Q&A: Biking for Baseball – Matt Stoltz is cycling to all 30 MLB ballparks; Nationals Park on August 3

Matt Stoltz is cycling to all 30 ballparks this season for the charity Biking for Baseball. He’ll be at the Monday, August 3 Washington Nationals vs. Arizona Diamondbacks game. Recently, he answered several questions about his journey.

WFY: What compels a man to embark on an 11,000 bicycle ride to see every ballpark?

B4B: I love baseball, I love biking, and love youth mentoring. Combining all the efforts really turns it into something special and provides an opportunity to really make a difference. I’ve always wanted to visit all 30 MLB ballparks and doing so by bicycle represented a challenge that I couldn’t pass up. On top of that, raising awareness for Big Brothers Big Sisters and youth mentoring really presents the opportunity to help bring attention to a noteworthy cause.

WFY: How long did you spend mapping your transcontinental route? Have you been able to stick to it?

B4B: It took a good while to figure out the logistics of the trip. Obviously, the team has to be home when you pull into town in order to attend a game. Thus far, I’ve been able to keep to the schedule and haven’t had any delays [knock on wood]. The route has had some difficulties with weather while riding in the form of snow, flooding, lightning, and the like, however, I’ve been fortunate not to have had
any postponed games.

WFY: Tell us about the charity you are supporting through your ride, Biking for Baseball.

B4B: Biking for Baseball works alongside the motto that every kid needs a coach. Whether that be a teacher, parent, coach, whomever, we realize the importance of youth mentoring in the lives of youth. We encourage people to sign up to become mentors, to make a difference in a life of a youth, and really help change a life! We also encourage people to donate directly to Biking for Baseball as well work to support Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Milwaukee, and assist us in supporting youth mentoring programs!

WFY: How much training did you do before beginning the trip?

B4B: I did a lot of training before the trip on a stationary bike through the Wisconsin winter. However, nothing really prepares you for the real thing. You just gotta get out and start riding. After you do that, everything else will fall into place.

WFY: Which has been the most challenging part of the ride thus far?

B4B: The Month from Hell as I dubbed it was undoubtedly the most challenging. I had to ride 3,050 miles in 29 days to make it to each ballpark in time. That’s crazy! I was exhausted, tired, and drained, but I made it in time to every ballpark!

WFY: For the gear heads, what do you ride?

B4B: I ride a Novara Randonee, it’s held up pretty well considering all the miles that have been ridden on it! Can’t complain!

WFY: Why doesn’t MLB more aggressively market bicycle jerseys? I know they briefly sold them, but I didn’t get one in time.

B4B: I’m not sure. It sure would be cool, and if this trip proves anything it demonstrates that there are a lot of baseball and biking fans out there! You hear that MLB? Make those jerseys!

WFY: Which ballpark has been the most bicycle friendly thus far?

B4B: Most bicycle friendly? I would have to say San Francisco. But that’s a really tough one.

WFY: How many of the ballparks had you been to prior to this trip?

B4B: I had only been to five. AT&T Park, Marlins Park, US Cellular, Wrigley, and Miller Park.

WFY: From time to time, I’ve done Q&As with fans of the teams the Washington Nationals were playing. What happened to the Milwaukee Brewers over the last few years? They seemed like the were on the edge of contention, but have generally been middle of the pack. What’s the best part about being a Breweres fan? What’s your favorite Racing Sausage?

B4B: As a small market team we aren’t able to keep our big name free agents, nor are we able to sign big name free agents. What you’ve seen recently is the results of signings of players who are just past their prime (Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Aramis Ramirez) and once they age all at once, you have a drastic fall off in production. Thus this year, and as you’ve seen recently we’ve made a number of trades to try to replenish the farm system and stay competitive for future years.

Best part of being a Brewers fan is the tailgating. Every game, rain, cold, snow, sleet, sunshine, whatever it maybe. You’ll find some fans tailgating. I’m always down for a bratwurst and some cheese curds.

Hot dog. Always the hot dog. Most aerodynamic suit, thus the greatest chance of winning the race.

WFY: When do you get to DC? Are there any events scheduled?

Yeah, I’ll get to DC tomorrow, and there are some big pregrame events scheduled at local bars to help raise money and awareness for Biking for Baseball. Check out Half Street Irregulars on Twitter for the details!

WFY: I’m looking forward to biking over there Monday night!

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Nats bullpen is bad, Matt Williams won’t help and Aroldis would only be the 3rd most popular Cuban Nat anyway

The All-Star break is in the rear view mirror by over a week and the big concern of the Washington Nationals offseason – the bullpen and manager Matt Williams use of it is still The Big Concern. That, and as the Nats opponents’ batting practice music says “Everybody Hurts,” but this post will not examine the unfortunate injuries, maiming, deaths and possible resurrections of Messrs. Werth, Zimmerman, Rendon, Span and Strasburg.

