For a long time now, the 2014-15 offseason has been setting up as a critical one. The Washington Nationals have emerged as a force to be reckoned with over the past three seasons, posting the best record in baseball since Opening Day 2012. But the team must find a way to parlay its short-term success into long-term contention, a process that begins now. Continue reading…
The Arizona Fall League (AFL) announced its roster for the East and West divisions for the annual Fall Stars Game, with second baseman Tony Renda selected as the lone Nationals farmhand.
On the surface Renda, one of seven Nationals’ prospects playing for the Mesa Solar Sox, is an odd selection because of his sluggish numbers. Entering Monday afternoon’s game, he was batting .205/.234/.295 in 47 plate appearances over a team-high 12 games. Holding back Renda’s numbers was a 0-for-16 start through five games; since then, he has hit a much more respectable 9-for-28 (.321). Continue reading…
After this post, the Federal Reserve will cease weekly updates until pitchers and catchers report in February. To this point, every nuance of the Washington Nationals farm system has been recapped in some form, most notably our Minor League All-Star Team and the Players of the Year.
For those who follow the minors, now is the time of the year to scrutinize Arizona Fall League performances, start thinking about prospect lists, and look over potential strengths that could help the Nationals at the major league level in 2015. As a way of filling those needs, I am happy to say that the decision has been made to keep the Federal Reserve going by posting sporadic updates between now and February. Here is a quick overview of some of the content you can expect to see here in the coming months:
- Arizona Fall League coverage, including the Fall Stars Game and recaps of individual performances.
- Trade coverage. If a prospect goes in or out of the Nationals’ farm system, look for a report on that player’s potential.
- Nationals Top-10 Prospect List, which will likely come online sometime after December’s Winter Meeting.
- Any potential Rule-5 Draft selections or losses will be covered as well, with several notable prospects, including A.J. Cole and Brian Goodwin, entering their first year of Rule-5 eligibility.
In the meantime, look for updates from me on Twitter (@ZSpedden or @Sunsfanclub) as well as over at the Hagerstown Suns Fan Club Blog. Over the next few months, I will work with everyone here at The Nats Blog to determine the best steps for our minor league coverage next year. I owe gratitude to my colleagues for allowing this section of The Nats Blog to develop as it has since March, and for their willingness to keep the Federal Reserve going throughout the season.
Thank you to the readers for a great minor league season, and I look forward to keeping you updated as we wait for the 2015 season to begin.
- Michael Taylor ranked as the best defensive centerfielder at the Double-A level in 2014, according to Matt Eddy and his set of fielding metrics at Baseball America. Taylor, who made his major league debut in August, has drawn positive reports for his performance in centerfield, and will likely play the position regularly next year for Triple-A Syracuse.
Emotions during an elimination playoff game are decidedly different than any other game. Nerves are running high, and any time that someone isn’t able to come up with a key hit, it feels like the end of the world. That seems especially true when the team you’re pulling for has scored only three runs in their first 27 innings of baseball, including in one game that went 18 preposterous innings.
But after a brutal stretch of offense for the Washington Nationals, they were able to get on the board in the series.
Madison Bumgarner’s Error – This was the obvious difference maker. The Nats offense was going so poorly, that Wilson Ramos, yes Wilson Ramos, tried a sacrifice bunt in the top of the seventh. Buster Posey admits he yelled for Bumgarner to throw to third, which was a huge, nay, gargantuan, mistake. Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper scored after the ball went well into foul ground in left field, and gave the Nats a 2-0 lead.
The Fister Effect – Doug Fister has been insanely good all season, and when the Nats needed him the most, he delivered in the best way possible. He threw seven scoreless innings and handed the game to his bullpen with a lead.
Bryce’s Bomb – Bryce Harper is a home run hitter, especially in the playoffs. He’s now jacked three home runs in eight playoff games, and his one at AT&T Park in Game Three was preposterous. It came close to ending up in McCovey Cove, and gave the Nats some cushion in the ninth inning.
