Rethinking Dusty Baker, with the help of some Nationals.
Early Sunday evening, somewhere in the bowels of Nationals Park, the questions came flying at Dusty Baker thick and fast. Why did he double-switch Bryce Harper out of the game immediately after Harper's ninth-inning home run, and instead put Chris Heisey into the game, thus burning the Nationals' last position player? I mean, it meant that he had to let a relief pitcher (Oliver Perez) take an at-bat with two outs and runners on base in the bottom of the 15th inning, for crying out loud! Why, for that matter, did he leave Stephen Strasburg in the game for 114 pitches? And what the hell was Yusmeiro Petit doing throwing 4 ⅓ innings in this game, anyway?
Outstanding arms from week three, including Strasburg, Jose Fernandez and Drew Smyly.
We're now three weeks into the baseball season, such that the relative quality of opponents is beginning to wash out as pitchers continue to tour the league, while emerging trends start to become more reality and less fluke. Let's take a look at a trio of starters who had multiple starts last week, and whose performances left an impression.
The thesis, antithesis and synthesis for what's fun about baseball in the Papa Slam era.
As spring sets in, and the soft breeze cools us during a pleasant evening turning into night, our biological clocks click in unison and we all know what time it is: It’s the time when Fun In Baseball becomes A Thing again.
Inexorably, like the salmon returning to spawn, the baseball writers of America and the young fans of the game stop whatever they’re doing to examine player actions and determine what’s so fun about watching a baseball game anyway. Is the Papa Slam fun? Is Dellin Betances fun? Is this fun?
The Miley cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the Mariners. Meanwhile, Vince Velasquez allows runs, while Mat Latos postpones the inevitable for one more start.
The Tuesday Takeaway
Entering Tuesday’s game against Cleveland, Wade Miley had yet to allow a walk this season. Entering the fourth inning, this was still true. Then that changed in pretty dramatic fashion.
With the Mariners down 1-0 courtesy of a Mike Napoli RBI double in the third, Miley opened up the fourth by striking out Yan Gomes. Of his 48 pitches at that point, 37 had been strikes, with both his four-seamer and his changeup looking fairly solid. But things started going downhill for Seattle’s lefty shortly after that. It started with a Marlon Byrd single. Then away went the fastball command and in came the walks.
Jake Arrieta turns out another showstopper, the Braves and Twins finally beat their bad karma, and Felix Hernandez keeps company with Randy Johnson.
The Weekend Takeaway
Most baseball fans can probably remember the last time their team’s ace had a bad day on the mound. For Giants fans, it could be the day when Madison Bumgarner served up three home runs to the Dodgers, all while receiving zero runs of support in return. For Diamondbacks fans, perhaps it was the time Zack Greinke scattered seven earned runs over four innings in his 2016 season debut. For Cubs fans, however, pinpointing the exact date that Jake Arrieta failed to execute a pristine performance is a bit trickier.
We are now on the eve of the seventh baseball season of this, the second decade of baseball’s third century. If baseball were a trashy fantasy novel, this would be the year in which the miller’s/weaver’s/craftsman’s son, after seven years of blissful ignorance about his true identity as the Emperor of the Dwarves/King of the Mystic Realm/Grand Poobah of the Pyrenees, would be awoken to his fateful quest by some wizened old man hobbling up the hill to his house.
Does Davey Lopes bring a magic stopwatch with him to Washington?
The game’s great pitching coaches are, by now, famous names. Not every team has one, but there are at least half a dozen men who—it is said—can turn a dead-armed 29-year-old into an elite closer or mid-rotation starter with the snap of a finger.
Less so on the offensive end of the game, with one exception: Davey Lopes. After a 16-year major-league career, various coaching stints and a run as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, Lopes captured the national baseball imagination as the first base coach of the Philadelphia Phillies, directing the most efficient basestealing team ever.
No, really: The Nationals can't afford to waste this.
Few big-league teams were as putrid as the Washington Nationals in 2008 and 2009. The Nats lost a combined a 205 games, christening a new stadium and the rebirth of baseball in Washington with consecutive last place finishes. Odalis Perez drew an opening day start. Anderson Hernandez was allowed to bat 350 times. The club had to hire a Special Assistant of Player Concerns just to keep their right fielder out of jail. Bleak times.
With Ian Desmond officially off the board, the offseason rumor mill is on its last legs. The spring training position battle and intriguing-opt-out time of year is only just beginning. Here are two situations in that vein that could be worth monitoring in the coming weeks…