Category Archives: Nationals

A number of players quietly putting up big years

Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez, in the shadow of phenom Stephen Strasburg, is putting up a Cy Young-like season in the early going.

McGILLIGAN: Despite being less than 50 games into the season, there’s no shortage of craziness, stupidity and life-altering occurrences – here’s to you Baltimore Orioles fans – taking place.

Here are a few of less talked about stories:

Resurgence of Adam Dunn

After playing like something even the scrap heap wouldn’t want to be associated with in 2011, Dunn has found his stroke again. He was tied for third in homeruns in Major League Baseball with 12 heading into play Tuesday and sixth in RBI. After a disastrous 2011 where he hit fewer homeruns (11) than millions he was paid by the White Sox (12), Dunn’s future was in doubt. Credit him for turning it around and producing a solid stat line so far this season.

Quiet Cy Young Performance

If you’re talking about a Cy Young candidate on the Washington Nationals, the first name that comes to mind is Stephen Strasburg. The young ace has been nothing short of spectacular for the upstart Nationals. However, Gio Gonzalez has been tremendous in a Washington uniform as well. With a record of 4-1, 1.94 ERA and second in strikeouts in the National League, Gonzalez and Strasburg give the Nationals perhaps the best one-two punch in the league.

Slugger struggles while another emerges

Much like Gonzalez is excelling in the shadow of Strasburg, Edwin Encarnacion is in a similar albeit different position. Until recently, reigning homerun king and Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista has struggled to regain his form, however, the team was getting its power hitting from Encarnacion. With 11 homeruns, he’s making people think he’s finally living up to his expectations and helping Jays fan forget about Bautista’s early season swoon.

Grantland’s Derek Jeter diary

Written by Mark Lisanti, this fake journal of Jeter’s innermost thoughts is ridiculous. If it doesn’t make you laugh three of four times out loud then you have no sense of humour. Here’s an excerpt regarding Jered Weaver’s no-hitter: “That’s a fantastic accomplishment for him, even if it carries an asterisk because he did it against the Twins. I don’t agree with the asterisk thing, they’re a major league team, but that’s just the way they officially record it. I always get Jered mixed up with his brother Jeff, who is now probably a surfboard mechanic in Escondido. Who knows? We don’t keep in touch because he lost us the World Series against the Marlins in ’03.”

Bryan LaHair is off to a blazing start for the Chicago Cubs, hitting .356 with an OPS of 1.154 while putting up nine doubles, nine dingers and 20 RBI.

LIVINGSTONE: I was going to write a separate post on Chicago Cubs Bryan LaHair, but I figure he fits well into one of the big surprises of the season less than 50 games in.

LaHair, who was named the starting first baseman for the Cubbies this year after spending much of the last four years in the minor league system – outside of 45 games with the Mariners in 2008 and 20 with the Cubs last season – wasn’t expected to be the machine he has been to start the year.

Lets look at what he’s done so far:

  •  LaHair has more homeruns (eight) than Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, combined (Pujols has ONE and Fielder has FIVE). He also makes $483,000 this year – about the same amount that Fielder will get for those five homeruns he’s hit.
  • Combined, the entire Cubs team has 13 homeruns – LaHair’s eight make up more than 50 per cent of the entire team’s round trippers.

Drafted in 2002 by the Mariners in the 39th round, LaHair has toiled away in the minor leagues, waiting to get his chance to do what he now currently doing – putting up All-Star-like numbers. What makes it more impressive is the fact a superstar in the making in Anthony Rizzo is waiting in the wings to come up and take first base from him. Being able to produce under that kind of pressure –  especially in a city just itching for Rizzo to get called up – is nothing short of remarkable. The way LaHair is playing, and if he keeps it up through the season, it’s going to be tough for the Cubs to move LaHair into the outfield (he can play there, too) to make room for Rizzo.

For a team that sits at the bottom of the Central division (as of Tuesday morning the Cubs are in a three-way tie with the Brewers and Pirates for third – and last – with a 15-20 record) and has little to be excited about so far this season, outside of Starlin Castro (.333, 1 HR, 21 RBI) and pitcher Jeff Samardzija (4-1/2.89 ERA), LaHair is putting on a show for a city dying to see its Cubs compete.

