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Apr
14

As Meatloaf Once Sang, Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad...

The noted philosopher Meatloaf may have been describing the Nationals and their time in St. Louis this week when he once sang "two out of three ain't bad."

But it wasn't the song that was significant: It was the band, or more accurately said, the band getting back together. 

Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber and Josh Harrison were reinstated from the Injured List (IL) on Monday, and for the first time this season, the Nationals had their entire team available to play. Bell started the first two games upon returning, and his counterparts played all three games in the series. The trio gave the lineup some much-improved length, proving why I believe the team has a strong chance to make the playoffs this year

Here’s a look at the difference the three of them made:

Before: Victor Robles, Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Zimmerman, Starlin Castro, Jordy Mercer, Andrew Stevenson, catcher, pitcher.
Bench Core: Hernan Perez, Luis Garcia, Yadiel Hernandez.

After: Robles, Turner, Soto, Bell, Schwarber, Castro, Harrison, catcher, pitcher.
Bench Core: Zimmerman, Stevenson, Mercer/Perez.

You can’t overstate how much of a boost this is for the lineup. Bell and Schwarber have – at least nearly – elite slugging potential, Castro becomes similar to Ian Desmond or a young Anthony Rendon in the No. 6 slot, and Harrison batting seventh – not to mention a catcher like Yan Gomes eighth – is an immeasurable luxury.

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Apr
11

Nationals Experience A Lost Weekend In Los Angeles

California Dreaming, it was not. 

Hoping to end their ever-growing losing streak on the West Coast, the Nationals thought they might take advantage of the Dodgers being without All Star outfielders Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger this weekend, but it didn’t matter much.

The West Coast super-team and defending World Series champions used late-game heroics to take the series opener 1-0, cruised to an 8-5 win on Saturday that was decided earlier than the score indicates, and closed out the set with a 3-0 victory in Sunday’s finale.

Considering how poorly the season has started, including a current streak of five consecutive losses, it seems like a good time to look into some patterns: What’s gone right for the Nats, what’s gone wrong, and how can Dave Martinez blend it all together to create a winning on-field product?

Game One

Joe Ross started Friday’s game, opposed by Walker Buehler. Pitching wasn’t the issue in this game, but finding any source of meaningful offense was.

  • Joe Ross: five innings, two hits, two walks, no runs, four strikeouts, 67 pitches (40 strikes)
  • Luis Avilan: one inning, solo home run, two strikeouts, 17 pitches (10 strikes)
  • Wander Suero: one inning, one base runner (double), 11 pitches (seven strikes)
  • Sam Clay: one inning, no base runners, nine pitches (six strikes)

No one pitched particularly poorly, but it’s completely fair to wonder why Ross was removed from the game after five innings. The obvious answer – whether it’s sufficient or not – is twofold; his spot in the lineup was due up in the top of the sixth, and he hadn’t thrown more than 73 pitches in an outing this spring, after sitting out the entire 2020 season.

At some point, Ross has to be allowed to go deeper into games and face a lineup for the third time – something Martinez is notoriously weary of doing with his back of the rotation starters. Friday’s game was the perfect opportunity to stretch him to his limits, but Davey refused to do it, and the team paid for it when Avilan gave up a homer to Justin Turner the following inning.

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Apr
07

Nats Have Their Moments, But Lose 2 Of 3 To Braves

For six months and a couple of extra days, Nats fans waited.

Then in a span of a little over 24 hours, they went from famine to feast, as the Nationals played three games, showing both the potential - and challenges - they'll have to deal with this season.  

The good: The Nats took the season opener on a walk-off base hit by Juan Soto.

The bad: They dropped both games of a doubleheader on Wednesday.

 Game One

Max Scherzer was not at his best on Tuesday. He surrendered four solo home runs in his first three innings, including two to Ronald Acuña Jr. Thankfully, the Nats’ bats picked up his slack.  Recently signed catcher Jonathan Lucroy laced a two-run double down the third base line in the second inning, and Trea Turner crushed a ball over the left-center field fence in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game.

Despite his early struggles, Scherzer managed to get through six innings while limiting the damage to four runs and striking out nine batters. That kept Washington in the game, and the bullpen fared better.

The Braves added a run on an Acuña groundout in the seventh, with Kyle Finnegan on the mound. But Andrew Stevenson responded with a bases-loaded RBI single the next inning.

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Apr
06

Nats' Opener: It Was Real. And It Was Spectacular.

Man, that felt normal.

Tuesday’s season-opening 6-5 win over the Atlanta Braves wasn’t so much about the dramatic walk-off RBI by Juan Soto – although that didn’t hurt at all – but was more about how it didn’t feel a single bit like those 60 games last season.

In comparison, those contests were plastic. Today was fine Corinthian leather. Last year felt like spring training games that didn’t count, while today – from the minute Max Scherzer gave up the first of four solo home runs – it felt real. There was a tension, an excitement, a feeling that whatever happened today counted.

Most of it was having live fans in the stands, as you can tell yourself piped-in crowd noise is almost as good as the real thing until the cows come home. But it’s not until you hear the murmuring and crescendos of sound made by living, caring human beings, sitting in a stadium eating overpriced food and beverage, that you realize the difference.

