Sunday, April 02, 2006

Welcome to RFK. Bring Your Sunblock.

Following up on a request from the team's relievers, particularly Mike Stanton, the Nationals have switched their bullpen from the one in left field to the one in right. Visiting relief corps will now have to endure the afternoon sun in the left field bullpen, while the Nats stay comfortable in the shade in right.

The switch means the teams' bullpens and dugouts will no longer be on the same side of the field, given that the home dugout at RFK is on the third base side. While this alignment poses no real practical problem, the Nats should take the opportunity to move their dugout to the first base side. Such a move would no doubt upset my friend Dan-75, who believes the Cubs are morally correct with their dugout on the third base side and that the Yankees are morally corrupt because their dugout is over near first. But the Yankees have 26 titles since 1923, and the Cubs have none, so, supposed moral superiority notwithstanding, the Nats should change.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Bonds futures: Not Rose-y

So baseball will launch an investigation into the alleged steroid use by Barry Bonds and other players. ("Alleged"? I can't believe I'm qualifying Bonds' steroid use.) This really should be the shortest investigation since Eve ate the apple. ("If I didn't eat it, Eve, it must have been you. I mean, who else could it be?") Exhibit A: Bonds with the Pirates, circa 1989. Exhibit B: Bonds with the Giants, circa 1999. Case closed. Next investigation: in which offshore account do the Royals deposit their revenue sharing checks?

At the end of the day, however, the investigators' findings will be sufficiently inconclusive to spare baseball the burden of suspending Bonds just as he approaches 755. Fine. Maybe Bonds' lack of cooperation in the investigation will prompt Bud Selig to suspend him for obstructing the inquiry, citing the commissioner's "best interests of the game" powers. Selig, at least, should do that, if only to send a message that a guilty player can't escape punishment merely by being obstinate. It's the equivalent to the parental technique employed by the parent who comes home, knows his child has done something wrong, can't identify it, and nevertheless grounds the kid for a week.

Another consequence of Bonds' steroid use and the investigation thereof is this: People across the country will have to like Alex Rodriguez. Sorry, guys. I know a lot of you don't like a guy who combines speed, power, batting and gold glove defensive skills at two positions and who approaches the game with professionalism, but you're going to have to accept the fact that A-Rod is the only guy who can beat whatever career home run mark Bonds sets after he passes Aaron. At least if you want Bonds to hold the record for as short a period as possible. For our civilization, in this era, A-Rod is our only hope. Buy your ticket now to get a good seat on the bandwagon.

Finally, the impact of the steroid investigation should, finally and oddly, allow Pete Rose to leave baseball purgatory, rejoin the fraternity of baseball people, and enter the Hall of Fame. Bonds will never, ever face a 17-year suspension the way Pete Rose has, and Bonds' transgressions are far, far worse. Sure, Rose broke the rules by betting on baseball games while managing the Reds. The rules of baseball rightly prohibit betting on games, because even the sniff of a player or manager or coach who has had even the means, motive and opportunity to bet against his own team is enough to taint the integrity of the win-loss columns. Baseball can't stand for someone even approaching that line. That's Rose's misdoing. It's clear he never bet against his own Reds, nor did he ever manage a game in such a way that was anything less than an effort to win. But by betting on baseball games, he put himself in a position where his gambling losses could have made him vulnerable to the demands of bookies who could have ordered Rose to throw a game on penalty of losing a finger, an arm, whatever. Again, Rose's downfall was that he approached that line between trying to win and harming the game's integrity.

But if Rose approached that line, Bonds blew right by it. Baseball, like any other sport, is foremost about winning and losing. Baseball, unlike any other sport, is also about statistics. 56, 61, .406, 511, 755 and 4,256 have been a lot more famous for a lot longer time than 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42. By injecting himself with steroids, Bonds not only cheated us out of a fair outcome every time he came to the plate or returned from an injury earlier than naturally possible. He also cheated us out of the pleasure of watching someone scale a statistical Mount Everest secure in the knowledge that the climb had been done the right way.

We can respect Rose's 4,256 hits as the result of Rose's playing the game as best he could within the rules. There's integrity behind that number. We can't say the same thing about 73 and 706, Bonds' current career home run mark. Rose has been punished for 17 years. Is that amount too harsh? Maybe, maybe not. But Bonds' transgression is much worse. He can't and won't be punished for more than 17 years, so neither should Rose. It's time to bring Pete back.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What Sort of Man Reads 'Jersey Baseball'?

In a post on his blog Jersey Baseball on January 17, my friend Dan proposed "Sussex Highlanders" as a name for the new Can-Am League franchise in Sussex County, New Jersey. Dan noted that the Highlanders nickname would be a tribute to the New York Yankees' original moniker (at least while the franchise has been in New York), but also noted "that could also be a problem, if the Yankees still retain the rights to the name."

Turns out, somebody high up within the Yankees must have read Dan's post.

