July 31, 2006

The Calm After the Calm

Come on now, you really didn't expect anything to happen did you? In Trader Jim's world, spin is inversely proportional to action. And he's been spinning like a top all weekend. When he does pull off a trade (Kearns/Lopez) we don't hear a thing about it until the press release. Remember all the pre-trade analysis of the Stanton for Martis deal? No? That's because there wasn't any. Bowden may be (and in my opinion is) a blithering jacka**, but he's a predictable blithering jacka**.

So what happened? Depending on who you believe, Trader Jim either A) priced himself out of the market; B) other teams tried to lowball him; or C) some combination of A & B. Given the deals that did get done for Carlos Lee, Bobby Abreu, Greg Maddux, Todd Walker, Sean Casey and the like, I'm inclined toward option C. Nobody moved big-time prospects for veterans this weekend. Neither the Yankees nor the Mets overpaid for a role-player. The Tigers and Angels didn't mortgage their future for a shoot-the-moon playoff run. It just didn't happen. In all likelihood Bowden avoided trading Soriano to the Angels for Ervin Santana and Casey Kotchman, or to the Twins for Scott Baker and Jason Kubel. If Fonzie is as valuable as we like to believe, any trade on this level would have been an underachievement.

Maybe no trade was the best move available. But what happens next? If Fonzie walks at the end of this season we're virtually guaranteed two draft picks as compensation, which would again give the Nats 4 picks in the top 40 or so of the draft. Not a bad consolation prize, but even top draft picks are a crapshoot. I think the franchise needs to make a genuine good faith effort to sign Soriano to a long-term deal. He has said repeatedly that he enjoys playing here and wants to stay. It's time for him to put his (potential) money where his mouth is. The Nats need a hometown discount to make Fonzie's contract work. 5 yrs/$75M seems like a reasonable price on the open market for the top free agent slugger this winter, but the Nats can't (or at least shouldn't) be paying that kind of dough.

Ok Alfonso, the ball's in your court. You've got two months to prove that all that sweet talk about valuing stability and building relationships wasn't just clever PR. Cut us a hometown discount and you'll have your stability, your big payday, and the chance to play for a legitimate contender too. We'll be watching...

ESPNNews reports...

... that according to the Nats, Soriano is staying in Washington, and they are trying to work out a long term deal.

More if/when I get it.

July 28, 2006

A Fan Divided Against Himself

Sometimes, when I fall silent for days (or weeks) at a time, it's simply because I don't have anything to say that hasn't already been said more concisely or more eruditely by one of the many other top-notch bloggers listed off to my right. I'm continually amazed by the quality and quantity of the Nationals internet fan base, especially given that this team was so recently Canadian, and in Canada as I understand it, the exchange rate makes teh internets excruciating slow and translates every blog post into a Quebec liberation screed. (Only kidding OMG, don't guillotine me.)

Such is the case with the Alfonso Soriano situation. For the life of me, I can't think of anything original to say. Even the outrageous fringe positions (Sign him for 10 years at $120M!) have more or less been staked out. Besides, I am very much at war with myself on this issue. Like all sentient Nats fans I love watching Fonzie in action. An offensive powerhouse having a career year right before your eyes is an undeniably beautiful thing. At the same time Soriano's outfield defense has gone from atrocious to merely unpredictable. He still has a knack for making the easy catches look hard, but now he's making some of the hard catches too.

If I thought it were possible to sign Soriano to the kind of contract he's going to command (5 yr./$75M is beginning to look possible) without shorting our farm system and international player development, I would say do it in a heartbeat. Aside from Alfonso's measurable gifts he seems to be genuinely cheerful, hardworking and well-liked in the clubhouse. And I'm inclined to think his teammates enjoy those monstrous homers and 2 SB games as much as the fans do. Soriano's a fan magnet, and would probably become an even bigger draw if a long-term deal made him the face of the franchise, and gave him some incentive to make ties to the community.

