Visit Us at DistrictSportsPage.com

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, March 07, 2013 | 1 comments »

Hi folks.
 
We don't update this site with new content anymore. You can find us over at www.DistrictSportsPage.com. There you can find not only our coverage of the Nats, but of the Caps, Skins, Wiz and United.
 
If you're visiting this site to peruse the blogroll to the right of this post, please help yourself. We'll continue to keep this aspect of the site active as I still use it to keep up with everybody else, at least until I come up with a better solution.
 
If you were directed here by another site's blogroll, please go back and ask them to update our link to DSP. http://districtsportspage.com/category/nationalsmlb takes you directly to our Nats feed.
 
Thanks for reading.

A New Challenge Awaits...

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, October 03, 2011 | | 8 comments »

I started what eventually became Nats News Network on March 14, 2007.  It was originally titled Bottomfeeder Baseball Blog, and I attempted to write about the Nats, Orioles, fantasy baseball, Capitals and other stuff.  It was not very good and nobody read it.  About that time, I also started writing about the Nats and Caps at DC Sports Box, and I would lke to thank Al Santos for allowing me that great opportunity.

In October 2008, I started my hockey blog, Caps News Network.  In December, I changed the name and format of the baseball blog to what you see now, Nats News Network.  Just before opening day 2010, the Nats invited us and four other blogs to apply for credentials based on a very specific set of guidelines.  We were extremely excited to find out the Nats accepted and approved our application and we will be eternally grateful to Stan Kasten, John Dever, Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna for taking a huge leap of faith and opening the press box to independent media outlets.

And that's how we end up here, today, having completed our second season as credentialed media covering the Washington Nationals.  Hopefully you're still with me, because here comes the big news.

After five seasons and 1,472 posts, I am retiring Nats News Network.  I've decided to combine my two blogs, pick up coverage of the other sports in town, and start an on-line sports page covering all of D.C. sports.  You can find the new site at http://www.districtsportspage.com/.  It's a monumental challenge for me, but I won't be alone.

I have recruited some of the finest local independent journalists to help me with the project.  I will manage the Nats/MLB content for the site, and each sport/team will have a page editor who will guide content for those teams.  We'll have staff writers to write game stories and analysis.  We'll have several contributors; folks that have their own blog but will occasionally post for us too.  We'll continue to have fantastic photography from not only staff photographer Cheryl Nichols, but our good friends Brian Murphy and Anthony Amobi too.

Also, Cheryl's Off the Field column will be coming with us, so if you're looking for the latest player appearance in the community, player birthday of photo gallery of a special event, it'll all be on the new site.

Hopefully, we'll continue to have you as well, reading and commenting on our material.

Please visit our new site.  Tell us what you like, what could be better, and what you might like to see.  It's still a work in progress, but we're excited to get it out there and give folks in the DMV another outlet to get local sports news, analysis and opinion.

Thanks for making Nats News Network what it was.  What started as a vanity project became something so much bigger, bigger really than I or anyone could have expected. Thanks, as always, for reading. 

2012 Nats Roster: Who Should Stay and Who Should Go?

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, September 30, 2011 | , , | 11 comments »

I went through this exercise last year with pretty good success, so we'll do it again.  Let's take a look at every player on the 40-man roster and evaluate if/how they fit in for 2012.

ABSOLUTE KEEPERS

Ryan Zimmerman, 3B:  The Face needs to have a good, healthy season in 2012 as he becomes primed for his free agent season in 2013.

Danny Espinosa, 2B:  The rookie went cold in July/August but picked it back up in September.  He never wavered with his glove work though.

Michael Morse, 1B/LF:  Where Morse ends up in the field is a bigger question than where he hits in the order, as he's established himself as the team's clean-up hitter.  Due big raise in arbitration.

Jayson Werth, CF/RF:  The $126 million man had a decent enough second half (.255/.345/.426 with 10 homers post All-Star break) to think he could maintain that production next season.  Forget about justifying the contract though.

Wilson Ramos, C:  The young catcher already hold Nats record for homers at the position.

Stephen Strasburg, RHSP:  His start on the last day of the season is what Nats fans will dream about all winter long.

