2012 Season Forecast: Washington Nationals

2011 Season: 80 – 81 (3rd, NL East)
Runs Scored: 624 (12th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 643 (7th, NL)

A rain out prevented the team from having a chance at getting all the way back to .500.  Davey Johnson’s task is to find at least ten more wins, telling reporters at one point that if this team doesn’t make the playoffs he should be fired.  Let’s see if that can happen.

2011 Season Recap:

Without their ace, Stephen Strasburg, who was out following elbow surgery, the Nationals started adding even more pieces to the roster, building a team that remained competitive all season long – just in the wrong division.  What was odd was that the team played over .500 with Jim Riggleman, who then quit because he couldn’t get an extension to his contract.  Johnson took over – it took a month to figure things out, but he was 38 – 43 in his time with the team.

Just looking at the statistical breakdown, the team really just needed someone who could bat first or second.  Leadoff hitters batted  .226 with a .285 OBP and the number two hitters were worse – .222 with a .283 OBP, and the lowest slugging percentage other than the pitcher’s spot in the order.  Give them 70 extra runs out of those spots, and you have a team on the brink of a 90 win season.

Starting Pitching:

Last year, the Nationals opened with a rotation of John Lannan, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Tom Gorzelanny, and gave test drives to Ross Detwiler, Chien-Ming Wang and others before giving five starts to Strasburg when he came back in September.  The problem here is that Hernandez is really just eating innings but not that effective, costing his team some 24 runs against the league average.  Even Lannan, who has been their best pitcher prior to the arrival of Strasburg is below average now – -11 runs, and Wang, despite the winning record, cost the team almost nine runs.

Looking ahead, the Nationals now hope to get 30 starts from Strasburg, which could be worth 50 runs by replacing Hernandez – a huge change.  The Nationals also added Gio Gonzalez to the rotation – a solid starter for Oakland, who if he can take over for Lannan (who, surprisingly, found his way to AAA to start this season) and pitch close to what he did last year will save the team another 25 runs.  The rest of the rotation will include Edwin Jackson – and he has the potential to save another ten to fifteen runs over Marquis.  The last two spots go to Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann, both of whom showed promise last year.  Having Lannan as an alternate isn’t a bad thing – worst case he’s a bargaining chip for help later.  This could be a very tough rotation in 2012.

Relief Pitching:

At the back end, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard are solid – a net 30 runs better than average pitching, though Storen’s ERA (2.75) is a touch high for a closer.  Sean Burnett and Todd Coffey are tolerable long men, and being able to move Tom Gorzelanny to the pen will be a help.  Another addition that could prove to be valuable is former stopper Brad Lidge and fireballer Henry Rodriguez.  It’s a reasonably deep staff with at least three solid options.  I think this team will be a shade better than last year – but not much.  The bullpen was pretty good as it was.

Catching:

Wilson Ramos took over the job – defensively, he’s pretty good.  As a hitter, he wasn’t bad either…  He has a little power, batted .267, and would take a walk if offered.  Backed up by Ivan Rodriguez, who can’t hit but can still work the plate and threw out more runners than were successful stealing, it wasn’t a bad combination.  However, former starter Jesus Flores is back and healthy, so Pudge was sent packing for 2012.  This remains a solid duo.

Infield:

This is a group with a little pop and solid defensively all around.  Adam LaRoche didn’t hit well last year, but Michael Morse was solid when he played there.  The problem is that they need TWO Michael Morse types.  Morse also played left, and moved to first only because LaRoche didn’t hit at all (3 – 15 – .172).  Danny Espinosa has power (21 homers, 55 extra base hits), but only hit .236, and Ian Desmond has a bit better batting average but less power.  Neither guy gets on base and each were hitting too frequently at the top of the order.  At third, Ryan Zimmerman missed two months with injuries – he needs to play a full season.  If he did, he’d be an MVP candidate.

These guys have room to grow, but it would help if Adam LaRoche found his hitting stroke.  Steve Lombardozzi and Mark DeRosa are around for insurance, but Lombardozzi isn’t as good a hitter as these guys and DeRosa hasn’t been healthy in three years.  I think Washington is going to miss Laynce Nix, who played a variety of positions and put a few runs on the board.

Outfield:

Last year, Michael Morse was the dominant hitter in the outfield.  Jayson Werth had signed the big contract to come to Washington and struggled, finishing with a .232 batting average, but he still helped to put runs on the board.  He drew 74 walks, was 19/22 on the bases, and had 47 extra base hits.  Granted – he didn’t hit to his contract, so there is room for improvement.  Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina will battle for playing time in center – and neither are even league average hitters anymore.

