29 May 2007

Washington Preview: I miss the Expos

by Joshua Worley

The Nats are so awful and nondescript. The only thing interesting about them is the shortening of their team name into "Nats", which feels like a throwback nickname, if that makes sense. It should, because indeed, the original Washington Senators were also called the Nationals for most of their existence as well, and the nickname "Nats" was frequently used for the team in the first half of the twentieth century.

I miss the old days, when the National League had just 12 teams. I guess I should be more specific, since I was just going on about the original Senators: to me the old days is the 1980's. Back then there was no team in an abomination of a ballpark in Arizona ( shudder ). There was no Arena-baseball being played in Denver. The Brewers were in the American League where they belonged, with all the other boring American League teams. There was no team in Florida buying World Series titles.

There was, however, a team in Montreal. The Expos were the odd duck of the NL east, a team playing in French Canadian Montreal. Back then the Expos were still relevant, still popular, still good. They had Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Tim Wallach and Andre Dawson. They weren't just a sad lame duck franchise, as they became in later years, with no players and no hope and no fanbase. There was a time when the Expos had more of a claim to fame then being the home team of the mascot Youppi!

Yeah, I miss the Expos. I miss the old Expos logo, an M that strangely doubled as a lowercase "elb". I miss having a non-American city in the NL; almost a European city in character. I miss getting to hear "O Canada" before Expos games ... the only chance of hearing that now is if the Dodgers play the Blue Jays, but how often does that happen? ( Okay, it happens this year! ) I even miss that horrible stadium, that artificial turf house of horrors where the Dodgers so often lost, because when they did win it was that much sweeter. I remember the Dodgers carrying sod with them into the Montreal dugout to break their artificial turf jinx one year.

I hope the Dodgers won't have any trouble winning in Washington this year. The Nats are really awful, especially on offense. Only the Cardinals are worse in the NL at scoring runs. The Nats are 21-30, with a run differential of 191-241. Now the Nats do have a 12-5 record in their last 17 games, and they've scored at least 4 runs in each of their last 8 games. Regardless of this recent success of the Nats, the Dodgers need to win this series. Arizona and San Diego have each already taken their first series from the Nats, and the Dodgers need to do the same.

The pitching matchups are Penny v Simontacchi, Lowe v Bacsik, and Hendrickson v Bowie. I have to admit I've not heard of any of the Nats pitchers. I'm also really tired to seeing Hendrickson's name as an upcoming pitcher. I look very much forward to the day, I hope coming very soon, when there is no Dodger starter whose name makes me shudder.

Dmitri Dell Young -- 1B

age: 33
bats: switch

0.298 -- 0.387 -- 0.468

Young is by far the Nats best hitter. That's a rather amazing and pathetic turn of events, because Young came to the team as a non-roster spring training invitee on a minor league contract in February. Young had legal and alcohol problems last year, and did not hit well with the Tigers, with an OPS of 0.700 in fewer than 200 plate appearances. And yet Young had the self-absorption to accuse the Tigers of unfairly releasing him last year, after he played so awfully and missed playing time because of problems he created for himself. Jim Leyland, the famed manager who once disgracefully quit on the Colorado Rockies, fired back a rip of his own at Dmitri. All this happened in February; things have been quiet in Dmitri-land since. Young has revived his career and seems to have turned his life back around. The one pothole in the road so far happened just two days ago, when he had to leave the Nats game after a collision with Scott Rolen at first base. Young is hopeful that he will be able to play today, though I think he should take at least three days off and make sure he's fully healthy before coming back.

Seriously, if he can't play it will be a big blow to the Nats offense, such as it is. He leads the team in slugging percentage and on base percentage.

Ryan Matthew Church -- CF/LF

age: 28
bats: left

0.263 -- 0.372 -- 0.455

Church and Young are the only Nats with an OPS above 0.800. Church is one of the few bright spots on the Nats, a relatively young player who can really hit. And yet at age 28 he's never yet had a full year at the big league level. What gives?