Jordan Zimmermann, RHSP:  If Strasburg is the No. 1 starter, Zimmermann is No. 1-a.  His control (already good) just needs to catch up to his command (elite) and we'll see more swing-and-misses.

Drew Storen, Closer:  43 saves in 48 attempts is, uh, pretty good.  Closers on bad teams are overrated.  This team might not be a bad team next season.

Tyler Clippard, Set-up:  Potential injury from being overworked the last two seasons is the only concern about Clippard, the Nats lone All-Star rep in 2011.

Sean Burnett, LHRP:  Burnett mostly returned to form in the second half (1.80 ERA post All-Star), but his K-rate of 5.2 per nine was down by 3.7 from his previous year.  That screams injury.

Henry Rodriguez, RHRP:  The guy terrifies you every appearance because you don't know which Henry is going to take the mound.  He's a singular talent but enigmatic.  Needs to learn not to over throw the slider.

KEEPERS/TRADE BAIT

John Lannan, LHSP:  Lannan might have some of the best trade value of anyone on the current big league roster.  His solid, steady production at the back of the rotation shouldn't be underestimated.

Ian Desmond, SS:  Desmond cut his errors down this season by one-third from 2010.  If he could make the same improvement offensively... Was decent in the leadoff spot down the stretch, any wonder the offense looked better late?

Jesus Flores, C:  The still young catcher proved his health, now he just needs to see more pitching to get his stroke back.  Will play in the winter ball for after missing last two seasons.

Roger Bernadina, OF:  The versatile outfielder has double-digit power and speed, but there are some in the organization that have soured on him ever becoming a full-time Major Leaguer.

PROBABLE KEEPERS

Rick Ankiel, CF:  His value as a defensive replacement and left-handed power source off the bench could be valuable to a contending team.  His value as an everyday center fielder is as low as any full-time player.  But the organization loves him, so I expect him to the lefty bat off the bench next season.

Todd Coffey, RHRP:  Did a mostly very good job as a guy coming into the sixth or seventh innings with the game in doubt and was always available.  There's a place in the game for arms like his.

Ryan Mattheus, RHRP:  Injured for most of the second half, but showed enough to think he can contribute.  But he's already had major shoulder surgery and the injury concerns linger.

INJURED

Adam LaRoche, 1B:  His shoulder injury and resultant surgery was more extensive than thought at the time.  He's got a long rehab in front of him (see: Flores, Jesus) and whether the Nats think he'll be ready for opening day will go a long way in determining the make-up of this team.

Cole Kimball, RHRP:  The hard-throwing reliever underwent season-ending shoulder surgery July 13 and won't be ready next season until the All-Star break at the very earliest.

Elvin Ramirez, RHRP:  The Nats liked this Rule 5 player's arm in spring training, but has been shut down all season with shoulder surgery in May.

THE BIG DECISION

Ross Detwiler (LHSP), Brad Peacock (RHSP), Tom Milone (LHSP):  If the team retains Lannan and Wang, there will be one spot left in the rotation for one of these three to claim, unless Rizzo also buys another free agent starter.  Detwiler had the advantage of getting a few more starts than the other two this year, but all three impressed in the chances they got down the stretch. 

All three look like Major League pitchers, and each has their particular "extra" that makes them appealing to the Nats: Detwiler has the first round pedigree, Peacock the funky delivery and wicked knuckle-curve and Milone has unfailing accuracy.  But they all have their limiting factor as well: Detwiler has release point issues, Peacock doesn't have a third pitch and Milone can't break glass with his fastball.

BACK TO THE MINORS

Chris Marrero, 1B:  Marrero's status will be directly impacted by LaRoche's.  If LaRoche can't start the season, Marrero could very well find himself in the opening day lineup.  The power, which was his calling card as an amateur, has to show next year.

Steve Lombardozzi, 2B:  Impressive minor league season, unimpressive Major League cup of coffee.  He's a hard worker, decent defender and very patient at the plate, but I still don't see the tools out of him that says "Major League".  Maybe he sticks as a utility guy.

Yunesky Maya, RHSP:  They paid him too much to release him, so look for another year of Syracuse shuttle out of Maya.  He certainly will not live up to his billing -- his fastball is just too flat to succeed in MLB.