The top prospect on the team, Bryce Harper, has to play here.  Yes – he’s still a teen, but Werth or Harper has enough gas to cover centerfield and having Harper could be a step up over either Ankiel or Bernadina.  Mark DeRosa and Xavier Nady are around and will get at bats.  Neither has been a productive enough hitter since about 2008.

Morse can hit – he’s done it everywhere he has played.  Werth should be better – it’s all about getting someone else in the outfield (or first base) who can contribute.  I think if the Nationals get off to a slow start, Harper will be here quickly.

Prospects:

Let’s start with the obvious – Bryce Harper hit .318 with power and patience at A level Hagerstown and earned a trip to Harrisburg in AA where he wasn’t overmatched.  He may need a full season at AA or AAA, but I don’t know if the Nationals can wait for that.

AAA Syracuse features outfielder Chris Marrero, who has a decent bat and eye, but I don’t think he’s got enough power to merit a job at first base.  He’d be better than Adam LaRoche was last year, but not a game changer.  Pitcher Tommy Milone has an interesting line – only 16 walks and 155 Ks in 148.1 innings.  He got a look in 2011; he might get some long relief innings in 2012.  Ross Detwiler made 16 starts here before joining the rotation with the major league team.

AA Harrisburg had Harper for a little while, but featured the 31 homers of Tyler Moore.  Unfortunately, Moore’s power comes with a lot of strikeouts and little patience at the plate.  Catcher Derek Norris hit for power, but his batting average doesn’t make you long for his arrival yet.  Brad Peacock had a great run in AA – 129 Ks and 23 walks in 14 starts.  Something clicked for him – it was, by far, the best season he’d had in the minors in five seasons.

David Freitas, a catcher at Hagerstown, might have a future – he hit .288, drew 82 walks, and had mid-range power.  He could make the Nationals roster in a couple of years.  Infielder Blake Kelso also had a nice season, stole some bases, and will get a shot at AA soon.  Pitcher A.J. Cole fanned 108 in 89 innings, showed good control and kept the ball in the park.  He may have a nice future here.

2012 Forecast:

With the upgrade to the rotation, the Nationals look to save at least 80 runs when compared to the 2011 model – which would be a huge step forward.  The issue remains with the offense, which isn’t really good enough.  The lineup can be better.  Desmond or Espinosa could move forward ten runs each.  Werth could improve by twenty runs.  Zimmerman could play a full season – another twenty run impact.  On the other hand, Ankiel and Morse could fall back a similar amount.  The Nationals really need a leadoff hitter – and they don’t have one.

I see them scoring about twenty runs more than last year, and saving 80 more runs.  That puts them around 640 runs scored and 560 runs allowed – or 92 wins.  You might temper that total based on the competition in the division – the Phillies, Marlins, and Braves are all very good teams.  Realistically, the Nationals could win 90 games – I just don’t know if 90 will be enough to win the division.  It could be enough to get that second wild card slot.

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Baseball’s Opening Day Fun!

It’s nice to get back into the swing of writing…  I didn’t get all of the team forecasts done, so I’ll just add as many as I can in April before calling it good.  I DID rate all of the players by position for the first time ever, so I got THAT going for me…

I was able to watch a variety of different games, getting in most of the Phillies – Nationals game, the early innings of the Cubs – Braves slaughter (ouch if you are a Cubs fan like me), two innings of the Diamondbacks opener, and listened to about two innings of the Astros and Giants opener.  That’s a good opening day.

Things that caught my attention:

How about that play by Mark Buehrle on a ball that rocketed off his left shin into foul territory.  Buehrle ran it down and flipped the ball between his legs to first for the out.  [MLB]

I don’t think the Cubs should allow Carlos Zambrano to start on opening day.  He’s just too excitable.  Once a ball fell in that he thought should have been caught in the first inning, the game went out the window.

Jason Heyward became the umpteenth player in MLB history to homer in his first plate appearance – looking very comfortable as a major league outfielder.  [FoxSports]

Albert Pujols and Garrett Jones (who was immediately scooped up by Andy Finch in our fantasy baseball league) homered twice on opening day, which means they are on pace to hit 300 homers in 2010…

Jack Cust was released by the A’s – and isn’t too happy about it.  Cust hits homers and draws walks – but that’s about it.  Still – he produces runs for a team that doesn’t really have a cleanup hitter.  [Fanhouse]

Buster Olney writes that the Yankees are already concerned about the decline in Jorge Posada‘s defense.  But they have no worries about the lack of range displayed by Derek Jeter?  [ESPN]

Happy Birthday!