I decided to check the online records of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to see whether anyone held a registration for the Highlanders trademark. Sure enough, the PTO has received an application to register "New York Highlanders" in connection with baseball apparel, namely "caps, hats, visors, knitted headwear, headbands, bandanas, shirts, T-shirts, tank tops, blouses, sweaters, turtlenecks, pullovers, vests, shorts, pants, slacks, dresses, skirts, overalls, bodysuits, baseball uniforms, jerseys, warm-up suits, jogging suits, sweatshirts, sweatpants, underwear, boxer shorts, robes, sleepwear, thermal loungewear, nightshirts, nightgowns, swimwear, clothing wraps, coats, jackets, ponchos, raincoats, cloth bibs, infant wear, infant diaper covers, cloth diaper sets with undershirt and diaper cover, jumpers, rompers, coveralls, creepers, baby booties, toddler anklets, ties, suspenders, belts, money belts, mittens, gloves, wristbands, earmuffs, scarves, footwear, socks, hosiery, slippers, aprons, sliding girdles and Halloween and masquerade costumes" (pause for breath).

The application for the trademark registration is in the name of New York Yankees Partnership, George M. Steinbrenner, III, principal. The application was filed March 7, 2006, mere weeks after Dan's post. Coincidence? I think not.

Looking in the Mirror

Trot Nixon says the unbalanced schedule among baseball division rivals contributes to brawls such as the one that occurred a few days ago between the Red Sox and Devil Rays.

Nixon said having teams play division 19 times each season can build up stress. "This is a prime example of why Bud Selig needs to take a look at teams playing
each other 19 ... times a year," Nixon said Tuesday.

"The run-ins that we’ve had in the past four years have been with the Yankees, with Tampa and maybe a couple with Baltimore," Nixon added.

He suggested going back to a balanced schedule, which was used in the AL from 1977-2000. Brawls "probably could be prevented by that one thing, but it might not either," Nixon said. "If enough people say something about it (Selig) will or his advisers will" consider a change.

"The Yankees even say it, too. We play each other too much," Nixon said. "Fans (are) all out of control. Look what happened last year. One of our fans hit (Gary) Sheffield in the face" while he chased a ball along Fenway Park’s low right-field wall.

Hmm. What's the common denominator in all these events? If you said the Red Sox, you're the big winner. Although Nixon may have a point that the unbalanced schedule contributes to the over-inflammation of fans' passions, it doesn't excuse the conduct by the players on the field. And so far as I can research, the problems that Nixon says the Red Sox have had with the Orioles, Devil Rays and Yankees don't occur between the Yankees and Devil Rays, the Yankees and Orioles, or the Orioles and Devil Rays.

Maybe the Red Sox are the culprit.

My Projected Nationals Roster

Sometimes, if you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself.

It baffles me that the depth charts on for many of the major league teams are inaccurate. Since each team controls both its chart and its information, there's no reason these charts cannot be updated as the team announces roster decisions. Naturally, therefore, the Nationals depth chart on makes no reference to Damian Jackson or Pedro Astacio, when it's generally understood by all associated with the team that they will be on the Opening Day roster. Arggh.

So, in light of the inaccurate, dated information on the site, I'm putting together my own projections for the depth chart and the 25-man roster:

Starters (in order of appearance)
CF Brandon Watson
2B Jose Vidro
1B Nick Johnson
RF Jose Guillen
LF Alfonso Soriano
3B Ryan Zimmerman
C Brian Schneider
SS Royce Clayton
P pitcher's spot

Marlon Anderson (backing up RF, LF and 2B)
Marlon Byrd (backing up RF, CF and LF)
Matthew Lecroy (backing up 1B, 3rd catcher)
Wiki Gonzalez (beats out Alberto Castillo for the back-up catcher spot)
Daryle Ward (pinch-hitter extraordinaire)
Damian Jackson (backing up 2B, SS, 3B)

Starting Pitchers
1. Livan Hernandez
2. John Patterson
3. Tony Armas
4. Ramon Ortiz
5. Pedro Astacio

Chad Cordero (CL)
Gary Majewski
Joey Eischen
Jon Rauch
Mike Stanton
Felix Rodriguez

That makes 25. Not making the cut: Michael Tucker, who will lose the last bench spot to Daryle Ward; Alberto Castillo, in favor of the better-hitting Wiki Gonzalez. On the DL: Ryan Drese (15-day), Cristian Guzman (15-day, may be out for the season if surgery is needed), Robert Fick (15-day); Brian Lawrence and Luis Ayala (both on 60-day list).

First to lose their jobs: Astacio, when his ERA equals the Dow or when Drese returns, whichever comes first; Daryle Ward, when Fick returns, because Fick can actually use a glove; Joey Eischen, to make room for the much-loved Bill Bray.

First to come up from New Orleans: Ryan Church, whenever the first injury occurs, or if newly minted starting centerfielder Brandon Watson struggles; Bray, when Eischen is traded.

Let's see how my projections hold up.

No Church on Monday

When the Nationals come to bat at Shea on Monday to start the 2006, the lead-off hitter won't be Ryan Church. In fact, Church won't even be in the dugout. Instead, it will be Brandon Watson who strides to the plate to lead off the first inning and who takes center field in the bottom of the first.

