December 11, 2018

Hairy-chested Guys and Deadbeat Dads

July 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The Washington Nationals ship of state was supposed to be sailing for glory. Instead, at the All-Star break it limped into Washington Harbor, their sails in tatters after a trip to Philadelphia and Miami that saw them lose three of four to the Phillies and two of three to the Marlins. The Nats scored 19 runs in seven games—less than three per outing. The worst offensive team in baseball—the Marlins–managed to put up more runs than Washington over three days.

After Stephen Strasburg had the worst night of his career on Friday, the Nationals were running on fumes. They needed a boost in the worst way and the least dependable pitcher in the first half–Dan Haren–stepped up. He threw six shutout innings and Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard did likewise. Washington clung to a precarious 1-0 lead until the bottom of the ninth. It wasn’t enough as the Marlins won in ten innings, 2-1. And that is what has been wrong all season long. It has fallen on the pitching staff to make it work, and there is only so much they can do.

They have been unable to get any support from the rest of the team that has been missing in action like a bunch of deadbeat dads on a three-month long bender.

The Nationals are a team built around pitching. When the team runs out of pitching at the major league level there are a dozen arms in the minors that are itching for a chance. Nate Karns, Taylor Jordan, Ross Ohlendorf are just the tip of the ice berg. Next there is Robbie Ray and Caleb Clay, Ryan Tatusko and Luke Giolitto. There are enough fine young arms in the system you can make them rhyme.

Miami is the only team between the Nationals offense and Davey Jones locker. Washington is 29th overall in runs scored, OBP and OPS. And it doesn’t stop there. If you go looking for any powerful offensive force somewhere in the minors, the cupboard is bare. Syracuse is near the bottom in most offensive categories in the International League; Harrisburg ranks in the middle, but much of that came from Anthony Rendon’s first two months.

Rendon was the best bat in the system and he has performed better than could have reasonably been expected. But still, Davey Johnson will pinch him with Chad Tracey against all odds. The good news is Danny Espinosa is back. He has a slash line of .441/.488/.763 for the past 10 games at Syracuse. Good news indeed, but Washington can only play one second baseman at a time.

What the Nationals need is what Davey Johnson likes to call “hairy-chested guys.” Davey says he likes them sitting on the bench with him, but he is actually referring to Chad Tracy and Scott Hairston, both of whom are hitting less than .200. No disrespect to Davey, but the Nationals desperately need something real, not something imagined. They need the offensive equivalent of the Gio Gonzalez trade. They need to go out and get a real hairy-chested guy in the middle of the lineup, someone who other teams have to worry about, not these pretenders. They don’t come cheap, they cost two or three pitching prospects like Gio did.

Or maybe the problem is batting coach Rick Eckstein? The Nationals watch so many get-me-over fastballs on the first pitch that the approach has to be questioned. Ryan Zimmerman is hitting .734 when ahead in the count or even in the count before he gets two strikes. That sounds pretty hairy-chested.

Even with an 0-1 count, he is hitting .407. Four of his home runs have come on the first pitch of the at bat. So why does he watch so many middle-of-the-plate, first-pitch strikes go by?  The deeper into the at bat Zimmerman goes, the worse his chances get. Yet he has hit with two strikes in almost 60 percent of his at bats this year. Are the Nationals making eunuchs of the hairy-chested guys they already have?

The playoff hopes for 2013 are melting slowly in the July heat. The situation did not happen over night and the worrying aspect is that it will not get better any more quickly. The team needs changes offensively and they need them in the organization overall. The horizon holds no promise. It is like waiting for that support check that just never comes.

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