1903 Mickey Cochrane
1906 Benny Frey
1908 Ernie Lombardi
1937 Phil Regan
1943 Marty Pattin – I can still remember getting his baseball card as a little kid at a corner store  near by grandparent’s house in Chicago
1951 Bert Blyleven
1971 Lou Merloni

Hurry Back!

Lots of guys starting the year on the DL, including (but not limited to):

Brandon Webb (AZ) – 15 day, recovering from shoulder surgery
Marc Rzepczynski
(TOR) – 15 day, fractured middle finger on left hand
Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) – 15 day, neck strain
Cliff Lee (SEA) – 15 day, abdominal strain
Jose Reyes (NYM) – 15 day, thyroid condition
Jesus Flores (WAS) – 60 day, shoulder surgery
Chien-Ming Wang (WAS) – 60 day, shoulder surgery
Daniel Murphy (NYM) – 15 day, sprained knee
Coco Crisp (OAK) – 15 day, fractured pinkie
J.P. Howell (TB) – 15 day, left shoulder strain
Kerry Wood (CLE) – 15 day, right lat strain
Freddy Sanchez (SF) – 15 day, recovering from shoulder surgery
Ted Lilly (CHC) – 15 day, recovering from shoulder surgery
Russell Branyan (CLE) – 15 day, herniated disc
Ian Kinsler (TEX) – 15 day, sprained ankle
Tommy Hunter
(TEX) – 15 day, left oblique strain
Gil Meche (KC) – 15 day, bursitis in throwing shoulder
Alex Gordon (KC) – 15 day, broken thumb
Huston Street (COL) – 15 day, shoulder inflammation
Joe Blanton (PHI) – 15 day, left oblique strain
Scott Kazmir (LAA) – 15 day, hamstring strain
Brad Lidge (PHI) – 15 day, recovering from elbow surgery

Hey Pittsburgh fans! Your team is in first place!

Have a great day!

Top NL Catchers

Unlike the guys who play between the baselines, determining the value of a catcher defensively is a much harder proposition for me.  I haven’t been able to translate defense into runs the way I have for all the other positions, but I AM able to look at the responsibilities of a catcher and determine what teams are benefiting more from good catching than others.  Here’s how I do it.

There are seven things for which a catcher would get credit as being solid defensively.  If the catchers for a team are above average in a category, they get a point.  If below average, they lose a point.  The top score is seven, the lowest score (obviously) would be -7.  Here are the categories:

W/L Percentage: Score a point for a winning record, take one away for being below .500.

Adjusted ERA: If the team’s staff has a better than league average ERA (4.21), score a point.

Mistakes Per Game: Essentially errors and passed balls are added up.  The norm is about .11 mistakes a game for AL catchers.  Score a point for doing better than that.  Otherwise, take one away.  The only time this is patently unfair is when a team has a knuckleballer – so this works against Boston right now.  But it’s just a single category and I tend to give that team the benefit of the doubt on that category.

Mobililty: Mobility is the total number of assists that aren’t tied to stolen bases and the number of putouts that aren’t strikeouts.  A good catcher blocks the plate and gets outs on throws home, or can race out of the crouch to snare bunts and make plays in the field.  In the AL, the average catcher made .38 plays requiring mobility.  Score a point for beating that number.

Fielding Percentage (not counting strikeouts):  I guess someone had to get credit for the putout when a batter strikes out.  Unfortunately, catching strike three isn’t really “fielding”.  So, I look at the fielding percentage after removing putouts for Ks.  The average catcher has a fielding percentage of about .914 on balls in play or when runners are trying to advance.  Beat it, and score a point.

Assists Per Game: These are assists NOT tied to stolen bases and is used to grade the catcher’s ability to make good throws.  The league average is .23 assists per game.

Stolen Base Percentage: Can a catcher hold the running game in check?  If so, score a point.  The league average is 73.6% – which is awfully high, don’t you think?

The best catcher (well, team of catchers) can score a seven – and it happens from time to time.  As it turns out, there was a seven in the NL in 2009 – and it was your St. Louis Cardinals led by the incredible Yadier Molina.  The Cardinals had a winning record, an adjusted ERA of 3.48, cut off the running game, made few errors, few mistakes in total, had great mobility, and had an above average number of assists not tied to stolen bases.