Storen Settles – It’s been a rough go at the playoffs for Drew Storen in his previous two games. Between the 2012 Game Five appearance and the 2014 Game Two appearance, he really needed a win. In NLDS Game Three this October, he got his win. Yes, he gave up a couple of hits, one of which was hard-hit by Hunter Pence, but he settled in and owned the rest of the game. Also, his slider is still ridiculous and totally confounded Brandon Belt, the Giants’ hero in Game Two. This was a big win for Storen, who will be key to the Nats’ success if they’re going to keep moving forward this October.
Neither team has done much at all at the plate all series. After the Nats’ 4-1 victory, they actually lead in runs scored during the series with a 7-6 margin, despite losing the first two games of the series. It took three games, which was actually four games worth of innings, for both teams to score as many runs as the Tigers and Orioles scored in Game Two of the ALDS. A pitching advantage certainly plays into the Nationals’ hands going forward, especially after they took out Bumgarner successfully on Monday.
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Throughout the year, the Federal Reserve handed out monthly award winners to highlight some of the best performances in the minors this year. Now, the time has come to handout the final prizes of the season, the Hitter and Pitcher of the Year Awards.
The races in both fields were competitive. In the end, however, two already lauded prospects took the awards, with the hitter tearing through his league en route to Washington and the pitcher living up to, if not exceeding, the lofty expectations that surrounded him.
Hitter of the Year: Steven Souza Jr., Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs
Souza could never play another inning in a Nationals uniform and will still be remembered for his game-ending catch that preserved Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter on Sunday. Considering his production in the minors, however, the outfielder could be a key piece to the team’s future.
Logging 407 plate appearances across 96 games for the Chiefs, Souza batted an International-League-leading .354/.427/.577 with 18 home runs, 77 RBIs, and a 180 wRC+. He also displayed considerable speed, swiping 28 bases in 35 attempts. Souza’s production helped lead the Chiefs to their first playoff appearance since 1998, while earning him league MVP and organizational Player of the Year honors. When including his two brief rehab stints with Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac, Souza batted .345/.427/.577 in 100 minor league games.
With all three of their regular outfielders likely to return, the Nationals have a tough choice to make with Souza. Having already dominated Triple-A, another stint at that level is unnecessary. Considering that Scott Hairston’s deal is set to expire, the Nationals could use Souza off their bench, where his combination of power, speed, and defense could make him a productive reserve.
Runner-up: Michael Taylor, Double-A Harrisburg Senators and Chiefs
Pitcher of the Year: Lucas Giolito, Low-A Hagerstown Suns
Giolito entered this season as one of the game’s most hyped prospects, with the only major concern being how his health would hold up in his first full season after Tommy John surgery. Those fears were quickly muted, as the righthander dominated the South Atlantic League (SAL).
Making 20 starts, Giolito went 10-2 with a 2.20 ERA, 3.16 FIP, and a 110:28 K:BB ratio in 98 innings pitched. While he was consistent throughout the season, his performance made a considerable spike with his dominant July. During that month, Giolito went 4-0 with a 1.19 ERA and a 33:5 K:BB ratio in 28 and 1/3 innings, including a start on the 25th against Kannapolis (White Sox) in which he allowed 1 hit while striking out 9.
As part of their protocol with pitchers recovering from Tommy John, the Nationals shut Giolito down in August. His numbers with the Suns netted him several honors, including the SAL’s Most Outstanding Pitcher and Prospect awards, organizational Pitcher of the Year, and a selection to the MLB All-Star Futures Game.
Giolito is more than living up to his billing as one of the game’s top pitching prospects. At just 20-years-old, he figures to open next season with the Potomac Nationals.
Runner-up: Austin Voth, Suns, Nationals, and Senators.
- On Tuesday, Matt Eddy of Baseball America ranked the power and speed combinations among minor league players this season. Michael Taylor topped the list, with Steven Souza Jr. coming in fifth and infielder Wilmer Difo ranking eighth.
- A reminder that next week will mark the conclusion of the Federal Reserve’s weekly updates. However, occasional posts, including Arizona Fall League coverage, will be provided until February, when the weekly content resumes.