Unfortunately, I think any deal for Soriano would be a resource drain for the Nationals. There has been much talk about how the Lerners, the "deep pocketed" new owners of myth and legend, ought to spend whatever it takes to re-sign Soriano as a good faith gesture to the fanbase. Excuse me, but didn't Ted Lerner & Sons just cut a check for $450M to major league baseball? And pump a few million more into the refurbished RFK? Didn't Stan Kasten make a commitment to beef up the farm system and scouting departments, starting with the hiring of Asst. GM Mike Rizzo away from the Diamondbacks?

Despite what we may hope as fans, I doubt that Ted Lerner's goal is to spend every last dime he has in his first month of his tenure as owner. Even for a wealthy family like the Lerners (and their many partners) four hundred and fifty million dollars is not chump change. No matter how it's structured, that kind of outlay has to put a serious kink in your short-term cash flow. I say this not to demonstrate that the Lerners can't afford to sign Alfonso. I think they could. But to do so they'd almost certainly have to deprioritize other things, like the long neglected player development system, or the much anticipated new stadium.

Let's not forget, the Nats are not just another team, they were wards of the state for almost half a decade. The team was systematically starved of revenue and resources, and its farm system was strip-mined. I've often lamented the fact that the minor league system that so recently produced guys like Jason Bay, Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, Chris Young and Grady Sizemore was completely dismantled on MLB's watch. But that's the hole the new owners are in. This franchise needs a huge infusion of cash into its infrastructure just to reach a level playing field with the other 29 teams, much less to compete with them for the top prospects and international free agents.

And, in a move akin to swimming an Olympic race while chained to a baby grand piano, the Nats are trying to make up all this ground with Jim Bowden at the helm. Frankly, that's why I can't decide which side of the Soriano debate I'm on. Trading him means trusting Trader Jim to get a good return for the best player in Nationals franchise history. Letting him walk requires faith that P.T. Bowden will use the resulting draft picks wisely and well. Even re-signing Soriano forces me to hope that Cap'n Leatherpants won't massively overpay for the shiniest bobble to pass through his toy box in quite sometime. To say that none of these options gives me the warm fuzzies is an understatement. I'm just going to sleep and drink until this situation resolves itself.

Trader Jim found himself momentarily out of the news when Brewers GM Doug Melvin hogged the spotlight by unloading OF Carlos Lee +2 on the Texas Rangers for that other Cordero and outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix. (Be honest, if you knew two guys named Lance, one of whom spelled it correctly, and the other who threw in an entirely superfluous Y, which would you guess was gay?)

But, true to his nature, JimBo rectified that right quick, trading 401 year-old lefty Mike Stanton to the San Francisco Giants for 19 year-old pitcher Shairon Martis. This is the second year in a row the Nats have signed Stanton and then swapped him for minor league pitching, and frankly I'm beginning to enjoy it. It would be worth it to sign him again next year just to go for three. And the fact that we unloaded him on the just-swept SF Midgets is icing. Time to shop Kevin Gryboski to the Cubs. The Farm Authority has the lowdown on Martis, and other intriguing prospect news.

July 27, 2006

Double sweep

Hells yeah, an undefeated homestand.

Everyone else will discuss. Me, I'm just basking in the glow.

July 26, 2006

The town, painted red.

The town is now red.

So over the weekend, about 90,000+ or so attendees over 3 days painted the town red.

At NTP, Nate and I had the pleasure of going on Friday and Sunday both, and Watson was with us for Friday. Watson enjoyed the availability of more kinds of beer, including Sam's Summer Ale he found behind our seats. Nate and I tried Hard Times Chili and the beef brisket (on different days), and none of us could find the elusive half-smokes. (Apparently, neither could the Post, so I don't feel bad. Marc Fisher gives his thoughts)

You can study the handy graphic telling all about the enhancements.

Let's review, shall we? Starting with the food....

