Tag Archives: Washington Nationals

The President That Never Could

It was a mysterious phenomenon slowly becoming buried in conspiracy cries and stale reruns.

Neither the fans, or the players, or even the president of the United States, could quite understand it.

533 straight losses.

To the 2008 Detroit Lions, who lost 16 straight games: Quit your whining.

To the Charlotte Bobcats, who lost 23 straight games to end the 2011-12 season: It could be worse… 

Up until last Wednesday, Teddy had lost all 533 President’s Races.

What Can’t George Washington Do?

For those who haven’t heard, the President’s Race, featured at every Washington Nationals home game in the fourth inning, is a race between four famous presidents – George “George” Washington, Thomas “Tom” Jefferson, Abraham “Abe” Jefferson, and Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt – dressed in 10-ft foam costumes.

Cheesy? Probably.

Entertaining to drunk baseball fans? You bet.

But the promotional event slowly evolved into one that drew almost as much interest as the Nationals’ baseball home games themselves.

All the Presidents, except Teddy, were winning.

At first, Teddy’s losses were blamed on his lack of speed, or inability to balance himself inside the heavy, unevenly distributed costume.

Then Teddy started losing, even when it seemed like wins were so close he could literally touch the finish line tape.

In a race on June 28, 2008, Teddy was primed for victory when Orioles mascot, “The Bird”, stepped in in the waning moments to tackle him short of the finish line and his first win.

On June 4, 2012, in a SportsNation special “President’s Race”, Teddy built a sizeable lead over the other Presidents, but stopped short of the finish line to celebrate. In the middle of the celebration, George rode by on a van, clubbed Teddy with a baseball bat, and rolled into another victory.

Teddy who used a motor scooter on July 26, 2009 to finish in first place, was disqualified in that race for gaining an advantage.

Meanwhile the losses for Teddy, typical and bizarre alike, were mounting.

Teddy’s Brilliance…Denied

Like Teddy, the Nationals, the “Clippers” of baseball, kept losing. Going back to their Montreal Expos days, the Washington Nationals hadn’t made the playoffs since 1933.

2012 though proved to be different. An upstart Nationals team won 98 games, the division and the best record in baseball.

Like the Nationals, Teddy too turned it around. On the last day of the 2012 regular season, Teddy won his first race. The Phillies Mascot, “Phillie Phanatic”, tackled the other three presidents, as Teddy secured his first victory to the standing ovation of the crowd.

Also, the next Nationals hitter after Teddy won hit a home run.

But did Teddy’s losing streak end then?

Was it a symbolic feat of the Nationals’ turnaround as a franchise? The start of something new?

Was it the sign of something greater to come?

That “greater” though will need to come right now as the Nationals face a 2-1 deficit to the Cardinals, and elimination tomorrow.

Like Teddy, who’s now 1-533, the Nationals are heading in the right direction, even if loss 534 is just around the corner.

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Shutdown Day Is Coming

Every kid who plays sports dreams of that moment.

That moment of hitting the game winning jumper in an NBA Finals game and sending the crowd into an unparalled frenzy. That moment of throwing the game-winning touchdown to win the Super Bowl and having the confetti rain down on you.

Now imagine having a realistic opportunity to live that once-in-a-lifetime moment. Then imagine it being taken away.

Such is the life of Stephen Strasburg.

With the Washington Nationals owning the majors’ best record, Strasburg could make that childhood dream of pitching in the World Series under the bright lights a reality.

But “Shutdown Day” is imminent for the 24-year-old Nationals’ ace.

When Strasburg, a strong candidate for the NL Cy Young, reaches his preset innings limit somewhere between 160 to 180, he will be shut down for the remainder of the season.

Not sure what’s more famous, Stephen Strasburg’s pitching, or his innings limit?

At this pace, he would likely miss the Nationals’ last two or three starts.

The infamous argument remains – Should the Nationals shut down Strasburg, or let him keep pitching?

Strasburg had Tommy Johnny surgery in 2010, and then pitched 44 innings in 2011.

Doctors recommended limiting his innings this year to decrease the stress on his arm and avoid future injuries. So the Washington Nationals set a limit of 160 innings for him.

But that was before the Nationals played themselves into World Series contention for the first time in franchise history. It’s a monumental change for a club that hasn’t made the postseason in 31 years.

The Nationals management wants a healthy Strasburg leading the team to the postseason annually instead of risking it all for one postseason run.

Kerry Wood, once a young, electric pitcher, had surgery at 22. From ages 24-26, he averaged ~200 innings per season, only to be plagued by injuries the rest of his career. But for every Kerry Wood, there are tons of pitchers who had healthy careers.

It’s the ultimate what if game.

Strasburg could be shut down this September and be injured in a few years. He could play it out and get injured down the road or never get injured again.

Nobody knows, but the Nationals seem intent on playing it risk-free.

Strasburg is the pitcher of the next decade, like Sandy Koufax, Roger Clemens, and so many others have once been, so why jeopardize that?

For any team other than the New York Yankees, opportunities to make the World Series don’t happen that often. Heck, it will be 31 years between chances for the Nationals.