We knew the bullpen would be a a problem. Rafael Soriano and beloved “7th inning guy” Tyler Clippard were gone. We miss Clipp, but even with the apparent fatal wrist injury suffered by Yunel Escobar (acquired in that trade) the other day, it seems to have worked out. Another bullpen depletion that came after I asked beat writers the questions below was Jerry Blevins, traded to Flushing for Matt den Dekker because despite playing in New Amsterdam, the Mets, exceeded their Dutch surname quota. How’d that work out for you, Amazins?

Craig Stammen’s tragic illness has at least a year of corpse reanimation recuperation as well. He’s been a big loss.

Thankfully, for Washingtonians, the Nats play in the NLeast and the patchwork lineup of 30 year old rookie Clint Robinson, Michael A. Taylor and the shortstop having the worst contract year since time immemorial, Ian Desmond, has not prevented them from having a 3 game lead as of Thursday morning. The rotation, not quite historic all season long (but in spurts), has been good enough to overcome all of these calamities (injuries, depleted bullpen, Matt Williams) as we approach August.

Prior to the season, I asked every Post baseball writer I could about situational bullpen usage, starting with the rookie from Yale:

Q: Relief roles

You mentioned earlier in the chat that the two pennant winners had relievers with locked-in roles. As a fan, I’d rather see a pitcher better suited for the matchup than “well, he’s our seventh inning guy.” How do players feel about it? Would they rather have the “seventh inning guy” more than the pitcher that matches up the best to the batter(s)?

A: Chelsea Janes

This is something the Nationals relievers have talked a bit about in camp already — and by they’ve talked about it, I mean we’ve asked them about it. Craig Stammen, who has come to the park for the past couple seasons without any idea of what inning — if any — he might pitch that day said he thinks it should be easier when you know what inning you’re going to pitch. I think most guys agree because they can develop a routine. One-batter lefties know they’re going to be called on short notice. Thornton, for example, said that while he didn’t know exactly when he would pitch, he could see situations coming that would call for the hard-throwing lefty. So he could prepare mentally for those. The locked-in roles help, to some extent.

But I can see how Nationals fans would be uncomfortable with the idea of locked-in roles, particularly in the playoffs. Some argue that was one of the main things that cost the Nationals the NLDS last season — sticking to the pattern of bullpen use they’d relied on all season instead of adapting to the heightened circumstances and maybe changing things to match the situation. Whether in Game 2 or Game 4, those things came up, and sticking to the season-long plan, to established roles, didn’t work in that case. That doesn’t mean it could never work, it just didn’t in that case. So maybe there’s an argument to be made that locked-in roles help during the regular season, but all bullpen bets are off in the playoffs when arms are tired and pressure mounts and one at-bat determines the fate of a season. Not to be dramatic on February 26, but that question could end up defining the Nationals season. If the starters do their job and the hitters do theirs, Washington should have leads late in games. They could have those leads late in games late in October. At that point, those leads probably won’t be substantial. They’ll have to protect them. If this team makes the deep playoff run people project it should, it could all come down to the bullpen, to who comes out of it and when.

…but there’s a long way to go before that. The Nationals are a week away from their first spring training game. More questions will arise, and James and I will be back to answer them some time soon. That’s it for now, but thanks so much for reading, and stay warm! I won’t tell you how chilly it is in Viera right now, and instead remind you that in 38 days, there will be baseball at Nationals Park.

Long answers that are not really comforting, but illuminating. It’s not all on Matty.

Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Q: relief roles

Are relief roles as ingrained in the players as much as the reigning NLMOY? Would it take an organizational and or cultural shift to get to situational bullpen usage instead of Clip is my seventh ining guy thinking?

A: Thomas Boswell

Matt Williams was talking last week about the possibility of using “match-ups” at times in the eighth inning this year.

I had two thoughts. 1) He’s flexible. 2. “Ut oh!” If you have multiple quarterbacks or closers, you “don’t really have any.” I expect Janssen will grab and keep the job. If he doesn’t, it’ll get interesting fast.

These responses suggest a few things– players seem to like knowing their role and perhaps long-tenured baseball columnists feel even stronger about it because despite impressive bona fides, they are looking at this like it’s football.

It seems that an organizational/cultural approach that would need to change to embrace that not all relief appearances are equal. A 9th-inning up by two facing the 6-8 hitters is very different than a 7th inning up 1 with a runner on and hitters 2-4 due up. The focus on saves as the primary metric for evaluating relievers has obscured that high leverage situations should result in the best available pitcher instead of the “X inning guy.”

