It wasn’t intentional, but I ended up on the Brad Bergesen Tour of America in May, seeing three of his last four starts in three different ballparks. I can now say that I have a read on the right-hander. He’s not a prospect the way that Chris Tillman or Brian Matusz is; rather, he’s good enough to be the fifth starter on the teams that they anchor in the 2010s. Bergesen tries to keep the ball down and works both sides of the plate, and his best pitch is a slurvy breaking ball. The thing I noticed most about him is that he doesn’t have a great deal of stamina. He’s a max-effort guy who loses it rapidly between pitches 90 and 100, and while he throws enough strikes to get into the sixth or seventh inning, he has to be monitored carefully for signs of fatigue. There’s 100 percent of Brad Bergesen that is a major league pitcher; 90 percent of Brad Bergesen isn’t.
The last of the three Bergesen starts I saw came on Sunday at Nationals Park, part of a two-day trip in which I continued to see more Orioles baseball than Peter Angelos does. This game was notable not for Bergesen’s performance, which was shaky, but for the Nationals bullpen, which was inexplicably awesome. Ron Villone, Joe Beimel, and Joel Hanrahan combined to retire the nine hitters they faced. This is a very rare event; the Nationals’ bullpen has been scored on in all but 11 games all season, and that total was just nine when Manny Acta took Shairon Martis out in the seventh on this night.
It was also notable for Adam Dunn, who hit two home runs that looked for all the world like short fly balls off the bat; they just kept going and going and going. The second was an opposite-field grand slam off of a Jamie Walker breaking ball that wasn’t a bad pitch. Dunn just dropped the bat on it, and 360 feet later, the Nationals had an 8-5 lead. Dunn’s size doesn’t come through on TV the way it does in person: he’s just a huge guy. Also worth mentioning is that Dunn, playing first base after Nick Johnson was a late scratch, showed good range on a foul popup, and good hands on some errant throws by his teammates. He’s not Mark Teixeira, but he’s probably a better first baseman than he is a left fielder. Dunn is quietly hitting .299/.421/.599, and while my choice of him over the field for a spot on the NL All-Star team didn’t please everyone, his combination of track record and 2009 start fit the best for me from a field in which everyone had some flaw.
Nationals Park, perhaps unfairly compared by me to New Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards, did not leave a strong impact. It’s certainly a nice park, with all of the modern amenities, but there’s a lack of distinction to it, a lack of identity, like the kid in high school nobody hated, but who ended up with only four signatures in his yearbook. It’s not helped by the scene outside the park, still one large construction site more than a year after the park opened, and behind that a Metro station ill-equipped for the volume of baseball fans it saw on Sunday. (The system itself was choked by baseball fans to and from the game, which was a surprise to me given how the park usually plays on television.) It’s great that the park is hard by a station, as I think all parks should have easy access to public transportation. It’s less great that the experience makes an A-train veteran think “too crowded.”
Back at Camden Yards on Monday afternoon, I watched the Orioles bounce back by chipping away at Brian Tallet and accosting B.J. Ryan on their way to a 4-1 win. Jeremy Guthrie became the latest pitcher to shut down a suddenly anemic Jays attack in what would be the seventh of eight losses in a row (a streak that may be ending this afternoon in Baltimore). Adam Jones continued to justify my love, with a single, a walk, and terrific range in center field. The Orioles, who will make a significant upgrade before the week is over-Matt Wieters is coming!-are a much better team than their 20-26 mark, deflated by a brutal set of opponents, would indicate. They’re probably a top-15 team in MLB, and if they had to, could be better than that by pushing their young pitching a bit more quickly. As it is, the next few months have to be about getting value for Melvin Mora, Aubrey Huff, Jamie Walker, and any other pieces that can be sold off for potential additions to future Orioles squads. The Orioles are the next team coming, in a way that the Rangers and Rays have been those teams in recent seasons.
Monday’s contest was the seventh ballgame I’d attended this year, in three parks in three cities. For me, that’s a lot. In fact, among the first questions I’m asked when people learn what I do is, “So you go to a lot of games, right?” The truth is, I haven’t. I’ve argued that I get more ideas from watching a full slate of games at home via satellite-which I do, every day I’m home-than by watching two teams at one park. There’s a large opportunity cost, from a writing standpoint, to attending a game, and honestly, I feel as if all of the time I’ve spent at games and on the road in the last 10 days has me far behind in knowing about the rest of MLB.
With all that said, I’ve had more fun in the last couple of weeks than is really fair. Baseball, unlike football, is much better in person than on TV. Baseball, unlike football, can be entertaining in a one-game dose. Sitting in a ballpark, a barbecue sandwich (Boog’s is one of those rare things that stands up to the hype) on my lap, sun peeking down through the clouds, watching the greatest game ever invented… yeah, that’s a good day. I’m just not sure how days like that fit into the process of trying to be the writer our readers deserve.