Yesterday, I decided to take a day off from baseball writing. I didn’t want to write when the emotion from Saturday night’s (into Sunday morning’s) record-setting game was still raw. The frustration from the Game Two loss has not totally subsided, but there is one particularly frustrating narrative that has been blasted across local and national media: how outrageous it was that Washington Nationals fans dared to leave a tight playoff game early. I am extremely disappointed in people who have adopted this viewpoint.
There are a lot of points to make here to give people legitimate excuses for leaving early. It was incredibly cold as the game wore on, and many weren’t dressed properly because the afternoon temperatures were incredible. There were families with young children leaving, undoubtedly due to the temperatures and game length. The game wore on into Sunday, when many get up for church services or to spend time with family before the work week begins again.
However, none of these reasons hit on the most important point: some people have lives outside of baseball. Not everyone watches every game or lives and dies by every pitch. Not everyone believes it is their best use of time to spend nearly six and a half hours at a ballpark watching a game. I stayed until the bitter end, and then some, on Saturday, because baseball is a huge part of my life (and I have an extraordinarily supportive spouse.) Others have different priorities, and there is nothing wrong with that.
We absolutely have to stop vilifying fellow fans for the way they choose to enjoy sports. Whether someone is a life-long (or 10-year long in the case of the Nationals) fan of their team or a new fan who is excited about having playoff baseball in their city, people watch the game for different reasons. Any reason that those fans choose is completely acceptable.
Baseball fans come in all types, and we should be encouraging all of them to keep enjoying the game that we love. We should not be criticizing them for not enjoying it the correct way, and we certainly shouldn’t criticize them for deciding they’ve had enough after five, or six, or six and a half hours of baseball.
Jordan Zimmermann At His Peak - We have watched Jordan Zimmermann grow up, from an underrated draft pick out of the University of Wisconsin Stevens-Point, to the Nats sole pitching prospect in an era when there wasn’t much to look forward to. We were there when he went through Tommy John surgery, and we’ve seen him recover in remarkable fashion to the tune of two All-Star nods. Perhaps most importantly, we have seen him reach the top of the mountain in a game where so many never make it. Jordan Zimmermann took the mound last night at the age of 28 at the top of the game, making his first 2014 postseason start after the best outing of his career (a no-hitter), during his best season of his career, and he left having made perhaps the best October outing anyone possibly could. Jordan Zimmermann has done more for this team in 2014 than you could ask any starting pitcher to do for any franchise, and the club let him down.
Zimmermann for the second consecutive start here at Nats park was immaculate. He pitched 8 2/3rds innings, allowing just three hits, and one fateful walk. He relied heavily on his fastball, throwing it 85% of the time, but he used it to pound the zone. Of his 85 fastballs, 61 were strikes. 10 induced whiffs by the Giants batters, and while 17 fastballs were put into play, only one was a hit. He neutralized the opposition the way he has all season long, the Nats just needed to put runs on the board.
The Decision To Pull Jordan Zimmermann - Zimmermann had retired 20 straight Giants hitters before allowing a (questionable) walk to Joe Panik in the top of the 9th last night. With ball four, he had reached 100 pitches, and with the tying run on base and two outs Matt Williams pulled the right hander to bring in his closer, Drew Storen. Had Storen retired Buster Posey or Pablo Sandoval, there would be no second guessing this decision, however with the Nats’ closer blowing the save, people are asking if it was the right decision.
There are two ways you can choose to look at this. One is that they should have kept Zimmermann in to complete what he started. In his last 18.2 innings pitched, he had allowed three hits, no earned runs, just one walk, and struck out 17. He was the hottest pitcher in baseball, and arguably the hottest a pitcher could possibly be. He had mowed down the Giants, allowing just one base runner in 21 batters, and he has the history of showing that he has the guts to record a final out when needed. On the other side, Drew Storen has been electric since the club made him the closer this year. You were in a situation where if it were the regular season, it might be nice to keep Zimmermann in to allow him to battle for the complete game shutout, but in a realistic postseason situation where you are down one game, you need to bring in the guy whose job it is to shut the door, especially when he is fresh.
While I wouldn’t have second-guessed Williams leaving in Zimmermann to complete what he started, I feel he did make the right move in bringing in the closer. Unfortunately as fate would have it, that closer went on to add to his spotty past in the postseason.