MattsTown - Washington Nationals - Matt WilliamsSo, in short, the Nats bullpen situation will not improve through strategy and it’s not entirely because Matt Williams (or Boswell!) is unimaginative and underwhelming in general. It’s just mostly his doing. This just amplifies the siren song from the Queen City (of Cincinnati -because lets face it, there are several Queen Cities in the U.S.) is being heard throughout the Natmosphere. Aroldis Chapman, throws about as fast as Jayson Werth drives and is being completely wasted on the lowly, but tots realz baseball towne Reds. There is lust in the hearts of curly W fans for this flamethrower that Mike Rizzo infamously claimed to come in second place for way back in Olden Times. I too, would like Chapman to ply his trade on South Capitol Street, but I don’t see how the Nats could make it happen. Actually, I do and I am not willing to part with wunderkind Trea “Ian who?” Turner. Michael A. Taylor even up though!

I don’t condemn coveting Chapman, but I take issue with my distinguished colleague that he would be the second greatest Cuban Nat ever. Obviously, the people’s champion and special assistant to life skills coach Rick Ankiel (what ever happened to that?) is ¡LIVAN! We love #61 like he loves second breakfast and I won’t take that away from anybody. However, there was once another Cuban junkthrower in this town:

Connie Marrero won 39 games over 4 years for DC back before color television, starting as a 39 year old rookie in the majors. He lived to be a few days short of 103 years old, taught LIVAN! the curve and wore an outstanding t-shirt along with his curly W cap. Then he died and about a year later, our sweet land of liberty and his homeland resumed diplomatic relation. Marrero, no relation to Chris, died and all of the sudden, we’re cool with Cuba again. His sacrifice made this happen, if only by his astute fashion sense.

Here’s more:

So, despite what you have read elsewhere Chapman to the bullpen would be wonderful, is impossible and still only the third best Cuban connection in Washington baseball history. Don’t forget that, ever.

Now, it’s onto August and hopefully a Mets team that outright quits while the Nats wait to get healthy in the hope that maybe it’ll work out better in the fall.

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It’s Ryan Zimmerman Mr. Walk-Off bobblehead night

It’s been a few weeks since Ryan Zimmerman hit his 10th career game-ending home run. It was followed the next day by retrospective blog posts and articles including this one about the originator of the term Mr. Walk-Off.

How Ryan Zimmerman got his ‘Mr. Walk-Off’ nicknameThe Post

TL;DR – It was me and for posterity, I’m finally adding it here, but rather than expand on it much more , I’ll note two things:

  • Zimmerman has only hit walk-offs in non-playoff seasons. Given the Nats 1-5 skid right not…gulp.
  • I can’t make it to tonight’s game due to a work event so…

    will anybody pick up a Mr. Walk-Off bobblehead for me?

I missed out on the t-shirt in 2010 (when Adam Dunn hit a walk-off over the Phillies in his penultimate game with the Nats). This is a collectible I’d really enjoy.

Thanks for your consideration, NatsTown…

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THRICE HARPER: Free from the shackles of batting gloves, Nats slugger has 3 homer game



Bryce Harper
is doing his part to keep the Washington Nationals winning percentage above his on-base percentage. He’s not making it easy though as he keeps getting on-base with a league leading 26 walks over 29 games. Of course, it isn’t walks that make Harper who he is — it’s power. Yesterday, he hit 3 home runs in his first 3 at bats. His fourth at bat was a sacrifice RBI. He did it all without batting gloves, a rarity in modern baseball. The Nats beat the Miami Marlins 7-5.

I watched the second homer over and over again while waiting for a meeting to start:

For most of the season, Harper’s OBP has exceeded the Nats winning percentage. He’s now at .416 and the Nats are 14-15 which is .482. The hope is the winning percentage will remain higher than Harper’s OBP for the rest of the year. I think it will.

Also, let’s remember that Harper is 22 years old and has never faced a pitcher younger than him. He’s in his fourth season. He’s really good. Even Nats manager Matt Williams (who left Max Scherzer in too long) knows it. Finally.

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May the 4th be with you: 228 days until Star Wars: Episode VII

May the 4th be with you.

It’s going to be very weird not seeing this preceding Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens:

I guess we’ll see Cinderella’s castle instead.

It’s a long 7+ months to go until Episode VII debuts. So far, we’ve got very little knowledge based on the teaser:

and the teaser trailer:

I’m excited, but trying to temper my optimism. The good news is Disney usually does this kind of thing right, the Marvel universe is well-respected. On the other hand, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek is mixed. Sure, he NAILED the casting of Spock, but otherwise he:

  • destroyed the planet of the most interesting culture
  • turned Capt. Kirk into Zack Morris in space

So, I’m a bit concerned. The return to practical effects is a hopeful sign.

Of course, there is some fan-service I’d like to see. For me. Because I am a fan.

