An Opening Day Reflection

Tris Speaker 1927 Washington Senators

It is often said that a picture is worth 1000 words.  This one is worth 1000 more.  With a full blown smile future Hall of Famer Tris Speaker looks out onto the greenery of Griffith Stadium as a Washington Senator in 1927.  Prematurely gray at age 39, eyes surrounded by labyrinths of crow’s feet, and staring squarely at the end of his playing career there remains an undeniable air of joy in his countenance.  On display is the essence of the Opening Day paradox where the thrill of annual renewal comes amid the brutal reality of time marching relentlessly onward.

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Exhibition Game with the Yankees and the new season brings a new Podcast!

The all too familiar scene of Nationals Park baseball is a reality again as the Washington Nationals returned to Washington, D.C. for the first time since the Winterfest fan experience in December. Part of the familiar look of Nationals Park is the threat of rain if you can believe that, and visions of Skittles advertising on the tarp could be on display once again if that sponsorship was renewed. The Yankees are the Nationals opponent in this exhibition game which is a real treat for the fans who could get to see players like Aaron Judge, Troy Tulowitzki, and Giancarlo Stanton. Continue reading

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Game #29/Game #30 Nats wrap-up the Grapefruit League today with split-squad action!

Photo by Navy Yard Nats for TalkNats

Yesterday the Nationals optioned Joe Ross to Triple-A Fresno, but today he will start the 29th game of the Grapefruit League schedule against the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie at 12:10 p.m. then 55 minutes later in split-squad action Patrick Corbin will start for the Nats in the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches as the visiting team against the Astros in what is the 30th and final game of this year’s Grapefruit League schedule. After these games conclude and the players assemble at the FITTEAM complex, there will be over 30 players who will board buses to head to the West Palm Beach airport as the team will fly back to Washington, D.C. for an exhibition game on Monday at Nationals Park against the New York Yankees. Continue reading

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And what it all comes down to, my friends: #Nats are down to final cuts

Adrian Sanchez delivers the walkoff hit in the first game of spring training. (Photo by Sol Tucker for TalkNats)

One. More. Day.

The Washington Nationals will play two Sunday, sending a split squad to Port St. Lucie to face the division rival New York Mets for the last time before Opening Day and keeping another one back at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches to close out spring training with their complex partners, the Houston Astros. Then it’s back to the Northeast as the Nationals host the New York Yankees for an exhibition game Monday. Thursday is when the Nats’ season will begin.

After today’s draw with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Nats announced their latest batch of roster cuts. Every remaining non-roster invitee including Henderson Alvarez and Vidal Nuño, who once looked to have a puncher’s chance at making the team — was reassigned to minors camp save one, and the Nats also optioned starting pitchers Joe Ross (to Triple-A Fresno) and Erick Fedde (to Double-A Harrisburg), as well as catcher Spencer Kieboom (also Harrisburg). During the game, it was also announced that catcher Pedro Severino has left the organization altogether, as the Nats placed him on outright waivers and lost him to a claim by the Baltimore Orioles.
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Game #28 Final weekend tune-up in Spring Training

Photo by Lynn G for TalkNats

Where do we start in our discussion of the Washington Nationals? At what point do we stop saying this is just Spring Training and the results do not matter? It is really picking and choosing like an a la carte menu. Some results based on a players’ 2018 season should give some signs that we need to be concerned. The sample sizes are small and in some cases very small so we can dispense of all of the “small sample sizes don’t count”. Hopefully this is all an over-reaction. Here are three players to discuss: Brian Dozier, Kyle Barraclough and Ryan Zimmerman.

Brian Dozier is 4-29 against right-handers batting .138 this spring and .179 overall. Neither are good, and maybe he just needs more at-bats to get his timing right because his K rate is 30.8% for a player who was at 23.3% last year. What is troubling is how Dozier finished his 2018 season with the Dodgers batting .182. His spring training numbers are essentially how he finished 2018, and he blamed his results on a knee bone bruise. Dozier turns 32-years-old in May and is on a one-year deal with the Nationals.

The good news is Ryan Zimmerman is once again bashing left-handed pitching at a .308 clip, but Zim is 1-14 batting .071 against right-handers this spring which is not a sample size to really feel that it  is indicative of much as Zim will hit righties better with more at-bats, but will his righty/righty splits hover near Mendoza again? Overall he has had 27 at-bats because of the time he missed, and he says he needs 50 at-bats to be ready.  The issue is Zim for several years has had extreme splits, and last year hit righties at .228 and lefties at .377.  The good news is the Nationals have Matt Adams who can hit against right-handed pitchers in what should not be a straight platoon but rather manager Dave Martinez needs to play match-up baseball in his line-up construction.

Kyle Barraclough blew the save last night and has now given up 3 home runs with a 5.19 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP and by coming in late in games he is not exactly facing MLB starters or even bench players who exit these spring training games earlier. The sample size is 8 2/3 innings, but the issue is we are seeing a Barraclough six months removed from an awful finish to his 2018 season. If there is any good news, Bear Claw is much better than his second half stats last year but nowhere close to his fantastic first half of 2018 when he posted up a 1.28 ERA and a .969 WHIP. Barraclough’s velo has been hovering around 92 mph, and that is about 2 mph below where he was in 2018.

