Saturday, March 31, 2007

Blognostication


The inimitable BallWonk issued a challenge to all Nats bloggers the other day. Actually, it wasn't just any challenge: it was the 2007 Nationals Progdown Blognostication Credibility Challenge!

I'm never one to back down from a challenge, particularly when it comes to tests of manhood, cunning, and derring-do. After all, you're looking at the keg stand Gold Medalist in the 1998 PiKA-AEPhi Alcohol Olympics (45 seconds, baby!) But in this case, I'm going to have to settle for a test of prognostication abilities. And so, without further ado, here are my predictions for the Challenge:

1. Nationals season record: 65-97

2. Nationals NL East division place and games back (if any): 5th place, 22.5 games back.

3. Date on which Nick Johnson first appears in a Nationals game: July 4, 2007.

4. Date on which Nick Johnson suffers season-ending injury: September 15, 2007.

5. Nationals team leader in pitching starts, with number of starts: Matt Chico, 28 starts.

6. Total number of starting pitchers used: 25.

7. Number of ejections for Manny Acta: 2.

8. Guzman's batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging average: .273/.283/.385

9. Nationals home runs at RFK: 42.

10. Paid attendance for the July 21 game against Colorado at RFK (our only Fox national broadcast of 2007) : 15,281.

These guesses are as good as any, I guess. We'll see what happens.

At any rate, it's less than 2 hours until the first tailgate of the season at this year's exhibition contest. Come say hi if you're around.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Right Here, Right Now

I'd like to think that I've been fairly supportive of the Lerner/Kasten regime thus far, and I am an avid believer in "The Plan." However, as the Nats third spring training comes to an end I can't help but feel that the bloom has fallen off the rose a little bit. I find myself wondering if the team is really doing all it can to build a successful franchise from the ground up. I think that a wrongheaded marketing strategy, more than any other factor, is the cause of the franchise's decreasing success in year three.

My definition of a successful franchise (in this case) is a baseball team that has enmeshed itself into the cultural fabric of its home territory and has cultivated an active, consistent fan base that turns up year in and year out. On-field success is certainly a contributing factor, but is not necessarily the tie that binds the fans to the team. Look no further than the Cubs or the pre-2004 Red Sox as evidence. Those franchises have managed to become nearly synonymous with the cities they represent. Meanwhile, here in DC I get the distinct impression that many people are just becoming faintly aware of some sort of baseball team being in town. This lack of awareness and emotional investment is the number one hurdle that Stan Kasten must overcome to make this a successful team.

Let's put aside all the "Lerners are cheap" stuff for a second and consider the reality of the team's situation. The payroll is down $20 million from last year's team. The team is without any widely recognizeable "star." Ticket sales are abysmal- Barry Svrluga reports that there are still 15,000 seats available for Opening Day and season ticket sales have slumped to an all-time low 15-16,000. Every analyst everywhere is predicting a third straight last place finish in the NL East. A new, expensive stadium is opening next year. These are all incontrovertible and mostly negative facts.

The team must find a way to market to its customer base in spite of all these inconvenient truths. The role of marketing, in my opinion, is to tell the story of a company's brand. The best marketing campaigns out there today (Volkswagen, iPod, to name a few) are so successful because they align the products with the values of their target consumers. The Nationals' 2007 marketing campaign has done exactly the opposite: it unconvincingly holds out the business interests of the team as identical to those of the fan.

The message behind the whole "Pledge Your Allegiance" thing is (at least to me): "fork over your money for 2007 so you can be first in line to fork over your money for 2008. We recognize that the current experience is shite, but you'll be sorry tomorrow if you don't sign up today." Every single interaction that I've had with the business arm of the franchise this offseason has reinforced this perception. Every e-mail and every letter I've received as a season ticket holder has contained significant verbiage about next year. The form letter from Stan Kasten that shipped with this year's ticket packages spends two out of three paragraphs talking about the new stadium. Enough, already.

The Nationals should be focusing on the one aspect of their product that remains as positive and high quality as ever: the baseball experience. It's still a hoot to go to a baseball game, even if the team sucks and the stadium's old. The team can't market the players because no one knows who the hell they are. They can't market a pennant race because it ain't happening. But why aren't they telling the story of how fun, great, and life-affirming it can be to spend a summer's eve at the ballyard with family and friends?

Nearly all of my best Nats experiences had nothing to do with the outcome of the game, but with the fact that I was there, in that great moment, with the people I cared about. I'm sure there are some out there whose day is ruined if the Nats lose (if theeeey don't win it's a shaaaame!!!) but I suspect that most fans are there for the vibe. And really, for as low as five bucks a ticket you can get three hours of outdoor entertainment. Even a bum playing the sax on the sidewalk would charge more than that.

The Nationals should focus on marketing the games as real, quality family fun that you can have this year- this month! That's the best thing they've got going for them. Threatening people with implied exclusion from next year's fun is just silly and counterproductive. Yes, selling season tickets to the new park is important, but if people aren't excited this year they aren't going to be lining up for next year. People need a more compelling reason to attend games other than the fact that there will be a new stadium. People have to love the Nationals baseball experience and identify themselves as Nationals fans.

The team has always struggled to successfully market itself, and this year seems to be more of the same. The new park will provide a shot in the arm next year, but the newness will quickly fade into ordinary. The team can buy some big name free agents, but hired guns can leave as soon as they arrive. And what will the fear factor be to motivate 2009 season ticket sales? You only get to play the new stadium card once.

Stan Kasten promises to create a wonderful, memorable fan experience in the new stadium, and I believe him. What I can't believe is that he isn't telling everyone how much fun it is to go to games right now.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Shaving Cream Pie in the Face!

So I'm watching the Nats play the Mets on MASN. There are two outs left in the top of the third and MASN's Debbi Taylor is interviewing Nick Johnson. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, Debbi bursts out laughing and Nick's face is suddenly COVERED IN SHAVING CREAM! Robert Fick had come up and smeared a huge dollop of shaving cream all over Johnson's face in the middle of answering a question.

I grabbed my camera, revved up the TiVo, and caught screen shots of the action (click on the images for a larger view):



They paused for a moment while Johnson wiped some of the cream off his face. Debbi is still laughing as hard as she can while still keeping her composure:



The kicker was that Debbi CONTINUED THE INTERVIEW with a shaving-cream covered Nick Johnson! She asked him a ridiculous question about Micah Bowie's sons beating him at Halo. Nick was forced to stand there and gamely answer while covered in schmegma:



I'm glad I have MASN and TiVo. This was awesome. Way to go, Fick!