  • Don’t turn Luke to the Dark Side. Just don’t do it. No evil Leia either. That’s storyline can only conclude one way, with redemption, so why not avoid something obvious along the way.
  • I want to see Luke talk to other previous Jedi — like Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Mace Windu, Yoda, etc. Hi, Ewan, Liam and Sam! Once a movie is fine.
  • Lando deserves some screen time

I fully expect a return of the emperor at some point during the series. I’d have him show up in the last reel of Episode VIII with little more than a laugh as the great cliffhanger.

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ginandtonic

Your 2015 reminder of how to make a proper gin and tonic

That weird winter we had, the late spring and all of that have already yielded to early summer:

gin-and-tonic-season-2015
This is a feature, not a bug, we earned warmth after so much weirdness. Along with baseball and the sun setting after 8 p.m. for until MID-AUGUST, this is a glorious time of year. Soon, the pools will open as well.

As long time readers, friends and family know, I do enjoy a gin & tonic on a warm evening. After many years of research, I believe I have perfected the gin & tonic. You may be saying, “oh, WFY, gin & tonics are gross, they taste like pine cones” but don’t worry, I won’t jump on you for it. A woman I dated in the previous decade used to say that and said to myself, “don’t hate, educate.” She is now my wife; she enjoys one with me all the time.

So, here’s how to get started. Long-story short dump out all the ice in your freezer as soon as possible, put a bottle of gin in the freezer (I go with Beefeater, but choose your favorite like DC’s Green Hat), put some Schweppes tonic water in the fridge and get some fresh lime. By the next evening, you’ll have plenty of fresh ice, ice cold-syrupy gin, and cold tonic. Since you’ll be outside, you’ll probably want to skip the glass and use plastic. If you are going the disposable route, I recommend Solo brand cups. Anyhow here is how you make the drink:

Cut fresh lime into quarters (limes cost no more than 70¢ so don’t be skimpy)
Squeeze lime juice into the bottom of the cup
Rub the rim of the cup with lime
Place lime in the bottom of but, rind down
Remove gin from freezer and pour directly into lime at the bottom of the cup. Gin should reach the top of the lime.
Add ice, I use 6 cubes from a icemaker or 4 from an ice tray
Pour entire contents of Schweppes tonic water over ice
Stir the drink
Enjoy

See, really easy to have a really refreshing drink which you should enjoy responsibly. You’ll probably be on the patio, sundeck or balcony when you do so you’ll be so relaxed you wouldn’t even think of driving a car of operating heavy machinery. When you’ve had enough, switch to ginger ale and lime for further refreshment without the side effects.

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Nats may have leverage over Orioles and they better use it

The riots in Baltimore that followed the death of a suspect in police custody led to a cancellation of a Baltimore Orioles game. Immediately thereafter, speculation began that Tuesday’s game and others that follow could be moved to Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. since the Nats are on a road trip through the end of the week.

This is a terrible idea for the District and the Nats.

Peter Angelos and the Baltimore Orioles have worked against the interests of the District, the Washington Nationals and their fans for over a decade. They voted against DC getting baseball and bullied MLB into giving them the super-majority of the Nats television rights. The Nats were immediately placed on an Orioles-controlled channel that did not make it onto every major D.C. area cable system until September 2006, almost two full seasons. The bad faith goes on and one.

Now, with the Orioles possibly unable to play in Baltimore, the Nats need to use this situation to their advantage. If the Orioles want to use Nationals Park these conditions should be met:

  • Peter Angelos and the Baltimore Orioles renounce all claims to the Washington Nationals television rights immediately
  • Peter Angelos and the Baltimore Orioles and apologize for voting no on D.C. baseball and the decade of bad behavior they have engaged in against the District, the Nats and their fans.

Obviously, neither scenario is likely, so the Nats out to just go about the business and remember Aesop’s The Farmer & Viper.

Also, the Nats ought to start winning again. Just a minor thing. It’d be nice if the team’s winning percentage is was higher that Bryce Harper’s OBP. At least he’s shown up at the plate so far.

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citizens-bank-park

2015 Nats vs. Phillies Q&A and prediction with Kevin McGuire of Macho Row

The Washington Nationals dropped their first series of the year to the New York Mets at Nationals Park. Opening Day saw two Ian Desmond errors lead to 3 runs as Max Scherzer‘s strong debut and Bryce Harper’s home run being wasted. In the second game, the Nats won on the backs of the Zimmermen — Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run homer and Jordan Zimmermann gave up only a run. On Thursday, DE6MOND struck again with another costly 2-out error costing the Nats 2 runs. Stephen Strasburg couldn’t overcome that or the damp, cold weather in a 6-3 loss to Matt Harvey. Three runs off the Mets bullpen made it feel closer than it was.

Moving on and to the city of brotherly love (based on what I heard on radio, by bus – perhaps deserved after this poor performance) the Nats look to right the ship against the Philadelphia Phillies who have (Southeast) Jerome Williams on the mound Friday night.

Really.