Drew Storen As The Nationals’ Closer - What is there to say? Drew Storen was absolutely terrible last night. Matt Williams gave him the ultimate bid of confidence, bringing him in with the game on the line, taking out their best pitcher to do so. As stated above, that was the right move. You go to your guy, that’s why he is your closer and you have to have confidence he will finish the game…now, after second consecutive playoff blown save, you have to wonder whether Storen can still be that guy for this team.
Storen needed one out. He threw three pitches. One was a hard hit foul ball. The other two were smashed line drives, one by Buster Posey to move Panik to second base, and one was the roped double that resulted in Posey being called out at home plate after the tying run scored. The only out Storen recorded, was from a relay play at the plate, where he very well could have been ruled safe. In his last two post-season save opportunities, he has allowed five hits, five earned runs, two walks, and recorded just four outs in two blown saves. Now facing an 0-2 deficit, if the Nats enter the ninth with a lead again, you have to wonder if they can trust bringing him in.
Asdrubal Cabrera’s Ejection - Cabrera was ejected after arguing two high strike calls in the bottom of the 10th inning. You can see the debacle here. Cabrera was visibly upset with the strike two call, which appeared to be at the top of the zone but called very, very late by 35-year-old umpire Vic Carapazza. When the next pitch in a similar spot was called for strike three, Cabrera completely lost it and was immediately ejected. While it was good to see at least some passion from this club, the ejection was short sided and really showed how much the Nats have been pressing to score runs. Was Cabrera upset about the call? Sure. However I’m willing to bet that his inability to get on base in a situation where the season was on the line played a large role in why he was so passionately upset.
The biggest downside of the ejection here though, was that Cabrera was not in the lineup for the rest of the 18 inning game. While Danny Espinosa made some great plays defensively in his place, offensively he was a black hole. Those at bats could have been taken by Cabrera, and if they had, the team had a better chance of winning last night.
Matt Williams’ Ejection - Some were upset that Williams was ejected last night after going out to defend Cabrera. I’m not. This team has been playing flat for two games, and I’m sure Williams felt that he needed to show that he was willing to fight for his team, even if the rest of the team wasn’t fighting for themselves yet. Some may say the manager needs to help his team gather composure there, and usually I would agree, but sometimes a manager needs to light a spark. While that may not have happened in the ensuing eight innings, I think Williams made the right choice to go out swinging.
The Washington Nationals hosted their first ever Game 1 on Friday afternoon, and there were 44,035 fans here to see it. While the San Francisco Giants walked away with the 3-2 victory, there were a lot of positives to glean from the game.
The Keys to the Game
– Hunter Strickland Ks Desmond with bases loaded – The Nats had their first real chance to get into the game in the sixth. With the bases loaded and two out, Ian Desmond faced Strickland, who regularly hits triple-digits on the radar gun. Desmond struck out after getting a couple fastballs over the plate.
– Strasburg comes out amped, loses command later – Strasburg came out throwing darts in the first inning. The first four pitches of the game showed 97, 98, 98, and 98 on the radar gun. He never blew up in any inning, but he did lose some command as the game went on. It’s possible that throwing gas in the first inning and a half impacted his effectiveness later. Still, he only allowed one earned run on eight softly-hit singles, so he did a great job limiting damage.
– Peavy hits for himself – With 84 pitches to his name through five innings, Jake Peavy hit for himself with two on and none out in the top of the sixth. The Giants had a chance to do real damage in that inning, but instead gave up an out and weren’t able to tack on an additional run against a very effective Jerry Blevins.
– Harper, Cabrera crush home runs in 7th – Strickland stayed in the game to start the seventh inning, and Bryce Harper really made him pay for it. Harper absolutely massacred a baseball several rows into the third deck to put the Nats on the board. Two batters later, Asdrubal Cabrera lined his own solo shot into the Nats bullpen, which made it a 3-2 game. As a favorite aside, both players had phenomenal bat flips.
Despite losing the game, the Nats had some chances late and hit two massive bombs. Unfortunately, the thing that many will take away from this game was that Strasburg didn’t pitch well, which is patently untrue. While he gave up eight hits in five plus innings, none was hit hard, and he allowed zero extra base hits. Further, he allowed just one earned run. This game was evenly matched, Peavy pitched better, and the Giants won a close contest.