There is actually a diversity of food to try now at RFK. The food court is a nice enhancement, and turned out to be fast, efficent, and a good implementation. They didn't have a lot to work with, and they did the best job I think they could have. I don't think there are enough ice cream stands, but besides that it's nice things to say. There are now a large number of items I have yet to try, including cheesesteaks, knishes, Texas Sausage, chicken paninis, buffalo bites.... And it's actually good.

I can't comment on the Kids Zone. I don't have any rugrats myself -- although Nate and I are plotting to borrow some to score Screech Booblebellys. I must own the bobble belly!

Giant Racing presidents. Ok, I thought this was going to be really stupid, but this actually turned out to be rather amusing. Teddy stole the golf cart. What more can I say? It's very DC, and that's a good thing.

Nicer people. My personal experience was that those at RFK were friendlier, helpful, and really making an effort. One girl I talked to was telling me it was her first day, so they obviously hired people too. If this is still the case in two weeks, then four weeks, I'll be delighted.

Music. They tightened up the music at RFK, leaving a lot less dead air and keeping the crowd moving. Watson and Nate find it annoying on a personal level, but agree with me that the fact that there is more music, more PA buzz, keeps the crowd more engaged and the excitement level a little higher. This is a huge experience difference in my mind.

The weekend only stuff was very cool -- I was handed a hat by FLop and a towel by Livan, and Watson has his picture taken with James Brown

I have to say, I think I really like our new owners. If you haven't read this article about the 71 year old gent who was given a signed ball by Mark Lerner, you should. I think their hearts are in the right place.

Oh, and the stadium didn't smell bad anymore. That's a really good thing.

What does this leave us with? It leaves us with the impression that the owners actually seem to care about the entertainment experience, and are doing what they can to make a difference. I certainly appreciated the changes. We'll keep an eye out on their ability to maintain -- although we went to last night's game, and things were still going strong.

July 24, 2006

The Return of the Counter Culture

Clerks II

Matt Watson – 5 out of 5 Stars

In the age of studio re-writes, script doctors, and production delays upon production delays, it’s refreshing to see a gifted filmmaker given free reign to put his vision on screen unmolested. That’s even true when the vision is an interspecies erotica performance in a fast food joint.

Clerks II picks up ten years after the seminal Clerks. We find that the Quick Stop has met an untimely death and best friends Dante Hicks (Jeff O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) have traded in the convenience store crowd for the fast food junkies at Mooby’s, a McDonalds/Disney conglomerate crossed with Elsie the Borden Milk cow. Also working at Mooby’s are geeky teenager Elias (Trevor Fehrman) and their easygoing boss Becky (Rosario Dawson). Rehabbed stoners Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself) have also made the move across town. Today is Dante’s last day at Mooby’s as he and his new fiancĂ© are picking up and moving to Florida. He has one last shift to put in and a few hours to tie up all his loose ends before he begins his new life. His friends have that same last shift to come to terms with the fact that Dante is really leaving.

Writer and Director Kevin Smith’s biggest talent has always been his dialogue. It’s what really sets him apart from the crowd. His characters use obscenity like an art form. They make George Carlin’s seven dirty words skit look like a nursery rhyme. However, the important thing here is not which words they’re using, but what they’re saying. In the midst of all the expletives Smith manages to comment on religion, marriage, racism, pop culture, and even love. The original Clerks brilliantly captured the apathy felt by the nineties slacker generation through the banter and conversations of Randal and Dante. Clerks II continues to be a mirror to a generation with that same device. It’s also hysterically funny.

Smith pulls out all the stops on Clerks II. Between Randal’s disturbing observations on promiscuous teenagers and Helen Keller vs. Anne Frank, Elias’s ruminations on Transformers and the perils of pre-marital sex, and Jay and Silent Bob killing time outside in all sorts of strange ways the film is absolutely a riot. The jokes fly fast and furious and Smith’s sense of humor really shines. His commentary on Lord of the Rings/Star Wars fan boys is also hilarious. His brand of humor may not be for everyone but if you like it you’re in for a treat.