Helping us prepare for the Phillies series is another decorated guest prognosticator, Kevin McGuire of Macho Row and College Football Talk. This is the fifth time for him with the Phillies . He’s also talked about the Eagles when I was doing this feature in football season. That could come back someday, but we’ll see.

WFY: Let’s not waste any time – why does GM Ruben Amaro still have a job?

KMc: It is my belief the Phillies are a family-oriented type of franchise. Sometimes they have a hard time parting ways with their own kind, and Amaro has been a part of the Phillies franchise in one way or another for decades before becoming a part of the front office. He played here. His dad played here. They like Amaro and want to give him time to fix things. It is a fault of the franchise that probably held on to Ed Wade for a few years longer than they should have. But the pressure is starting to rise and there needs to be some sort of plan in motion seen this year, I think.

WFY: The Phillies contending days are a distant memory, their two pennants and second world championship even farther. Does getting to watch some fan favorites like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley from the Phillies mini epoch make the decline a little easier to handle than watching a bunch of no-names losing 90 games a year? Not that we have any concerns about that in the nation’s capital where we don’t have all that hardware yet…

KMc: It depends. Chase Utley is treated like a god here. Ryan Howard, not so much. People have long been wanting to ship Howard out of town, so there is no solace there by the general fan. Years from now though, when those players are gone and we have more time to reflect on just how good things were here for that stretch, they will all be welcomed back like heroes, even Howard.

WFY: How did the Phillies look in their first series, against the Boston Red Sox? How did the Sox look; the Nats play them next week? Why does it seem like the Phillies always open with interleague?

KMc: The Phillies were routed in the season opener, 8-0. Cole Hamels gave up four solo home runs and reliever Jake Diekmann served up a grand slam to Hanley Ramirez in the ninth inning. Hamels was not sharp, but look at his career numbers in his season debut and it was really par for the course (he’ll be fine, he always has a rough season debut though for whatever reason). The offense was non-existent, and that figures to be the story of the season in Philadelphia. The top of the order failed to get a hit (Utley reached on an error), and there is not a real threat anywhere in the lineup. The Red Sox are going to mash some hits and score some runs this season. It can be a dangerous lineup, and if they can add another good starter in the rotation they should contend (Hamels trade talks are still out there).

This is the second season of season-long interleague play (which I am no fan of, by the way), and for the second straight year the Phillies opened against an AL team. Last year they opened in Texas and had their home opener against the Royals. This year Boston was in town. I’m not sure if there is anything to it, or if it is just a coincidence.

WFY: Who is left to pitch for the Phillies with Roy Halladay retired and Cliff Lee out indefinitely?

KMc: After Hamels, the Phillies will go with free agent pick-up Aaron Harang for however long he may last. David Buchanan me his major league debut last season and remains not he roster. Right now he is the third pitcher in the rotation. He is followed by Jerome Williams, who wears a pink glove and was added through waivers last season. If Cliff Lee returns this year (I doubt he will), he’ll complete the five-man rotation. But of Lee does not come back, I’m not really sure where this team goes for a fifth starter (Kyle Kendrick is now with the Rockies). The hope is Chad Billingsley is healthy enough to join the rotation soon. He was signed on a one-year deal with a injury history, so the Phillies are crossing their fingers on this one.

WFY: Dominic Brown was seen as a promising prospect for a few years – how is he doing now?

KMc: Well, right now he is on the disabled list to start the season. And you are right, he was once seen as a promising prospect, but so far he has yet to really show why on a consistent enough basis. Brown has been poor in the outfield and his offense is not quite what it was supposed to be at this point in his development and career. Brown is the one prospect Amaro held on to while moving players and prospects over the years, which does not help the situation either. After making his big league debut five years ago and getting a full-time role four years ago, the Phillies needed more out of him by now.

WFY: Do the Phillies have any other prospects starting to come up to the majors?

KMc: There are a few down the line worth watching. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is projected to be the next franchise shortstop once he is ready, but he was only in single A ball last year so he is still a couple years away. Last year’s top draft pick was on pitcher Aaron Nola out of LSU. He was placed right into double A and could be seen this summer, especially if things are unstable in the rotation. The other player that could be seen is Maikel Franco, who plays third and first base. The Phillies will likely end up using him at first base with Cody Asche covering third base. Of course, Ryan Howard is still at first…

WFY: How is Ryne Sandberg doing as a manager?

KMc: I am honestly not really sure. I almost feel inclined to give him a pass to a certain degree given what he has to work with in the clubhouse, but we are now 1.5 seasons in with Sandberg as manager and there are some things that were supposed to be fixed that have not played out as advertised. Fundamentals is still an issue with some, and that was supposed to be the big difference with Ryne as manager. We’ll see what happens this season. There is no doubt he knows his baseball, but there needs to be some positive development on the field this season.

WFY: Given the Phillies decline, was their season series victory over the Nats last year any more satisfying? I owe somebody a half-smoke. What is the perception of the Nats from the Phillies fanbase?

