No-hitter leads into the playoffs

The climax of the Washington Nationals’ league-leading season came Sunday on the last game of the regular schedule when Jordan Zimmermann threw a no-hitter against the Miami Marlins.  The Nationals’ hand for the playoffs includes five aces in the starting rotation.  And yet, the playoffs and the World Series are often full of surprises.

So what are your predictions for the playoffs, which begin on Thursday?  (By the way, we also had baseball predictions on this blog at the beginning of this season.  We’ll see who was right!) [Read more...]

Spring training!

For some people, the portent of spring, with it promise of new life and new beginnings, is the first robin or the first flowers to bloom.  For baseball fans, it’s spring training.  And I am happy to say that spring training  has started!  Hope springs eternal in the human breast, and now the fans of every team are full of hope.  I’ll tell you my baseball hopes for this next season, and you tell me yours. [Read more...]

Baseball post-mortem

I was glad to see that the Washington Nationals’ Davey Johnson won the National League’s manager of the year.  He also won the award for the American League back in 1997 when he managed  the Baltimore Orioles.  On the same day that reward was announced for getting the Orioles into the post-season for the first time in decades, he got fired.  That won’t happen this time, as the 70-year-old agreed to come back to Washington for one more year before he retires for good.  He took a bad, hapless, hopeless team and turned it, virtually overnight, into the winningness team in baseball.

And, along that line, going from old to young, the National’s Bryce Harper won Rookie of the Year.  He was 19 for most of the season and his infectious energy, as well as his penchant for getting on base and then stealing them, contributed greatly to the team’s successful season.

I was hoping for a trifecta for the Nationals, the home team I’m now following in my new home, but the team’s ace, Gio Gonzalez (not Stephen Strasburg, great young pitcher that he is) finished third in the NL Cy Young.  Usually winning more games than anyone, going 21-8, having 207 strikeouts, and a 2.89 ERA is enough to get you a Cy Young, but this year’s award went to the Met’s kuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who went 20-6.  Since the Mets were a losing team, I can see that this was a greater feat.   race despite having

Gonzalez led the Major Leagues with 21 victories, led the team in strikeouts with 207 and had a 2.89 ERA in 32 games. However, Dickey, who went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA, led the NL in starts, complete games, shutouts and innings pitched. The Dodger’s Clayton Kershaw came in second, despite his lowlier 14-9 record, because he came out so well in the sophisticated number crunching of sabremetrics.

 

The agony and the ecstasy of playoffs

The baseball playoffs are on another level of sports enjoyment.  These games are not relaxing, as baseball usually is, at least if you have a favorite team in the mix.  You find yourselves fixating on every pitch.  The games are intense, suspenseful, stressful.  To be sure, they are great fun, but they are draining and exhausting.  This year, in the first round, every one of the best-of-five contests went to five games, the first time that has ever happened.

I stayed up until well after midnight watching the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Nationals, my new home team, jumped to a 6-0 lead after three innings.  But the Cardinals chipped away.  In the 9th inning, the Nationals led by two points, 7-5.   With two outs, the reliable closer Drew Storen on the mound, though with the bases loaded, the team and its fans could taste victory, especially after two strikes to low-in-the-batting-order Daniel Descalso.  But then he hit a two-run single!  The score was tied!  Once again, Storen, letting Descalso steal a base so with runners on 1st & 3rd, had the next batter, Pete Kozma, down to the last strike.  And he got a hit, putting the Cardinals ahead 9-7 for the win!

It could have gone so many different ways.  The Cardinals had two last-bat, last-strike miracles in a row.  But then again, this is exactly the kind of things that the Cardinals did last year, over and over again, in the playoffs and then in winning the World Series.  So now I’m going to pull for the Cardinals, though I’m not sure how many games I can take.

Nationals win NL East

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!

Nationals win NL East with Braves’ 2-1 loss to Pirates.

The Washington Nationals

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.

via Strasburg shutdown? Nats can still be a playoff powerhouse – The Washington Post.


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