In addition to his dialogue, Smith shows off his directing chops as well. The film uses a handheld camera for most of the scenes and it provides a definite style to the picture as well as a nod to the original. Smith pays homage to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with an update of the “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” scene. There’s also a small dance number that brings to mind any number of musicals. In addition to the visual style, Smith works to get the best in his actors. Jeff Anderson is terrific in his reprise of Randal. Rosario Dawson is a great addition to the view askewniverse as is Trevor Fehrman. Brian O’Halloran is still occasionally painful to watch and Jennifer Schwalbach (Smith’s real life wife) has a few rough spots but Smith manages to keep those moments to a minimum.

Smith has said that his re-visiting of Clerks was a gift/promise to his hetero life-mate Jason Mewes if Mewes could get sober and stay off drugs. Even if that’s the impetuous behind the film it turns out Smith had a lot to say. Beneath all of the jokes, this movie has an awful lot of heart. It deals with love and friendship in a straightforward and open way that is only possible because of the humor. The original Clerks was funny and entertaining and absolutely brilliant. The sequel is too.

July 23, 2006

Starting to Come Together, Pepper

Lots to talk about this weekend, and for a change most of it is positive. New ownership 99.44% in place, a refurbished RFK, and a 3-game sweep of the lowly Cubbies on "Paint the Town Red" weekend. That's almost more good news than I've been conditioned to handle, given the recent state of the franchise. With so much going on, I'm going to divide the post into two broad categories: Off the Field and On the Field. And away we go...

Off the Field

Away from the green, green grass of home it's all over but the ridiculously huge wire transfer. Monday morning Ted Lerner will stroll down to the neighborhood Check N' Go, order up a $450M money order and ship it off to MLB Headquarters, overlooking the 4th circle of Hell. Then it will be official. Bob DuPuy is dead, long live the Lerners, their progeny, family by marriage and assorted hangers-on.

Hopefully this will put to bed the brief hysteria that sprang up when MLB declared the District "in default" of the stadium agreement, and indicated that the delayed documents could hold up the ownership transfer. The legal manuvering betweend the city and baseball isn't just for show, and it could have serious financial consequences two years from now if the new stadium isn't ready on time. But it's nothing that's going to impact the ownership, stadium construction, or on-field makeup of the team in the meantime.

While all that was going on behind the curtain, out front a (slightly) renovated RFK opened its gates Friday night boasting a fresh coat of paint, new outdoor food court, additional vending stands, more Aramark employees, and a generally improved attitude. I shook hand with new CBS sportscaster and local legend James Brown and got my not-at-all shabby red Nats hat. So that was quite alright. As the Federalist noted, Triple Play's very own Dave is one of the leading arbiters of fan experience, so I'll leave the in-depth commentary to him.

For my part, I give Stan Kasten and his team full marks for doing the best they could with what they had in the time (a little less than 2 weeks) allotted to them. Both the Capital Q brisket sandwich and the Hard Times chili mac from the new terrace food court were good, but neither was outstanding. I still want to see a Ben's Chili Bowl outpost, if not at RFK at least in the new stadium. This was opening weekend, so I'm reserving final judgment until I see what the atmosphere is like once everyone's off their best behavior. Misschatter was there on Friday too, decked out in her Gary Bennett memorial BP jersey, and she has the pics to prove it.

On the Field

Oh by the way, we also swept the Cubs in a three games series this weekend. Now for most teams this would rank right up there with mugging a local girl scout troop for their cookie money in degree of difficulty, but the Nats can't afford to be so cavalier. A sweep is a sweep and we'll gladly take it. Dave, Watson and I were in the stands for Friday night's series opener, and Dave and I returned for the rubber match on Sunday. Saturday I caught one of the Nationals rare network appearances while struggling valiently (but unsuccessfully) to salvage some productive time from my weekend.

I'll update with the full on-field recap this evening, time permitting...

July 20, 2006

Another kind of sucking -- the fan experience at RFK.