KMc: I’m not sure how much satisfaction most Phillies fans took in anything that happened last season, including a season-series victory over the Nationals. But hey, I’ll take it I guess. I think most Phillies fans recognize the Nationals as the top threat in the division right now, and perhaps that is starting to add some fuel to a regional rivalry, but that won’t really take form up here until the Phillies have something to play for. The Jayson Werth stuff is getting old at this point, I think at least, but there is always Bryce Harper. I think he is perceived as a punk, but he’s a punk we’d all love to have on our team.

WFY: How is the local/regional beer selection at Citizens Bank Park?

KMc: When it comes to this topic I like to defer to Lee Porter, a local food blogger who does a masterful job mapping out the beer selections throughout Citizens Bank Park on his website. One thing he has already noticed for this season is there will be more mega cans of the more common beers available this season, which may or may not be a reason why some of the previously offered local brews have been cut from the menu. There is still a good selection of local breweries in the stadium, so it may not be a big deal for most, and there are some new options available.

One thing that should also be noted for some higher brow readers, the Phillies have a new deal in place with Chadds Ford Winery and now serve various wine selections in the stadium. Mixed drinks are also more available at certain locations as well. Some are going to need it.

WFY: Is that sign still blocking the skyline in center field? Have their been any significant upgrades to the ballpark since I went there 10 years ago?

KMc: I have good news for you! After a decade of that darn useless sign obstructing your view of Center City, the Phillies are kinda sorta making it less of a distraction. While the sign is still in the parking lot, the height of the sign has been reduced, reportedly going from 157 feet high to 115 feet. It is supposed to be used for its initial purpose of being a message board as well. I’ll have to go to a game though to see just how much of a difference this has made. I’ll be there Sunday for the Phillies-Nationals afternoon game. I’ll report back if you are interested.

WFY: Since it’s 2015, who is the best #15 in Phillies history?

KMc: This one is easy. Dick Allen, who wore the uniform number from the dreadful season of 1964 through 1969, and again in 1975 when he returned to the team. The number was also worn by guys like Rick Schu, Steve Jeltz and Dave Hollins and was most recently worn by John Mayberry Jr. Simply said, there is no competition here for Dick Allen, who should probably be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

WFY: How do you see this series shaping up? What about the Nats-Phillies season series?

KMc: I expect many disappointing series from the Phillies this season, including this weekend at home against the NL East favorite Nationals. I think the Nationals are going to be very good this season (we’ll see what happens in the postseason), and I think they have a relatively easy time taking the season series from the Phillies this summer. Cole Hamels will be back on the mound so I think the Phillies can take one game in the set, but it will not come easily. It should be a beautiful weekend for baseball in Philadelphia though.

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nationals-park-opening-day-2015

Always October? Nats have good pitching, poor fielding and only Bryce Harper hitting in Opening Day loss

WASHINGTON, D.C. — When we last saw the Washington Nationals in meaningful action, it was last year’s NLDS. The story was simple — the pitching was good. The fielding was not and Bryce Harper was the only player hitting. The story remained the same in yesterday’s Opening Day loss to the New York Mets.

Max Scherzer started the game with a strike, but walked the first batter. However, he did not allow a hit until two outs in the sixth. Curtis Granderson had walked and SS Ian Desmond dropped a short fly that was rightfully 2B Dan Uggla’s ball. Lucas Duda singled them home to give the Mets and insurmountable 2-1 lead.

Another Desmond error, this time a short-hopped throw to first base that we hope Ryan Zimmerman will learn to get cost Nats another run. Is there anything that says April in Washington more than cherry blossoms, tourists, pollen and Ian DE6MOND making errors?

Scherzer finished with eight strikeouts, zero earned runs and a big L next to his name. His opposite number, Bartolo Colon, also struck out eight, giving up only a hit to Michael A. Taylor and a homer and single to Harper. Jerry Blevins, the former Nat, struck got Harper out and then was promptly removed. The Mets have already figured out Blevins is a LOOGY, something Matt Williams never did.

I wasn’t surprised Colon beat the Nats, I mentioned that likelihood in the Q&A with Eric McErlain, but I was surprised that Colon was hitting 92 on the radar gun.

OTHER NOTES FROM THE PARK

First off, a big thanks to Joe Riley for the ticket. We were in 309 which gave a good view of the fire from Capitol Heights which was behind the Blue Smoke sign. Joe was on top of it when he said “great product placement” or something to that effect.

The weather was absolutely perfect and we were seated in the shade. Best Opening Day weather ever.

Remember WGAY? The “easy listening” station, gone from D.C. airways since the 1990s? Apparently it’s been resurrected as the in-stadium music during the opposition batting practice. The idea is that it mellows out the visitors bats. Welp, the Mets had five hits and one error while the Nats had 3 hits and 2 errors. Let’s blame that for the loss, shall we? And Desmond.

