Early Season Underachievers: Washington Nationals

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

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.

//

The Twins’ Unique Pursuits

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Prospects, Trade Rumors

One of the bigger head-scratching rumors over the weekend of the MLB trading deadline revolved around the Twins and the Nationals talks to send Denard Span to the Nats.

Various stories had the Twins wanting Drew Storen; the Nats offering Tyler Clippard; the Twins demanding that Roger Bernadina and Stephen Lombardozzi be part of the deal—then things falling apart.

Who knows how close they came and how accurate the reporting was?

But the Twins desires were indicative of the unique way they run their club.

They have a plan and a template, but often appear to have their judgment clouded by insignificant aspects such as designation of “closer” and organizational connections.

You could make the argument that, financially, they’d be better off with Storen over Clippard; Clippard is arbitration-eligible after this year and due for a big raise; Storen has one year of service time. There are also the questions about former Nats manager Jim Riggleman‘s overuse of Clippard affecting him negatively going forward.

But the money isn’t as big a problem as it once was for the Twins; they can’t justifiably be called a “small market” team anymore with a 2011 payroll hovering around $113 million. They’re upper-mid-market, if anything.

I get the impression that they wanted Storen because he’s a “closer” as if the appellation of the term means something. He’s got great stuff, but has been shaky in the role and allowed 7 homers; Clippard is dominant with plenty of strikeouts and a funky, over-the-top motion that is sneaky fast and unusual for hitters to have to face. Clippard gives up his share of homers too, but all things being equal, I’d rather have Clippard.

Why they wound demand Bernadina is a mystery. But Lombardozzi is the son of former Twins infielder Steve Lombardozzi who was a part of the 1987 championship team. The legacy aspect can’t be ignored if a player who was a 19th round draft pick is so fervently desired by a club with family ties. The younger Lombardozzi has put up solid minor league numbers, but is he someone to hold it up on either side?

Ancillary issues are at play with these talks. Span is signed inexpensively through 2015, but was just activated from the disabled list after a concussion. Could the continued problems with post-concussion syndrome suffered by Justin Morneau have influenced the Twins to try to get something for Span now before any after effects show themselves? Ben Revere is younger and cheaper and can catch the ball in center field.

The way the Twins run games under Ron Gardenhire makes it imperative that they have a deep bullpen; this was why they made the trade for Matt Capps last year surrendering top catching prospect Wilson Ramos; and why they would presumably want Storen.

The trade was never completed and I have to give credit to the Twins for holding true to their beliefs.

That said, maybe those beliefs need some tweaking because they’re causing them to do things which make little sense in theory and probably won’t be smart in practice either.

//