Atahualpa Severino, LHRP:  If he Nats are on the verge of becoming a contender, they are going to want a second lefty in the pen with Burnett, but they'll probably look outside the organization for one with experience.

Corey Brown, OF:  Came on late this season in Syracuse, maybe the ankle injury he sustained in spring training lingered longer than anyone imagined.  Regardless, next season is his make-or-break year.

Bryce Harper (OF), Matthew Purke (LHSP), Anthony Rendon (3B): None made an appearance for the Nats this season, but we're willing to bet all three will at the end of next season.

ON THE FENCE

Chien-Ming Wang, RHSP: Wang's story of rehabilitation and perseverance is remarkable. It would seem Wang has as much invested in D.C. as the Nats have in him, so a deal could come together pretty quickly unless Rizzo wants to upgrade the "veteran starter" position he seems to have carved out in this rotation.

Collin Balester, RHRP:  I love Bally, let me just put it out there.  But there's something in the way the Nats use him in the Majors that leads me to believe they don't have very much faith in him.  He thrived in Syracuse knowing he was going to pitch two out of three days, but once in the bigs he'd sometimes go a week between appearances.

Craig Stammen, RHRP:  Stammen was productive as a starter for Syracuse this year, but used out of the pen, to good results, with Washington.  Could find himself in the "long man" role in the pen next year.

Tom Gorzelanny, LHP:  Gorzy started strong in the rotation, struggled, was sent to the pen, and proved valuable as the long lefty.  Can they do better than him in that role next season?

NOT RETURNING

Pudge Rodriguez, C:  Pudge is a role model, exemplary citizen, extra bench coach and wants to come back.  But Pudge the player also wants to get to 3,000 hits and play four more years.  I don't think he'll get a multi-year deal anywhere this off-season, certainly not here.

Livan Hernandez, RHSP:  Never say never.  The ageless one also expresses a desire to stay here, even volunteering to pitch out of the pen.  But the Nats have better, younger, cheaper options available to them now.  He's been a loyal soldier.

Alex Cora, INF:  He can still play defense anywhere in the infield, but he just can't hit a lick.

Laynce Nix, LF:  A nice first-half turned into a miserable, injury plagued second half.  It's his career story.

Jonny Gomes, LF:  I still don't understand why they traded for Gomes.  They can't offer him arbitration to potentially get a second round pick for him because at this point he'll absolutely take the offer.  He's NRI material at this point in his career.

Brian Bixler, UTL:  The guy can play almost anywhere on the field, but speed and grit only take you so far.

Doug Slaten, LHRP:  He used to be serviceable.  Whether his injury robbed him of action on his fastball or whatever, he really stunk it up all season long.

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

Davey Johnson, Mgr:  I think the job is Davey's if he wants it, and by all public accounts he seems to.  The Nats have to go through a formal interview process to comply with MLB's minority hiring practices since Davey was a mid-season "emergency" replacement, but that seems a formality.  Rizzo loves Davey, Davey wants to return, he's on the payroll either way since he'd be retained as a consultant if he isn't the field manager.  It seems a slam dunk to me.

WHAT I WOULD DO

The Nats need to address the top two spots in the batting order.  They need to find a high OBP guy, and with Werth playing decent CF defense in September, they aren't limited in only looking for players in center, though long-term that would be preferable.  If Desmond's gains of the second half are real, he and the new OBP guy can be slotted in the 1-2 spots.  It's possible the Nats slot Desmond and Werth 1-2 and go after a slugger to hit behind Morse though.

Whether or not Wang returns, I think the rotation is in real good shape.  I'd spend my money on the high-OBP outfielder.  Problem is, it'll probably come through trade since the best OFs on the market this year are Carlos Beltran, Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, and Jason Kubel.

For the third year in a row, the D.C. Chapter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association announced their player achievement awards.  It's worth a look to go over to the website and see how the group voted.

Here were my picks (winner in bold; my votes for first, second, third):

Goose Goslin MVP (Michael Morse):  Morse, Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard.  With the dearth of offense this season, Michael Morse was a savior in spikes.  He emerged as a legitimate clean-up hitter this season and was one of the most valuable hitters in the National League.