On the bright side, the piped in music seemed a little less during the actual game.

#signduanedargin Nine year-old Duane Dargin of the Washington Nationals Dream Academy threw out the best first pitch (DC Sports Bog, The Post) I’ve ever seen for the commissioner Rob Manfred. Sign him now!

Speaking of Manfred, the worst kept secret in MLB was confirmed with D.C. getting the 2018 All-Star game. I’d rather it have been Nats TV rights, but this is okay. Ted Lerner really wanted it (The Post), having attended the 1937 edition at Griffith Stadium.

We had an asynchronous national anthem and fighter jet flyover. #foreshadowing

It must be time for a rubber chicken sacrifice!

The Nats are now on a 161-1 pace.

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2015 Nats vs. Mets Q&A with Eric McErlain

Opening Day is Monday! That means I resume my annual Washington Nationals Q&As with opposition fans. Leading off is Eric McErlain (not pictured) – the NY Mets are his favorite squadron; we took a relaxed attitude and talked about the baseball match.

This is Eric’s 5th visit as a Mets guest prognosticator: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and Jets in 2011.

WFY: Though it may not have been apparent to all Washington Nationals fans, the 2014 New York Mets improved significantly. Bullpen meltdowns helped the Nats to a 15-4 record against the Amazins – a split and it would have been a winning season in Queens. How have the Mets addressed that weakness? Beside bringing in Jerry Blevins of course. Hint to Terry Colins he’s a LOOGY. That’s it. Matt Williams doesn’t know that.

EMc: I have to dispute the premise of your question. Yes, the Mets bullpen was a real problem vs. the Nats last season, but overall the team was 6th in the National League in ERA and 3rd in strikeouts. I think much of your evaluation is colored by the experience early in the season when Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth were holding down the fort, and to be frank, letting the Indians over the walls. Later, as Josh Edgin, Jeurys Familia, Vic Back and Jenry Mejia started playing larger roles, the situation really stabilized.

Things looked a little tenuous as Edgin was lost for the year to Tommy John surgery, but Sandy Alderson addressed the need for lefthanded help in the bullpen by acquiring Blevins and Alex Torres last week. Bobby Parnell, the former closer who is returning to the team after missing nearly an entire season, ought to return to the team in mid-April. Rafael Montero, who just missed snagging the job as the 5th starter with a great Spring, will also be in the pen from the start of the season. This looks like a strength, not a weakness heading into 2015.

One of my favorite stats is one you can find on every season summary page in Baseball Reference: Pythagorean W-L. Last year, the Mets finished 79-83 while outscoring the opposition by 11 runs. According to Pythagorean W-L, the team should have been 82-80. I think a lot of observers believe that even with a lineup constrained by Fred Wilpon’s financial difficulties, the Mets aren’t that far away from being a winning team. I think they’re right.

WFY: An improving team should get help with the return of Matt Harvey from his Tommy John surgery. What is the Mets plan for him? How does the overall rotation appear now? Other than noted Bryce Harper observer, Zack Wheeler, who is out with his own Tommy John, right?

EMc: Alderson is keeping his cards close to his vest when it comes to an innings limit on Harvey. He’s said the team isn’t counting on him pitching 210-225 innings, but he also said that the limit wasn’t as low as the 160 Stephen Strasburg was held to when he returned from the same surgery. We’ll just have to watch and see. What I do know is I saw Harvey pitch nearly six scoreless innings vs. the Yankees in Spring Training and he looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. He’s out for blood and I think the Mets will have to tread very lightly in order to not alienate their young star.

As for the entire rotation, the order at this point – in order to maximize the revenue potential in Harvey’s starts at home – is Colon, deGrom, Harvey, Niese and Gee. The Mets shopped Gee in the offseason, and if he gets off to a hot start, they may move him and slide Montero into the 5th position.

WFY: Given the Nats predilection for hitting homers in Citi Field last year, seemingly half of which would have been outs in previous seasons, I was surprised to see the Mets moving the fences in again. Do you agree with the Mets that the advantage to the offense greater than the disadvantage to pitching?

EMc:
That appears to be the calculus. Wright needed help and so did Curtis Granderson. When Citifield opened, I liked the fact that it played big. So did Shea Stadium (even Mike Piazza’s power numbers dropped when he joined the Mets), and the Mets took advantage of that through their time there by developing great pitching. That appears to be happening again, and I guess Alderson is counting on the great young arms to keep the ball in the park. As for the bats, the Mets led the Grapefruit League in just about every offensive category. Things may have turned.

WFY: Did the Mets make any significant free agent acquisitions?