While some of what you just read is sobering, you have to believe general manager Mike Rizzo is two steps ahead on this and is not overly concerned. The Nationals on the other end of the spectrum is all the good news. The catching tandem of Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki are crushing the baseball. Gomes is batting .400 and Suzuki is at .333. Adam Eaton is running well and he leads the starters with a 1.232 OPS. The youngsters have looked great. Juan Soto is doing what he did last year, and Victor Robles, Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia are all batting over .300. While Kieboom and Garcia will start their seasons in the Minor Leagues, they are the depth and the future of the Nationals.

All teams are experiencing lows and highs this spring. Some of the lows of spring will be the highs of the summer, and we will see if Dozier is the Dozier of 2016 and Zimmerman is the Zim of 2017 and Barraclough is the Bear Claw of the 1st half of 2018. It could all turn around for these players who have long track records, but we are at the point where we can discuss some observations and hope for the best.

For this afternoon’s game, the Nationals have Stephen Strasburg on the mound, and the Nats will face righty Miles Mikolas in the final Saturday of Spring Training.

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Washington Nationals
Stadium:  FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach, Florida
1st Pitch: 1:05 pm EDT
TV:   MASN;  MLB App
Nats Radio:  Cardinals feed via the MLB app

Line-ups subject to change without notice:

  1. Trea Turner SS
  2. Juan Soto LF
  3. Anthony Rendon 3B
  4. Matt Adams DH
  5. Brian Dozier 2B  Wilmer Difo
  6. Kurt Suzuki C
  7. Andrew Stevenson RF
  8. Jake Noll 1B
  9. Victor Robles CF

Stephen Strasburg RHP

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Game #27 The last night game of the #Nats Grapefruit League schedule!

The Nationals face the Marlins tonight in Jupiter, Florida which is just north of West Palm Beach. The Marlins 11-game winning streak ended yesterday, and maybe their team chemistry had a bad reaction to their cuts. As expected, owner Derek Jeter‘s former Yankees teammate, Curtis Granderson, appears to have made their roster while they cut Austin Dean who was a standout in camp. Fangraphs had the Marlins projected at 99 losses, and you have to wonder if their final roster further impacts the final projections. Continue reading

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Game #26 Jeremy Hellickson makes his last start of Spring Training

Photo by Sol Tucker for TalkNats

It’s the last night time game at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on the 2019 Grapefruit League schedule. The Nationals will play one more night game tomorrow in Jupiter. On Saturday and Sunday there are afternoon games scheduled with Sunday’s slate set for split-squad games. After Sunday’s games, the team will travel north to Washington, D.C. for an exhibition game on Monday evening against the Yankees, and Opening Day is a week from today. Continue reading

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Real baseball is not played on paper or computers

It is officially spring today with the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere although baseball enthusiasts celebrate spring the day their teams report to Spring Training. Hope springs eternal, and Washington Nationals fans will hope that this year will exceed expectations. Projections rarely meet reality for sports teams on their final record. In the end, you find some players exceeded their expectations while others fell short. There are a myriad of factors during a long season that affect the results, and yes, there is an element of luck, and health, and you take the good with the bad. It is part of the ups and downs during a baseball season which is a 6 month marathon that ends days after the autumnal equinox. Baseball spreads over all seasons as Spring Training technically begins during the winter.

This is why they say you don’t play sports on paper. But in the off-season, you scout using your senses sending that information to your brain, and in modern baseball you cross-check the scouting with analytics. Nothing is a perfect science when it does not work out or on the other side some players exceed the expectations. Most player acquisitions are judged in hindsight — the way most critics judge with clarity as if they knew the whole time. Foresight is what the best managers have, but it’s not foolproof. Along with what does not show up on the stats sheet are the intangibles of the game. Continue reading

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Game #25 Nats travel back to Disney for the last time — ever!

Photo by Steve Mears of Disney’s baseball complex

This will be the Nationals last trip to the Disney baseball complex because after this season the Atlanta Braves will be moving to their new home in Sarasota. When the Nationals were in Viera, the trip to Disney was actually their closest drive about an hour and 20 minutes away. From West Palm Beach, the roundtrip is a 326 mile bus drive, and a lengthy 2 1/2 hours each way from FITTEAM to Champion Field.  Today’s starting pitcher for the Nats, Anibal Sanchez, could have asked to pitch on the minors side but instead chose to make the trek to start this game. All players taking the bus is set to leave at 7:00 AM from the FITTEAM complex in West Palm Beach. Continue reading

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Who grabs the #Nats last bench spot: Adrian Sanchez, Spencer Kieboom or Jake Noll?

Photo by @Midgem for TalkNats

Chances are Howie Kendrick and Michael A. Taylor will both begin the 2019 season on the 10-Day Injury List as they rehab their way back to join the team. Because we are now less than 10 days until the season begins, there is probably not enough time to get ready for Opening Day on March 28th for that duo. Taylor’s injury all but guarantees that Victor Robles will be the team’s starting centerfielder, and all indications are Andrew Stevenson will be the Nats’ fourth outfielder making the bench Kurt Suzuki C, Matt Adams 1B/LF, Wilmer Difo, IF/OF, Andrew Stevenson OF, and ____________ .  Continue reading

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