Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Series Preview: Phillies vs. Nationals. After doing surprisingly well in 2005, actually winning 81 games and having a .500 record despite sitting in last place, the Washington Nationals took a bit of a step in the wrong direction in 2006. Assured of a losing record, the Nats are just trying to avoid losing 90+ games, which looks to be a given. Sitting so near the Orioles home base in Baltimore and forced to compete with the Braves, Mets and Phillies, I refuse to believe that the future has much to offer the Nats. They look to be destined to be a junior player in the National League.
The team’s worst decision this season was to not deal Alfonso Soriano to the Red Sox, Yankees, White Sox, whomever … I refuse to believe that the market was so terrible that their interests were better served keeping him on the team for a stretch run where they had little, if any, chance at getting into the wildcard race.
The Nats don’t have a lot of weapons here: they have one of the worst pitching staffs in the N.L., they are average fielders: they’ve allowed more runs than any other N.L. team. Offensively, they are a wreck: they don’t hit for power, they don’t get on base particularly well, etc. They hit worse with runners in scoring position than the Phillies (.255 vs. .250). After Alfonso Soriano they have two very good players: first baseman Nick Johnson (.428 OBP) and likely Rookie of the Year Ryan Zimmerman (.348 OBP, 101 RBIs). But the rest of their offense is pretty average and they don’t go as deep as the Phillies.
Tonight the Phillies send the core of the rotation into the fray, starting with Brett Myers. Myers has pitched well in September, going 2-0 in four starts with a 2.40 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. Myers seems to have put his arrest for assaulting his spouse to the back of his mind after a rocky August. At the moment he might be the Phillies best pitcher, but he’s struggled in 2006 against the Nats, going 2-1 but with a 7.52 ERA and a 1.72 WHIP. Tonight’s game ought to be a mismatch, however, as the Phillies are batting against Ramon Ortiz, who is 0-2 against the Phillies with a 12.91 ERA and a 1.96 WHIP. With the way the Phillies have hit Ortiz and Myers good run, they ought to win. Myers is slated to start the final game of the season, Sunday, October 1, against the Marlins.
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
WHIP – Walks plus hits by innings pitched: (BB + H) / IP = WHIP
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
Tomorrow the Phillies send Cole Hamels in his final start to the 2006 campaign. Hamels campaign was a triumph, particularly of late. Since the All-Star Break he’s cut his walks allowed in half, from 24 in 44 & 2/3 innings to 23 in 81 & 2/3 innings (or from 4.84 per nine innings to 2.53 per nine innings). He’s also dropped his ERA from 5.44 to 3.31. Hamels has pitched the Nats well this season, going 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA (and a 1.05 WHIP), K’ing 18 and walking just five. I am very confident that Hamels will win this one, particularly given that Hamels is going against Pedro Astacio (5-5, 6.12 ERA, 1.59 WHIP), whom the Phillies hammered for fourteen hits, six walks, two home runs and ten earned runs in his two starts against them for a 11.74 ERA and a 2.61 WHIP. This ought to be a major mismatch.
If the Phillies win the wildcard, Hamels will almost certainly hurl Game One of the NLDS.
Finally Jon Lieber starts his final game of a season he’d probably prefer to forget: if he wins he’ll even his record at 10-10. Lieber improved slightly after the All-Star Break, but he’s had a rough year. He only threw two innings against the Nats back in May in a game where he left with an injury and didn’t return until July 6th. While Lieber has won five of his last six decisions, he’s also surrendered a lot of home runs this season. This could be a tough game for him, particularly given that the Phillies face Mike O’Connor, a rookie who has pitched them well, going 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA. Ominously, O’Connor never surrendered a home run to the Phillies in eleven innings of work.
Wildcard Watch! … It’s just a two-team race (three if you factor in the Padres) for the wildcard. The Giants and Braves were mathematically eliminated last weekend and the Marlins would have to sweep their series with the Reds and hope the Phillies and Dodgers both get swept in their final games just to force a tie. Not bloody likely. The Astros are still theoretically in the mix, but they are really chasing the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL Central crown and they stand a pretty good chance at making it happen. The Reds are just trying to play spoiler. No, this is a race between the Dodgers and Phillies. Kinda like the 1950 pennant race all over again, when the Phillies captured the crown on the last day of the season with a ten-inning, 4-1 victory over the Dodgers that saw Richie Ashburn gun down what would have been the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth at home plate. Are we going to see as dramatic an ending?
1. Philadelphia: 82-74
1. Los Angeles: 82-74
3. Houston: 78-78 (4.0)
4. Cincinnati: 77-79 (5.0)
5. Florida: 76-80 (6.0)
This one has to be a sweep. plain and simple. and our top three going long into each game with no need for gordon would be a bonus.
Look, I don't mean to be disagreeable, but the Nationals will be nothing close to a junior player in the NL. Washington has outdrawn the Orioles in the two years since baseball returned to Washington, and Stan Kasten and the Lerner ownership group are going to build the franchise from the ground up. Since the all-star break, for example, the Nats traded several over-the-hill pitchers for five, count-em, five, REAL pitching prospects; the kind who all have a real chance to make the rotation one day. The team signed a 16 year old shortstop this summer, a guy scouts are calling another Miguel Tejeda, and he chose the Nats over the Yankees and Mets. That says something. The Nats have a good enough offense (Mets' broadcaster Keith Hernandez said that the team's offense and bullpen are "playoff ready," it's the starting pitching that's causing the team to play so poorly this year. Our best pitcher, John Patterson, and our second best pitcher, Brian Lawrence, were out for virtually the entire year. The team has three or four young pitchers who can adequately fill in the rotational holes.
RFK is in the middle of one of D.C.'s worst slum areas -- no one in their right mind would go to a night game there. The new stadium, set to open in 2008, will have easy access and will be surrounded by a bevy of new retail and residential areas.
Kasten has indicated that the team payroll will remain in the $70-80 million dollar range in the new park, certainly more than enough to fund a winner. There are 3-5 guys at 'AA' and 'AAA' who should be everyday players in the next three years.
No, we're not going to be the Yankees, and we're not going to be the Braves. But we are going to be a team who will be competitive every year with a playoff appearance every now and then.
After 33 years without baseball, that's more than we could ever have hoped for.
Love you blog -- read it all the time. Oh, and **sorry** if the Nats skewered the Phils playoff hopes. No, come to think of it, I'm not sorry :)