I’ll list the table here to show you where the catchers rank defensively and then discuss the nuts and bolts in the player comments below.

  M. ERA WPct SB% FPct-K MTK Mob. Asst Rank
NL AVG 4.21 0.500 71.2% 0.917 0.11 0.44 0.33 ***
ARI 4.03 0.432 76.1% 0.948 0.08 0.37 0.32 -1
ATL 3.77 0.531 67.8% 0.906 0.15 0.49 0.31 1
CHN 3.60 0.516 67.4% 0.879 0.14 0.50 0.34 3
CIN 4.23 0.481 62.7% 0.923 0.09 0.52 0.28 1
COL 3.76 0.568 81.0% 0.886 0.11 0.41 0.42 0
FLA 4.02 0.537 75.4% 0.971 0.07 0.35 0.29 1
HOU 4.71 0.457 69.1% 0.924 0.13 0.58 0.38 2
LAN 3.67 0.586 69.5% 0.914 0.09 0.41 0.37 3
MIL 5.12 0.494 79.6% 0.968 0.06 0.43 0.34 -1
NYN 4.58 0.432 66.0% 0.904 0.11 0.38 0.18 -4
PHI 4.10 0.574 72.0% 0.917 0.12 0.39 0.21 0
PIT 4.51 0.385 71.3% 0.883 0.18 0.44 0.39 -4
SDN 5.02 0.463 70.4% 0.891 0.16 0.45 0.29 -3
SFN 3.48 0.543 71.8% 0.911 0.12 0.37 0.42 -1
SLN 3.82 0.562 61.1% 0.943 0.07 0.54 0.42 7
WAS 4.98 0.364 70.1% 0.941 0.10 0.46 0.26 1

Catchers Ranked by Runs Created

Brian McCann (ATL):  Unlike the AL, where Joe Mauer is arguably as valuable as any player in the game, the NL doesn’t have even one catcher who can generate 100 runs of offense.  McCann has the ability to do it, but in 2009 fell a little short.  Not that anybody is complaining – he’s been a top flight catcher for a few years now…  Power, patience, hits for a good average (though not as high as two years ago).  McCann is such a good hitter that it might be worth it to move him to first base to save his bat before the grind catches up with him.  Backup Dave Ross was impressive against base stealers, nabbing 19 of 40 attempts.  (88.95 Runs Created)

Yadier Molina (STL):  A complete defensive package – only the best runners even DARE to run on him, and those are nabbed at a 40% rate.  As an offensive weapon, Molina almost hit .300 and worked his way on base about 36% of the time – very good offensive production for a catcher, too.  (72.22 Runs Created)

Miguel Montero (ARI):  Power, patience, decent batting average.  Granted – gets help by playing in Arizona, but would look good most anywhere.  Montero and Chris Snyder avoid mistakes, but aren’t all that good against the run – and the team generally underperformed (though it’s not their fault that Brandon Webb didn’t play except on Opening Day).  (66.14 Runs Created)

Russell Martin (LAD):  Years of playing every day likely contributed to Martin’s amazing loss of energy and power.  Still a solid defensive catcher – good against the run, his teams are very successful and the pitchers all look good.  He’s consistently the second best catcher in the NL – but now is a below average offensive run producer.  (65.19 Runs Created)

Bengie Molina (SF):  More power than most catchers, and a decent (if slightly above average) batting average.  Rarely walks, though, so his OBP is low (.291) which makes him a slightly below average offensive performer even with the power.  People can run on Bengie (and do) and he’s just below average in terms of his mobility and dependability.  Backup Eli Whiteside was great against the run.  In a year, Buster Posey will have this job.  Maybe sooner.  (61.7 Runs Created)

Miguel Olivo, recently of Kansas City and now in Colorado, would rank here.

John Baker (FLA):  He’s a decent enough hitter that Baker bats second in the lineup from time to time.  Good OBP, decent power.  His platoon mate, Ronny Paulino, also had a good season so the Marlins got a lot of production from this spot.  Both tend to be dependable, but not necessarily mobile – and Paulino threw well enough…  (50.26 Runs Created)

Jason Kendall (MIL):  Brings his lack of power and barely acceptable on base percentage with him to Kansas City.  To Kendall’s credit, the man is durable.  On the other hand, look how badly so many Brewers pitchers fared.  Look at the team ERA.  Sure, he doesn’t make mistakes, but baserunners were successful 80% of the time.  And the Royals didn’t want John Buck out there?   For 2010, the Brewers will try Greg Zaun, George Kottaras, and possibly rookie Angel Salome – who would be my first choice… (50.24 Runs Created)

Carlos Ruiz (PHI):  Not appreciably different than Baker – both had 9 homers, between 40 and 50 RBI, and virtually the same SLG and OBP.  Ruiz, Paul Bako, and Chris Coste provide ordinary, middle of the road defense.  How many teams has Paul Bako played for now?  (48.6 Runs Created)

Rod Barajas – just signed by the Mets – would rank here.