The Ticket Fiasco Continues

Update, 10:55 PM Monday: Barry Svrluga has a story up on WaPo about the ticket fiasco. There's nothing substantive in there other than the fact that Stan Kasten remains mum on the cause of the problem. The story is full of man-on-the street whining about the situation, kind of like the post you're reading now. If you read between the lines of Stan's non-comments he seems to be blaming FedEx for the delivery issues. That seems dubious to me. If FedEx can handle the annual Christmas bum rush, it can certainly handle a few thousand Nats season ticket deliveries.

Stan Kasten and the Nationals need to set things right by coming clean about the cause of the problem and what they intend to do to avoid it next year. Buying good PR can be expensive, but recovering from bad PR can be even more costly.

*****
This story just won't die. Season ticket holders across the D.C. region are still struggling to get their tickets in time for next week's opener. Screech's Best Friend and I have been covering the Nats season ticket fiasco over the past week, and it was not until last night that I realized just what a clusterfark this whole thing has turned out to be.

I'd received my ticket tracking email last Friday and my tickets were due to be delivered via FedEx on Monday, March 26. I headed to work today confident that I'd arrive home to find my tickets waiting for me. My anticipation grew as a colleague received his 41-game plan at the office and I got an email from SBF indicating that he too had received his tickets. I got home around 6:45PM and looked through the mail...mortgage re-fi letter? Check. Credit card solicitation? Check. Nats tickets? Nope. Nothing. Bupkes. Goose eggs. Jack! Freakin! Squat! Not even a door tag from FedEx indicating a halfassed attempt to deliver the package to my Baja Arlington condominium.

What the frak?, I asked myself, and logged into the FedEx web tracker faster than a line drive hurling past a diving...

FedEx's web site indicated only that the driver had arbitrarily decided to make a "delivery exception" and reschedule the delivery for Friday, April 6. Ohhh no, I said. Oh no you di-int! I called FedEx and asked them to hold the package at the Alexandria sorting facility on Eisenhower Avenue. I snarbled down some leftover pizza and headed over there, figuring I'd have time to pick up my tickets and still hit the liquor store before it closed.

WRONG!!! I pulled up to the FedEx building around 8PM to find a packed parking lot. A man saw my '63 Senators cap and asked if I was headed to get tickets. I replied in the affirmative, and he chuckled, shaking his head and clutching a ticket package. "Good luck!," he said. I soon saw what he was talking about: a long line of would-be package recipients snaked out the door of the FedEx facility and out into the parking lot. Fat, middle aged men with Nats hats and jackets on shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot as they waited to enter the building. I couldn't believe it.

A Louis Voutton handbag-clutching woman behind me started yapping on a cell phone about how disgruntled she was. She'd been slighted by a FedEx agent on the phone, was mad as hell, wasn't going to take it anymore, and was going to tell everyone in earshot all about it. As we slowly filed inside the building more and more people kept joining the end of the line. Finally, at 8:30, the FedEx manager made everyone in line move inside the building and locked the doors. There was no turning back now; I was getting my tickets or I wasn't leaving at all. Several line-waiters took up strategic positions against counters or on windowsills and nodded off. Louis Voutton woman kept yapping loudly. The FedEx waiting room became her own personal phone booth, and we were all trapped with her.

A clever FedEx employee started taking delivery slips six at a time. He'd disappear into the back for 15 minutes or so and return with all the packages he'd rounded up. He'd then check IDs and gather a signature, and then have the package recipient come around the back of the counter to pick up tickets on their way out the back door. Departing package-getters wished the rest of us good luck on their way out. It was as if we were hostages on a bus and our captors were letting a few of us off at a time.

I got called in the third batch of six. There were still probably 30 people in line behind me by 9PM. Louis Voutton Cell Phone woman grew more nervous, yapped louder, and began to pace the center of the floor. At one end of her little circuit she'd keep tripping the automatic door: the only sounds were the beeping of the FedEx scanner, the yapping of the woman's voice, and the woosh-swoosh of the door. Another woman with an iPod got my silent respect for being the most brilliant person in the place.

Finally, around 9:15, the FedEx man called my name. "Kriner?" he said. "Yo," I replied, and happily bounded up to the counter to collect my tickets. As I headed behind the counter I received my ticket package while the crowd watched, as a matriculating college grad might receive his diploma. I thanked the FedEx man and beamed to the crowd. I fought back the urge to flash the Curly W hand sign. Cell Phone woman finally ended her call as I was walking out the door. A silent but palpable wave of relief filled the room.

I stepped into the cool night air and tore open the FedEx envelope- yes, they were there, in all their colorful, glossy printed glory. My 2007 Nationals season tickets were in my hands at last, all the way from Saskatoon. They were mine, and they were here. I headed toward the car with a smile and headed to buy beer...the liquor store could wait for another day.

As I got into my car I saw a pudgy, darkened figure outlined against the fluorescent glow of the FedEx building. The figure stepped into the orange sodium arc light and did a little fist pump. It was the guy who'd been in line behind me- he'd just gotten his tickets too. I returned the fist pump, hopped into the car and drove off into the night.

Feels like baseball season. At last.

Monday, March 26, 2007

More Season Ticket Woes


The Nats are now falling back on their promise to deliver season tickets to season ticket holders. Last week season ticket holders were promised that they would receive their tickets no later than today, Monday, March 26. Now an announcement on the team's site tells us that tickets will be delivered by Wednesday, March 28. As Screech's Best Friend points out, this means that many season ticket holders, who were required to pay in full in December, will just be getting their tickets five days before the first game.

I should point out that I have received the tracking information for my tickets and it appears that they will be delivered today, but I'm writing this for everyone who is still in the dark. According to FedEx tracking, my tickets shipped from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Wha? I'm all for free trade with Canada, but if the ticket printing goblins can't hack it up there the Nats need to find a new supplier. Maybe this is the result of misplaced Canadian angst over the loss of the Expos. Who knows? The team isn't saying, that's for sure.



