I had a brief, joking exchange with a friend recently about the Phillies and how they will need cups of water in the dugout for their detures. The fact of the matter is that the Phillies are the team to beat in the NL East and if the 2011 season was any indication, they are the team to beat in the rest of the MLB as well. The fact of the matter is the Phillies have great pitching, great defence, and good enough offense. When you have as good a pitching staff as good as the Phillies do, mediocre offense can still net you 100 wins, as we had seen throughout the entire year.
A few days earlier, I had seen a MASN classic Nationals game on TV. In this 2005 season game, the Nationals would walk off in the bottom of the 12th inning to beat Philadelphia. The thing that was the most interesting to me, however, was the fact that there were so many of the Phillies regulars and none of the Nationals regulars, except for Livo and Ryan Wallace Zimmerman sporting #25. It goes to show how far the Nationals have come since moving to the Nation’s capital in 2005. In this game, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino as a pinch runner were all there along with others. Some of them, such as Carlos Ruiz were still on the way at this point, but a lot of the core guys were there. Seeing this was like watching the makings of (and I hate to say this) greatness. Soon to be World Champions and a team that has now won numerous division titles, as well as a couple of League titles. The good thing is, that was then and this is now.
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This past Tuesday I was at my brother-in-law’s house for what has become the last Christmas party of the season for my wife and I. It reminded me of another time I was up that way spending time with that part of the family. They weren’t my family then, but I think I had just become engaged to the woman who would become my wife. I don’t recall all the detail, but it was right after the Orioles had traded Erik Bedard to the Mariners for a package that included Adam Jones. The trade is listed as happening February 8th so the exact purpose of our visit eludes me.
What I find funny is that we are now almost to the four year anniversary of that trade and there are discussions that Adam Jones might be traded at some point this off-season. It even got so far with the Atlanta Braves that names were exchanged. The Braves ended up unwilling to part with the package the Orioles wanted for Jones and the Orioles might be overvaluing a .275/.319/.437 centerfielder who by most defensive metrics is rated below average.
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This isn’t the Natstown I have come to know and love. For the last couple weeks the typical gloom and fog has lifted and been replaced by something strange, a sense of hope. The trade for Gio Gonzalez made the baseball world stand up and take notice. Suddenly the Nationals have a rotation to be feared and are a surprise or two offensive performance away from being a real threat, but something else is happening as well. People in the know. The so called experts out there won’t shut up about Prince Fielder.
I won’t say it is morning in Natstown, but it might be close to dawn. Bryce Harper looms large on the horizon and he brings the promise of a new day. A day where the glasses people drink from in Natstown are no longer always half empty, but instead are half full. Harper is the next great hope in Washington sports. Hope is something people in this town are far too accustomed to, or maybe that isn’t right. Watching hope fizzle is what the DC sports fan is use to.
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There has been a lot of talk ever since the Gio Gonzalez trade about which teams have the best rotations in baseball and just where the Nats rank after trading for Gonzalez. Baseball is ripe with pitching, and a lot of teams have really good rotations, but it still being the off-season and a lot of player movement has yet to take place it is hard to talk about complete rotations. I will say if a top three is known then the rotation is good and if a top five is known then that rotation has a chance to be one of the top five in baseball. I am also not sure who exactly is still under team control so praising the Brewers and Randy Wolf as their fifth starter when I don’t even know if Randy Wolf is still Brewers’ property is a little misguided. So instead of the best rotations in baseball we will call this the best top threes in baseball.
There are a couple that are obvious. The top threes of Halladay, Lee, and Hamels and Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner have had so much ink spilled on them in recent memory that nothing more really needs to be said. Everyone knows that Halladay is the Ace of Aces and that Lee is a magician who can make a baseball defy the laws of physics. Lincecum is a two time Cy Young award winner and remains one of the best young pitchers in the game of baseball, and Cain is a bulldog on the mound with the stuff to go along with the attitude. Those top threes are obviously the best of the best, but they could have some company in 2012.
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Today I wanted to write a blog when I starting thinking of this little groove. I could have written about love or money, some thing sad, or something funny. But hey, whats so wrong with one more first baseman? Hold up your glove and catch the ball for one more first baseman!
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Yesterday, the Nationals officially traded away 4 prospects to acquire the power lefty Gio Gonzalez, pending a physical of course. Everyone was hyped up, disappointed, and some were unsure of how to feel about the trade. Not surprisingly, either as the trade impacted both Oakland and Washington alike. Washington has sacrificed a lot of potential, but acquired a big talent. Oakland lost a big talent, but acquired a lot of potential.
Lost in all this are a few question marks, though. For example what about the offense? I have stated before that if the Nationals receive a regular season from Werth and a Regular season from Zimmerman, the offense has already improved. However, one more big bat in the lineup would be big. I want to point out that I do NOT believe the Nationals will sign Prince Fielder, but he is out there Rizzo, Lerner (I’m looking at you two). Fielder’s bat would add a big middle of the lineup threat to an already decent one. Fielder has a career, yes career, OBP of .390 and has hit more HR’s than I care to mention. Throw Harper into the mix down the line and the Nationals offensive struggles in 2011 not only go out the window, but they are decimated entirely.
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In 2011 the Washington Nationals pitching staff ranked seventh in baseball. Heading into the off-season it was thought that the Nationals needed hitting a lot more than they needed starting pitching, but they still wanted to add a strong top of the rotation starter to go with Strasburg and Zimmermann.
It can’t hurt the Nationals as they have to compete in a division where the Phillies feature a top three of Halladay, Hamels, Lee; the Braves have Hudson, Hanson, Jurrjens; and the Marlins have Johnson, Sanchez, Buehrle. There is a lot of good pitching in the NL East and having John Lannan as a number three starter simply wasn’t up to snuff in the NL East.
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