postseason when all teams use four starters. They’d have four of the top 15 in ERA among all starters in the NL. Only one NL team has more than one such pitcher (the Giants).
Also, the Nats would send out four of the top 15 NL starters in WHIP (walks and hits per inning), as well as four of the top 21 in lowest OPS (on-base-percentage plus slugging).
Finally, the Nats would have an overpowering staff with four of the top nine average-fastball-velocities in the NL. That’s almost insane.
On top of all that, the Nats would finally, if they stay intact, have their best seven hitters at the top of their lineup and their entire seven-deep bullpen all healthy at the same time. All season the Nats have waited for this full complement of top players. All in all, it’s a mighty powerful mixture.
Too bad: After 79 years waiting, we’re left with “might have beens.”
Oh, I’m sorry. I seem to have made a minor mistake in my calculations. The team I have just described is the Nationals without Strasburg.
The four-man rotation, primed for October that I’ve described is Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler.
World Magazine has a profile of architect David Greusel, who specializes in designing baseball stadiums. In addition to a fascinating discussion of ball parks, focusing on the one hailed as the best in baseball–Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, which Greusel designed–the article by Janie Cheaney highlights the architect’s Christian faith and his sense of vocation. This excerpt has wide-ranging implications:
Integrating work with family and faith shouldn’t be controversial, but over the years Greusel has found himself running counter not only to the architectural establishment, but also to certain strains of Christian fundamentalism. In an online essay called “God’s Trailer,” Greusel boldly states that “bad church architecture is as much the result of bad theology as it is of bad design”—meaning that an overemphasis on saving souls has blinded some congregations to the value of nurturing souls. Too many Christians buy into a perversion of the old architectural saw that “form follows function,” seeing their buildings as so many square feet of function with a cross stuck on, instead of a place to direct our attention to God’s glory.
Greusel likes to quote Winston Churchill: “First, we shape our buildings, then they shape us.” He believes the need for Christian architects who bring their worldview to their work has never been greater, for at least three reasons. One, the “creation mandate” (Genesis 1:28) implies that we can continue God’s work on earth by designing spaces that are both useful and beautiful. Also, as creatures made in His image, we honor God by following in His creative footsteps and striving for excellence. And finally, designing (and insisting on) beautiful buildings puts us on the front lines of the culture war: Against the dreary functionalism, commodification, and standardization of concrete boxes, our buildings can reflect both the glory of God and the humanity of man—whether their primary function is to encourage worship or to showcase a perfect double play.
Read Greusel’s entire essay God’s Trailer. The contradiction he cites–“fundamentalists” buying into the dogmas of the “modernists”– is very telling. By the same token, some of the biggest critics of pop culture are insisting on pop music in their worship. And theological “conservatives” are arguing that the church must conform to the culture, the textbook definition of theological liberalism.
Do you read the mad-cap sports columnist Norman Chad? His latest column is about the mystery of Albert Pujols, the St. Louis Cardinals superstar–who has hit an average of 40 home runs each season with a career .326 batting average–who can now do hardly anything (one home run, batting .196) after being paid a quarter of a billion dollars to join the California Angels.
Chad wonders if the Pujols deal might join his top five flops of all time:
●New Coke (1985): Was anybody complaining about Coca-Cola? What were they thinking? This was like adding skylights and terraces to the Pyramids.
●Chevy Chase’s talk show (1993): Magic Johnson’s talk show actually was worse, but he was a point guard; Chase is an entertainer.
●Ben-Gay Aspirin (1990s): Yes, Ben-Gay Aspirin. For real. I mean, I’ll smear that delightfully smelly stuff on my back, but do I care to swallow it?
●Dennis Miller on “Monday Night Football” (2000-01): I still have nightmares of the former funny guy referring to Coach Mike Shanahan as “Shanny” 37 times in four quarters.
●Susan B. Anthony dollar (1979-81, 1999): Hey, I was as big a fan of women’s suffrage as the next guy, but I don’t want some feminist coin rolling around my pocket ruining the feng shui of my favorite quarters and dimes.
What are some other epic failures?
Phil Humber of the Chicago White Sox pitched a perfect game last Saturday against the Seattle Mariners: no hits, no runs, no walks. He was only the 21st person in baseball history to achieve that feat. It turns out that Humber is an outspoken Christian, like Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin. See WORLDmag.com | Perfection | J.C. Derrick | Apr 21, 12.