I don't like to be overly cynical, but we fans thought that we'd left these kinds of blunders behind when the MLB monopoly ceded control of the team to profit-seeking Lerner/Kasten group. Perhaps even more puzzling than the team's inability to deliver the tickets is Stan Kasten's media silence on the issue. Thus far the team has only issued contrite statements on the web and via email that "tickets shall be delivered no later than XX/XX/200X" and "we regret any inconvenience..." Okay, fine. Stuff happens, and we can be a forgiving bunch, especially when it comes to the Nats. But the least the team could do is explain the cause of the delay and outline the steps that are being taken to resolve the situation.

It's more than just a matter of people being able to handle their tickets fondly in the weeks before Opening Day. Many fans buy season tickets in groups and need time to allocate the tickets among the group members. Many of the groups actually hold ticket drafts or auctions where they all get together and divvy up the loot over beers. These events are less satisfying without the tickets in hand.

It also makes it impossible for fans like me who need to exchange tickets to games they can't attend. Several of the games on my 20 game plan are Thursday games at 1PM, which are almost certainly a non-option for me at work. I've been promised access to a Season Ticket holder-only section of the Nats web site that will allow me to make these exchanges online, but alas, my ticket rep has no idea when I'll be able to get access. He's offered to help me exchange those tickets over the phone, but that's really not the point. I paid for season tickets and I want all the rights and priviledges granted therein.

I hope the team comes clean about what is causing this problem and what steps are being taken to resolve it. If the problem is out of the team's control, we'll understand. If the problem is within the team's control, we'll be disgruntled and complain but at least we'll know what's going on. Barry Svrluga has promised to talk to Stan Kasten and get to the bottom of this. Hopefully he'll come up with something for us. In this case, silence isn't golden.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Nats Strike Out on Customer Service

Update, 4:45 PM: I've received an email that my tickets are on the way. w00t! Thanks, Nats!


They say the pen is mightier than the sword. In this case, I'll try to wield the awesome power of my Apple iBook G4 keyboard, newly refurbished after my toddler tore off the shift key on Saturday.

I've refrained from posting anything about it until now, but today we got confirmation of the team's ineptitude surrounding the 2007 season ticket campaign. (Hat tip to CP). The Nationals have completely dropped the ball with season ticket holders this offseason. The team insisted that we pay up for our plans in December, but has failed to hold up their end of the bargain. Season ticket holders were promised three things in exchange for their money: free hats, access to the season ticket holder section of the team web site, and, of course...tickets! It's less than two weeks before opening day and I have none of these things.

I've asked my account executive at least once a month for the last four months when I can expect to gain access to the web site. As a first time season ticket holder, I don't know how these things work. The web site allows season ticket holders to sell tickets they can't use, exchange them for future dates, transfer tickets to friends, and other things I'd like to be able to do. A visit to the web site tells me, unhelpfully, that "the web site is being prepared for the 2007 season." Come on! The team has had the entire offseason to get this web site together, yet on the eve of opening day we've got nothing. They might as well put up a 1990's-era "under construction" animated GIF.

Then there is the issue of the tickets themselves. I paid in full for my tickets in December and expected that I'd have them sometime in late February or early March. The last time I asked my account rep when I'd get the tickets he told me that I'd have them "by the third week of March." It's the third week of March right now, and I'm starting to get concerned that I might get stood up. An announcement on the team web site doesn't instill a lot of confidence; we're told that we should have our tickets by Monday the 26th, but if we don't we have to call the Nats ticket office. Right. The announcement also tells us that we may or may not receive a confirmation email with a tracking number. I haven't received squat! Strangely, I purchased single-game tix for Opening Day on the Nats web site and those tickets arrived at my house lickety-split. I don't get it.

This has been a somewhat disappointing experience so far. My account rep has always been very responsive, but I get the sense that he, too is in the dark about what's going on with the season tickets. This experience also reinforces my perception that everything about the 2007 season is being forsaken in the name of 2008. Fans have been encouraged to re-up the season tickets this year and suffer through what could be a historically bad team to get "priority" for season tickets in Nationals Park. If the Nationals really want people to pay a lot of money for a bad product, the team needs to do better than vague announcements and avoidable deadline crunches. I hope they can work out the bugs in time for next season.

Blogger bumper sticker peeled from Diesel Sweeties.
1990's-era animated GIF dug up from Richard Edwards Elementary School.

Monday, March 19, 2007

More Free Time


Pay bills, check email, post on Curly W

For some time now Brandon and I have been musing on how unmotivated we both felt about the Nationals and how hard it was to ramp back up to daily coverage, so I was not entirely surprised by Brandon's post this morning echoing Basil's post from yesterday. As the chase dog on this blog it's been less of a problem for me, because I just have not posted. Brandon has been gamely pushing content both out of a feeling of obligation and because he's excited about the season. It's just not a kind of excitement that translates into amusing posts that tickle your funnybone. Anatomy of a 2007 Spring Training Nats post, pick two:

a) Nats have a bunch of pitchers in camp and no one knows who any of them are except John Patterson who was injured last season so it could be a long 162 games;

b) Nats have a bunch of players with great potential yet unfulfilled and if they all magically fulfill that potential they might win 80 games;

c) No really 2008 could be hot hot hot;

c) Ryan Zimmerman is teh rock star.

Baseball matters are made worse for me because I am still finding football to be so engaging even in the offseason doldrums that ginning up a story about anything from Dan Snyder's nanny to Joe Theismann's 2007 predictions is easy and it takes away all my baseball bandwidth. I'm reading the blogs and Barry Svrluga it's just not translating into inspiration to write. I thought my desire to write on football would go away in the offseason and it has not.

But I think when the season gets started, Brandon is after all a Nationals season ticket holder and loves to talk baseball, we both will get engaged.

Wait, I meant engaged in covering the team, not engaged to each other. I mean NTTAWWT but Brandon and I both live in Virginia and gay marriage is against the law so we couldn't even if we wanted to. Which we don't. I don't even own a pair of Kenneth Coles so I don't think they'd even accept me.

Hell, I forgot how much I loved watching baseball on TV until I saw the Nats on MASN last season. There's something of note in every game and at every game. The stories, the streaks, the snark, who's hot and Alfonso Soriano's 168 million dollar learning curve will provide Curly W with ample material once things get going. Now pardon me while I go break down Dan Snyder's vaguely racist new admission policy at Six Flags.



Motivational poster from despair.com.

