Spring Training games start today. The Washington Nationals are in Viera, Florida and ready to play the best the Grapefruit League has to offer. Opening Day is 33 days away. Here’s your sneak peak into what you have to look forward to this season.
It’s safe to assume that 2010 will not be the year the Washington Nationals win a World Series. They’re still building a franchise and are mere youngins when compared to the veteran clubs in the Major Leagues today.
The Nationals haven’t had a winning season since moving to the District. They came close in 2005 by going 81-81, but since then they have finished last in their division (National League East) every year except 2007 when they finished second to last. So – it’s easy to understand if you haven’t made your way to the ballpark these past few years.
If you wanted to see a team win, a trip to Baltimore, dare I say … Philly, might be a better idea. Not this year though. The 2010 season has the potential to be different for the Nationals. And no – that’s not a joke.
‘Let Your Fan Flag Fly!’
courtesy of ‘Kevin H.’
General Manager Mike Rizzo assembled quite an ensemble of characters in the off-season. The squad is full of potential. All winter acquisitions were smart moves as far as business goes. The team spent smart money. They didn’t reach beyond their means. They got what they knew they could get.
What’d they end up with at the end of the off-season? Here’s the inventory: a mentor, a merch mover, a gift from God, and a little bit of hope for a winning season in 2010.
Good leadership is hard to come by if you’re a newer team in game obsessed with tradition. For all intensive purposes, the Nationals have lacked a real veteran mentor. Jason Marquis is now filling that void.
The guy’s got enough positive attitude for the entire 40-man roster and Spring Training squad combined. “I feel like you play 162 games to win 162 games. You don’t put expectations like ‘Oh, I hope we get to .500 this year,’” he told Florida Today late last month.
“Treat each and every day as an individual, treat each game as its own and try to win one game at a time, get an out at a time, make plays and execute, and I think it will lead to a good season.”
His quotes might be off-the-cuff but he makes a valid point. A little confidence can’t hurt.
The Merch Mover
At this point, if you call yourself a baseball fan and don’t know the name Ivan “Pudge” Rodgriguez, you haven’t been paying much attention to today’s All-Stars.
Here’s the deal: Pudge is ranked one of the greatest defensive catchers in the history of the game. He’s a 7 time Silver Slugger, 13 time Gold Glove winner, and a 14 time All-Star (not to mention he’s part of the reason the Cubs were robbed a World Series berth in 2003. Pudge was behind the plate for the 2003 World Series Champion Florida Marlins).
This guy is a big seller. Little Leaguers, baseball fanatics, and 20-something girls who go to the games for the beer are sure to be sporting his merch by the start of the season.
‘Angels Yankees Baseball’
courtesy of ‘bob_jeter’
The Gift From God
And then there was the little engine that could. Stephen Strasburg is all anyone at Nationals Spring Training Camp seems to be talking about. Teammate Nyjer Morgan has gone as far as to say that he’s “Jesus”. Why? Morgan says it’s because that’s the first thing you say when you see him pitch, “Jeee-sus!”
The scouting reports are unanimous. Everyone is talking about Strausburg – the Post, USA Today, the Bleacher Report , … the list goes on, but you get the point.
The biggest question going into the regular season is: will Riggleman start Strasburg in the minors or the majors?
The right-handed kid out of San Diego State is the talk of NatsTown. The boy’s got a speedy fastball up near the triple digits, went 4-1 with a 4.26 ERA in his first professional assignment at the Arizona Fall League, and the entire Nationals squad is on his side.
Riggleman says that the final decision is still up in the air, “We’re going to continue to evaluate him. Most likely he will start in the minors. But he’s an exceptional talent, so I won’t say he can’t make it.”
To trust Riggleman in this situation wouldn’t be a bad idea. He’s done this before. Kerry Wood ring any bells?
Here’s a quick recap just in case it doesn’t: Riggleman was the Cubs manager during Wood’s rookie season in 1998. Wood was 20-years-old, started 26 games, threw 2,840 pitches, and struck out 233 batters – including a record-breaking 20 strikeout game. Riggleman has admitted he regrets how he handled Wood. He told the Washington Post, “I think if anything that I learned from it, having to do it over I probably would have pitched Kerry less.”
With that said, Strasburg and Wood aren’t the same person. The circumstances are different and Riggleman has 11 more years of managing on his resume going into the 2010 season. So – in this case – let’s just choose to say, “In Riggleman we trust.”
Strasburg is scheduled for his first Spring Training start March 9.
‘Nationals vs Mets – Dedicated Fans – 9-29-09’
courtesy of ‘mosley.brian’
A Little Word Called “Hope”
American’s have an obsession with hope. Granted – President Obama’s campaign ran the word into the ground, but that doesn’t mean baseball fans aren’t still big supporters of the concept.
Remember the 2004 American League Championship Series? The Red Sox overcame a 0-3 deficit, secured their spot in the World Series, and went on to win their first Fall Classic since 1918. Then, they did it again in 2007.
And how about those 2003 Florida Marlins? Sure – they crushed the Cubs dreams by coming back from behind with the lovable losers just 5 outs away from the going to their first series since 1945 – but the fish went on to win the series and define the word “hope” for thousands of newly converted Floridian baseball fans.
Who could forget those 2008 Phillies? The list goes on and on, the stories never cease to amaze fans. That’s what is so great about the game of baseball.
Baseball is a game of circumstance and situation. Statistics can only tell you so much. It’s those moments that can’t be predicted that keep fans coming out to games every year. And this year – the Nationals have that hope in their back pocket.