That Church didn't make the team is somewhat of a surprise. Church was having a great year in 2005, meriting some discussion for the Rookie of the Year honor, until he crashed into the outfield wall in June and injured his shoulder and ribs. He finished 2005 with a .287 batting average, nine home runs and 42 RBIs, but as Barry Svrluga of the Post points out, he wasn't the same hitter after the injury.

When camp began, it appears Church's expectations were different than management's. Church used spring training as a time to ease back into the flow of the game, focusing more on re-gaining his timing and less on the results. And the numbers this month showed: .200 average in 55 at-bats, with two extra-base hits. GM Jim Bowden, meanwhile, told Brandon Watson that if he could hit to the opposite field, bunt for base hits, and steal some bases, he'd make the team. Watson responded with a .311 average, .368 OBP, and seven steals in eight attempts.

Simply put, Watson just took the job away from Church.

Church's response to the demotion is telling: "I didn't think it was a competition." Maybe it wasn't back in February when players reported to camp, but Watson made it one. Maybe Church expected similar deference as a team veteran, albeit on a smaller scale, that Jose Vidro received in the great "Who's Playing Second?" debate. If he did, he shouldn't have, because Church just doesn't have the track record that Vidro has. Church may have had a promising 2005, but when that' s the only bullet point on the major league resume, it's not enough.

Of all people, Church should have known that. He himself secured the starting job in 2005 by having a terrific camp, much better than Endy Chavez, whom the team had tapped as the assumed starter when camp began. Having stolen the job from someone in 2005, Church should have considered the possibility that the same would happen in 2006.

How will Church respond to the demotion? I think he'll post big numbers from the beginning in New Orleans, and we'll see him back in D.C. by the end of April. He's good enough to be in the lineup, certainly good enough to be on the roster. Being in New Orleans will allow him to play every day, which, in essence, merely makes it an extended spring training for a guy who, right now, is hitting .200.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I miss the reserve clause

Prepping for a fantasy baseball draft must have been a lot easier before players changed teams so easily. Damn you, Curt Flood!!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Telltale Colors

I should have known.

Now that the Final Four is set, I just looked at my tournament bracket on the bulletin board above my desk and realized an amazing thing.

During the course of the tournament, I've used two different-colored highlighters to mark the accuracy of my predictions: gold to highlight "good" picks, green to mark the teams that are "gone." Thus, my bracket is a landscape of green and gold colors.

Much like George Mason's uniforms.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bowling for Strikes

Ramon Ortiz had a terrific outing today in a game that, among the spring training games this season, might have meant the most to the Nats. The Nationals' 1-0 win over the Orioles in a Beltway scrum featured these highlights:

1. Alfonso Soriano in left field for a second straight day. It wasn't a fluke after all. Admittedly, I was somewhat holding my breath.

2. No errors. For this team this spring, that's amazing. Baby steps, I suppose. And with Baltimore out-hitting Washington 9-to-4, one error could have sunk the Nats.

3. Ortiz. Six shutout innings, 62 pitches, 43 strikes, only 19 balls. Terrific. Just terrific. We'll talk about this later, but the Nationals' offense is anemic, even with Soriano, who just will not be able to match his 2005 numbers now that he is playing half his games at The Bobby. (I miss The BOB.) That means the pitching has got to keep the games close; the Nationals' line-up can't dig the team out of any deep holes. The best way to keep games close is to limit the baserunners by throwing strikes and walking as few people as possible. Ortiz did that today.

4. Ryan Zimmerman. He's acting like this is his tenth spring training, not like it was only a year ago that he was hanging out at Coupe's and Bilt. Today, he singled in the fourth, stole second, and ultimately scored on a sac fly. Nats win, 1-0. Zimmerman isn't David Wright, but he's better than Mr. Right-now.

Seventh Heaven

Wow. Soriano actually said it aint so. He'll play left field for the Nationals, at least for now.

The corollary to this story is the effect it has had on Jose Vidro. Vidro apparently is upset that his name has been connected with this debate, which is a fine initial reaction. But the fact remains that Nationals management unequivocally stood behind Vidro as the team's second baseman; at no point did management ever entertain the option of putting Soriano at second and asking Vidro to get an outfielder's mitt or try his hand at shortstop. (By the way, Guzman or Clayton?? What kind of choice is that?)

I get that Vidro is upset; the whole debate injected some degree of uncertainty, albeit infinitesimal, that Vidro wouldn't start the season at second base, which, given the choice, Vidro would prefer not to consider. However, being upset is a knee-jerk reaction that should have given way, at least by now, to appreciation for management's support. Vidro isn't exactly coming off the year that other second basemen such as, for example, Soriano had last year. Vidro's continued health is a concern. At the end of the day, Vidro should adopt the attitude of Stuart Smalley.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Capitol and Potomac

Doesn't have the history or cachet of Clark and Addison or Michigan and Trumbull ... at least not yet. But this town isn't a rookie when it comes to hosting a baseball club. We'll be fine.