Livin' It Up on the Downside

I'm back, or rather, just dropping in for a senseless post that most of you will skim in feigned interest. A full-throttle work schedule and a belly full of indifference have kept me from reading Nats blogs, much less posting on my own, for the past week. Then I read Basil's post "Shakabuku" and I finally had something to say.

Basil: I just wanted to say thanks for the last 1/3 of that post. I completely agree with you about the difficulty of blogging this rendition of the Nationals...I have had a very hard time staying focused and staying interested. You're right; I just don't care that much about who the fourth starter will be, or whether Nook Logan will beat out Alex Escobar or who will be the backup utility infielder or...oh who cares? I suppose many of you do, and, to paraphrase Basil, I really do admire those of you that can follow this team at a deep and meaningful level every day.

Like Basil, I started this blog as a creative outlet and a chance to follow my favorite sport analytically, and I think I've been successful in that regard. I've been unsuccessful in that I've allowed myself to lose my focus and succumb to the pressures of competition and obligation and lose the aspects of blogging that are personally rewarding.

What competition? I have no fewer than thirty Nationals blogs in my newsreader right now. About half of them post at least once a week and half of those post daily. That's a lot of good blogging, but it's also a lot of noise on the aether. It's no fun to be the 17th guy of the day telling the same 100 people that Larry Broadway has been demoted. It's great that so many people are following the team with such interest, and we've all copped to the "more, the merrier" line at some point or another, but for me it's starting to just be static and very redundant. And boring as all hell.

What obligation? My obsession with stats and competing for eyeballs has caused me to crap out content, at whatever cost. Several bloggers have the bandwidth to post 1000-word, deeply-researched, expertly crafted posts each day. I do not, so I've resorted to gimmickry to make up for that. Blase recurring features like 5 Questions, recapping recent blog posts or the week's Nats coverage just add more noise to the roar with no substance to stand by. I've tried adding more writers to generate more content and add a variety of perspectives, but these brave souls have fallen into the same malaise as I have. I sold out, in that I abandoned personal satisfaction in order to flail at ultimately meaningless external goals.

I have seriously considered abandoning this site over the past few weeks and I guess I can say that I am still considering it. But dammit if I haven't had a great time writing 95% of the posts I've written and being a part of the Nats blogging community. I can't give up without first trying to return to my basic principle: this has to be a personally rewarding endeavor.

So here's the deal. I'm done trying to post every day, or outfox people on features, or post out of rote obligation. I'd rather write one awesome post all year than crap out the kind of drivel I've been writing over the last few weeks. So that's what I'm going to do. I will post only when the spirit moves me in hopes of finding more personal reward out of this exercise. We'll see if it works.

I suspect that the spirit will move me fairly often during the regular season as I've got some great baseball moments planned for this summer. I'm headed to every game of the Opening Series and my extended family (Mom, Dad, sister, wife, daughter) is headed to the game on Easter Sunday. We've never all been to a game before and it should be great. Mom will get to cheer Thomas Jefferson on in person. I'm headed to Chicago in May to catch the Nats and the Cubs from the bleachers at Wrigley with my Cubs fan sister. We'll see if I stay vertical as I will be festooned in Nats gear and filled with bourbon. If I catch a Soriano home run ball I'm throwing it back. I'm also going to try to make it up to Philly, Baltimore and New York for my first ever Nats road games. I'm sure these experiences will produce some worthy blog fodder.

I'm going to leave the up-to-the minute news, in-depth, exclusive interviews, pivot tables, videos, podcasts and other items to the people that do those things best and enjoy doing them the most. I'm going to stick to what I do best: lighthearted, esoteric musings on the team with the occasional serious essay tossed in the salad. We'll see what happens.

Thanks for letting me get all this off my chest, and thanks as always for reading. I'll see you around.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sunday Brunch: Spring Training Week 2

I like to spend Sunday mornings sipping coffee in front of the computer and catching up on all the Natty news I missed during the work week. It's often the only time I have to sit back and take stock of the net effect of the week's events. Each Sunday this season I'll be mailing in winging breaking down the week's events with the usual witless commentary you've come to expect from the Curly W.

Nats Record: 3-5 for the week (3-7 overall). Inconsistent offense+weak defense=getting shellacked by 5 runs in each of the games.

Runs Scored/Allowed: 44/55. The bats came alive a bit more this week, particularly during Thursday's 12-5 beatdown of the Astros, but the Nats still have some work to do at the plate. The only way to survive shaky pitching is to score a ton of runs, and this team doesn't seem to have the bats to do that.

Pitching: Basically we've got some guys pitching well and some guys turning in bag-over-the-head performances. The good news is that the guys that we'll really be relying on in April are doing okay, for the most part. Here's the spring line so far for the projected starting rotation according to CBS Sportsline (their guess is as good as any).

John Patterson: 2IP, 1ER, 0BB, 0K, 4.50 ERA
Shawn Hill: 5IP, 5H, 1ER, 4BB, 2K 1.80 ERA
Jerome Williams: 4.1IP, 7H, 5ER, 2BB, 3K 10.38 ERA
Matt Chico: 5.1IP, 7H, 4ER, 1BB, 4K, 6.75 ERA
Tim Redding: 2.2 IP, 8H, 7ER, 4BB, 0K, 23.62 ERA

Obviously Redding's stats stick out like a sore thumb, but he's had less time on the mound to redeem himself. Should he falter, Billy Traber (4.2IP, 6H, 1ER, 0BB, 4K, 1.93 ERA) and Jason Bergmann (5IP, 5H, 0ER, 0BB, 3K) are looking ok so far, too. No Cy Young winners here, but these performances aren't any worse than what we got out of Astacio and Ortiz last year, either.

Hitting: As is always the case with the Nats, they look better at the plate than they do on the mound. Here's how the projected starters are hitting so far:

Felipe Lopez: 3H, 1RBI, 1BB, 7K, .190/.150/.150 (OBP/SLG/AVG)
Ryan Church: 2H, 2RBI, 3BB, 3K, .263/.188/.125
Ryan Zimmerman: 7H, 3RBI, 2BB, 3K, .429/.526.368
Larry Broadway: 4H, 1RBI, 1BB, 4K, .353/.267/.267
Austin Kearns: 5H, 1RBI, 3BB, 4K, .400/.471/.294
Brian Schneider: 6H, 5RBI, 1BB, 2K, .500/.846/.262
Cristian Guzman: 1H, 1RBI, 1BB, 3K, .250/.200/.100
Nook Logan: 4H, 1RBI, 3BB, 5K, .280/.182/.182

Not much surprising here. The guys who we'd expect to hit well (Zimmerman, Schneider, Kearns) are hitting well. The guys who we'd expect to hit like crap (Guzman, Logan) are hitting like crap. Off the bench we've got Josh Wilson (7H, 2RBI, 5BB, 1K, .600/.533/.467) and Chris Snelling (4H, 3RBI, 3BB, 3K, .412/.385/.308) hitting very well.