Walter Johnson starting pitcher (Jordan Zimmermann):  Zimmermann, John Lannan, Ross Detwiler.  Zimmermann punished the strike zone in his first full season after Tommy John surgery.  He still had a few games where the swing-and-miss pitch was missing, but he was a machine in getting batters out while pitching in the strike zone.

Firpo Marberry relief pitcher (Tyler Clippard):  Clippard, Storen, Todd Coffey.  This in no way takes anything away from the excellent job that Storen did at the back of the bullpen, but Clippard was called upon in any number of situations, from starting innings clean to coming in with the bases loaded and no outs.  He pitched the Nats' highest-leverage innings all season long and did so almost without fail.

Sam Rice hitter of the year (Morse):  Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond.  Hitter of the year award is supposed to take into consideration all-around hitting, situational hitting and base running.  The Nats just don't have an all-around hitter better than Zimmerman, despite having been hurt for two months.  Despite Werth's low average, his OBP and power ratios weren't too far off his career norms.

Frank Howard slugger of the year (Morse): Morse, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos.  Morse was the unanimous winner in this category, and for good reason.  He homered in his last three games to get over the 30-homer plateau and will be due a huge raise in arbitration this off-season.

Joe Judge defensive player (Danny Espinosa):  Espinosa, Zimmerman, Ankiel.  Espinosa might have trailed off on offense in the second half, but he never took it into the field with him.  He was consistently excellent and give the Nats more range and arm at second than they've ever had before.

Mickey Vernon comeback player (Zimmermann):  Stephen Strasburg, Chien-Ming Wang, Jesus Flores.  There was no shortage of comeback players for the Nats this year, and most voters forgot that Jason Marquis was even on this team this season.  But no story is bigger to the success of this franchise than the return of a healthy Stephen Strasburg.  The season-ending 10-strikeout game will linger in the backs of Nats fans minds all winter long.

Josh Gibson humanitarian (Ian Desmond):  Desmond, Storen, Zimmerman.  No player gives more of his time in the community than Desmond, though Storen gives him a run for his money.  Zimmerman's foundation's gala attracts a lot of attention too.

Minor League POY (Bryce Harper):  Harper, David Freitas, Tom Milone.  This voting was ridiculously close, with one point separating Harper and Brad Peacock, whom I did not vote for.  Harper destroyed Single-A and struggled a bit to start at Double-A, but was seriously heating up when he pulled his hamstring, ending his season.  Looking forward to the Arizona Fall League.

Biggest surprise?  Ryan Mattheus.  He over-performed what I expected in a big way.
Biggest disappointment?  Jayson Werth.
Will Zim re-sign before end of 2012?  No. I think this one goes the long route.
Which players on the 40-man won't be back?  Cora, Pudge, Gomes, Nix, Slaten, Livo, Gorzy, Bixler, Balester, Ramirez, Bernadina, Severino.
Favorite Pro Writer:  Mark Zuckerman.  Facts, stats, opinions.  Mark puts it all out there.
Favorite Non-Pro Writer:  Patrick Reddington.  His volume of work is unparalleled.

STRASBURG STRIKES OUT 10 IN SIX ONE-HIT INNINGS

In an appropriately fitting way to end the Washington Nationals' second-best season record-wise since the move from Montreal in 2005, the man they expect to lead them even higher, right handed starter Stephen Strasburg, was simply dominant in a 3-1 win over the Florida Marlins, striking out 10 in six innings, limiting the home team to one hit and two walks in their final game at Miami's Sun Life Stadium.  

The Nats won their 80th game, going 17-10 in the month of September, equalling their June record for their hottest months of the season.  The Nats finish in third place in the N.L. East for the first time since the move, 3 1/2 games ahead of the fourth place New York Mets.

Strasburg was simply sensational, using all of his pitches in a masterful performance.  The Marlins got one base hit, a sawed-off bloop single from Gaby Sanchez in the second inning.  In fact, the second inning was the only frame Strasburg allowed any base runners at all.  A lead-off walk by Mike Stanton ended up as the front end of a double play, and center fielder Bryan Peterson walked behind Sanchez' single.  But Strasburg was able to get catcher Brett Hayes to pop up to shortstop Ian Desmond to end the inning.