How about the Nationals’ 24 other players, shouldn’t they have a say in this?

Is it fair that Adam LaRoche, age 32, may have his only chance to make the World Series taken away from him?

For most of them, this may be their only chance to make the postseason, let alone the World Series. Those ’24-other’ players have invested hundreds of hours into this and probably spent much of that time away from their families. Now they’ve earned an opportunity to do something special, and their best player won’t be available to help them do it?

It doesn’t seem very fair at all.

Just like any other sport, baseball players don’t play for the regular season. It’s about the postseason. It’s about October.

There has to be a way around this predicament, right?

How about shutting him down for the final three weeks of the regular season and bringing him back for the postseason? Or they could let him take a short stint on the DL for some minor injury (thumb, toe, etc.)?

Doctors say that taking Strasburg out of his routine then throwing him right back into the mix would only increase his chances of injury.

For the Nationals, “Shutdown Day” is not up for debate.

“You know, there’s a lot of different ways you could trick this thing up and a lot of different ways you could try to stretch him out,” Nationals’ general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We want to do what’s best for Stephen in the long run. So we’re going to let him pitch on a regular routine, get him to an innings limit that he’s comfortable throwing and then shut him down, and ramp him back up in spring training to take us to the next level.”

What does Strasburg himself have to say on his innings limit?

“They’re going to have to rip the ball out of my hands.”

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A Changing MLB Landscape

Take a moment and imagine, if you will, a world where the NL West reigned, where the Giants and Rangers were among baseball’s worst teams, and even crazier – where the Cubs finished in 1st place. Seems far fetched, does it not, given where those teams are today?

Such was life in 2007. In just 5 seasons, baseball has largely flipped the tables, unseating the former division leaders and replacing them with teams accustomed to the bottom dweller role. Among the most surprising clubs enjoying this role reversal are the Orioles, Pirates, and Nationals who have combined for just 7 playoff appearances since 1981 and none since 1997.

Compared to the past 2 decades, this season has been a stroll in the park for Adam Jones and the Orioles.

This year, all three teams have put themselves in position to earn a playoff spot, thanks in part to the additional Wild Card Spot, but more so to the teams’ exceptional young talent. Players such as Baltimore’s Adam Jones, Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, and Washington’s Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper have led their teams into unfamiliar territory: the playoff hunt.

For teams with such a history of losing, their success this season has been sudden and surprising.After years upon years of subpar teams, the three franchises have been sensational this season, despite all three finishing below .500 just 1 year ago. Even more spectacular is that these clubs have done all this while being among the bottom 12 teams in terms of payroll.

Meanwhile, some perennial contenders sitting atop the payroll rankings haven’t fared as well as their small market counterparts. The Phillies and Red Sox, in particular, have struggled for most of the season. A lot of this can be chalked up to unfortunate long term injuries to key players on both teams (Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury for Boston and Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Roy Halladay for Philladelphia), but David Ortiz is the only one in Boston replicating his strong play from last year. Adrian Gonzalez has followed up his MVP caliber season with a pretty forgettable performance, but despite all this, Boston is still 2 games over .500 and just .5  games back from a Wild Card spot. They’ve been disappointing, but not terrible.

Philadelphia on the other hand…

After finishing with an MLB best 102 wins last season, the Phillies are among the league’s worst, sitting at the bottom of the NL East, 13.5 games back.

This is a cool picture, but the Phillies suck this year.

Outside of these extreme examples, parity as a whole has increased throughout the MLB. 19 teams have realistic hopes for making the playoffs, a far cry from even just a year ago when that number hovered closer to 11. While payrolls remain incredibly unequal (the Yankees spend $198 million while the Padres spend just $55 million), the talent levels between teams is becoming increasingly more similar. Just as with the success of the Pirates, Orioles, and Nationals, much of the parity is the result of talented young players that still have small salaries due to their youth. Teams are developing exciting new players in their farm systems and can afford them while they are still a part of their rookie contracts.

The increased level of competitiveness will perhaps mark the beginning of a new era for baseball, where parity is more prevalent, as the league recovers from the steroid era of the past few decades. This season could be the start of a golden age for baseball.

Just don’t say so in Philadelphia.

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Baseball’s Wild Standings: Will They Hold Up?

So were at the All-Star break in baseball. You what that means? It’s time for some classic division races through the dog days of summer. It’s been the year of the underdog in baseball, with the Nationals, Dodgers, and Pirates atop their division, and the Phillies and Red Sox in last place. Here’s a look at all the current division leaders, and predictions on whether they will hold on to win, and if not, who will take the division crown instead.

AL East – Current 1st place: Yankees, 7 ½ game lead on Orioles

As long as the Yankees don’t choke like in the 2004 ALCS, they should wrap up this division with ease.

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Mike Trout and the Angels are on a collision course with the Rangers. They could meet in the ALCS.

AL West – Current 1st place: Rangers, 4 game lead on Angels

The streaking Angels are coming on strong and look like the second best team in baseball. Too bad the best team in baseball, the Texas Rangers, play in their division. The Rangers have it all: Pitching, hitting, defense, and experience.