Chris Iannetta (COL):  His batting average was down (.228), but his power and OBP were still solid.  Shared the job with Yorvit Torrealba and now will share with Miguel Olivo.  Virtually everyone could run on Torrealba or third stringer Paul Phillips.  (41.42 Runs Created)

Ramon Hernandez (CIN):  I’d say this was a disappointing season for the veteran backstop – missed half the season due to injuries.  Power numbers fell off to five homers, the rest of his game is barely average.  Of course, Ryan Hanigan caught the most innings, but he’s not better with the bat (merely average at best).  Even third stringer Craig Tatum had a good year against base stealers and as a team, the Reds had pretty good catching defensively.  (40.10 Runs Created)

Nick Hundley (SD):  Had stats that his dad might have had…  Some power, a low batting average, but on the whole wasn’t too bad.  Has room to improve defensively – easy to run on and a bit mistake prone.  Henry Blanco was much better behind the plate, but you’d rather see Nick with the stick.  (39.18 Runs Created)

Geovany Soto (CHI):  Now THERE’S a sophomore slump.  Ouch.  Cut his homers in half (seemed like his batting average, too) – lost power and his OBP (.326).  Says that he’s going to come into spring training in better shape and also not have to deal with the World Baseball Classic.  For the Cubs sake, let’s hope so.  Defensively, his backup, Koyie Hill, looked stronger against the run, but as a team they were above average in five categories – so they ranked very highly.  (38.66 Runs Created)

Ivan Rodriguez (HOU):  Finished year in Texas, now catching for the Nationals.  His arm isn’t as good as it used to be, but it’s still solid.  Backup Humberto Quintero was even better, nabbing 12 of 25 would be base stealers.  I-Rod’s bat is gone, though.  As a prospect, J.R. Towles would appear to be finished, huh?  (36.46 Runs Created)

Ryan Doumit (PIT):  Missed time with injuries (most catchers do), didn’t have his best season offensively and, as such, fell far down the list.  As a team, Pirate catchers look bad – mistake prone, average against the run, with poor records and poor pitching ERAs.  Jason Jaramillo isn’t the answer either and hits like a backup catcher.  (34.97 Runs Created)

Omir Santos (NYM):  Forced into more playing time than planned, Santos was tolerable.  Slightly below average as a hitter – like many of the people on this list – Santos played when (a) Brian Schneider couldn’t keep his back and knees healthy and then (b) Ramon Castro got sent to the White Sox.  On the whole, Santos didn’t look very mobile and Schneider certainly is more polished.  But, the Mets catching as a whole looked off – below average results for pitchers and the team, a few too many mistakes…  (34.20 Runs Created)

Ronny Paulino, discussed above, would rank here in offensive production – not bad for the right handed partner of a very effective Marlins platoon.  (32.41 Runs Created)

Ryan Hanigan, the Reds catcher, got more innings than Hernandez, but a few less at bats.  Good glove, a little bat kind of a guy.

Josh Bard (WAS)  Got more innings than Wil Nieves or the injured Jesus Flores, Bard has some skills and was probably glad to not have to catch a knuckler…  Doesn’t hit or get on base, and is power is marginal at best.  (29.03 Runs Created)

Yorvit Torrealba (COL)  Suffered through the kidnapping of his son, which – fortunately for all – ended without incident.  Hit .305 with a decent OBA…  Brutal against the run (8 out of 57 baserunners) but made fewer errors than Iannetta.  (25.95 Runs Created)

Koyie Kill (CHC):  Not much of a hitter – but can still throw some.  (23.94 Runs Created)