Well, in 2005 after being named the NL rookie of the month for May, Church had injury troubles and ended up with only about 300 plate appearances. Yet he still had an OPS of 0.819 on the year and he seemed a lock to be the team's starting center fielder the next year. What happened next shows the utter incompetence and small-minded pettiness of the Nats GM Jim Bowden. Church was demoted to AAA at the start of 2006 after having a poor spring training; in his place Brandon Watson was promoted. Said Bowden: "Brandon Watson outplayed him, outhit him, got on base, stole bases, got a good percentage of stolen bases, did the things that we asked him to do." Church, who was understandably shocked, said, "I didn't think it was a competition." Why would he, after winning the starting job during the regular season the previous year?

Bowden doesn't seem to realize that spring training stats don't matter. Or he just felt like punishing a player who didn't have a spring as good as he thought he should have. Or maybe he honestly thought Brandon Watson was the better player. But if he really thought that, then he really mistreated Watson, because Watson got to play in all of 8 games after his great spring before being demoted again. What kind of chance is that? This makes me think Bowden either wasn't buying the snake oil he was selling about Watson being better than Church, and just wanted to punish Church, or that Bowden is just the stupidest, most arrogant GM to ever walk the earth.

When Watson was sent down, Church was called right back up, which I think confirms my "punishment for a bad spring" theory. But then after 23 games Church was sent down to AAA again, with a line of 0.215 -- 0.346 -- 0.452. Are you kidding me, Bowden? What does anyone want to bet that all Bowden looked at was the batting average, and didn't notice the great secondary averages? Once Church's batting average reverted to a more normal level his OPS would have been around 0.900. The Nats had a center fielder who was already putting up an OPS of 0.800 and a good bet to do a lot better, and Bowden threw it away because of a low batting average. Unbelievable.

Church finally was back up to the big leagues to stay on 22 July 2006, and on the year he ended up with an OPS of 0.891. I'm sure Bowden felt that his demotions were just the kick in the pants Church needed to reach this level of excellence, and would take credit for Church's success. While Church was languishing in AAA a collection of mostly stiffs played in center field for the Nats:

Player Name --- games --- OPS
Ryan Church --- 51 --- 0.892
Marlon Byrd --- 57 --- 0.667
Nook Logan --- 26 --- 0.726
Damien Jackson --- 22 --- 0.666
Alex Escobar --- 23 --- 0.969
Brandon Watson --- 8 --- 0.385
Marlon Anderson --- 7 --- 0.754

Escobar did his damage in less than 100 at bats; his career OPS is 0.743 in about 400 plate appearances. Is anyone else disturbed that a man named Damien ended up with an OPS of 0.666? There's just no excuse for letting this collection of players man center field when you have Ryan Church available.

I can't help but think of James Loney in all this. Now the situations aren't even close to being parallel, except in the sense that again there is a player not getting the chance at the big league level he deserves. Loney in 2007 is far younger than Church in 2006 was, and Loney doesn't have quite the big league track record Church had put together previously. Loney wasn't demoted because of a bad spring; he was demoted in spite of a great spring. And the players chosen over Church were all bad, while Nomar has been chosen over Loney. Nomar did have a good 2006 and ownership must have put considerable pressure on Colletti to resign this fan favorite.

Still, when I look at the sad abuse of Church by Bowden I do think of Colletti and Loney a little bit.

Ryan Wallace Zimmerman -- 3B

age: 22
bats: right

0.249 -- 0.306 -- 0.402

When I look at his name I am reminded of "Charles Wallace" from "A Wrinkle in Time". Zimmerman is scuffling along this year, and he had a good but not great OPS of 0.822 last year. Why all the hype surrounding him? Well, he's only 22. So yeah, he's really good if he's putting up an OPS of 0.800 at age 21.

No one else has played third base for the Nats this year. I think his biggest problem on the year so far is his strikeouts outnumber his walks 32 to 16. I'd like to see Dodger pitching keep up this trend.

Felipe Lopez Jr. -- 2B/SS

age: 27
bats: switch

0.255 -- 0.304 -- 0.363

I'm going to have a really hard time finding something interesting to say about all the awful Nats hitters to come. Lopez has an alarming number of strikeouts ( 40 ) for someone with not much power. There are a lot of Nat hitters with strikeout totals that exceed their walk totals by a wide margin, which typically produces low batting averages and low on base percentages. The Nats are 354-169 in strikeouts to walks, while the Dodgers are 252-183.

