Early Season Underachievers: Washington Nationals

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Just a note: these “underachievers” are based on what the majority of the prognosticators thought prior to the season and not what I thought. For example, I had the Phillies at 79-83 in my book (which, for the record, is now available on I-Tunes). The majority of the predictions I saw had the Phillies as contenders. I had the Nationals winning 103 games.

For a team as loaded as the Nats to have a .500 record after almost 20% of the season is unexpected. Is it something to be overly concerned about though? The answer is no.

Both Adam LaRoche and Danny Espinosa are proven players who are batting under .200. That won’t continue. The starting pitching and bullpen are deep and diverse and as the season moves along, GM Mike Rizzo will find a lefty specialist somewhere—Wesley Wright, Mike Dunn—because several will eventually become available.

That’s not to say there’s not potential for things to go wrong. They’re leading the Major Leagues in errors and manager Davey Johnson made a typical Davey Johnson managerial move when the Nats were playing the Mets two weeks ago and it neatly summed him up for better or worse. With the Mets leading 2-0 in the top of the eighth inning Mets reliever Scott Rice gave up a single to Steve Lombardozzi, walked Denard Span, and went to 3-0 and Jayson Werth. Werth was given the green light, swung at a low, outside pitch and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. The Mets won the game.

That’s Johnson. It’s always been Johnson. It always will be Johnson. With the Mets in the 1980s, the lack of discipline, overaggressiveness and arrogance in believing that the fundamentals would be unnecessary as long as they pitched and hit home runs cost them playoff spots multiple times to teams like the Cardinals who were schooled in playing the game properly. Whitey Herzog’s hardline treatment of his players was well-known and if they didn’t do what they were supposed to do when they were supposed to do it, they didn’t play.

Is it a problem for the Nats? Yes and no. One of the reasons he’s been so successful is that the players love him and know he’s going to put the game in their hands. There wouldn’t be a debate if Werth hit the ball out of the park. It’s not the strategy that was the issue, but the execution. Werth was overanxious and swung at a bad pitch and criticizing him or Johnson won’t matter because telling Johnson what he did was wrong is only going to accomplish one thing: he’s going to do it more just to prove how smart he is and how dumb his critics are.

The Nats are too talented and deep to play in so mediocre a fashion for much longer.

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American League East Predicted Standings

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American League East Predicted Standings:

1. New York Yankees                        94       68         —

2. Toronto Blue Jays                         87       75           7

3. Tampa Bay Rays                            85       77           9

4. Boston Red Sox                             81       81          13

5. Baltimore Orioles                           65       97          29

New York Yankees

The Yankees benefited greatly from the lack of decisively bold movements and drastic improvements of their rivals. While they’re repeating prior mistakes with paranoia and pitcher-babying, they have the offense, abundance of starting pitching and deep bullpen to again rise to the top of the division.

The bench is something that will have to be addressed as the season moves along because Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones aren’t suitable backups regardless of the Yankees’ propaganda machine unequivocally stating that they are.

Expect Alex Rodriguez to have a comeback season and hope that the overwhelming pressure they’re putting on Michael Pineda doesn’t haunt them.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays needed a name arm or a name bat to be a preseason favorite and didn’t get either.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t contend; it means that they’re going to have to get big seasons from young players Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar and Henderson Alvarez. Sergio Santos must prove he can close for a full season and throw strikes; Brandon Morrow has to develop into a trustworthy top-tier starter without restrictions.

I picked Jose Bautista as the AL MVP.

Tampa Bay Rays

Again forced to scrounge around the bargain bins, they reunited with Carlos Pena to increase their power at first base. The Rays have been good and lucky in finding bullpen arms who fit into their system and rejuvenate stalled careers—running a club that way is rife with risks that eventually it’s not going to work.

B.J. Upton will play like a maniac all season as he heads for free agency.

With their young starting pitching, they could make it to the World Series or falter and be out of contention to put such stars as Upton, James Shields and David Price in play for a trade at mid-season.

I’ve got them somewhere in the middle.

Boston Red Sox

It’s chaos.

Who’s running things?

Is there any cohesion between John Henry, Larry Lucchino, Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine?