If he can establish himself as one of the premier first basemen in the National League – or outfielder, depending on what the Cubs do with Rizzo – the Cubs could find themselves in the thick of a wild card race sooner rather than later.

 

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Dear Cole Hamels: Shut up, grow up and play the game

Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, left, admitted after a game on Sunday that he intentionally hit Nats’ rookie Bryce Harper. Seriously? Grow up and play the game you get millions of dollars to play. That five game suspension you got is fitting for your idiocy.

McGILLIGAN: Cole Hamels is a 28-year-old major league pitcher.

Bryce Harper is a 19-year-old up-and-coming player.

That’s where this story should have ended. Unfortunately it didn’t. We ended up watching the 28-year-old act much less mature than the 19-year-old and chalking it up to some ridiculous baseball code.

Hamels admitted to intentionally beaning Harper in the first inning of the Philadelphia Phillies 9-3 win Sunday against the Washington Nationals.

Here’s what Hamels said about the incident to the Associated Press:

“That’s something I grew up watching, that’s kind of what happened, so I’m just trying to continue the old baseball because I think some people are kind of getting away from it. I remember when I was a rookie the strike zone was really, really small and you didn’t say anything because that’s the way baseball is. But I think unfortunately the league’s protecting certain players and making it not that old-school, prestigious way of baseball.”

Hamels is wrong, in my opinion, for a number of reasons.

You want to make a point to a rookie? Strike him out. Don’t throw at him and pretend you’re protecting the reputation of the game – you’re not. The fact that Harper stole home that same inning is priceless. Do pitchers like it when a kid comes to the big leagues, has immediate success and is excited about it? No, but it doesn’t mean you intentionally throw at some one.

Grow up.

And don’t hide behind some ancient code. If that pitch slipped a bit out of Hamels hand and hit Harper in the head causing a concussion, we’re having a very different conversation and I bet Hamels doesn’t admit to it.

As for the conspiracy theory of the league protecting certain players, that doesn’t even make sense. How is the league protecting Harper? He’s a 19-year-old kid facing major league pitching; the fact that he’s handling it like a veteran is a testament to his skills and quick development.

Did the league tell other pitchers to groove fastballs to Harper or instruct umpires to adjust their strike zones for him? I’m sure MLB did not.

So if Hamels wants to be old school and protect the prestigious way of baseball, here’s my suggestion: Shut up and play.

LIVINGSTONE note: As I posted this piece, Hamels was handed down a five game suspension for intentionally throwing at Harper. In my own words: Good. What an idiot.


On the plus side, some young closers are strutting their stuff

Baltimore Orioles closer Jim Johnson has been perfect in the save situation, going seven-for-seven to start the season, closing out games with a high nineties fastball in his pitching arsenal.

McGILLIGAN: One of the early story lines this season was the poor performance of closers.

Teams were struggling to shut the door in the ninth inning and seal the win. Veteran guys – solid performers in seasons past – just weren’t getting the job done. Things have settled somewhat since then – injuries are still wreaking havoc in some cities – and part of the reason is new faces seizing their opportunities.

The two best examples of this are Jim Johnson of the Baltimore Orioles and Henry Rodriguez of the Washington Nationals.

Johnson has been perfect in his save opportunities this season (7-7), has yet to allow a run and has hitters off balance as evidenced by opponents mustering a measly.214 batting average.

The Orioles have struggled to find consistency the closer role, only once in the past five seasons has a player recorded two-straight seasons of 20 or more saves (George Sherrill in 2008 and 2009).

Heading into the year, Johnson had racked up 21 saves over the course of three seasons. Baltimore is a bit of a revolving door for closers, but early signs are positive for Johnson and the O’s.

The most intriguing closer-related story is in the National League. After the Nationals watched Brad Lidge blow a few saves, the job was given to Henry Rodriguez who had a grand total of two saves before this year. This season he’s recorded five saves in five chances, has not allowed an earned run and has opponents hitting a paltry .038.

What makes the Nationals situation so intriguing is the eventual return of Drew Storen. In 2011, Storen racked up 43 saves, tied for sixth best in all of baseball. He had minor elbow surgery earlier this month and could return sometime around the all-star break. If he can return to form, and Rodriguez continues his early dominance, the Nationals could have the makings of a great one-two punch for the eighth and ninth innings – in what order might be anyone’s guess.

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