Time for some mindless drivel from the fan experience guy. Been a busy couple of weeks (of which some weren't even spent in DC), so I haven't had a chance to do much.

My last visit to RFK with Nate, I had a wholly unsatisfying experience. Incompetence at the Dominic's line forced me to stand and wait holding my damn hot dog while they closed the register, counted all the money, and reopened it. Apparently, the ideal of moving ONE of the 5 people behind the counter to the other register so they could actually serve customers was an idea that required just way too much thought for our friends at Dominic's. I also learned that apparently there is a policy -- A POLICY -- for shutting down the register when there is an error, forcing everyone to wait.

I was two people from getting my damn hot dog.

Since there isn't that much to eat at RFK, my other favorite remains the pretzel. It's only good before the 5th inning, mind you, because by the 5th the damn things have dried out and become nasty. (I'm starting to think about soft serve by that point anyway, but you still have to make sure to eat it early enough.) On that particular game, apparently there was a massive, worldwide shortage of pretzels, because the only ones available were all apparently "not ready".

My bitterness showed no bounds that night. Add to that Nate's bitterness about the general sucky nature of the team, and we achieved a multi-dimensional level of bitterness. We did score bobbleheads, so the night wasn't a total loss.

In comparison, my wife and I were up at what I still think of as the Baltimore Arena on this past Saturday night to see a show. I've always thought of the Arena as a dump -- their big draw is the Baltimore Blast, for god's sake -- but when there, I realized that RFK is actually a bigger dump when it comes to service.

The Arena offered a wide variety of food (including some very tasty oversized pretzels for $4), two sizes of beer (the massive, must-push-it-with-a-cart beer my wife had made her night), and on top of that, for the huge number of people getting food in the intermission, a very efficient food system. I watched them restock the oversized pretzels 3 times before I got to the front -- they were moving pretzels at a rate of one every 15 seconds -- and when I got mine, it was hot, fresh and delicious.

I bow my head in respect to the Arena, for it has topped our own cesspool of a stadium.

Which brings me to the letter I received from the fine folks at the Nationals bragging about their upgrades.

"Enhancements to RFK Stadium"

Included in the list are improvements in landscaping, cleanliness, providing helpful and cheerful service, and great entertainment.

Great. I'll believe the third one when I see it, but the others seem like something they can accomplish.

On concessions, they have promised, "100 new concessions points-of-sale, new menu selections and a new food court on the Mezzanine Level".

This could go a long way to helping, I must admit. If they actually have 100 new locations (or even registers), and staff them, then it won't be such a pain to get food. New menu selections hopefully mean they're good. There are several items on the menu now I consider nearly inedible, so it's hard to pass judgment. The food court -- well, we'll see when it happens, won't we?

I'm open minded, and want to give them a chance. This should be the first real move our new overlords. Say what you will about the trade (and many of you have), but that's still our man Trader Jim. I see this weekend as our real first sign on how the owners intend to treat us. If they make the effort, make some changes, and try and listen to fans on some of the important things. This is what will drive casual fans, and it's what will help drive loyalty.

Ultimately, this is entertainment -- you want your entertainment to be a good experience. Players will come and go, but the fan experience needs to be a continuous, positive thing for momentum to continue. I look forward to seeing the new look tomorrow.

P.S. I was going to update my success list for this month, but there's really no point, is there?

July 19, 2006

Walking the Plank

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Matt Watson – 3 out of 5 Stars

The first Pirates installment, Curse of the Black Pearl, was a smart, well-paced, thrill-packed adventure. In short the perfect summer movie. The second Pirates installment, Dead Man’s Chest is a slightly confusing, ill-conceived, too-many-plot-lines mess. In short a typical sequel. Thankfully that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing.