It will be interesting to see what Manny Acta does if these trends continue come Opening Day. Will he start Cristian Guzman just because he has the big contract, or will he start Josh Wilson, who would appear to give the team the best chance to win. Will he start Snelling over the do-nothing Nook Logan? We know what Frank would do; let's hope Acta is different.

Cristian Guzman should be no more than a bench reserve at this point. Bowden overpaid him and injury and futility make him untradeable. The best thing for Acta to do would be to minimize the damage associated with playing Guzman every day. Bench him through 2008 then give him his unconditional release. It's that simple.

Fielding: D'Angelo Jimenez hasn't made any more errors. Josh Wilson has two. That can't be worse than Guzman would do, could it?

Storyline Update

-John Patterson kicked ass and took names in a minor league split squad game on Thursday. He retired all 12 batters he faced in 4 innings of work. It's always good to know our pitching can dominate someone, even if it's minor leaguers.

-Ryan Zimmerman continues to perform well this Spring, and it's clear that he will be the "star" of the team. As expected, the Nats renewed his contract for 2007 for $400,000. I'm guessing that next offseason will be the year that Zimmerman's big long-term contract goes down, but he's under club control until 2011. Regardless, it's nice to know that the team's "star" won't be a one-year wonder like Soriano.

-GUZMANIA!!! 2007 continues its hearse ride toward oblivion as Guzman continues to be too feeble to play short and too sucky to hit the ball.

-Ryan Church is thus far validating his critics' concerns by having a weak spring at the plate. Church has only two hits in 16 at bats.

-Alex Escobar, on the other hand, is doing pretty well. He has 3 hits in 7 at bats and has only struck out once. Now if he can only stay healthy long enough for Bowden to get fed up with Nook Logan...

-Up Next: The Nats face the Dodgers today (again), the Mets tomorrow, a rare off day on Tuesday and then a game against the Cardinals, split squad games against the Tigers and Dodgers and close the week out against the Indians and the Mets. Opening Day is three weeks from Monday. Awesome.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Ray of Hope

I caught yesterday's game against the Astros on the trusty TiVo. I had never watched a previously recorded baseball game, and I have to say that the ability to jump past the slow parts was pretty great. The Nats won 12-5, which was also pretty great.

A couple quick thoughts on the game:

-Jason Simontacchi looked pretty good on the mound. His fastball had real zip and his breaking stuff can be devastating provided he's not facing a lefty. Simontacchi plunked two of the first three batters he faced by throwing the curve high and inside. Hopefully he'll continue to perfect his control over the pitch. I, like many of you, like him to make the rotation to start the year.

-It's good to see Brian Schneider's bat coming back. He was the black hole at the plate last year in Cristian Guzman's absence after a decent year in 2005. Schneider has to step it up at the plate this year for the team to have a chance.

-Ryan Zimmerman continues to be teh awesome. He stole a hard slap liner to left in the first inning by digging in and grabbing a fastball that was low and outside. His emergence takes some of the sting out of Soriano's departure.

-I'm rooting for Chris Snelling along with Screech's Best Friend. He's scrappy, diehard and Australian. In fact, I'm giving him the early nod for the Jamey Carroll Award for Reasonably Good, Hardworking Fan Favorite in 2007.

-I would not want to run into Jesus Flores in a dark alley. His name may mean Jesus Flowers in English, but still, he looks like he could kick your ass, and mine too. In fact, I think he has intentionally chosen a wimpy-sounding name in order to lull his foes into a false sense of complacency. Jesus Flores sleeps with a night light; not because he is afraid of the dark but because the dark is afraid of him. Giraffes were created when Jesus Flores uppercutted a horse. You get the picture.

-Nook Logan- why?

-Abraham Nunez hit a nice shot over the right field fence. He could turn into a nice change of pace on a team short of power hitting.

-Josh Wilson is doing a pretty good job of getting on base, which is improving his chances of making the team while Guzman continues to struggle with injury and futility. Wilson doesn't seem to have Guzman's range in the field, but it's no contest at the plate. He had three hits and a run today.

-It was nice to see the Chief come out and put the Astros down in order in the top of the 9th. I think he joins Zimmerman as the Nats' representative at the All-Star Game in July.

-Games like this will tease and torture us all season long. I think the prognosis for the 2007 team is closer to most of what we've seen over the past two weeks than what we've seen today. Nonetheless, this team will occasionally put it all together and make for some exciting and enjoyable baseball. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Don't Look Now

The paper or plastic decision at the grocery store may be pretty easy for Nats fans this year. Yeah I know, it's only been a few games and it's spring training and people aren't in top form and...

Question- is the Nats pitching staff as bad as expected or worse than expected? Ladson sez that the hurlers have given up 65 hits and 30 runs in their first five games.

Watching Nats games this year might be simultaneously horrifying and heart-wrenching, like watching a drunk stagger around a park without pants on. These guys remind me of the replacement players MLB used during the 1994 strike.

I'm going to agree with Ball Wonk; less than 100 losses looks like the benchmark for success this year. I've got my brown paper bag at the ready.

Image of disgruntled Detroit Lions fan bagged from Cincinnati.com


Monday, March 05, 2007

Teh Lerners Are Teh Cheap! Or Are They?

It looks like the Nats are going to play it safe when it comes to Ryan Zimmerman's contract. Bill Ladson is reporting that (according to Zimmerman) the Nats are only looking to sign the rising star third baseman to a one-year deal. Nothing's official yet, but such a conservative move would be perfectly in keeping with the Lerners' strategy so far: don't spend a nickel until you absolutely must.

Zimmerman is under club control until 2009, his first arbitration year, and won't be eligible for free agency until 2012. Chris argued that the Nats might as well buy out Zimmerman's arbitration and free agency now because his price is only going to increase as his production (hopefully) continues to rise. JammingEcono argues the opposite; there is no guarantee that Zimmerman will not fall into a slump or get injured, so why not wait to spend money on him until arbitration is at hand in '09?