Herzog, Harvey Earn Hall of Fame Nods; Hot Stove Updates…

Whitey Herzog, who managed the Cardinals to three World Series and the Royals to three AL West Division crowns, received 14 of 16 votes and will join veteran umpire Doug Harvey at the podium in Cooperstown next July.  If you are a Bill James fan, you probably know a lot about Whitey – James would quote, praise, or refer to him constantly and with good reason.  Herzog was a bright guy who could manage teams with power, speed, and was the Marty Schottenheimer of MLB – you start by having good defense supporting pitchers who threw strikes.  Then, figure out the best way to score some runs and win the division…  Doug Harvey was a well respected umpire for 31 years and certainly deserves inclusion.  No pioneers or titans of business received enough votes – and Marvin Miller was dismissed, unfairly, again.  [SI et al]

Hot Stove Takes…

Ivan Rodriguez signed a two-year deal worth $6 million to help mold Washington National pitchers into championship form – and back up Jesus Flores, who could learn a thing or two from the former gold glover…  [ESPN]

Adam Everett resigned with the Tigers for $1.55 million next year – a $550,000 raise.  Everett isn’t a championship quality player anymore.  He’s a below average offensive performer and last year Detroit shortstops (as a team) were about three plays worse than the average shortstop for every 800 balls put in play.  Everett used to be a glove guy, but he’s now getting a little long in the tooth.  He’ll turn 33 before he shows up for spring training and he won’t be getting better.

Brad Penny is close to signing a one-year deal with St. Louis worth $7.5 million and incentives, valid upon passing a physical.  I love Brad Penny – works fast, throws strikes, seems like a likeable guy.  Of course, he’s dangerous in an all-you-can-eat buffet, and that worries me.  No matter, I’d always want him on my team.  And, it’s nice when the professionals agree with me (thanks, Keith Law).  [ESPN]

The Nationals acquired reliever Brian Bruney from the Yankees for a player to be named later.  To make room on the roster, Washington released Saul Rivera and his 6.10 ERA in 2009.  This is an immediate improvement.  [SI]

The big buzz is a potential deal between Arizona, New York, and Detroit that would send Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, Edwin Jackson to Arizona, and Max Scherzer to Detroit (among other stuff).  If you want to read buzz recaps, click on the links below:

Sports Illustrated

FoxSports

MLB.com

Off the transaction wire, the Tigers traded Clay Rapada to Texas.  Rapada gives Texas lefty depth in the bullpen.  And, Colorado released Matt Murton – a player who deserved a bit better career.  He’s only 28 and can still hit some.

I Told You So…

Cliff Corcoran surmises that Seattle’s signing of Chone Figgins was to shore up the defense – but, if you read my post on this topic, you’ll get a different opinion.  Figgins is more dependable and a better offensive performer, but his range is not in the same league as Adrian Beltre.  [SI]

Managerial Moves…

Ryne Sandberg will manage the AAA Iowa Cubs, following a season in AA Tennessee, and two seasons managing in Peoria.  [SI]

Happy Birthday!

Glove men Tim Foli (1950) and Ed Brinkman (1941) were born on this day – so put on the mitt and field a couple of grounders…

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include:  Jimmy Austin (1879), “The Rabbi of Swat” Mose Solomon (1900), Hank Thompson (1925), Mike Mussina (1968), Reed Johnson (1976), Vernon Wells (1978).

While the Rangers Fall, Two Races Just Got Interesting…

Wow – the wrong end of four shutouts in five games…  The Rangers are done – picking the worst possible time for a batting slump never seen in Arlington before.  Last night, Scott Kazmir and the Angels did the trick, winning 2 – 0.  Texas needed a sweep this weekend, but now are 7-1/2 games out with two weeks to play.  Those kinds of miracles just don’t happen all the time.  [SI]

And, a nasty hamstring injury isn’t allowing Michael Young to play – and Young’s bat is really needed…  Young says he’s day-to-day, but that’s not going to be enough.  [ESPN]

Meanwhile, a late rally by the Diamondbacks continued to close the gap in the NL Wildcard race.  The Rockies lost, while both the Giants and Marlins (Go Fish!) pulled off late rallies to win.  The Rockies lead the Giants by 2-1/2, and the Marlins lurk four games back.  I love the Marlins, but it’s hard enough to catch one team, much less two.  The Marlins were two arms shy in this race, but have done a nice job.  [MLB]

And, the Twins aren’t giving up.  Last night, the Twins handled Detroit, 3 – 0, beating Rick Porcello no less to close the gap in the AL Central to just three games.  If there is any race that is truly in play here, it’s this one.  The two teams face each other six more times…  [MLB]

By the way, Brian Duensing has looked solid since being inserted into the Minnesota rotation in late August.  In three of his last four starts, Duensing hasn’t allowed an earned run.