AL Central – Current 1st place: White Sox, 3 game lead on Indians, 3 ½ game lead on Detroit

Weren’t the Tigers a sure fire pick to win the AL Central? Easy money in Vegas, right? In preseason, all 45 ESPN Baseball Analysts picked the Tigers to win the division. Well so much for that. The Tigers though still have two great hitters, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, in the middle of the lineup, and arguably the best pitcher in baseball in Justin Verlander. Eventually this talented Tigers team will figure it out, and should win a tight division race.

NL Central – Current 1st place: Pirates, 1 game lead on Reds 

How about another consensus? Before the season, not one ESPN Baseball Analyst out of 45 picked the Pittsburg Pirates to win the division, let alone win one of the two wild cards. Now that’s a surprise party! Heck, I wasn’t even born the last time the Pirates had a winning record, in 1992. The Pirates are 4th in the National league in pitching, one spot behind the Reds. Both are in the botton half of the NL in hitting. This dead-even race should come down to the final week of September. It’s a toss up, but I’m going with the ‘Cinderella’ Pirates.

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Will the Braves or Mets chase down the Nationals in the NL East? Well we already know what Bryce Harper thinks, “That’s a clown question, bro.”

NL East – Current 1st place: Nationals, 4 game lead on Atlanta, 4 ½ game lead on Mets

The 2012 Nationals first place run is the latest surprise in a baseball season full of them. They’ve done it with a major-league best, team 3.20 ERA. Hitting can come and go, but pitching is usually a constant. Nationals will win the division.

NL West – Current 1st place: Dodgers, ½ game lead on Giants

In preseason, only 5 out of 45 ESPN Baseball Analysts picked them to make the playoffs, and that includes the division crown and either of the two wild card spots. And those predictions were based on a healthy Matt Kemp, who has been anything but that. What the Dodgers have done so far has been a fairly tale run. They’ve played far above their heads and everyone’s expectations. But even Matt Kemp’s return won’t save the anemic Dodgers offense. Unless the Dodgers add another bat via trade, the Giants should edge them out for the division crown, and if Tim Lincecum ever figures out his issues, they should run away with it.

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Discovering “The Chosen One”

If you were a D.C. or Maryland native and decided to attend your first ever major league game locally, you would be in for quite a surprise.

You would notice the new stadium structure, a crowded Nationals Park not synonymous with what you’ve read about how Olympic Stadium in Montreal used to be and an extremely talented man playing right field.

“How old is that right fielder?” you hesitantly ask the die-hard, chest paint-loving Nationals fan sitting next to you, “He certainly looks and plays like a veteran.”

Slowly, this fan covers his right hand with his newly-purchased foam finger, points to right field and says, “That right there is the future of this franchise.  His name is Bryce Harper, and he is only nineteen years old.”

“Nineteen years old?  You must be joking!  This young man should be hitting the bars in Canada, not playing in front of tens of thousands of fans.”

After the game, your Google inquiries tell you that Bryce Harper is no average 19-year old.  After being one of only three amateur athletes ever to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated (along with high school basketball stars Shabazz Muhammad and Lew Alcindor) back when he just got his drivers’ license, the rookie out of Las Vegas has certainly not disappointed.

The world was introduced to the phenom left-handed hitter as “The Chosen One,” quite the entrance for just a teenager.

Posting numbers consistent with urban legend, Harper is rumored to have hit a ball over 600 feet as a sophomore for Bishop Gorman High School.

He even wowed scouts at a high school showcase at Tropicana Field in Tampa, Florida when he regularly drilled batting practice balls off the back canvas of the stadium over  450 feet away.

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Harper chose the number 34 because 3 and 4 add up to 7, the number of the legendary Mickey Mantle.

After obtaining his GED in 2009, Harper went on to play just one season at the College of Southern Nevada, posting a .443 batting average and hitting 33 home-runs in just 66 games before being drafted first overall by the Washington Nationals in the 2010 MLB Draft and winning the Golden Spikes Award, given to the most outstanding amateur baseball player each year.

Despite claims of his being cocky and purely a product of hype, Harper made the Nationals after spending just over a season in the minor leagues.

Now batting second as an everyday player for the team, Harper has proven he belongs, batting a solid .289 with 7 home-runs and 19 RBI thus far.

Sure, you discover, he’s had his teenage moments, like when he blew a kiss to an opposing pitcher after hitting a home-run in Class A, but he’s also shown how he’s matured.

It takes a man to be able to stand up to a hack reporter asking about your favorite type of Canadian beer as a 19 year-old practicing Mormon with the ever-iconic, “That’s a clown question, bro.”

Despite his success, your newfound internet research on Bryce Harper tells you that it will take even more of a man to be able to remain in the league for what has the potential to be a Hall of Fame career.

Even more of a man to lead the Nationals to their first ever World Series along with Stephen Strasburg, to make a positive impact in a D.C. community that often struggles with crime and finally to live up to this title as “The Chosen One.”

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Strasburg and Harper have the Nats in contention for their first NL East title in franchise history.

And to think you were just going to eat a few hot dogs and watch this “veteran” in silence.

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