At least when Theo Epstein was there—like it or not—you knew there was one person mostly in charge; now with Theo gone and Lucchino grasping for power; Henry providing self-protectionist alibis; Cherington marginalized; and Bobby V being…Bobby V, there are going to be voices, whispers, Machiavellian power plays and rampant dysfunction the likes which have not been seen in Boston since 2001.

Are they making the types of moves that laid the foundation of their annual championship contending teams from 2003-2010 or are they desperately trying to patch holes and find “name” people to replace the “name” people who are gone?

I like Valentine, but his polarizing personality can go both ways. The Red Sox starting rotation is short and they have black spots in their lineup at shortstop, right field and possibly catcher.

It’s a time bomb with Valentine and Josh Beckett.

Baltimore Orioles

I don’t hear much about Buck Showalter’s status as a miracle worker after the team came apart last season.

Following a hot start, they reverted to being the Orioles of the past 15 years.

Dan Duquette has received unfair criticism and there’s a lack of context in the good work he did as the Expos’ and Red Sox’ GM, but a lack of talent is a lack of talent; an impossible division is an impossible division; and until they develop their young arms and stick to a strategy for the long term, there’s not much that will change in Baltimore.

Duquette must be allowed to take the marketable players—notably Nick Markakis and Adam Jones—and see what types of offers he can get for them to replenish the system with multiple players. They’re not going to do the Orioles any good as Orioles.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Billy Beane—2012 Baseball Guide Excerpt

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I’m sure some of those who are familiar with me, what I do and how strongly I feel about the farcical nature of Moneyball the book and how much worse Moneyball the movie was in terms of factual inaccuracy are expecting me to go into a rant about Billy Beane. Again.

But I’m not.

I’m saving that.

This is straight recapping and assessment.

The A’s began another rebuild phase under Beane as he allowed Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui and David DeJesus to leave as free agents and traded Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey for packages of youngsters. He was intent—so he implied—on waiting out the resolution of the possible new ballpark in San Jose.

But then he did something strange.

He started making maneuvers that were diametrically opposed to a full-scale rebuild. He re-signed Coco Crisp; he signed veterans Bartolo Colon and Jonny Gomes; and then committed the cardinal sin in the context of verifiable stats and knowing what one is purchasing by investing heavily ($36 million over 4-years) in a Cuban defector, Yoenis Cespedes.

Beane says and does whatever he wants.

There’s always an excuse.

The media was focusing on the job status of Bob Geren (Beane’s “best friend”) so he replaced him not because of Geren doing a bad job, but because of media scrutiny being a distraction.

They don’t have any money, so they clear out the house of any and all veterans.

The ballpark is terrible, has no luxury boxes and the fans don’t come so he has to wait and hope the San Jose deal comes through.

No one wants to play in Oakland, so they have to take chances on the likes of Cespedes.

The Angels and Rangers are powerhouses, so why should the A’s bother to try and compete?

If it’s not one thing it’s another.

It’s not hard to be considered a genius when nothing is ever you’re fault; when the sycophants will find an excuse regardless of what you do and whether or not it makes sense.

No one blames him for anything because they’re either invested in Moneyball, don’t know enough to realize that Beane isn’t a genius whose every decision turns to gold or are afraid to protest for fear of being shouted down and ostracized.

He’s flinging things at the wall and hoping they work. That’s not analytical; it’s not based on numbers. It’s pure desperation on the part of the supposed “genius” and willfully blind silence on the part of those who know what he’s doing and refuse to protest are even more guilty.

His team is still terrible and the new template is 2015.

By then they’ll be good and hopefully have a new ballpark.

People in the media and starstruck fans might not want to admit the truth, but people inside baseball are aware. Beane let it be known through intermediaries leaking it to the media that he was willing to listen if the Cubs came calling to run their club.

He wanted the job.

But the Cubs didn’t want him. They wanted Theo Epstein.

People in baseball know he’s a fraud. And he’s trapped in Oakland.

Beane signed a contract extension to keep him with the Athletics through 2019.

That’s where he is and that’s where he’ll stay.

The above is a snippet from my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book is now available on KindleSmashwords and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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