EMc: The major offseason acquisition for the Mets was David Wright’s buddy, Michael Cuddyer. He’ll play left field and spell Lucas Duda at first against some lefthanders. When Cuddyer moves to first, ex-Phillies outfielder John Mayberry, Jr. will get the call in left. Both have had excellent Springs. A lot of fans were clamoring for a new shortstop, but Wilmer Flores has the job and it’s his to lose. His spring has been more than respectable at the plate, but his glove …

WFY: Noah Syndergaard and his lunch are back in the minors – has he been a disappointment or is it too soon to say? I think I ask about Travis d’Arnuad every year too.

EMc: It’s too early to say and thanks to the amount of pitching in the system, the Mets don’t need to rush him to the majors. As for d’Arnaud, he rebounded nicely after being sent down last season. He’s the only starter who has had a disappointing Spring. But if he falters, remember that the Mets have Kevin Plawecki stashed at Las Vegas. He looks like the real deal too.

WFY: What needs to happen for the Mets to reach the playoffs?

EMc: Take the Nats out of the equation last season, and the Mets are 75-68. They cannot go 4-15 vs. the Nats again and expect to make the playoffs. Go .500 vs. the Nats, and they’ve got a fighting chance to make it.

WFY: Since it’s ’15, who is the best #15 in Mets history?

EMc: Carlos Beltran without question. Others who wore that number include original Met Al Jackson, George Foster, Ron Darling and d’Arnaud. But my favorite #15 of all time is the catcher who guided the pitching staff to the World Series twice (1969 & 1973) in five years, Jerry Grote. I’d kill to buy his jersey – which would be #15 with no nameplate on the back – but you can’t buy it. Hey, Mitchell & Ness, I’m looking at you!

WFY: What do you make of the Mets not being majority fanbase anywhere, even their own zip code, according to The Times Facebook likes based fanmaps?

EMc: The Mets have been forgettable during the era of social media while the Yankees have been consistent winners with a lineup that boasted the most popular player in all of baseball, Derek Jeter. If the Mets string together a couple of good seasons, we’ll see that map turn. It’s nothing more than that. With Jeter gone and Harvey on the rise, look for some of those zips to flip in coming years.

WFY: Since the Mets keep doing things to their uniforms, I’m going to keep asking about them. Will you miss the all-white uniforms? I was never a fan, though I understand the appeal of not having pinstripes. Does the alternate cap with gray on it need to find a way into you possession?

EMc:
No and no. I’m a traditionalist with the Mets uniform. I’ve never liked the deviations much, with the possible exception of the mid-80s road blues that replaced New York with Mets across the chest. I own an R.A. Dickey All-Star Game jersey, and have a strong attachment to the original road uniform. For me, that road uniform screams 1973 and beating the Cubs in Chicago to clinch the NL East.

WFY: Do you feel like a Nationals-Mets rivalry is likely or even possible? Is there lingering bitterness from 2007 when a fairly bad Nats team kept beating the Mets in September?

EMc: It’s not a rivalry when you take 14 of 19 from a team. That being said, Collins has identified the failures vs. the Nats last season as something to be corrected. So call me in September. If the Mets keep it close, the series in DC from September 7-9 could be interesting. As for bitterness, take your pick: 1973, 1998, 2000, 2007 or 2008. Those never go away.

WFY: Off topic, I’ve noticed you’ve been mentioning the other blue and orange from Long Island, the New York Islanders more of late on social media. Have you gone back to your roots in hockey after so many years following and blogging about the Caps? How is their move to Brooklyn going over on the Island?

EMc:
I’ve watched a lot of hockey this season, Caps and Islanders. If the teams play on the same night, I’ll watch the best matchup. It’s the last season in Nassau Coliseum, and the fans, many of whom I grew up with, are doing their best to send the team out in style. It would be impossible not to watch given the time when I grew up. If the teams meet in the playoffs, I have to admit I’ll be very conflicted. That being said, if it happens, Caps in six.

WFY: Last year, you mentioned that the Mets are historically awesome on Opening Day, while the Nats are not. That didn’t matter in Flushing last year though as the Nats came back to win 9-7. Now with Opening Day in DC (where it belongs) can Bartolo Colon outduel Max Scherzer and get the boys from Flushing on their way to a series win? I think his slop will mess the Nats up, so I’m saying Mets take the first series, but the Nats take the season series.

EMc: I’m writing off Opening Day, where I think the Nats will win and win big. Colon always has the potential to get shelled, and I think this is the game. As for the rest of the series, I think the Mets sneak out a win with Harvey on the mound Thursday. I see the season series going 11-8 for the Nats. As for the rest of the season, I see the Mets winning 86 games and missing out on the Wild Card to the Marlins. As for the Nats, it almost seems like a division title and a 100-win season would be a disappointment, but the truth is that nothing less than winning it all will be a disaster. I say they do it.

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William F. Yurasko's blog v.15 – Nats, Redskins, Capitals, D.C. life, transportation, not so much Penn State anymore,