Andy Pettitte can’t wait for Monday’s start to see if his tired shoulder is ready for a post-season run; and Tim Wakefield’s legs are coming around and he could also be ready to help in the post-season.  [ESPN]

A third arm readying for the post-season is Clayton Kershaw.  The Dodger starter is recovering from a separated (non-throwing) shoulder, and yesterday he pitched well in a bullpen session.  Kershaw says he felt normal out there, so we might see him in a week or so.  [MLB]

Cubs starter Rich Harden may miss a start or two – and didn’t learn it from his manager.  Harden learned it talking to a Chicago Tribune reporter…  I’m thinking that Lou Piniella’s reign won’t survive Memorial Day unless his team gets off to a 40 – 20 start.   There are just too many hints that his personality issues are starting to get in the way of his managing skills and he’s wearing out his welcome.  [SI]

Cy-Young candidate Zack Greinke got drilled by a comeback liner in his last start against Detroit, and now may get a couple of extra days before his next start.  Miguel Cabrera’s liner caught Greinke in the upper part of his throwing arm…  [MLB]

Kansas Jayhawk Alum and former Bill James intern Rob Neyer, as good a blogger as there is for ESPN, contends that Greinke should be more than a candidate for the Cy, but should be considered for the MVP award, too.  [ESPN]

Baltimore rookie outfielder Nolan Reimhold’s season is over.  Reimhold has fraying in his left Achilles tendon…  He’s been dealing with pain for weeks now, but this week it turned for the worse, so the Orioles are shutting him down in favor of healing and resting for 2010.  Reimhold (15 – 45 – .279, leads rookies in slugging and OBA) is a candidate for the Rookie of the Year award…

Another guy getting shut down?  Yovani Gallardo, the ace of Milwaukee.  (Bummer – this is killing my fantasy team in the playoffs, no less!!!)  Gallardo will get one more start (making 30) for his first full professional season, and needs just a few strikeouts to make 200 on the season.  [SI]

Hurry Back! Royals outfielder Jose Guillen (Former outfielder?) heads to the DL with a hamstring injury.  Oakland pitcher Vin Mazzaro heads to the DL with shoulder tendinitis.  Washington catcher Jesus Flores’s season comes to an end with a torn labrum.  Orioles pitcher Kam Mickolio has inflammation in his throwing shoulder and heads to the DL.

Welcome Back! Mike Adams returns to San Diego.

Woohoo! The Royals signed Aaron Crow, their first round pick out of Mizzou…

Afterthoughts… Senior citizens who once were waiters at old Yankee Stadium were not retained in the new Yankee Stadium – which looks like age discrimination, hence a lawsuit (according to the NY Post).   The Post says that waiters were paid $28,000 a year for 80 working days – which is a pretty good salary, don’t you think?  Anyway – the waiters claim that the team wanted younger, cheaper staffers.  [FanNation]

Another story that caught my attention… Read this article.  How can the Orioles lose touch with Brooks Robinson?

Update the Fantasy Rosters – Injuries shelve Soriano and Sizemore

Cubs manager Lou Piniella appreciated his willingness to play through the pain, but now Alfonso Soriano is being shut down indefinitely.  Soriano will work with trainers, hoping to avoid injury.

Meanwhile, Grady Sizemore’s pain-filled season also comes to a close, as he will have two surgeries.  The first will repair an injured elbow and the second will repair a tear in his abdomen/groin (for some friends, they will remember this as a “Boot Hill” reference).

Seattle’s Ken Griffey will rest his left knee, tendinitis the latest source of pain.  An MRI was normal, but the pain persists.  [MLB]

Washington pulled Jesus Flores off the DL mostly to have his bat on the bench, as he’s still not able to throw and therefore can’t catch.  [MLB]

There was another Cub out of the lineup, and that was Derrek Lee, who left the team for the birth of his second child.  Christina is okay, but at press, there was no information about the baby…  [MLB]

So the Nationals Might Fire Manny Acta… Will it Help?

A couple of weeks ago, when the second manager firing of 2009 took place, I wondered how long Manny Acta would keep his job in Washington.  Now, FoxSports is reporting that Acta may be fired and replaced by Jim Riggleman, and Sports Illustrated confirms this rumor.

Here’s what I wrote in their season forecast.  I figured 72 – 90 was an optimistic season based on what should be an improved offense (they are better than eight other teams, right in the middle of the pack), but the lack of solid pitching and a thin collection of young talent in the minors would work against them.  For their pitching to improve, they needed at least one of three things to happen: 25 starts by Shawn Hill; improvement from Scott Olsen, and a significant return to form of Daniel Cabrera.