My gut reaction is to agree with Chris, but none of us can be absolutely sure of the team's financial picture right now. How is the team's cash flow? We don't have access to the books. The Lerners spent $450 million on the team but they don't seem to have given Stan Kasten and Jim Bowden much walking around money for contracts and free agents. What money there is seems to have been spent on the critical infrastructure aspects of THE PLAN!!!- scouts and the like, all of whom earn chump change compared to player contracts.

It only makes sense to shell out non-required prepaid salary for a player if you have the cash to do so. Chris estimates that buying Zimmerman out through 2012 would take around $18-24 million. I agree with Chris that locking Ryan up today would save the team money in the long run, but the team may not have the money now and certainly figures to have a lot more in 2008 and certainly by 2009. We just don't know because the team's finances aren't public.

I've written before that much of the Lerners' real or perceived cheapness is the result of wanting to replenish their treasure trove a bit after the huge outlay to buy the team. I'm guessing that we won't see any significant bucks spent until the 2008-2009 offseason, where the new stadium will have had a full-year of revenue-generating goodness. Tangentially, I think Stan Kasten is misleading fans into thinking that 2008 will suddenly bring the Nats into the free agency and competitiveness. The Lerners didn't get to where they are today by spending money they don't have.

So assuming-and it's a big assumption-that the team can't afford to buy Zimmerman out today, they should buy him out next offseason even if it means going out on a financial limb. The team will have had an additional year of data to justify the expense (provided Ryan continues to kick ass) but will still be able to avoid a costly and doomed arbitration battle. I might be nuts, but this kind of thinking might explain the rationale for the one-year deal that seems likely to come out of Viera this spring.

Am I on to something? Smoking crack? What do you think?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Sunday Brunch: Spring Training Week 1

I like to spend Sunday mornings sipping coffee in front of the computer and catching up on all the Natty news I missed during the work week. It's often the only time I have to sit back and take stock of the net effect of the week's events. Each Sunday this season I'll be mailing in winging breaking down the week's events with the usual witless commentary you've come to expect from the Curly W.

Nats Record: 0-2. Inconsistent offense+weak defense=getting shellacked by 5 runs in each of the games.

Runs Scored/Allowed: 9/19. This is starting to remind me of last year's team. The '06 Nats didn't have a problem scoring runs per se, but the pitching and defense would put the opposing team too far ahead to catch up.

Pitching: No wins, two losses, 28 hits, 16 ER, 2 HR, 9 BB, 10 K. I know it's largely useless to evaluate the whole pitching staff's stats at once, but at this point in the spring they are an amorphous blob and shall be regarded as such. The strikeouts to walks ratio is fairly even, which is good, but this team won't win many games giving up 16 ER in 18 innings.

Hitting: Team BA: .275. Not bad, but the team is having trouble stringing together the hits in order to score. I didn't see a lot of hard-hit balls against the Orioles; many of the Nats' hits were weak grounders that bad-hopped past the infielders. The bad news, like last season, is that the team's strikeouts to walk ratio. The Nats struck out 16 times in two games and walked only 4 times for a ratio of 4.00. The Nats had problems with strikeouts last year and so far this year is no different. Only 19 hits and four walks adds up to an anemic OBP of .312.

Fielding: The Nats committed two errors in each of the two games, and D'Angelo Jimenez was responsible for two of them by himself. A look at Jimenez's career stats shows that he's not exceptionally error-prone, so I'll chalk this up to spring rust for now.

Curly W aside: the stats say that Jimenez pitched 1.1 innings for the Padres in 2002. I can only imagine what the dire situation must have been that required Jimenez to pitch. Anyone know?

Baserunning: the Nats haven't stolen any bases yet, but overly aggressive baserunning caused two outs against the Dodgers and Felipe Lopez was picked off first against the Orioles, no doubt while dreaming of his bikini-clad wife's picture in FHM. I think baserunning mishaps need to be pinned on the base coaches as well as the runners. The coaches are supposed to judge whether to hold or send the runners, and they may be shaking off a bit of rust too.

Storyline Update

-John Patterson started the game and had a so-so outing. He gave up a run on three hits in two innings of work. His fastball seemed to have enough zip to it but he had trouble locating his breaking stuff.

-Ryan Zimmerman seems ready to take over as the star of this team. He went 4-5 with a dinger and three RBI over the two games. No worries about a sophomore slump here. I hope the team does the right thing today and signs him to a long-term deal.

-The relief pitching was pretty good. Billy Traber struck out three and gave up no runs in 2.2 innings of work and Ray King, Jon Rauch, Ryan Wagner and Saul Rivera all pitched okay. Joel Hanrahan got absolutely shellacked, giving up 5 ER in 0.1 innings. He may have punched his ticket to Columbus.

-GUZMANIA!!! 2007 (thanks to NTP for coining a phrase) is off to a rough start. The Guz played DH yesterday and went 0-2 with a strikeout and was hit by a pitch. Catch the fever!

-MASN seems all grown up. It actually looks and feels like a real network now. The announcers are professional, the production values are much improved, the interviews in the stands with players and management are great, and the sports news and score tickers are fantastic. I enjoyed Bob Carpenter and Bob Sutton. They called a great game considering it was the first broadcast of the season. Tellingly, they were already talking at the end of the game about how it's easier to call games for a winning team than a losing team. Yeah, we know...it's easier to watch winning games too.

-Space Coast Stadium looks fantastic now that it's been re-painted with the Nats' colors. It looks like a pretty fun place to watch a game. I spied a kid eating an ice cream sundae helmet and was envious. You know that an MLB franchise has arrived when it has its own ice cream sundae helmets.

-Up Next: split squad games today vs. the Astros and Dodgers followed by a week of games against the Braves (twice) the Astros (twice), the Orioles and the Mets. MASN will broadcast the games on Thursday and Friday so set those TiVos now.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Game Log: Nats vs. Orioles, 3/3/2007

Here's my running commentary of today's Nats-O's spring training game. Keep scrolling to read all the comments in reverse chronological order, or start at the bottom and work your way up.

To spare yourself the agony, check out the box score.

Bottom of the 9th:
Lombard got a hit but that was it. O's win, 7-2.