The vibe extended to everyone. You could hear it in the voices of Bob Carpenter, FP Santangelo and Dan Kolko as they broadcast the game. They were as excited as we were, like kids opening their Christmas presents a few days late, but still just as giddy when Trea Turner hit a two-run homer to tie the game at 4-4.

For the first time since the World Series of 2019, you could also feel the rivalry. Last year each game was between two teams respecting each other’s social distance, worried more about both teams leaving the field as healthy as they entered. Today, that old feeling of “I really don’t like these guys” made a comeback, and it added an intensity that led grown men to moan “C’mon Suero, don’t throw the ball down the middle like that again” in the privacy of their own homes.

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Apr
04

Nationals Start Season Tuesday, Doubleheader Wednesday

The Washington Nationals finally added some clarity to when their season would begin Sunday by announcing that Monday's game with the Atlanta Braves will be postponed, but barring any further developments, the Nationals will be starting their season Tuesday at home against the Braves.

The Nationals released an official statement Sunday night saying the most recent round of test results of Nationals personnel included no new positives, and that all of the club's eligible personnel will be able to participate in baseball activities at Nationals Park on Monday. 

UPDATE: Nats announced today that game time Tuesday would be 4:05 PM, and that they will play a doubleheader of 7-inning games on Wednesday starting at 12:05 PM. 

 

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Apr
04

Nationals Sign Lucroy, Reveal Covid-Affected Players

While the COVID-19 situation has been quite complex for the Nationals over the last few days, it would appear some of the questions fans have been asking now have answers.

We’ve known for a while that four players’ rapid/PCR tests returned positive results, with numerous other players ruled to be high-risk close contacts. But now we know specifically who some of the most affected players were.

Per reports, the Nationals expect to be without left-handed pitcher Jon Lester, catcher Alex Avila, infielder Josh Harrison and outfielder Kyle Schwarber when the season begins. It’s also possible that more players will join the list of inactives.

While Sam Clay, Luis Garcia and Yadiel Hernandez will likely remain with the team after being tentatively recalled on Wednesday, catcher Tres Barrera may not. Washington signed Jonathan Lucroy, a two-time All Star (2014 and 2016), to a minor-league contract, and the belief is that he’ll be promoted to the majors upon joining the team.

Lucroy’s case is an interesting one. Any player designated as COVID-19 affected – either due to a positive test or close contact – can be placed on a separate COVID-19 related IL, removing them from the active and 40-man rosters and allowing them to be replaced by a minor-league player. However, unlike last season, the replacement doesn’t have to be placed through waivers when the COVID-19 designee returns and the replacement is taken off the roster.

In other words, Lucroy can be temporarily utilized as a fill-in for Avila, and then returned to the minor leagues and retained by the organization upon Avila’s return. In essence, there is no downside to using a veteran like Lucroy, especially if Barrera isn’t viewed as big-league ready – which appears to be the case.

Lucroy’s role – assuming he earns a promotion and Avila is deactivated – will be dependent upon the availability of Yan Gomes. Lucroy has never caught any of the Nationals’ starting pitchers, though, which would likely limit his usage.

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Apr
02

"Abundance Of Caution" Scrubs Nats-Mets Opening Series

Remember 2020, the year that life as we knew it was thrown a curveball we coined as COVID-19? When the pandemic was so troublesome that Major League Baseball conducted a 60-game “fake” season?

Well, the virus has not gone away, and it's thrown a wrench into the the gears of the first week of Major League Baseball's regular season.

The Nationals’ opening series against the New York Mets has now been postponed to a later date, out of “an abundance of caution” surrounding confirmed positive tests for COVID-19 within Washington’s organization.

All 30 teams across the league were scheduled to play ball on Thursday. It was going to be the first time in decades that all 30 teams opened their season on the same day, and the Nationals were slated to host the Mets in the primetime ESPN slot. But the pandemic had other ideas, forcing ESPN’s nightcap to be postponed and the Nationals to enter a “Mike Rizzo mandated quarantine”.

The process leading up to the postponement was eventful. The chaos started on Wednesday afternoon, when it was reported that someone within the team had tested positive for the virus. News later broke that the positive test would likely impact the Opening Day roster, and would also force five people (including a staff member) to enter quarantine due to close contact.

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Mar
31

Nationals Have A Puncher's Chance At Winning The Division

In 2019, the Washington Nationals brought home a World Series ring.

Last year in a COVID-shortened season, the team didn't make the playoffs, and just went home early.

So where is the 2021 edition of the Nationals going, starting with Opening Day tomorrow?

Although their core remains largely the same, the Nationals have gone through their fair share of roster turnover since the end of last season, not to mention their World Series championship season in 2019. They’ve lost veterans like Anibal Sanchez, Kurt Suzuki, Howie Kendrick and Adam Eaton; but also added thumpers like Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber, along with a potential Hall of Fame pitcher in Jon Lester. And don’t forget about that savvy veteran who wears No. 11 and played his college ball in Charlottesville! He’s back too, after taking a year off.