Cabrera was awful and was released after starting 0 – 5 with 5.85 ERA, led by 16 strikeouts and 35 walks in 40 innings.  Nobody has picked up the one time Baltimore prospect and fireballer – a sign that something is really wrong.

Scott Olsen has been eminently hittable, starting 1 – 4 with an ERA over 7, and is on the DL with shoulder inflammation.

As for Shawn Hill, the Nationals decided to release him right after I did the forecast because he was undependable – management never knew if he’d be healthy enough to pitch.  Signed by San Diego, Hill is back on the DL with soreness in his bicep and elbow.

So much for optimism.  Suddenly National fans long for the return of Tim Redding and Odalis Perez.  At 355 runs allowed, no team is worse at preventing runs than the Nationals.

The starters aren’t the only problem.  The bullpen gave up on Chad Cordero, actually had a night where the whole bullpen was overhauled in April, and those that have stayed haven’t been able to maintain the few leads they have actually had.  With 16 wins and 44 losses, there haven’t been that many leads.

Offensively, four players have contributed.  Ryan Zimmerman is a top flight hitter and defender at third base.  When healthy, shortstop Christian Guzman has held his own at the top of the lineup.  First baseman Nick Johnson (knock on wood) has been healthy and gets on base.  Leftfielder Adam Dunn does what he always does – hit homers and draw walks.  Backstop Jesus Flores has been a decent hitter when healthy – he’s just missed half the season.  Outfielder Elijah Dukes has hit a little, but not enough.  I keep thinking he’s going to get seriously hot, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Then what?  Backup catchers aren’t hitting (few do).  Austin Kearns needs to be released, Anderson Hernandez isn’t a major league hitter at second base, and the bench players haven’t helped at all, except an occasional hit from Josh Willingham.  But, Willingham has nine homers and just twelve RBI (!) – is that possible???

AAA Syracuse offers little hope.  Anyone who pitched well there is already on the big league roster or back, including Craig Stammen, Garrett Mock, Tyler Clippard, and Jason Bergmann.  Stammen is in the rotation, and Bergmann has been disappointing since looking like he might have potential back in 2007.  The best hitter is soon to be 30-year-old Jorge Padilla, a very good AAA hitter, but someone who (for whatever reason) hasn’t ever been given a shot.  Padilla no longer has speed to cover center, though, and he wouldn’t have a job on this roster if Roger Bernadina was healthy.  The Nationals need a burner in centerfield who can start or continue rallies, and Dukes or Padilla would hurt pitchers in the new stadium with their lack of range.  Still, he’s cheaper and better than Kearns and might be happy to be a fourth outfielder on this roster.

AA is empty – Ross Detwiler is on the roster, and nobody else is tearing it up at Harrisburg.

That leaves you with trades, and there are few veterans that are going to fetch anything on the open market.  Few contenders are going to need an injury-prone first baseman, or a slugger who can’t realistically cover left field, or an aging shortstop.  The most tradable commodity is starter John Lannon or rookie Jordan Zimmermann, and if Ryan Zimmerman leaves (a la Nate McLouth), the Nationals could draw fewer fans than the Marlins the rest of the way.

Stephen Strasburg.  I think there are issues with racing guys through the minors – not that there aren’t people who can play in the majors without the benefit of a minor league apprenticeship, but that kids need to experience some success that they can fall back on should they stumble in their first outings in the majors.  So, while I believe that the Nationals may have no choice but to race a Stephen Strasburg to the majors, the fact that they have little or no choice but to do so is problematic.

Look, few teams play .267 ball for a whole season.  So, once Riggleman (or someone) gets Acta’s job, it’s going to be a step forward just to play .400 ball.  Getting Scott Olson back and contributing will do that.  Finding four reasonably dependable relievers would certainly help.  Accepting their fate with Austin Kearns and letting Jorge Padilla show appreciation for a shot at playing in the majors might help.  I’d certainly be willing to give Paul Byrd (still available) or someone a shot at being the fifth starter.  But don’t expect miracles.  The Nationals need six quality players – a second baseman, an outfielder, two starters, two relievers.  Firing Manny Acta doesn’t address that.  Of course, neither does stringing Acta along in the press. 

Really, the team needs a completely new management structure – GM, Manager, Minor League Director, the whole thing.  Riggleman gets them to October.  Who is going to get this team to 2012?