He did not allow another runner.

According to PitchFX, Strasburg threw more change-ups and curveballs than in any of his previous four starts the season.  He got 15 swinging strikes spread across all four of his pitches, and threw 54 of his 79 pitches for strikes.  He averaged 96-MPH with his four-seam fastball.

Perhaps his most dominant inning was the fourth as he struck out the side, with both Greg Dobbs and Mike Stanton watching strike three on curveballs.

The 23-year old righty accumulated 24 innings in his five 2011 starts, allowing four earned runs on 15 hits and two walks, striking out 24.

Strasburg left to handshakes and back slaps after the sixth, and was followed to the mound by Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, who earned his 43th save of the season.  Storen was supposedly off-limits today, as he told media before the game he was unavailable, so he must have been feeling better by the time the bottom of the ninth rolled around.

The Nats picked up two runs in the fifth on Ian Desmond's one-out single, driving in Ivan Rodriguez and Steve Lombardozzi, and a solo insurance run in the eighth on Roger Bernadina's RBI single, plating Alex Cora, who had tripled in his at bat.

Wednesday's season-ending win might be little more than window dressing on a campaign that was more successful record-wise than almost anyone would have predicted, especially considering the Nats finished the year 14th in batting average in the N.L., 13th in on-base percentage, and 11th in slugging. 

But crossing the 80-win threshold is a symbolic achievement for an organization, team and fan base that have had more than their fair share of tough times in the past six years, including back-to-back 100-loss seasons, the Smiley Gonzalez affair, countless Philly Phan invasions, and in successive years losing their two best pitchers -- foundations for the franchise -- to the dreaded Tommy John surgery.

Strasburg's re-emergence this September gave the Nats a much-needed boost after slogging through a lousy July (11-15) and August (12-15).  His appearance Wednesday was the exclamation point on the Nats successful season and gives a glimpse to Nats fans of the promise of the future.
___________________________________________________

THE GOOD:  Um, Strasburg.  Man is he going to be fun watching next season.

THE BAD:  Chris Marrero went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, hitting clean-up today.  Neither Ryan Zimmerman on Michael Morse played on the last day of the season.

THE UGLY:  Jayson Werth went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, hitting third.  Werth ends the first year of his seven-year, $126 million contract .232/.330/.389 with 20 homers and 58 RBIs.

THE STATS:  5 hits, 2 BBs, 8 Ks.  2-for-3 w/RISP, 3 LOB, one GIDP.  No errors.

Revisiting My Michael Morse Projection

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, September 28, 2011 | , , | 4 comments »


At the end of spring training, I published a post entitled "Nats News Network's 2011 Predictions Edition", and followed that up the next day with "The Great Michael Morse Debate", where I predicted that Michael Morse would be the Nats "Biggest Disappointment" in 2011.  That opinion wasn't necessarily based on his projected performance, but Nats fans expectations for Morse heading into the season.

Here's what I said in the predictions post:
I just don't see anything in his history, other than his resemblance to Jayson Werth, that leads me to believe he's going to break out this year any more than he did last season while they were managing his at bats. If he duplicates last year, I'll be happy and surprised.
The next day, I published my 2011 projection for Morse, based on the information we had at spring training and his career ratios:
My official projection for Morse: 380 plate appearances, .272/.337/.461 with 17 home runs. And even then, I'm being optimistic compared to most available independent projections.
I was optimistic against independent projections.  Baseball Prospectus had Morse with 302 plate appearances and .277/.341/.458, 15 homers and 41 RBIs.  Baseball Forecaster had Morse for 325 plate appearances and .268/.320/.463 with 15 homers and 47 RBIs. 

Since he's out of the lineup for today's finale, Morse's final line (not withstanding a pinch-hit chance) is .303/.360/.550 with 31 homers and 95 RBIs in 571 plate appearances.  Did he out perform my projection?  He sure did.  He outperformed every single independent projection as well.  But if you look at the HR/PA rate instead of the raw numbers, we're not that far off.

His earned HR/PA rate in 2011 was .0538.  My projection was .0447.  If you extrapolate my rate over his actual plate appearances, the projection would have been for 25.7 (26) home runs, so my projection for playing time was off more than his production.