The Next One
NLDS Game Two – Jordan Zimmermann vs. Tim Hudson at 5:37 pm (Nationals Park)
(Featured Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
They say that a couple who shares interests together, stays together. That poses an interesting challenge for a fanatic baseball blogger when trying to find someone to share the rest of your life with. Fortunately for me, I found a wonderful woman to fall in love with me, and she knew right away that part of getting me was a package deal with falling in love with the Washington Nationals as well. Like in any relationship, she had to learn the important numbers, like my cell, my date of birth, and in our case she quickly learned how to recite the Nats lineup and starting rotation. That’s how I knew it was true love.
When getting married this summer, we knew that we had to incorporate our love of the Nationals into our special day somehow. Our first thought was to see if we could have the reception at Nats Park, but with that being way out of our budget we had to find a creative way to incorporate not only the Nats as a team, but the players we love watching together every night.
One trend we had noticed at weddings in recent years is that some couple’s have given the tables at their weddings different names based on themes that related to the couple. So for instance, at Awful Announcing blogger Matt Yoder’s wedding, he had Harry Potter themed tables (I think we sat at the forbidden forrest), and at my other friend Matt’s wedding last summer, we sat at the Wrigley Field table, which was one of him and his wife Maddie’s first dates. So for us the answer was obvious; instead of having table numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 etc.., we should name our tables after our favorite Nats players and number them by their jersey number. We also decided that we should post a photo at each table of the two of us, photoshopped with the respective player.
The Head Table – Table #6
It ended up being a big hit, and the Nats happened to win that night 11-0 over the Phillies. Oh, and she said “I do,” too. Here are some other baseball related photos from our special, taken by our awesome Washington Nats’ Fan wedding photographer, Laura Wainman.
It should be noted, for the record, that since our wedding the Nats have gone 38-17. #Rally Wedding.
As the Washington Nationals (95-66) prepare for the playoffs, presumptive Game 1 starter Stephen Strasburg dominated the Miami Marlins (77-84) over six innings, allowing no runs in an eventual 5-1 win.
Strasburg (W, 14-11) was at his absolute best, stymying the Marlins throughout his outing. The Miami bats found no purchase against his devastating pitches, including his fastball that scraped 98, his 12-6 curveball, and his changeup that fooled the most discerning of eyes. In six innings, he gave up no runs on two hits and one walk while striking out seven.
He ends the year with 242 punchouts, a total that leads the National League. He will maintain at least a tie for the league lead unless Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto can strike out eight or more batters tomorrow. He also lowers his final ERA to a tidy 3.14.
On offense, it was business as usual for the Nats. Strasburg earned his third RBI of the year on a second-inning sacrifice that scored Bryce Harper from third. Adam LaRoche scored another run with a bases-loaded groundout in the fifth. But the Nationals didn’t break out until the eighth, when Asdrubal Cabrera clocked a bases-clearing double that turned a slim 2-0 lead into a colossal 5-0 one.
The night’s other offensive storyline was the Denard Span. By his lofty standards it was not notable: he was 2-for-3 with a pair of singles. But the two hits helped the center fielder set three important marks. The knocks were his 182nd and 183rd of the year, tying the team record for hits in a season that was originally set by Cristian Guzman in 2008. The game was also his 58th multi-hit effort of the season, breaking a tie he had with Guzman for the record at 57.
Third, and not least important, the hits pushed him to a .301 batting average from .299. He can now safely play the first half of the Nationals’ final game of the year without worrying about his batting average. In fact, he can go 0-for-3 and still be hitting .300, so he should have two or three shots at setting the team hits record.
Anyway, back to the game, insignificant though it may have been. Drew Storen had some trouble in the ninth, giving up a pair of singles and then an unearned run on two errors, but he escaped too much incident in locking down the Nationals’ 95th win of the year. With the best record in the NL wrapped up, the Nats simply await the winner of the NL Wild Card game, which could be the San Francisco Giants, the Pittsburgh Pirates, or the St. Louis Cardinals.