The team appears on the surface to be stronger than it was for most of last season. So where should fans’ expectations fall in 2021, and what will be some of the key factors towards how successful the season will be?

State Of The Division

There’s no way around it; the NL East has improved since the Nationals’ title run. The Braves remain a powerhouse of the division, the Phillies and Mets have each added one of the best players at their respective positions (J.T. Realmuto and Francisco Lindor), and the Marlins are very much on the rise, even earning a Wild Card bid last year, thanks in part to rookie flamethrower Sixto Sanchez.

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Mar
30

Avoid The Lines: Build A Concession Stand In Your Home

Thursday is opening day for the Washington Nationals, as well as just about every other team in Major League Baseball.

Because of this, I have some investment advice for you.

Let’s face it, going to a major league game and truly enjoying the experience involves a couple of factors. One is obviously good baseball.

But another is the food, as I cannot go to a baseball game without getting a hot dog at the stadium. A hot dog, a cold beverage and a bag of salted in the shell peanuts constitute the holy trinity in the cathedral of baseball, and it is a mandatory purchase, where you can expect to pay at least $20 for those materials at a concession stand at Nats Park.

The hot dog, to truly be a baseball hot dog, has to be cooked a certain way to create its unique taste. At home, you’re probably going to fry it in a pan, boil it if you’re not all that serious about hot dog taste, or microwave it if you’ve given up on life in general. But a true baseball hot dog is cooked on steel rollers, constantly cooking it to maximize the melting of all that fat and other ingredients in there that will probably shorten your life.

You probably see these machines on the counter behind the staff taking your order without ever giving thought to “hey, I should get one of those.”

The other part of the ballpark experience is a steamed bun. Properly stationed in a contraption allowing a low level of steam to soften the bun into a heavenly pillow sliced in the middle to allow this juicy all-beef concoction to rest comfortably, and you have the food of kings.

I invested in these two devices years ago, and it may have been a better investment than Microsoft, Apple or Amazon when it comes to living life to its fullest. When the Nats or Hokies play, I put a few Nathan’s natural casing Coney Island style hot dogs on the rollers, some buns in the steamer, a little chili and sauerkraut in two small crock pots I set on low, then chop up some onions and leave out some condiments. It’s an all-day concession stand in my kitchen without having to pay $8 a hot dog.

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Mar
28

This Is One Opening Day I'll Never Be Able To Forget...

Since it is a dark, gray day, and Opening Day is later this week, allow me to share a memory.

It is of an Opening Day 9 years ago that had me filled with excitement. It later turned to one of my darkest memories, and something I think about every year. In light of what’s been going on with younger people during this year-plus of being out of school and staying at home due to COVID, I think about it even more this year.

I’ve been blessed with friends who are baseball fanatics. I like baseball, don’t get me wrong, but these friends absolutely love it. One friend, whose name was Paul, insisted that I always go with him to Opening Day. From the first year the Nationals came to DC until 2012, he never asked whether I wanted to go. He just said he’d gotten the tickets and what time he was coming by the house.

He was that way with the last game of the season, too. Missing either in a season was like a religious person missing church on Easter Sunday. It was important to him, and you had to be there.

Every year on the drive to at first RFK, then Nats Park, the conversation was the same. We’d ask each other if this year would be the season the Nationals finally broke through and made the playoffs, and despite evidence to the contrary, would convince ourselves the answer was “yes.”. We’d endured the beginning of some bad 100-loss seasons in the past, but we always rationalized about the next season and how changes made in the offseason would somehow mean this coming season was OUR year.

Thursday, April 12, 2012 was no different. We convinced ourselves this would be the year the Nats made the postseason, and like every year, we believed it. Because of traffic that day, we’d spend 7 hours together between riding in the car to the stadium and watching the game while debating all this.

It ended up being a very good game. Paul was not a fan of Jayson Werth, and after riding him all day every time he came to the plate, Werth repaid the criticism with a single in the bottom of the 10th to move Ryan Zimmerman to second. A ground out moved both over a base, and with two outs, Zimmerman would then score the winning run on a wild pitch.

We all went home happy.

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6
Feb
28

How Only A Few Words Can Brighten A Rainy, Dreary Day

There aren’t many words that can immediately make me think of bright sunshine on a dreary, rainy Sunday morning.

But there they were on the schedule of today's sporting events:  “Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, FL, 1:05 PM.”

That's the site of the Washington Nationals’ first spring training game of the year today against the St. Louis Cardinals.

It was only two years ago in a world that feels like it's now thousands of miles away that my cell phone rang. “Hey,” said the voice of my oldest friend Doug from the high temps and humidity of Southern Mississippi, “have you ever wanted to go to spring training?”

Of course I did, as every kid who has ever thrown a baseball or swung a bat wanted to back in the day. But on the spur of the moment, you drive to a fast food joint or head to the grocery store. You don’t just pack up one day and head to West Palm Beach.

But Doug was ready. “I’ve booked the hotel, I’ve gotten a rental car and I’ve got a plane reservation in front of me from Dulles to Charlotte where we can meet, then we’ll fly the rest of the way together,” he said. “All you have to do is say yes.”

He had, in the words of The Godfather, made me an offer I could not refuse.

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