Lopez started the year as the regular shortstop, and then moved to second when Guzman became the regular shortstop.

Christian Antonio Guzman -- SS

age: 29
bats: switch

0.269 -- 0.326 -- 0.397

Yet another crappy switch hitter. He's not doing that bad, actually. I mean, this is the same guy who put up an OPS of 0.574 in 142 games back in 2005 for one of the worst offensive seasons in baseball history. Guzman missed all of 2006 after having shoulder surgery.

Ronald Belliard -- 2B

age: 32
bats: right

0.281 -- 0.323 -- 0.356

He lost his regular second base job after a hot April. He might start a game in this series, or see some action as a pinch hitter.

Austin Ryan Kearns -- RF

age: 27
bats: right

0.262 -- 0.324 -- 0.414

Same old story as so many other Nats: 37 strike outs, 15 walks. That's a good recipe for an OPB of only 0.320, which isn't quite good enough for a corner outfielder. He hits the occasional home run or double.

Kearns does a lot better on the road than at home, like many other Nats. I guess it's worth noting that the Nats aren't quite as bad offensively as these stats show, since their home stadium is a pitchers park. The Nats home OPS is 50 points lower than their road OPS.

Brian Duncan Schneider -- C

age: 30
bats: left

0.236 -- 0.320 -- 0.345

He's a regular old catcher. Makes me so glad to have Russ on the Dodgers.

Exavier Prente Logan -- CF

age: 27
bats: switch

0.265 -- 0.308 -- 0.367

Words fail me -- what a name! How did he get to be called "Nook"? I'm sure Vinny knows, and will tell us. He's probably told the story before, and I've forgotten. I know some people incorrectly say the name "Xavier" by pronouncing the intitial X like the letter X instead of with a Z sound: I guess Exavier's parents made this alternate pronunciation explicit, which I find rather bizarre.

He missed some time in April on the DL with a foot injury. Since he came back Church has moved over to left field to make way for Logan in center.

Jason William Simontacchi -- P

age: 33
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
4.37 -- 22.2 -- 16 -- 7 -- 2

Simontacchi pitched with the Cardinals from 2002-2004, then was out of the majors until this year. He gave up too many walks and home runs in his go arounds with the Cards, and why would anything really be different now?

He's not lasted longer than 6 innings in any of his 4 starts so far. The Dodgers should see plenty of the bullpen when he starts today. The Nats 'pen has been pretty average, with an ERA of 3.79 and a record of 9-7. The Dodger 'pen, in contrast, has an ERA of 3.20 and a record of 9-3.

One strange aside: the vaunted Padre bullpen, with a NL best ERA of 2.26, has a record of just 7-9. The Padre 'pen along with some limp late-inning offense has let some games get away.

Michael J. Bacsik -- P

age: 29
throws: left

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
1.98 -- 13.2 -- 5 -- 2 -- 2

I'm willing to let that J. stay uninvestigated, since this way he reminds me of Michael J. Fox. Here is another pitcher whose last year in the big leagues before this one was 2004. Man, do the Nats suck. He's never shown anything previously at the big league level. He's allowed three runs so far on those two home runs. His ERA will soon be leaping up above 4, maybe even 5.

Bacsik has made just two starts; in his only home start he shut out the Orioles for 6 innings. That better not happen to the Dodgers.

Micah Andrew Bowie -- P

age: 32
throws: left

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
3.91 -- 25.1 -- 18 -- 6 -- 4

Yet another pitcher with a two year gap in his big league resume! He pitched 19 inning with the Nats last year, then before that his last big league stint was in 2003. He's been thrust into the starting rotation after being in the 'pen to start the year. I don't feel so bad for not recognizing any of the Nat starters anymore.

What's with all these starters who weren't starters to start the year? Well, the Nats have had 4 pitchers go on the DL. Only Matt Chico is still standing from the start of the year; Patterson, Williams, Hill, and Bergmann have all gone on the DL.

The Dodgers have no excuse not to win at least 2 of 3 in this series, no matter how hot the Nats have been lately. Strike that: With the Padres and Snakes right with the Dodgers in the NL West standings, the Dodgers better sweep.

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