Dead Man’s Chest wastes no time in exposition or introductions, it’s on with the story. We find Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) sitting in rain soaked agony as her betrothed Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is arrested for aiding and abetting a pirate, namely Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Oh, and Elizabeth is arrested for the same offense. Jack is off stealing something from somewhere. There’s a new British officer in Port Royal and he’s after the magic compass that Jack possesses. Since Will knows Jack, it’s up to him to get it from him in exchange for a pardon. There might also be a pardon for Jack. Eventually Elizabeth goes after Jack as well, also with a pardon but I’m not sure who it’s for. Everybody got it? Good.

From here the movie throws together one action sequence after another sprinkled through with more pirates, cannibals, undead monkeys, swamp mystics, and supernatural ocean men. It seems that Jack owes his soul to Davy Jones. Davy and his crew were once men, but with their years in the sea they’ve become part men/part ocean creature. Davy himself, played by Bill Nighy, is more octopus than man, complete with prehensile tentacles. It’s up to Jack to get himself out of his debt. It’s up to Will and Elizabeth to not become casualties of Jack’s desires.

While the plot lines are confusing, the film does have some enjoyable parts. The action sequences are inventive and well done, there’s just nothing holding them together. The film continues to use Johnny’s slightly off kilter facial expressions and mannerisms for comic relief and there a few well timed jokes, especially the one involving the undead monkey, a birdcage, and a revolver. Davy Jones and his Crew are creepy and spectacular, but they never get to do much more that look cool, although Davy Jones does have an interesting Phantom of the Opera moment.

Director Gore Verbinski has all the right pieces here, but there’s no glue holding them together. We get a little character development in Jack and a little conflict in Elizabeth, but it’s not enough to bring everything together. At two and a half hours long there should certainly be more.

The luxury of a sequel is the groundwork has already been laid for the beginning of the story. We know the characters and how they relate to each other. The great second-chapter films expand upon that base to give the story some teeth. The audience wants to see how these characters grow and change. A good sequel will provide that story arc and build upon the foundation set up by the first film. At least that’s what you hope for. Dead Man’s Chest doesn’t quite deliver but it’s a fun ride that will tide us over until the third act gets underway.

July 16, 2006

Better Red Than Dead

aka Panic in the Streets of Rosslyn

When the early returns came in, it was fair to say that Jim Bowden hadn't met with this level of universal approval since being assaulted by his fiancee and tossed in the pokey in Miami Beach. Everyone (and I mean every one) was on board. From "The Big Foam Finger" himself to the normally useless bastards at Baseball Prospectus, from the talent scouts at Baseball America to our very own Farm Authority, the Bowden fete was in full swing. The big news even resurrected a few bloggers we'd left for dead.

Regrets, we had a few, but then again, too few to mention. The Triple Play crew mourned the untimely passing of Gary "Tex" Majewski and Bill "William" Bray, but more because they were our guys than anything else. Middle relievers and utility infielders are the most fungible players in baseball, and they made up 3/5 of our losses. If the return is two starting position players, (even a fragile, Wilkersonesque OF and an all-hit, no-field SS) then we owe Mr. Krivsky a dinner and cab fare home. Contrast this trade with last year's midseason acquisitions, Preston Wilson and Mike Stanton. Or don't, because someone already has.

But then our shiny new paper team took the field against the terrible, woeful, downright abyssmal Pittsburgh Pirates. And they lost two out of three. The new guys sucked wind, and the bullpen tanked, and all of sudden it was, "Hey, anybody seen our relief corps?" I'll admit, dredging up retreads like Micah Bowie, Kevin Gryboski and Roy Corcoran ain't exactly confidence inspiring. But really, if at any point this season the bullpen passes the rotation in the hierarchy or pitching concerns, Damian Jackson should be ritually sacrificed to Randy "Saint" Claire. (Esophageal spasms? Are you kidding? And on a team where they made fun of Ryan Church for breaking his f**kin' toe?)

Even if Felipe Lopez, or FLop, as I like to call him, goes 0 for his next 100 (don't laugh, you wanna bet me it's not possible?) he's still got more potential than Royce Clayton and Damian Jackson combined. And don't kid yourself, until the return of GUZMANIA '07, Clayton and Jackson were our choices. All 42 middle infielders on our 40-man roster could be stranded in the Andes and canibalized, and Frank would still have found a reason to use Brendan Harris a a utilityman.