There’s a saying in baseball ever since Field of Dreams came out in 1989, “If you build it, they will come.” GM Mike Rizzo built himself a decent squad. Now it’s time for the men in red to take the field and plaaay ball.
.500 is a big stretch for the Nats. The first month of the season is brutal and they won’t have several of the “better” pitchers healthy or in the majors. This team is a slow starter in general, so this doesn’t help. If they are only 5 games under .500 on May 1, I think you have to call good news.
Baltimore a winner? Seems unlikely since they play in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox and even Rays. They could do a lot right and still be below .500 which is great after what they did/do to the Nats and DC.
I agree. But let’s not forget, baseball is a game of patience. There are 162 games to be played. Come September, if things go the way they appear they COULD go, I really think ending the season above .500 is an attainable goal.
I agree that .500 is a stretch, but I think it’s conceivable we could beat Baltimore in the record department. They’re not slated tomake .500, either.
Baseball is sadly not a game of coulds.
The 2008 Phillies didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. They featured a punishing everyday lineup (Rollins, Utley, Howard, etc.), a good rotation anchored by an ace starter who blitzed through the postseason (Hamels), and a lights-out bullpen and perfect closer (Lidge). They didn’t need a lot of hope — they demolished lesser NL teams and the Cinderella Rays on their way to the championship.
The Nats need more than some hope — they need a couple of years development, plus a free agent signing here and there to plug holes in the future. But the pitching should keep them in close games, the defense really CAN’T be as bad as it was last season (right???), and the hitting…well, aside from Morgan and Zim and Dunn, we’ll see. They did have a great off-season, though.
70-75 wins would be progress. But watch out for close games — they could keep fans interested just by being competitive more often than not, which would be a nice change from last year’s feeling of helplessness most nights from the Nats faithful.
Oh, and Strasburg MUST start at Double-A. Protect that arm and psyche and bring him up after he has some professional experience.
Touche @Phil regarding the Phillies. Agreed. Also — if Strasburg DOESN’T start in the minors, it’d be a big mistake. Professional experience is a definite must-have and as for the protecting that arm … it’s absolutely crucial to protect it. Otherwise, he could ended up a washed-up, used-up talent in under 5 years.
If you want a Phillies team that came out of nowhere, the 1993 team, picked to finish last by just about everyone except USA Today’s Paul White, went from worst-to-first with retreads, has-beens, okay players who all had career years at the same time, and a young Curt Schilling. And they took the Blue Jays to 6 games. That’s hope! ;)
@Phil As a gal who grew up 5 minutes from Wrigley Field, I must agree … the ’93 Phillies do make for one helluva story :) And let me tell ya, I love me a good baseball story.
82 wins would be awesome – just imagine going to the stadium with a 50/50 shot of witnessing a gnat victory!
As a lifelong Orioles fan, I have to sadly correct your comment about Baltimore. The Orioles won an abysmal 64 games last year and have been under .500 (far under) for 13 years straight. A good year for the Orioles is when they come in 4th place, which is still pretty rare. Go to Baltimore because the stadium is awesome, but definitely not to see a team win.
@Karl I blame this “assumption” on my Midwestern heritage. My many apologies for jumping the gun on my claim that the O’s were a winning team, but you’ve got to seriously admit, a trip to see the O’s is a winning experience no matter if they win or lose :)
I am not sure where anyone would get the idea that the Nats are even close to .500
Starting pitching? Sketchy at best
Relief pitching? Outside of 2 guys, pretty bad
Lineup? Who knows? On one day, out the next 5
“If you wanted to see a team win, a trip to Baltimore… might be a better idea.”
I’m not even going to take the time to see if anyone else has called out your bullshit comment (if I’ve been beaten to the punch, you need to hear it again).
Baltimore, 12 straight LOSING seasons. Go to Baltimore to see winning? Stupid, stupid, stupid. And more importantly, wrong. All Baltimore knows for the past decade plus IS losing. The Nats at least had a .500 season in ’05. It’s nothing to crow about but it’s not 12 losing seasons in a row.
Shame on you, Rachel Levitin.
Get smarter. Plug the Nats. Go see the Nats– in no particular order. Or go to Baltimore and see all the make-believe winning.
You’re absolutely correct. My word selection in that sentence was horribly off. I had intended to make the point that if you wanted an alternative to watching a not-so-hot team while living in the District, you could venture elsewhere to one of the nearby teams in the area. Unfortunately, that is not what that sentence stated. Shame on me, indeed.
I will do my best to report on the Washington Nationals this season, I can only hope that you folks continue to aid me in my efforts. If I’ve botched something, feel free to let me know.
I’ve loved the game of baseball my entire life, so I am determined to convey that in my writing.
Actually, don’t go to Baltimore for baseball. The Orioles, owned by Peter Angelo$, voted against D.C. getting a baseball team, the only no vote. Then, Angelo$ made a corrupt bargain with commissioner Bud Selig to hijack the Nats TV rights. Angelo$ then kept the Nats off of most cable systems until Sept. 2006, killing the early buzz the team had in 2005. Post columnist Thomas Boswell suggested those tactics were an attempt at crib death.
Be a good Washingtonian and don’t reward bad behavior, boycott Oriole Park!
I haven’t been to Oriole Park since 2003. And I ain’t going back until Angelos sells the team.
Yeah, I’m against going to Baltimore, unless I’m scalping the tickets and bringing in my own food & drink