In Morse's career before this season, his HR/PA rate was .0306 (21 homers in 685 PAs).  In the minors, it was .0227 (69/3039).  Last season, it was .0511 (15 homers in 293 PAs).  So this season Morse produced at a rate he's never accomplished before in his career.

So how did Morse outperform his projections?  His walk rate was down.  His K rate was up.  His BABiP was above league average, but right on his career average.  His platoon numbers are negligible.  His line drive percentage, HR/fly ball percentage, everything else is all in line to how he performed last season, which is slightly elevated from his career numbers.

So what was different?  Simply playing everyday.  He finally found himself healthy and in an organization that overlooked his shortcomings on defense and let him play, first in left field (where he was very below average defensively) then at first base, taking over for the injured Adam LaRoche, where his range was quite suspect, but other than that handled himself pretty well.

Will he continue to produce at this rate?  That's very hard to say.  He's already at the point where the affects of age will start becoming evident.  Some players age better than others.  But we can really only expect peak play through the very early 30's and Morse will be 30 at the start of spring training.

Morse made himself a lot of money this season and will be due a huge raise in arbitration this off-season.  It will be interesting to see how GM Mike Rizzo treats Morse's salary and contract status the next two seasons.  Because if he keeps up this production, when he becomes a free agent at the end of the 2013 season (along with Ryan Zimmerman), he'll be looking at a big, multi-year deal at the age of 32, just like the player Morse believes he most resembles, Jayson Werth.

GAME 159 REVIEW: Nats Clinch Third Place with 6-4 Over Marlins

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, September 27, 2011 | , , , | 3 comments »

When they needed him most -- and just like he has all season -- Michael Morse came though.  Trailing 4-3 with two outs in the top of the ninth, Morse jacked his 30th home run of the season, leading the Washington Nationals not only to a 6-4 win over the staggering Florida Marlins, but a clinch of third place for the first time for this franchise since the move in 2005.

The Nats record is 79-80 with two games remaining, keeping their dream alive of an over-.500 record for the first time since the move.  Washington has won 14 of their last 18 games to close the season on a strong, competitive note.

Morse's blast made a winner of Atahualpa Severino, his first win in the big leagues.  Henry Rodriguez, fresh of his "Nintendo"-like appearance the other night, gave up a hit in an otherwise uneventful bottom of the ninth for his second save of the season.

Nats starter Tommy Milone didn't have his best start of the season, allowing seven hits and a walk over 4 1/3 innings.  He departed with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth.  Craig Stammen took over and allowed an inherited run to tie the game at three on a wild pitch, but escaped further damaged, inducing a couple of pop ups to end the inning.

Ian Desmond had another big night out of the leadoff spot, going 2-for-4 with a walk and three runs scored.  He also stole a base, one of five on the night for the Nationals against Marlins catcher John Buck.

The Nats have made a remarkable run at the end of the season to elevate themselves into third place for the first time in their brief tenure in D.C.  It's difficult to make too many judgments based on September baseball, but the series they took against the Braves, who are fighting for their playoff lives was impressive enough.  And no matter the circumstances, the Nats always have trouble with the Marlins, who own a 10-6 record against the Nats this season.

Still, it's refreshing to see the team playing as hard and as well as they have in September, especially with the troubles this franchise has had in the past playing out the string.  It's a testament to the talent base -- and the club's leadership, primarily the field manager -- that these Nationals aren't settling for the end of the season.
__________________________________________

THE GOOD:  Ian Desmond.  Since being inserted at the top of the Nats lineup on Aug. 17, he's hit .299/.335/.437 with four homers, 12 RBIs and 23 runs.

THE BAD:  Danny Espinosa went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.  But he did walk twice as well, so not all bad.

THE UGLY:  Todd Coffey had a rare bad outing, giving up a hit and walk tot he only two batters he faced.  Sean Burnett was able to bail him out in the seventh.

THE STATS:  10 hits, 6 BBs, 8 Ks.  3-for-11 w/RISP, 10 LOB, 2 GIDP.  E: Werth (8).

NEXT GAME:  Tuesday at 7:10 pm against at the Marlins.  John Lannan (10-13, 3.73) faces Javier Vazquez (12-11, 3.77).