So this is our team, folks, warts and all. At least until Trader Jim's next magical mystery deal. Which better damn well not involve trading Fonzie to the Angels for anyone not named Howie Kendrick.

July 13, 2006

Hopefully, the First of Many

The Nationals have started their rebuilding efforts with an eight player trade with the Cincinnati Reds. The Nats have acquired outfielder Austin Kearns, second baseman/shortstop Felipe Lopez, and reliever Ryan Wagner. In exchange the Nats gave up reliever Gary Majewski, pitcher Bill Bray, infielder Brendan Harris, minor league pitcher Daryl Thompson, and shortstop Royce Clayton.

The consensus here at NTP is that this is a good deal for the Nats. Nate is happy to see that we got three young players with one of them being a legitimate power outfielder and a possible lead off candidate in Lopez. Dave and I aren't thrilled we gave up Bray and Majewski, especially with Bray being a left handed pitcher who's shown some potential, but time will tell if this was worth it.

Whatever the outcome, this first volley in the Nationals trade war has lived up to expectations. We said we were going to go younger and build for the future and it looks like that's what they're trying to do.

On another note, there's something slightly off putting that our first big trade is with Cincinnati, the last club that Bowden had strong ties to. We hope that Bowdnen isn't being blinded by past opinions when it comes to evaluating talent. Just because you thought a guy was going to be great three years ago doesn't mean that opinion should still hold. Thankfully that doesn't appear to be the case here but it's worth mentioning. That combined with the rumors that other GMs don't like Bowden could be cause for concern.

July 6, 2006

When in Doubt, Blame the Pitcher

Poor Mike O'Connor. Sure, he got roughed up in his last few outings, but not like Livan got shelled, and Livan's still here (possibly only because the forklift is still in route.) Yet O'Connor is the one shipped off to the minors to make room for injury-in-waiting Alex Escobar. I applaud the Nats for taking the radical step of having 4 outfielders on the roster simultaneously. Did we really have to sacrifice a starting pitcher, even a struggling one, to make that happen?

Now, O'Connor might not be the poster boy for pitcher abuse, he hasn't really been overworked. If anything, Frank's had him on a too-tight leash. But the same can't be said about the rest of the staff. Of necessity they've all pitched through nagging injuries and been worked like pack mules. Of course, the reason for all that overwork is that not one of our dozen or so starting pitchers has managed to string together three consecutive quality starts. That puts pressure on the bullpen, which puts pressure on the next night's starter to eat innings and spare the bullpen. And so on, and so on...

When the bullpen was struggling and getting slapped around, John Wetteland was a convenient scapegoat. Now that he's gone, the bullpen is still struggling and periodically getting slapped around (today's stellar performance notwitstanding.) With Wetteland gone, what's the excuse du jour? Some of the worst damage was inflicted by Jason "Harvey" Bergmann, who was optioned back to Triple-A and replaced by journeyman lefty Micah Bowie. If Bowie proves to have any staying power, and nothing in his past suggets he will, maybe we can pawn Mike Stanton off on some unsuspecting playoff contender, (Hello Boston!)

In the meantime, O'Connor wasn't scheduled to pitch again until after the all-star break anyway, and the over/under on Escobar's next injury is about 3 days, so Irish Mike could very well be back with the team before Fonzie gets back Pittsburgh. In the meantime, I know we'll all sleep better knowing that absolutely none of this is attributable to Frank Robinson's inability to manage a pitching staff.

July 2, 2006

Welcome to the Bowden Era

In about 50 years I have high hopes for being around to see the publication of a book-length half-century retrospective on the Washington Nationals (or Senators, or Grays, or Monuments, whatever, you get the idea.) The first chapter or two will detail the history of baseball in Washington, DC and the relocation of the Montreal Expos. Long about Chapter Three I'm pulling for a section titled "The Jim Bowden Era: aka The Noncompetitive Years." My hopes and expectations aside, however, Bowden's Nats (shudder) have their first series victory of his Permanent GM-ship.