I'll post a more in-depth reaction later, but this game confirmed a lot of my suspicions about the weak spots in the team. The hitting was sporadic and the defense was shaky. The pitching (except for Hanrahan's outing) was pretty impressive on the whole. It was nice to be watching Nats baseball again despite the loss.


Top of the 9th:
Ryan Wagner replaces Saul Rivera and becomes the Nats' seventh pitcher of the day. Kind of reminds me of last September's games.

Rivera's line:
1IP, 1H, 0ER, 0BB, 0K.

The Orioles hit a leadoff double then Womack boots a routine ground ball to short. It's the Nats' second error of the day and the O's lead 7-2.

Nats underboss Mark Lerner has joined Bodes in the stands. Lerner is wearing a blue blazer with a red shirt underneath and a batting practice hat. Bodes is wearing a black turtleneck. Joy Browning has giant sunglasses on that cover her entire face. It's all very L.A..

Belliard tries to no-look, one-hand a chopper off the plate and boots it toward first. The bases are now loaded with two outs. Somehow it's not scored as an error. Wagner strikes out the batter to escape the jam, inning over.

Bottom of the 8th:
Casto hits a 2-out grounder off the mound to reach first base. Should I be concerned that so many of the Nats' hits have been grounders that happen to take an odd bounce in the infield? I'm not seeing a lot of solid hits. Nunez strikes out looking to strand Casto and end the inning.

Top of the 8th:
Saul Rivera replaces Rauch on the mound.

Rauch's line:
1IP, 0H, 0ER, 0BB, 1K. Not bad. The O's haven't scored since the Hanrahan disaster back in the 3rd.

Rivera knocked down a hard grounder by Yan that ricocheted toward Kory Casto at third. Casto made a charging, one-handed grab and throw that almost caught the runner at first. It's too bad we don't have room in the infield for this guy.

Brito tries to catch Yan stealing and throws it high. The Nats' catchers are having trouble getting those throws down today. The Nats get out of the jam on a grounder to first.

Bottom of the 7th:
Tony Womack steps to the plate. Womack has been given the goose eggs (00) to wear, perhaps in anticipation of following the number's former owner, Brandon Watson, off the roster. Womack strikes out. Macias strikes out. Brito strikes out. Inning over. The Nats have struck out ten times today.

Top of the 7th: Yeeeaaaaaargh! The Wookie, Jon Rauch has taken the mound. Ray King is done.

Ray King's line: .2IP, 1H, 0ER, 0BB, 0K.

Nats turn a 5-4-3 double play and Rauch strikes out the final batter to end the inning.

Bottom of the 6th:
The Guz gets hit by a 2-1 pitch, sparing him the embarassment of going 0-3. Wilson strikes out and Nunez singles to reach and send the Guz to second. Fick grounds out to end the inning and strand two.

Top of the 6th:
Big Ray King is on the mound for the Nats. Traber sits down, having pitched a great day.

Traber's line: 2.2IP, 0ER, 3H, 3K.

Fick caught a screamer to first base by Fahey and held the Yan on first. Markakis pops out to center and Nook Logan made a nice throw to first to keep Yan honest.

Flores and King fall asleep and Yan makes an uncontested steal of second.

King finishes out a scoreless inning as Aubrey Huff grounds out weakly to short. King's pitches, especially his breaking stuff, look pretty good at this point. He might be a logical choice as a set-up man for The Chief.

Bottom of the 5th:
A kid in the stands is eating ice cream from a Nationals sundae helmet! Please tell me those will be available at RFK this summer. I had so many Reds helmets from Riverfront when I was a kid. The Nats go down in order like ice cream down the kid's throat.

The empty stands at Space Coast Stadium remind me of what it's going to be like this August at RFK.

Top of the 5th:
Traber pitches another good inning, getting out of a few jams and getting Orioles to pop up to end the inning.

Bottom of the 4th:
Zimmerman ropes one into left for a single and Kearns hits a chopper over the shortstop's head to reach base and move Zimmerman to 2nd. The Nats are in scoring position with no outs.

Church takes a walk and the bases are loaded with no outs for Robert Fick. He promptly produces an RBI 4-6-3 double play. O's lead 6-2. Kearns grounds out to end the inning.

Top of the 4th: Billy Traber comes in to pitch a nice half-inning and Nook Logan made a nice running catch at the wall to end the inning.

Bottom of the 3rd: Jesus Flores rips one into the left field corner for a standup leadoff double. The O's can't handle FLop's high chopper over second base and Flores comes in to score. O's lead 6-1.

The Nats' baserunning woes continue as FLop gets picked off first by the pitcher. Crap. The Guz weakly hacks at a fastball to strike out to end the inning.

Top of the 3rd: Joel Hanrahan takes over on the mound for the Nats.

The O's have scored another run to go up 2-0 during a long MASN interview with Jim Bowden in the stands. Jesus Flores just sailed one over Josh Wilson's head trying to throw out a stealing Oriole for our first Oriole of the day.

JB Interview Money Quote: "The "W" on our hats stands for "Washington," "World" and "Winning." Mkay. Nothing else substantial in the interview. Zimmerman's agent is in town for negotiations tomorrow but Bodes won't talk details now.

Jay Payton sends a grounder up the middle past a diving Josh Wilson to score the runner from 3rd. O's lead 3-0.

Acta comes out and gives Hanrahan the hook. Hanrahan retired only one of the seven batters he faced, walking three, giving up three hits and tossing a wild pitch, all in 2/3 of an inning. Hoo boy! O's lead 4-0.

Hanrahan's line: 0.1 IP, 3H, 5ER, 3BB, 0K. Very ouch, baby.

MASN is now interviewing Stan Kasten as Billy Traber takes the mound. If there is ever a movie made of Stan Kasten's life he must be portrayed by Richard Jenkins (Nathaniel Fisher on Six Feet Under). Another run scores in the meantime. O's lead 5-0.

Kasten promises players in uniform greeting fans at the gates before every RFK home game this year as well as autograph sessions every night. Nice! I'd be just as satisfied with Wal-Mart greeters, but the players themselves are a nice touch.

O's rip a base hit into left field and lead 6-0. A weak grounder to second finally ends the inning and the interview. The Nats pitching looks like crap.

Bottom of the 2nd: Nats go down in order again in the bottom of the 2nd. I'm liking the broadcast team of Bob Carpenter and Don Sutton so far. They seem to have a good chemistry so far. I'm liking that I can watch this on TV at all.