Reaction to Trader Jim's newfound job security falls into two fairly well-delineated camps: incredulous hysterical hostility, and forced hysterical optimism. In the former camp we find CapPun, the Distinguished Senators,
Nasty Nats, yours truly and to a lesser degree The Nats Blog (damn your substantive analysis, DM.) Special recognition goes to OMG for the finest possible audio analysis of the Kasten announcement.

In the latter camp are the type of people who undoubtedly said, "Hold on now, let's not rush to judgment, let's just see how this
New Coke thing plays out." (Just kidding, you guys are the greatest.) Flying the flag for eternal optimism: Curly W, the Federalist, Just a Nats Fan, Tom Boswell and the leather pants industry.

But hey, we're bloggers. If we weren't make ill-informed snap judgments without the benefits of hindsight or perspective, we'd have to find other outlets for our barely contained rage. So, hateful invective spewed at the Lerners, Stan Kasten and Trader Jim, or any sharp increase in workplace fisticuffs. The choice is yours.

The Jim Bowden All-Stars

Congratulations to reluctant outfielder Alfonso Soriano, the Nats lone representative on the 2006 NL All-Star team. Fonzie joins elite company, players that have made the all-star team in both leagues and at multiple positions. Additional proof that fans don't care about defense.

July 1, 2006

Stop F****in' Digging, Already!

There is a proverb, sometimes attributed to folksy cowboy humorist Will Rogers, that says: "If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging." The Washington Nationals, my hometown team, have instead opted to bring in an Earth mover. Timed perfectly to coincide with an 11-1 embarrassment at the hands of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Stan Kasten made the announcement that Jim Bowden's position as GM of the team is now permanent.

On one level, this was entirely expected. The Lerners and Stan Kasten gave every indication that Bowden would at least finish out the season. Now it looks as though he'll get at least a year or two to demonstrate that he can be an effective general manager. And you know what? I'm fine with it. I think Jim Bowden's a pompous, narcissistic dumbass, but what the hell do I know?

The Lerner family, who just paid significantly over fair market value for this pitiful excuse for a franchise, hired uber-experienced sports executive Stan Kasten to run the franchise. Kasten, who at least knows what a good GM (John Schuerholz) looks like, hired Bowden. Maybe they know something I don't. In fact, I really hope they do know something I don't. Everyone involved praised Bowden's "analytical mind." If he actually has one, that's great, maybe Kasten will force him to use it. Or maybe I just don't understand the context of the word analytical when it's applied to things like the Alex Escobar trade, the acquisition of three back-up 1B and no catchers, and the stunning ability to sign every injured starting pitcher in major league baseball.

I'm actually glad the announcement came when it did, because I'm considerably numbed by having sat through that entire disgrace of a game against the Devil Rays. THE DEVIL RAYS!?!?!! If I were to so much as attempt a game recap this blog would have to be sealed in lead and buried under a mountain in Nevada for the next 5,000 years. Instead, random thoughts:

  • Thank God Dave & I weren't the only bloggers there to witness the carnage. Otherwise, no one would believe us. The Chatter family was in attendance, seat hopping their way through the stadium, in search of a less offensive view of the game, I assume.

  • The Nats really ought to be the starter opponent for every fringe minor league pitcher looking to break into the bigs. That way, they can always talk about the one great major league start they had.

  • As Dave said to me in the aftermath of Carl Crawford's second 2-run homer: "When they said RFK was a pitcher's park, they must have meant opposing pitchers." Who the hell is Tim Corcoran?

  • If I hear word one, just one, from anyone on this roster about how hard it is to hit homeruns at RFK, I will snap. And I will take them with me when I go.

Frankly, I'm a little tired of caring about this team.