Patterson's line: 2IP, 1ER, 3H, 0BB, 0K, 12 balls and 22 strikes on 34 pitches. Not a horrible first outing. He definitely seemed to have good velocity on his pitches but his control was off on the breaking ball and slider. Nothing a few more starts can't fix.

Top of the 2nd: Patterson and the Nats defense send the O's down in order. We'll see if Acta brings him back in the 3rd.

Hat tip to Barry Svrluga- Brian Schneider's daughter Tatum Elizabeth Schneider was born at 10:03 A.M.. Congratulations to the Schneider family.

Bottom of the 1st: The Guz is in the lineup today as the DH. It will be interesting to see what he can do. Nick Johnson is in the dugout in plainclothes. Nats are at bat. Nook Logan starts things off with a horrible swinging strikeout.

GUZMANIA!!! 2007 starts off inauspiciously at the plate as Cristian pops the first pitch to shallow center. Zimmerman grounds out and a visibly slimmer Austin Kearns steps to the plate. Kearns sends the Nats down in order with a hard liner to short.

Top of the 1st: Let me start off by saying that it's still a shock to me to actually be able to watch the Nats games on TV. Comcast didn't bring MASN to my Arlington TV set until the middle of last September, so this is only my 4th week of being able to watch Nats games. Pretty great stuff. I'm settling in to enjoy the game.

We just got back from the Alexandria St. Patrick's Day parade where it was great to run into MissChatter and see dozens of people wearing Nats hats and other gear. Looks like D.C. area fans are ready for the season.

John Patterson is making his first start of the spring against teh Blowrioles. I love his red glove. The Orioles are sporting hideous neon-orange jerseys. I mean, if I were lost in the wilderness, I'd want one of those O's jerseys so I could be spotted from the air 15 miles away. I'm still getting used to the odd fluting on the batting helmets that the players are wearing.

I agree with Farid: I officially hate the Spring Training hats. That little arch over the ear is weird. Fortunately the Nats are in their home red uniforms today.

Patterson's looking a bit rusty in the first inning; his fastball has plenty of zip but he's having problems with control and location. Fielding continues to be a problem as Josh Wilson just booted a ball at second to prevent Patterson from retiring the O's in order. Then Patterson hangs a breaking ball and gives up a single to left field. Then another base hit by Jay Payton and Baltimore leads 1-0.

A high chopper to second ends the top of the 1st with a run on three hits for the Orioles. The bad news is that Patterson has already thrown over 25 pitches. I know it's only his first outing of the spring, but I (along with Acta and St. Claire) would love to see that pitch count down.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Dread and the Uneven Covenant

Oh. Hi! Didn't see you there. How are things? Good? Good. Work going okay? Great. Family doing well? Great. Tell 'em I said hi. Alright, talk to you later.

You may have noticed that I haven't had much to say lately. I'm not a huge fan of small talk, and at this stage in the Nationals (pre)season there is nothing but small talk to be had. Yeah, I know, Screech's Best Friend has talked to all the players, coaches and execs and they all swear that everyone is looking great on the mound and on the field and they are all stoked to play for the Nationals. Manny Acta is an infectiously optimistic leader, dashing from player to player and mike to camera distributing positive vibes across the fanbase and the clubhouse. I'm just not catchin' the groove.

At the risk of digging up old debates, I'm having a hard time getting past the feeling that the 2007 season has been completely and intentionally forsaken, a monumental exercise in futility made necessary by the inexorable reality of time. Basil summed up my current feelings (and presumably his) eloquently during our question exchange last year:

I believe it's more of an attitude that 2007 has been not only been given up, but also waived, in the interest of 2008 and beyond. Re-up the season tickets, and you'll be in good graces for '08 . . . but, by the way, you'll also have to sit through '07. It's an uneven covenant.
This "uneven covenant" may well make for one of the longest, most hideous seasons I've ever experienced as a sports fan. I am a Bengals fan. I've experienced some of the worst seasons in the history of sport, yet I fear that this year's Washington Nationals could be a 100-loss team.

As I read the saturation-level coverage in the trademed and blogosphere I realize that I'm having a really hard time caring about 67% of the players on the roster this year, especially the pitching staff. I skim right over articles and posts detailing the pitchers and their backstories because I find myself unable to get emotionally attached. Most of them are unlikely to be anything more than a footnote in the appendix of a Hindenburg season. Actually, it won't be a Hindenburg season because people actually expected the blimp to land successfully. We approach the 2007 Nationals season as we might attend a hanging, with a sense of dread at the inevitable result. Ray King? Jason Simontacci? I wish all these guys the best of luck but I've got visions of Felix Rodriguez in my head.

Perpetual prospect Larry Broadway is in camp but just when he gets his opportunity to show his stuff Jim Bowden inexplicably tosses him in a competition with Travis Lee, Dmitri Young and Robert Fick. What better season than this one to find out if Broadway is the real deal or not? Again, nothing personal, but I don't give a crap about Travis Lee. Young and Fick are useful platoon players elsewhere, so it doesn't make sense for them to steal reps from Broadway. If the team is going to be horrible let's at least see what the alleged future stars can do.

The same goes for the ridiculous left field position battle, where another perpetual prospect, Kory Casto, is battling it out with Ryan Church and Chris Snelling. What's the point? Either give Casto the shot and trade Church, or give Church the shot and trade Casto. Or platoon Church in center with Nook Logan or...wake me up when this is over.

The whole team, from the front office to the players seem to have the same attitude: we are immune from all reasonable expectations of success until the 2008 season. Until then, we reserve the right to suck, blow, wheeze and gasp our way through a season we don't care about. Don't mind the cast of dozens in camp who will hold down the uniforms until we're ready to take baseball seriously a year from now. Please, pardon our dust.

I realize that this is an incredibly cynical position, but it's one that's been in my head more often than not these last two weeks. I'm still a huge Nationals fan and wish the team well this year. I've got my season ticket package and will almost certainly re-up next year. Even as I write this post I've got another tab open in Firefox- I'm buying opening day tickets on Nationals.com. Despite my feelings of dread and apprehension I'll be there on April 2, yelling my head off. This is what being a fan of a bad baseball team is about: showing up to the games anyway, even if it means wearing a bag over your head by June.